Parasite (Shadows of the Past Book II) Chapter 10





Chapter 10

Frankie sat at the dining room table coloring, the tip of his tongue poking from the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on staying inside the lines. A shadow fell across the table and he looked up at Michelle, who stood over him, watching as he worked.

“We’re gonna need the table soon,” she said with a nod.

Frankie smiled as he nodded at her, then returned his attention to the coloring book. He was focused on the sky now, using the wide side of the crayon to create swaths of blue as he moved it back and forth.

As he worked, his mind wandered. Memories whispered from the past and he followed one back to that night in the garage. He saw Jack on a purely instinctive level, a powerful predatory force that was searching for him as he hid within the cocoon of white noise that was his world. While his father tried to start the car, Jack had thrown himself at the vehicle with an insane fury that flashed white-hot around Frankie’s sanctuary. Neither his father nor Michelle would have lasted very long against Jack, who had become so much more than just an ordinary man. The thin glass of the car windows would have easily failed against his onslaught.

It was then that he’d reached out for the first time with his mind. Venturing beyond the safety his confusion afforded him, he discovered he had a little trick of his own up his sleeve. He had touched Jack’s mind that night.

What he had seen as he gazed into Jack’s subconscious had terrified him. The thing that had taken control of Jack had no feelings whatsoever for man. It viewed him as nothing more than cattle in the field, which in essence they were, for their genes had been brought from the far reaches of space to this warm little planet circling the sun. They had been brought to feed these early explorers.

But as the continents broke apart, and that section they had inhabited drifted to the south, the food source found itself more adaptable than its masters. The tables had been turned as the hunter became the hunted, and this alien race had had to take drastic measures to adapt to the changes that were taking place around it. They were forced to evolve into a creature more suited to a snow-covered world, and in so doing they had surrendered their reign over their former slaves.

Frankie saw all of this in a flash of emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. He had touched Jack’s mind, transferring a small part of the confusion that was his own world, and in so doing had opened himself up to this creature’s influence. Accomplishing what he had set out to do, he had retreated, followed by this predatory thing that stalked him through the chambers of his own mind. It was only when the fever gripped him that he was able to exorcise this demon from the past.

From his left came a faint sound that he realized, upon becoming aware of it, had always been there. A soft whispering, like that of a multitude of voices in worshipful prayer. The sound stopped his hand and his coloring book lay forgotten as he turned to peer into the deeper shadows that were crowded in the corners of the room.

He sensed his mother’s presence nearby and was comforted by her warmth, which stood in sharp contrast to the chilly waves of cold air that whispered from the deeper shadows.

“They’ve awakened,” his mother whispered in his mind and he sighed with resignation. He’d known this day would come and was saddened by the fact that it had arrived so soon. He’d hoped he would have had more time to get to know his family, to make up for everything he had missed while growing up, but that was not to be.

With wisdom beyond his years, he understood the uncanny persistence of life. Where there was the slightest sliver of hope that it could emerge, it would, and alien life was no different.

His father had suspected that he’d been unsuccessful in his attempt to destroy the thing that once lived as Jack Griffith. At the time, Frankie had known for a fact that he had failed, for the whispering that he recognized as coming from the collective consciousness of this creature had never fully ceased. It had grown quieter, true, but it had never stopped completely. And now it was growing stronger.

He glanced at the window, and the ridge beyond, aware that the fight would be joined once again. He felt their presence lurking at the edge of his consciousness, a faint whispering like the soft static of a radio tuned to a dead station. With his mind, he pushed them from his thoughts, driving them away from him, sending them reeling into the ether as they fled the confusion that threatened to consume them.

Michelle entered the room and found Frankie staring out the window. The coloring book on the table before him was covered by blood that was dripping from Frankie’s nose. 

He was unaware of this fact, his entire being focused on locating the source of the whispering, and as he sought them out he felt the months of confusion he’d held successfully at bay washing back through him.

He heard Michelle scream and was about to tell her that everything was all right when he looked down and saw that the blue sky he’d worked so hard on was now a bright red due to the blood flowing from his nose.


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Parasite (Shadows of the Past Book II) Chapter 9





Chapter 9

The despair of the past few days was washed away by the exhilaration of racing headlong through the woods with no restrictions. This was his second pass on the circuit he and his father had cut from the forest behind their house. Reacquainted with the features of the path after his first go round, this time he decided to see just how fast he could run the route.

He was ripping around the second curve, dirt spewing from beneath all four tires as he leaned into the turn and cranked the throttle wide open. The four-wheeler leapt forward as the first long straightaway came into view. Suddenly a figure stepped out of the dense forest, right into the middle of the path, and Anthony’s mouth went dry with fear when he recognized Randy’s bulk blocking his way.

He whipped the handlebars to the right, cutting through the dense weeds, bouncing crazily over downed tree limbs as he skirted around Randy. He nearly lost control but he managed to get himself back onto the path and straightened out beyond Randy. He stopped, his hands shaking, his knees weak, as he looked back over his shoulder to find Randy casually sauntering towards him.

Anthony popped the clutch and twisted the throttle wide open just as Dave jumped out of the weeds and tried to grab the handlebars. Dave was sent sprawling into the weeds as Anthony sped away. He bounced over the path, the engine revving, glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone was chasing him. He failed to set himself for the next turn and instead of remaining on the path the four-wheeler spun out into the dense forest.

He pushed himself away from the four-wheeler as it rolled into the brush, tumbling through the trees, slamming into a bramble of fallen tree limbs. He lay there for a moment, pain coming from his left knee and lower back as the four-wheeler sputtered and died somewhere to his right.

Where did they come from? he wondered as he lay there listening to the voice of the forest around him. Like a curtain descending, all noise ceased as the sound of approaching footsteps filled the void.

They were coming for him.

Pushing himself back to his feet, he searched the forest for any sign of their approach. To his left he spotted movement and saw Randy calmly walking towards him with a strange animal at his heels. Dave joined him and together they approached him with a leisurely stride; it was as if they knew they had all the time in the world to do as they pleased, which frightened him more than anything else. Anthony turned and ran into the forest, following the trail he knew would lead back to his house.

Reaching his house, he raced through the kitchen door and crossed to the basement door, tracking mud across his mother’s clean floor, taking the steps two at a time, risking a headlong fall to the concrete floor below. He made his way to his father’s small workshop tucked away in the far corner. Above the workbench an assortment of tools hung from a pegboard; along the right side of the workbench was a row of drawers. Anthony opened the second one down and reached into the shadowy recesses at the back of the drawer. He pulled out a tin box and pried off the lid to reveal an object wrapped in an oily rag.

Hidden inside the rag lay a well-maintained Colt model 1911 45-caliber pistol. Unwrapping the weapon, he laid the rag on the surface of the workbench and pulled back the slide as his father had shown him just that spring. Locking the slide back, he slapped a full clip into the handle and released the lever holding the slide. It slid forward, ramming the blunt nose of a bullet into the chamber. Pushing the pass through safety button on the trigger guard from safe to fire, he crossed back to the steps and paused for a moment as he struggled to catch his breath.

He had a moment to consider what he was doing, to take stock of the situation, as it were. He only had two options open to him. Let Randy and Dave take him and do as they pleased, possibly resulting in his death. Or kill them both.

It wasn’t possible for Randy to still be alive. He’d seen him fall, had heard the sickening crunch of his body slamming into the stones at the bottom of the cliff. But here he was, coming after him again, and this time he knew there would be no turning back. Something had brought Randy back, be it for revenge, or worse. Anthony hadn’t matured to the point that such a notion would be considered impossible. His young mind was still wide open to any number of explanations for Randy’s return, most of them with sinister origins.

He had come back from the dead to get him, and that animal he’d seen with him, that strange creature that looked like a cross between a fox and a turtle was somehow involved.

His decision made, he pulled himself up the steps with the pistol heavy in his hand. His father had taught him earlier that year to shoot, while his mom had been away at her sister’s. She never would have agreed to such a thing had it been proposed so he and his father had kept it as a secret between them. Another of the many secrets fathers and sons normally kept from mothers and wives.

Stepping into the back yard, Anthony scanned the forest for any sign of Randy’s approach. He heard footsteps in the leaves covering the forest floor and he waited, watching that section of trees the sound seemed to be originating from.

Randy came into view, followed by Dave, and Anthony had a moment to take a closer look at the bully who’d made his life a living hell. On one side of his head, a bulge protruded from beneath his long hair, giving him a lopsided appearance. His clothes were covered with a black substance that took Anthony several moments to identify as dried blood. Dark trails traced lines from each of his ears, across his top lip, under his nose, and from each corner of his mouth.

That crunch he’d heard had to have been Randy’s skull shattering. That realization awakened a cold ball of fear in the pit of his stomach. If he could come back from such a fall what chance did bullets have against him?

“Don’t come any closer,” Anthony shouted as he took a shooter’s stance. His feet shoulder-width apart, toes aimed at the target with his knees slightly bent, leaning forward at the waist to ride out the recoil and keep his balance while firing. He held the pistol in both hands, his right wrapped around the handle with his trigger finger pointing straight out along the barrel.

Never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire, his father’s voice whispered in his mind. His left hand cupped his right hand, adding stability, as the loaded gun weighed nearly eight pounds.

Randy stopped for a moment and looked at him. As their eyes locked, Anthony realized it was no longer Randy. He was there, yes, but something else inhabited his body as well, something associated with the strange animal that sat along the tree line watching the events unfold.

Randy shrugged and took another step forward.

Anthony wrapped his finger around the trigger and gently squeezed. The gun bucked in his hand as the sound of the shot shattered the stillness of the forest with a sharp report that rolled away like thunder.

He missed.

He fired again, riding the recoil like his father had shown him, letting the muzzle of the pistol rise up before bringing it back down on his target.

His third shot sent a plume of dirt into the air directly in front of Randy, who hesitated for a moment before taking another step.

The fourth shot found its mark.

At distances over fifty yards, the effectiveness of a forty-five slug is greatly diminished. Within that range, its stopping power is legendary. Randy was only thirty yards away.

The blunt-nosed slug slammed into Randy’s left knee, shattering it on impact with the bone, the resulting shrapnel slicing through tendon and muscle and flesh. The force of the impact nearly bent his leg backwards at an impossible angle, and Randy dropped to the ground as the animal that had been watching from the edge of the forest started running around in frenzied circles, acting as if it too had been hit.

Strangely, though, Randy never made a sound as he hit the ground. The only sound was that of the report vanishing into the distance like thunder rolling across the silent forest.

Under Anthony’s watchful eye, Dave pulled Randy back into the forest, followed by the animal that stopped for a moment and looked back at him with two mismatched eyes. He felt its presence, a tickle of primitive recognition at the base of his neck, a whisper at the edge of his consciousness, a cold, emotionless sound that filled him with growing terror.

After they were gone, he fled back into the house and raced to the bathroom, where he promptly threw up. It wasn’t over, not by a long shot, and he’d have to keep a close watch on things. They would be back and the thought brought to mind the image of his mother in the kitchen alone, facing what lay in the forest just beyond the back door.

He had to tell someone.

But who?

Who would listen to a twelve-year-old kid with a crazy story of a bully coming back to life after he’d killed him? 

They’d lock him up for sure.

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Parasite: Shadows of the Past Book II: Chapter 8





Chapter 8

Anthony sat on the edge of his bed as he watched the sheriff’s patrol car pull into the driveway of Randy’s house. They’d be coming for him soon. It was just a matter of time before they figured out what had happened. What should have been a joyous week, the first full days of summer vacation, was shrouded by his fear of being discovered.

“Wanna toss the ball back and forth?” his father said at the door to his room and Anthony shook his head. His father stepped into the room and sat down on the bed next to him.

“You know you can’t hide in your room all summer. You’re gonna have to come out to eat, go to the bathroom, that sort of thing,” his dad said.

Anthony knew he was trying to be lighthearted about things but he had no idea how terrified he’d been over the past few days. He’d been waiting for the police to arrive, certain that they would appear the moment he relaxed and dared to believe that he had gotten away with what he’d done.

Then there was Dave. He was a witness to Anthony’s act. There was no reason for him to protect Anthony.

“What kind of trouble is that boy in now?” his dad said as he leaned closer to the window to watch the sheriff’s patrol car across the street. “Maybe they’ll send him away,” his dad said more to himself and Anthony experienced a moment of hope. His dad knew what kind of trouble he was having with Randy. He should tell him. Get it out in the open and be done with it.

“Hey, Dad,” Anthony said.

“Yeah, bud?”

“Nothing, just never mind.” He chickened out at the last moment. For a second he’d thought his dad would understand. But when he looked into his eyes he realized he was still a full-fledged member of the turn the other cheek crowd.

Kill em with kindness, he’d always said. He’d killed him all right. But he hadn’t been very kind about it and he recalled the sensation that had flooded him when Randy had confronted him. A rage fed by years of helplessness.

“I’ve gotta leave for work in a bit. Your Mom’s spending the day at her sister’s. Will you be okay here by yourself?”

Anthony nodded his head. “I’ll be all right.”

“Are you sure?” His father placed his hand against Anthony’s forehead. “You don’t feel hot, but you don’t look too well, either.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Why don’t you get outside today, have some fun. Don’t tell your mom, but I filled up your four-wheeler.”

“You did?” He loved riding his four-wheeler on the trail he and his dad had cut through the woods behind the house. But his mom was always worried he’d get hurt so she’d only let him ride when his dad could go with him.

“You did pretty good in school this year, and you’re getting older. I believe you’re responsible enough to be trusted on your own. But you stay only on the trail, agreed?”

Anthony nodded his head vigorously. It was always fun riding his four-wheeler, even with his dad tagging along, but it would be so much better to ride alone. No one to tell him to slow down and no one to make him go home before he was ready.

“And remember, not a word of this to your mother.”

“I promise.”

“And you have to be back before she gets home. If she catches you riding alone, we’ll both be in deep trouble.”

Again Anthony nodded as he pushed himself up from his bed and crossed his room to retrieve his riding gear from the closet.

“I wonder what he wants?” his dad said. The sheriff’s patrol car had pulled into their driveway. His dad pushed himself away from the window and crossed to the door to Anthony’s room.

“Stay here,” his dad told him before vanishing down the hall. Anthony crossed to the door of his bedroom and listened as his father opened the front door

From below he heard his father’s voice as he spoke with the sheriff’s deputy and he cautiously crept into the hallway to eavesdrop on the conversation.

“I don’t care what they said,” his father’s voice came to him, strained with anger and just a hint of fear that kicked the tone up a note, “I’d rather you didn’t speak to him.”

“I understand your reluctance, Mr. Ferris. As a father myself, I’d be hesitant to let the police speak to my children. I was hoping maybe he’d seen or heard something that could clear this matter up quickly for everyone involved.” The Deputy’s voice was soft, reassuring, self-assured, in sharp contrast to his father’s response.

They knew. The thought blossomed in his mind. They knew what had happened. They knew what he had done. They were going to take him away. Send him downstate to the juvenile facility, to jail. He’d never survive jail. The thoughts trailed off in his mind as his father closed the door with an apology.

Anthony watched him through the slats of the banister as he stood with his back to the front door. He had denied them. His father had protected him, and he was suddenly filled with love for the man who was his father. He would keep them from sending him away. He was safe here in the house, under his father’s protection.

“Anthony,” his father called from the front door.

“What?”

“Come down here, please. I want to speak to you.”

With his helmet in his hand, he slowly walked down the steps. Reaching the first floor, he crossed to where his father stood with his back to the front door.

“Do you know anything about what happened to Randy?”

Anthony shook his head as he shrugged. “What happened to Randy?”

“The police say he’s been missing for several days. Are you sure you don’t know anything about what might have happened?”

“He’s not my friend, why would I know?” The lie came so easily that Anthony experienced a moment of remorse. What had become of him that he could stoop so low, and lie so easily to his own father? But all children lied, adults too, everyone told little white lies during the course of a normal day.

But this was no little white lie.

“You understand that if something has happened, if we come out with the truth, they will understand.”

“I don’t know anything,” Anthony said. Did his father already know what had happened and he was just waiting for Anthony to come clean? Dave could have told him. He could have told everyone and Anthony wouldn’t know it. Were they just waiting for him to tell the truth?

“Are you sure?”

Anthony nodded. He couldn’t trust himself to speak, afraid that if he did, if he opened his mouth to further the lie the truth would come spilling out. Then they would know he was a murderer, a killer, a wild beast that had to be caged for everyone’s own good.

“I believe you,’ his father said, visibly relaxing as he pushed himself away from the door and crossed to where Anthony stood. “I better get going. Have a good day and remember what I said about your mother and the four- wheeler.”

“I will, Dad.” Anthony watched as his father vanished into the kitchen. He had done it but he wasn’t proud of it. He’d lied to his father. If he could keep the lie going, if he repeated it enough to those around him and to himself maybe he would actually start to believe it and then he could pretend it had all been a bad dream from the start.

He heard his father’s car start in the driveway and pull out. Anthony remained where he was for a moment, alone, listening to the silence of the house around him, then he turned and ran upstairs to finish getting ready. There was a trail waiting for him and he wanted to spend some quality time with it.

Available October 30, 2014, reserve your copy now.

Parasite: Shadows of the Past Book II: Chapter 7





Chapter 7

I’m getting too damned old for this shit, Sam thought as he sat in his cruiser behind the yellow Camaro that had pulled to the side of the road. In the tinted rear window of the Camaro he watched the reflection of the light bar on top of his car, flashing red and blue. He’d clocked the sports car at nearly a hundred miles per hour in a fifty mile per hour zone and now he sat, waiting for a response to his call for wants.

Being a small county sheriff’s office, there was no room in the budget for computerized upgrades to their patrol cars, so they still relied on dispatch as a link to information readily available to their brethren with the state police. 

Traffic stops were the number one killer of cops in the country. He didn’t know if the person in the car in front of him had recently been involved in a crime. Or if they were emotionally distraught over a recent argument with a love interest. He was coming in cold, but he couldn’t very well justify approaching the driver’s window with his weapon drawn. What if it was some little old lady who was reliving her childhood?

He didn’t know for sure, and it was the not knowing that kept him in his seat. 

It was the first real week of summer vacation and soon the tourists would be crawling all over the area. Deep Creek Lake, a man-made reservoir that offered boating and fishing opportunities, had become a prime tourist destination over the years. Land had become so valuable around the lake that a number of farmers had become instant millionaires when they opted to sell out to the developers.

“There are no wants, Sam,” the dispatcher’s voice came from the radio mounted on the dash.

When he opened the door of his cruiser, the heat hit him like a wet blanket. The bulletproof vest he wore beneath his khaki shirt added to his discomfort. The heat reminded him of summers in D.C when he walked the beat, before he made the grade and got his gold shield. Happier times that teased with the promise of what could have been.

Putting on his Smokey Bear hat, he approached the driver side window of the Camaro with his hand resting easily on the butt of his revolver. He had unfastened the strap that held it in place in the event he needed to draw his weapon quickly. From the car came the heavy bass beat of music turned up too loud.

The tinted driver’s side window slid down into the door, allowing the music to escape, filling the day with a wild medley of crashing guitars and pounding drums. A young woman sat behind the wheel, her blonde head nodding in time with the music, tapping on the steering wheel with well-manicured fingers.

“Please turn the music down,” Sam shouted to be heard.

The young woman complied and the resulting silence was a welcomed relief.

“Do you know why I pulled you over?”

She shook her head as she glanced up at him with an elfin expression.

“You were doing a hundred in a fifty mile per hour zone. I could impound this car. I’ll need your license and registration please.”

“When was the last time you had your radar gun calibrated?” the young woman said. Her demeanor told Sam everything he needed to know about her. A tourist obviously spoiled by parents who probably paved her way through life with a bottomless checking account.

“I’m not going to argue the merits of my radar gun. Driver’s license and registration please.” Sam held out his hand.

“Do you know who my Daddy is?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. Driver’s license and registration please.”

“Bullshit backwater hick town, you have no idea who you’re messing with.”

“Nor do you, young lady. Now unless you want me to impound your car and place you under arrest, I will need your driver’s license and registration, please.”

“Oh my fucking God,” she screamed as she opened her purse and searched through its contents.

Sam stood up, amused by the woman’s reaction, when a call came over his radio clipped to his belt.

“Unit S-twelve see the occupants at nineteen one twenty three East Wilson drive. They have reported a missing child.”

“Roger, dispatch, I’m on my way.”

The woman held her license and registration out the window. Sam glanced at them briefly then handed them back. He knelt down to bring the woman’s face level with his own.

“I’ve got another call I have to take so I’m letting you go with this warning. I catch you speeding on my roads again, I’m not even going to ask for your license or registration. I’m going to impound your car and arrest you for endangering the public.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Try me.” The tone of his voice left little room for argument, so the woman nodded and Sam returned to his cruiser.

#


East Wilson Drive was a narrow blacktop ribbon of asphalt that meandered through the dense woods bordering the state forest. Barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another, there were wider sections every thirty yards or so where a place to pull off the road had been created along the shoulder. During deer season, the last two weeks of November, every one of these wider sections would be occupied by a car or truck from down state as hunters ventured into the forest in search of white tail deer.

There had been some big ones taken from this wilderness, but in most cases the lucky hunter was fortunate if he managed to take a spike. It was almost like the deer knew to avoid this section of the forest for those two weeks. The week before the season started they were all over the place, watching from the forest as cars went back and forth, sometimes crossing in front of a vehicle, forcing the less alert drivers to slam on their brakes.

Here and there even wider areas had been cut out of the forest where houses had been built and people had come to live. Many would be grouped in clusters of three to five, surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless forest, and in many a deer stand stood in the back yard. During the summer they would spread corn and apples to bring in the deer. Most of these people were on fixed incomes and while the baits they used to lure in the deer would be considered unsportsmanlike, it was a necessity to keep the freezer full of meat.

It was one such wide spot that Sam pulled into in response to his call. To his left two houses sat side by side, while on his right a dilapidated trailer stood in the center of a large field filled with an assortment of junk that was slowly turning into rust. The trailer was his destination and Sam remained in his cruiser for several minutes, watching the trailer for any signs of life. He had learned early that when venturing to one of these places it was best to see how many dogs lived there before you stepped out from behind the wheel.

Crossing to the small porch, he climbed the three steps and rapped on the wooden screen door that had replaced the original aluminum one, parts of which still lay on the small front porch. An easy chair sat next to the front door, the fabric moldy from exposure to the elements, and next to it stood a small table upon which an overflowing ashtray resided.

From his pocket he removed a plastic vial and dipped his finger into its contents, rubbing the paste along his upper lip. It was a menthol rub, a trick he’d learned from his days with homicide. The menthol would mask any odors in the trailer, which, judging by its outer appearance, would be a dark and crowded space filled with the odors of unwashed bodies, cooking grease, and cigarette smoke.

An old man wearing a stained white tank top opened the front door. “Are you here about Randy?” he asked through the screen.

Sam nodded and the old man unlatched the screen door before he pushed it open for Sam to enter.

After removing his hat, Sam stepped inside and was surprised to find a neat and cozy place, far from what he had expected. The front door opened into a living room with a kitchen to the right. Everything was neat and tidy, no dishes were piled up in the sink, a couple of open windows allowed a cross breeze to cool the interior of the trailer and give it a fresh scent, if the smell of cow shit in the fields could be considered fresh. The walls were covered with an assortment of plaques, each with a rustic saying.

My house was clean last week sorry you missed it.

Our windows aren’t dirty, that’s our dog’s nose art.

In the corner of the living room a new flat panel television sat on top of an older floor model that probably had not been turned on in years. Opposite from the television, which was tuned to Judge Judy, filling the easy chair with her massive bulk, sat what Sam assumed to be the missing child’s mother, dressed in a floral housecoat. Her feet were propped up on an upholstered stool and the small table beside her was covered with empty diet soda cans, silent testament to an intent doomed to failure. 

“Dee, someone’s here about Randy,” the old man said before stepping back into the kitchen and returning to the table where a disassembled shotgun lay on a towel.

“Well, show him in,” the woman said, muting the television with a remote she held in one meaty hand.

Sam stepped into the living room proper. “Good Morning Ma’am, I’m Sam Hardin with the Sheriff’s office.”

“Well, sit down, please. It hurts my neck to look up at you. My name’s Dee.”

Sam nodded and smiled as he settled into a small loveseat. He removed his notebook and pen from his shirt pocket.

“When did you first realize your son was missing?”

“This morning, well last night really. He’s been missing for several days now.”

“You didn’t call sooner?”

Dee shook her head. “We figured he was out with his friends. He’s done that before but he’s never been gone this long. Please find my son. If anything’s happened to him I’ll never forgive myself.”

“I’ll do everything I can, ma’am. What about his friends? Have you spoken with any of them?”

“He only has one real friend I know of, David, who lives with his dad down the street.”

“Do you have his phone number?”

“His Daddy won’t let him have a phone. Says they can’t afford it. If you ask me I think there’s something going on there. He’s always hungry when he’s around. I don’t think his parents are feeding him very well.”

“What about an address?”

“No,” she said shaking her head, “but he lives in the green house about two miles down the road, same side as us.”

“And what’s his name?”

Her face scrunched up as she tried to remember, her eyes vanishing into the folds of fat that surrounded them. “It’s a funny last name,” she said, “Zany, or something like it, I think.”

“What about the boy across the way?” the old man said from the kitchen, where he was oiling the trigger mechanism for the shotgun.

“What boy across the street?” she said, the tone of her voice rising several notches.

“You know, that Anthony kid that lives across the street.”

“They’re not friends, why do you think they’re friends? Randy picks on him. I’ve told that boy a thousand times to quit being like that but he never listens to me.”

“What do you mean he picked on him?” Sam said.

“Aren’t you listening to me?” she said, redirecting her anger at Sam. “He picks on the poor boy, they’re not friends, my son’s a big bully.” She stopped, her mouth working silently as realization dawned on her face. Her hand went to her mouth as her eyes widened in fear. “You don’t think?” she said then stopped, afraid to lend voice the suspicions that were obviously filling her mind.

“You say he lives across the street? And Randy picked on him?”

“As ashamed as I am to admit it, yes, my son was a bully to that boy. You don’t think? Oh my.”

“It could be nothing,” Sam said as he closed his notebook and pushed himself to his feet. “But I’ll look into it.”

Movement at the back of the room drew his attention and he watched as a young girl carrying a baby emerged from the shadowy hallway that led to the back of the trailer.

“Did he have a good nap, sweetie?” Dee said as she raised her arms to take the baby from the young girl.

“Who’s this?” the girl asked, nodding in Sam’s direction.

“He’s from the sheriff’s office, he’s going to help us find your brother.”

“I say let him stay lost,” the girl said.

“Now that’s no way to be. You know your brother loves you.”

The girl rolled her eyes at this but Sam wasn’t paying any attention. His gaze had been drawn to the baby Dee was cradling next to her ample breast. There was definitely something wrong with the child.

His head, if it was a he, was malformed with a very prominent nose that reminded Sam of the beak of a bird. The forward part of his head had a slant on either side of the nose with the eyes looking off to each side instead of straight ahead. He looked as if his skull had been squeezed in a vise when he was first born. Tearing his gaze from the child, he focused on Dee.

“I believe I’ve got everything I need. If there’s anything else, I’ll give you a call.”

“Please find my boy and bring him home to his mommy. No matter what he’s done, tell him I forgive him.”

Sam nodded as he made his way to the front door. He had a few things to go on, but the info about her son being a bully gave him his best lead. Most likely the bully’s victim had turned the tables on his tormentor or something had gotten out of hand and someone had been seriously hurt.

Either way he’d get to the bottom of it, that was his nature, the need to uncover the truth coupled with a persistence that knew no equal, and it was the persistence that always paid off.

Coming October 30, 2014,  reserve your copy today.