Chapter 10: Friday Night Lights
Elderton was driving down 10th Street with Martha in the passenger seat with her. Martha was shivering, not from cold, but from shock. Elderton put on her hazard lights and pulled over to the side of the road. Right under the lights of the high school football field. She shook her sheriff jacket off both arms and handed it to Martha.
“Here, Martha,” she told her, “Put this on.”
Martha put the jacket on, which proved a little too big for her scrawny arms. She sat there shivering in the jacket, as she zipped it up to the top. She looked like a little kid in her mother’s clothes. “Thanks,” she said. “What’s going on? Why are people doing this to each other?”
“I don’t know, Martha,” Elderton replied, “I just don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I knew how to make it stop. Put an end to it. But for now, we stay smart. We stay in groups as much as possible.” She put her arm around Martha and started to rub her hands up and down the side of her arm.
“What are you doing?” Martha asked.
“Trying to warm you up.” Elderton said. “I don’t need you going into shock or having a panic attack. We don’t know what state the hospital is in right now. I need you to push through, OK?”
“Alright.” Martha said.
Elderton continued to rub an arm against Martha while she reached and turned the heat all the way up in her patrol car. She turned back and continued to rub her arms with both hands. She looked over Martha’s head and noticed a lot of movement and lights in the high school parking lot. That’s when she noticed people in Army fatigues and suits enter the west entrance to the high school.
“There’s something going on at the high school,” Elderton said.
Martha turned around and looked out the window. She could see all the movement and personnel moving around. “Do you think they’ve come to help us?”
“We haven’t even put out any word that I know of,” Elderton said. “And I’d expect National Guard before Army. Plus, that’s a stupid fast response time. Something’s up. I gotta check it out. Stay in the car.”
“No, Kelly, I’m coming with you.”
Elderton looked at Martha and she could tell from her expression she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Besides, it would probably be better for the two to stay together, as she’d already noted. “Alright,” Elderton said, “But we’re probably walking into a mess. Just know that. And let me do the talking.”
Elderton and Martha got out of the patrol car and locked it up. But not before Elderton took her double barrel shotgun from it and a pocket full of shotgun shells. She handed the shells to Martha. “Here,” she said. “Put these in the outside pockets of my jacket. It’s the only pockets I own that can hold them.” She kept two for herself. She loaded the shotgun and checked her pistol. “All right. Come on.”
They climbed the chain-link fence and walked straight out into the lights of the football field. Elderton didn’t want armed officials thinking they were sneaking up on them. And to her amusement, they did her bidding when they reached the fifty-yard line. She saw a group of armed officers come out with a few suits. She couldn’t make out their faces with the bright lights of the field bearing down on her and Martha. She stopped and held her shotgun above her head.
“I’m sheriff of this county!” She shouted to the men at the back of the bleachers. “I’m Sheriff Kelly Elderton! This here with me is a citizen, a victim of violence tonight! We’re coming up to you!” Elderton turned and whispered to Martha, “Let me make the next step.”
She took two steps ahead of Martha and one of the suited men raised his hand. “Stop!” He shouted, and she obliged. “This is a matter of National Security, I can’t let you come up here! I can’t let you anywhere near the high school premises! Go back to the station and wait for me there!”
“I’m sheriff of this county,” Elderton started, “and if it involves the safety of my people, it involves me! We’re coming up!”
“Dammit, Elderton!” Another suited man yelled at her. She recognized it as none other than Mayor Kendell Marsden. He had been a thorn in her side ever since she was elected to sheriff. He was convinced she was unfit for duty. She never could get him to explain how he came to that conclusion. He was always butting in or leaving her out of matters. “This is Mayor Marsden and I’m commanding you to go back to the station!”
Elderton felt hairs tingle on the back of her neck. She was pissed off. “Wendy ain’t answering back at the station! There’s likely trouble, so I can’t go waltzing back with Martha in hand! We’re coming up, dammit!” She overemphasized the dammit in response to his.
She could see that Marsden started to step forward and yell at her again, but the first suit grabbed him and pulled him back. “Come up! And hand over your arms to my men!”
“Hell no!” Martha yelled from behind Elderton. Elderton turned and looked at her with surprise. Martha continued, “If you’d seen what I’ve seen tonight, you’d know why!”
Elderton looked back up to the group of men. There was silence while the condition was considered. Finally, the nameless suit nodded and shouted that it was OK. Elderton leaned over to Martha and whispered to her as they made their ascension up the bleachers. “Well played, Martha.”
Chapter 9: To raise a fighter
Betty pulled her arms around herself, trying to keep warm and get her thoughts in order as she sat below the old, wooden basement stairs. The scratch on her arm was on fire from where her father had gotten her before, but it had finally stopped bleeding. She’d already searched the basement for a weapon and had come up empty. She supposed she’d just have to wait it out until he gave up, but that didn’t seem likely any time soon. Or maybe…
“GAH!” her dad roared from behind the basement door. He pounded on it over and over again, but until he used more force, he wouldn’t be getting through.
The thing was, he was physically her dad, but in her head she knew something was amiss. Her dad was a quiet man who liked hard work and followed the rules. In her twenty-five years, she hadn’t ever heard or seen him be violent. But the way he pounded at the door, not using words, but low grunts… it scared her. She felt thrown into a horror movie. Just living her normal life and then bam! Her reality turned upside down.
Just then, Betty heard a crash, not from the basement door but from somewhere else in the house. She froze and waited. The banging stopped. She heard footsteps—two sets? What was happening?
She crept up the stairs, going slowly, careful to avoid the steps that creaked loudly and pressed her ear to the door. Another crash echoed through the house, vibrating the walls, followed by one of her father’s growls.
“Kevin, hey!” she heard another man’s voice call out. “It’s me! Hey, calm down!”
Her dad clearly didn’t pay one lick of attention. She heard glass breaking and a pained sound, she assumed from the other man. Betty risked unlocking the door, waited a few seconds to make sure no one heard, and then slowly twisted the knob, pushing the door open no more than half an inch. She couldn’t see anything useful, so she took a deep breath and pushed it open a foot.
Betty’s jaw dropped when she saw the scene before her. Her dad had Deputy Marvin pinned to the ground, growling and flailing, trying to keep him in place. It looked like a high school wrestling match, but jerky and random instead of methodical and practiced.
Her dad’s hands grabbed ahold of Marvin’s head, one on each side, and Betty saw what was coming before it happened. “Nooo!” she roared. “Dad, stop!”
In response, her dad glanced back at her. It was like he didn’t even recognize her, her own father. His eyes were crazed and vacant at the same time.
Marvin’s eyes fixed on hers, desperate, pleading. He glanced back and forth between Betty and Kevin. During these glances, he seemed to accept his fate.
“Run!” he yelled as loud as he could manage amid the struggle to breathe. Betty thought it sounded like a good idea, maybe the smarter thing to do. But she was a fighter. She stood up for what was right. That’s what her dad taught her—her real dad, not this slobbery, angry monster.
“Ok,” she said. “I’m running then.” She glared directly into her dad’s foreign eyes. “You hear that? I’m out of here.”
Marvin’s eyes turned sad, as if he’d secretly wished she would help him, but she could tell he also understood. Her dad stared at her, seemingly confused by her words.
Hopefully she moved quickly enough to save them both…
Betty tore off down the hall, toward her father’s bedroom. Fumbling in his desk drawer, she reached to the very back and pulled the pistol into her hand. It was cold to the touch but made her feel oddly warm. Exhilarated.
She knew what she had to do. Hearing another loud grunting sound snapped her out of her sadness. Dashing back to the living area, she rejoined the two men. Marvin’s eyes were wide with fear. Her father had always been a strong man, but he had gained some crazy animalistic energy that fueled him to hold Marvin to the floor.
At the same moment, Kevin twisted hard on Marvin’s head, one intense push that sent a snapping noise through the room, and Betty raised the gun and shot her father straight in the head. He toppled over on top of Marvin, completely limp.
People in movies always say that shooting a gun was so loud and hurt one’s ears, and Betty supposed that was mostly true. But she was so laser focused on accomplishing her mission that it didn’t overtake her. She felt proud, like her dad would be proud.
As the two men lie dead before her, she took a deep breath. On to the next action, she told herself. Find reinforcements. She didn’t know who, but she had to find someone.
Unsure exactly where she was headed, she stole Deputy Marvin’s car keys and rolled out into the night.
Chapter 8: The work of women
Elderton turned off her sirens as she approached the home of Leonard and Martha Hampton. Their small house had been built in the early 1900s and needed major renovations, but it was impossible on Leonard’s factory job and attitude towards a little thing he called women’s work.
A staunch Christian, Leonard had commanded rather harshly one evening eight months prior that Martha quit the cashier job she’d taken at Aldi to help the family. She was working during the days, when the kids were at school, and being a dutiful housewife and mother all other times of the day and weekends. Elderton had taken that call personally, and found an agitated Leonard breathing heavy and quoting scripture at his wife outside Aldi in the parking lot. The Aldi personnel had taken him out of the building when he came in fuming and hit her repeatedly while she was trying to check out someone at her register.
Elderton could see she’d taken a beating as she yelled at him from the automatic doors, which kept opening and closing in confusion while several employees tried to hold her back from getting near him. Elderton recalled how Martha wasn’t mad but rather upset and trying to explain to her angry husband why it was okay for her to take a job. She was in tears.
Elderton didn’t waste any time when she arrived at Aldi that day slamming Leonard into the hood of her patrol car and handcuffing him. She gladly shoved him into the back and took him off to the station. A tearful Martha would later pay his bail, reassuring him all the while that she had quit the job and acknowledging it was a lapse in faith. They hugged and kissed. And prayed.
Elderton wanted to toss the bail money and put him back in jail that day.
She didn’t know what to expect when she pulled into their driveway, but she knew what Leonard Hampton was like sober. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that she hadn’t seen the worst of Leonard.
Elderton stepped a firm boot out of her patrol car. She loosened the fastener around her nine-millimeter pistol and pulled it from the holster. Holding it firmly in both hands, she kept the barrel aimed down to the ground. The safety still on.
She gently closed the door, but not to latch. Slowly and carefully she crept through their yard, ears alert for any signs of life.
She had to dodge children’s toys and bicycles as she made the way to the front stoop. Some toys looked like they hadn’t been moved in a long time from the yard, splattered with grass clippings and dirt. She stepped up the porch of the old home, the wood creaking loudly as she reached the door. She knocked loudly on the screen door, the door itself was open. She could see light shining from underneath what she assumed was the bathroom door where Martha had called from. The door was past a staircase that went to the second story and at the end of the hallway. It appeared the only light on in the house was in that one room.
She knocked loudly again. “This is the police! This is Sheriff Elderton! I’m going to enter unless you come forward Leonard Hampton, hands raised and behind your head!”
No answer. She could see no signs of movement underneath the bathroom door, and she began to fear the worst for Martha.
“I’m coming in!” She called out and opened the screen door. It made so much racket, her skin crawled and she developed goosebumps on her arms. Once inside, she slowly let the screen door close with her boot. She checked to her left and saw a small kitchen with outdated appliances, yellow linoleum tiles, and a puddle of blood on the floor. She looked to her right and she saw the small living room, the TV running, but just static. The antenna was on the floor, the coffee table was broken, and items from it had fallen onto the floor. Very clearly signs of a struggle.
She leaned into the kitchen and what she saw shook her to the core. The remains of their children were piled in a corner of the kitchen, against the cabinets. They were stacked like a wild dog might do with his latest find of bones and animal carcasses. Some of the remains were noticeably chewed upon, others were missing entirely. There was no sign of an adult’s remains.
Elderton slid back into the hallway, regripping her pistol with her sweaty palms. She glanced up the stairs and didn’t see any signs of anybody lurking at the top. She headed down the hallway, closer and closer to the bathroom door. She wasn’t sure what she would find. Another massacre? Leonard? Martha? At the door, she gave a gentle tap and held her breath.
“Martha, if you’re in there, this is Sheriff Elderton,” she said loud enough to be heard, but gentle enough not to startle her. “I’m here to help.” She didn’t hear anything, but she watched as shadows darted about at the bottom of the door in the light. She stepped back two steps, not sure if it was Leonard about to come out to attack. She readied herself and turned off the safety on the gun. “Martha, if that’s you in there, I need you to confirm before opening that door.”
“Stop talking,” Martha whispered through the door. “He can hear us. He can smell us.”
Elderton stepped back to the door. She lowered her voice, “Is Leonard in the house?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well,” Elderton started, “We need to get you somewhere safe. That’s the priority. I’ll need you to open this door and come outside with me. My patrol car is waiting for us. We’ll go back to the station. He can’t hurt you there.”
“He won’t let me leave.” Martha said. “He wants to eat me. He wants to eat all of us.”
“Martha, you have my word, if we see Leonard, I’ll kill him. He won’t hurt you again.”
There was a silence as Elderton waited for a reply. It came in the form of the bathroom door unlocking and opening to a crack. The light cut like blades into Elderton’s eyes. She had to readjust for the light, and she saw only a fraction of Martha’s face. She could see an eye that was red and swollen from crying. Her cheek was scratched open in long, vertical lines.
“I’m ready,” Martha said.
Elderton simply nodded to her in understanding.
Martha opened the door just enough for her to slip her malnourished body through it. She slid in behind Elderton and wrapped her arms around her waist, trembling. Elderton took one hand and held onto one of Martha’s hands. They slowly moved up the hallway, Elderton keeping her aim shoulder level as they headed for the door to the house.
“Hold,” Elderton whispered. She stopped them at the side of the stairs. She looked up the worn wooden railing. Still no sign of Leonard. They moved forward a few more steps. Elderton peered to her right, into the kitchen. No sign of Leonard. She started to turn to her left to check the living room, but before she could get her head turned around Martha was screaming in her ear.
Elderton wrapped her left arm around the back of Martha and pivoted the two of them away from the stairs, trying to get herself positioned in front and Martha protected. Before she could finish the move, Leonard had leapt from the stairs and tackled them to the ground. Elderton’s pistol whipped Leonard in the forehead while she pushed Martha away with her other hand into the kitchen. Leonard climbed up on top of Elderton, hugging her into a tight grip around her shoulders. They came face-to-face, his eyes were crazed, and he drooled on her face a mixture of saliva and blood. Behind them, Martha was screaming continuously. Elderton continued to squirm beneath his grasp. She writhed and squirmed, trying to free up her gun hand, but he had a tight grip on her.
“Leonard Hampton, I will use lethal force if you don’t get off me!” she yelled in his face, but he didn’t seem to understand. He smelled the shampoo fragrance in her hair, and began to lick her hair, but got it caught on his tongue and it began to stick to her face. She tried to turn the gun in her hand until she was certain the barrel was positioned against his leg. She felt it nudge him, and he snarled at her. It was now or never.
She pulled the trigger.
Martha continued to scream.
Leonard rolled across the floor, he rubbed at a gunshot wound in his upper thigh. He was kicking and squirming, hissing and growling. Elderton sat up quick, not sure how much time she had just bought herself, and she took two quick shots. The first one hit his left shoulder, the second went through his left eye and out the back of his head. It lodged into the wood railing of the stairs.
Martha was still screaming hysterically.
Elderton watched Leonard for a moment for any signs of life. She moved in and checked his pulse. Dead. She looked up and saw that Martha was standing in the kitchen, screaming not because of what had just happened, but because she had just rediscovered the remains of her children.
“Don’t look!” Elderton yelled. She jumped and ran to Martha. Elderton put the gun into her holster, and fastened it. Elderton wrapped an arm around Martha’s shoulders and muscled her out the front door. Martha didn’t stop screaming until they had passed the Dollar General, a good five minutes down the road.
Elderton noted that the glass windows had been smashed out. The lights were still on inside, but she couldn’t see anyone inside as she passed. She grabbed her radio.
“Wendy, this is Elderton,” she said, “Come in.” No answer. “Wendy, this is Elderton, please come in.” She only got static as she waited for a response. She switched frequencies on the radio, and pressed the button down, “Marvin, this is Elderton, pick up.” Silence. “Marvin, pick up.” After a moment of more static, she tried the police station again. Frustrated she slammed the radio down. She looked over at Martha who looked horrified and confused.
“What’s going on?” Martha asked.
“I’m working on that, Martha,” she said as she grabbed Martha’s hand and squeezed it tight, “I’m working on that.”
Chapter 7: Out of sight, out of mind
Mandy and Maggie had been listening in horror as the Aldi Lady ate on the man Mandy had killed. She had taken her sweet time, gnawing at the flesh and tearing at his insides. Maggie eventually tried to black it out, but Mandy didn’t. She knew that so long as she could hear Aldi Lady eating, she wasn’t focusing her attention on them.
How much longer? Maggie signed.
Before Mandy could sign a reply, the eating stopped. That noise was replaced with Aldi Lady licking her bloody hands and arms up-and-down, like a cat might do. Mandy slowly peeked around the edge of the booth she was behind and watched as Aldi Lady eventually stood up, staggered onto a chair, her feet still injured from the glass she had walked through. She looked around, and then turned and walked back through the shards of glass. Outside she turned and headed towards the parking lot.
She faded out of sight into the dark of the night.
Mandy stood up slowly. She moved to Maggie, still holding tightly onto the shovel. “We should move to the back, Mags,” She whispered. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Yeah, Maggie signed in reply. She stood up and looked across the lobby just as lightning struck outside. The Aldi Lady was standing just outside one of the windows. She was staring back in. Mindless. But when she saw Maggie standing upright, her eyes adjusted and focused on her. She let out a scream and started to run back to the broken door she knew. “Move, Mandy! She’s coming!” Maggie yelled as she ran back into the kitchen.
Mandy ran behind the counter, a few steps behind Maggie. She spun around and looked out into the lobby. She wasn’t sure what Maggie had seen. She didn’t know where Aldi Lady was, and she hated not knowing. She didn’t want to be taken by surprise. She took slow steps back into the kitchen and looked to the door just as Aldi Lady came running through it. She ran full speed through the broken glass and started to trip up but dove horizontally just before she fell. She went sliding head first across the front counter, her arms spread-eagled. It happened so fast that Mandy didn’t have time to move out of the way and she tackled her to the ground. Instinctively Mandy let go of the shovel and tried to catch her fall with her hands. She was slammed against the counter where they made food for customers.
Aldi Lady had her legs pinned down. She kicked and squirmed to get loose, but Aldi Lady held onto her and slowly crawled up her legs. She was screaming and dripping blood from her mouth. She grabbed Mandy’s shirt at the neck and pulled it down towards her, trying to pull Mandy’s face closer to hers. Mandy kept pulling, fighting, but she felt like she was fighting a losing battle.
“GET—” Maggie yelled just as she hit Aldi Lady in the head with the shovel, “OFF—” she continued to shout with each blow, “MY—FRIEND!”
Irritated from the pain, Aldi Lady recoiled away from Mandy and Maggie underneath the front counter. Mandy got up and found the large kitchen knife on the line they used to cut up fresh lettuce with. She positioned herself on the right side of the cornered Aldi Lady. Maggie stood front and center with the shovel in both of her hands.
“Hit her three more times, aim for the head,” Mandy said, “And then I’m going in with the knife. When I come out, start hitting her again.”
Without a word, Maggie swung three times. Aldi Lady tried to block each attempt with her hands, but the last one landed a solid blow to her left temple. The blow took the wind out of her just as Mandy slid under the counter with her. She shoved her left arm up under Aldi Lady’s chin to keep her from biting her and stabbed her six times in her left side. She pulled back and took one jab into the side of her neck at a downward angle. It lodged between Aldi Lady’s spine and collarbone. When Mandy felt it was stuck she pulled out and got away from her as fast as she could. Maggie started hitting with the shovel again. Blow after blow after blow to the head. But Aldi Lady couldn’t resist the assault.
“Wait!” Mandy yelled at Maggie.
They both watched as Aldi Lady held onto her butchered side with one hand. With her other hand, she discovered the knife in her neck. She looked confused as she struggled to breathe and coughed up blood repeatedly. She took grip of the knife’s blade, cutting her hand. She yanked the knife out of her neck and dropped it on the ground next to her along with her hand. She was dying. But she didn’t know that. The expression on her face constantly went from irritated to confused as she tried to move. But she lacked the energy, and just sort of wiggled and flailed in place. She finally stopped trying to move. She looked up at Maggie, almost lifeless, and she just screamed with all the rage a woman could have.
And then she died.
“I’m thinking maybe we should fortify the place a little bit.” Maggie said. “It’s too easy for these psychos to get in here.”
“I’m with you there.” Mandy said. “All the way.”
Chapter 6: The Twisted Johnsons
“Well, that sucked,” Eddy told his brother, plopping down on the couch, defeated.
“It’s your fault, you spaz. When you tripped, you ruined everything.” Eric, Eddy’s older brother, kicked a box near the sofa in frustration and sent it flying, knocking into the ladder leaned against the wall and sending it clattering to the garage floor. He glared at his brother, like it was his fault.
It’s not all my fault, you jerkwad. What about that witch next door who called in on us again? He wanted to scream in Eric’s face. But of course, he didn’t. He stayed sitting right where he was, convincing himself it wasn’t worth it to blow up at his brother.
Eric was always sour after a mission. First ecstatic, riding the adrenaline rush. And then bummed it was over, crabby if it didn’t turn out quite right, and downright rageful if it completely failed. Thankfully, this one was at least a partial success.
Eddy said nothing, letting his brother ride out his mood, as usual. It had always been like that between the two of them, loyal as hell to one another, but Eric was clearly superior, and not only because of the one year he had on Eddy. It was something else about Eric, his dominance, a natural leader since he was born. The younger Johnson was a little quieter, tough as hell, but more reserved and silent.
Fiddling with a rip in his jeans, Eddy was content to chill for a second, and then move on to something else, maybe go shooting or play pool. Eric was much easier to stand when doing a hobby together, not counting the people he could aggravate. Just when enough time had passed for Eddy to feel comfortable to suggest something fun, Eric perked up and made eye contact with his brother.
“Here,” Eric called, tossing his brother a water bottle with iced tea they’d made earlier that day. “Drink up.” He grinned. Eddy raised an eyebrow, wondering what the sudden urgency was. “How ‘bout we kick things up a notch?” His eyes danced with excitement. Eddy could see his brother’s thoughts racing, and developed a lump in his throat. No matter how much he tried to wash it down with his drink, he couldn’t seem to. But he hated to admit, he was a little excited, too.
The Crazed Johnsons
Marvin had barely stepped out of his car before Joan Hazel had thrown open her front door and rushed to meet him on the sidewalk.
“Thank God you’re here, Deputy!” she said, out of breath from her jaunt. Her face turned serious as she gained her composure. In a low voice, she told him, “They’re up to something, I just know it.”
Internally, Marvin sighed. He’d dealt with the Johnson boys many times. Most of the time they were simple pranks pulled on neighbors or other people their age, but once it had gotten violent when they’d gotten thrown from a bar—that they were too young to be in anyhow. For what was generally mostly harmless, the older one had a scary look about him…
Focusing back in the present, he looked at Joan and asked her why she had that thought.
“Well earlier, right, they were picking on old Farmer Fred again, up to their usual nonsense. But I saw them out here and told them to knock it off. They both came at me, I honestly thought they were going to hurt me. But then Roxy, you know my German Shepherd? She came up and rescued me, barking away at them.” She shuddered as if reliving it. And then her face grew grim. “The older Johnson boy took one look at Roxy and smiled at me. I got chills, that look he gave me.”
“But,” Marvin interrupted her, “did they physically assault you or give you the impression that they were going to?”
Just then his phone started ringing. He reached to answer it.
“They threatened my dog and basically me!” Joan suddenly yelled. She glanced behind her, looking either for Roxy or the Johnson boys, she wasn’t quite sure.
He let his phone keep ringing, giving Joan his full attention, as she obviously felt he should. He knew that more than likely, everything was fine and would be fine, but he wanted her to feel safe and taken seriously. She didn’t have a husband to look out for her regarding these things, which is exactly why Marvin had given her his personal number. For a situation just like this.
“Ok, Ms. Hazel, how about we take a look around, make sure your place is all secure, and then I’ll go have a chat with the neighbor boys.” She nodded, seemingly somewhat satisfied he’d ignored his phone call for her.
She led the way up her porch and into the main living area, ushering him inside and giving him a tour like he was a friend. He half expected her to offer him a cookie. Upon entering the kitchen, though, she let out a shriek. Water, flowers, and broken glass scattered the floor. A spill like that could have easily been from the bump of a hip on a coffee table, or maybe the dog had knocked it over.
But, as Marvin felt in the pit of his stomach, it was more than that. It was different. It felt… bad somehow. It meant something worse.
Wait. The dog.
“ROXY!” Joan looked at Marvin, startled at his sudden call for her dog. And then he saw in her eyes that it clicked.
“Out back!” she said and ran out. He followed.
When they reached the back porch, all Marvin could do was stare. His phone started ringing again, but he didn’t move even a muscle. Joan shrieked “Roxy!” at the same time as Marvin gasped.
Marvin was all too familiar with the Johnson boys. Hell, he’d been called to their home just a few short days ago by a different unhappy neighbor. But when he saw their faces in the backyard, they looked almost foreign to him. Completely lacking emotion in the facial features, but the eyes looked… mad. Not an angry type of mad. A crazy, insane type of mad.
They walked clumsily across the yard, the older Johnson boy carrying a stick. He stabbed at Roxy, missing by a wide margin, as if his coordination was a little off. When Joan shrieked again, he looked up, as if noticing their presence and not sure what to do with it.
He grunted and pointed the stick at them. The younger Johnson boy looked in their direction and let out a similar grunt. Eddy opened his mouth, almost as if to say something, but then just froze, his lips parted. His eyes were vacant.
Marvin’s phone rang again, disrupting his transfixed stare at the scene before him. The third time in five minutes.
The Johnson boys did not like the sound of his phone ringing. The older one let out a high-pitched screech, dropped his stick to the ground, and broke off in a sprint toward the noise. Roxy bounded back to Joan, and they embraced.
Eddy Johnson, lips still parted, stalked toward Marvin, a few feet behind his brother. Marvin, in his surprise and panic, dropped his phone while trying to answer it. He froze as Eric reached him and let out a grunt.
“Eric?” Marvin asked, barely above a whisper. He had no idea how to navigate this.
Eric stared down at the phone, no longer ringing now. He seemed relieved, like it had given him a headache or something. Drool dripped from his open mouth, and in one quick gesture, he reached up and smacked Marvin square in the chest.
“Hey!” Marvin yelled and scrambled back a few feet, completely caught off guard. The scream turned Eric’s eyes back to the same crazy panicked look that the phone ringing had on him. And then Eric was on top of him, the two men rolling end over end, in a weird violent embrace. When Eddy dove into the mix, Marvin took a blow to the stomach. He tried to pay no attention to it and struggled to grab ahold of one of the boys, do whatever he could to put himself on top.
The crazed Johnsons threw punches and kicks in random directions and places, pretty much did whatever damage they could. Marvin tried to think ahead, planning to get the three of them near a weapon he could grab.
He lunged for it, just a few feet away in the grass. Just when he’d gotten his grip on it, Roxy came barking and dove to join the mess of humans. Luckily, it startled both Eric and Eddy, and they shifted away from Marvin for just long enough for him to take a jab with the stick. He hit Eric in the jaw, producing a long scratch along his cheek. His eyes turned rageful, angry at the pain Marvin had caused.
He took another stab, this time getting Eddy in his side, just above his waistline. Eddy scurried away, clutching the injury. He seemed close to tears.
Eric, blood dripping from his face, dove for Marvin, a fierce determination in him. He wanted revenge. Out of the corner of his eye, Marvin caught sight of Joan running away. Abandoning him! When he’d been there to save her in the first place!
Marvin threw a punch, hitting just beside Eric’s already hurt face. Eric straddled Marvin and grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him on his back, thrashing him to the ground over and over. Marvin could feel his head growing dizzy, his brain ricocheting inside his skull with each impact. Just as he neared unconsciousness, he heard a loud THWACK! and watched Eric fall off to the side to the ground, completely limp.
When he glanced up out of his one good eye, Marvin saw Joan standing over him, bloody brick in her hand from bashing Eric over the head. She threw it at the same spot on his head, and he made no noise, no movement. He was dead.
Shaking his head, Marvin stood and brushed himself off. He needed to find his phone.
“Oh my god,” Joan said with a deep breath. “I just saved your life.”
Marvin glared at her. “I wouldn’t go that far. I was just fine.” He hobbled over to the phone in the grass from where he dropped it earlier.
“OH MY GOD MARVIN SAY SOMETHING!” he heard barking from the phone when he’d picked it up.
“Wendy? What the hell?” Marvin wiped his brow, sweat and blood now covering his hand. “How long have you been on the line?”
“Seven of the scariest damn minutes of my life. What the hell is happening over there?”
“Um, it’s going to sound insane. How about I just tell you things got… out of hand over here and one of the Johnson boys is dead.” After a glance around the yard, he added, “And the other one will be soon.” He expected Wendy to retort about how Mayor Marsden—who was her uncle—wouldn’t like that. But she didn’t. She told him she was glad he was alive.
“I hate to break it to you, but I have another problem for you to take care of. Betty Hoggins needs your help. Get over there ASAP.”
Marvin sighed. Whatever this new thing was surely couldn’t be as bad as what he’d just gone through. He imagined a hot shower and nice meal waiting for him at home. All he had to do was stop by Betty’s house. Surely it wasn’t anything too bad.
He waved goodbye to Joan, washed his face with a cloth from his glove box, and drove down the main road to the Hoggins residence. His heart was still racing a little but, the unsettled feeling, for the most part, was gone. He made a mental note to tell Sheriff Elderton just how much praise he deserved for taking care of the two Tiptonites she hated most.
Chapter 5: Fun for the whole family
Karl von Richter stood just outside the lazy providence of Tipton. He surveyed the quiet and quaint town at night. It was lit with orange street lights that created an orange glow around it. He lit a cigarette and dropped the match on the ground. He took a puff as he surveyed the various building structures and housing. He knew that somewhere in that miserable small town was what he had come looking for and was going to bring back to his client. And anyone who got in his way would be dead before they could whisper his name.
It was how he was known by anyone paying attention to his career. The Judge. It was because of his last name, Richter, which was a German surname that meant judge. He had come from a long line of judges, and the von had been awarded later when his family had married into nobility. His allies, those who hired him, called him The Noble Judge. Whichever way you sliced it, his reputation of being The Judge was because of his high number of successful kills he had committed.
He had been operating as a hired gun and thief for twenty-five years. Work had been difficult to find in the beginning, but as the dark web gained popularity as a global marketplace, it was easier to get hired, and now he could do it on the go. And when cryptocurrency emerged, it was almost too easy to operate. He had even stolen from and crashed the crypto market a few times to add to his retirement fund. He figured he had about five more good years left, and he wanted a little extra cash stockpiled before logging off the dark web for good. Of course, he might log back on now and again to pirate a movie or something; retirement would get boring.
He spotted an abnormally large building, compared to the other structures in the town. It had a wide parking lot next to it and bright fluorescent lighting. He took out his video camera, attached his zoom lens, and put it up to his eye to focus on the structure before him. He could see movement, two dark-clothed figures, carrying something large together. Another figure held the door for them, and the large object, and entered behind them. This person appeared to be holding a rifle.
He zoomed it a little more and took in the surroundings of the building. There was a vast, open area, which was well-lit. A football field. It was a high school. It made perfect sense to him. A government building, large enough for their needs, and probably better fortified than most buildings in Tipton.
He detached his zoom lens from his camera and tucked them both safely into his backpack before zipping it up. The bag had bullet proofing panels and would provide some protection to the technology he kept in it as well as himself.
He took a few more calming puffs from his cigarette before dropping and stepping it out on the pavement of the road that lead into town. He looked up at the welcome sign as he passed it, Welcome to Tipton! We’re fun for the whole family, it read. He smirked.
Chapter 4: Hellfire and hypocrisy
Jennifer Claiborne parked across the street from the church. She was always running late with little Marcus on Wednesday nights. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn’t get from work to home, through dinner with Marcus, changed for church, and then to church on time. Being a teen mom had been hard, especially in a small town. The eyes, the gossip. She thought she had found solace in the church when she was nineteen, but now it was just another way for her to disappoint people. People sneered at the way she dressed; her clothes weren’t nice enough. She was raising a kid alone, how was she supposed to afford nice clothes? The niceness of how one dressed somehow represented how much you were going out of your way to worship God. But she knew full well that the preacher, Elron, shopped for suits at Goodwill. Those were only eight dollars for a two-piece suit. Did God not know Elron was being cheap? Could God not see through that?
And then there were Wednesdays.
She always came in late, during the song service, and the ladies always turned and sneered as she found a seat at the back of the building for her and little Marcus. It was so embarrassing. And sometimes Marcus couldn’t help himself, he’d find something to remark and speak way too loud or right as a song finished; drawing all the attention to them. And she’d feel so small in those moments. Smaller than her little Marcus. The only light in her life.
“Now Marcus,” Jennifer turned around and looked back at Marcus in his car seat. “Remember. We have to be very quiet in church, right?”
“Right,” He said, his feet kicking below.
“That’s my boy.”
She tried so hard to keep the doors from slamming behind them. She slowly snuck into the chapel area and Kinsey turned and saw her. She rolled her eyes and looked forward once more. She never broke from singing praises to God. She could sing praises and pass judgment; she was a Christian Multitasker.
Judge not, lest ye be judged, Jennifer thought to herself. She always had plenty of snarky and scriptural comebacks. But they never made it to her mouth. Just bounced around in her head. Like her ideas of nursing school; getting an education, getting a better job, getting a better life.
She sat down with Marcus in a booth against the back wall under the stained-glass windows. Marcus had kept quiet this time. She looked at him and gave him a wink and thumbs up. He sat up, proud. She gave him a hug. They grabbed their hymn books and turned to the song just as it ended. Another song started shortly.
As they sang, Jennifer noticed Elron was pale and sweating on the front pew, which was odd. He normally wasn’t sweaty until about ten minutes into the sermon. But even then, he was usually reddish, not pale. It was all his hellfire and brimstone preaching that would get him all worked up. Lately he’d been focusing more and more on external groups, which was odd. Homosexuals, transgendered, Muslims, and more. He normally wasn’t so specific, much less focusing on people who weren’t even present to hear the sermon.
He coughed several times. It sounded violent on the throat.
She wondered if maybe he was coming down with something. She’d ask him after services, if he still looked pale. Which, she doubted.
The hell we make
Elron felt so darned cold. He’d been trying to get warm for hours, but nothing would work. He was wearing a sweater under his suit. Still. Nothing. He was shaking all over. And he was irritable. Everything was getting on his nerves. Things that usually were small annoyances were a kick to his balls.
He offered a small prayer asking for forgiveness for thinking crudely.
He kept trying to focus on his sermon, but his mind would wander or sometimes just blank. He had lost almost thirty minutes earlier in the day. He had no idea what he did or if he even had a conscious thought during those moments. He figured he had some bug, but he wasn’t going to miss a service. Even for being sick. Christ died on a cross for his sins, a little discomfort during a service wouldn’t kill him. And he sure as hellfire wouldn’t be late like Jennifer Claiborne.
He looked back at her usual spot, and there she was with her bastard child, Marcus. She was looking at him. He turned away.
The little bitch whore, he thought to himself. Jesus almighty! He was shocked at the words that had gone through his mind. He closed his eyes and prayed for forgiveness again. It was going to be a long night.
It was time for him to get up and introduce his thoughts for the evening. He slowly stood up, his knees almost buckling from the shakiness. He stepped up onto the podium and got behind the pulpit. He leaned into it, his sermon and Bible spread out on it for him to look over. The little, green lamp hanging over it so he could see every word. Every. Blessed. Word. It was a sermon about the declining morality in the world. It centered on a passage in 2 Timothy which read, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
It wasn’t enough. He needed to dig deeper. He slammed his fist down on the pulpit and people jumped. He grabbed a piece of chalk. He headed over to the chalkboard and wrote firmly across it. The chalk broke when he finished the last letter. He dropped the rest of it on the carpet. He turned back to the congregation and pointed at it.
“The hell we make!” He shouted. “That’s what I’m gonna talk to you about tonight.” He stumbled back to the pulpit and leaned against it once more. “I was gonna talk about the word, and how it’s waxing worse and worse out there. But no. I look out over the sea of faces tonight and I see it in here. Sinners. Wretched, filthy, stinking sinners.” He sniffed. “I can smell it. I smell your sins like meat. Like rotting flesh. And I want to tear it from your bones. Peel it off you and devour it. I want to eat your sin. Filth.” He looked around the room and he could smell it. It was grotesque, yes, but it made him hungry. He wanted it in his mouth. He looked at Bethany and he could smell it strong on her. “Filth. Bethany has it.”
Bethany looked around, afraid, and began to cry for being called out.
He looked around and spotted Chelsea, only 13 years old. She had it. “FILTH!” He pointed with his finger. “Not even a woman, and I can smell it on you.”
Chelsea sobbed and ran out of the room.
Many of the men and several of the women, including Kinsey, were getting riled up by Elron.
“MORE!” A voice called out.
Elron looked around more. The crowd was in a tizzy, as Kinsey would often say. He pointed a finger at another of the sisters, their only black member. “Filth!”
She crossed her arms and held her head up high. Unmoved.
It is not permitted unto them to speak
Jennifer was in absolute disarray. What was going on? She had never seen such an event from Elron. What was he doing? Was he losing his mind? And poor Bethany, she was completely humiliated.
She looked at Marcus. He was shaking and gripping her arm so tight he was going to leave marks. She patted him.
“FILTH!” He called out another.
He had only called out women, Jennifer noted. And she wondered if it was because women weren’t allowed to speak up in the assembly. If he called out a man, he could offer a rebuttal. But judging by their responses, the men were all-in on this charade. They were lapping it up like a dog is turned to his own vomit again.
Jennifer stood up. “That’s quite enough!” A silence fell over the room. No one had ever heard a woman speak during a worship service before. They were taken aback. “You’re embarrassing yourself. All of you. And you, Elron, I don’t know if you’re drunk, or high, or just sick and need help, but this has got to stop. Look at what you’re doing. Look around you. Consider your words.”
There was a moment of silence. She hoped it was because they were considering what she had to say.
Elron slowly raised his hand from the pulpit and pointed to her and shouted, “’Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.’ First book to Corinth, chapter 14 and verse 34.” He paused for effect, and then, “FILTH!”
There was applause at the condemnation.
“SLUT!” Kinsey yelled at her, her finger pointing. “Where’s the father, slut? Where’s the father?”
She glanced at Kinsey’s husband, Frank. It was him. She had gone to the Homecoming dance alone their sophomore year, but as she was leaving, he had pulled up beside her as she was walking home. He asked if she needed a lift, and she got in. He took her out to Lover’s Peak, an enclave that overlooked the town. She had protested, but he persisted. After it was over, he took her home—which was all she wanted. For years she’d wanted to tell the truth. She wanted to go to the authorities, too. But she never did. She was afraid it would be her word against Frank’s, and he was the star quarterback that year. He was only a sophomore and yet he was starting quarterback. His dad was a judge, his mom the superintendent. And who was Jennifer Claiborne? She had come from a long line of high school dropouts, housewives, junkies, mechanics, poor. Not bad people, but not respected either.
She wanted to say it. She’d been trying to get that point for years, but as she looked at all the angry faces. All the pale, sweating, and angry faces. She knew. This wasn’t the time. This wasn’t the place. This wasn’t…
They were all circling around her, she noticed. They had been slowly coming out of their pews and making their way back to her. Marcus tugged at her arm and indicated he was scared. She nodded.
She looked at them, and raised her voice. “‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone!’”
That didn’t work. They kept coming.
There were screams. Frank and Kinsey ran for the door. The screams continued.
Jennifer tried to peer through the crowd, and as she did, she saw that several men and come down on their black sister. There was blood.
She turned to Marcus, “We run. To the car. We don’t stop. Got it?”
“Piggyback, bud!” She stood up and he jumped up on the pew, and then up onto her back. His arms wrapped around her neck and legs about her waist firmly. “Out of my way!” She ran straight through the crowd pushing where she could.
She broke away for a moment and headed for the door. But Frank and Kinsey had locked it and were blocking anyone from leaving. There were more screams. Jennifer turned and bolted passed Frank and Kinsey into the hallway. The bathroom door opened, and out stepped a confused and teary-eyed Chelsea.
“Back! Back in!” Jennifer yelled at her. She could hear Frank and Kinsey on her heels.
Jennifer grabbed Chelsea and pushed her back into the bathroom. She turned to close the door and saw Kinsey lunging towards her. She slammed the door harder than she’d ever done growing up. Kinsey crashed against it face first and it shook in the frame. She locked it.
She dropped to one knee, and peeled Marcus off from her. “Hold him!” She yelled at Chelsea who grabbed him and pulled him into her arms. Jennifer dropped on the floor with her back against the door for added protection. She figured it wouldn’t be long before Elron came along with his key to the bathroom. They needed a plan. Fast.
She scanned the bathroom for any sort of weapon. A plunger. A Christian didn’t need weapons, they had the word of God, which was sharper than a two-edged sword. She randomly remembered the gun collection Elron had and for the first time realized how ironic that was. And that he and other brethren often complained about their right to bear arms being taken away. Why hadn’t she noticed that before until now? What an odd time to be thinking about it, she thought.
“Hey, kiddo,” she spoke to Marcus, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t be here.” She looked at Chelsea who she could tell had done a lot of crying in the bathroom. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a good kid and a good person. Period.”
It was quiet.
All Jennifer could hear was Kinsey’s labored breathing through the door.
Chapter 3: Screw the Johnson Boys
Sheriff Kelly Elderton poured the last of the coffee from the pot into a mug, emptied eight packets of sugar, and squirted two pumps of creamer into it. She mixed it quickly to a tan color with a spoon and took a sip. It was sweet, just the way she liked it. She dropped the spoon into a pile of dirty dishes by the sink in the office break room. After a long day spent at Jethro Millie’s farm, investigating a strange occurrence with his cattle, the coffee was an immediate relief. In some strange sudden sickness, they turned wild and aggressive. By the looks of things, it might have been something they drank in the water, as they were finding some discoloration and residue in the spring water on his property. It had been a day of frustration for Millie, as his livelihood was literally dying at his feet. He’d lost twelve cattle in a single day.
Elderton stepped back into her office. She rubbed her neck and stretched it, hoping for a big pop. There were five or six small ones that only helped a little. She sighed and sat down behind her desk. She was going to be glad when the day was over. Turning to look through the blinds on the window, she could see the sun going down. She watched it for a moment. It was a gorgeous sunset. A coffee in hand made it even better.
The phone rang outside of her office. She hoped it was nothing. She was exhausted and needed a good night’s sleep. Walking the back forty with Millie all day wasn’t her idea of fun.
Wendy, her secretary, stepped in. “We gotta call about the Johnson boys running amuck—you want it, or should I dispatch Marvin?”
Wendy, like many in their small town, didn’t take too kindly to having a womanly sheriff. In the beginning, Wendy just did whatever she wanted and never consulted with Elderton about anything. They were all convinced she didn’t know what she was doing. After someone was shot by a drunk patron of the Queasy Saloon, Elderton tore into Wendy hard and heavy. She had been kept completely out of the loop regarding the whole situation. Now, Wendy came to her about everything no matter how miniscule as a form of passive aggression. The Johnson boys were always stirring up trouble, and a racoon could break up their shenanigans. But Wendy stepped in with her passive aggressive voice to both inform and suggest the obvious solution; Marvin was already out patrolling around in his car.
Elderton took a deep breath. She didn’t have much patience left after the long day, and said, “Yes, dispatch Marvin. I’m going home.” Patience be damned. She’d had enough and was leaving five minutes early.
“Yes, ma’am,” Wendy replied with sass in her tone and exited.
What Elderton wanted to tell Wendy was to have Marvin bring the Johnson boys for an overnight stay in the jail cell, and then order them to community service over the weekend. She really wanted to punish the Johnson boys for all the harassment they gave the townspeople of Tipton, but Mayor Kerry Marsden would have none of it. Boys will be boys is what he had told her when she tried to keep them in overnight once for disturbing the peace. Mayor Marsden was longtime friends with their father, Ronnie Johnson, and everybody was all chummy. The town of Tipton was a regular boys club, and she was not a boy. It had been a trial period serving as the first woman sheriff of Tipton.
Elderton could hear Wendy dispatching Marvin over the radio through the paper-thin walls of the sheriff station. She got up and stepped over to the wall, put her ear against it to listen. She couldn’t make out everything Wendy was saying, but she did hear the word princess and knew she wasn’t talking about the Johnson boys. Kelly gathered her coat, hat, and purse, and bundled up to head into the night. She walked out and swung the door open as she did. It hit the metal file cabinet behind it with a bang, which she had to admit served her purpose when she saw Wendy jump in her seat and her smile fade.
“Over and out,” Wendy said to Marvin through the radio.
Elderton walked from her office to the break room, her eye on Wendy, who looked legitimately startled. Back in the break room, she poured her still hot coffee into a to-go cup and fastened it with a lid. She dropped the mug into the sink. Walking back toward the door, she noticed that Wendy still looked frightened.
“Wash the dishes before you go home tonight,” she told Wendy sternly.
That did the trick, Elderton thought, noting Wendy’s demeanor change from fright to a look of annoyance—her resting face.
Before either could say or do anything else, Marvin’s phone on his desk began to ring. Wendy got up to go answer it, but before she could reach it and before Elderton could reach the front door, the main line on Wendy’s desk began to ring. Elderton sulked and went to answer it, but before she could reach Wendy’s desk her phone in her office began to ring as well. The two stood there for a moment and looked at each other. All three lines ringing at the same time couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Let the answering machine get Marvin’s line. You go get mine.” Elderton said to Wendy, who then hurried into her office. Elderton answered the main line on Wendy’s desk. “Hello, Tipton Sheriff’s Office. This is Sheriff Kelly Elderton. How may I help you?”
“Leonard killed the kids, I don’t know why,” the frantic voice on the line said, “I came home, and they’re all dead, and he’s been chewing on them, and I don’t know. And he’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me. I’ve locked myself in the bathroom. But he’s trying to get in. He’s trying to kill me. He’s killed all my babies.”
“Slow down and breathe. I know it’s hard, but try.” Elderton started. “Is this Martha Winslow?”
“Yes, yes. He’s trying to get in, you’ve got to help me.”
“OK, and Leonard, your husband, has killed the kids and is trying to kill you, right?” Elderton asked.
“Just get over here!” Martha shouted.
“Look, I have to know what I’m walking into first, OK, I’m doing my best. I’m on my way, just hold tight for me. And find something in that bathroom you can use as a weapon, so if he gets through the door before I get there you can defend yourself, OK?” Elderton said, but there was no reply, just heavy breathing. “Can you do that for me? Can you find a weapon in the bathroom and prepare yourself for if he enters before I get there?”
“Yes, I’m looking.” Martha said. “Just hurry!”
“OK, now stay on the line, because I’m gonna get Wendy on here with you, OK?” Elderton looked up and saw Wendy standing in the doorway to her office on the phone shaking her head. “One moment, I’m getting Wendy now,” Elderton said. She put her hand over the microphone and nearly shouted at Wendy. “What do you mean no?”
“I’m on the line with Betty, something terribly violent has happened with her father, and she needs you over there right away,” Wendy explained.
“But I got Martha Winslow on the line, Leonard killed the kids and is coming after her,” Elderton said. “She’s locked in the bathroom.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Wendy said, “Because Betty’s father is trying to kill her and she’s hiding in the basement, scared out of her wits.”
Elderton paused for a moment. Those cows had exhibited abnormally aggressive and violent behavior, some even turning on each other and biting each other and chewing on each other. They even went so far as to turn to cannibalism, eating each other after they collapsed and died. It had been a bizarre sight, and they had to corral the remaining livestock off from each other individually, so they wouldn’t attack one another. But those cows were not happy about it. They kept fighting the gates and fences, trying to find a way out. Violent, aggressive, erratic. And the water was discolored and had a strange residue in it, she recalled.
She looked down at the coffee still in her hands.
She looked up and asked Wendy, “Did you use the water from the sink to make this coffee?”
“No,” Wendy replied, “You know I always use the bottled water. Why?”
Elderton let out a sigh of relief and dropped the coffee into a trash can. “It may be nothing, but there might be something in the water. Don’t drink it, don’t wash in it. Nothing. Tell people that too, when you talk to them.”
“I’ll explain in a second,” Elderton said. She got back on the phone. “Martha, you still there, hun?”
“Yes, please help me!”
“I’m coming. I swear I’m coming, but I can’t put Wendy on the phone. I need you to be brave, I’m on my way,” Elderton told Martha.
“JUST GET HERE,” Martha said.
“I’m coming.” They hung up. Elderton headed for the door but turned her head back and pointed at Wendy. “Dispatch Marvin to help Betty, screw the Johnson boys!”
Chapter 2: How about them cops?
Mandy examined the dead man on the floor. He had seemed crazed, like a rabid opossum. A mindless, hungry, angry mess of a creature. Any knowledge the man had once had was far gone. He hadn’t known how to open a door or that glass was breakable. He’d had to learn that all over again. Some sort of reverse evolution, perhaps? She couldn’t figure it out. The whole scenario was driving her bonkers and she could hardly believe anyone would believe her version of the events.
“It’s just a busy signal, every time,” Maggie said to her in a frustrated tone. She had been trying over and over to reach the police and report what had happened. But it was a busy signal with each new attempt. “What do you think that means?”
“I think it means they’re busy, Mags,” Mandy said.
“Do you think Lucas got through?” Maggie asked. Mandy could hear the desperation in her voice.
“I don’t know,” Mandy said. “I don’t know anything.” She heard the defeat in her own voice, but she said nothing brave to make up for it.
Maggie walked over and pulled Mandy to a nearby booth. She was still clutching onto the shovel, prepared to take new blows if necessary. Maggie wrapped her arms around her, and the warmth sent chills down her spine. She was a killer now. She had taken someone’s life. Self-defense or not, that was a fact about her she could not shake. She didn’t know if she ever could.
“I’m a killer,” she said out loud by mistake.
“No you’re not, Mandy,” Maggie tried to reassure her. “You’re a hero.” She pointed to the dead man on the floor with a nod of the head. “There’s the real killer.”
Mandy shook loose from Maggie and got up from the booth. She looked outside the restaurant through the broken door. A strange feeling crept up in her gut. A feeling that the worst was still to come. Thunder struck across the now black sky and she saw people in the parking lot across the street. It looked as though they were just slowly moving about. She stepped just outside the entrance, careful not to cut herself on the broken glass on the ground. She could see the silhouettes of the people moving about aimlessly in the parking lot. She began to realize something was different, something was... off. It was the lights. There were no street lights on, and the Aldi’s across the street was pitch-black.
“That’s odd,” Maggie said as she stepped outside with her, “Where are all the lights?”
Mandy could hear growling and hissing coming from the people in the dark. She had a feeling these were just like the man she had killed. She looked up and saw that their sign was still lit. She turned and saw the neon light in the window which read OPEN. Inside the lobby and kitchen were all lit up. They were a target with all those lights on. They were attracting insects like a porch light.
“We gotta turn all the lights off now.” Mandy grabbed Maggie by the arm and led her inside. “Go to the back and shut off the sign and kitchen lights. I’ll take care of the lobby.”
Maggie didn’t stop to ask, she just took off and ran around the counter into the kitchen.
Mandy jumped back into the booth they had just been sitting in, and slid to the back of it. Reaching underneath the table, she found the cord to the neon sign and tugged. It turned off immediately. She ran behind the counter and opened a little closet door. Inside was a little box with the light switch for the lobby. She shut it off at the same time Maggie had switched off the kitchen lights. She could hear Dudley freaking out and yelling at Maggie for an explanation.
Mandy looked back into the dark kitchen and could see them lit by a shred of light illuminating from the window on the office door. “Tell Lucas to turn his light off! And everyone pipe down!”
She ran around to the front of the counter, the shovel still in her hands. She was careful not to hit anything with it or scrape the floor. She could see that the people were in their parking lot now, and she crouched behind a booth just before a woman stepped inside. Her feet were bare and Mandy could hear the flesh cutting as the broken glass tore into them. The woman didn’t register pain and just kept inching across the broken glass, cutting up her feet until it affected her ability to stand upright; she collapsed. The woman looked confused by what had happened, unaware of the hell she was unleashing on herself. She crawled on all fours across the glass, tearing deeper and more into her limbs as she did so. With desperation, she pulled herself closer and closer to the dead man on the floor. She climbed on top of him and shoved her nose deep into his neck. She deeply inhaled, sniffing his body, but she seemed irritated. She lifted his shirt and rubbed her nose across his hairy chest. She grunted in anger and pounded his chest. More people began to enter behind her and they followed suit: hurrying to the man on the floor, and pushing her aside. She relented, didn’t even fight back. She just pulled herself over to the booth Mandy and Maggie had just been sitting in. The others threw themselves onto the man and began to eat at him like a dog getting her meal. They chewed and gnawed at the disfigured and mutilated face. After a few moments, they began to spit the remains from their mouths and growled and hissed. They all sat motionless, just breathing and occasionally moaning or hissing at each other.
Maggie slid around the edge of the counter, crouched down next to it. She looked at Mandy and made a face of pure fright. She held her hands up and started to sign, something the two of them had been teaching themselves over the past year just as another means to communicate with each other. They thought it was cool.
What is going on? Maggie signed.
I don’t know, Mandy signed back.
Who are these people? Maggie asked.
The woman by the booth, Mandy started and pointed to her, I see her at Aldi sometimes.
Maggie peaked around the counter for a moment to see the woman in question. She pulled back. What the hell? she signed back to Mandy. Has everyone lost their minds?
A disease? Mandy signed.
I guess, Maggie replied, What do we do?
We wait and hope they don’t see us, Mandy signed.
Last year, 2018, I had this great idea. I wanted to start a new tradition of releasing a free horror story every October. I was tentatively calling it my Annual Horror Story. So I began to work on a story last year leading into October, I even conned fellow author Trent Becker into joining me and making it a collaborative effort (I'm a sucker for working as a team). And we did write, a lot, more than intended, and ran out of time. So we put the story on hold for a while and still haven't completed it. And yet another October is upon us. And we still haven't finished it.
But you're in luck. Because starting today, the first week of October, we will be releasing the story one chapter per week. We currently have 11 chapters written (it's hardly a short story anymore). And during this time we will try and wrap it up before those 11 weeks run out. In theory, it shouldn't be too hard. In theory.
At the end of releasing all the chapters, I'll roll it all up and put it on our Gumroad store front for you all to download as well.
And because music plays such a pivotal role in my writing, I wanted to include a theme song of sorts. I'm attaching this lovely dark song by Paperkite. A lovely duo of St. Louis folk who I know well. They've graciously agreed to let me include it each week as the theme song of our story, Night Aggressions. It works beautifully, reminding me of some of John Carpenter's work -- I have used several of his songs in my writing playlist for this story.
About Night Aggressions
It's the 90s, and two besties working at a fast food restaurant called Taco House and a local sheriff are about to be taken for the ride of their life dealing with the townsfolk who have turned aggressive and against their own. Killing those who have not been infected.
Chapter 1: The Real World
Mandy Springer slammed on her breaks in the torn driveway of her and Maggie’s apartment complex. They both had become roommates only three months before. Both of them were eager to declare their independence from their parents at the ripe age of seventeen. Their home lives had been hell up until they moved in together. While it was hard being a financially independent while still in high school, it was well worth it. Many got out of her car and quickly rushed inside with her backpack, knowing she was going to be cutting it close to being late for her shift at Taco House. Mr. Bullsworth had proven to be a jerk by her standards, forcing her to stay after class so he could school her in the realities of the real world and what it’s like to be out in the working world. He had held her there for twenty extra minutes, while she rummaged around in her head finding all of the amazing comebacks she’d never say to his face. She was working through high school, so she didn’t need Mr. Bullsworth’s lectures on the realities of the real world—a place he clearly didn’t live in.
Inside the tiny, one-bedroom apartment she and Maggie shared, she ran around grabbing her uniform pieces from the floor. She scooped up her shirt, apron, name tag, and hat, all branded with the Taco House logo. She put on her dress-code non-slip shoes--that she had to pay on her own dime--and bolted out the door. She nearly knocked over Larry the neighbor man, who was quite overweight, had a royal stench about him, and was always rude to her. He called her an indecent name as she ran away. She flipped him an equally indecent gesture over her shoulder for good measure.
She sped the whole five blocks to Taco House--and even skipped a stop sign. She parked her Ford Escort and ran inside.
“You’re late.” Lucas said to her. Lucas had an attitude with most people, especially people younger than him. He seemed to think, even though he was a lot less intelligent, he could treat the teenagers at Taco House like dirt. He said he had “experience,” which really just meant age.
She glanced at her watch. “Like two minutes, tops.”
“Still late.” Lucas replied with a shake of his head. He added the “tsk, tsk, tsk” noise with tongue for dramatic effect.
“Whatever,” she said and clocked in at the register. “I’m not gonna mince words over two minutes.”
“You kids are such nitwits.” Lucas bemoaned. He looked her square in the eye, his brow furrowed and angry. “If you have no respect for anyone but yourself, you’re not going to make it in this life. You certainly won’t make it without crawling back to your mommy and daddy begging for help.”
How inspirational, she thought to herself with her teeth gritted. It was no use jabbing back at him. She walked away and found Maggie making some nachos on the line and slid in next to her. “Lucas is in an especially pleasant mood today,” she whispered, thick with sarcasm.
“What a joy.” Maggie said. She plopped two scoops of refried beans and beef on top of chips, poured nacho cheese across the top, squirted some sour cream out of a tube, scattered some lettuce and tomatoes, and then passed it on. It took less than ten seconds. “What held you up?”
“Mr. Bullsworth.” Mandy replied with an eye roll.
“Geez, he’s the worst.” Maggie said. “I can’t wait to be rid of him.”
Mandy grabbed a handful of chips and walked off to the dish-washing area. She hid there in the corner of the kitchen, eating the chips and wishing she’d had more time to finish her free-and-reduced lunch from the cafeteria at school earlier. That little government program had helped loosen the grip on their wallets, since becoming independent. Their two decent meals of the day were the free breakfast and lunch the school cafeteria provided because they met the criteria for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. In the evenings, they scrounged for some snack or stole a few bites from Taco House when Lucas wasn’t looking. The crap job only paid minimum wage, which was the state standard of $5.15 per hour. They worked as many hours as they could on school nights, while still having time for homework and studying for tests. And then put in longer shifts on Saturday and Sunday. Still, they were only part-time and only skirted through the month with a shared income of just a little above $650 per month. That was barely enough to pay for their rent, electric, water, gas, groceries, and other essentials. In the winter, they usually spent a few weeks at least one month without electricity. During those cold times, they had taken to sharing a bed and piling on ten blankets they’d bought over time from the Salvation Army. They were still cold and miserable nights, but at least they didn’t freeze to death. At least, not yet. And at least they both out of their past home situations.
She finished the handful of chips and started to wash some pans. Dudley, a boy in their high school class, popped around the corner, dorky fangs poking from his mouth as part of his getup.
“Happy Halloween!” He shouted at her. “Wait, what? No costume? Lame.”
Dudley came from a rich family. His dad was a lawyer, and his mom was their school’s superintendent. His lack of empathy was stammering, but overall she didn’t mind him. He was funny sometimes. They shared Bullsworth together in seventh hour.
“Halloween is for losers who only wish they were cool all year long.” She said. She tossed a pan into the sanitizer, and it clanked around loudly against the sink. Water spilled onto the floor.
“Saw Bullsworth was giving you an ear full.” Dudley said. “What was that about?”
“What’s it always about?” She said.
“The real world.” Dudley said and rolled his eyes. He adjusted the fangs in his mouth. “These are annoying and kind of painful. Not sure I’m gonna keep these on.”
“And where were you when he cornered me after class?” Maggie asked, switching the topic back.
“I had to get home,” he answered. “Knew I wasn’t gonna have much time to get dressed for tonight. How do I look?”
“Like a moron.” She said and threw another pan in the sanitizing sink.
He smiled. “Jealous?”
Maggie said nothing. He took off back around the corner and she could hear him doing his best Dracula impersonation, fangs apparently back in. It wasn’t good. Not at all.
Several hours, tacos, burritos, and nachos later.
Lucas came out of the manager’s office scratching his greasy hair under his hat. Mandy could see the dandruff snowing from his head to his shoulders. She cringed at the thought of his snowflakes seasoning the food when he was on line just a moment ago. She felt sorry for the customers who had come in that night and had to eat his snowy food, and endure his endless ranting and cursing that spilled out from the kitchen and into the dining area. She could see parents with worried looks on their faces sometimes, rushing their children out as Lucas escalated his unwarranted attacks on the teens that worked beneath him.
Between his homophobia and disdain for teenagers and general dislike for anything fun, it was hard to see any good in Lucas the Rat -- as the younger crowd had affectionately named him--without his knowledge of course. He had a long, pointy nose just like a rat, so the shoe fit, as Mrs. Williams used to say. Mandy missed Mrs. Williams sometimes. An art teacher who couldn’t give a care about anything. She’d call a kid an idiot for getting into a fight, they’d complain, and she’d say, “If the shoe fits.”
Classic Mrs. Williams.
“Hey, Amanda,” Lucas called to her, “I need you to take the trash out, pronto. And don’t mess around about it. Be quick.”
“It’s Mandy,” she retorted and regretted it immediately. Before he could say anything else, she shuffled off to the back door where the trash had been piled into trash cans throughout the night.
Dudley came out of the walk-in refrigerator with handfuls of cheese and lettuce.
“Hey, Dudley, you got smokes?” Mandy asked him.
“Take a smoke break, and meet me at the dumpster,” Mandy told him and headed off to the back door. There was a large trash can on wheels overflowing with trash bags. Beside it on the floor were more trash bags and a stack of folded down cardboard boxes. “Jesus, take the wheel,” she mumbled with a shake of her head when she saw the mess. One trash bag hanging over the side of the trash can was leaking a mix of fluids onto the floor. She rolled her eyes because she knew Lucas would make her clean it up.
Mandy stepped out the back door, pulling the trash can behind her with one hand and carrying two bags of trash in the other. She stopped and let a minivan by, catching sight of a disgruntled looking soccer mom in the driver's seat. She could hear the children screaming as the minivan passed. Another reminder not to make the mistake of reproduction. The thought of having a child, raising a child, made her cringe. She carried on with the filth of others and entered the city-approved Dumpster House, as she liked to call it. Three brick walls with a metal gate at the front. Inside? A place to discard the filth of others.
After entering the gate, she methodically threw the trash bags up, over and into the dumpster. She was careful not to throw out her back that one might do while tossing weight around. On the plus side, all the lifting she’d done at Taco House had really built up the strength in her arms and core. She had become deceptively strong. Although she hadn’t gotten the chance to test her new-found strength, she was determined to make it happen. Mandy was beyond tired of the jokes for being petite all her life. She was eager to show people she wasn’t a dainty ballerina.
She tossed the final bag into the dumpster, turned and looked for Dudley. He hadn’t appeared from the Taco House yet. She pulled some earbuds from her pocket and put them in her ears. Firing up some music on her phone, she let Warren G play as she gazed around the parking lot.
Empty cups. Taco wrappers.
A burger wrapper from a different food joint just a few buildings over.
Cigarette butts everywhere. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there. They were always there. She knew, because when she worked mornings on the weekend she cleaned them up before they opened. And there were the beer bottles in the bushes that young drinkers would dump, so they wouldn’t get pulled over with them.
A dirty diaper had been dropped in a parking spot where the minivan had come from. Another reminder not to reproduce. When you don’t have kids, you’re literally only responsible for your own crap.
The trashy lot always got her, and reminded her of that old public service announcement from the 1970s with the litter on the highway and the crying Native American. As much as it was a joke of a commercial now, it actually rang true. How lazy of a people are we that we just toss our trash to the ground, when there are trash cans just a few steps away? It’s absurdity. People are disgusting, was something she muttered to herself at least five times per shift at Taco House.
Dudley came out and pulled his cigarettes from his pocket. A customer saw him and gave him a shout out for his costume. “I vant to make you a taco!” Dudley said back. They both laughed.
Mandy shook her head at the miserable display of customer and employee interaction. Dudley saw her shaking her head. “What? I thought it was good,” he said, a mildly hurt look in his eyes.
“Yeah, well, not all of us watch Pixar movies,” Mandy said. She snatched the cigarette from his hand as he offered it.
“Hey, Pixar movies are great,” he said as he followed the cigarette with his lighter. He offered to light up for her, but instead she took it from him, content to do it herself.
“When you’re five, she remarked and lit up. She tossed the lighter back to him. He caught it in the chest. The first puff of the cigarette was instant relief.
“When are you gonna buy your own cigarettes?” Dudley asked. “I’m tired of you bumming off me.”
Mandy knew that wasn’t true, but she let it go. “When they’re cheap, and when it’s not illegal for me to do so,” Mandy said. She took another puff, and she could feel the stress relieving for a bit.
“Doing anything for Halloween? Any parties?” Dudley asked.
She looked his expression over. She could tell he was about to ask her out or to accompany him to a party. She just wanted the cigarettes, maybe a good chat during a smoke, not a relationship. Curse heterosexual boys and their constant need for a woman’s attention. She figured she’d just lie and shoot it down before he could even ask. “Yeah, Maggie and I are doing something with a cousin of hers.”
“Really?” He looked genuinely disappointed.
“Yeah, really,” she said.
There was an awkward pause as she began to feel the anxieties and stress rush over her body again. He was ruining the smoking experience.
“Well, if something happens, and you need something to do, I’m gonna be hanging out at Paris’s house.” He said. “Big to-do there.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you aren’t much into Paris, but she can throw a party. And, honestly, she’s not that bad once you get to know her.”
“I shouldn’t have to get to know someone to know they have a good side.” Mandy said. “The good side should be the first thing you offer, not the last. And only to friends. Anybody can be nice to friends.”
“Yeah…” He said and his eyes were darting around. “I’m heading back inside. See ya.” Mandy didn’t respond, and he turned and went back inside without a word.
Mandy took a puff of what she figured might be her last cigarette from Dudley. Their little exchange might have just killed their little working relationship.Sighing, she made a mental note to to Maggie later.
Mandy looked out across the dark lot and saw a man slowly crossing the street into their lot. A car pulled in and drove past her. It parked a few parking spots from her. The headlights turned off and the driver didn’t get out immediately. She glanced at her watch, knowing she should get back inside for whatever task Lucas had awaiting her. But she couldn’t help but gaze at the scene before her.
The man from across the street started making progress, zoned in on the car that had just parked in the lot. He darted straight up to the driver’s window and reached inside, attempting to pull him out. Mandy’s gaze turned to a frightened stare. The man began stabbing the customer repeatedly with a large knife. The customer cried out in pain and for help. Mandy couldn’t move. She had no idea what she was watching. It didn’t even seem real.
The customer went limp and quiet. The stranger continued to stab him, even after he was obviously dead. At least twenty stabs delivered. He finally finished and just stood up straight. Like he needed a breather. He just stood there, staring off somewhere. The knife was still in his hand and dripping blood onto the pavement.
She wanted to run inside and call the police. But she knew as soon as the stranger knew she was there and had witnessed the murder, she’d be in trouble. She had to think before she acted. She dropped the cigarette and stepped it out. She kept an eye on him, and he didn’t move a muscle. Just still. Stiff as a board. She would have to run right past him on the way to the restaurant. He would have her before she was even halfway to the door. She turned away for the first time to look about the Dumpster House. There was a shovel, something they used to pack down the trash sometimes when it was full. It was a health violation, and they had to hide it when the health inspector was expected. She reached over and took it in both of her hands. She lifted it up first, careful not to scrape the concrete. Careful not to make a sound. She turned back and saw that the stranger had still not moved. She took two deep breaths, braced herself, and bolted for the door.
She only made it a few steps when the stranger turned to face her. He reached for her with one hand and raised the knife to strike her with the other. She took a position with her feet flat and parallel. She swung the shovel with both hands like a bat as he lunged at her. She hit him upside the head and watched him cascade to the ground. The knife slid across the pavement, clattering loudly--almost loudly enough to quiet the insistent beating in her chest. She took back into a sprint and reached the door, throwing it open and diving inside. Mandy closed the door with force and stole a glance through it, relieved that the stranger was still on the ground.
“What the hell?” Lucas said to her from behind the front counter.
“Give me your keys.” She said.
“Just give me your keys, dammit!” She yelled at him.
For once Lucas had nothing to say, just did as she’d said.
She tried to catch them with one hand, but batted them down instead. She still clung to the shovel. She shot Lucas a look that could kill, and then picked up the keys. She locked the door and noticed the stranger was about to his feet now. She ran to the other entrance around the side and locked it as well.
“Um, we’re still open,” Lucas said stupidly.
“A man just killed another guy in our parking lot,” Mandy told him and headed back to the main entrance where she had come in. “Call the police. Now!” She saw the stranger was on his feet and halfway to the entrance now. She took the shovel in both hands and held it up like a baseball bat. She planted her feet flat again. She looked straight into the eyes of the stranger who seemed almost inhuman. Just staring blankly. “He’s coming.”
Lucas came from behind the counter, “You stupid girl.” He saw the stranger walking steadily to the door and stopped. “I’ll call the police,” he said and ran back to the office.
“Come on!” she yelled at the strange man. “I’ll hit you again!!”
The stranger tripped a little when he reached the curb of the sidewalk; he looked down and tried to steady himself. He slowly stepped up with one foot, and then the other. It was almost like he wasn’t sure how to take a step up. Once on the sidewalk, his eyes leveled on her. He began to walk toward her again.
“The cops are coming!” she yelled at him. “You better run!”
He didn’t seem to hear her or didn’t care. He just walked right up to the door, but instead of stopping and trying the handle, he just walked right into it. As if he didn’t see it or didn’t realize it was there. He looked around confused. He raised his hands and touched the glass and felt it up and down, trying to push lightly against it. Confusion began to give way to anger. And finally he looked at her again and let out a loud bellow. It was half frustration and half rage. Like a bird, he legitimately didn’t know what glass was and how to get passed it.
Mandy knew he could easily break the glass--she could tell he was strong--and she had thought for sure that’s what he was going to do when he reached it. But now she didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t imagine he would last long before just hitting it hard or something out of frustration and breaking it. She was certain she’d have to confront the stranger once more before the cops arrived.
Maggie and Dudley came up from the kitchen. Dudley pulled his vampire teeth from his mouth.
“What is going on?” Maggie asked.
“This guy is a murderer.” Mandy said and gestured to the door. “Stay behind me. I locked the doors, but he’s gonna break the glass, I’m sure of it.”
Dudley took several steps back.
Maggie rolled her eyes at him. “Have you called the cops?”
“That’s what Lucas is doing,” Mandy said.
“Yeah, we saw him lock himself in the office,” Maggie said.
“Moron,” Mandy said. She tightened her grip on the shovel, the sweat of her palms were loosening it.
“Locked in the office?” Dudley said to no one. “That’s a good idea.” He ran off through the kitchen, back to the office. Within a matter of seconds the girls could hear knocking on the office door and Dudley begging Lucas to let him in.
“Two morons,” Maggie said. “Does he have a gun?”
“No.” Mandy replied. “He had a knife, but I knocked it out of his hands when I hit him with the shovel.”
“You hit him with the shovel?” Maggie asked.
“Not really,” Mandy said.
“Let me get something,” Maggie said and dashed behind the counter. She looked around for something to use as a weapon. She opened the little closet they used for cleaning supplies. She pulled out a pink cleaning fluid in a spray bottle. She came back to Mandy and stood behind her.
“What did you get?” Mandy asked.
“The pink spray.” Maggie said.
“What?”Mandy threw her a look like she was crazy.
“Yeah, it’ll really screw up your eyes, and it can be fatal if you get it in your system.” Maggie said. “It’s better than pepper spray.”
The sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance. Mandy could feel a sense of relief, now that she knew this situation would soon be out of her hands. The sirens got louder and louder as they approached. And she could feel the burden being lifted, but the stranger didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Hey, numb nuts!” she yelled at the stranger. “Those cops are for you!”
The sirens were just behind them, and the lights began to flicker on the side of the stranger’s face. He slowly smiled, the first sign of anything other than a blank stare and rage. She wasn’t sure she liked it. What was making the stranger do what he did? Why did he seem to struggle with small things like the step up onto the sidewalk and glass? Was it some new drug with a nasty side effect? Was he just a raging lunatic? Whatever the case, it would soon be out of her hands.
The cop car came screeching by the restaurant, lights flashing and sirens blaring. It passed them by. The lights and sirens began to fade away into the distance. It wasn’t for them. This wasn’t over. Yet.
“Why didn’t they stop?” Maggie shouted.
“I don’t know.” Mandy said. “Are we sure Lucas is actually calling the cops?”
Dudley came back from the kitchen, but he stayed behind the counter. “Lucas won’t open the office up.”
“Did he call the cops?” Maggie asked.
“I think so,” Dudley said. “He’s on the phone with somebody.”
The weird man leaned forward and placed his forehead against the glass. He pressed hard and heavy against it. Mandy could hear the door squeaking under the pressure, begging to give way. He pushed harder and harder, and his breathing escalated higher and higher. He was furious again. He took his head back and slammed it against the glass. It created a web of cracks where his head smashed against it. The stranger was puzzled and surprised by it, almost a look of delight sweeping across his features. He stepped back and looked it over from side to side. A stream of blood began to run from his forehead down his nose, and he felt it with his fingers. He looked at it and rubbed it with his fingers. He didn’t know what blood was either. He took his hand and slowly made it into a fist. And then looked up at Mandy with that smile again.
“Crap,” Mandy said. “I think he just figured out that glass breaks.”
“He didn’t know that?” Maggie asked.
“Get ready to spray that ugly mug.” Mandy said.
Dudley ran back to the office and began pounding on it again.
The stranger slowly took his fist and pulled it back, lining it up with the fracture in the glass he’d already made. He punched.
It didn’t shatter the door, but it made a larger and more fragile web of cracks in the glass. His knuckles were bleeding, but it didn’t seem to phase him. He pulled back for another punch. The second one struck an even bigger blow to the fragility of the glass. The whole glass pane was shaking back and forth. His hand was covered in blood as he pulled back for another blow. He punched again and the glass caved under the pressure. The whole pane shattered and fell to the ground. He came stepping through behind it, the glass crunching under his shoes as he did so.
“Spray!” Mandy yelled.
Maggie sprayed relentlessly in the stranger’s face, and immediately the irritation of the chemicals took ahold of his eyes. He stopped forward movement and grabbed at his face. Mandy took a swing and knocked him upside the head for a second time. He crashed to the ground. He rolled onto the glass on his back. Maggie continued to spray into the stranger’s eyes and mouth.
Mandy pushed Maggie back and stepped over the stranger. She pounded him in the head over and over with the shovel until he quit moving. And then she stood there, her breaths long and laborious. The stranger’s face was a disfigured and bloody mess.
She wasn’t a dainty ballerina.
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