Before I turned to writing young adult novels, I wrote a lot of short stories, mostly horror and very black humor. Several of them ended up being published in various small press magazines around the country (most of which are not around anymore). I kind of stopped after awhile, partially because I had to focus on my teaching career, but also because I learned to enjoy the young adult genre enough to try my hand at writing it.
But during an extended illness last year, I had a lot of spare time on my hands, and started digging up some of those old stories. A lot of them were garbage, but some of them, in my humble opinion, are still pretty good. In fact, I recently revised one, “The Bottom of the Well,” which is published as an e-book short by Echelon Press earlier this year.
So, even though I’ve mostly committed my writing career to the young adult genre (still revising my third novel, The Dark Ride), it seems a shame to have these stories just sitting in a desk drawer, so I’ve been rewriting and revising them as a book, tentatively titled, With the Wicked, which I hope to submit to my publisher in a few months. But, unlike Killer Cows and Shaken, these are definitely NOT young adult tales. Most of the stories are dark, twisted and really violent, so much so that I may try to get them published under a pseudonym.
But until them, I thought I’d post some on this blog from time to time, starting with this one, titled “The Collection,” originally published by a magazine called 69 Flavors of Paranoia, once a great 'zine, now a great website ( http://www.69flavorsofparanoia.com/ ). Hope you enjoy the story. Feedback is welcome.
Just as Clay settled into his old recliner for the evening and popped open a Budweiser, the doorbell startled him. Who in the hell would be coming by at this time of night? With an irritated sigh, he took his remote and hit the mute button, silencing Letterman’s monologue. He sucked the foam from the top of the beer can, set it on the end-table, then struggled back out of the chair.
This better be Angelina Jolie all gift-wrapped with a bow on her head, he thought as he retied his bathrobe and shuffled to the front door.
The bell impatiently rang again, just as Clay was about to unlatch the door. He paused with a frown, moving his hand away from the latch. His heart nervously sped up. Perhaps it would be smarter to see just who was interrupting his nightly routine, especially this late. He flicked on the porch light and peered through the peephole in his door.
Staring back was the face of a man he’d never seen before. The fish-eyed glass of the peephole made his nose look disproportionately huge. He sported a short, easy-to-maintain haircut, neatly parted on the side; it was much like Clay’s own hairstyle, only a but darker. The man has a pleasant smile on his face as he looked back at Clay; he obviously knew he was being studied. He was smartly dressed in a casual gray suit, not unlike the kind Clay wore to work everyday. A black tie completed the look, which the man stepped back to straighten, as if he knew Clay was paying attention to his attire. After finishing the gesture, he stepped forward toward the peephole again, still grinning.
Guess he’s not here with bad news, and nobody dresses like that to rob houses. Must have car trouble and his cell phone ain’t working.
Chuckling at his brief paranoia, Clay unhooked the chain, opened the door and looked the stranger up and down, pausing to admire the man’s shoes, impeccably-polished loafers which reflected the porch light.
The man continued to smile pleasantly.
“Can I help you?” Clay asked.
“Boy, I sure hope so,” the man replied with a toothy grin. “Are you Clayton Walker?”
Clay frowned, fumbling with the belt of his robe and eyeballing him curiously. The man obviously didn’t need to use the phone. Perhaps he was here to deliver some bad news after all.
“Uh…yes.” Clay nervously balled his fists. “Is there something wrong?”
The man continued as though he didn’t hear the question. “The same Clayton Walker who manages the escrow department at Fidelity Title?”
“Yeah, that’s me. What’s this all about? Who are you?”
The man clapped his hands together and exhaled a long, slow sigh. “Hot dog! I’ve had a devil of a time finding you.”
With lightning-speed, the man drove a fist into Clay’s face, breaking his nose. Blood squirted from both nostrils as Clay yelped and flew backward. He landed on his butt and grabbed his gushing face with both hands. His eyes filled with water, so he couldn’t quite see the stranger invite himself inside, shut the door behind him and rehooked the chain.
“Jesus Christ!” Clay cried, spittle spraying from his bloody lips. His entire face throbbed, like it was pumped full of air. After the tears drained from his eyes, he looked up at the still-pleasantly smiling man standing over him. “What the fu-”
“You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” he said, calmly donning a pair of black leather gloves.
Clay pulled his hands from his rapidly-inflating nose and scooted backwards across the carpet, just as Letterman was delivering the night’s Top 10 List. The man watched with amusement as he reached into his jacket, pulled out a gun and leveled it at Clay’s head. Clay felt his crotch become warm and wet as his bladder emptied.
“Stop right there, please,” the man said, briefly looking over to the television. He chuckled good-naturedly. “That Letterman. I do find him amusing, except when he uses the word ‘ass’ too much.”
“What do you want?” Clay screeched, eyes fixed on the open maw of the gun barrel trained on his forehead. “Please! Take whatever you want! I gotta safe in my office! Just don’t hurt me!”
The man turn back to face Clay, raising a surprised eyebrow. “You mean that broken nose you’re sporting didn’t hurt? Gee, I hope I’m not losing my touch.” He pointed the gun at Clay’s bare foot and fired. The blast was deafening; Clay’s toes disintegrated in a spray of blood.
If Clay’s eardrums weren’t suddenly clogged from the gun blast, he’d have heard himself screeching at octave levels he didn’t know his voice could reach. He gawked at his mangled foot in horror, his lungs sucking-in air for another scream.
The man snapped his fingers and frowned. “Darn it…I forgot to use the silencer.” His voice sounded hollow and distant as he smiled down at Clay and reached back into his pocket. “Guess I really am losing my touch.” He pulled out his silencer and quickly screwed it onto the end of the gun. “Oh, well. That ringing will go away in a few seconds. Sure does wreak havoc on the ol’ eardrums though, doesn’t it?”
While Clay rocked back and forth on the living room floor, wailing in agony, the man peeped through the blinds of the front window. “Good thing you don’t have any neighbors close by. If I’m not more careful, one of these days I won’t be so lucky.”
Clay really heard none of this. He continued to scream, squirm and gush blood as he stared in horror at the man’s smoking gun barrel.
“Pleeeze!” he screeched, reaching up to the man with a dripping hand. “Don’t kill me! I got money! I got lots of stuff…all yours! J-j-just…don’t kill me! Oh my God!”
The man calmly raised his hand and warned, “Please, my good man, stop screaming or you will lose your other foot. I’m just here to collect what belongs to my client and I’ll be on my way. And, please…do not take the Lord’s name in vain again.”
Clay bit hard on his lower lip to quell his cries. Bloody snot whistled out his puffy snout while his lungs continued working overtime. His throbbing, distorted foot made him forget the pain in his face. It took all the energy he had left to stop screaming.
After the man patiently allowed him to regain some composure, he knelt by Clay’s face and smiled again. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Foster, Robert Foster, but my friends call me Bobby. Collecting debts and stolen property is my profession.”
Clay’s swollen, blackened eyes grew as wide as the could under the circumstances. Debts? Stolen property? What the hell is he talking about? I don’t owe anyone money, and I’ve never stolen a thing in my life!
“S-sir,” Clay slurred, pausing to hawk a wad of blood on the floor. “Y-you must have me confused with someone else. I don’t mix-in with that kid of crowd.”
“Ah, yes.” Foster chuckled. “I’ve heard that very same thing many times before. Trust me, sir, a guy in my profession an ill-afford to be wrong. You are the man I’m looking for.”
“W-what are y-you talking about?” Clay cried. “I don’t owe-”
He was silenced as Bobby Foster aimed the gun back at his face. “Please, we are in the same room. No need to shout. I represent the interests of one Richard T. Owens. Does that ring a bell?”
Clay frowned, raising his eyebrows. “Richard Owens? Who the hell is that?”
“Watch the language, sir. Don’t remember Mr. Owens, huh? Fear not, my good man. I will refresh your memory.” Foster stood up, strolled over to Clay’s old recliner and eased himself in, crossing his legs. He spotted the open beer on the end table and smiled. “Nothing like a good, cold brewski to cap off an evening, eh, Mr. Walker?”
Clay laid motionless, too terrified to do anything but stare at his attacker as the man picked up the can an took a long, slow tug. After swallowing hard and smacking his lips, Foster looked back down at him. “Richard Owens was an employee at a local Safeway store. He hired me fifteen years ago to get back what you stole from him. Obviously, it took me awhile to find you, but I always get my man.”
This is insane, Clay thought crazily. Fifteen years ago? This must be some awful fucking nightmare. Any second now I’m gonna wake up in my recliner in a cold sweat with my foot still intact.
“Now,” Bobby Foster continued. “You seem like a nice enough fellow. If you’ll kindly return what you have stolen from my client, I may forget I ever found you.”
“For Chri-” Clay spat, then checked his tongue. “-for Pete’s sake, uh, Bobby, I seriously don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve never stolen anything in my life, and I don’t know this Richard Owens you’re talking about.”
Bobby Foster smiled and stood once again. “Sir, I believe I told you my friends call me Bobby. You may call me Mr. Foster.”
Bewildered, terrified and throbbing, Clay lost control of himself. He started sobbing again, never taking his eyes off the barrel of Foster’s gun.
“Tell you what,” Foster offered congenially. “I understand that you can’t just hop up and retrieve it yourself, now that you‘re slightly incapacitated. Why don’t you just tell me where it is, I’ll go get it, and we can enjoy the rest of Letterman together. Should be a good one tonight. I understand Bruce Willis is one of the guests. I always did love his Die Hard movies…except for all the f-words.”
“Please, Mr. Foster,” Clay blubbered, a string of pink drool hanging off his lower lip. “You gotta believe me, I don’t know what-”
He was suddenly cut-off when Foster quietly popped a bullet into the other foot. Clay writhed and twisted around on the floor, gawking deliriously at his newly-missing toes.
“How ‘bout this,” Foster suggested over the screaming. “I’ll start checking each room of your house, one by one. For each room I don’t find it, I’ll comeback in here and shoot another body part. Deal?”
Clay gurgled and wailed, eyes threatening to burst out of his skull.
“I’ll take that as a yes, my good man.”
Foster reholstered his gun and strolled past Clay into the kitchen. Seconds later, Clay managed to control his crying long enough to hear the man rummaging through drawers.
He looked at the expanding dark red patch of carpet he lied on. He never realized how much blood could spew from one’s own feet.
This can’t be happening to me!
Just as he was about to bemoan his fate with more wails of self-pity, his eye caught the golden gleam of the knob on his front door. Then he glanced in the direction of the kitchen; Foster’s shadow has hunched over what must have been the microwave cabinet. What the hell was he looking for?
Clay didn’t hesitate. Clenching his jaws hard to stifle any more screams, he rolled onto his stomach and turned himself to face the door. With all the strength he had left, he used his arms to drag himself across the floor, raising his mangled feet so they wouldn’t drag on the carpet. Crimson snot blew out his nose from the effort, but he didn’t dare open his mouth, knowing damn well he’d unleashed another scream from the agony of moving.
He stopped briefly, catching his breath and raising his head to check his progress. That’s when it hit him…
Foster had rehooked the chain on the door.
Clay stared hopelessly at the chain, at least two feet higher than the knob he thought he could reach by just getting on his knees; it might as well have been twenty miles away. To reach it could mean standing on the two nubs that were once his feet. He didn’t think he could do it without screaming bloody murder.
But I’m surely a dead man if I don’t at least try.
Clay shot a look back at the kitchen - Foster’s shadow was no longer visible - then at the floor behind him. Judging by the slug-like trail he left, he was losing an alarming amount of blood. He had to get out now and just pray Foster didn’t hear him. Still, despite his overwhelming fear, he began to feel cold and just a little bit sleepy.
Shaking cobwebs from his brain, he gritted his teeth as tight as he could and shuffled the remaining distance on his elbows. Dropping his feet, lightning bolts of pain shot up his legs when his bloody stubs struck the floor. He successfully stifled a cry; his teeth drawing blood as they bit into his lip. Pawing up the front door with sticky hands, leaving streaks of bloodstained prints across the stained wood, Clay managed to get to his knees. Gravity increased the blood flow from his wounds, making the open nerves pound in protest. To slow the flow, he carefully raised his feet off the floor and balanced on his knees.
At least he didn’t feel tired at the moment. Nothing like a heaping helping of pain to jolt a man back to reality. He wasted no time, knowing enough about first aid that, as he lost more and more blood, the sleepy urge would soon come back to try and suck him away. He extended his right hand up and desperately clawed at the chain. After stretching his torso as much as he could, Clay managed to clamp the chain between two trembling fingers. He grinned triumphantly. Thank God he did end up having to try and stand.
Then the hand exploded.
Clay fell away from the door and dropped back to the floor. He clamped his good hand over the spurting wrist, squealing helplessly. He rolled and screeched on the spongy wet carpet, eyes gigantic as Foster slowly strode over to him and squatted.
“Where on Earth are you going, Mr. Walker?” he asked innocently. “And just how far did you think you were gonna get on those feet?”
Clay was well-beyond any ability to reply coherently. All he could do was roar in agony and wait for this stranger to put an end to this madness. He stared into the steady, smoking barrel of the gun in Foster’s hand and prayed for a quick death.
Instead, Foster holstered the gun and grinned.
“Cheer up, my good man,” he happily piped. “I found what I’m looking for, so I’ll be leaving now.” He held the prize before Clay’s eyes, a cheap white ball-point pen, with a yellowed strip of scotch tape wrapped around a crack in the plastic. The words on the barrel read, Safeway Food & Drug - Ingredients for Life. Clay had seen it before, lying around in the kitchen junk drawer with old batteries, receipts and matchbooks.
Foster neatly slipped the pen into his inside pocket and stood. “Mr. Owens will be happy to get this back,” he said, pretending to brush lint off his sleeve. “Take some friendly advice, my good man. Next time you borrow someone’s pen to write a check, make sure you give it back.”
With that, Foster gave him a friendly nod, unlocked the door and strode out.
Moaning and shivering uncontrollably, Clay stared out the door in shock, watching his assailant disappear into the night. For several minutes, he didn’t move, content to lie on the floor and bleed while his mind tried to comprehend what had just happened to him. Who the hell is Richard Owens? What is the big deal about a cheap old pen? And after fifteen years?
Pain quickly shoved away all of those questions. They weren’t important right now. What really mattered is that he was alive, and if he wished to remain so, he needed to get to his phone and call 911 before he bled to death.
He craned his head back into the living room. There was his cell, sitting next to the beer on the end table. With his remaining hand, Clay yanked the terrycloth belt from the loops of his robe and clumsily wrapped it several times around his gushing wrist, hoping to slow the flow of blood.
Suddenly, he heard a shuffling sound from outside. He quickly looked back to see Bobby Foster charging back at him from the night, a toothy grin plastered on his face. He leaped up the steps of the porch and drew his gun once again, leveling it at Clay’s head.
“Good thing I checked out this pen when I got back to my car, My. Walker,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s all out of ink.”
Before he had a chance to scream, Clay was silenced by a bullet to his brain.
Copyright 2011, D.M. Anderson