As readers of this blog, you get valuable access to upcoming stories!
Here are the first two chapters of my paranormal thriller An Angel On Her Shoulder (and about that cover mock up… I think the eyes are gonna go).
SYNOPSIS: A series of unexplainable tragedies surround a family and their young daughter as they seek to determine whether they are possessed, paranoid or collectively going insane. Meanwhile, forgotten clues from the father’s past may indicate forces are at work in ways more ominous than any of them could have imagined.
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These are sample chapters that will still undergo editing
An Angel On Her Shoulder, Chapter 1
“Call 911! CALL 911!”
The man’s shouts ripped through the tasting room of scenic Hillside Winery. At the counter, Mallory lowered her brochures for 2017 vintages and glanced over her shoulder, unable to see who had called out. The other customers, two dozen or so elderly tourists and a smaller group that called the server by name, were looking around, too.
With confusion working its way into their expressions, nobody moved or called 911.
The man’s voice rose, straining with fear and urgency as his words boomed down the hallway and spilled over them. “Somebody call 911! There’s been an accident in the parking lot!”
A robust fellow, gray at the temples but broad in the shoulders and belly, pushed away from the tasting counter and headed toward the shouts.
“Martin.” The woman next to him reached out for his arm. “Don’t. You’re not on duty.”
He didn’t break stride. “A cop is never off duty.”
Rejoining the others at the marble slab, his wife muttered to herself but for the benefit of anyone within earshot. “Retired ones are.”
Mallory set down her Virginia Wine Country pamphlets and smiled at the woman.
The officer’s wife sighed, having found a willing audience. “He just can’t relax. He’ll—”
“Jenny!” From the window, Martin wheeled around, his eyes wide. “Tell the bartender to call an ambulance. Now!” He lumbered toward the front doors at a pace slowed only by his age and size. “Tell them there’s an accident with severe injuries and we may need a medevac unit.”
In a wave, curious winery patrons moved from the counter to the windows, gathering close to view the parking lot as Martin rushed outside.
Mallory moved with the mob, checking around the tasting room as she did. No sign of her husband and daughter. She clutched the brochures to her chest, a tiny knot of fear gripping her belly.
Behind the bar, the server picked up a telephone. “Where’s Mr. Hill?” His finger hovered over the buttons as he directed his gaze at the closest employee, speaking with hushed urgency. “Avery—anybody know where Mr. Hill is?”
Carrying an unopened case of wine, Avery did his best to shrug.
“Okay . . . grab any other volunteer firefighters from the warehouse crew and get out to the front parking lot. See what’s going on.”
“All right, Mike.” Setting down the white Hillside box, Avery scurried into the back room. “José! Ron!”
An uneasy feeling gripped Mallory. Her eyes darted around the room as she held her breath and searched for her family. She’d said goodbye to her husband and three-year-old daughter a moment ago, but how long had it really been? A few minutes? More?
Her stomach tightened as the wave of uneasiness swept through her. She recounted her conversation with Doug. He had gone to get their little girl something to eat from the car—their rental van—for lunch.
“We’ll have a little birthday picnic in the parking lot. Does that sound fun?” He flashed his amazing smile at their daughter. “It’s nice out. Maybe we’ll open the van doors, sit outside on the cooler, and watch a DVD.”
Mallory grinned as her daughter’s blonde ponytail brushed the collar of a new yellow dress. Hand in hand, her man and her baby strolled past the racks of t-shirts and souvenirs, then Mallory returned her attention to the tasting list.
A few moments later, a loud crash. The vibrations came right through the floor, but she and the other customers ignored it. In a bustling winery warehouse filled with forklifts and trucks and massive juice pumps, loud noises weren’t unusual.
But panicked shouting was.
Her heart in her throat, Mallory tried to press through the curious onlookers gathering at the windows. A quiet morning at a picturesque Virginia winery was turning into chaos. Straining on her tiptoes to see past the others, she caught a glimpse of the scene.
Enough to make the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
A pickup truck with the Hillcrest logo on the door had somehow wrecked into several cars in the lot. Her car. The van she and Doug had rented for their vacation. The entire side was demolished, the windows shattered. Broken glass covered the pavement all around the vehicle.
Pulse racing, she grabbed the shoulder of the man in front of her, craning her neck to get a better glimpse. She couldn’t see her husband or daughter anywhere, but too many gawkers blocked her view through the small window. Outside, volunteers and arriving customers gathered in the lot, further obscuring her line of sight.
An audible groan escaped as she clutched her aching gut. Where were Doug and Sophie?
Outside, Avery reached the gathered onlookers and immediately turned white. He stepped back, almost losing his balance for a moment, then shouted at the windows. “Tell Mike we need an ambulance! Tell them to hurry!”
Inside, each customer moved forward to look past the others, jamming the space in front of the windows and blocking the hallway that lead to the front door. People trying to get outside to help ran into people straining to see. Everyone rushed to get through the door at the same time, so no one did.
Mallory was pinned to the wall. The fear inside her was mounting to an uncontrollable level.
“How many people were hit?” Somebody asked.
“I can’t tell. A few,” another voice replied.
A man near Mallory put his hand to his mouth, gasping. “My God, there’s a girl pinned under the van!”
His words ignited the surging panic inside Mallory. She heaved against the rotund man next to her. “Let me out!”
Wedging her arms and lowering her head, she forced her way out of the crushing mob and into the tasting room. Not stopping to catch her breath, she ran at the packed entryway, clawing her way through the crowd of curious onlookers.
An elderly woman came in the front door, wringing her hands, her mouth agape. “Oh, my God, I’ve never seen such a thing.” She shook her head. “That car hit her and she flew right up in the air!”
“That girl is going to die.” The man behind her muttered.
Surely they can’t be talking about my daughter.
“It just plowed right into them! It didn’t even slow down!”
The exit hallway was completely blocked. Mallory’s heart pounded. She looked around, frantic.
“I don’t know how anyone could survive that.”
Mallory tried to see out the hallway window. She strained, on tiptoe, looking over shoulders and between bobbing heads. She swallowed hard, pushing down the panic welling inside her.
“Okay, I’ll go feed Sophie her lunch. You come out when you’re finished.” He turned to their daughter. “We’ll have a little birthday picnic in the parking lot. Does that sound fun?”
Mallory craned her neck to catch a glimpse of anything. Inside, too many people blocked her view. Outside, too many helpers crowded around the victims. There were tire marks showing the path the truck took, straight into her rental van and the car next to it.
Fear rose up in her throat. She fought her way through the crowd to the door.
Where is my baby? Where’s Doug?
She clawed her way to the next window. It gave fewer answers. The volunteers had rolled someone over, but there were too many people in the way to see who it was. The others worked to get the girl out from under the van.
Putting a hand on the wall to keep from falling, the elderly woman shook her head. “My God, the blood…”
A volunteer by the vehicle moved. Mallory caught a glimpse of the blood splattered clothing—a bright yellow dress—and a stream of blood running from it to the parking lot gutter.
She gasped in horror.
Panic and adrenaline took over. Mallory had to get down the hallway. She had to get outside. She shoved and punched at the onlookers, but everyone else seemed to be moving in slow motion. “Let me out! You’ve got to let me out!”
Shouts from the crowd obscured her cries.
“We need some towels for them! Get some towels!”
“Where’s that ambulance!?”
Tears streaming down her face, Mallory squeezed between the wall and the last customer in the hallway as she grasped for the door. “Please! I’ve got to get outside!”
She fell forward, latching onto the large iron door handle. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, desperately whispering a prayer. “Please, God. Don’t let this be happening to my family.”
We would never have called it bullying.
Not back then, when Nixon stepped down as our president and plaid pants dominated the business fashion world. In Millersburg, Indiana, whining about being bullied would get the crap kicked out of you.
Some kids were towel snappers in the high school locker room, but they were usually fifteen or sixteen years old. Jimmy was already there when we were ten. He was my best friend, and even though he was a little small for his age, he made up for a lot of that in effort. He had to. It would be a long time before we were as big as our older brothers, if we ever got that big. And like a lot of older brothers, Jimmy’s was pretty ruthless on him in public. It was one of those, “I can pick on my little brother but you can’t” things. Only, Jimmy’s older brother didn’t care who else picked on him.
It wasn’t bullying. We called it “teasing” or “tormenting.” That was some sort of parental code for getting close to the line but not quite crossing it. If you got punched, it was in the arm, as part of a “game.” Your grade school friends might give your triceps a good shot playing slug bug while riding bikes, but if you hit a kid hard enough to make him cry or wreck his ten speed, you probably paid for it when you got home. Nobody got punched in the face or drew blood—not on purpose, anyway. Accidents happened all the time, but a cut caused by a go-cart with no brakes that crashed at the bottom of a hill, that bleeds differently than a cut caused by a tough kid at the park with a pocket knife or a broken bottle.
Jimmy might get his butt kicked, but he would get right in there if a confrontation occurred. That impressed me about him. I could never do that. If I rode my bike to the park and there were some rough-looking older kids there, I would go home and come back later, or maybe just wait for another day. Jimmy would stay there and ignore them, deciding that we’d come to test our bikes on a makeshift bike ramp or to hike the trails through the woods, and we were gonna do just that. It never bothered him that the rougher kids were around. If it did bother him, he never let on.
He never had to. I would always mention it.
“Aw, come on, Dougie, ignore them.” Jimmy would say. “Let’s splash some rocks in the deep part of the creek.”
They were just a few years older than us. Punks, as my brother would later call them when he grew up and joined the Millersburg police force. But at that age, when we were barely ten years old, a few years makes a big difference. An extra thirty pounds and eight or ten inches lends itself to a pretty unfair fight. The tough kids were bigger and stronger than us, and they had been around. They probably actually knew what to do in a fight.
I never saw Jimmy’s attitude toward them as being brave. It was, but it was also a kind of nonchalant. He was indifferent, somehow not seeing them as a potential threat. He’d heard the same stories I’d heard, about kids getting beat up and having their bike stolen or something. Jimmy was patient, taking in the situation like all good hunters learn to. If those kids wanted to smoke cigarettes or read a stolen Hustler magazine, they didn’t want a bunch of us younger kids around watching. They would leave. And Jimmy always seemed to know that.
One time, my family went to a fundraiser for our church. We were always selling raffle tickets or chocolate bars or some damn thing for St. Matthew’s. Going door to door asking strangers if they wanted to buy an overpriced candy bar so we could get new basketballs. It never ended. I was the worst at it, too. I ate as many candy bars as I sold; probably more. I’d come home with $10 in cash and $20 in missing candy, and Mom would know that she was going to have to write another check. Jimmy moved his allotment of chocolate, but his mom helped. She worked in a big office, so pushed it to the other employees. Jimmy almost never had to go door to door.
My mom helped me by driving me to neighborhoods I hadn’t door-knocked yet.
Selling candy for the church was lousy, but the church festivals were great. Candy selling was a lonely business, done by yourself or with a friend across the street, but the festivals were packed with friends. There was music, bright lights, and games of chance. They had a big spinning wheel lined with poker cards. There was a ring toss, where you could win a huge glass bottle of Pepsi if you could get the little wooden ring to land on its neck. I don’t think they make them anymore, those big glass bottles. They must have been almost as big as the plastic two-liter ones they sell now. A kid who could get the little ring to stay on the neck of the bottle got to walk away with an enormous warm soda to share with their friends. Winning a big Pepsi was a really huge deal—those little rings never stayed on when you threw them. They always bounced crazy and landed on the floor of the booth, so players would end up paying two or three bucks for a one dollar bottle of soda. Kids didn’t care, though. We never got soda at home unless our parents hosted a big party with all our friends and relatives, like New Year’s eve or something. Winning the massive Pepsi was a treasure for a ten-year-old kid.
Like a lot of small cities in southeast Indiana, we had a large German population—and our church festivals showed it. There was always a long line at the beer booth, and they sold nasty smelling stuff in the cafeteria: sauerkraut, turtle soup, red cabbage—stuff like that.
Jimmy looked at the sign as he sipped warm Pepsi from the enormous glass bottle. “‘Rathskeller?’”
“That means rat cellar.” My knowledge of German was embarrassingly weak, but overhearing Mom and Grandma when they played canasta at holiday get-togethers, I’d picked up a few words.
“Rat cellar?” Jimmy snorted. “It doesn’t mean that.”
“It does.” I eyed the sign and reached for Jimmy’s big glass Pepsi.
He shook his head. “Why would you call the cafeteria the ‘rat cellar’? That sure doesn’t make me want to eat there.” He glanced at the windows of the darkened upstairs. A thick metal wire mesh protected them against errant baseballs from the asphalt playground that doubled as the parking lot. “Do they cook rats in there?”
“Worse.” I gulped the warm Pepsi. “Turtle soup. And sauerkraut.”
“Yeah.” I held the thick glass bottle in both hands, waiting for the fizz to stop hurting my throat from taking too big a swallow. Jimmy could hold it with one hand sometimes, and even drink from it that way.
It was too heavy and awkward for me to do that. “I tried turtle soup once. It’s pretty awful. And the sauerkraut is just as bad.”
“I like sauerkraut.” Jimmy took the Pepsi from me and sipped it without wiping it on his shirt first.
“Man, I hate sauerkraut. That smell.” One of the true blessings in our house was Mom didn’t cook traditional German food very often. Grandma did, though, and her house always smelled . . . stern. The pungent nasal assault of her homemade pickles and sauerbraten reminded her many grandchildren that rules were strictly followed in that house.
Jimmy and I walked between the rows of boardwalk style festival games, trying to out-burp each other. Our whole church parking lot had been transformed for the weekend, giving it a surreal, fun feeling it didn’t have most of the rest of the year. Happy, as opposed to respectful and somber. Even the girls from our class seemed different. At the festival, they would be in shorts or jeans, not the school uniform—a dull, blue-gray plaid skirt and plain, white collared shirt. It would be another year or so before those boring skirts would be the highlight of my school day.
Popping six balloons with six darts would earn a festival goer a giant teddy bear. The overstuffed monstrosity was huge, like three feet tall. I practiced on the dart board Dad hung in our basement. It had real darts, too; not those toy darts with the suction cup tips. I worked on my dart throwing skills as I stood between my old toy box and our upright piano, waiting for my chance to impress some lucky girl one day.
“Wanna try it, Dougie?” The booth attendant grinned at me. Small town. I didn’t recognize him, but he probably knew my dad, which meant he knew our family. Everybody kind of knew you in a small town, but if you were a doctor’s kid, they all knew you for sure. Dad had so many patients that knew him and loved him, I couldn’t ever misbehave. When everybody knows you, you can’t get away with anything. It felt like my parents had eyes all over town, and at that age, I believed that they did.
When we got older, we’d figure things out differently.
But the dart game cost too much and my allowance was too small, and I said so. Besides, I didn’t have any girls to impress just yet. I thanked the booth attendant, though. Manners. Maybe he’d let mom and dad know I was polite. “That boy of yours sure is polite, doctor!”
Jimmy and I moved on.
“Hey,” he said, stopping and turning to me. “Did you really eat a turtle?”
“Damn.” He kicked at a stone, watching it roll away under the bushes. He used to have little green turtles in a small aquarium, and sometimes we’d catch box turtles in the creek that ran behind our houses. It was an odd thing for us kids to think that some people ate them, but turtle soup was a kind of delicacy among the German people. It was part of the ambiance of the festival, and my mom got some once and let me try it. I don’t know if I liked it or not; I couldn’t get past the thought of eating little green reptiles. But somehow, trying the soup was like being brave. So I did it. I didn’t know “mock” turtle soup meant “pretend.”
The festival games stretched beyond the cafeteria to a grassy area where they had a “smash car”—an old car for you to hit with a sledge hammer. The windows had been taken out, so you wouldn’t get cut by breaking glass, but for 25 cents you could whack the car three times. There was even a “barker,” a man with a microphone who explained the game over the loudspeakers. I guess it was a show of strength to see which man could put the largest dent in the car. To a kid, the idea of smashing anything was pretty appealing—and the thought of putting a memorable dent in a car on purpose was, too. Stray baseballs and other sports activities on Reigert Drive had put a few dents in a neighbor’s car from time to time. This was all sanctioned. Pre-approved destruction. What could be better? The smash car was fun for boys of all ages.
The barker’s job was to draw a crowd. He would goad men into playing, then cheer or mock them over the loud speakers when they did. The crowd loved it. He’d call a really big guy “tiny” and really little guys “King Kong.” He announced the play by play as men tried to outdo each other damaging the smash car, but mostly he tried to get the crowd to laugh by making fun of the players. It was great entertainment.
The sledge hammer was really heavy. At that age, I didn’t know they made them in different sizes and weights. The one at our house was heavy enough, but this was even heavier—and the players were surprised by it when they went to pick it up. That was the first trick up the barker’s sleeve. Men would attempt to wield it without showing that they were straining, but smart observers would see that even big men had trouble guiding the heavy sledge to its target. To us kids it weighed a ton, so we got to swing it one time for a nickel. Most kids my age couldn’t even do that.
“Whoa, big fella!” the barker would say to a kid. “You’re supposed to swing the hammer, not let the hammer swing you!”
I had never picked up a sledge hammer except to carry it from the garage to the back yard for some Saturday afternoon project my dad was working on. Even then, it seemed like too much weight for a kid. This one was extra heavy, so the adult men couldn’t swing it too hard or too many times.
“Can we get this guy some help?” the barker would ask the crowd. “I’m not sure he can pick up a mallet this heavy.”
Then he would find a pretty girl in the audience. “Maybe you can help him, dear. With a dress like that, you could pick up anything!”
The crowd would roar.
If he embarrassed her enough, she would walk off and he would stop the game. “Just a minute, folks, just a minute.” He’d take off his hat and hold it over his heart, shaking his head and leaning over dramatically to stare at her behind as she sauntered off. Then he’d hold up his microphone and say, “Bless you, dear.”
Laughter erupted from the crowd again.
The barker knew his stuff, and the audience enjoyed it, even if he had been using the same lines for 20 years. By the time I was a senior in high school, I could recite the lines along with him. Still, if guys made enough visits to the beer booth, the barker was always able to draw a crowd and get them to beat on the smash car.
He made guys feel like they were in a competition with each other, and with the big sledge hammer, there was a thrill factor for the audience.
Men would hoist it waist high, get a feel for its weight, and then walk around the car looking for the best spot to inflict damage. Then they would raise the giant hammer over their heads.
There was always a slight pause at the apex, the point between the giant hammer going up and it coming down, as the player attempted a last bit of aim. The crowd would draw quiet then. But it was only for a moment, and then the man would bring down the mallet with great force and a grunt, crashing it onto the car.
A sizeable dent would be met like impressive fireworks. The crowd would all say “Ooh,” in unison. A lame dent, or—God forbid—a miss, would be met with chuckles.
And some teasing by the barker. “Maybe you should have your mother help you next time, pal.”
It was a balancing act for the barker, keeping people entertained while continuing to draw in more, so he never let things go too far. One of the smaller—and drunker—men bounced the sledge off the car and into the dirt, taking the man with it. Not only did he not leave a dent in the car, he put a hole in his pants leg and skinned his knee.
The barker jumped in. “Hey, let’s have a round of applause for our friend here!” Leaning down, he put a hand under the small man’s armpit, helping him to his feet and raising one of his hands into the air. “It’s harder than it looks folks! Harder than it looks!” While getting the crowd to applaud, the barker slipped the sledge hammer out of the man’s grasp, avoiding a scene. “Good try, sir!” The barker put the microphone up to the man’s mouth. “It’s a lot harder than it looks isn’t it, fella?”
Taking the hint, the little man wiped his brow. “It sure is.” He even managed to muster a smile.
“What a good sport!” The barker waved to the crowd. “How about another round of applause!” The circle of festival patrons complied.
Changing gears, the barker went back to work. “Who thinks they can do better? You, sir, how about it? Impress the little lady!”
Step right up!
At the park, a few tough kids were milling around up on the hill. They were probably waiting for their friends, but they kept staring at Jimmy and me as we walked our bikes over the rocky creek bed. I lowered my head and acted like I didn’t notice them, trying to glance in their direction without making it obvious. I pretended to scour the water for fossils. Jimmy just shrugged and said the punks wouldn’t be a problem until a few more of their friends came.
I took a long look at my green Schwinn as I leaned it against a maple tree.
To me, once the rest of them showed up, it would be best for us to leave.
There had been a recent rain, so Jimmy said we might find some good stuff—fossils or whatever—among the rocks in the creek bed. The three-inch-long, cone-shaped pieces we collected each summer forever were just worthless horned coral or petrified squids, but we didn’t know that then. We were certain each one was a tooth from a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex, and tried to fill a shoe box with them.
Two other small creeks joined ours near the park by our house, so it wasn’t unusual for things to just kind of appear there. Tributaries in southeast Indiana were prone to flash floods, and anything we left in our creek would be gone the next day if it rained overnight, swept straight into the Whitewater River. That was a harsh lesson to learn with a new G. I. Joe Jeep or the scale model aircraft carrier we spent weeks building and painting. Even the smallest rain at our house might have been a big storm upstream, causing our little puddle of a creek to become a raging monster, gushing south to the Whitewater and then into the Ohio River, right down the Mississippi and ending in the Gulf of Mexico.
A rock dam we’d spend all day creating could be gone the next day without a trace if it sprinkled that night. And we just knew some kids with a net in New Orleans were snagging our all best toys as they floated by on the way to Cuba.
Sometimes a summer rain would wash a tree off the hillside. Other times, all sorts of strange rocks and fossil treasures might appear. Beds of blue clay on the creek bottom would be exposed by one spring shower, then buried forever by the next.
It was a minor adventure every day, going to our creek, and we played in it as often as we could—nearly every day in summer. We never knew what it would show us. At the north end was a deep green pool where a stone bridge used to be. At the south end, our neighborhood park. On lazy fall days, we’d meander among with the puddles of tadpoles and minnows to the grassy triangle where the three creeks converged.
At the park, we’d assume the appearance of an old washing machine was a deposit from a flash flood that somehow brought it. We wouldn’t have thought that an unscrupulous owner had illegally dumped it there. Not until an older kid told us the real deal.
It wasn’t a standard park by any measure. It was a long, odd shaped triangle, with some rusty old swings up the hill at the street entrance, and a large flat area behind them that ended where the three creeks came together. The tip of the triangle disappeared into a wooded hill we would sled ride on in winter, and across the creek in the other direction were the railroad tracks.
There were nicer parks nearby, so parents never took their kids to this one. That made it ideal for juvenile delinquents and teenagers looking for a place to smoke or drink. There were “Indian caves” in the side of the steep hill past the first ridge, but when we went to look at them, they just seemed to be big holes that somebody had dug into the soft dirt. On a dare, I crawled in one about five feet. The back wall lay another five feet or so beyond me, but the cave was cramped and smelled musty, like if you took a deep breath you’d get mold spores growing in your lungs and die—so I got out. Beer cans and nudie magazines littered the two or three holes that dotted the side of the big dirt slope. Supposedly, a dead body had been found in one once, but that was probably just a story the older kids told us to keep us away from their party spot.
It wasn’t a big surprise when we rode our bikes down to the park and found an old abandoned car there. To us kids, we just figured somebody got tired of having a junker like that around, and dropped it off at the park like the old washing machine.
The very sight of it made me forget all about the tough kids who kept watching us from up on the hill.
The old car was right there in plain sight, way in the back of the park, where the creeks came through. The antennae was gone, and the windows all smashed out. We propped our bikes against the maple tree and had a look inside. Bits of green windshield covered the seats. Outside, the finish was splattered with dirt from where somebody had been using it for mud ball practice. It had dents everywhere, probably from rocks, and the parts that weren’t covered in mud were spray painted with graffiti—dirty words, and stick figures with boobs—probably by the punks watching from the hilltop.
I don’t know how long it had been there; we hadn’t gone down to the park in a while. There were no headlights or tail lights anymore. The driver’s side door was stuck open like it had been bent too far, and the trunk lid was missing. It was just a rundown, rusty old piece of crap that somebody had dumped in the back of our park.
And it was perfect.
We didn’t have a barker, but now we had our very own smash car.
I glanced around for anything that could be used like a sledgehammer on it, to bash it like the one at the church festival. There would be fallen branches under the trees and large rocks down by the creek. I started searching.
Jimmy checked the car over to see if there were any interesting parts left that we could take home. The passenger side mirror was still intact. The ball hinge holding the mirror to the door just needed some leverage to pop it off. With both hands on the mirror and a foot against the side panel, Jimmy dropped all his weight downward and grunted. After a few attempts, the mirror broke free—and dropped Jimmy on his butt with a thud.
He stood up, dusting off the back of his pants and acting like it didn’t hurt, but it had to. The ground was pretty rocky where the car sat. After a minute, he started looking inside at what kind of dashboard items he might be able to pry off.
After a few knobs and a pen had been procured, Jimmy exited the vehicle and turned his attention to the car’s hood. It was stuck shut. Meanwhile, I had found a decent sized limb to put some dents in the roof. I climbed up the back of the car and stood, raising the limb over my head. I brought it down with all my might, the way I’d seen the men do with the smash car.
The tree limb bounced off the roof and almost took me with it.
Jimmy laughed as I rubbed bits of bark out of the palms of my stinging hands. We needed something heavier.
There were bigger limbs under the trees, but Jimmy went for a rock. Kicking over a few baseball sized stones, he searched until he spied a large, flat mini-boulder the size of a dinner plate. It was about three inches thick, so it was ideal—any smaller and it wouldn’t do much damage, but any larger and he probably couldn’t pick it up. I scavenged under the trees to find a thicker limb, anxious to get my shots in.
We were having a blast, beating the crap out of our own private smash car, just like at the festival. We wore ourselves out on that thing.
Over my shoulder came a car noise, so I turned to see what it was. We had seen a city maintenance worker on a converted golf cart vehicle once, but this was louder and faster. In the distance, a dark sedan sped down the dirt path, bouncing along as it went and kicking up a trail of dust. That was unusual. People never drove back here. On occasion, a cop might roll through the upper area by the swings, but that was only about once a summer. And cops don’t drive fast in a park.
As the sedan got close, the punks on the hill disappeared. Then I looked back at the car. It was speeding up the dirt bike path, and came to a sudden, noisy stop. A heavy, middle aged man scrambled out, eyeing the abandoned car.
“God damn it.” His face was bright red. That really got my attention.
I was under a tree looking around for a bigger stick, but Jimmy was banging on the car’s fender with his massive rock.
The man glared at Jimmy. “Hey!”
We both froze.
The stranger ran towards Jimmy, but it was loose, rocky ground. He slipped on the shifting rocks and nearly fell. As his eyes took in the dents and graffiti all over the abandoned car, his jaw dropped. “God damn it!” Stopping for a moment, he grew redder.
I had an uneasy feeling rising up in my stomach. Something seemed wrong with this man.
“Son of a bitch,” he groaned, walking around the car. “Son of a bitch!”
I didn’t know why he was so upset, but it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Jimmy set down the big rock and backed away. The man appeared borderline unstable, red-faced and sweating. He leaned on the car door and peered inside at the broken glass. Then he reached in and pulled out a floor mat. It was like he was in a momentary daze.
Raising the mat over his head, he flung it to the ground. “God damn it!”
He turned his gaze to me. I was standing there with a tree limb in my hand. The stranger’s eyes narrowed. They were visibly bloodshot. My stomach tightened.
“I know you.” He growled, pointing at me. “You’re the doctor’s boy.”
My heart jumped in my chest. He knew me.
I nodded, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps. I had no idea what to do. Lots of people around town knew me through my dad, but this… this was different. A twinge of fear went down my spine.
The stranger eyed Jimmy. “You god damned-” He took a few steps in Jimmy’s direction, then stopped again and looked at the fender Jimmy had been pounding on. It was pretty dented up and a lot of paint had been knocked off.
The man shouted again, a loud, guttural groan. Another shiver went through my gut.
“You!” He yelled at Jimmy. “Come here!”
I swallowed hard. Don’t move, Jim.
Jimmy didn’t budge. I found myself walking out of the woods toward the scene. The man spun towards me.
“I know you’re the doctor’s boy.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with his thick forearm, wagging a stubby finger at me. “I know it.” Then he turned back to Jimmy. “Who are you?”
My heart was slamming around so hard I could feel it in my throat. I held my breath. None of this made any sense.
We didn’t speak. I was too terrified. There didn’t seem to be any answer that was going to calm him down, and he looked ready to explode. Anything we said or did might set him off.
My mind raced, wondering what he would do to us. We were completely outmatched.
“Doctor’s kid.” His red eyes narrowed, making the terrible feeling in my stomach surge. “Rich kid!” He spat, pointing at the car. “I don’t have money like your daddy! This is all I’ve got!”
He slurred his words a little. That scared me more. I knew people had less control when they were drinking. I needed a plan, but I couldn’t think. Every time I thought about running, the man looked at me like he knew what I was thinking. So I stood there, paralyzed.
And he stood there, red faced and sweating, staring at me. Rage seemed to be boiling up inside him.
I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t think. I just stood there with my mouth open, my mind a complete blank. Jimmy inched his way back from the car, never taking his eyes off the stranger.
“You son of a bitches, don’t you move.” The man’s face turned to a frown as he stared at the smashed vehicle.
Then it dawned on me. This was his car. Somebody had stolen it and dumped it here in the park.
Lightning shot through my stomach and down to my toes, making me want to vomit. He thought we stole his car.
Jimmy must have already figured that out.
Somebody had stolen this man’s car, and now he thought he had found it—and the kids who had stolen it. And he meant to get some justice. Far from the road, in the back of the park, nobody would see.
Sweat dripped from his chin. “God damn it!” He kicked at the car. His car. It was an act of anger and futility.
I didn’t even breathe. I couldn’t. The only thing louder than the raging lunatic in front of me was my pulse throbbing in my ears. I absently wiped my sweating palms on my shorts.
Jimmy never said a word. He just silently made his way to me. Together we waited to see if we could—or should—make a run for it. Kids didn’t disobey adults. We couldn’t leave our bikes anyway, and trying to run over and grab them would give the man enough time to catch us. The fact that he hadn’t laid a hand on us yet was good; maybe he wouldn’t. But I didn’t believe that, and the look on Jimmy’s face said he didn’t, either. We would stand there like the man said to, like the good boys we were.
For now, the man just kept us in Hell, yelling at the car and then at us, while he seemed to be working out tried what punishment to administer.
Then his eyes got big—too big. The whites showed and a sickening smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, sending a shot of fear straight through me. My ears were ringing and I felt sick to my stomach. A hazy red dot formed in the corner of my eye.
I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. I squeezed my eyes shut, putting my hands on my stomach and hoping the strange feeling consuming me would go away. The man’s tirade roared through my head as a red cloud creeped across my vision. I forced myself to take a deep breath to make it go away, but it wouldn’t go. It controlled my eyes from inside. I wanted to shake my head back and forth but I was so dizzy and sick I knew I’d lose my balance and fall down.
The ringing grew louder, the red patch overtaking my eyesight and squeezing the breath out of me.
I had to look at it, look through it, to what it wanted me to see. I was afraid, but it wouldn’t let go.
In the red haze, the color of the lunatic’s bulging face changed. An eerie blue glow flashed across it, fast as lightning. As soon as I realized I was seeing it, it was already gone.
Then I was seeing his sedan. The inside. Under the driver’s seat.
A long, thin wooden bat, like the kind police carried in old movies, lay tucked up under the cushion. It was shiny and black, with a thick leather string running through the handle.
Then the redness was gone and I could see the park again.
I was covered in sweat and shaking.
The sweaty stranger nodded, a string of drool hanging from his mouth. “I’ll show you little bastards!” He stormed off in the direction of the sedan.
I swallowed hard, frozen in place, barely able to breathe. With all my might, I managed to squeeze a few words out of my mouth. “He’s got a night stick.”
Jimmy’s jaw dropped. His eyes went to the raging lunatic.
In my mind, that bulging face glowed as he raised his big arm, bringing the club down on us again and again as we lay cowering on the dry creek bed, bones breaking and blood spewing in the assault.
He never got the chance. The tough kids had appeared on the ridge for their afternoon beer party. They were here to meet their pals, but they had stumbled onto quite a scene.
Their presence seemed to jolt the stranger back into reality. It didn’t occur to me, but it must have occurred to him that now he now outnumbered. He might have thought the tough kids were with us, or he might have realized there would now be witnesses to tell the police what he did to the two ten-year-old boys.
Stopping on the rocky ground, he stared up the hill at them. “Hey.” His voice now seemed weak. He said it again, louder, with the menacing growl. “Hey!”
That was all they needed. The punks on the hill didn’t want adult eyes of any sort observing their activities. They turned around to leave.
“Hey,” the stranger shouted again. “Get back here!” He started after them. The stranger’s big belly bounced, slowing him more than enough for the other kids get some distance. He stumbled on the large rocks of the dry creek bed, grabbing at his car to avoid falling.
That was our chance.
“Dougie! Now!” Jimmy dashed toward his bike. I was right on his heels. With my heart pounding, I grabbed the Schwinn and stormed up the sled riding hill. We pushed our bikes in front of us as hard as we could, not wanting to slow down for even the few seconds it would take to get on. The stranger couldn’t easily chase us up the hill on foot, and it was too steep for his car. We could escape back to our houses through the woods.
As the leaves crackled under our racing feet, we heard the man rage at being outfoxed. “Get back here, god damn it!” His tortured voice bounced through the woods. “Get back here!”
No chance. Once we were up the hill, we jumped on our bikes and pedaled as fast as we could.
The stranger’s howls echoed through the trees behind us as we sped away.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious new romance novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.”
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