by L.K. Scott
Published by Dreadful Notions
Copyright © 2012 by L.K. Scott. All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction.
Cover design copyright © 2012 by Oasis Creative
© 2012 L.K. Scott
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Massacre’ade Party (An Eric De la Cruz Mystery)
She Tried the Window (A Cruz and Holloway Mystery)
The Spider and the Fly
Murder After Sunset (A Penny Holloway Mystery)
3 Minutes to Midnight
The mornings after Ben stayed out late, but arrived before the sun rose, he found Kristy still in bed asleep. Or at least she pretended to be. She never slept so quiet, and after he awoke, there would only be enough coffee in the pot for her—never for him. That didn’t stop him from returning late. He never missed an opportunity to kiss her upon his arrival, and again in the late morning.
Ben arrived before 4:00A.M. The sun wouldn’t rise until 11:30 when the icy tundra would sparkle beneath the full yellow sun. Plenty of time to get some rest before chores. Darkness swallowed their austere home. Shedding his clothes he slid into bed beside her, kissed his wife softly on the cheek. She, in return, pressed her warm naked body against his, despite her taciturn behavior towards him the previous night.
“I love you, snoflower,” Ben said. In the darkness, his face was black like a withered apple, and almost destroyed from the unforgiving winters; his sloping forehead was dark, sun damaged from the long summers when the sun never set and the snowy mountains focused the beams like a magnifying glass across the blustery lands. His sickle-curved posture made him appear decades older than his natural age, and a thick scraggly beard protected his neck from exposure: a secretive, hairy, hunchbacked lecher. She smiled, still half asleep, and said, “I love you too.”
At 10:30 in the morning, when the skies were dark and hinted the first flush of deep blue dawn, Ben ate breakfast at the table. A dish of salmon and potatoes with leftover bitter coffee warmed on the stove.
After breakfast, Kristy stoked the fire, adding fresh wood that Ben stockpiled and chopped during their brief Nunavut summer, while Ben gathered warm furs for the long evenings to come. Then, once settled, he retrieved a book from the shelf and settled into his rocking chair beside the warming comforts of the fireplace.
She leaned against his rocking chair after coffee and when she sat down beside him, her eyes fluttered and he felt her body heat radiating off her body. She was a spirited-looking woman with hollow dimples on the corners of her lips that grew cavernous on the rare occasion she smiled. She had a short stubby nose and big fleshy cheeks, pinpoint, fig-shaped eyes with skin colored to match. But, unlike her husband’s, Kristy’s skin was creamy, like the fluid from a springtime milk thistle.
She watched him and the dancing flames until the hot water was ready once again. She hoisted herself up to fill their mugs and refill the kettle. As she moved about the room she left a rosy scent behind her, with sage and pine with a tinge of salt and lemon from the fish she had prepared earlier.
And again, after she retired for the evening and pretended to be fast asleep, Ben would depart until the earliest hours of the next day. Like usual, she would empty the coffee pot until there was serving left for only one. Not just as a punishment, but to show him that she knew.
The following day, while Ben was hunting for caribou, Kristy went outside to gather wood for their stove. Several hauls would last them through another bitter night. The sun had been down since just after lunch, for which she served a rare polar bear dish they had received from visitors who lived in a small village north, with a side of fireweed and more leftover potatoes. She wanted to surprise Ben with sage tea as soon as he arrived, but upon hearing a strange noise beneath the porch floorboards she dropped the wood onto the permafrost ground.
Beneath the porch, a dugout had been made behind their normal storage of usual meats and frozen grasses. It was large enough that Kristy could comfortably stand, but not for long, as the air was dry and carried a deep Canadian chill. The ambient glow of the northern lights reflecting off the early snow allowed Kristy to see the round young face of the missing girl from a nearby village. Kristy didn’t remember her name, but the young woman had been missing for weeks. She was approximately nineteen-years-old and very beautiful, though her eyes were ripe with fear. How she had survived the weather, Kristy didn’t know.
She could only imagine that Ben had kept her alive—fed her just enough to keep her weak and away from death. There was a small heater in the corner, but not large enough to keep out the chill. The girl was alive now. Kristy could see the shallow rise and fall of her exposed breasts, blue from the cold.
She muttered a plea, to which Kristy replied, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”
Kristy stood watching the girl, rigid with early signs of frostbite in her fingers. Her wiry, brittle hair covered her face and the dirt floors beside her. Even close to death, she appeared enchanting and fresh, with pure skin like new-fallen snow and white with the natural illumination of the pale moon and northern lights.
As Kristy looked around the makeshift cell, other frozen bodies came to view. Four other girls, dead and frozen, each perfectly shaped youthful creatures preserved like bluish ice sculptures in the freezing temperatures. Some had perished with their eyes open, their irises frozen over and glassy, as if to be content with watching the shimmering starlight through the open cellar door.
Ben loved them, Kristy knew. He spent more nights with them than he ever did with her. They were his collection and he chose to be with them. Did he touch them the way he refused to touch her? Did he make love to them, even after they froze? How could he choose them, how could he stray from her tenderness for an ice sculpture that would never touch him back, never love him the way she did.
“Please,” the girl said. If dirt had a voice.
Kristy said nothing and returned to retrieve the firewood that had spilled to the ground. She’d burn them in her kitchen stove to warm the kettle that would make Ben’s favorite sage tea.
Ben arrived home several hours later. Coffee for one again. The tea would be late tonight. She thought of the young woman frigid below, and Kristy wondered if her footfalls could be heard below the floorboards as she moved about the kitchen and into the living room to greet her husband with a kiss. Was the taste of the dead women still on his lips? Would she smell her between his legs if allowed her close enough?
Kristy served him leftovers from breakfast, with fresh potatoes and bittercress. She spent the meal in silence, watching Ben as he raised the spoon to his mouth and licked the thick meaty drippings from his lips. His tongue slipped back into his mouth and she watched the muscles in his hirsute neck swallow, his Adam’s apple swell, rise in his throat, then fall. He took a sip of his tea and when he caught her staring.
He said, “I love you, snoflower.”
And she blew out the lantern for the night.
He kissed her, but only on the cheek. She longed for more, to have him kiss her where her where her skin was sensitive, his rough hands in places where her body ached, places he only touched the missing girl. Yet, the only affection she received was from the pet name he’d given her, continuing to echo in her ear long after he went out for the night.
In the veil of darkness, she listened to Ben’s snores. She imagined packing her only suitcase with the few clothes she owned and trudging through the snow to the nearest village. Ten kilometers east. Donning the warmest caribou and seal skin coats, she could only voyage so far before submitting to a winter’s icy death touch. Beyond the snow-swept tundra, she still could not survive on her own. Even as the guilty thoughts drifted through her head, like the lights that moved through the starry night skies, she felt her betraying body pressing against his. His breath on her neck, the warmth of his bare skin against hers, his fingers which brushed against her thigh, and she knew she could not leave him. She missed him. She missed him like the winter snowflowers miss the springtime sun.
The following morning, Ben found the coffee pot still warm, its contents enough for one: for her, never for him. There never was.
The sky was still black and would remain that way until spring. Ben looked forward to the cold season; it preserved the bodies and kept them firm.
Kristy leaned against his chair, handed him the mug of coffee. A nice change, but what was the occasion? It wasn’t until he drank the last of it, placed it in the wash basin, and then stepped outside when he noticed the footsteps — his wife’s footsteps — leading under the porch and into storage.
Through the kitchen window, he glanced at her, studied her care-free expression as she prepared the last remaining bits of polar bear for their evening stew. Below, he saw his latest girl, dead from hypothermia. She would still provide release for him all winter, but he was never truly satisfied. Not with them. The intimacy that he wanted was unobtainable and he suffered from a lust that could not be filled by any but one.
What he wanted, what he truly wanted, was to love his wife in the most intimate way he knew.
“I love you, snoflower,” Ben said, though she could not hear him from the window. He disappeared from her sight, following the bank of snow under the porch.
In the kitchen, she heard the storage door creak open on rusted, frozen hinges. He was gone no more than a minute this time, instead of all night, long enough to see the frost over her dead eyes. Again, she heard the storage door groan and he emerged from outside. He stood in the doorway.
“How old is she?” Kristy asked.
Ben swallowed hard. “Eighteen.”
Kristy brought the spoon to her lips, her eyes blinking away the tears. The polar bear stew burned her tongue, yet she still felt frozen.
“Is it because she’s prettier than me?”
His expression crumpled and his eyes filled with hurt. The feeling that she had done or said something wrong made her feel heavy and ashamed in her chair. She let her eyes droop to the floor in hopes that he hadn’t seen her tears.
Ben crossed the room and dropped to his knees. His hands reached for hers and rested in her lap. They felt like snowballs around her molten fists.
“No, honey, you are the prettiest one of all. Whenever I’m with you, I fall more in love. You are my soul mate. I love you more than anyone in the world, snoflower.”
He stared into her eyes, but that look of hurt remained.
“You don’t love them?” she asked.
“I love you and only you,” he replied.
Kristy stood up and moved to the coffee pot. She placed a mug next to it and faced Ben, her eyes pleading for affection, her mouth pleading for his. To be kissed passionately like how he kissed those girls.
“There’s coffee for you in the morning,” she said.
Ben kissed her, on the lips, but still just a peck.
“I love you, snoflower,” he said.
“I love you too.”
Even after his confession, his reassurance, he still did not show her the affection she desired. She began to cry.
Ben raised the coffee mug over his head and smashed it into her skull.
The frozen air forced Kristy awake. Each breath filled her lungs with temperatures that crystalized in her throat, her breaths becoming shallower with every inhale. Drums and bone mallets, like the ones she saw at the village equinox festival last year, resounded within her skull. With each beat, explosive white and brown veiled her sight.
Thick, coagulating blood spilled from her ears and dripped across her face, sealing the right one closed. She reached out, her fingers scraped against frozen dirt. Darkness surrounded her. Above her husband’s heavy footsteps shook the icy cavern. The hinges creaked as the door opened. Beyond his silhouette, the sky gleamed a curtain of emerald from the northern lights. The door shut and all became black again.
“I’ve always wanted to know you this way,” he said.
Kristy clawed at the dirt, her arms weak, and her legs refused to move.
“Even more than the others. I never thought I could have you this way. I’ve wanted it for so long.”
Ben smelled of pine chips and sour bear meat.
“Is this how you made love to them?” Kristy’s voice cracked. Her throat felt like razor blades in the dehydrated freezing air. She was naked, caked with dirt and dotted with bruises over her bluish skin. The other girls stared wide-eyed and envious. Kristy could give Ben what they couldn’t.
“I wait a week. They are usually dead by then. The winter preserves their body in perfection and it helps with the smell. There’s almost no decay at all.”
Ben stood over her, wrapped in the warmth of his elk hide, blocking the hatch door.
“You’re almost there. Another day, maybe two. You’ll die of dehydration if the temperature doesn’t kill you first. It will hurt, but only for a little while, and in a few days it’ll be over. Then I can have you just like I’ve always wanted. In the summers, we can travel to the permafrost territories of the north, where you’ll stay preserved. Think of it as a vacation. Just the two of us. When winter comes, we’ll return.”
“Except I won’t be there for it.”
“Sure you will. You just wont experience it the way I will. I’ve never brought any of the others there. Now that I have you, I won’t need them ever again. We’ll be intimate, just as I always wanted. Just like you’ve always wanted.”
Kristy’s body relaxed as she gave in to a new kind of warmth that overwhelmed her body. Her limbs fell still and her eyes stopped seeing.
Just as she drew in her final breath, she heard her husband say with a heartfelt resolute, “I love you, snoflower.”
“I love you too,” she replied, and succumbed to the icy winter’s night.
A Sneak Peak of
By L.K. Scott
My head felt as if it had been cracked open, my eyeballs pushing themselves out of their sockets. I had woken up on the coarse wooden floors. I wish I hadn’t woken up at all.
An empty wine bottle lay on its side next to me. Not a drop left. The sun, if such a dark and dreary a thing could be called a ‘sun,’ had risen, but the change from night to day was imperceptible due to the grit permanently embedded in the room’s only window, a shade of jaundice. I had been sick for several days, not with a virus, but headaches caused by shame and by the wine I had promised myself I wouldn’t drink. The digital clock blinked 12:00 in bright red numerals. Flashing. Always 12:00.
I don’t feel guilty drinking anymore. It’s supposed to be a lovely weekend. TGIF. That’s what the apartment manager, Bill Williams, had said when he welcomed me in for the first time last night. I sensed a level of sarcasm in his tone. If I was back home with Seth we might have gone for a drive through the oak fields or toured one of the vineyards and tasted some wine. I had promised him I wouldn’t drink, but that was then and this is now. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder when I’ve lost my closest friend, a lover, my soul mate. The brightness in my life is gone. I wish I could turn off the sun. It’s exhausting when others are so flagrantly happy as I imagine he is now. In my home. In my bed. Having a drink on a patio where my roses brought a splash of scarlet against the russet backdrop of a mountainscape scorched by sun and withered by drought. It makes me feel bad I’m not joining in.
Usually people have somewhere to go to cheer them up. I used to sit on the park bench with a book, or drive to where the purple and yellow wildflowers grew over Turkey Flats, but I can’t bring myself to go outside.
I don’t know the other occupants of this apartment complex. Bill Williams tells me the list of improvements needed to renovate this place was longer than John Holmes’ dick and I was taken back briefly by his comparison, but I understood what he meant. This was a hairy place and needed a lot of work. Housing for poor and miserable souls. He had seemed in a hurry at the time and left me with my key and a can of Raid topped with tied with a red bow. I thought of my beautiful roses, so red and fragrant.
The quiet residents of Langham Manor had never indicated their presence through sight nor evidence of sound. I could have been the only tenant, though sometimes I heard a slight scratching and assumed a pigeon had perched itself upon my window. I don’t know if any of that made me feel better or worse. I couldn’t possibly feel more alone.
Bill is a strong-built man with skin blacker than oil and fists like mallets. A tough guy whose scratchy voice and short, crass words were evident of a rough life on the streets. I assumed the other tenants shared similar stories. Not me. I had a beautiful, happy life, and plans to get married. I lived well, nothing extravagant, but comfortable. Just an ordinary, optimistic woman with dreams of a family and a fondness for wine. Comfortable enough that Bill had appeared surprised when I arrived. I considered myself a stylish woman and that day my casual outfit was a sleek strapless black dress that hugged my body and pleated delicately an inch above my knees, and a cobalt scarf draped around my neck. My dark hair was flat-ironed, and I wore a pair of elegant sandals with blue toenail polish. To him I must’ve appeared out of place, different than other women with jeans too tight, or too short, and bulky sweaters or bathrobes or lime green patent leather tube tops like I had seen on my way here. When I asked for a rental application he seemed even more surprised and told me he thought I was from the county, which was never a good visit. Bill was kind. A bit crass and one of the most intimidating men I’d ever seen, but kind and kindness was what I needed most right now. And a place to live. As of yesterday I was homeless.
I pull myself into a sitting position still on the floor after my first night. I think of Seth and wonder if it’s his day off and if he’s lying in bed with his new girlfriend, or prepares a delicious breakfast of something French that I couldn’t pronounce. Or maybe they had gone to the coast for the weekend like we used to and made love in the hotel room that overlooked the beach as flocks of seagulls sailed by and boats moored in the bay. Maybe he took her to our special place where above the beautiful cliffs, the pastel orange sun sets behind the distant gray haze of the marine layer and the cerulean waves dance among the cyan rocks below.
I find a little vodka in the back of the freezer. Just barely enough for a shot. Still not enough to resolve this fucking hangover. Not enough to get me through the shame of another day. The heat is building. I check the time. 12:00, still Flashing. I wipe away the oily sweat pearling on my forehead.
I close my eyes and let the darkness swallow me until my feeling of sadness grows into a memory. Please, Seth. I need to talk to you, I’m so, so sorry. Please.
It’s going to be a terrible day. It’ll come in waves, stronger and deeper, as I sober up. Maybe there’s enough change in my purse for another bottle. Bill told me about the liquor store down the street that sold cheap red wine for three bucks. I’m not sure I have three bucks. Shame and anger and humiliation come in only the first wave when I realize I’ll have to start my day sober and that it might have to end the same way. There’s a lurching in my stomach. I take the final shot of vodka. It burns. My stomach churns, but not from the liquor, from shame.
There’s boxes to be unpacked. Only five. Three were filled with books, one with clothes, and last was filled with some plants Seth had given me as a gift during one of our trips to the coast. He told me he couldn’t care for them; he’d forget to water and fertilize, so he sent them with me. I had no furniture, so I place them near the window. Still not enough light. They’d die within a few weeks. In next box I see what’s inside and my heart palpitates and I believe for a moment I will pass out and die right here on the dusty, slivery floors. A photo of us at the coast, seals in the background, both of us making faces like we’re barking, our mouths rounded in O’s as we pretended to be elephant seals sparing. He’s a handsome man, pale with smooth skin, lightly freckled face and hazel eyes like gemstones. He kept the roundness of his chin sparse with scruff; he knew how much I liked facial hair on men. It made him look trendy and mature. In the photo, he is wearing his favorite tweed flat cap. I smile when I remember he calls them duffer caps before I start to cry. We’ll never have those days again. Such happy, romantic days. I let the photograph fall back into the box and clothe the flaps. There’d be no more unpacking today.
I tell myself I’ve done worse things. I’ve yelled at him in public, I’ve shoved him and I humiliated him at work when I came in wasted and demanded we talk about our issues all while he was in the middle of a dinner rush. On his birthday we fought in his hotel room and I came at him with an empty champagne bottle, bruising his temple. For weeks he could hardly open his mouth to chew. I don’t remember doing it or even why I did it, and like every other alcohol-fueled argument, I figured the reason wasn’t worth remembering. Only that it had happened, and it shouldn’t have.
I drink too much. I know I do. It gets worse. In the kitchen sink stained yellow and black and rusted, smelling of something rotten in the drain pipe, I find broken glass. I don’t own dishes. I don’t even own a single glass, so where did this come from? There was more beneath the window in the center of the living room wall. Quite a bit more.
My time with Seth was merely a beautiful dream. We had our occasional spats, some worse than others, but we had many more good memories together than bad ones, but for some reason he chose only to remember the bad ones. Our fights always smoothed over and then for months we’d live in bliss before another alcohol-fueled fight made us both say and act in horrendous ways to each other. Life was different when I woke up. I learned that not everything can be forgiven, especially when mistakes are repeated and promises are broken. When that happens, life becomes broken, and a broken life is a nightmare and I wish I could wake up. I know I’ve done some things wrong, but I can’t always remember what they were. All I know is they cannot be put right.
“You need to be put in a mental institution, Cadence. You need to be in jail. Even your dad agrees with me. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t help you. We’re not good for each other.”
I’m offended he brought my parents into this. My parents can’t help. I have two siblings, a younger brother and an older sister. Both have steady jobs and families living a suburban lifestyle. I called my dad once not too long after one of my good evenings with Seth to check on my mother who had been recovering from rotator cuff surgery. My dad answered and mom had asked who it was. When he handed her the phone I heard him say, “It’s the middle disappointment.”
There’s dried blood on my hand f rom something I did last night, but don’t remember. If I had punched a wall, no tenant had called about a disturbance. If it had something to do with the broken glass beneath the window and in the sink, then it’s an even greater mystery. Then I remembered something strange. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but there was a particular expression on Bill’s face when I asked for this room. Not that he went pale, or that twisted face a person makes before a sneeze, but something similar, or somewhere in between. If I had been sober, I would’ve been nervous. Whatever look it was, it was one to be worried of. It should’ve been my first warning.
My apartment is on the fifth floor, room 503, second from the top floor. Supposedly there were occupants on either side, above, and below, but I never heard them. Or seen them for that matter. My front door went into the center of the hallway that smelled of musty old cigars and rotten wood. Cracks zigzagged across the walls, peeling of paint that reminded me of a color called Paris Green, which was no longer used due to the abundance of arsenic. The stench had nearly made me gag, but I said nothing.
Entering room 503, I came to the living room. The door directly to my left was the bathroom and just to the right of it was the door to the single bedroom where the only two doors led into a closet and the other, the bathroom. On the right side of the apartment, directly across from the bedroom, was the archway, which led into the kitchen. The living room itself was just a big, empty, dusty square with a single window. I had no furniture, so I slept in a comforter on the living room floor. My boxes I stacked in the corner near the kitchen archway. Sad-colored curtains half closed the window and could close no farther. The odor in the apartment was less faint than in the hall, but was still unpleasant. I hate that my life has come to this.
“If you need anything I’m in room 101,” Bill told me after I filled out the proper forms and handed him my security deposit. “It’s the first apartment when you enter the building. There’s a mail slot to deposit your rent check or if you need to write a complaint.” That’s when he handed me the can of nearly gift-wrapped Raid, and I figured pestilence was not a critical complaint to him. There was a doubtful intonation in his voice, which did not surprise me. I was wrong, however, because not long after discovering the broken glass beneath the window and in the sink, I made a complaint, which he determined to be very critical.
Nothing especially worthy of mention occurred during my first full day in room 503. I found a crumpled dollar in the pocket of a coat, and with that and some change I paid for a packet of ramen and a bottle of red wine at the corner store exactly where bill described. While I walked home I stopped in every shop to ask for job applications, though everywhere I went I was met with the same response: “We’re not hiring, but you’re welcome to fill out an application and we’ll keep it on file.”
I am exhausted, my head thick with sleep. My hangover subsided very little. I hated the sun and the heat and the musky air and the fact that I was sober.
When I return I see Bill on the first floor with a gym bag in hand. He asked me how my first night was and I respond, “Quiet.”
He gave me that strange look again, followed by what I could’ve interpreted as relief. I asked him about the other tenants, assuming they kept to themselves, omitting the fact I intended to do the same.
“Each tenant is different. Some more trouble than their rent is worth,” Bill said.
I gave a deep nod, forced a weak smile out of politeness, and headed to the elevator. As the doors close he watches me with concern.
I enter 503. It’s strange to call this place home. It doesn’t feel like home. It’s an empty, rotting shell. I place my job applications on the floor next to my blanket. From my bags I unpack the wine and my only pack of ramen noodles when I realize I have no pots or pans to cook my ramen, a corkscrew for my wine, or even a pen to fill out my applications. I throw my arms over the counter and I begin to cry.
I went to the blanket with tears down my hot cheeks and rest my head on the pillow. I squeeze my eyes shut. Seth is opposite of me and I can feel his bare chest against my back as he snuggles me, and the weight of his leg across mine. It’s how we always sleep. I smile remembering those times I wake up before him and see him sleeping with his hand curled beneath his chin like a kitten. A loud noise crashes in my apartment. I blink hard and Seth is gone.
I’m still in my own blanket on the floor, my heart pounds in my chest. My eyes dart around the room to see if any boxes had toppled over, but they weren’t even stacked upon each other. I snatch air into my lungs and realize I’ve been holding my breath. I think I hear neighbors fighting. A man and a woman. They sound miles away yet I can barely hear them. There’s a slight echo in their voices.
I climb to my unsteady feet. I forget the tears drying on my face and I’m no longer concerned about the wine opener or my lack of cookware. The crash sounded like a hard banging against my window. That was impossible, of course. 503 was on the fifth floor and had no balcony. The window looked into a narrow alley only wide enough for a pair of dumpsters, and across was a big brick building, three stories taller than the Langham Manor. There were no windows on that side of that building and was without access. A pigeon, I told myself. A simple explanation for the crash. A pigeon had flown into my window. Still though it didn’t seem quite right. The crash occurred with such force I thought the window would’ve shattered. A bird couldn’t do that. I was in my daydream when it occured and perhaps I had not heard it as clearly as I thought. If not a bird, then someone else—another tenant perhaps—moving furniture. Or Bill working on some rigorous chore.
I was shaking and went to the kitchen to dip my face under the faucet and gulp the bitter city water. I could borrow a corkscrew from Bill, I decided. And a pen.
I was still unsteady on my feet when I moved to the boxes in the corner where I found my toothbrush and toothpaste. A full night and day had passed and I hadn’t brushed my teeth. My mouth felt disgusting, as if my teeth were growing fur. I feel sick thinking how I’ve let myself go in a matter of days. I knew it would only get worse. I’d get fat from only being able to afford cheap junk food like potato chips and ramen, or I’d starve myself to death. I had hoped to drink myself to death before that happened.
In the bathroom I brushed my teeth. The taste of the vanilla-mint toothpaste was almost enough to mask the chemical taste of tap water. When I finished I opened the medicine cabinet to store my toothbrush and noticed a prescription bottle sitting on the top shelf. I placed my toothbrush and the toothpaste tube on the shelf below the bottle and took the bottle in my hands, rolling it between my fingers until I read the name Sally Jones. A prescription for Xanax filled eight months ago in October. I twisted open the cap and at least a dozen white pills rattled inside. Left behind by the previous tenant, I figured. I inspected the pills carefully ensuring they were, in fact, Xanax. I placed a single tablet in my pocket, placed the bottle back on the top shelf, closed the cabinet, and returned to the living room. I snatched the room key from the top of my box of clothes, and reached for the door knob. When I began to close the door behind me, I heard angry footsteps rushing through the living room. I turned, but as suspected, I found the room empty. Just sad and empty. Welcome to your new life, Cadence Forster, on behalf of all the citizens of Langham Manor, as a reward for your deeds, here is the key to your city. Congratulations, Cadence. You’re officially fucked. A heavy sigh escaped my throat, I took the keys in hand, and entered the hall, ensuring the door was locked behind me.
The elevator, jarring as it descended to the first floor, reeked of rancid urine and ejaculate. The temperature was still hot down here, but not nearly as hot as my stale apartment upstairs. The increasing eagerness of the sun to linger in the sky as the hours passed, the extra scorch in the air, the oily scent of garbage baking on hot asphalt, and the sweat coating my neck—all the evidences of summer drifting into the dog days. The days would only grow hotter before they became cool again. Today, Bill was working in a tank top, opaque with perspiration, on something inside the wall. Many boards had been removed and were lying in a pile. He was a tremendous man and I couldn’t imagine how he worked so delicately in such tight places.
“Hot morning,” I told him. I felt stupid. I was not a social creature, and had never been graced in the art of conversations. I was certainly skilled at ending them though, almost as well as ending relationships. Hell, I could write a fucking how-to book about it. Was there a demographic for the opposite of self-help books?
Bill grunted in reply, and pulled back. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed by his construction project or by my interruption so I intended to make this conversation as brief as possible.
“Not much of a morning,” he said. I realized I hadn’t known the time at all since the day I moved in. Time had no meaning when you had no job, no friends, or a relationship, and your only hobby was booze and books. “Hot as a slut’s pussy in Hell.”
I blinked several times. “Yeah, sounds about right.” I said as I try to force a chuckle. I wasn’t used to such crass language from a stranger, but the Langham Manor was just one step away from being out on the street and the streets, I imagined, were not inhabited by pleasantries and polite folk. Frankly, it felt kind of nice to be with someone who wasn’t judgmental. If you lived in the Langham Manor, you were no stranger to bad decisions and their consequences. That is, after all, why I’m here.
“I can see you’re busy, I’d hate to bother you—”
“Girl, if you got somethin’ to say. . .”
I nodded, muttered a quick apology. “Do you have a wine key I could borrow?”
He studied me and his expression softened. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hands and used a rag for his hands. When he looked back at me, all the irritation in his expression had changed to something softer. The wrinkles in his forehead disappeared, his jaw relaxed, and he stood in a casual stance. “Yeah, I got one. Bring it back when you can. I got an extra, but. . .” His voice trailed off which left me wondering what he had intended to say.
He gesticulated to his room where I followed. His apartment was furnished with only the basic essentials, a simple black couch, a black metal coffee table, two lamps, an ashtray filled with spent butts, and a water bong resting on the floor near a foot rest. The most extravagant item in the room was his fifty-eight inch flat screen TV with about every video game console stored in the compartments below the stand. I noted how neatly the wires were twist tied. He told me to wait in the doorway and a moment later returned with the wine key. I noticed the look of pity on his face. He had seemed at first reluctant to lend one to me, like he didn’t trust me with it, but the expression dissipated. There was something he wasn’t telling me. I wanted to just return to my room and get started on that bottle, but my inquisitive temperament got the best of me and I asked, “What happened to the previous tenants in my place?”
His expression deepened. “Is there something the matter?”
“No,” I said, trying to keep my tone amicable.
His face relaxed and his eyes briefly flinched up and I could see that he was relieved.
I paused. “Why? Is there supposed something the matter? I found something that belonged to one of them.”
His countenance changed once again, this time with concern. His thick brows narrowed. “Look girl, I just maintain this place. I’ve had enough trouble and I have no business frightening the tenants.”
“You won’t frighten me.” That was the truth. The only thing that frightened me was being out on the streets without food or money. I’d kill myself before that happened. Really. And if I didn’t find a job by next week, that’s exactly what would happen.
“I fucking hate this place,” Bill growled. “I’m sure you do too, and I don’t care much for reputations or superstitions, and I don’t want to frighten you, but this place is no place for a girl like you. If I were you, I’d move out immediately. Or at least to another room if one comes vacant. Might be soon too if that lazy sonofabitch upstairs doesn’t pay his rent. Asshole owes me for three months now.”
“Oh my God, why?”
“Because he hasn’t fuckin’ found another job. I only let him get this far because finding work in this neighborhood is damn near impossible. I’ve done and seen a lot of shit in my life, and I don’t want even more guilt of throwing anyone out on the streets. I’ve been out there already and I’ve seen some scary fuckin’ shit, girl. I don’t got the heart to do that to someone else.”
“I meant about my apartment. Room 503. Why should I need to move out? I have nowhere else to go but the streets.”
He nodded, but did not ask for reasons why. “The last tenant moved out the first night he moved in. Haven’t been able to keep anyone in that room. If you stay tonight, you’ve made it longer than the others.”
“Some man. Didn’t even know him long enough to get his name. A Chinese defector I think. Paid in cash under the table.”
“What about the girl?” I asked, growing impatient. I started feeling this conversation was getting me nowhere and perhaps my frustration and boredom and mental breakdown of my collapsing life was making me see and wonder things I probably shouldn’t.
“What girl?” he asked.
Bill stood very still and I swear, even through his black skin, he paled. I had never seen that look on anyone’s face before. He appeared serious-eyed and tight-faced, and stood very still except for the trembling of his lower lip. I didn’t know if he was about to scream or cry. “Sally was a tenant who left about eight months ago. She had a husband and was generally a pleasant woman who loved to party. Sometimes she partied a little too hard, if you know what I mean. If she could snort it, drink it, smoke it, or ride it she would. One moment she was fun girl to be around, and a second later she flips the fuck out. Tore up her husband’s furniture, smashed a hole in the wall, fuckin’ ripped apart everything she touched, including her relationship with her husband. She earned the name Cyclone Sally from the fuckin’ mess she’d make after each one of her binders. As long as she wasn’t partying, she was the most pleasant woman you’d ever know. A good girl. Like you.”
I felt the ache of shame in my gut again and the mental agony that came with the guilt of doing something regrettable yet not having the memory of it. An itch I could not scratch. Cyclone Sally and I had more in common than Bill believed. I hoped to keep it that way. I was ashamed enough. I felt my eyes burn and I did not want to cry in front of him, but I could see that he could see I was upset, though not for the reasons he believed. The story did not frighten me. What frightened me was missing out on the future I could’ve had if I wasn’t such a fuckup.
“So what did you find?” Bill asked. His voice was soft now, and I could tell he didn’t wish to upset me any further.
“Just found some old clothes,” I lied.
“With Sally’s name on them?” Bill was doubtful.
I shrugged not knowing how to answer. “Well you bring them down to me and I’ll donate them to the shelter.”
“Doesn’t she plan on coming back for them?” I was growing ever more eager to leave. My eyes felt like acid trying to hold back tears as Seth’s bright face haunted me, but my curiosity held me in place like cement.
“No,” Bill told me. “She’s not coming back. Sally will never be back.”
Read the chilling conclusion to Cyclone Sally by L.K. Scott on Amazon.com [+ HERE+]
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Other works by L.K. Scott
Massacre’ade Party (An Eric De la Cruz Mystery)
She Tried the Window (A Cruz and Holloway Mystery)
Aladdin: A Tale of Terror
The Spider and the Fly
Murder After Sunset (A Penny Holloway Mystery)
3 Minutes to Midnight
Where the night lasts for months. . . Lonely in the dark regions of the northern Canada, all Kristy wants is the love and affection of her husband, Ben. These last few years he has been acting cold and distant to her, but she doesn't know why. A deadly desire. . . That is until she finds the horrible secret he's been keeping in their cellar. Now she must choose. Will she abandon him and face the below freezing temperatures of Canada's ever-lasting night, or will she sacrifice herself to Ben's deadly desires? *FREE SNEAK PREVIEW OF CYCLONE SALLY* "Cyclone Sally is the perfect combination of mystery, suspense, and horror. LK Scott is a fantastic storyteller. He weaves vivid images into his plot that bring the story and characters to life." - Kya Aliana (Author of Malicious Intent)