Benny got the box of cornflakes out of the cupboard and poured the last of its contents into his cereal bowl. He stared stupefied as a large cockroach dropped out as well. He shrieked involuntarily in a most unmanly high pitched voice. He hated cockroaches! Thoughts ran riot through his head. The box was now empty. He had been eating cockroach-infested cornflakes for God knows how long! What had that done to his insides? Totally irrational, he thought vaguely, but it didn’t change anything. He almost gagged as he looked at it sitting placidly in the bowl. What was he going to do now? Kill it of course, but how? He didn’t have a sprayer powerful enough, just a generic brand flying insect one. He needed to make sure it didn’t escape. He scrabbled in the crockery cupboard, found a saucer and placed it carefully on top of the cereal bowl. He checked all around the bowl. It was secure. There was no way the damned thing could get out.
Now, however, what was he going to have for breakfast? He was a creature of habit. He liked his cornflakes. He needed to go get some more. Well, Cockie the cockroach wasn’t going anywhere. He had plenty of time to go out and get some. And maybe a cockroach sprayer. That would fix him. And he’d gotten over the whole ‘what’s it done to my insides’ thing. His stomach acid would have taken care of that, he told himself.
A short while later, after a shower, he was backing his car out of the garage and heading for the nearby supermarket. He was quite chuffed to find his favourite brand of cornflakes was on special, so he bought three packets. Then he went hunting for a cockroach sprayer. They were a damn sight more expensive than ordinary sprayers. Not worth it, he decided. I’ll just work out how to kill this one. Maybe flush it down the toilet, or something, cornflakes and all. He bought some milk as well and headed home.
As he pulled into his garage and got out of his car, he saw a large glass jar he’d put on a shelf. It had contained coffee. He’d bought it when it had been cheap a year ago and kept the jar in case it came in handy. A thought struck him. Cockroaches were the hardiest creatures in the world, he’d read somewhere. He’d put It and the cornflakes in the jar, put holes in the top, because presumably it needed to breathe, and see how long it lived. He picked up the jar, took it inside and placed it on the kitchen bench, next to the cereal bowl.
He slowly removed the saucer. The cockroach was still there. He picked up the bowl and carefully emptied its contents into the jar. He watched as the cockroach fell in, scrabbled around for a minute, then burrowed into the cornflakes. He punctured holes in the lid with a fork, screwed it back on. He found a black marker and scrawled the date on the label on the front, then placed the jar on top of the fridge. He put the cereal bowl in the sink and ran hot water into it. Then he got another one out of the cupboard, opened one of his newly bought boxes of cornflakes, and was soon enjoying his usual breakfast. A ritual that would continue, only now, in the company of Cockie the cockroach.
Barney’s old four-wheel-drive Jeep bumped along the uneven track that led down to the shore of the lake. It was his favourite fishing spot. He’d been coming here for longer than he could remember. The road off the highway had led through densely wooded forests, that he had seen grow thicker over the years. A fire that swept through more than ten years ago had just regenerated it to almost twice the number of trees that had been there before. He stopped in his usual spot, pulled out his gear and set himself up. He unfolded a camp chair that he’d picked up at a garage sale. It was an expensive, top of the range one, and he was inordinately pleased he’d got it for a song. It was a deceased estate sale. He didn’t care. He was quite happy to sit in a dead guy’s chair. He baited the hook on his fishing rod, cast it, set it in its holder, and sat down. In the old days, he used to read a book. Now he had an iPad. He settled his hat on his head and recommenced reading a story he’d started the previous night.
Several hours went by. He hadn’t had a single nibble. but he was engrossed and it didn’t matter much. So, he almost fell off the chair when a deep gravelly voice asked, ”Caught anything yet?”
He straightened up and looked around. He gave an involuntary yelp, then fell over backward. Standing behind him, was a big brown bear. It was looking at him with a quizzical look on its face. He scrambled up, but there was nowhere to run except into the lake. That wouldn’t help. Bears can swim, but amidst the terror and fear, he was aware of two things that should have been impossible. One, bears were not native to the country, and two, worse than that, it spoke to him. English at that. Bears can’t speak, or shouldn’t be able to. This bear obviously didn’t know that. As he stood there petrified, the bear spoke again.
“So, have you caught anything yet?”
“No,” he stuttered.
“Pity,” it said.
“You can talk,” Barney stammered.
“I dunno. Can’t all bears?”
“No,” Barney replied, and continued, “And you shouldn’t be here. Bears aren’t native to this country. Have you escaped from a zoo or circus or something?”
“Don’t know what either of those things are,” the bear said.
“So where’d you come from?”
The bear gestured at the forest behind him,
By now, Barney had overcome his fear. The bear didn’t appear to want to harm him. Not yet anyway.
“So where’d you come from before that?”
Comically, the bear scratched its head with one huge paw. Then it settled down on its haunches.
Barney picked up his chair, turned it around to face the bear and sat down. He adjusted his fishing rod but didn’t check it. The bait was probably long gone by now.
“So what do you remember?” he asked.
In the back of his mind, it registered how absurd the whole thing was. He was having a conversation with a bear!
“I remember a bright light, floating in the air, seeing beings who didn’t look like you around me, poking things into me.”
Barney was fascinated. Had the bear been picked up by aliens?
“They stuck something in my head,” the bear continued.
“I don’t remember much more, till I woke up here in this forest. You’re the first human I’ve encountered.”
“Wow,” Barney exclaimed.
“You were abducted by aliens. They gave you the ability to communicate. But I think they put you back in the wrong country.”
“I don’t know what any of that means,” the bear said, “ But whoever they were, they’re coming back for me.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s in my head.”
“And when are they doing that?”
“Don’t know,” the bear answered.
“I’d stay in the middle of the forest out of sight if I were you,” Barney advised.
“Some humans have a tendency to regard anything they don’t understand as a threat,” Barney told him.
“They’ll try and capture you, or shoot you.”
“I see,” the bear said thoughtfully.
“Thanks for the warning.”
The line on Barney’s fishing rod suddenly tightened. He turned around, jumped up and grabbed it out of its holder. Gradually, with effort, he reeled it in.
“It’s a big one,” he said.
As he pulled the flapping fish closer, there was a splashing sound. The bear had entered the water. He grabbed the fish with both paws.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
“Do you mind?”
Bemused, Barney shook his head. The bear pulled the fish off the hook and swallowed it in one bite. Barney hadn’t even seen what kind of fish it was.
“Thanks,” the bear said.
“I’d better get off. I sense they’re coming soon.”
He lumbered off. Barney watched him go. He slowly re-baited the hook and swore when it pierced his finger. His mind was definitely not on what he was doing. Understandably so perhaps. He cast the line, set the rod in its holder and sat down again. Had the last few minutes actually happened? It seemed unreal. Perhaps he’d been dreaming. He picked up his iPad but found he couldn’t concentrate. He sat there restlessly for a while, then decided to pack up. He’d more or less convinced himself he’d been dreaming. There could be no other explanation. He stowed all his gear in the back of the Jeep, shut the tailgate and walked round to the driver’s side door.
He stopped dead. In the sand nearby, were huge paw tracks. He looked around, then hastily got in the car and took off. The bear had said he was hungry. Just because he could talk, didn’t mean he wouldn’t be above taking a bite out of him, if he came back. He drove as quickly as he dared up the track. Once he reached the road, he floored it. The old Jeep still had a bit of go in her. He almost freaked when he caught a glimpse of brown on his right, but it was just leaves from the diseased branch of a dead tree.
When he left the forest behind, he slowed, then pulled to the side of the road, got out and looked back. There was nothing to see. The sun was now quite low in the sky, and there had been no other traffic. He wondered where the bear was. He stood there for a while, just running over the conversation he had with it. It was crazy. A bear was abducted by aliens and then given the ability to speak. And English at that. Maybe they got him in Canada. He could just as easily have been able to speak French then. He wouldn’t have understood him if he had, And to cap it off, they dumped him back in the wrong country. The thought amused him somewhat. The aliens weren’t as smart as they thought. The whole thing was just nuts, he decided.
He turned and got into the car. As he drove off, he caught a flash of light in his driver’s side mirror. He screeched to a halt and jumped out. In the distance, just above the tree line, he saw a pulsating blue light. He watched in fascination as it hovered, then disappeared. Scant seconds later, it reappeared, hovered again, shot straight up then winked out of sight.
Belatedly, he realised he could have captured the whole thing on his phone. Too late now. He slowly got back in his car and sat for a while before driving off. Nobody would believe him if he told them what had happened. A brown bear abducted by aliens, given the ability to speak English, dumped in the wrong country, then taken back again. They’d tell him he’d been hallucinating, dreaming, on drugs, or drank too much.
But he knew the truth. What was the point of it all, he wondered. He guessed he’d never find out. He hoped they put the bear back where they found him.
His fishing spot would forever hold a different kind of memory for him now, he thought, as he drove into the gathering dusk. The place where he had a conversation with a talking bear.
Midnight. All was quiet. The street was dark except for an occasional street lamp, as were most of the houses. There was no one about, except for the solitary figure of a man, walking his dog.
The car came around the corner a little too fast. Dale, head bent against the slight drizzle, with Trixie on her lead, watched in trepidation as, almost in slow motion, it spun a full 360 degrees on the wet road. The rear wheel hit the kerb with a thump. There was a crack as something snapped. The car rocked, then settled at a slight lean, the wheel at an angle.
“Stay,” Dale ordered Trixie, dropped her lead and ran to the car. The driver’s window was open. He bent down. The girl in the driver’s seat who looked at him, seemed remarkably calm as she turned off the engine.
‘Shit indeed,’ he thought.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
“Are you alright?” he asked.
She looked at him.
“Do I look alright?”
The voice was calm and measured.
“Actually, you do. But you might not be on the inside.”
“Is that your dog?” she said, pointing at Trixie, patiently sitting on the pavement in the slight drizzle.
“Yes,” he said.
“Come on girl,” he called.
Lead trailing, she bounded over.
“Isn’t she gorgeous!” she exclaimed.
‘And so are you,’ he thought silently.
Small, almost elfin, she could be Audrey Hepburn, he thought, but with boobs, he couldn’t help noticing.
She opened the door, undid her seatbelt and got out.
‘Definitely Audrey Hepburn’, he decided.
“You wouldn’t be Audrey Hepburn, reincarnated would you?” he asked.
“Of course I am,” came the swift response.
She bent over and patted Trixie, who nuzzled her, on the head.
“Alright, let’s go,” she said, picking up her lead.
Dale looked at her in bewilderment.
“Back to your place of course. I’m getting rather wet standing out here.”
“Oh, ok,” he agreed, pulled off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders, covering the rather skimpy black dress she was wearing.
“Thank you, kind Sir. Grab my bag, will you? It’s on the passenger seat.”
Bemused, he did as he was told.
“What about the car keys?”
“Leave them. The car’s not going anywhere,” she said.
“And it’s not mine anyway,” she added.
Startled, he exclaimed, “It isn’t?”
“No, boyfriend’s. Ex-boyfriend now, I suppose,” she reflected.
He handed her her bag and pointed up the street.
“So,” she said, “I’m Olivia,” as they set off, Trixie walking placidly alongside her.
“Not Audrey then.”
“She’s my alter ego. And you are?”
“As in Dale Evans, Roy Rogers’ wife?”
He looked at her in amusement.
“No, as in Dale Carnegie, ‘How to win friends and influence people.’
Mum read it. Liked the name.”
“And did it help her?”
“Maybe. She persuaded dad to let her have me. He didn’t want kids.”
“How do you know that?”
“He told me, shortly before he took off.”
“Oh, how awful.”
She touched his arm.
“Not really. He wasn’t around much anyway. We didn’t miss him,” he said almost indifferently.
“I’m the youngest. I’ve got two sisters and a brother,” she said.
“Dad always wanted a boy. Was he pissed when Hayden turned out to be gay. Is it much further? My feet hurt,” she said unexpectedly.
“Not far now,” he said.
“How do you walk in those things anyway?”
She ignored him and asked instead,” Why are you and Trixie walking in the rain?”
“It wasn’t raining when we left, and she wanted to go.”
“She told you that did she?”
“Yes,” he said firmly.
“What are you, Doctor Doolittle?”
He laughed then said, “Here we are,” opened a gate, and led her up a short path to the front porch of a modest-looking timber house. The porch light was on, and he picked up an old towel lying on a chair and wrapped it around Trixie.
“Stay,” he told her
He unlocked the door and led Olivia inside.
“Need the bathroom?” he asked her.
She nodded and handed him his jacket.
“There are towels in there if you need them,” he said, pointing at a door.
She went off. He hung his jacket on a hook on the hall stand and went back to Trixie and dried her off. He led her through the house, and out onto the back verandah where she promptly curled up in her basket. He retreated to his bedroom and went into the en-suite, stripped off his damp clothes, dropped them in a laundry basket, donned track pants, top and slippers and went into the kitchen. He turned on the kettle.
Olivia padded into the kitchen, holding her shoes, and bag, wearing a bathrobe that had been hanging behind the bathroom door. She placed her stuff on the floor.
“Crossdresser are you?” she asked.
The bathrobe was pink.
He smiled slightly.
“Ex-girlfriend. Want some coffee or tea?”
“Don’t suppose you’ve got any green tea?”
“Of course,” he said, opened a cupboard and took down a small box.
She said,“Wow,” and perched on a barstool.
“A man after my own heart.”
“Ex-girlfriend left them behind,” he explained.
“Have you had many of those?”
“A few over the years,” he said as he turned on the kettle.
“Fussy are we?”
“You’re very inquisitive,” he said mildly.
“What can I tell you,” she shrugged.
“I’m a woman. We’re inquisitive creatures.”
“Yes, that has been my experience,” he admitted.
“So, back to my question.”
He looked at her thoughtfully, then said abruptly,
“Won’t your boyfriend, sorry, ex-boyfriend, be looking for you or his car? It’s an Audi.”
“Is it?” she said indifferently.
“Anyway, not for a while. When I left him, he was drunk, passed out.”
“But when he wakes up?”
“I don’t really care. He’s a bit of a prick.”
“Had many of those?”
She looked at him in amusement.
“Dale, is that a loaded question?”
He coloured, suddenly realising what he had said.
She laughed at the look on his face. The kettle boiled saving him from further embarrassment.
He busied himself making the tea, green for her and an ordinary one for himself.
“Let’s go into the lounge,” he suggested.
Olivia curled up in an armchair, tucking her feet up under her. He handed her her tea, and sat down in another chair.
“Nice place,” Olivia commented.
“I like it,” he said.
“Been here long?”
At her raised eyebrows, he explained, ”This was my Mum’s house. I bought it from her. She’s in an over fifties village.”
“What’s with all the books?” she said, gesturing at a large shelf against one wall, laden with books.
“Haven’t you heard of the digital age?”
He smiled self deprecatingly.
“What does that mean?”
“I’m a lecturer at uni. Arts and literature.”
“Ah,” she said.
“The bookish professor. And have you had it off with many of your students? You’re good looking enough, except for the slippers, of course.”
“Why thank you,” he laughed.
“And no, more than my job’s worth.”
“You must have been tempted.”
“Of course, I’m only human.”
“So you’re not gay.”
“No, I’m not. Now, what about you? What happened between you and the boyfriend, sorry ex-boyfriend. Why’d you run out on him?”
She was silent for a moment, then sighed and said almost sadly, “I really have a knack for picking pricks.”
She continued, “We’ve been going out for about six months. He’s some financial whiz kid in the finance sector. We went out to celebrate, some big windfall. He and his mates probably screwed over another poor investor. Anyway, we got a taxi back to his place. I don’t drink but he really was quite drunk I suppose, which was why he said what he said.”
“Which was? he prompted.
She sighed again, then continued, “He said his boss, who’s a loathsome piece of shit, told him he was into threesomes. He was quite taken with me and wondered if I’d be interested. Even drunk, I can’t believe Steve would even tell me that, let alone propose it.”
Horrified, Dale said, “He asked you if you’d be interested?”
She nodded, tears pooling in her eyes.
“As if I was some piece of meat to be shared between them.”
“I’m so sorry, Olivia. Sometimes I’m rather ashamed of males as a species.”
She put down her cup, got up, came over and curled up on his lap.
“Just hold me please,” she whispered, tears running down her face.
He complied, putting his arms protectively around her. She cried silently as he held her, occasionally stroking her hair. After a while, she was silent. He still held her, wondering what to do, then realised that she had fallen asleep. He struggled up and carried her into the spare bedroom. He laid her down and pulled a blanket over her. She looked small and vulnerable.
He left her, leaving the door ajar and the hall light on, in case she woke in the night.
He walked out onto the back verandah. The rain clouds had cleared away and he caught a glimpse of stars up in the night sky. He knelt down and ruffled the hair on Trixie’s head. She opened one eye as if to say, ‘why are you bothering me?’ and went back to her doggy dreamland. It was almost two am, but he was wide awake, understandable under the circumstances, he thought. What an interesting night. Audrey Hepburn, his favourite actress of all time, was asleep under his roof. Of course, he was no George Peppard, and this wasn’t Tiffany’s but he might still, with any luck, have breakfast with Audrey, and if fates so ordained, maybe more.
The door opened and Dax strode into the office, twirling his trademark gold-topped cane, immaculately clad in an expensive Armani suit with a mauve open-necked shirt. With his sleeked back black hair, he exuded power and arrogance, befitting the son of the most feared crime lord in the city. He sat down and looked over at his two subordinates seated in chairs on the other side of the desk. Fleck, slim, with short bleached blonde hair. His favourite weapons, knives he kept sheathed on his belt. A cold-blooded psychopathic killer.
He was picking at a nail with one of his knives.
“Must you?” Dax said reprovingly.
Fleck put the knife away
In the other chair, sat Ox. Befitting his name, a big muscular man, huge hands resting on equally huge thighs. He rarely spoke. He was Dax’s designated bodyguard.
“Well?” Dax said.
Fleck hauled a briefcase up from next to his chair and placed it on the desk.
“Any problems?” Dax asked.
Fleck shook his head, then said, “We didn’t get anything from Mrs Tan. She wasn’t there. The kid said she’d rushed off to the hospital. Sick or dying mother.”
Dax raised his eyebrows.
“You told us not to do anything. Just let you know when we don’t get payment,” Fleck reminded him.
“So I did. Glad you listened. Alright, we can’t say we’re not sympathetic. We’ll go around there tomorrow night. Now, let’s go to the club.”
Dax owned a nightclub in the city. One of the most popular, where he could get his pick of beautiful women, some willing, some not. He liked the unwilling ones best. It was so much more satisfying when he bent them to his will.
He picked up the briefcase and strode out of the room, his men trailing in his wake.
At exactly 8 pm the next night, a sleek black Mercedes drew up in front of the little Asian grocer. Fleck jumped out and opened the back door. Dax emerged and strode into the shop with his cane. Fleck followed, Ox stood watch at the door. The young man behind the counter looked up from the tablet he was perusing. Remarkably, he showed no surprise.
Dax glanced around the shop. There was only one customer. A young Asian woman wearing a black coat, looking at something she had picked up off one of the shelves. He ignored her and said to the young man, “And how is Mrs Tan’s mother?”
“Dying,” came the reply.
“That’s too bad. However, we do have an agreement with her. Did she leave a package for us?”
The young man shook his head.
“Who are you?” asked Dax.
“I’m her nephew, Yen,” the young man told him.
“I see,” Dax responded.
“That’s unfortunate. You see, Yen, our agreement stipulates that any violation means that your aunt is no longer under our protection. Which also means that all sorts of bad things can happen.”
He looked at Fleck who picked up a large jar of pickles from the counter.
“Excuse me,” a voice intruded.
Dax swung around.
The Asian woman was standing behind them, holding a bag of rice in her hands.
“I’d like to pay for this, please.”
“We’re in the middle of a discussion. I’m sure the young man is quite happy for you to have it,” Dax said, with a pointed look at Yen.
“I prefer to pay,” the woman said firmly.
“I don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to me.”
“I’ll pay for it,” Dax volunteered.
“Consider it a gift.”
“I don’t take gifts from people I don’t know,” came the reply.
Dax looked at her. Not particularly attractive, he thought. Why am I bothering? The women at the club were a lot more beautiful.
He lost patience, and said, “Just get out of here.”
“Yeah, bitch. Piss off,” Fleck said, put down the jar and pulled out a knife.
The next moment, he gave a muffled shriek, as with one swift movement, she had twisted the knife out of his hand and plunged it into his chest. As he dropped to the floor, Dax reacted and twisted the knob of his cane, freeing a sword. The woman had pulled the knife out of the dying Fleck’s chest and now flicked it into Dax’s throat. He gave a gasping cough, dropped the sword and clutched at his throat.
Belatedly, Ox reacted. He gave a roar and charged. The woman pulled a gun out of her coat pocket. It gave a silenced cough through the suppressor attached to it. A hole appeared between Ox’s close-set two eyes, and he dropped to the floor on top of his dying boss. Yen had watched the scene unfold with fascinated wide-eyed wonder, then said quietly, “Thank you, Angel.”
“I’m going now. You go as well, out the back door. My men will be in in a minute to clean up. This never happened.”
She stepped over the bodies, pausing briefly to pull the keys to the Mercedes out of Ox’s pocket, and went out of the front door, flipping the sign to ‘closed.’
Soon the Mercedes glided away from the kerb and disappeared down the street. Her destination, the home of the crime boss, where the late Dax had resided. Her task this night was not yet complete.
A short while later, after a brief detour, she stopped at the gate to an imposing mansion in an exclusive suburb. The sensor in the Mercedes activated the gate and it slid aside. She drove up the winding driveway. Anyone seeing the car would assume it was Dax. She set the cruise control, opened the door and rolled out the car as it headed for the six-car garage. She sprinted for the side of the house and was soon clambering up a downpipe. As she reached a window, she pulled out her phone. The car crashed into the garage door, and she pressed a button on her phone. With a tremendous roar, the car exploded, taking with it, a Lamborghini and a Rolls Royce and collapsing part of the garage. At the same time, she broke the window, sure the sound would not be heard over the noise of the explosion. She heard shouts as men came running from everywhere.
She clambered inside and swiftly walked towards the main bedroom. The door opened and a bullfrog of a man emerged, pulling on a dressing gown. She flattened herself against a wall. She knew him well, his image ingrained in her memory. He didn’t notice her and stood at the head of the stairs looking down. She walked up behind him and with tremendous thrust, pushed him down the stairs. She watched as he tumbled over and over. His head hit one of the treads with a sickening thud. She looked on with satisfaction as he lay with his head at an unnatural angle. She retreated back to the window, carefully climbed down the pipe, and headed for a large tree. She scaled it and lowered herself over the wall. A black BMW came slowly down the road. It stopped and she got inside and sat back with a sigh of satisfaction. Many months in the planning, a good night’s work for an avenging Asian angel.
Charlie opened her eyes, yawned, then asked plaintively, “Are we there yet?
Deacon snorted then said, “How old are you again?”
“But we’ve been driving for ages!”
“Yes, and you’ve been asleep for most of it,” he retorted.
“You prefer to drive anyway,” Charlie said.
“Because you’re a lead foot and I want to get to the grandkids alive.”
“Okay, Okay! So how long now anyway.”
“Still a long way. We might stop at the next motel or something”
“Haven’t seen any sign of anything for miles,” Charlie remarked,
“You saw that through your closed eyelids, did you?”
“Oh shut up. Wake me when we get to a motel,” Charlie said and settled back again.
Deacon shook his head and peered ahead at the long ribbon of black unwinding in his headlights. He hadn’t seen another car for quite some time.
An hour or so later, lights appeared in the distance. It was a service station set back from the road. As he neared it, he saw the vacancy sign of a motel behind it. He was puzzled. He didn’t remember seeing it last time. Nevertheless, he turned off onto the side road and headed for it. A sign said ‘Wayside Motel.’ He stopped outside reception, then got out. There was a sign on the door. It read, ‘If closed, go to the service station.’
He got back in the car. Charlie stirred, and without opening her eyes, asked, “Are we there yet?”
“Yes dear. Of course we are. I turned the car into a plane,” he said sarcastically.
Her eyes opened.
“Very funny. Where are we anyway?”
“Motel,” he answered, reached for his wallet that he had placed in the centre console, then got out again and walked to the service station. The man behind the counter was old, with an unruly mop of grey hair. He was wearing a wrinkled red flannel shirt that looked as if he’d slept in it. He looked expressionlessly at Deacon with red-rimmed, deep-set black eyes. His face was an unhealthy white pallor. He wondered if the man was ill.
“May we have a room for the night at the motel please?” he asked politely.
The man turned, took a key from a board behind him, and handed it to him.
“Fifty dollars,” he said, his voice a throaty rasp.
Deacon was surprised at the price, but handed him the money.
“Don’t need a receipt,” he said.
The man, nodded, kept looking at him, or almost through him, he thought.
It made him feel very uncomfortable.
“Thanks,” he said, and walked out the door. Through the window, he saw the man was still staring into space.
‘That was weird,’ he thought.
He decided not to share his feelings with Charlie. The key was for room number six. Back at the car, he got in, started it, drove into the carpark and stopped in front of room number six. There were no other cars, they had the motel to themselves.
“Want your suitcase? Stupid question. Of course you do. Here’s the key. It’s six. Go and open the door.”
“Aye aye, skipper!” she responded and got out.
He pressed the button for the boot, retrieved her suitcase, and his bag, shut it and walked into the room. Charlie had turned on the lights. The room was neat and tidy, with a queen-sized bed in the middle with a floral patterned cover over it.
“Smells musty in here,” Charlie wrinkled her nose, as Deacon deposited their bags on the bed.
‘We won’t be here long,” he said.
“ And I’m buggered, so I don’t care.”
Charlie wandered off.
“There’s a kettle and tea things over here,” she said.
“Want a cuppa?”
Deacon pulled out sleep shorts, a tee shirt and his toilet bag and went into the bathroom. He was having a pee when Charlie came in and filled the kettle. She pulled a face.
“Noisey,” she said.
“Piss off,” he told her.
“Oh, you’re so funny,” she said, left and shut the door.
A little later, he sat on the bed, sipping his tea. There’d been milk in the small fridge.
“Strange. I don’t remember this motel or the service station last time I came through here,” he said.
“When was that?”
“Dunno. Long time ago.”
“Well, you’re old. Your memory’s pretty shot,” she told him.
“Thanks, I love you too.”
He finished his tea and put his cup on the bedside table.
“Can’t be bothered brushing my teeth,” he told her.
“I’ll do it in the morning,” and climbed into bed.
“Eew,” she said.
“Disgusting creature. No good night kiss for you.”
He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and turned on his side.
“Good night,” he said in a muffled voice.
He was asleep in minutes. Charlie looked at him fondly. She wasn’t the slightest bit sleepy, unsurprisingly, but she had her kindle. She was halfway through her latest downloaded novel. She’d finish it tonight. A few hours later, she too was asleep. Up above, the vacancy sign had gone out.
Deacon woke with a start. He’d been dreaming. There was a fire. The heat was intense, there was a roar of flames, smoke was billowing in the air. He and Charlie were watching it from a distance. There was no danger to either of them, and he couldn’t tell what the building was that was burning. He turned over. Charlie was sleeping peacefully, her back to him. He put an arm around her and drifted off back to sleep.
It was six the next morning. After showers and an early morning cuppa, they were on their way. Deacon left the key in the room. Soon, the motel and service station had disappeared from view. Two hours later, they were in a large town. They pulled into a service station, Deacon filled the car, then they went into the cafe for breakfast.
“I’m starving,” Charlie announced as they sat down. She picked up a menu and perused it.
‘Full breakfast for me,” she said to Deacon.
A smiling waitress came over.
“Ready to order, folks? “ she asked.
“I am,” Charlie responded.
“Old slow coach here is still deciding.”
“No rush,” the waitress said.
“Have you folks come far?”
“Well, we’ve been driving on the north road for a couple of hours, so not that far,” Charlie said.
‘We stayed in that motel just off the road.”
“Oh? And what motel was that?”
Charlie turned to Deacon.
“What was the name of that motel last night?”
“I think it was the Wayside Motel. It was attached to the service station,” he responded.
The waitress, whose tag said her name was Debbie, said in puzzlement, “I don’t know of any service station and motel in that area.”
Charlie put down her menu.
“We definitely stayed there last night.”
Debbie turned and called, “Len, come here a minute.”
A grey haired man came out from behind the counter and approached their table.
“Len’s lived in this area all his life. He’d know about the service station and the motel,” she explained.
Once more, Charlie told him about their previous night’s stay. His eyes widened, then he whispered, “Oh my God.”
In alarm, Debbie said, “What is it, Len?”
Deacon and Charlie looked at each other. Len pulled up a chair and sat down, while Debbie looked on with concern.
“I don’t know how to explain this, folks, but, there was a service station and motel there, just off the road. But twenty-five years ago, to the day yesterday, it caught fire and both burnt to the ground. The owner, Joe Latimer, an eccentric old fellow, died in the blaze.”
Deacon and Charlie stared at him in horror.
“But we stayed there last night!” Charlie cried.
Debbie had her hand on her chest, eyes wide,
“I’m sorry, but it’s the truth,” Len said.
Deacon said shakily, “I saw him. Old guy, grey hair, red flannel shirt, dark eyes, I gave him fifty dollars, I thought it was cheap.”
“Yep. That’s him, and that’s what he charged then.”
Deacon said slowly, “I woke up in the middle of the night. I had a dream about a fire. Charlie and I were watching it. I couldn’t see what the building was that was on fire,”
The four stared at one another in silence, then Debbie said, “I guess I’d better get you good people some breakfast.”
“I don’t think I could eat now,” Charlie said.
“I can,” Deacon said.
“I’ll have the full breakfast please.”
“How can you eat after this, this weird thing that just happened to us?” Charlie asked.
“Easy. I’m hungry,” Deacon answered.
“And two teas please,” he said to Debbie.
“Thanks, Len, I think. This will be something to tell our grandkids when we get there, won’t it? Grandpa and grandma stayed in a ghost motel last night.
I don’t think they’ll believe us, do you?”
“I can’t even believe it!” Charlie burst out.
Len got up and said, “Probably not. Maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone. They’ll think you’re nuts. Anyway, gotta go help Debbie.”
He went off, giving them a lingering look as he went.
Charlie looked at Deacon.
“I’m not sure I know how to feel about this,” she said.
“Yes,” Deacon said thoughtfully.
“I can understand that.”
He grinned suddenly.
“Why are you smirking? What’s so funny?”she said crossly.
“The Wayside Motel,” he said.
“What on earth is funny about that?”
Charlie was getting irate.
“I know what to say now every time I get asked that silly question.”
“What silly question?”
He laughed and said teasingly, “Are we there yet?”
Mal shifted in his seat. His bum hurt. Happens when you sit for a long time, worse when it was a twenty-year clunker made before the era of airbags even. But he was on a stakeout. He couldn’t move until there was some sign of activity in the house he was surveilling, hopefully discreetly, just down the street. Suddenly, he sat up and watched as the garage door slid up. A black Lexus reversed down the driveway. It paused as it entered the street and the garage door came down again. It drove down the street and slowed as it drew level with him. The driver’s side window slid down. A hand came out, middle finger extended, and a voice yelled, “Hey Arsehole!” and the car accelerated into the distance.
Mal slumped in his seat and swore to himself. Bastard. What a waste of time. He’d obviously been made. He wondered what gave him away, but it could have been anything. It was depressing. To quote Detective Roger Murtaugh in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies, he was getting too old for this shit. The guy he had been watching was quite low on the drug dealing food chain anyway, not too low judging by the car, but the tip-off he had received indicated he might have led to someone more important.
Mal’s client would not be happy. Concerned his youngest daughter had fallen in with a crowd heavily into drugs, he’d hired Mal to do some snooping. Thus far, his investigation had led to this lowlife called Manny. So he’d been watching him.
Well, that idea was shot to hell. May as well go home. He turned the key, and with a sinking feeling, all he heard was a click. The battery had died. Shit.
Now he would have to ring roadside assistance to get him going. To top it all off, the oppressive clouds that had hung around most of the day decided that now was the time to release the deluge that had been promised so many hours before and rain bucketed down. He fished for his phone, and could not believe what he saw. Nothing, the screen was blank, the phone too was dead. He felt like screaming out loud in frustration. But he was a fifty-year adult, a male to boot. Men didn’t do that sort of stuff. But he did it anyway. The noise of the downpour muffled the sound of the ear-splitting shriek he let out. Nobody heard him, at least, nobody human.
Hidden above the dense rain cloud, by sheer chance, hovering just above Mal’s car, was an alien spacecraft, spherical in shape, containing an amorphous entity. Mal’s shriek was picked up by the craft’s external sensors. Driven by curiosity to determine what the noise was and where it emanated from, the entity left its craft and transported its amorphous form down through the cloud. It hovered above Mal’s car, then entered it. Mal, unable to believe the noise that had just come out of his own mouth, almost crapped himself when the entity materialised in the seat beside him.
“What the hell? Who and what the hell are you?” he stuttered.
There was no answer.
“Are you a ghost or something?”
There was still no response.
Mal’s heart was pounding in his chest.
A tendril reached out towards him. Terrified, he grabbed at the door handle and tugged at it. The door wouldn’t open. The tendril swirled closer, he shrank against the door, then mercifully, passed out.
Mal came to. He felt distinctly weird. But his mind was as clear as a bell. His body had been invaded, no, enhanced by an entity from another world. He felt an awareness that he now had powers that he’d never had before. Maybe like superman or some of the other superheroes like the Avengers he’d read about, and seen in the movies.
This alien appeared intent on helping him, unlike movie aliens who always seemed to be hellbent on destroying the human race, a sentiment with which he sometimes agreed. He looked forward to finding out what those powers were. Did they have any limits?. He wondered if someone shot him, for example, would he die? Now that would be handy to know!
And did the alien have a spaceship? Must have. If so, where was it? Secreted on earth or parked undetected in space somewhere. And were there more of them? He had lots of questions swirling around in his head. Hopefully, as time went by, he’d get some answers. All in all, though, he felt remarkably sanguine about everything that had just happened to him.
He reached for the ignition key and turned it. The car purred into life. The battery had been recharged. Was that the alien’s doing? He had a sense that it probably had been.
He turned on the car headlights. The downpour had passed. He eased away from the curb. As he headed down the street, a car passed going the other way.
“That’s that jerk, Manny,” Mal said aloud.
Now was as good a time as any to put whatever powers he had to the test.
He did a careful U-turn on the wet road and followed the other vehicle. It turned into the driveway of the house from which it had earlier emerged. The garage door went up, and the car drove in. Mal followed, pulling up right behind him. Before Manny could get out of the car, Mal was at his door. He yanked him out by his collar, and with a strength, he hadn’t had before, sent him sprawling to the floor of the garage. Increased physical ability, good to know.
Manny looked up at him with a mixture of fear and outrage.
“What the hell are you doing? I’ll have you charged with assault, you, you…”
Mal looked down at him, then pulled him up, held him in the air, then said mildly, “Ok, Manny, how about we go inside and have a chat.”
Manny looked down at him, then said meekly, “Ok.”
He led the way into the house through an interior door from the garage. He’d left the lights on earlier, and ushered Mal into a well-equipped kitchen. He sat down at the table. Mal seated himself across from him.
“So, you’re gonna tell me everything about your drug dealing, but first, how did you clock me? Never mind,” he said. Actually, Manny didn’t need to say anything. Mal could pretty much sense the thoughts running around in his head. Was that one of his new powers? Had to be. He was chuffed. Even Superman couldn’t read minds!
Manny looked at him in confusion and opened his mouth.
Mal held up his hand to silence him, closed his eyes and concentrated. A jumble of Manny’s thoughts crowded into his head. After a moment, he opened his eyes.
“You really are a scumbag, aren’t you. You’ve ruined so many lives. Even got your own nephew hooked so badly he killed himself. He O’D. Don’t know how many others.”
Manny goggled at him, open mouthed.
“How, how,” he stuttered.
Mal got to his feet.
“You’re done. I know you feel really bad about your nephew, but it hasn’t stopped you.
I know all about you now, who you deal with, where you get the stuff, how much dough you got stashed away, even which banks you got all your accounts in. The cops will get all that info. You’d save everyone a heap of trouble if you just topped yourself before they get you,” he told him brutally.
He turned on his heel, walked out of the kitchen, through the garage and got into his car. He found he was shaking with rage. Manny was just a low-level dealer but look at the carnage he’d left in his wake, the lives he’d ruined. He started the car and backed down the driveway. He decided to go home. It was quite late. He had a lot of thinking to do.
What to tell his client for example.
But now, he had enhanced physical strength and apparently could read minds, for starters. The stuff he got out of Manny’s head gave him plenty to work with. He wouldn’t tell the cops anything. He’d go after them himself. He looked forward to finding what else he was capable of and how he could best utilise whatever he had to right wrongs, and exact justice. What was that Denzel Washington movie? The Equaliser.
Heston curled his finger around the trigger of the AK 47. He loved the feel of it and the sense of power it gave him. He looked at his target through the sights. He really couldn’t miss at this range. It could fire ten rounds per second. More than enough to do the job. Overkill really. After all, his target was only one man. No wonder it was illegal to buy unless you knew where to get it. Which he did. Cost a bit. But he knew someone. Got a good deal. It came with a box of ammo. He had loaded it. He really hadn’t known how until he googled it. Amazing what you could find on the internet.
Now, he had finally tracked down his quarry, Hilton Dearden. His little hideaway, this cabin, more a shack really, miles off the beaten track had been in the family for generations. When he dropped off the face of the earth, it had taken a while to locate him. He had gone to ground, just after Heston had got out of prison, obviously fearing for his safety. Rightly so. But finally, a google search had revealed the fact that his family had it and also its location. This had to be it. And some discreet surveillance had verified that he was here.
So now, he was ready. He was well within firing range. A line of trees hid him from view. Dearden had disappeared around the side of the cabin. But he was a patient man, he would wait till he came out again.
He thought, with quiet fury, of the circumstances that led up to this point. Unremarkably perhaps, it was a double-cross. He had approached Dearden with a proposal. He had researched a high-end jewellery store run by a wealthy widow. He knew exactly what he wanted. Rings and bracelets worth over five hundred thousand dollars. He needed a wheel-man, Dearden had a good rep. He was one of the best. It took some persuasion. He had declared he was going straight, but the lure of a hundred k as his share changed his mind. Of course, Heston had no intention of giving him anything.
So on the day, Dearden pulled up just down the street, and waited, engine running. Heston went in. They were about to close. No customers were inside. He showed the woman his gun and pointed to what he wanted. She pulled out the tray. At the same time, cops burst in behind him, guns drawn. He knew he’d been shopped. He swore he’d get Dearden. The fact that he was going to screw him over, had nothing to do with anything.
He got seven years. The gun he’d used was real. He had previous convictions. He was out after four and a half with good behaviour. It was while he was inside that he’d become fascinated with the AK 47. He’d come across a book about it in the prison library.
Now, he looked once more down the sights. He drew a breath. Dearden had company. It was the widow who owned the jewellery store! No wonder he shopped him. How had the two of them got together? Before or after? He didn’t care. He’d get them both. There was plenty of ammo to go around. He steadied himself against a wall. His finger caressed the trigger, then he pulled it. It blew up in his face and he fell to the ground.
As he lay there dying, his last thoughts were, ‘no wonder I got such a good deal. The damn thing was defective.’ Ironically, his fascination with the AK 47 had killed him.
Adrian walked along, head down, moodily kicking at the odd stone as he went along.
“Bloody Matthews,” he muttered to himself. He was doing his best. So what if he forgot the odd comma or full stop. You got the gist of it. Thank goodness it was Friday. No school for the weekend and Monday was a public holiday. Yay! He had plenty of homework If he got that done early, he’d have three days free. He looked up as he passed a weathered old house. It belonged to old Mr Hastings. He would sit on the front porch on a battered old chair, watching the world go by. Adrian waved at him from time to time, but the old man generally ignored him, just staring into space. His mother had gently pointed out that he may not even have seen him, lost in thought, or just had bad eyesight.
He wasn’t there. Which was unusual. He hadn’t been there yesterday either. He wondered idly if the old man was alright. He knew he lived alone. He had home help and meals on wheels several days a week. He stopped and stood uncertainly at the rickety timber gate. Should he go in and check? They had never actually exchanged any words. Still. It wouldn’t do any harm, he decided.
He pushed open the gate, walked up the path, mounted the well-worn steps and slowly approached the front door. He stood for a moment, then knocked on the door. There was no answer. He stood uncertainly, then knocked again. There was no one home yet on either side. The neighbours were couples all of whom worked during the day. He walked to a window and tried to peer through, but the curtains were drawn. He went back to the door and tried the handle, but it was locked.
He stood there indecisively, then shrugged his bag off his shoulders, dropped it on the floor, and descended the steps. He walked around the side of the house, along the fence, to the backyard. It was mainly weed-infested grass, with a border of shrubs, and the odd tree. The grass badly needed a mow.
Fleetingly, he thought, ‘I could offer to come and mow over the weekend,’ then mounted the back steps of a back patio with a few odd bits of furniture on it. He walked to a back door and tried the handle. The door was unlocked. He pushed it open and ventured inside.
“Mr Hastings?” he called.
No answer. He was in a small room, and to his right, through an open door, he saw a laundry. Ahead was a kitchen. There were some dishes in the sink, but it was what was on the table that disturbed him. There was a plate of congealed food, a knife and fork lying on it, a chair pushed back. Alarmed, he called out again, “Mr Hastings?”
No answer. He walked past the table and into a hallway. He gasped. Mr Hastings was lying unmoving on the floor. He was on his side, a mat tangled in his feet. Without hesitation, heart thumping in his chest, Adrian ran to his side. To his relief, the old man was breathing audibly. but his eyes were closed. He seemed to be unconscious.
‘How long had he been lying there?’ he wondered.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and punched in 000, the first time he ever had to do that.
‘They’re on their way,’ he was assured after explaining what he had found.
He ended the call, put away the phone and looked down at the old man. He must have tripped on the mat and knocked himself out. What should he do? He went off, looked into a bedroom, pulled a pillow and blanket off a neatly made bed, then returned. He gently inserted the pillow under his head and draped the blanket over him. Then he walked to the front door and opened it. He stood outside, pulled his phone out again, and called his mother. It went to her message bank. He left her a brief message explaining what had happened. She was a nurse at a nearby hospital. She would have it turned off while she was on duty. As he ended the call, an ambulance pulled into the driveway.
Some minutes later, he watched as they wheeled Mr Hastings out to the ambulance.
“He seems ok, but he may have a fractured hip,” a female paramedic told him.
“Good thing you found him. He probably wouldn’t have been able to move.”
She patted him on the shoulder. Soon the ambulance pulled out of the driveway and set off. It had aroused very little interest in the few people passing by. They just looked and kept going.
Adrian went back inside. He picked the plate up from the table, emptied it into the rubbish bin, then washed it and other dishes and cutlery he found in the sink. He dried everything with a dish towel and stacked it neatly on the draining board. He looked around. Everything was neat and tidy. He locked the back door, then pulled the plastic bag half-filled with garbage out of the bin. He would drop it in the big bin outside next to the house. He saw a set of keys hanging up on a key rack.
‘Should he take it?’ he wondered. How would Hastings get back again? He took it just in case and walked out of the front door. He would call the hospital later to check on the old man, He picked up his backpack, dropped the garbage bag in the bin, and set off for home.
Ten minutes later, he was drinking deeply from a carton of vegetable juice. His mother would not be impressed, but she wasn’t there to see him. He put it back in the fridge then went into his bedroom, dropping his bag on the floor. He lay back on his bed, pulled his phone from his pocket and pushed a button.
“Hi Aidie,” a voice trilled.
He felt warm inside. His favourite person in the whole world, well, apart from his mother.
“Hi Simone,” he answered.
They’d only been seeing each other for two months. It was exciting. She was the first person he’d ever dated.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me today.”
So Adrian proceeded to tell her all about his good deed.
“God, there’s just miles and miles of nothing!” Stacey complained.
Aaron looked at her with amusement.
“A. It’s kilometres, B, this trip was your idea. ‘Let’s go somewhere different,’ you said.
I did tell you it would be like this. Hundreds of k’s between little towns that have nothing much in them. ‘Let’s be adventurous,’ you said. That sense of adventure didn’t last long, did it.”
“But there’s not even any phone coverage,” she said.
“Told you that too,” he reminded her.
“I said there’d be places with no coverage.”
“But hundreds of miles, sorry, kilometres?” she cried.
“So, you wanna turn back? We haven’t booked anything. You said not to. It’ll be part of the adventure, you said.”
“Stop doing that!” she said crossly, “Reminding me what I said. You could have tried harder to talk me out of it!”
He laughed, “So now it’s my fault, is it? Luckily, I’ve got a great sense of responsibility. Anything you do and don’t like, I’m responsible. So, shall I turn around?”
“Oh, shut up! And stop being so reasonable. Keep going till the next town. I’ll decide then.”
“Yes ma’am,” he responded.
“It’s only a few more k’s. It’s called Shelby.”
“Dunno. It’s a bit off the highway. We’ll find out when we get there, I guess. Don’t even know if there’s anywhere to stay.”
“There wasn’t at that last place or anything to eat either. Good thing I packed sandwiches wasn’t it.”
“Yep, chicken and avocado. My favourite.”
“Oh shit! You hate avocado! I forgot. You never said anything!”
He grinned cheerfully.
“Yep, I’m just a angel.”
“Oh God,” she wailed, “This trip has gone to Hell. Why did you let me talk you into doing this?”
“Because I wanted to go as well. Don’t worry about it. The avocado didn’t kill me.”
“There’s the sign to Shelby,” she pointed.
“Okay, let’s see if there’s anything there,” he said as they reached the turnoff, and saw the
small town unfolding in front of them.
“It looks a good size,” Stacey commented.
“Hope they’ve got a motel.”
They drove down a wide Main Street, with a few houses on the approaches, then a number of shops, a hotel and a service station. Stacey pointed to a sign.
“That says motel down that side street,” she said.
Aaron turned and soon, they saw a motel sign. He stopped in front of reception. Stacey jumped out and strode inside. He watched her go. She was tall and lithe, as tall as he was. He was amused that she wouldn’t wear high heels when they went out, telling her he didn’t care if she towered over him. She hadn’t as yet. He noted the carpark was quite full. It was late afternoon. Maybe something of note was on in the town. The ‘no vacancy’ had not been lit up, so perhaps there was still an available room. Stacey came out, brandishing a key. She set off and he slowly followed her. She opened the door to number 15, and he parked in front of it. He hauled their cases out of the back of the car and carried them inside. Stacey had already turned on the kettle.
“I want a cup of tea,” she announced, as he put their cases on the floor. He looked around. The room appeared quite neat and spacious, the double bed covered with a colourful duvet.
Stacey plumped herself down on the bed.
“Something a bit weird happened in reception,” she said to Aaron.
He sat down on the only chair in the room.
“Oh? Like what?” he asked.
“There was no one in reception when I went in, then a little girl, about twelve, came out. I said I wanted a room. She gave me this strange look for quite a long time, said, “Are you sure?” then this lady came bustling out, ordered her back inside, and we did the business. Only cost $80.00.”
“Why would that little girl ask me, ‘Are you sure?’ And that strange look.”
“What was strange about the look?”
“I dunno. Just made me feel, I shouldn’t get the room. Now why would that be?”
“Who knows. Maybe she’s just a weird little girl. Anyway, what about that cup of tea.”
“Don’t feel like one now. How about we wander down the street and maybe get a drink at the hotel”
“Sure, why not. Just gotta go to the loo first.”
A little while later, they left the motel and walked down the street. They turned from the side street into the Main Street and headed for the hotel. As they passed a narrow lane, a hand reached out and clutched at Stacey’s sleeve. Startled, she realised it was the little girl.
She beckoned them to follow her down the lane. After exchanging puzzled looks, they followed her. She walked to a large dumpster, looked around anxiously, then ushered them behind it, and crouched down. She said urgently, “Bend down! Don’t want anyone to see us!”
They obeyed, then Stacey said, “What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“Why did you come? What are you doing here?” the girl asked.
Confused, Stacey said, “We’re on a road trip. We just needed somewhere to stay for the night.”
“Well, you picked the wrong place,” the girl said.
“Why?” Aaron asked.
“Tonight’s the night they pay homage to Thanatos, and they need the blood of a human to do it, so they need a human sacrifice.”
“Okay, “ Aaron said quietly.
“Let’s back this up. First of all, who are you, who are ‘they’ and what makes you think we’re the ones marked for sacrifice?”
The little girl said earnestly, “My name’s Alice, my Mum’s one of them, and they’re Satanists who worship Thanatos, the god of death, and one night a year, they pay homage, and tonight’s the night.”
“Okay, so why us?” Aaron asked, glancing at Stacey who had listened in sceptical albeit petrified silence.
“You’re the only strangers in town. They always pick strangers,” Alice said.
“I thought Satanists worship the devil,” Stacey spoke for the first time, her voice tinged with fear.
“Not them. They’ve always worshipped Thanatos,” Alice said.
“Why are you warning us?” Stacey asked.
Alice struggled to speak, then, tears filling her eyes, she said, “I was here last year with Mum. There was a lady and her little boy, they checked in. I saw people take them out of their room because I had woken up to go to the toilet, in the middle of the night and I heard the noise and looked out the window. I was half asleep and went back to bed. The next morning, they were gone. Their room was cleaned out, and when I asked Mum, she said they’d left early in the morning.”
“That’s possible, isn’t it?” Aaron asked.
“I found their cases in the storeroom,” Alice said.
“Did they have a car?” Stacey asked.
“Yes. It was gone,” Alice said.
“Alright Alice,” Aaron said gently.
“Thank you for telling us. I’m not some helpless young woman with a child. I was in the army. I know how to look after myself, both of us actually. So you go back to your Mum before she misses you. And thanks again for warning us.”
“Alright,” Alice said, getting up, peering around the dumpster before scurrying off.
“Well?” Stacey asked.
“What do you think? Overactive, vivid imagination or have we stumbled into a Satanists lair?”
Aaron straightened up and pulled Stacey to her feet.
“She didn’t explain how she knew about the human sacrifice, or where this sacrifice is supposed to take place. Let’s go and have a drink. If there’s anything going on, maybe we can pick it up by listening to some of the locals.”
Hand in hand, they walked out of the lane, down the street and entered the bar of the hotel. A few moments later, they were seated at a table, Aaron with a beer, Stacey with a rum and coke.
“I think I need something strong,” she declared.
Aaron nodded in agreement and looked around. There were plenty of people around considering it was midweek, and he idly wondered why. It was a small town. A gathering of Satanists, perhaps? They all looked pretty normal to him, but then, he didn’t know what Satanists were supposed to look like.
“Want something to eat?” he asked.
“Yes please! I just realised I’m starving,” Stacey responded.
Aaron got up and headed for the bar. He came back after a few moments bearing a menu. He sat down and said, “I asked the girl behind the counter about all the people. She said there’s a white witch convention in town.”
“They’re the good ones aren’t they?” Stacey queried.
“Supposedly,” Aaron replied.
They perused the menu, decided what they wanted and Aaron went back to the bar to order. He came back bearing a buzzer, and another beer sat down and pulled out his phone.
“Let’s see what white witches get up to,” he said.
Stacey sipped her drink and waited expectantly.
“Well, it’s all about goodness and ethics, according to Wikipedia,” he reported.
“So white witches are the good ones,” Stacey said, “But aren’t they all women?”
“Alice said ‘people,’ she didn’t say what sex they were, but she may have dreamt the whole thing. I’d say she’s just got an overactive imagination,” Aaron commented.
“What about their bags she said were in the storeroom?” Stacey asked.
“Could have been anybody’s. How did she know it was theirs?” he responded
The buzzer went. They ate their meals in silence. Afterwards, they strolled back to the motel. Their car was the only one in the carpark.
“They must all have gone to their convention,” Stacey remarked.
Aaron nodded. They entered their room.
“I still feel uneasy,” Stacey said.
“Understandable,” Aaron responded.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I’ll wedge the chair under the door handle,” Aaron suggested.
“That way, no one can get in, just on the off chance.”
“Sounds good to me.”
The rest of the night passed without incident, although neither slept very well. They were up early the next morning. The carpark was full.
“Wonder how their convention went,” Stacey commented as they drove out of the carpark.
“And whether they found someone else to sacrifice,” said Aaron with a wry smile.
“I hope we never find out,” Stacey said with a shudder.
“Let’s hope it was just Alice’s over active imagination.”
As the car disappeared down the street, they were unaware that Alice had come outside. She stood clutching a teddy bear and watched them go, an expression of relief on her face.
Danny lay on his bed. He sighed heavily as he stared at the ceiling. He had just returned from another day of unsuccessful interviews. Well, not the whole day. After all, he’d only had one. The first one they’d said they’d let him know, but he could tell, they wouldn’t bother. At least, he’d got an interview, they hadn’t just ignored his application, like so many of his others had been. And the second one was way across town. By the time he got there by public transport, he’d been 20 minutes late, so they refused to see him. He’d sat despondently on a park bench outside for quite a while before wearily making his way home. He’d gone straight to his room and laid on his bed. He drifted off.
He awoke with a start. His mother was standing over him. She was angry, he could just tell. He struggled to sit up.
“You forgot to bring in the washing. It’s rained, and everything’s wet!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“And you promised to wash the dishes, and clean the kitchen, it’s disgusting! And your room’s a mess. I keep asking you to tidy it, but that’s obviously too much for you, And I suppose you forgot to pick up bread and milk as you walked past that milk bar too, didn’t you. God, you’re useless!”
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the room. He stared after her resentfully.
“I’ve had a bad day too, Mum,” he felt like shouting but refrained. He knew he was at fault. He had promised to do all these things, but still. That was no reason for her to yell at him like that. He got up. He’d go for a walk just to calm himself down. He donned his hoodie and headed for the front door. His mother’s bedroom door was closed, but he was too angry to tell her he was going anyway. He opened the door and was tempted to slam it, then thought better of it. It had a stained glass pane in it. It wasn’t the best, but she had made it when she was attending a class once. She would be enraged if he broke it. So he closed the door gently and set off. It was drizzling slightly, and almost dark. It didn’t deter him and he set off, head bent.
He walked in the direction of the Main Street. There was a pub further along. Maybe he’d shout himself a beer, but he realised rather ruefully, that he only had about twenty-five dollars in cash and probably not much more than that in his account. Still, at this moment, he didn’t care. As he turned into the Main Street, someone cannoned into him. He staggered slightly, but the other person, a man, went down heavily. He must have twisted his knee. He gave a yell. He dropped a bag he was carrying, rolled over, looked at Danny, then back past him up the street, scrambled up and hobbled off, leaving the bag behind. Danny picked it up. It was a woman’s handbag.
Realisation dawned. He must have stolen it. He looked up the street. In the distance, he could see a woman. She was leaning against a car. As he watched, she opened the passenger door, and sat down, leaving the door open. He headed for her. The car was a Lexus, he noted. The drizzle had eased. He approached the car, and asked hesitantly, “Are you ok?”
The woman looked at him. She seemed unfocused.
“Are you ok,” he asked again.
“No, I’m not, young man,” she answered.
“I’ve just been mugged, I think. That’s what you call it, isn’t it? Some man grabbed my bag as I was walking back from that atm up the road. There were no parking spaces any closer, that’s why I had to walk so far. He just came up behind me and grabbed my bag and ran. I got such a fright!”
She was almost gabbling, but he thought, ‘Poor thing, she must be in shock.’
She was an older lady, very well dressed, and he could smell her perfume, probably very expensive, he thought. She was sitting in a Lexus after all.
“Is this your bag?” he asked, holding it up.
“Oh my goodness, yes!” she cried.
“Did you see what happened and catch him? My purse is in it and my phone, so I couldn’t ring the police or anything. Thank you, thank you.”
She took the bag, rummaged in it and said excitedly, “Everything’s still here. You’re a hero!”
About to tell her what actually happened, he thought, ‘I’m a hero!
How often is anyone going to call me that. Never! I’m taking it!’
So he shrugged self deprecatingly, “Well, I tackled him, but he got away.”
It was sort of true.
“Thank you again young man, I am most grateful.”
She opened her purse and thrust two fifty dollar notes at him.
“I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to reward you for your bravery and honesty.”
He stared at the money, then said reluctantly, “Oh, I couldn’t take it.”
In his head, he heard, ‘You idiot! Of course you can. You need it. Take it.’
“I insist,” the woman said.
So he took the money, thrust it into his pocket, and said, “Thank you, although it isn’t necessary.”
“Money is always necessary,” she said. “It’s how the world works. Now, is there any other way I can help you?”
Without thinking, he said, “Well, if you can find me a job, that would be good. I’m in between at the moment.”
She looked at him, then said, “I just might at that.”
He stared back at her, then stammered, “Sorry, that just came out, but did you say you might be able to?”
She rummaged in her bag again, then handed him a card.
“My son runs an online business. He’s looking for delivery people. He was only complaining to me today, that his last one just left him in the lurch. So would that be suitable? He supplies the van and a phone, so he told me.”
“That would be great,” Danny said, putting the card in his pocket.
“Good, go and see him in the morning. I’ll tell him you’re coming.”
She added with a laugh, “I suppose it helps if I know my hero’s name?”
Danny squirmed, “It’s Danny Taylor.”
She put out her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Danny Taylor. I’m Helen Thompson.”
They shook hands, then she said, “Just help me out of the car please, Danny. I can get in but getting out is a bit of an issue.”
He helped her out, shut the door, then escorted her around to the other side and opened the door for her. She got in. He closed the door. She put the key in the ignition and lowered the window.
“Thank you again, Danny. I’m sure I’ll see you again sometime.”
He nodded, walked around the car to the pavement and watched her slowly drive away. He walked in the direction of the pub, his mind in a whirl. He could well afford that drink now. A bit of money and the prospect of a job. He could hardly believe it.
A few moments later, he was downing a welcome beer. He thought about his mother. She was justified in having a go at him, he supposed. Normally even-tempered, she must have had a hard day at work to lash out at him. But he did need to pull his weight a bit more.
He confined himself to one beer, then wandered through the poker machine area. He could afford to put the last twenty dollars through. After all, he had a hundred dollars he didn’t have before he left home. He was down to his last three dollars when it happened. Flashing lights, bells, and envious looks from other patrons, and a dazed Danny was walking home with $2400 in his pocket. He remembered to buy milk and bread at the milk bar as he was passing. It was just closing.
He walked into the house. His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, several papers in front of her. They looked like bills. He put the bread and milk on the bench and sat down next to her.
“Sorry Mum,” he said.
“It’s ok,” she said quietly.
Her face was tired and drawn.
“Bills?” He pointed at the papers.
She said tiredly, “Nothing for you to worry about,”
He pulled his winnings out of his pocket, laid it on the table, and with a broad smile, said, “Will this help?”
Wide eyed, she looked at him, and said, “Did you rob a bank?”
So he told her all about his evening, his winnings, his new job prospect and his $100 reward. All because he had just been an accidental hero.