Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Poacher...part 1...horror/thriller short story

The blue minivan pulls cautiously into the shoveled out driveway and comes to a well rehearsed stop. The back door slides open with mechanical ease. A young boy flies out from the vehicle like a caged animal set free. His mother, Mrs. McGee, a young slender blonde calls out to him as he runs oblivious to her words across the snow in the front yard. He bounds the shrubbery onto the front walk and darts through the front door, his mother left shaking her head still behind the wheel of the car.

Mrs. Jenkins walks her dog across the street, a scraggly looking orange tinged wire-haired terrier. Bert is his name…she uses the dog’s name way too often for anyone’s comfort level.

“Burt, stop tugging Mommy,” says the just turning elderly slightly plump woman in a flowered sundress. That sundress that it seems every old woman acquires when they reach a certain age. The one with the snaps down the front, not a flattering look on anyone. For a reason only known to Mrs. Jenkins, she has decided to wear this particular sundress over her coat. Mrs. Jenkins waves to Mrs. McGee as Burt pulls her eagerly down the street leaving you wondering who is walking who.

He sits and takes this all in, the routine…he’s been studying these people for over three weeks now. He is patient…no rush, no mistakes. He takes in the times of dog walking and child pick ups occur. When daddy heads to work and when he comes home. No emotion, just a need to hunt…the need took over his soul long ago. Devoid of any feeling he watches, he waits. Knowing it’s almost time to spring into action. But as all good hunters know…the undetected wait is key to getting your prize. So, he waits in his own minivan which blends into suburbia perfectly. He eyes Mrs. McGee…Karen. This is his target. In good shape, she runs three miles a day. She is a black belt in the karate class she takes twice a week on Hamburg Street. She went to the university for classes which ended two days ago…taking psychology classes. A worthy adversary he believed. It’s never that much of an accomplishment when they cannot at least fight back a little. But sometimes the choice is out of his control. Sometimes the hunger chooses the victim.

Karen finally opens her car door and leans over a grabs a few plastic bags full of groceries from the passengers seat. She curses until her breath as a loaf of Italian bread slides to the car floor. She retrieves it hastily and shoves it into the plastic bag. She manages to hold all the bags in one hand as she closes the door with the other. The plastic handles sink into her flesh forming red lines of discomfort. She takes a bag in the other hand to relieve some of the load. She trudges through the fresh snow which has blanketed her front yard, amazed that her young son’s video games take precedence to snow balls and snow angels. How times have changed. She shakes her head with that thought.

She closes her front door gently locking it out of habit immediately. In a neighborhood like hers, there is rarely even a minor crime but she still takes that step to lock the door if only for her son’s sake. Her husband would be home late again which means they would be alone until way after dark. Although her street wasn’t completely isolated like in the countryside, there was a decent enough amount of land and woods around each home that once the sun went down, things could feel a little creepy. Karen’s husband always tells her it’s her own fault that those horrible images creep into her head from watching too many horror movies.

Dinner is on her mind now. It’s five thirty. If little Timmy eats about six, that usually keeps him on schedule to get to sleep by eight o’clock. She’s actually glad her husband is not home for dinner, for it makes the meal much simpler…no three sides, every food group represented, tons of pans and serving dishes. Yes, two TV dinners will be just perfect, maybe a small salad to get some vitamins in the boy. She always feels the need to add at least one fresh vegetable to a processed meal to make herself feel like a better parent.

She puts her groceries on the butcher clock counter and flips on the kitchen television. There is rarely silence in her world, she fills it with mindless television banter or classic oldies from her radio. She preheats the oven and opens the freezer to pick out their dinner choices. She spies the fried chicken dinner and dislodges it from under the frozen chopped meat and the ice cream container. Fried chicken is Timmy’s favorite. She eyes the turkey dinner and tugs it out from the way back. Okay, all set. She unwraps the dinners, always annoyed that each one has separate directions…why not perforated plastic to make it easier. Uncover the potatoes, cover the corn…so she plays origami with the thin plastic until it is ready. She places them on a steel pan and slides them in the oven. 5:35 on the clock…they will be eating by 6:05, just perfect.

“This just in from our newsroom, folks. Seems there’s been a second disappearance from the area,” the newscaster starts and Karen looks over at the screen taking a seat on one of the wooden stools that are set around the butcher block island. “Michelle Spreen, 45, of Bismark Place has been reported missing by her husband of 25 years, says Police Capt. Nigel Barnes of the Billings Police Department. Police says there was signs of a struggle in her home, but no trace of Mrs. Spreen. Spreen returned from work on Monday evening at about 4 PM, as witnesses stated, but after entering her home was never seen of heard from again. Her husband returned from work that evening at about seven thirty and there was no trace of Mrs. Spreen. After seeing signs of a struggle, he called the police.”

Karen studies the screen, looking at the slightly overweight woman with glasses and a gentle smile they kept showing on the screen. She has thick dark hair and eyes that were too small for her face. Her smile seemed genuine. Another photo of her and her husband, they are hugging each other. She has garland around her neck and he, a Santa hat on his head. They look happy, a good memory caught on film. Live footage of the Spreen’s home on Bismark Place shows a quaint brick ranch home. Long driveway sets the home back from the main road. Looks like about three acres of property, Karen figures. Police coming in and out of the home. Reporters on the front lawn.
“That poor woman,” Karen says aloud in a whispered voice.

“This is the second person from the area to go missing within the last three weeks. The first being 60 year old Myra Longdale of Prospect Terrace. Her worried neighbor reported her missing after she failed to answer the door on several occasions even though her car was in the driveway. Fearing the woman had maybe fallen, the neighbor contacted the police who searched the older woman home but found no evidence of her. Instead found a half-starved cat. The police said the neighbors insisted she doted on the cat, and would never fail to feed it or go away without making sure someone watched over the cat. Several unopened cans of food remained in the cupboard,” the voiceover on the TV says as photos of Mrs. Longdale, her house, her neighbors and finally her cat appear.

Karen looks at the familiar pictures on the screen Myra Longdale. She has encountered the sweet woman once or twice in the grocery store, usually buying treats for her cat. Always with a smile, she seemed to have her hair done every time Karen has seen her. Karen didn’t frequent church much, only on big holidays, but Mrs. Longdale would be in the front row of the choir every time Karen attended which led her to believe that she’s probably a regular.
“The police have not linked together these two disappearances as of yet, but say they have not ruled out the possibility that these cases may be connected. We will keep you up to date on any new updates in either case. Jenny?” the toothy newscaster changes his voice from concerned to chipper in the matter of a half a second as he gazes at the newscast’s busty newsgirl, Jenny. Today Jenny is wearing a banana yellow suit that has most likely blinded every viewer in the four surrounding towns that are unlucky enough to get this broadcast. “How’s our weather looking?” Karen sighs and shuts off the volume because as bad as Jenny’s wardrobe may be, her shrill high pitched voice is forty times worse- so it’s an assault on you visual and audio senses- too much for Karen to handle.
She turns on the radio. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond drifts out of the speakers. Karen smiles and looks out the window humming along. The snow is falling harder now from the deck railing she can tell the accumulation looks about two inches. She looks out across her vast grassy yard, a fresh blanket of snow covers it. It looks so beautiful and undisturbed. The white snow drapes over the massive limbs of the oaks in her yard almost like those Christmas icicles that you buy in the store at Christmas time. The winter landscape is breathtaking and she’s glad she got a glance of it before it went completely dark.

She pulls herself away from the window and exit’s the kitchen. “Timmy!”, she yells tilting her head up towards the second floor. She walks to the bottom of the steps, hoping he’ll answer her so she doesn’t have to make the trek up to the second floor. She hears Mario, one of Timmy’s most beloved game characters, yell, “Mexico!” and Timmy whoop with excitement. Her voice falls on deaf ears when a video game is played. She decides to save her breath. She sighs and heads up the wide carpeted staircase holding onto the carved wooden banister for mock support. The arcade music gets louder and louder as she ascends every step. “This kid will be deaf by fifteen art this rate,” she says to herself. “Timmy!” she yells as she approaches his door. It is open and she peers in at her small son propped on the floor on a pillow in front of the television. He sways back and forth dramatically with each turn his car makes on the screen.
“Timmy,” Karen says loudly to his back. No response, and no surprise. Karen walks across the room. He glances up quickly then his eyes dart back to the game. “Timmy, do you have homework to do?” she says trying to keep her voice at a higher volume to battle the furious racers on the screen. Timmy continues to play the game, not giving Karen the satisfaction of an answer, or even acknowledgement. This is the game daily. He tests her until she is forced to get angry. “Timmy,” she tries again, louder. “Timmy, I will shut this game off if you do not answer me.”
“No!” he yells more to be heard over the game than in defiance. Karen walks over and turns down the volume.
“Timmy, do you have homework?” she asks him trying her hardest to keep her patience. She wants this to be a quiet night without the dramatics of a tantrum.
“I did it at school, Mom” he says not peeling his eyes from the screen. She kneels down next to him and grazes her fingers through his soft blonde curls. “Aw, Mom,” he says trying to avert her fingers. “You are gonna make me lose.” She smiles at his remark and removes her hand slowly from his head. She glances at the screen as a princess in a pink gown slams into the side of Mario’s car. “Peach!” Timmy screams. Karen lost him again. “Okay, dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes. You better come when I call you.” She gets up from the floor slowly, her body not as young as it used to be. Her muscles are sore from her visit to the gym this morning. She bends down and picks up Toby, Timmy’s stuffed elephant and tosses it casually on his bed. “Fifteen minutes,” she reminds her young son and leaves the room.

Karen’s cell phone goes off I her pocket. She digs into her jean’s to get it before it goes to voicemail. She hates this cell phone. Seems anytime she finally gets it out, she misses the call. She looks at the screen, ‘Timothy‘, it reads, her husband. She tries to hurriedly open the phone. “Hey babe,” she says into the phone. No answer. “Damn, “ she says aloud and presses the call back feature on the phone as she bounds back down the stairs.

“Karen?” she hears her husband’s voice pick up after one ring.

“Hey Tim,” she says as she reaches the first floor. “We got cut off.”

“No surprise there,” he laughs and she smiles at the sound of his voice. Married ten years and she still smiles at his voice. She was lucky. “Look, seems I may be home not as late as I had thought.”

“Well, that’s good news,” she says walking into the kitchen. She glances out the window noticing how dark in has gotten outside in such a short time. No more watching the brilliant snow tonight. She looks at the clock, 5:55. “So, what time should we be expecting you then?”

“I’d say, probably by 7, 7:30 the latest,” he says hurriedly. “I got this quick meeting with Burke, then I should be ready to plow out of here.”

“I didn’t cook anything. We are having TV dinners, so it’s either that, or pick something up for yourself on your way home.”

“Got the hint, loud and clear, Karen. Kitchen will be closed by the time I get home,” he laughs softly. “Okay, I gotta run. See you guys soon. Love you.” He ends the call before she is able to reciprocate the feeling. She is happy he will be home earlier though. Timmy will be, too. She opens the over door and checks the chicken. She lifts edge of the breast up gently flipping it over, she does the same with the small drumstick. Timmy likes the chicken to be crunchy. She closes the oven door and shuts off the heat.

She heads to the refrigerator and opens the bottom drawer. She pulls out a ready made bag of salad, pre-washed. She giggles at the triple washed in big letters across the bag. “Not only will we cut it, we’ll wash it for you, too,” she aloud to herself. She grabs a container of grape tomatoes and closes the door with her foot. She plops everything on the counter. She grabs a wooden bowl from overhead. She rips open the salad at the perforation mark and pours it into the bowl, then sprinkles some tomatoes on top. “Viola,” she says mocking herself.

She puts on her Hello Kitty oven mitts, given to her last Christmas by Timmy. She retrieves the cardboard like tray from the oven and places them on two plates she has set on the counter to cool. “Timmy!” she calls. She already knows how this will wind up. She can either continue to yell, then stomp u the stairs and force him away from his game. Which will then lead to a dinner at the table strewn with silence and bad attitude from an eight year old. Or she can just bring the plate up to his room and let him eat up there. It is Friday, she reasons to herself. So without a second yell, she pours him a glass of milk. She picks up the plate and glass and heads up the steps.

There he is, still swaying with the Mario Kart race, the sound effects assaulting his small ears. She places the plate next to him on the floor. “I want you to eat all of this, or I’m taking the game away,” she says sternly enough for only her to hear. He hungrily grabs the drum stick and holds it in his mouth while continuing to play his game. She shakes her head and leaves him alone.

Karen eats alone at the island in her kitchen staring absently at the television. A rerun of Seinfeld, the classic “master of my own domain” episode. No matter how many times Karen has seen it, it never gets old. She laughs as Kramer busts through Jerry’s door unannounced slapping his money on the table. No questions asked, comedy genius right there. Karen finishes the last of her salad and gets up to clear her plates. She looks out the window and sees darkness. Karen reaches and flicks the on switch for the outdoor lights to illuminate the backyard.

She takes another glimpse through the panes wanting another winter wonderland image. It is then that she notices the footprints. She moves closer to the window thinking maybe her eyes are playing tricks on her. But there they still are, tracks in the snow coming from the woods just beyond her backyard. She follows the tracks with her eyes. They walk through her backyard, and up the steps to her back door. She runs over to the back door and peers through the curtain. She can’t see much for the lights illuminate the back part of the yard mostly. She flicks another switch, the one that shines over the back door. The prints, right there…It seems someone walked right to this door. But, no one knocked. Maybe someone was in trouble, she thinks? A hunting accident? Why didn’t I hear anything?

“Maybe I was upstairs in Mario Land when the knocking occurred,” she concludes to herself. “I wouldn’t have been able to hear anything.” She opens the door slightly. No one is there. “Hello!” she calls out. The soft breeze though the pines is the only answer that is returned. She looks back down at the tracks in the snow. They seem to descend back down the steps and go around to the side of her house. She walks outside and peers over the side of the deck. The tracks lead to her side door. That’s where they end.

Karen walks briskly back into the house and closes the door behind her. She pushes the lock down instinctively. She stares at the basement steps. She grabs a knife from the butcher block and walks tentatively to the top of the steps. The side door is closed. She flips on the basement lights. Snow. Tracks on the steps leading down to the basement. Karen feels her heart jump and fear spread rapidly throughout her body. “Timmy,” she says aloud, and quickly turns back to the kitchen.

She feels something hit her hard in the stomach. The pain is not immediate, almost a dull thump that takes her breath away. She grabs instinctively at the metal stake embedded in her abdomen, blood pours over her hands. The pain takes on a whole new vengeance, sharp and stinging. It forces her to kneel down. She notices the legs next to her. A man. Her focus is going, her vision becoming blurry. Socks, she sees no shoes. Socks, then jeans, then a plaid coat. His large hands are wrapped around a thick wooden handle. In a stupor her gaze follows the handle to the steel point jutting out of her stomach. She opens her mouth, but it seems all the air has left her and she is unable to suck anymore back in.

“If you yell too loud, he most likely won’t hear you,” its the last thing she hears before slipping away into darkness.

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