How It Ended for Jasper Malyhe

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The reservations were going to be wasted, but there was no helping that. It was a good thing he hadn’t mentioned them to Kitty. She would be at home right now dolling up, excited to have a break from the boxed dinners and shoe-string meal plans.

Jasper drug himself down the busy city street. His hand loosened his tie with a series of merciless yanks, hating the way the tie felt. Too tight. Everything felt too tight, constricting. One hand was in his pocket, fingering the loose change there. He had crumpled up his resume’ while he was still inside Danworth and Mitchell’s lobby; he hadn’t bothered to throw it away. Let it sit on the buffed tile floor. The janitor would see to it; that man had a job.

He moved forward with his head down, not really thinking or hearing or caring. This had been his millionth interview. Ever since the Great Recession, it seemed like all of his degrees weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. He hated the hopeful gleam in Kitty’s eyes every time he went out. The pressure of that hope made it hard for him to breathe. And day after day; when he returned with this beaten expression, that hope briefly winked out, and looking in her eyes was like looking into a dark room.

What he hated the most was when that gleam vanished, when he felt like less than a man.

“Flee! Flee before the rising terror. Hear this final call and turn your heart from evil!” a man was crying out.

Jasper looked for the voice, realizing that he had been hearing the man’s crazy words for more than a minute. Jasper stopped; he stood in the middle of the sidewalk while people instinctively routed around him. Everyone was bundled in heavy coats and scarves. Jasper barely felt the winter cold.

“It is the end!” the man yelled out. “Death is no longer waiting at the door. He’s letting Himself in!” The man was dirty. His hair was stringy and slick with grease. His coat had patches on it, holes. His brown beard had thick bands of white. When the man began to belt out his warnings, Jasper saw his gums and the remains of stained teeth. The man had the intensity of madness, and Jasper couldn’t help but think how easy his life must be. Stress free. Grab a street corner and yell at the world. How easy it would be to end this life and start that one.

Jasper slowly continued forward. Dim sunlight reflected off the windshields of all the passing vehicles. Tall art deco buildings gave the street a claustrophobic feel, and a sense of how small he really was.

“And the Earth will shake, the monuments made by men will crumble, from Hell a thousand beasts will emerge. And for the few, God will send his angles. Call out now. REPENT!” the man said. As Jasper passed, the man looked at him; their eyes met. “Do you know the cost of death?” Fog plumed from his dry mouth.

Jasper moved on like you’re supposed to. Never stand near the crazy or the wild. Like animals, they may bite.

He stopped next to a magazine kiosk. Economic Collapse ran across the Conception Gazette’s front page. Despair growing was in smaller letters. “New’s flash,” he said to himself. He looked at the busy street and the rising tails of exhaust, feeling what the paper had named. Each step closer to home added pounds to the weight on his back. A home that he didn’t think they could hold onto. They had tapped out what credit they had, borrowed from family and then from friends. There wasn’t a drop left to squeeze out. All of their insurance policies were going to lapse. Hopefully the kids didn’t get sick. And if anything happened to him, they’d be on their own. Except for the life insurance, and that would lapse in three weeks.

Do you know the cost of death?

Jasper didn’t, but he knew that he could do more for his family dead than alive. He had a million dollar policy. No more food donations or clothes charities. No going without a phone or lights for a month while necessities were juggled. No more looks of disappointment or that eerie silence. He could do it, he told himself. It would be quick. It would be more than he had done for his family in over a year.

Jasper walked to the street, tottering on the curb. One quick step was all it would take. He saw a city bus coming. Something with that much mass had to be fatal, and quickly. Was he desperate enough to really do it? Tending forward, he thought that—

The ground violently shook. It lasted for over three minutes. Cars crashed. Glass from broken windows showered the street. Chunks of concrete and stone fell. People were screaming. Jasper had fallen between two stopped cars. His head took a hard blow. When he stood, blood was running from a cut in his brow, down his face.

“Oh god,” he said.

The street was destroyed. Water was shooting up, fissures ran through the crumbled street, cars were half in sinkholes, some were gone. Smoke from fires stood up like pillars, lifting to the turbulent sky above. Jasper watched the clouds begin to spin, creating a dark vortex. Purple lightening jumped within the clouds.

“It’s here, it’s here!” the madman shouted, delighted. He fell to his knees on the roof of a car and opened his arms to the sky.

Jasper watched in horror as two giant hands tore the vortex wider, and winged creatures descended in hordes on the city. “Oh, god.” And from below, out of the cracks, began to emerge the clawed reach of unspeakable beasts.

Shooting Stars

Morgen Knight

Kevin heard the sound of someone entering the home and lost count of how many stars he could see. The tally had already amassed four digits, encroaching a fifth. He tongued the gap left by his missing front tooth as the sounds drew closer. His hand tightened around the pistol in his lap, but his face remained slack. Empty-looking eyes stared up through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall, not counting this time but tracing figures through the pinpoint lights as footsteps approached.

Lights came on, washing out the night. Kevin’s back was to the room now reflected off the glass, he saw the man he was here to kill, standing beside a beautiful woman. Even limited to this ghostly reflection, he could tell that she was striking, her dress shimmering as she laughed at something the man in the suit had said.

Kevin pressed his tongue against the sharp edge of a tooth then stood. Then woman screamed, the man took a deep, steeling breath. “Shut up!” Kevin barked at the woman; the pistol never left the man’s chest. It was him he was here for.

“What do you want?” the man said. “Take anything, just don’t hurt my wife.”

“You shut the fuck up,” Kevin growled. He walked around the large chair in which he’d been sitting.

“Take what you want,” the man said, head lowered to avoid eye contact.

Kevin smiled wide. “You ain’t so tough now, are you, ya treacherous son of a bitch.”

“What?”

The pistol didn’t waver or shake. So far this was going exactly how he’d seen it going. He’d been building to this moment since the funeral. “I know you thought you’d get away with it. I watched you cover your tracks. How many witnesses have you killed? Destroying evidence. Men like you don’t deserve to be cops.” Someone had to stop him, someone had to make him pay.

“Oh my god,” the man said. “You don’t understand.”

“I said to shut the fuck up!” Kevin screamed, spittle spraying among the words.

The man lifted his hands to show he was no treat as he cowered, and Kevin wondered how much mercy to show. This man had shown Cooper none. Kevin had watched his friend die, a man he’d known for seven years, a man that had been there for him through his divorce, his unemployment, the loss of his home and family. Cooper had inspired him—a tough-minded, uncompromising guy. Kevin had seen himself in Cooper’s battles against personal demons. He’d deserved better than a Mark David Chapman kind of assassination.

The gun held steady, but Kevin’s eyes watered as he thought about it. Cooper’s death was like losing all hope.

“Do you understand what you’re doing?” the man asked.

“You killed Cooper. I’m here to straighten the world out.”

“I didn’t do that,” the man insisted. “It’s a TV show.”

“I watched you kill him.”

“I’m an actor. That was my job. Cooper—Vince who plays Cooper—is fine. I can call him right now!”

Kevin shook his head. “I loved him like family. Do you get that? And you killed him!”

“I didn’t kill anyone.” The man whined, his cowering wife crying. “I didn’t think it up, plot it or write it. All I do is act out what others come up with. And we do a damn good job for you to care this much. So, please, put the gun down.”

“Shut up! You don’t wiggle you’re way out of this!”

“But I didn’t do anything. I’m an actor. It was just acting.”

“Well,” Kevin said with a shrug, “maybe you shouldn’t play the bad guy.”

Then he avenged his friend’s death.

Muse

Morgen Knight

I found him, one day, in my mind. And together we made such wonderful poetry. His touch gave me words. His kisses gave me inspiration. The love me made connected ideas and birthed worlds. When others viewed out creations, they wept. They loved. They cried out for a Muse of their own.

And then he left me.

Not entirely—a late night visitor, an absent partner on whom you can smell the musk of another.

His touches grew too infrequent, his kisses on occasion. He had filled my world simply to empty it. And when I no longer need him, no longer cared, he crawled back. He coaxed me with his promise.

To leave again after I agreed. To return. To leave. To crawl back in my dreams.

My Muse. My beauty. Oh, the things we’ve created. No kisses, no touch but what I take, no love. This time I was ready, and when his sweet pleas began, I invited him in, I held him, I bound us together in razor wire and rejoiced as we bled a darker inspiration. “You are mine alone,” I tell him. And though he refuses to give, it is possible to take. To twist a little, let the blood run, and drip the nib of my pen into it. The lines that write are dark and haunted, but still beautiful. Still true. Still mine to share. Or keep.

The razors have gone deep, but there’s plenty more blood. And with it, I write to you.

Factual Horror # 7 Goals

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Morgen Knight

I think the world we live in today is funny. Maybe it is the way the world always was. Probably. But we see so many people that have these dreams and wants and believed they are owned anything. That they are special. That they shouldn’t have to do the shit jobs and work hard and struggle. Do you know what that tells me? The underdogs will always have it better here, because they understand how life really is. Favor follows the faithful. The people that strive relentlessly toward their goal, that hold tight when the trials come, that never flinch from their vision will succeed.
It’s funny how many people on TV talk about wanting to own a house, but they don’t even want to sweep the floor of their apartment. They want to run a company, but won’t to work the stock room. Want to raise great kids but don’t take care if their dog. God tells you that you have to be faithful in the small things to succeed in the big things. That He will not open doors to great things if you can’t first mend the minimal tasks. He’ll never let one run a company that couldn’t show up on time to a regular job, that slacked on their duties, that couldn’t be counted on to preform what was expected. To have and build any great thing, you must first tend and nurture the small, seeming insignificant things, you know?

The Best He Could Give

Morgen Knight

How do you kill your daughter? Your only child? Ralph knew that it was the right thing to do, the only thing really, but now that it was done he couldn’t help but feel the weight of shame and desperate void in the place where his soul use to be. He wanted to take it back, damn the consequence. But he couldn’t. His hand had struck that vital blow; his hand, a familiar appendage, which he looked at as traitorous, as though it had acted of its own volition, without the parental guidance of his brain. Muscles, tendons, bones–a cabal working with a secret agenda.

Ralph sat with his aching back against the wall, his beloved daughter laying on his legs, her still head against his chest. His hand combed through her red oak hair, brushing over her porcelain face. She looked ageless, but Ralph could recall all sixteen of her years.

“Sidney,” he’d said, holding his little girl for the first time. She had been wrapped up in a pink blanket and wearing a pink cap. Eyes half aware, mouth moving. He had never understood love at first sight until that moment. It was no longer about him.

Sidney, and now he was holding her head with much the same care that he had held her infant body. The basement was dark and foul-smelling. Rot and blood filled his nose. He could see but only because he had been down here for so long, holding her. There had been very little heat in his daughter’s body to begin with–all stolen heat–but even that limina radiance had leaked away. How long had he been here? It felt to him like days. Hours, for sure, but as the outer edge of dawn filled the uncovered window, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to remain here much longer. He wasn’t sure what a new day would bring with it, exactly, but Ralph was sure that no one was going to show up here, now. No one had arrived all night. He was glad about that. There were more stakes in his bag, so he had been ready to handle whatever might have come through that door, but it was better that nothing had. His nerve had burnt up quickly after the spark of life had hushed in Sidney’s blanched eyes–it was a dark spark, true, but now that he saw no spark at all, he wasn’t so sure which was worse.

The wooden stake remained in Sidney’s chest, an outline of red around it. His forearm had been pulled back against her throat, her hands digging into his sides, mouth chomping at empty air as he’d brought the weapon down, plunging it through her sternum and into the unholy pit of her black heart. His screams had matched her own, two deaths at once. Only, his body was still moving, his thoughts still fresh. But inside, Ralph was dead. He was the unnatural creature, now.

He held her as though comforting her and wept while dawn approached. This girl who had been afraid of the dark would finally be taken away from him by the saving light.

Saving? No. The horrid, inimical daylight. A harsh god that burned what it caressed, a god that had boiled centuries of blood spilt by those that worshiped it. An uncaring body that held its dominion in jealous hands, glancing in whims at its creation, the gravity of which can destroy as it creates.

Ralph touched the cross on his necklace. Was he still talking about the sun?

The question was: had he ever been?

Sidney had been such a happy little girl. Generous with her laughs and smiles. Thinking about those numerous scenes where her light shined so brightly it hurt him, but it was better to remember her that way. It wasn’t only in the big moments, either. In fact, they were almost devoid of strong emotion, like what the moment brought with it had been used at the time, the fuel that was left only there to keep the memory alive. He thought about birthdays. Holidays. Her first bike ride, her first date, her learning to drive–they were golden moments, sure. Milestones for Sidney. But the magic lay between the towers. Fried moments like watching her sleep from the cracked door. Seeing the concentration on her face as she read.  Being witness to her growing and becoming a person.

From the instant that he had first seen her, he had wanted to protect her. Odd, isn’t it, that he had given her death? Was it such a bad thing? There are things worse than death, he believed, and what Sidney had become was something that he was sure she would not wish to be. The way that Ralph saw it, she had been dead already. What he had done was give her peace. It was the best that he could do for her. If there had been another way . . . anything . . . but there wasn’t.

The morning sun was full in the box window. The musty basement was losing its shadows slowly. The bright square of decoct light was moving across the floor. Ralph could see the floating dust passing through it. He had long adjusted to the foul smells. The room was full of clutter and filth. A ten-speed bike lay against the wall. Clothes in piles, torn, stained in red, some. Broken appliances. Traces of rats. Dried blood–some of it was Sidney’s but not all. He wasn’t sure if this trash was like trophies or not, but he had been in rooms like this before. Seen these kinds of piles of offal.

He wasn’t exactly sure how many people he had killed tracking Sidney–hurting seemed an awful word to apply to your treasured daughter. Under twenty but over ten. How long had he been searching for her? Two years, now. And it hadn’t been easy, but once you understand trail, it was not impossible. A matter of time, unless you’re killed. And Ralph had come close so many times to a violent death, needing to bring his daughter peace. The screams did not haunt him, nor their blood–trepid and thick. What bothered him–

No, he wouldn’t think about that. There was time for that next. He touched his cross again.

He had tracked Sidney from Vicksburg to Conception to Kansas City to here, and that bright block of sunlight had arrived to present the end. Part of one, he amended. He held his beloved daughter as the sun climbed atop her body, ignoring sounds of crackling and the ensuing smell like burnt hair. He tried not to cry as she became hot in his arms and then lighter as her body changed to charcoal ash, holding her form as the sun held his face. This was no longer his daughter, nor a monster, but a body of ash.

It could have been his breath, it could have been the weight, it could have been her freed soul, but the ash collapsed, dusting down all over him, her clothes falling unfilled, the stake thumping against his thigh as it fell. It was the silence that he found to be the hardest thing to handle, so he filled it with his weeping. For hours, tears no longer falling, the sun moved on, and only his disgusted soul left to cry out unintelligible.

He loved his daughter, and now she was gone. To rest in true peace, he believed. It was the best that he could give her.

Not now, no, but before night he would have to move. Not now, of course, but before night, he would have to put this aside for a while longer. Because, not now, but before night, Ralph would have to start considering how to track his wife.

Chiefs

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Morgen Knight

Roy slammed the shot of Jack then exhaled, his vision momentarily swimming. The bar was in an uproar as another touchdown was scored. A minute and change left in the game, but the ending had already been signed, sealed, and delivered. No one loses a twenty-one point lead in just over a minute. Especially not at the Super Bowl. And he wanted to cry.
How long had he been a Chiefs fan? How many heart-wrenching seasons?
But he couldn’t cheer. Not now. Not after the deal he’d made.
“Your soul,” the man had said, a dark stranger he couldn’t exactly envision in his mind.
And Roy had been too eager to shake the man’s hand, laughing. A bit of Jack in him then, as well. Funny, because who can guarantee a Chief’s win? Super Bowl win? Roy hadn’t thought much if it.
Until they’d started to win. And win. Lose a couple (breathing easier) until they won again and again. Unreal wins. Turns of luck. Players doing more then they should be able to.
As the game clocked ticked down and the cheers defended, his hands began to tremble. His bowels threatened to loosen. As the last three seconds ticked away, he held his eyes closed. His soul. That’s all.
0:00 the game clock read.
The bar was a riot of chants and howls, booze splashing.
And Roy felt a tap on his shoulder.

Factual Horror #6 Our Time

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Morgen Knight

Another year is coming to an end. It is strange how quickly the time of life goes. I am twenty-four and I can’t imagine the break-neck speed of fifty. I wonder if it is because we are so busy or because our minds take less time to observe what is around us? We are an adaptable species, quickly adjusting to things. It is also why we are so seldom able to remain happy. We do too many things in excess. When you can do some things at will, you value them less. That is just the nature of it. Because you grow inured. Humans like variety and change (in small doses) and even a bit of stress. Strange creatures.
As 2014 begins its time to try and start to enjoy more of the little things that life has to offer. Time goes by too quick and the older I get the faster it goes.

Refinancing

Morgen Knight

He threw the Marlboro cigarette down before he turned up his street, stepping on its life like he would an insect. His stained tennis shoe twisted over it without thinking. Old habits and all. When his fingers held a cigarette again, it had that same natural feel, tilting at the same angle. David didn’t think about how comfortable it felt. How familiar. It was this naturalization that made it effective. It was like slipping into a familiar room, giving him a place to think.

In his left hand was today’s newspaper. He had walked all of the way down to Quiktrip to buy it. His route had not been a direct one. There were too many things to consider. Walking helped. Smoking helped even more. The nearly empty streets gave him all of the room in the world to do both. And thoughts this big needed a lot of space.

It was five in the morning. The fall air carried amber leaves across the rough asphalt. It sounded like the final labored breaths of an emphysema victim. To the east, the sun’s toiled tones fought to break through the thinly overcast sky. It was a losing battle.

He stopped in front of his blue Craftsman house. All of the windows were dark. His wife and son were asleep inside, he knew. David didn’t know what they dreamed. He hoped that they were happy thoughts. Simon always slept with the covers pulled over his head, but David had sat and watched Becky sleep beside him many nights over the last couple of months. He couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t lay there and stare at the ceiling. He was afraid that if he did, that ceiling might start to lower, the same way that the walls could feel like they were closing in.

What David had seen on his wife’s face as she slept were deepening lines. Worry. Anger was laid there, too. He couldn’t avoid the sharp guilt those lines handed him. He knew he was to blame. She had never said that, no open accusation. But she didn’t have to. The way that she looked at him was enough. Every desultory sigh.

He stood there looking at his house, and he knew that he could drop this paper right here and keep on walking. Down the street, down the next. Wend his way out of this life and into another one. A man changing hats. He didn’t know if it was a natural thought, but he was disgusted by the glimmer of excitement he felt in the pit of his stomach for it. Shame.

David walked quietly into his house. He didn’t need the light to find his way to the kitchen, laying the paper on the table. The oven’s digital clock read a green 6:45. Becky would be getting up soon, her phone alarm sounding on. Her shift at the hospital started at eight-thirty. It would be twelve hours before he’d see her again. Maybe more. She was working every extra minute that she could. She had to. It was the only money coming into this house.

A house that they were always an inch away from losing. He thought, it might as well be a house of cards.

David had lost his job 6 months ago. Down-sizing, they had called it. Necessary layoffs needed to save the company, like cutting away necrotic tissue.

Daylight was rising. The fettered sun pushed an ashen cast across the firmament. David moved around the kitchen. He started the coffee that Becky had to have three cups of. He would usually take one. Half the pot was wasted, sitting on the heated pad until he could get around to dumping it down the sink. He took the half a loaf of bread from the bread box, and made two sandwiches for Simon’s lunch. An apple and a packet of string cheese. The boy was twelve. David was sure that he recognized that things were tense.

The boy’s lunch was put in a brown bag and set in the nearly empty fridge. By a glance, David could tell which necessities were gone and which were dwindling. He closed the door, took the pen from the magnetized clip on the fridge door, next to Simon’s report on the industrial revolution, and jotted a few things on the notepad.

Milk. Eggs. Bread. Chicken. Since having the rug pulled out from under him, David had been the one to focus on domestic issues. Before, he and Becky had split them, but now it was the only thing that he could do to contribute. All of the cleaning. Food. Whatever it was, he saw to it so that Becky could relax when she got home.

You might think that doing this provided a modicum of pride, but really it effaced it. He knew that he was doing all of this because it was the only thing he could do. He was keeping busy so that he wouldn’t have to look at his life and wonder when his grip on it had grown so loose.

David was thirty-eight. He could remember being young once. Remember the call of ambition. But life had a way of settling itself into place, doesn’t it?

He was sitting at the table when his wife came in. She was in her scrubs, dressed for work. She poured a cup of coffee, added two tablespoons of sugar and sat down. David had a pen in his hand. He was reading over the classified section by the luminal light dusting down from the obscured sky outside. When he saw something interesting in the paper, he circled it. There were only two so far. He wasn’t qualified for many of them.

He had been in college, back when he was young. That was where he had met his wife. But then he’d hurt his knee. When he couldn’t play football anymore, his scholarship evaporated. Becky had been understanding back then. The future was wide open. Every possibility still remained. Now that the future was here…

David looked at his wife. She was reading the front page. He didn’t know how a marriage grew stale, when the small cracks formed, or how the mold got into it, spreading. There was once a time when they were on fire. When he heard her voice, he use to hear laughter. The breed of laughter with joy in it, not sardonically veined. But he knew that those days had slipped painlessly away, like dying in your sleep.

“Any luck?” she asked, and everything that he wanted to say, what needed to be said, fluttered away like crows startled from a wire.

“It’s hard right now,” he said.

“Of course it is. I know.” She spoke with the cushion of steel.

He had washed his hands twice, making sure to obliterate the stain smoke left. It would be hell this morning if she picked it up. He had given up the habit years ago. While she was pregnant with Simon, in fact. That didn’t mean that he hadn’t sneaked one or two over the years. He’d almost fallen back in the habit two years ago, when his mother had died. What he didn’t do was let her know. Becky had never been overburdened with understanding.

And if there was ever a time when he needed that peace, that inhalable break, it was right now.

“There are a couple here that might work,” he said off-handedly, his wife sipping her coffee. How many applications had he filled out in the last three months? He had lost count.

A man is not a man unless he is striving for something. Holds a goal and moves toward it. The speed at which he moves depends on the type of man. That’s what David believed. Always towards something. He didn’t know when it would feel right to stop and take in a panoramic view of everything you’ve fought for, sigh and feel content. Career, family, those other, smaller, more defining and less definable goals. What he did know was that he was nowhere near there. To him, it seemed akin to death. He needed to be working. His family needed it. And everyday that went by cost him more of his pride. The comments and looks Becky gave. And how could he be a father, show Simon what a man was, if he wasn’t one himself? That was how he felt when the lights were out and all he had were his thoughts and the walls. But in words this felt more like…oxidation. He was slowly rusting.

That was why he had to do something. They barely had a hold on the mortgage. Both of their credit cards were filled to the tip with debt, the interest the only thing eating payments. David had already lost his truck. Becky used her car (thank God it was paid off), and he had borrowed his brother’s Ford.

This ship had leaks; it was sinking. What he had to do was drastic.

Becky left for work as Simon was coming in the kitchen to fix himself a bowl of cereal. She kissed her son on the cheek and left. With her went the pall of disappointment that she seemed to throw over David anymore. He didn’t know if they could be fixed or not. Every woman has an idea of what a man is and after that glass is cracked, it’s hard to look at a fractured image. He wished that he knew the words to say. But how do you tell a woman that you think you still love her? Isn’t that worse than saying you don’t love her at all?

“Any tests today?” David asked.

“No. Not unless it’s a pop quiz,” Simon said. He was shoveling the cereal into his mouth, slurping the milk noisily. He still enjoyed spending time with his father, which David figured he should be grateful for. That would be gone soon. Simon had no idea how fragile things were around him. He knew that David had no job, but his mother’s judgments hadn’t tainted the waters yet.

“Do you want me to walk you to the bus stop?” David always asked him this. When he was younger, Simon had loved it.

“I’m fine,” Simon said.

“Rain’s coming today. Don’t forget a jacket. Your lunch is already made.”

“Thanks.”

Simon hated taking his lunch to school, David knew, but it was cheaper until he could get him on the free-lunch program. That was Simon’s economic sacrifice. David hated it, too. Every brown sack was like an indictment. A kid shouldn’t have to suffer for the failing of his father. It didn’t work that way, obviously. Quite the opposite, in fact.

David read over the classified section, circling attractive listings in red pen, and listened to what Simon had to say. It wasn’t an endless gab. Sports—he’d discovered basketball—and music mostly.

How many men were sitting in dark rooms, doing the very same thing as him? But he doubted that many would do what he was going to do.

When Simon left, David made sure that his son had his coat on and his bag over his shoulder. The bus stop was at the end of the street. Visible through a small gap at the edge of the front window. He had hidden the pack of cigarettes when he’d come in with the paper earlier. They were in his hand now. He lit one, moving with a mindless knowing, watching. Even after the bus came and went, David stood there.

One cigarette. Two. He stood there until the first plumb drops of rain fell, and then he felt like he could wait no longer. It was time to be a man again. Re-grasp a portion of his dignity. That was all of the reasoning that he needed. His family was hurting, and there was something that he could do about it.

He went and got his gun. It wasn’t anything special—a 12 gauge. The barrel had been sawed off. He also grabbed the box of shells. They were in the garage closet, the only place that was truly his.

The barrel’s mouth looked wide. David had changed into a grey shirt and jeans. A light jacket. The shortened shotgun went inside a duffel bag he’d used to go to the gym on Monticello years ago.

He hadn’t drunk any coffee, but his pulse was pushing as though he’d drowned the entire pot. One last cigarette, and he stepped out the backdoor with his bag.

The rain wasn’t heavy, yet, hitting his hooded jacket. And then in the far distance, David began to hear thunder.

He had planned out his route a week ago. It would take him two blocks over, and by doubling back he could come to the white house at the end of his street from behind. David had been sure to stay away from that house in the last week. He didn’t want anyone vaguely remembering a guy walking around the neighborhood.

The white house was a drug house. He didn’t know who it belonged to, but two men in their mid-twenties stayed there. One was thin and one was stocky. After walking Simon to the bus, this was months ago, David had started to wonder, thinking. The men had been sitting on their porch, the house dilapidated the yard unkempt around them.

“What’s going on?” the thinner one had asked.

David, interrupted, had stopped. He’d approached the men, happy to delay going home. They were smoking weed. David knew the smell from high school—parking lots and football games. He had never been big into it but he had been known to smoke a little here and again. When the thin man had handed the joint over, David had taken it. Why the hell not? The two were idiots. He later found out that the police had served warrants on the house at least twice. SWAT and vans and all the hustle. But then, they had listened to his sad story, nodded consolingly, and helped take the pain away on a cloud of smoke.

“And if you want more of that, I can make ya a deal,” the man has said when he’d finally left.

David had thought nothing of it until the tide had started washing against his sand castle-life. It was a small idea that had grown. Why did he, a good man, have to suffer? These men were like cancer to neighborhoods. They brought trouble and criminals to their doors. Sure, everyone around here worked hard and fought for a lead, but did that make them disposable? It wasn’t like they only toked a bit of weed. The men had offered him meth, coke and mollies, as well.

One rationalization split into two, until he was convinced it wasn’t the wrong thing to do. Fact was it was the right thing. Damn near a community service. The only thing that he had to do was look at his family to know that it should be done.

He sat in the back yard, feeling cold, hidden by a couple of sickly shrubs. His socks were getting wet. The ground was mudding beneath him. He could hear the thunderstorm moving in.

There probably wasn’t even anyone home, he thought. He had started walking by the house weeks ago, at different hours, taking note of cars and activity. It was unpredictable, but the one semi-constant was the dearth of movement in the morning. The thunder was moving closer. A sheet of bright light held the gloomy clouds and then thunder followed it. The deep, crackling kind.

Rain fell like tears down David’s face as he watched the sky. Is a man his actions or simply the result of them? He couldn’t answer that question. His hand grabbed the bag as he stood, scurrying toward the house hunched over like a soldier storming a beach.

Dave stood under the deck, beside the grill. He tried the basement door, and it opened. His hands were shaking when they pulled the shotgun from the bag. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the reality of this, so he didn’t try to. It was easier to move dreamlike.

The basement was half-finished and filled with random storage. Boxes of blenders, an exercise bike, a couch holding a pile of clothes. He had to high-step his way over to the steps. There was a smell like wet animal coming from somewhere. David had been a pretty good football player. He still had the look of an ex-athlete. College hadn’t been hard for him, but after he had gotten hurt, he couldn’t pay for it. Now he was standing at a closed door at the top of dark stairs, listening to a storm above, a shotgun in his hands.

The door opened to a filthy kitchen. The sink and counter were avalanched with dirty plates, pans, and utensils. Hardened food crusted them. The place smelled like a trash can.

David pushed himself against the wall. He could hear something in the front room. His feet took small steps, eyes wide. He peeked around the corner, pulled his head back, then peeked again. The thin man was asleep on the couch. An open bag of nacho chips were on the scuffed hardwood. David didn’t see anyone else. That was good.

He crept into the room, conscious of his weight on the wood floor. A bad squeak and who knows. The hood was pulled tight over his face and tied so that only his eyes and nose were exposed. Not enough to know a stranger by, he guessed. He hadn’t thought to grab a ski mask. His hands were bare.

Judging what was the center of the room, David stopped, leveling the gun on the sleeping man. He felt like he was floating.

“Hey. Hey,” David said, starting at a whisper and growing. He wasn’t going to get too close to the man. “Hey, fucker, get up!” he yelled. The man stirred, starry-eyed. Looked around. When he saw David, he didn’t really see him. When the man standing in the middle of the room with the gun registered, he yelled out, sitting up quickly—all alert. He moved so swiftly that it almost startled David into shooting him.

“What the hell, man!”

“Move and I’ll kill you.” It was a lie. “Where’s the money? Quickly!” David yelled.

“What money, man?”

“The fucking money!” Guys like this didn’t use saving accounts. No stocks or bonds. The thunder was on the lightning’s heels, now. He could feel the rumble in his legs. Long, breaking cracks that exploded at the end.

“Man, there is—”

The back bedroom door swung open. The bigger of the two men ran out. There was a pistol in his hand. Bright flashes dotted the tip, and David realized that it wasn’t thunder that he heard. Something grazed the side of his head.

He tried to shoot back—swing the gun over and fire. Unfortunately, the order got reversed. The shotgun kicked in his hands, and that quickly, the man on the couch lost his face. Blood splattered against the back wall, a storm of it hitting the front window. But David wasn’t looking at that, yet. He was running toward the kitchen, pumping the shotgun, firing.

The shotgun only had five shells. He had alternated between slugs and pellets. Spinning into the kitchen, he dug into the jacket pockets, pulling out more ammunition, extra shells falling to the dirty tile and rolling. He slammed them into the gun, cocking it. The inside of the hood was moist with his hurried breath. He had never been shot at before. Hell, he’d never shot anyone before.

He didn’t think about running down the steps and out the back until he saw the second man sprawled out on the ground, red pooling around him. Pellets pocked the wall. He inched over, gun ready, noticing the body. Two men dead, and he hadn’t seen either shot.

David stood there, not thinking, watching the blood slowly spread like madness. Standing here wasn’t doing anything; he began to search. First through the kitchen, sweeping cabinets empty and knocking on wood. The fridge. He scoured the living room, avoiding the dead men and their blood. He had come here expecting what he’d come for to be hidden. That was no problem. He had a nose for that sort of thing. More than once, he’d thought that he should have been a cop. Strange, considering the situation.

There were only two bedrooms in the house. One of them was like the basement—crowded with the miscellaneous junk. The other was set up into a kind of work shop. Flasks and piping and a chemical smell. A large Meth lab was set up on the table centering the room. There were plenty of drugs in a bowl and in bags. A cell phone. David looked through everything than began to knock on walls and stomp on floorboards. He was moving on pure adrenaline. Sweating. He wasn’t moving slowly or carefully. Kicking, knocking, throwing indiscriminately what was in his way. There had to be something here.

And there it was. He found it in the bathroom. The cabinet under the sink had a false bottom. There was money in zip-lock bags and a handgun. David left the gun, grabbing the wrapped cash. Every bill was a measure of his pride returned. What is a man without that? The thunder was no longer overhead, but the rain was falling hard. This gave him room to breathe. The house. Feeding his family. Animals fight and kill for survival, was he so different? It didn’t feel like it. He hadn’t felt this good in a while. No longer powerless. He knew that this couldn’t fix all of his problems, but you worry about the fire in the kitchen before the flood in the basement. There wasn’t nearly enough money to fill up his bag–it would take at least a million to do that—but David couldn’t stop his smile. It was thrown back at him by the broken mirror above the sink

Factual Horror #5 Lead

Morgen Knight

If you want something in life, you have to go for it and get it. It is up to you. Nothing is ever ever going to be given to you. And anything in life worth having takes hard fucking work. Dedication.
Do you know it and trust it and want it and need it and bleed it and live it? If not, how could you make it?
See the life you want. Know that it is in your hands. Be the leader. Lead.

The Last Text Message from Molly Summers

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Morgen Knight

– Jess, Some1 N the house
– Where R U
– Closet. Call 911 I hear them. I’m scared
– B quiet I’m calling.
– qpd6hk
-Molly?
Molly
Molly?
Hello Molly?