BY s.g. lee
Copyright © 2016 by S.G. Lee
Huddled in a cramped subcompact, the glowing embers of his dying cigarette illuminated Mitch Keiller’s face on each inhale. The clock on his cell phone read 1:28 a.m.
After one last drag, he flicked his cigarette butt outside to join the growing heap smoldering along the driver’s side door. Mitch’s leg cramped as he shifted weight to his other side and reached inside the greasy fast food bag in hopes of finding some loose fries hidden in the bottom. Of course not. He wasn’t really hungry, not after downing two double cheeseburgers, extra large fries, a chicken sandwich, and ten nuggets, but he needed something to keep himself occupied. She should’ve been home hours ago, his heart lamented. Trina’s shift at the hospital ended at eleven; each passing hour fueled the rage churning in Mitch’s gut. When it came to Trina, his heart and head were at war with each other.
“So help me … if she brings someone home with her,” he muttered, gripping the steering wheel so tight his knuckles turned white. Biting his lip, he fantasized about what he’d do to the schmuck who dared to mess with his Trina.
Mitch sucked in a deep breath as he was momentarily blinded by headlights. He blinked repeatedly, attempting to regain his sight. When he did, there was a figure on the front porch of Trina’s duplex fumbling for a key. His heart skipped a beat until the feminine form opened the door and reached inside for the lights. Before the door closed, Mitch caught a glimpse of auburn hair.
“Damn it. Just Natalie.” He huffed. “Why anyone would want that cow for a roommate is beyond me.”
Trina wouldn’t admit it, but Mitch was positive Natalie encouraged their break-up. One day she’ll be sorry, he vowed.
Across the street and three cars up, he watched the hipster throwing a tantrum in his car and chuckled. Night vision binoculars weren’t needed this time. The doofus parked under a streetlight and right across the street from his beloved’s home. She was smart to dump him. But not him, he knew better. The rental he’d acquired, under a fake ID, was parked near the end of a cul-de-sac, far from the last street light yet still sandwiched between two other cars. He left no traces, unlike the lanky fool across the street with his mound of DNA-saturated cigarette butts that the police would inevitably find. The stupid ones always made it easier for him.
His breathing quickened as another vehicle approached and parked. This time, a petite girl with long, dark-chocolate ringlets kissed with cinnamon highlights exited the car. It was too dark outside for him to actually see the color of her hair or her rich, ebony eyes, but he’d seen them before. He knew her olive skin would be flushed as she scurried to her front door, arm-in-arm with a tall stranger. Her staggered gait told him she’d been drinking. Must’ve been one helluva night, he thought as he watched the hipster’s reaction.
Mitch sprang from the confines of his nesting place inside his dark blue Suzuki Aerio. His numb legs gave way and he crumpled in a heap onto the hood of his car. After a few minutes, he regained stability and, filled with righteous indignation, straightened himself then marched to the sidewalk. Trina and her escort had entered her home long before Mitch reached her front door. Overcome with fury, his eyes clouded and he stormed back to his car. A combination of rage and caffeine sent tremors rippling through his hands to the tip of his fingers. Rusted hinges of the driver side door groaned in protest as he flung it open and flopped inside. After slamming the door shut, Mitch pounded his fists on the dash until his knuckles bled. He wiped away an errant tear, leaving a streak of blood in its wake. No, he doesn’t get to win, Mitch decided as he reached for his brand new, prepaid mobile phone. You can block my number all you want. I’ll still find a way to reach you, baby. I’ll save you from yourself. He keyed in Trina’s number and waited, watching her windows for a glimpse of his fallen angel. On the second ring, the dimmed lights in her living room brightened and Mitch could see her silhouette next to the lamp.
“Hello?” The sound of her voice sent a shockwave through Mitch’s heart. “Hello … HELLO? Damn it! I can hear you breathing. If this is you, Mitch, get a life!” Though faint, Mitch also heard a male voice saying, “Just hang up. I told you not to bother.”
He waited for the lamp to dim again before hitting redial. The phone rang once, twice, three times, and then the light returned. This time when she answered, Mitch crinkled the wrappers from his burgers and fiddled with the sound on the talk radio station. “Hello? I can’t hear you. We have a bad connection!” Trina shouted into the receiver. “If you can hear me, hang up and call right back.” Mitch disconnected the call just as the tall stranger exited Trina’s home and stalked to his car. Pleased that he’d won, Mitch started the engine and drove home.
Seeing the smug smile on Mitch’s face filled him with disgust. He fought the urge to follow behind the tiny Aerio then bash in its driver’s teeth. Instead, he wrapped his binoculars and placed them in his kit.
“A whole generation of self-entitled, passive aggressive momma’s boys,” he muttered. “If he had any balls whatsoever I’d be finished already, but no … I’m gonna enjoy seeing this one suffer.”
Two weeks of painstaking research and surveillance had cumulated into a big fat zero. Dumbass needs a friendly push, he decided as he wove through traffic. Spent, both emotionally and physically, he pulled into the nearest motel and rented a room. After hauling his bags and equipment inside, he flopped onto one of the beds and closed his eyes.
In a blink, the guttural voice of Glenn Danzig growled, “Die, Die, Die, my darling.” Outstretched fingers searched for his phone and the elusive snooze button. Ten minutes later, the gravelly vocalization sounded again. Groaning, he rolled over and checked the time.
“How is it morning already? I swear I only closed my eyes for a minute.” As usual, no one responded because there was no one else there. “Coffee … I need coffee.”
As the crappy in-room coffee pot gurgled and sputtered forth a caffeinated brew from grounds that looked more like sawdust than pulverized coffee beans, he gathered up toiletries and clean clothes and took them to the bathroom. He sucked down the steaming brew from a single serving, prepackaged Styrofoam cup left in the room. Chewing on the Styrofoam would taste better. Still yearning for a caffeine jolt from a better-tasting blend, he showered quickly and dressed. Once his car was loaded and all traces of him had been removed from the room, he checked out of the motel. It was his rule: Never stay more than one night.
Breakfast consisted of an extra large coffee and a bagel from a drive-thru. Plan B would require more effort, so there was no time to indulge in the celebratory breakfast he’d planned. He hid his fake ID in the glove compartment before making his way across town. Everything needed to be in place before the lovely lady with fiery eyes started her shift at the hospital.
He walked across the parking lot with his stomach in knots. Plan B had always been on the back burner, but never once had he needed it. Tiny bells on the shelter’s front door jangled as he entered, setting off a cacophony of yelps, cries, and barks.
“Can I help you?” asked the frumpy, middle-aged woman in a hand-knitted sweater. She was snuggling with a one-eyed cat while knitting.
“Um, yeah … I hope. My nephew’s birthday is coming up and I’d like to get him a dog.”
“Well, a dog is a big responsibility. Are you sure he’s ready for—”
“Look, he’s plenty old enough. Besides, I’m not talking about a puppy here. I want an older dog—a quiet one too!” he said, interrupting Cat Lady’s well-prepared speech.
“Really? An older dog? That’s—well, that’s wonderful! We have one on death row. He’s probably around six or seven years old and we just couldn’t find him a home anywhere.” Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. “Follow me, Mister … um … I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”
“Well, the paperwork will be in Brandon’s name since he’ll own the dog. Brandon Fisher.”
“Mister Fisher, say hello to Pippin. He’s just an absolute sweetheart but he’s getting up there. Um, we don’t much about him except that one of his previous owners had him ‘debarked,’ as they call it. Mutilated is what I call it!”
“I couldn’t agree more, ma’am,” he whispered as Pippin cowered in his pen. “C’mere, boy! I won’t hurt ya.” He let the hesitant dog sniff his hand before ruffling behind Pippin’s ears. The timid dog nuzzled him and he made his choice. “This guy, Pippin, he’s perfect! Oh, you are a lucky dog. Brandon is going to make sure you are the happiest pup on the planet. I guarantee it. He’ll love you so much you’ll forget about all the abuse you’ve suffered, little man.”
“Oh my!” Cat Lady gushed. “You really have a big heart.”
“Truth is, I like animals much more than people,” he blurted. He was shocked by his truthful admission. With the exception of his sister, Kelly, and nephew, Brandon, he had no love for the human race. “Now, you won’t mind if I fill out the paperwork with Brandon’s name, right? He’s turning twelve and this will really make him feel like a grownup.” He cupped Cat Lady’s hand in his and turned on the charm. “I’m sure you can bend the rules a little for me, right? I’d hate to have to leave Pippin to his death because of some rules.”
“Oh, the shelter is really strict about—”
“Shh,” he whispered, pressing a finger to her lips. “It’ll be our secret. I promise you, no harm will come to Pippin. He will live in the lap of luxury. He deserves that, doesn’t he? I mean, after everything this poor guy has been through … the mutilation, possible beatings, and then abandonment.”
Fifteen minutes later, he and Pippin exited the shelter. Their next stop was the nearby pet supply store. Cat Lady had given him a leash, but he found the ratty piece from their lost and found better suited for the trashcan than Brandon’s new best friend. Three hundred dollars later, he exited with gourmet food, grain-free treats, a new collar, name tag, toys, and a leash.
“So, Pippin, the shelter lady tells me you are a Heinz fifty-seven, but I think you must have some Lab in you. Just look at your jet-black coat and floppy ears. Listen, I’m gonna need your help for a bit, but then you’ll be in Brandon’s care. We need to drive across town and meet up with a pretty lady. Whaddya say? Can you help me out, huh?”
Pippin’s tail wagged as he nudged his current master. Laughing, the rescuer fished around in the bag for Pippin’s treats then rewarded the faithful old boy. Then he drove to their destination, the dog sitting patiently in the passenger seat. First, he pulled into the wharf district and parked by an abandoned warehouse. He removed a pair of glasses, some makeup, and spirit gum from a bag under the back seat. Pippin’s head cocked to the side when the chemical smell engulfed the vehicle. Even with the windows down, the noxious fumes made his nostrils burn.
“Sorry, Pip. I know this stuff is brutal, but I’ll hurry.”
After a quick scratch behind Pippin’s ears, he went to work changing his appearance. The makeup aged him by ten years. An added beard and moustache teamed with the glasses completed his new look. Next, he pulled on a flannel jacket and a pair of worn sneakers fitted with hidden three-inch lifts. Once he was certain the spirit gum had dried, he spritzed on a bit of cologne to mask the foul odor. He checked the time before setting off for their rendezvous. He parked three streets over from Trina’s house and hooked Pippin to his new leash.
“Let’s go for walk, Pippin,” he said, opening the passenger side door.
They strolled the sidewalks at a leisurely pace; he was right on schedule. Pippin saw fit to water every front lawn along the way. He steered Brandon’s new pal down Trina’s street and Pippin made his job even easier than he’d hoped. In the grassy oasis directly across from Trina’s car, Pippin stopped for the call of nature. Just then, Trina passed by.
“Ahem, excuse me, miss.” He used a fake accent. “Do you live in ten-thirty-one? Yes, I thought I recognized you. Pepper and I have seen you before.” He hadn’t planned to give the dog a fake name; it just happened. “I hate to intrude on your personal life, but I am concerned. There is a man who watches you. He parks just over there. I wasn’t sure it was you until last night … or I should say this morning. Poor Pepper got into something he shouldn’t have and we were out every couple hours. Like every other night for the past few weeks, that man was out here, just sitting in his car, watching and waiting. But this time he got out of his car. We were up at the lamppost and I saw him get out after you. He walked to your door but you, and the person with you, had already gone inside. He went back to his car and made quite a ruckus, cursing and punching his dashboard. Pepper was quite upset.”
The whole time he talked, Trina’s face paled. He knew he’d hit the mark when she asked him to show her exactly where the “watcher” had parked. She looked at the pile of cigarette butts and sucked in a breath. Apparently she had recognized Mitch’s brand.
“Did you happen to notice what kind of car it was?” Trina’s voice wavered. He could tell she didn’t want to believe it.
“Well, it’s either dark blue or black. Hard to tell in the middle of the night, but it’s a small car. I wrote it down. Let me see here.” He patted his pockets for effect. “Ah, here! A Suzuki Aerio. Honestly, I thought Suzuki only made motorcycles. Oh my! Are you okay? You look a bit unsteady.”
Trina’s knees buckled and he reached out to catch her. He helped the wobbly girl to a nearby bench and Pippin offered Trina his own brand of consolation.
“I hate to meddle, but perhaps you should contact the police. Stalkers can be dangerous, after all. You’d be safer with a restraining order.”
To his surprise, Trina buried her face in Pippin’s shoulder and sobbed. He breathed a silent sigh of relief for not having attached Pippin’s new name tag. He’d always believed animals to be a kinder, more empathic life form than humans, and Pippin had proved him right. He’ll be a good companion for Brandon when this is over.
“I’m sorry,” sniffled Tina. “I’ve had this creepy feeling that I just couldn’t shake, like someone was watching me. Natalie, my roommate, she felt it too. And now I know it’s true.” She dissolved into tears again then apologized a second time, after she recovered. “I’m so embarrassed. I can’t believe I’m bawling like a baby to a complete stranger, but you’re just so easy to talk to.”
He patted her head, like a child, and assured her she had no reason to apologize as Pippin kissed away her tears.
“Now, please tell me you will contact the police. I just couldn’t bear it if I read about you in the paper tomorrow, another victim of domestic abuse. You mentioned a roommate; will she be with you the next few days?” he asked. His face mirrored the picture of earnest concern.
“Natalie will be there with me tonight, but she’s going out of town this weekend.”
“Isn’t there anyone else? What about the gentleman who escorted you home last night? Surely he wouldn’t want to see you harmed.”
Trina sniffled and blotted her eyes. “Yeah, I suppose I could call Zack. You’re right. I shouldn’t be alone if Mitch – that’s my ex – is actually stalking me. I’m so lucky I ran into you. You’re like my own personal guardian angel.” She sprang up and threw her arms around the kind stranger. “I hate to hug and run, but I’m going to stop at the police station before work. I need to report Mitch before this goes any further. Thank you again, Mister— oh my! I haven’t even asked your name. I’m such a ditz.”
“Smith, Nick Smith,” he lied. “And staying safe is thanks enough for me, dear. Good luck.”
He offered up a friendly wave as Trina scurried to her car then drove away. “Finally,” he muttered under his breath. “This fake beard is itchy as hell. C’mon, Pippin, let’s get out of here.”
Mitch counted the hours until he could clock out and go home. The cubicle walls closed in on him as he wondered what Trina was doing and who she'd been with the night before. Meanwhile, mindless coworkers blathered on about their plans for the weekend. He longed for the day he could tell all of them exactly what he thought of them. At precisely five o’clock he punched out and sprinted to the door. He had things to do before Trina’s shift ended; he needed to be ready for her. Tonight, he thought, I’ll win her back. I just need to show her how much I love her. With a fervent heart, he raced to the closest florist.
“Seriously? Fifty dollars for twelve freaking flowers?” Mitch growled.
“I’m sorry, sir. You’ll find that our prices are comparable to everyone else in the area. Perhaps another flower, instead of long-stemmed roses, would be more in your price range.” The sales clerk reached into their cooler and pulled out a premade bouquet. “Now this one is only—”
“No! She loves roses.” Mitch raked a hand through his hair and sighed. He’d startled the woman behind the counter and raised eyebrows throughout the store. He lowered his voice when he spoke again. “I can’t win her back with cheap flowers.”
The cashier’s harsh glare softened. Mitch resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He assumed her to be one of those hopeless romantic types and immediately dismissed her validity. Instead, he forked over the fifty-plus dollars for the roses and added in two smaller bouquets of wildflowers plus a box of Trina’s favorite chocolates. With his bank account reeling, Mitch exited the store filled with hope. Trina has to see that I am willing to do whatever it takes to win her back. Once at home, he checked the time and wished he had a fast-forward button for life, not just for his DVR. Each second felt like an hour as the clock on his wall tick-tocked. He was too anxious to sit and too tired to pace. Food lacked flavor and did nothing to slake his appetite. Every waking moment Mitch thought only of his beautiful Trina Isabelle Martinez and winning her back.
As he exited the motel room, clothed all in black, Pippin’s whimper sent a stabbing shot through his chest cavity. No amount of toys or treats seemed to soothe the pup, but this time he could not be hindered by a canine sidekick.
“Shh, hush now, boy. I’ll be back soon,” he whispered. “Be good and I‘ll bring you a steak, okay?”
He locked the door and steeled himself against the heart-wrenching cries. He drove across town and parked at the end of the cross street to Trina’s development. Neither skulking nor strolling, he made his way to the playground at the park directly behind where he’d been staked out for the past couple of weeks. Though the park posted “No Trespassing After Dark” signs, no one patrolled or monitored the park’s activities. He nestled into the wooded patch, cloaked in shrubbery and dried leaves. With an hour to spare before the end of Trina’s shift, he settled in to watch.
Mitch pulled into his favorite parking spot, rolled down the windows, and killed the engine. A heavy floral fragrance perfumed his vehicle, making his head throb. In his mind, he mulled over the best presentation for his gifts. At first he’d planned to leave a trail of flowers from Trina’s parking spot to her front door, but the more Mitch thought about it, the more he worried someone would mess it up. It would be just like Natalie to pick up Trina’s flowers and ruin everything, he fumed. Or what if some busybody neighbor decides to sweep up the trail and then I’m standing there arguing with them when Trina pulls up? In the midst of his internal debate, Mitch observed a female form passing in front of the bay window of Trina’s duplex. Seconds later, Natalie exited the building, climbed into her car, and left. Mitch’s heart skipped a beat; Natalie had left the kitchen window open. The curtain fluttered with the breeze, giving him an idea. He hopped out of his car and, bouquets in hand, ran to Trina’s side of the duplex. I’ve done this before. I can do it again, he reminded himself as he dragged the trashcans over to the open window and balanced on top.
Mitch’s legs wobbled and more than once he thought he’d end up kissing the pavement, but he managed to slip inside. With his heart in his throat, he raced to Trina’s bedroom on the second floor. Once there, he inhaled the alluring scent of Trina’s perfume. He stared longingly at the rumpled sheets on her bed, remembering her gentle caress and silky skin. Mitch’s eyelids fluttered and he tensed, caught up in the moment, until a stabbing pain pulsated from his hand.
“OW! Damn roses,” he muttered while pulling a thorn from the fleshy part of his palm. Blood bubbled to the surface, but Mitch ignored the weeping punctures. The bouquet of roses found a home on Trina’s nightstand. Next, he strategically placed wildflowers throughout the bedroom and left a trail down the stairs. As he climbed onto the counter, panic seized his heart. He prayed that he’d make it out before Trina or Natalie returned home. Thinking he heard keys in the front door, he dove out the window and crashed to the ground, taking the trashcans down with him. He peeked out to the street, but neither Trina’s nor Natalie’s cars were there. After he returned the trashcans to their original state, he crept back to his car.
Hidden safely under the cover of night and shrubs, he watched the love-struck stalker creep toward the open window. He stifled a chuckle as the gawky-limbed man/child struggled his way into the house. With baited breath, he watched, wondering if Trina would catch Mitch in the act. He hoped not. A wave of relief swept over him once the hipster returned to his car. You’ve made my job so much easier, son. He waited, eager for the girl to return home.
Twenty minutes later, Natalie returned. Mitch watched her lumber to the door with a grocery bag in each hand. Miserable cow, he thought to himself, hating her more with each step. He delighted in the idea of her jealousy when she saw Trina’s flowers and the lengths he’d gone to show his love. Bet no one has ever loved you like this. You’ll never have what we have. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her miserable face when he and Trina got back together. Lost in the fantasy, he didn’t see Natalie peering through the front window, looking for the intruder. A few minutes later, Trina’s car blew past and slammed to a halt in her parking space. She raced inside and seconds later she stormed out again. Heading straight to his car, she slammed her fist down on Mitch’s hood furiously.
“What the hell is your problem, you freak?” Trina’s eyes brimmed with tears of fury. “What part of ‘I don’t want to see you anymore’ do you not understand? You were in my house!”
Whoa, this is not turning out how I expected. Mitch sprang from his car, panicked. His plan was crumbling around him.
“But, baby, I—”
“NO! Do not call me baby!” she shrieked. “I am not your baby. I am not your anything. Look, this is your last warning. I reported your stalking ass to the police and I’m meeting with a judge tomorrow. I’m telling them you broke into my home, Mitch. If you don’t stay away from me you’re going to go to jail. Got it?”
One by one, like dominoes, porch lights went on all up and down Pinetree Court. Neighbors peered from their windows and some stood on their front stoop to gawk at the couple. Illuminated by the glow from their phones, scowling faces captured Mitch and Trina on video. Great, thought Mitch, bet these losers are posting this fiasco to Facebook right now. His face burned scarlet from humiliation, but he wanted to defend himself. He couldn’t understand how or why it had all gone so terribly wrong.
“Can’t I just explain?” Even to his own ears, Mitch’s voice sounded thin and whiny. “I only—”
“Only?” Trina interrupted. “You only committed a crime, make that multiple crimes. Hello, breaking and entering, stalking, trespassing, and God only knows what else. Natalie called the cops so, seriously, you need to leave and not come back.”
“C’mon, you’re not serious. I’m not dangerous, Trina. I love you! I bought all those flowers and your favorite candy to prove it to you.”
“Um, yeah … I am serious. Look! Here’s my copy of the report I gave today.”
Trina shoved the papers in his face as proof. Mitch’s breathing hitched, all air forcibly expelled from his lungs, and his heart seized. Spasms of gut-wrenching pain radiated to his appendages. A gray haze pressed in on his line of sight until Trina’s face pulled back to the end of a long tunnel. In the distance, a lone siren cut through the night and snapped Mitch back into the present. He scrambled to his car and peeled out as fast as he could. Trembling, Trina walked back to her house to wait for the police to arrive.
Satisfied that his plan had played out perfectly, he crept out from his hiding spot. The cold, damp ground seeped through his clothing to penetrate into his aching bones, making the walk back to his rental car sheer hell. Yet the thought of returning to Pippin’s eager company tugged the corner of his mouth into a half-smile. No point getting too attached to the mutt, he reminded himself, he’ll be Brandon’s pet, not mine. Still, the thought did nothing to prevent him from keeping his promise. He stopped at a nearby chain restaurant and ordered two takeout meals—both sirloin steaks. After he fed the dog, he downed his own meal nearly as fast. He eased his stiffened body onto the bed and stretched out before grabbing the remote. He flipped through the channels as Pippin worked up the nerve to jump onto the bed next to his rescuer. He felt no remorse in indulging Pippin; he cuddled the attention-starved dog while catching the end of a slasher flick on cable.
The next morning, he awoke completely rested, unlike most mornings. He leashed Pippin for a morning walk as he pondered breakfast.
“I hate to do this to you, buddy, but after your walk, you’re getting a bath. Kelly will kill me if I bring you into her house smelling like this. Bad enough I’m gonna be in the dog house with her for a while … no pun intended.” He laughed at his own joke as Pippin wagged his tail. “Besides, you’ll be better off with Brandon than with me.”
When he was done, both dog and master were drenched, but at least Pippin smelled better. He grabbed the chintzy stock hairdryer in his motel room and angled it at Pip’s shiny black coat. Bits of fuzz and tangled undercoat floated on the tepid, mechanically induced breeze until the motor groaned then stopped. He hadn’t anticipated the power needed to dry a dog of Pippin’s size, but the fur was mostly dry. He allowed the dog to play while he showered and dressed for Brandon’s party. After he loaded the car, he checked out of the motel. He’d left a little something extra for housekeeping to make up for the hair explosion left in the bathroom and the broken hairdryer.
They arrived late to Brandon’s party; many of the children had already gone home. It had been his plan to arrive late anyway, with or without a dog, but Pippin was the better cover. With a big blue bow tied around his neck, the dog sat patiently in the car, waiting. It was almost as if Pippin understood his role as the surprise gift. The rescuer was less at-ease than his canine counterpart. Kelly hated surprises.
He wove through the remaining guests to reach his sister and his nephew, Brandon. He offered empty apologies for being late and they pretended they hadn’t noticed the time. It was the game they always played, but his hugs were genuine, as was the fierce love and devotion for his small family.
“Happy Birthday, buddy,” he said, rumpling the boy’s hair. “Here’s part of your gift. I’ll be right back with the rest. It’s still in the car.”
He caught the fleeting look of concern from his sister and laughed. Brandon dove into the gift bag and held up a partially chewed tennis ball with mixed emotions. When he returned with Pippin, a chorus of “ooohs and ahs” arose from the fellow guests. Kelly’s eyes widened and her jaw fell until her mouth gaped in a rounded O. Brandon squealed with excitement as he rushed to greet his new best friend. Pippin met the boy with equal zeal.
As he settled down to a slice of cake and some coffee, he smiled at his sister. “Don’t look at me like that. He was on death row, Kel. I had to save him, and with all the traveling I do for work, you know I couldn’t keep him. Besides, Pippin will be good for Brandon … and for you. I worry about you two being alone in the house since the divorce. Not that you can’t take care of yourself, but …”
“You always were a sucker for animals,” she replied after a heavy sigh. “And I always get stuck taking care of them.”
“That’s what big sisters are for.”
After dinner, he said goodbye to his family. Like always, Kelly offered him their guest room and he politely declined. His final gift to Brandon was the adoption form for his dog.
“Hey, Uncle Jack, they spelled my last name wrong. It says Fisher but it should be Fishet.”
“Must’ve been a typo. I’m sorry, Brandon. We’ll figure out how to fix it later. You take good care of Pippin, now. Okay? And Pip, you take good care of Brandon.”
Pippin nuzzled his hand but then trotted off after Brandon. Jack headed to his car, shaking away the sadness. It was nearly dark and he had work to do. He drove exactly one mile over the posted speed limit the entire drive without using the cruise control. It was an exercise he used to maintain focus, part of his routine. Before long, he reached Trina’s neighborhood. This time he parked behind the local cinema. The current film had been running for two weeks so they had little traffic, but enough that his car wouldn’t stand out. He slung his backpack over his shoulder, strolled to the box office, and purchased a ticket. After stuffing the ticket into his pocket, he headed to the restroom. Inside the stall, he removed the button-down shirt he’d worn for Brandon’s party and stuffed it in his bag. The t-shirt underneath was solid black, as were his jeans. He replaced his leather oxfords with a pair of black combat boots in size thirteen, two sizes above his own. He’d already added padding to make the boots feel less like flippers. Man, that scrawny bastard has huge feet, he thought while sliding his own into the cavernous boots in the same brand as Mitch’s. He pulled his black, hooded sweatshirt on to complete the ensemble, knowing the rest of what he needed was safely tucked inside its kangaroo-pouch pocket. Next, he wandered into the concession area then slipped out the side door without being noticed. His hood safely concealed his face from the ever watchful eye of Big Brother’s surveillance cameras. From the parking lot, he was able to cut through yards to reach Main Street then scoot down to the alley behind Trina’s duplex. From the back, he could see Trina, and the male she’d referred to as Zack, in the kitchen. A surge of adrenaline compelled him to check the time.
“Okay, it’s nearly ten. In a few minutes the neighbors will bring their dog in for the night,” he reminded himself.
The second hand on his watch ticked away. As he’d anticipated, the neighbors unchained their Tibetan Mastiff and led it into the house. He crept across their unlit yard and waited inside the dog house until he saw the patrolling police cruiser drive away. Once it was clear, he pulled on a ski mask and a pair of powder-free latex gloves then darted through the yard. He tested the back door knob and, as usual, it was unlocked so he slipped inside without making a sound.
The unsuspecting couple had retreated upstairs for the evening. Before braving the stairs, he reached inside his pocket for reassurance. The cold steel, snub-nosed barrel of his .38 Special felt sleek and smooth in his hand, but it was mostly for show. It kept his prey from trying anything stupid. The true star of the evening, a brand new, seven-inch Ka-Bar, rested on his hip. His fingers traced tiny circles on the butt of the knife, itching to christen the blade. In the tumultuous chasm between arousal and release, he crept up the stairs, his stealth unnecessary against the riotous soundtrack of Indie Band love songs and panting that radiated from Trina’s bedroom. He hovered in the doorway of the roommate’s bedroom, waiting for the perfect moment.
“Whoa, babe. You’re amazing,” Zack sighed. “I’ll be right back.”
Not bothering to turn on the lights, Zack stumbled from the bed and into the hall. Shrouded in darkness, he waited for the pretty-boy, wannabe thug to stagger past en route to the bathroom. For such a beautiful girl, she has awful taste in men, he thought. It occurred to him that he could be the young lady’s salvation as his arms thrust forward; one went around Zack’s neck and with the other he forced his hand to cover both nose and mouth of his victim. Caught off guard, Zack’s naked body sagged like a rag doll, giving precious seconds for his attacker to grab the knife and plunge it through his cervical spine. Oxygenated blood flooded into his throat, cutting off his air supply as it frothed in his mouth. A bitter-salt tang coated Zack’s tongue and dribbled from his open mouth. Wide-eyed, bloody mouth gaping, Zack’s body returned to Trina’s room under a force not of its own. His limp body flopped onto the bed, on top of Trina, and she squealed playfully.
“Ready for round two,” she purred. The darkness concealed Zack’s wounds and his attacker. “C’mon, you’re crushing me, Zack … Zack?”
She tapped his shoulder and waited for a response. Instead, a gloved hand pressed down on her face, covering her mouth. Panicked, she sucked in air through her nostrils until the latex sealed them off. Her body bucked against the inevitable as her arms and legs flailed, helplessly reaching. In her final seconds, Trina caught a glint of light reflecting off his blade before it plunged into the soft divot between her collar bones. He watched her body twitch and spasm until death claimed her for a bride. With the couple no longer fighting, he was free to work at his own pace—flaying, severing, slicing, shredding. Like molten lava, blood poured from open wounds to cool in the night breeze and congeal in ruby pools.
“Just a few final touches,” he muttered. He dabbed the underside of his boot in bloody overflow and pressed it firmly into the carpet to reveal a partial print. “Yes, now my masterpiece is complete.”
He stepped back to admire his work. The shutter of his mind’s eye camera snapped stills from every angle until his pièce de résistance remained burned inside his mental gallery. Though he longed to touch Trina’s flawless skin with his bare hands, just once, he resisted. Instead, he dabbed his gloved index finger in a rivulet of her blood and traced the curve of her lips as he bid her farewell. In a parting shot to loser number two in Trina’s bizarre love triangle, he selected one of Trina’s stiletto heels from her closet and stuffed it into Zack’s rectum. Let the cops and shrinks have fun analyzing that one, he chuckled.
Downstairs in the kitchen, he haphazardly splashed bleach over the Ka-Bar and wiped it, ensuring that most, but not all of the incriminating DNA had been washed away. Crimes of passion were never as masterful as a true artist’s and, if nothing else, Mitch the hipster was passionate. He wrapped the knife in a kitchen towel then placed it inside a zip-top bag before slipping out into the crisp night air.
He returned to the cinema just in time to blend in with the exiting patrons. An affectionate couple caught his gaze and he smiled.
“It wasn’t as good as the first one,” he grumbled to them and offered up a knowing smile.
“It never is, man,” was the reply.
“You can say that again.”
With a wave to his fellow film goers, he climbed into his car. Secure in a firm alibi, he drove to Mitch’s hovel, a tiny apartment within a cluster of dilapidated tenement homes. The “parking lot” was little more than a bare patch of ground on an empty yard with no streetlights. He parked beside Mitch’s Aerio and, within seconds, the Slim Jim he’d tucked into his sleeve had popped the lock. He rubbed the bloodied boot onto the driver’s side floor mat then opened the trunk.
“What a slob.”
Everything from dirty gym clothes and trash to old CDs and books littered Mitch’s trunk. It was there, underneath the mess, that he stashed the half-cleaned knife.
As he drove out of town, his stomach rumbled. He pulled into a local pizza shop and made a beeline for the restrooms. As he’d hoped, it wasn’t a multi-stall facility. In the single bathroom that looked like an Italian grandmother’s powder room, he washed his hands, arms, neck, and face before removing his sweatshirt and stuffing it in his backpack. Confident he was clean, he exited the potpourri-scented room and made his way to the counter to place his order.
Sunday night, Mitch was roused from his bed by the forcible entry of the local police. His mind raced as they read him his rights and shoved a warrant under his nose.
“Do you understand these rights as I’ve explained them to you? Sir, do you understand these—”
“No!” Mitch cried. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this. Why are you here? What’s going on?”
“Sir, you are wanted in the murder of Trina Isabelle Martinez and one Zackary Isaac Garcia.”
Mitch’s legs buckled as the room spun violently around him. Trina was dead. His one reason for living was gone. The officers’ voices were distant and garbled. He closed his eyes and let his body go limp, deadweight as they dragged Mitch from the apartment.
A week later, Jack listened to the clickity-clack and squealing brakes of the subway as his car rumbled through the underground tunnels. An abandoned newspaper’s half-hidden headline of “Brutal Murder Susp—” caught his eye. Mitch’s mug shot did little to convince the general public of his innocence. His beady eyes and cold stare had the fixed mark of a crazed lunatic. Jack devoured the article and savored the tiny details like bloody prints matching the suspect’s boots. The final nail in the proverbial coffin was Mitch’s blood found at the crime scene. Jack hadn’t known about the rose thorns until he read Mitch’s plea of innocence, insisting that his blood was from the night before and that he hadn’t murdered anyone. According to the report, Mitchell James Keiller was being held without bail as the sole suspect in the brutal murders of Trina Isabelle Martinez and Zackary Isaac Garcia. A crooked smile tugged at his lips as he pictured Mitch’s face when the police tossed crime scene photos at him. His reverie was shattered by the shrill voices of two twenty-something girls sitting behind him.
“Even after I told him I never wanted to see him again, Aaron showed up at my office with flowers. As if that would win me back.”
“I know, right? Trust me; you are so much better off without him, Amber.”
Jack’s eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. He rode past his regular stop, listening to the two young ladies as they lamented their miserable relationship statuses. When they finally reached their stop, the girls exited the car, completely unaware of their fellow travelers. Jack remained behind them at a safe distance. Licking his lips, he smiled. And the hunt begins again.
GIVEAWAYAfter all that major stalking, yeah, baby, it’s giveaway time …. and we’ve a lot to win after all that hunting!!! 11 books are up for grabs!!! First the print: 1 print copy of the Journal of the Undead: Littleville Uprising and 1 print copy of the Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak!!! One winner will receive BOTH. Since these are PRINT THEY'RE LIMITED TO THE US AND CANADA!!!
The ecopies are as follows: 1 mobi of Bite Sized Offerings: Tales & Legends of the Zombie Apocalypse; 1 mobi of At Hell's Gates (Volume of Choice 1-3); 3 ecopies in choice of formats Journal of the Undead Littleville and 3 New York (those will be given away together so 3 winners will receive book 1 and 2); 1 mobi of Darkness Within: Halloween Edition. How this will work is that I'll pick SEVEN WINNERS!!! The 1st winner will receive the PRINT copy. The rest will receive the books n the order listed!!! So the 2nd will receive an ecopy of Bite Sized Offerings, the 3rd, At Hell's Gates, 4,5,6 Journal of the Undead & New York, and the 7 Darkness Within. So click on back to the FB Event page and comment, “I WANT TO WIN" and you just might!!!
Struggling actress and full-time waitress, Cassandra Taylor, is having one of the worst days of her life. Rude customers, a cheating boyfriend, and a botched audition are just the tip of the iceberg. Her new neighbor, Ryan McCallistar, has troubles of his own but neither is aware of a growing threat in the underbelly of New York City. Contrary to what the media reports, their so-called flu epidemic is actually a viral plague turning humans into flesh-eating monsters.
Starting on the streets, New York’s homeless are a walking buffet for the reanimated dead. One bite kick-starts a catastrophic outbreak turning the dead into ravenous fiends, bent on devouring flesh from bone. As the infection spreads, people from all walks of life are doomed to a ravenous search for fresh meat. On the same day the governor declares a state of emergency, Cassie learns her grandfather is deathly ill and her family in Ohio begs her to come back home. Ryan vows to help his neighbor find a way to Ohio but to do it, they must escape the watchful eye of every guard employed to patrol the border.
Cassie and Ryan risk life and limb to escape the horrors in The Big Apple but that’s only the beginning of their journey. Can they endure the trek through a zombie-infested wasteland and survive the New York Outbreak?
New to Littleville, the Wexley twins, Matt and Emma assume fitting in at Lincoln High and making new friends will be their biggest worries. They couldn’t be more wrong. Fate would introduce Evan Stone into the neighborhood and all three attempt to navigate the murky labyrinth of eleventh grade but Evan has a secret. His godfather is Dr. G.E. Mitchell, author of Journal of the Undead: A Survivor’s Guide and Evan has been learning about zombies from one of the best.
With an excellent school system, safe streets, and a strong sense of community, the Philadelphia suburb of Littleville has proudly attracted a diverse blend of people but up until now they’d always been living. When Lincoln High School is overrun by flesh-eating corpses, Evan rescues Emma and they battle their way through the zombies to Matt but fleeing the school doesn’t solve their problems. Friends, enemies, and loved ones are lost in the battle against the undead and the entire town is completely overrun. The true terror unfolds, as the survivors must escape and make the dangerous trek from suburban Philadelphia to the highest mountains of West Virginia with the hope of finding a safe haven at the Stone family cabin. If they can reach the secluded refuge, they just might survive the Littleville Uprising.
HELL’ GATE: origin of evil
AUTHOR BIOS.G. Lee was born in Philadelphia and raised in its suburbs. Forever a die-hard Philly sports fan, S.G. bleeds a dedicated swirl of Orange & Black, Red & White, or Green & Silver, a phenomenon that baffles nurses and phlebotomists alike. Still, it is the love of reading and writing that trumps all else...all except for an encouraging spouse and a rambunctious puppy. Currently, all three reside in North Central West Virginia but this author's heart still belongs to the City of Brotherly Love.
Though it is rumored that the desire to write about zombies was spawned by intense road rage, and a secret longing to club slow drivers with a tire iron, that claim has yet to be substantiated. S.G. is also a contributing author for the Zombie Response Team's blog in addition to a personal blog containing free horror stories and random musings at www.sgleehorror.blogspot.com. You can always connect with S.G. on Twitter (@sg_lee_horror) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/sg.leehorror).