#StitchedSaturday 08.17.19

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This week there is NO word count limit. If it can fit in comments, it flies. Impress us.

11 thoughts on “#StitchedSaturday 08.17.19

  1. A Mother’s Love

    By Lisa Vasquez
    Copyright 2019
    All Rights Reserved

    Standing at the sink, Blair smiled to herself as she listened to her son babble and chase their golden retriever through the cabin. The sun was shining through the window overlooking their three acres of land. A light sprinkle of rain began to dot the glass. The distant drone of the riding lawnmower stopped, and her husband Eric crawled out of the seat. Summer rain was unpredictable living in the country, you took advantage of the weather when you made the decision to live a self-sustained life.

    Five years ago, she would never believe anyone if they told her she’d live in a cabin. Blair was corporate city girl through and through. When she met Eric, his slow, country born mannerisms stole her heart. He balanced her, made her take a breath and enjoy the sky and the grass.

    Pulling her hands from the soapy water, she waved at her husband through the window. His eyes caught hers and he waved back with his denim, oversized work glove. She blew him a kiss and turned to check on their son.

    “Abel, whatcha doing little man?”

    Abel screeched happily as the wheels of his walker rolled across the old wooden floors, followed by the skittering of Barker’s toenails. The two were the best of friends ever since she brought Abel home. She was apprehensive at first, but as soon as Barker looked at Abel, he’d been loyal and attentive.

    It’s like they speak their own language, she said to Eric one morning while they sat and watched the two play. Barker seemed to know what Abel wanted without needing words, and Blair mused at how it kept Abel content. He never cries, honey. It’s just the cutest thing.

    Leaning against the door frame, Blair dried her hands in the hand towel hanging from her shoulder so she could look in on the two. Behind her, Eric opened the squeaky screen door. The sound of his boots caused her to turn her head and call over her shoulder.

    “Hey Mister! Take them boots off in my house.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” he called out, amusement filling his tone.

    Coming up behind his wife, Eric wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled against her neck. Drawing in the scent of her hair and the freshness of her skin, he planted a kiss on below her ear and whispered.

    “Can you believe he’s going to be a year-old tomorrow?”

    Blair curled into her husband’s embrace and pressed her ear to his lips. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before releasing it and opening her eyes again. She couldn’t take her eyes off her son for more than a few minutes at a time. Everything she did was with his well-being in mind.

    “He’s growing so fast. Soon he’ll be big and strong, and –” her words cut short as the lump in her throat grew. Whenever she thought of her son growing up and becoming a man, her emotions took over.

    “Hey, hey,” Eric whispered against her ear. “Don’t, baby. He’s always gonna need his momma.”

    Blair’s head bobbed as she withheld the tears, using the hand towel to dab at the corners of her eyes.
    “I know. I know, he will.”

    As if Abel was paying attention all along, he turned his attention from Barker who was chasing the ball he’d tossed. Bright green eyes sparkled over the humps of two fat cheeks. He was smiling at them both, displaying his tiny, new teeth. An instant calm came over them both and his parents smiled back.

    “I’m so glad we moved here. Look how happy we are away from the city, and our interfering parents,” Blair exhaled as if she was releasing the world from her shoulders. “I never want to go back. Promise we won’t.”
    Eric shook his head, tightening his grip around her small waist. His eyes were locked onto Abel’s and the two remained that way for a long moment.

    “No worries, baby. You won’t ever have to deal with them ever again.” He gave Abel a wink then whispered against Blair’s ear again, “It’s just us. Forever.”

    Giving her rear a tap, he stood back and turned her, so she was looking up at him. Blair’s eyes stayed locked on Abel even though her body turned. Eric’s fingers curled under her chin and with a gentle pull, turned her head so her eyes would focus on his.

    “Our little guy must be hungry. Why don’t you feed him while I hop in the shower?”

    “Oh!” Blair’s eyes fluttered. It was like she lost track of time somehow. The confusion embedded itself in the crease of her brows, “I’m so sorry.”

    Barker was sitting next to Abel now who was gumming and suckling on his fingers. He let out a demanding bark. Blair jolted to the loud sound of it and rushed toward Abel’s walker. When he started to whine, Barker growled softly at Blair and rose up on all fours.

    “I’m sorry,” she repeated, cradling Abel in her arms. Barker moved closer as she scooped her son up and walked toward the over-sized chair near the picture windows at the front of the house. Where did the day go? she wondered. Was she going mad? The nudge of Barker’s cold nose at her leg caused her to sit down. She unbuttoned her blouse and Abel’s pudgy hand reached out, pulling at the collar.

    “Alright, love. Shh . . .” she tried to console her son, but her thoughts continued to toward the windows. It was nighttime. Wasn’t she just looking out the back window at the sun? She knew it was raining but it was just a summer shower. Her head swam and she grew dizzy. Thinking she might fall unconscious, Blair brought her hand up, pinching the bridge of her nose and squinting her eyes shut.

    Barker’s woof! called her out of it and demanded her attention. Abel was squirming and fussing in her arms which caused the dog to grow more aggressive. Up on all fours again, he hung his head low and growled low in his throat. His eyes bore into her and he moved closer in a threatening manner.

    Blair could feel her heart rate spike and she fumbled with her buttons again until her shirt was opened. She tore her eyes away from Barker who seemed to bring his aggression down a notch and looked down at her breast. Her breath hitched as she saw the angry, red bite marks. Abel’s hands clawed at her and she winced but before she could react, his face buried against the tender flesh. The pain sent stars to her eyes like a thousand needles but soon she no longer focused on it because her body began to feel like she was floating.

    Abel’s scent filled her lungs like a strong pheromone with a tranquilizing effect. She began to rock the child in her arms and humming a soft lullaby. Her eyes grew heavy and her mind continued to float into the darkness. It was like she was floating into the night sky beyond the picture window. Stars flickered around her, dancing and darting in and out of her vision. She forgot to care about anything. The effect her son had on her from the secretion of both his scent and through his saliva was like the strongest drug she’d ever taken.

    She remembered, in the darkness. The cold streets. The beatings. The wind and the rain. Starving. Homeless.

    Then Eric.

    He found her half-dead and pissed on in the alley behind the bar. Who knows what she did that night in an attempt to get out of the cold. Whatever it was, she nearly died. She remembered the ringing in her ears and the pain in her head. She could barely see . . . except, she saw his eyes.

    Take my hand, Blair.

    She couldn’t figure out why he knew her name, but she felt safe. Something she couldn’t recall feeling for so long, it made her cry. Her entire body wracked with sobs until he scooped her up and took her away.

    She had no family. She had no life before him. It was all made up. Whispered to her in the dark until her brain tricked her into believing it.

    But here, in this Utopian darkness, she surrendered over and over again.

    “Feed, my love. Feed.”

    ——————————————————

    By her “Darque Design,” Lisa Vasquez creates vivid, twisted horror with the precision of a scalpel, and cuts into the reader’s psyche with “fleshed out” characters. In her most recent release, THE UNFLESHED: TALE OF THE AUTOPSIC BRIDE, the main character, Angus Wulfe, gains notoriety for being as vile and twisted as the iconic Dr. Hannibal. Lisa’s writing style has been compared to the works of Mary Shelley, Baz Luhrman, and the Grand Guignol (John Palisano, Bram Stoker-winning author of NERVES), and is being hailed as, “A writer of nightmarish vision and a new, poetic voice in today’s horror genre” (Peter Molnar, author of THE CLOCKWORK LAZARUS).
    Lisa is the CEO of Stitched Smile Publications, the owner of Darque Halo Designs, the Publisher’s Liaison for the Horror Writers Association, and also volunteers as a mentor to other authors.

    You can read more of Lisa’s work in the following collections: HYDROPHOBIA: CHARITY ANTHOLOGY FOR HOUSTON (victims of Hurricane Harvey), ATZ: THE GATHERING HORDE, Dark Places, Evil Faces 2, and in Kevin J. Kennedy’s COLLECTED HORROR SHORTS (Christmas, and Easter editions).

    For more information and updates on Lisa’s work, you can find her at: http://www.unsaintly.com or on Facebook (facebook.com/unsaintlyhalo), Twitter (@unsaintly), Instagram (unsaintly)

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  2. THE ILLEGAL INFANT
    by Peter Molnar

    The infant’s parents died last week.
    The Cretin Majority at the internment camp had given them an “anthrax blanket” to share. So … died? Murdered? The two concepts were equally impossible to understand, to differentiate from one another, for an infant with such a soft, simple mind. A mind like wet clay waiting for the hands of Michelangelo. All the child remembered, let alone understood, was one moment the woman (Mommy) had been struggling with one of them (A Cretin) because they were trying to wrest the infant from the woman’s arms; the next, one of them had locked the child in a small steel cage and carted it off. The woman (Mommy) was gone. Never to be seen nor heard from again. The infant had cried and cried. The Cretin had not responded to the infant’s cries as the woman had, which was to scoop the child up and smother it with kisses.
    The Cretin had poked the infant with a stick, jabbing them in at the child between the bars of the portable cage. Until the infant screamed itself hoarse, its voice broke in its throat, and it dropped back against the bars of the cage, stunned and barely able to offer anymore protest than a shrill hiss. The sound like a rusted hinge.
    The infant was born a girl, named Kennedy by The Woman and The Man From Before. The Cretin Majority called her the illegal. But, again … illegal? Kennedy? The infant possessed no concept as to which name was correct. The infant had only understood two things after The Cretin stuffed her down into a cage. Extreme hunger and the crippling, crushing absence of The Woman From Before. Mommy. A short while later, the Cretin had taken her out of the cage (used previously to house a macaw before The Cretin Majority started rounding up the humans, seizing their property, and confining them to internment camps). The Cretin had carried the infant down a long, dark flight of steps, down into the ground. The infant thought she had heard the sound of other children close by. Thought she had heard their cries and coos and babbling in the dark that hid them from her.
    The Cretin had hurried past the sounds of other children. It squeezed the infant tighter against the scaly, slippery skin of its chest. A bit of its flesh sloughed away from the friction this caused. It peeled away and stuck to the child’s cheek, but she did not know to be repulsed by it. Did not know to be disgusted by the Cretin’s appearance, which had made even the bravest man and woman’s knees buckled and bend.
    Hunger.
    The Woman from Before.
    Only these things mattered for the infant girl.
    After the Cretin had moved far enough away from the sounds of the other children, it put the infant into a seat of some sort with wheels and brightly colored toys attached to it. The infant had a vague, misty recollection of The Woman from Before having slipped her down inside just such a seat and kissing her head before walking off to do something else. When the infant’s bare feet touched the cold cement floor, she sucked wind and kicked out. The chair rolled sideways. And for that one instant, the infant (the illegal, Kennedy) had forgotten about her own hunger and The Woman from Before.
    Before everything changed.
    The infant gurgled with contentment and joy.
    Instead of a kiss on the head, The Cretin made a water-logged sound. It reached out one of its impossibly elongated arms and laid a suction-like hand atop the infant’s head, fuzzy with the spare sprouts of baby hair. The infant had remembered once more how hungry she was. Missed The Woman from Before’s kisses. The infant had felt The Cretin’s hand tighten on her head. Not quite squeezing. Not exactly massaging her skull. Somewhere in between. The wet, sloshy sound of The Cretin grew louder.
    And the infant’s mind had suddenly become flooded with strange sounds and words and pictures she did not understand. Could not possibly…
    … a tv screen showing A Cretin, producing that same low, wet sound at a much louder, more boisterous volume level. Slamming its malformed hand down on the desk before it. Over and over…
    … “I pledge allegiance to The Cretin Majority” … “I hope and pray to one day flock together with The Cretin Majority” … “I reject the human race as remnants of the past, as with all inferior beings and elements gone extinct” … “I reject my humanity, and I embrace The Cretin Credo” … “I pledge allegiance” …
    When The Cretin had removed its “hand” from the infant’s head, the strange words, pictures, and sounds continued their endless loop of suggestions and impressions in her simple mind. They crowded out the face of The Woman from Before.
    And so a week later, the infant remained there in the dark. Rolling listlessly around now in the roller chair it had once loved and enjoyed. Yes, The Man and Woman from before were dead and gone, but …
    Now, the infant knew nothing of her own hunger, much less she had ever known her own parents.
    Missed them?
    No longer.
    In the dark, the infant (the illegal) now wondered what had become of the Cretin that brought her there. Different Cretins came to see her, to feed her the strange, alien food and after days with nothing else to eat, the infant submitted to the only nourishment she was given. A grownup would have vomited the shit up from the texture alone. Slippery. Fatty. Chewy. It looked like a hive of white worms and the infant peeled away the layers, eating the brain she recognized only as the sole food she could feast upon.
    It bore no resemblance to anything other than something to be eaten.
    And it did not take long before The Illegal Infant’s own flesh began to fall away from her small, supple bones like meat cooked enough to do the same.
    Flesh?
    The Illegal Infant was not concerned with the fact she was literally falling apart in her little rolling chair. In the dark. The Illegal Infant came to learn words like “Cretin Majority” and “reject humanity” and “inferior”, and these took the place of words she used to know like “I love you, Kennedy” and “Daddy’s home!”
    The Cretin Majority was satisfied with The Illegal Infant’s progress, as well as the rate of her transformation. Children under three years of age have been responding quite well to The Submission as well as The Alteration. The adult population with their fully formed minds and stubborn, ingrained sense of self and ideology?
    Not so much.
    While The Cretin Majority believed themselves the Present, they well understood that strain of lyric from ages ago just as much: …the children are the future.

    Peter Molnar is an author, singer-songwriter, musician, educator, and editor. His short stories have appeared in City Slab: Urban Tales of the Grotesque, Necrotic Shorts, Hydrophobia: A Charity Anthology to Benefit Hurricane Harvey Victims, and the upcoming Tenebrous Tales Anthology. His blog, “As the Shadow Stirs”, is a mashup of music, movies, horror, and superheroes. It can be found on his home webpage. Broken Birds is his debut novel. He works and lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania with his wife, daughter, and two cats. Currently, he is at work on his next book and a slew of new short entries. Visit Peter at the following sites:
    http://www.petermolnarauthor.com
    http://www.facebook.petermolnarauthor.com
    http://www.PMolnarAuthor/twitter
    http://www.instagram.com/pmolnar423

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  3. BAD, BAD BOGEYMAN

    BY THOMAS R CLARK

    The Bogeyman was in deep dookie. It took one glance at Sebastian for you to understand the severity of the situation. The toddler was armed for teddy bear, bringing the wooden spoon and handi-wipes with him. You never knew what to expect with the Bogeyman. For this mission, they were the only necessities required. It was Sebastian’s duty to ensure the Bogeyman got a good spanking for what he did. The handi-wipes were to clean up the mess after.
    Naughty, naughty Bogeyman, taking my Mommy and Daddy away like you did! Sebastian mentally affirmed himself. They fell asleep on the porch and the goblin struck, dragging them, unaware, into his faerie realm. His feet scurried across the floor, resembling a miniature Fred Flinstone leaving the quarry as he bounced over the deck’s wooden planks. His feet and wheels propelled the child and his walkie to the entrance of the Bogeyman’s lair. The location of this one-way dimensional portal changed multiple times during the course of a day. The spot depended on where the residents of the house were at any given time. Right now, at this very moment, the Bogeyman’s door was at the edge of the porch, obscured by the shadows of night.
    During the day, this was a simple, walled corner at the end of the family’s enclosed sunroom deck. But Sebastian, two weeks shy of his first birthday, knew as all young children know. When the sun set and the nightmares came to life, the rules changed. Adults forgot all of this as they hit puberty, grew and aged. This was a good thing. They’d be too scared to live the lives they do if they still knew the truth. Nightmares were real. And the Bogeyman tended them, molded them, nurtured them.
    For centuries, civilized Man and Woman believed the cries of their young were in fear of being snatched away by the Bogeyman. They’ve had all wrong, all along. It was quite the opposite. The Bogeyman doesn’t want the young children. He wants their parents for his nefarious pleasures deep within the goblin’s faerie realm. And somehow, someway, Sebastian’s crafty Bogeyman got away with it tonight. Or so he thought.
    “I come getchu, Bogeyman!” The little boy declared, holding the spoon high in his tiny fist. It was obvious the Bogeyman grew a pair, snatching his parents away right in front of Sebastian. He deserved more than a spanking when Sebastian caught up with him. If he were Daddy, Sebastian would have taken his belt off and cracked it! But Sebastian didn’t wear a belt. His jumper and pull-ups didn’t require it.
    The walkie carrying the toddler rolled at maximum velocity into the shadowed corner. The air shimmered as Sebastian, walkie and wooden spoon morphed, blending into the darkness. Within the time of blinking eye, the toddler disappeared from this mortal world on a one-way mission…
    *************************************************************************************
    Outside the world of men, between then and now, lies the Playground. It is a no-Man or Woman’s Land, faerie built on a foundation of the imaginations of children throughout the multiverses of reality. Within its recesses is an endless forest, growing through a jungle gym of infinite proportions. The ground is soft as fleece, to comfort falls from above. Mother’s Milk flows from fountains. It is a place built on the joy and excitement, a haven to the young. Yet it stands deserted. There are no children running and playing. No one comes here you see, for it is home to the Bogeyman.
    While in the Playground, reality is curved. Here the toys of our world become implements of use. The young become old, and the old shirk, to be held captive by the Bogeyman to torment as he pleases. Once brought here, only blood will free those imprisoned by the ancient hobgoblin. And once blood is spilled, blood must remain.
    Old man Sebastian piloted his tank, guiding the metal machine’s tracks. It made short work of anything in its path. Plowing over and through the swing sets, monkey bars, see-saws, and other various playground implements, the machine was unstoppable. Nothing was immune to the treads of the tank. Inside the metal death machine, Sebastian, now an old man with gray, stringy hair was strapped into the pilot’s seat, hanging from bungee cable. He held a long spear with a carved, spiked tip, helping to balance him in place as the tank rolled over everything it came in contact with. He giggled and cooed like a baby through the one tooth sticking out of his now-ancient mouth.
    “I’mma comin’ fer ya, Bogeyman!” Sebastian said, shaking his fist in the air. Each syllable was accentuated by another, and another, crumbling bit of real estate. Behind the tank was a clear path, marking the exit from this pocket realm. Before him stood a wall of dense vegetation, built to confuse and trap anyone who didn’t belong here. It failed to hinder Sebastian. The world forgot who built it, the Sebastians of the multitudes. He was every bit as much a master here as the plane’s primary denizen.
    “You’re bad, Bogeyman! Come out, come out wherever you are!” Sebastian shouted over the tank’s speakers. The words echoed through the forest. The top hatch of the tank opened and clanked to the side. Sebastian, clad in something resembling a red and white striped one-piece swimming suit from the 19th century, climbed up out of it. He held his wooden spear, designed with one purpose. “Now, I’m going to close my eyes,” each ‘S’ slipped and slurred around Sebastian’s tongue and tooth. “I’mma gonna count to ten.” He paused again, gathering his breath. “And then I’mma gonna find you!”
    “One… two… three… four… five… six -” the last number rang out as something slapped its hand on the bow of the tank. Sebastian stopped counting and watched. It was a hand, stringy and black, sinewy. The arm it attached to was long, sending a shiver up Sebastian’s spine. But what really got him, the part of the goblin being more terrifying to behold, was its face. The Bogeyman’s features were Sebastian’s own, as he now stood, old and withered.
    Behind the goblin, on a leash tied to the creature’s ankle, were a pair of babies. One boy and one girl, crawling about in the comfort of the soft ground. They wept and cried, but no sound came from them. The Bogeyman took their voices. The goblin spoke with them now.
    “I have taken what is mine, fair and square.” Banshee tones shifted with each word, sending a shiver up Sebastian’s spine.
    “I brought the wooden spoon for you, Bogeyman.” the ancient toddler raised his wrinkly old arm, hoisting the spear high above his head. “Your tushy is about to get blistered.” Sebastian was here to take names and drink sippy cups. He looked around. Nope. No sippy cups to be found. He didn’t bother wasting any more time.
    Sebastian threw the spear.
    The point pierced the Bogeyman’s chest. The impact dragged the goblin with it, pinning him to the wall of a jungle gym. Black liquid poured from the hole in the monster’s chest. It writhed in agony, gore covered hands flailing and pulling at the wooden shaft. Sebastian jumped off the top of the tank. He landed on the plush ground without a sound. He walked over to the Bogeyman. Sebastian starred the goblin in the face for a moment. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the handi-wipes with one hand, and pulled the spear out of the monster with the other. The Bogeyman fell to the ground in a clump. Sebastian cleaned off the wood with the wet napkins.
    “Do it. You know you have to do it. So just do it. There’s only one way to keep them safe from me. You know it.” The Bogeyman hissed in his sing-song screech. Sebastian ignored him, instead, he focused on something else. He bent over, his hand fumbled about the Bogeyman’s waist for a moment, then Sebastian withdrew his arm back. Within his grasp, Sebastian pulled the goblin’s belt off his trousers. He folded the belt in half, held it between his hands and snapped it. There was a crack like thunder.
    Sebastian meant business.
    “You don’t have to do this. You know what will happen. What has to happen if you do this.” The goblin cried. Sebastian shrugged his shoulders.
    “I know,” Sebastian said, and wrapped the belt around the Bogeyman’s neck before he could take another breath. He tightened it, squeezing the goblin’s neck, choking the creature. He heard the neck bones snap and watched the goblin’s head loll to one side.
    The childlike effigies of Sebastian’s parents were still tethered to the deceased Bogeyman’s foot. They were next to it, clawing at the air as their cries went unheard, silenced by the death of the goblin. Their son stepped back from them and the Bogeyman’s dead body. The tank welcomed him back. He climbed in through the hatch, settled back into the pilot’s seat and turned the key to start the engine back up.
    He watched. Outside, a wormhole opened next to the body, it widened and expanded, engulfing his infantile parents, sending them back to their home in the world of Man.
    *************************************************************************************
    Justin and Marie woke from their impromptu naps on the deck of their new home. The enclosed porch was a favorite hangout of the new family. Until today. Marie opened her eyes first. She saw their son, Sebastian, sitting in his walker, and nothing looked to be out of the ordinary.
    Marie’s thoughts were garbled and her heart rate elevated. She had a nightmare, but couldn’t remember what it was. Then she smelled it. Something rotten, a stink of excrement and it didn’t smell right.
    “Sebastian?” She said. Her son, just shy of his first birthday, was always responsive to her when she called. But not now, not today. She thought he might be asleep. “Sebastian?” She couldn’t quite see his face in the dark of the shadows on the porch.
    “Justin, wake up. I think something’s wrong with Sebastian.” She shook her husband, waking him, as she rose from the Adirondack chair she was sleeping in.
    “What? What is it, Marie? What time is it?”
    “Oh no, no, no!” Marie screamed. She held her son in her arms, he wasn’t cooing or making up words. He wasn’t even alive. His face was blue, lifeless eyes stared, unblinking, into the night.
    “Sebastian!” Justin cried in unison with his wife as they held their dead child in their arms.
    *************************************************************************************
    From deep within the shadows, through the closing portal of darkness between the world of Man and the Playground, the new Bogeyman watched.
    And wept.
    This Bogeyman, this new goblin of nightmares, watched as his parents grieved the loss of their son. And though his memory would never leave them, he knew they would never know it was he who saved them. They would never know the sacrifice of their baby. A drop of blood dripped from the child’s lip, creating a small splatter on the deck.
    Blood spilled.
    Blood remained.

    -30-

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      1. Thomas R Clark is a musician, writer and podcast producer & engineer. His podcasts, including the popular NECROCASTICON, can be heard on the Project Entertainment Network. He is the author of the novellas BELLA’S BOYS and GOOD BOY, published through Stitched Smile Publications. You can find Tom’s short story collection, A BOOK OF LIGHT AND SHADOW, on Amazon through his self publishing imprint, Nightswan Press. Tom lives in Central New York with his wife and a trio of Jack Russell terrier companions.

        Twitter: @Token_Tom
        Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TokenTom
        Instagram: Rocket61914
        Senior Editor The Necrocasticon & Necrocastizine

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  4. Buzzed Randy
    By A.J. Brown

    (This is clearly just a weird story.)

    The house on Baxter Street sat next to the ruins of the Old Williamson place. Now the Williamson place was nothing more than the foundation and some burnt wood and maybe some shards of glass. Oh, and a ghost.

    Randy sat on the porch of his house, beer in one hand, his other hand tucked into the front of his pants. A cigarette dangled from his lips, but it wasn’t lit. No, Randy didn’t smoke, not anymore, at least. He did for nearly twenty years and a scare with the big C word helped him kick that habit and kick it quick. Still, he craved the taste of a good smoke and the feel of a cigarette between his lips. In an addict’s moment of weakness, he lit the cigarette with the Bic lighter he still carried in his front right pocket. He took a long drag from the cigarette. His head swooned, but it felt like a Heaven he so missed.

    Every once in a while, he glanced at the house next door, at the place where three people died in a horrible house fire. He never liked the place and often got a bad vibe from it, as if the lot itself watched him. It was nonsense. There was no house there and no one to look out of nonexistent windows.

    Randy took a swallow of the beer, closed his eyes to the world and the dying sun off in the distance. When he opened them, he did so because he heard a child crying. He sat up, suddenly aware he had fallen asleep and the sun had given way to the moon. He stood. The cigarette that had been in his mouth fell to the floor. His foot kicked the beer bottle he had dropped while he slept. It rolled across the wooden porch, painted green back in the seventies, until it tipped off the edge and bounced down the steps.

    “Must ‘ave been a dream,” he mumbled and shook his head. He stretched and relished the feel of aching muscles popping. He rubbed his eyes and started for the door. That is when he heard the sound of the child again. His hand stopped inches away from the knob. The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood, as if his skin had been charged with electricity. His mouth dried up and his throat felt too narrow for air to get through. He licked his lips with a sandpaper tongue.

    “I didn’t hear that,” he whispered. The sound of his voice, a tone that was supposed to be quiet, was too loud in his ears.

    The cry came again. This time, Randy turned around. He scanned the street, the houses across from him. The lights were out in all but the Maddox house on the corner. One internal light was lit at the front of the house and the yard light was on. Cory would be home alone, until his mother got off work. But the cry couldn’t have come from there—it was too far away, and that voice sounded …

    Randy whipped his head to the right when the sound came again. This time he was certain the child—or maybe it was a baby—cried from the empty lot next door. His skin rippled with chills. The bad vibes he always felt from the place came back to him. He went to the edge of the porch, on legs that were suddenly weak. He listened for a few seconds, then went down the four steps, slowly, to the cracked sidewalk that led to the driveway where the moped he used for transportation sat on its kickstand.

    Beyond the driveway sat the slab that use to have a house on it. A few boards that had been part of the frame were still held together, though charred and barely standing. Something was different, though. The platform wasn’t just a concrete slab with years of weeds growing up through the cracks and around the edges. It looked like someone had put a wooden floor in, much like that of a deck.

    Randy frowned at this. His breath caught in his throat. Sitting in his rocker earlier, that slab had still be gray and crumbling. How did anyone manage to put a deck floor in without him hearing them working? He rubbed his eyes again, then held them close for several seconds. He counted to ten, then opened his eyes.

    There, on the wooden deck that seemed to not be part of the slab, but a section that might have been on the front of a house, was a toddler in a walker. It was white and yellow with a bouncy seat that aloud the toddler to stand but without all the weight on his legs. The child had his back to Randy and he was screaming, not crying, and it was as if the child never inhaled at all, but only screamed, screamed, screamed.

    Sober Randy would have ran across the front lawn to the child and scooped him up, or at the very least, tried to see what the kid was screaming about. Hammered Randy would have remained passed out in his rocker with a host of beer bottles on the floor by his seat. He might have stirred a little when the child first cried, but more than likely, he would have just fell out of the chair and slept the rest of the night away on the hard porch. Buzzed Randy—the guy he was right then—was somewhere in between. He wanted to run to the kid, but he wanted to run and get a beer as well. He wanted to see what was wrong, but he wanted to take a nap and it didn’t matter where he parked his behind as long as sleep was part of the equation.

    Buzzed Randy started across the lawn. He reached the edge of what used to be the Williamson’s yard, but has been nothing more than an empty lot for more years than he has lived there. There, he stopped. He looked across the lawn. The toddler still sat in his walker, but he had turned toward Randy. His arms flailed around at his sides; his mouth was open wide and tears streamed down his face.

    Then he saw why the kid screamed. The floor beneath him was like red embers and the kid bounced on his toes, trying to get his feet off of the burning wood.

    Buzzed Randy became Sober Randy and in the seconds before he ran for the kid, he glanced up and down the street and to the houses across the road. Still, the only lights on in the neighborhood was down on the corner at the Maddox house, but only the outside light was on.

    He ran through the shin high grass and leapt onto the gray slab of cracked and broken sidewalk. As he did this, flames erupted from the floor and the cuffs of his pants ignited.

    “No. No. No. No. No.” 

Randy slapped at the flames around his ankles. The child screamed and pushed his walker toward the edge of the wooden deck. His little feet were on fire and the walker was melting around him. His clothes began to burn and his screams became wails. Flames raced up Randy’s legs and caught his shirt on fire. He spun in a circle, swatting at the flames burning his body.

    On one turn, he saw the child heading into the darkness off of the deck. Hands that were nothing more than cooked flesh, reached from the dark and lifted the kid from his walker.

    “Randy,” the voice from the darkness said and he stopped spinning in a circle. Confusion filled his mind. The hands pulled the child into the darkness and suddenly Randy felt hands on his shoulders. He tried to shove them away, but was unable to. They were firm and …

    “Randy!”

    His eyes snapped open. He stood from the rocker. Tina stood in front of him. She wore an old Cleveland Browns jersey and her hair was a mess of tangles. She had a towel in her hands and was swatting at his legs with it.

    “What is wrong with you, woman?” he yelled and grabbed the towel when she swung down at his legs.

    “You’re on fire, you idiot,” she yelled.

    And he was. The cuff of one pant leg was singed and smoke wafted up from it. A small flame still crawled its way up his leg. Randy unbuttoned his jeans and dropped them to the porch’s floor. He fell to his bottom as the legs got hung up around his feet. He screamed in fear as he pulled one shoe off and threw it into the yard. He pulled the other one off and then kicked off the jeans.

    “What the heck?” he yelled between breaths. His ankle stung from the burns left behind from the flames.

    “You were smoking, Randy. You fell asleep.” Tina shook her head. “You’re just bound and determined to kill yourself, aren’t you?” She tossed the towel at him and stomped into the house. The screen door slammed, followed by the front door.

    Randy looked at the ruined pants on the porch, then at his ankle. The sun was still in the sky, but was making its way down. Randy laughed. The kid had been a dream. The burning floor and the hands in the darkness were all just a dream, just as he had said … in his dream. He stood and made his way to the door, stopping only when he heard the sound of a child crying.

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