📅 Published on March 31, 2022


Written by Dirk Stevens
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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I watch my fingers as I curl them into my palms. One by one, I force them to open and close. I see them. I feel the skin stretch under the dried blood coating my knuckles. But they don’t feel like my hands. Not anymore.

A shadow darkens the asphalt below my feet as a pair of white tennis shoes appears beside my work boots.

“Tip your head back.” The paramedic presses her finger under my chin, coaxing my head to rise. I notice the ID badge hanging around her neck. Alicia. Her dark skin, kind eyes, and slight smile invite me in. But I force my eyes away. “Those people are alive because of you,” she whispers, and dabs a cloth at the cut along my hairline.

The antiseptic burns, but it’s not enough to keep my gaze from returning to my hands. “No,” I whisper. “I’m-”

A loud cough cuts me off.  It pulls my attention to another ambulance parked just a few dozen feet away, I glance over just in time to see a man in a suit… a detective, I guess… step back from a body bag on a gurney. He takes out a notepad, and scribbles something down, nodding like he’s talking to someone. One of the uniformed officers gathered around the gurney steps forward. And that’s when I see him. Craig. My boss.

With eyes wild, blond hair matted against his head from his hard hat, a cigarette pinched between his fore and middle finger, one for each hand. He waves his arm across the parking lot. No doubt, he’s giving the police an animated description of what he saw from his office window. Then, he shoves one of his cigarettes between his lips and inhales hard. It’s a familiar motion, one I’ve seen dozens of times almost every day.

My chest aches as I think about what just happened. I flex my hands against the blood caked on my knuckles, just to break whatever spell his movement holds over me. I can’t look at him. If I do I might break.

“This might sting,” Alicia whispers, pulling my thoughts back to the here and now. She dabs my knuckles with a cloth. Even through the blue rubber gloves she wears, her hand feels delicate in my palm. So small. Like my wife’s. Like Jess’s.

The thought burns, and I take a deep ragged breath, to make the pieces floating in my mind fall into place. Nothing makes sense. Not anymore.

I suppose I should’ve seen it coming. All the cutesie stuff died out years ago, the pet names, hand-holding, the little love messages we left for each other to find. I’m not sure when it happed exactly, or why. I guess between both our jobs, trying to keep up with the bills, and everything else, we just sort of stopped trying. We fought more, hugged less… until yelling was all we did. And then that stopped too. Almost like neither of us cared enough to even fight anymore.

But I was going to change all that. This anniversary was going to be different.

* * * * * *

I stood at the counter of the flower shop. A little glass jar sat by the register, with two sticks of incense poking out of the top. Their thin trail of smoke couldn’t compete with the scent of roses and carnations filling the air. A smile pulled at my lips. I couldn’t help but wonder if even the smell of roses got annoying after a while.

The crinkle of cellophane pulled my attention to the girl working behind the counter as she wrapped my bouquet. She flashed me a tired-looking smile and asked, “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“My wife.” I peeled a couple of twenties from my money clip and tossed them on the counter.  “It’s our anniversary today. Ten years.”

“Wow.” She blinked, handing me the roses. “That’s a long time. What’s your secret?”

A chuckle rumbled in my throat. It’s one of those questions people always ask, but I don’t ever have an answer. So I smiled, tucked the bouquet under my arm, and gave her the response I always give when someone asks before heading out the door. “Don’t get divorced.”

I slid into my Focus, chucked the flowers on the passenger seat and checked my phone. Three messages. One confirming the dinner reservations, and two from Hank. I talked him into picking up the rest of my shift so I could make today special for Jess. But Hank’s an abide-by-the-rules kind of guy. Everything has to be cleared by the boss, and Craig wasn’t there. I told Hank it’d be fine, that I’d clear it up with Craig later, and I had left him a message, but he hadn’t responded yet.

I clicked open Hank’s message asking if I’d heard back. I texted him back that I hadn’t, but not to worry, I’d take the heat.

Laughing, I tossed the phone beside the flowers on the seat and started the car. Craig and I’d been friends for years. There wasn’t going to be any heat.

I spent the rest of the drive thinking about the time Craig, Jess and I went on a float trip with him and his latest girlfriend…Triss, or maybe it’d been Alex… It was hard to keep up with. I guess Craig’s always been kind of a man whore, but he’s a great guy. Quick to laugh and always the first to lend a hand when someone’s in need.

Pulling off the highway, I turned onto my street, replaying the moment the floating beer cooler he brought on that trip disappeared in the rapids in my mind. Thinking about how he ditched his kayak and dove in after it still made me shake my head.

When my house came into view, Craig’s truck stood waiting in the driveway. I snorted out a laugh. It was just like him to pull something like this. At Christmas, he showed up at midnight in a red suit and beard, with a bottle of peppermint schnapps.

A big grin pulled at my face, as I stopped at the curb and killed the engine. I didn’t have any idea what he had planned this time, but whatever he was up to, it couldn’t take long. He had the next shift at the factory.

I grabbed the flowers and my phone from the passenger’s seat and headed up the driveway. The garage door was open, again. Third time this week.  I muttered as I fumbled the house key free from the others and slid it into the lock, wondering if one of the neighbor’s garage door openers was on the same frequency.

The scent of cigarettes hit the moment I stepped into the kitchen, slapping my grin into a scowl. I must have told him at least a hundred times not to smoke in the house. I just laid my phone down on the counter, when I caught a glimpse of two long stem glasses standing on the table. Along with an empty bottle of champagne. I dropped the flowers beside the glasses, and flicked the side of the bottle. It didn’t make sense. Craig was a beer guy, what did he need champagne-

And that’s when I see it, the small black dress on the floor by the fridge, halfway between the kitchen and the hallway.

I bent down and pinched the edge of Jess’s dress, when a low moan drew my attention to the bedroom at the end of the hall. I let the dress slip through my fingers as my mind stumbled to put the pieces together.

“Oh, God…” Craig’s voice sighed.

My blood turned to ice. I crept to the doorway and glanced down the hall toward my bedroom. There he was, they were, Craig and Jess. Her legs wrapped around his hips, her fingernails dug into his naked back as he moved over her.

I crept further back into the kitchen just as a high-pitched squeal echoed in my ears. It pierced, so loud.  I couldn’t think. Snatching the roses and my phone, I stumbled out of the house, closing the door behind me. Numb. Broken.

I needed air. I climbed into the car more like a zombie than a man.

Without conscious knowledge, I shoved my key into the ignition, the car roared to life, and I pulled away from the curb. Buildings, cars, and signs drifted past my window like something out of a dream, mere shadows that couldn’t fully break into the reality playing out over and over in my mind. The stink of Craig’s cigarettes, the feel of black silk between my fingers. The rhythmic squeak of the bed…

My nails dug into the steering wheel. The deep concrete canyons of the inner city shrunk, replaced by the mind-numbing monotony of suburbia.

He’d been my friend since high school. We’d stuck together even when all our other friends drifted away. I was more than his friend. I was his brother. And this is how he repaid me.

I don’t know how long I drove. Until barbwire replaced privacy fences, houses became cattle, and the city loomed in my rearview mirror like a storm on the horizon.  But I couldn’t force the image from my mind. Details I hadn’t noticed, now etched in my memory, replaying over and over with perfect clarity, driving me mad. Jess’s red fingernail polish, the slight tremble in her hands as she clawed at him.  The little red crescent-shaped marks and scratches down Craig’s back…

Heart pounding in my ears, my eyes flicked back to the empty two-lane road winding off into the distance. I didn’t care where it went. It didn’t matter. My life, my marriage was over.

A yellow sign whizzed past my window. I slammed on the brakes and backed up to get a closer look. It wasn’t much, just a piece of cardboard nailed to an old wooden fence post. It read:

“Yard sale

Tools, appliances, and guns

Right at the Bridge”

Guns. I closed my eyes and looked away. But the image came rushing back. Every sound, every scent. Jess’s moan. Her fingers curled into Craig’s shoulder blades…

His shoulder blades. My nose twitched. He had his back to me, and Jess. I summoned the image one more time. She was behind him, under him. I couldn’t see her face. My eyes burst open. They didn’t see me. They don’t know I was there.

Snatching my phone off the passenger seat, I swiped my finger across the screen. It was only four in the afternoon. I tossed it back onto the seat and shifted the car into drive. It wasn’t a plan, not even an idea. More like a feeling. A purpose.

Without realizing it I started to sing, soft and slow… The same tune Dad sang when he went out to the shed to give mom some space after a fight, the same hymn. “Shall we gather at the river?”

Gravel popped under the tires as I rolled forward, in almost the same rhythm Dad’s hammer did as he pounded away at his workbench on those nights.

The reservation was for eight. There was no hurry. I had plenty of time.

* * * * * *

A few hours later, I was at the restaurant, Jess sat across the table. Seeing her in the same black dress I found on the floor earlier sent acid rising in my throat, but I managed to choke it down.

I tipped my menu, enough to watch her type a message onto her phone without moving enough to draw her attention. Her face flushed. A smile crept up her cheek and she covered her mouth with her fingers before typing another message.

“Champagne?” I asked, laying my menu on the table.

Her shoulders twitched. “Huh?” She dropped her phone to her lap and forced an apologetic smile, but her eyes drifted back down before finding me again. “Sorry. No. I think I’d rather have wine.”

Her eyes twinkled a brief moment but dropped again too quickly. She wasn’t there with me. She was with him, Craig.

Where bright angel feet have trod…. The words echoed in my ears as I picked up the menu again. For that brief moment when her eyes held mine, I’d forgiven everything, but now, the image of the paper bag sitting on my workbench in the garage stuck in my mind. The old Remington 870 I’d bought at the yard sale. All I needed were the shells.

Jess giggled. I lowered my menu. She glanced up at me and rolled her eyes, pretending it was nothing. “It’s just Sara from work. She texted me this joke. I’ll tell you about it later…” Her voice trailed away as her eyes went back to the phone, which she’d picked up again from her lap. I wanted to believe her. I wished I could, but the blush of her neck, and the rapid rise and fall of her chest left no room for doubt.

She lied.

The waiter came, when he asked for our order, I leaned forward and indicated the most expensive wine they had. His eyebrow raised, and I informed him that tonight was our anniversary, and my wife deserved nothing less. He offered his congratulations, complimented Jess on how lovely she looked…but her eyes never left her phone.

At first, when the waiter poured the wine and I lifted my glass with an exaggerated ‘To us’, she blinked up from her phone. Her gaze shifted between me and her wine. She took up her glass, swirled the clear liquid, and seemed to be staring at it as a smile spread across her lips. But her gaze focused on an object just beyond the wine. The brightness of the screen shimmered against the glass’s surface.

“To love,” she whispered, tapped her glass against mine, and drank.

My jaw clenched. This was a farce. I was just about to slam my glass down and storm out when Jess turned off her phone and placed it beside her plate on the table.

The muscles in my jaw relaxed. Maybe I was wrong, seeing things that weren’t there. I needed to be sure.

I set down my wine.  “So what was Lisa’s joke about?”  I switched the name of Jess’s coworker with that of her friend, wondering if she’d notice, and not sure if I hoped she would.

“Lisa?” Jess puffed out her cheeks and let the air back out again in an obvious search for what I meant. With sudden fervor, she waved her hand dismissively. “Oh, that. It was about how she’s starting to want to sniff butts when she goes out on dates. You know, like a dog? Since she’s a dog-walker. It wasn’t that funny.”  Whatever shine her eyes had, disappeared as she took her glass and gave the wine a swirl.

“Ah. Sorry. I’m a little slow I guess.” I tried to cough it off, but the muscles in my face tightened in anger. It was so easy for her, to sit there, right across the table, and lie to me.

Jess reached out and took my hand. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” I grunted. I rubbed my thumb across the red polish on her nails…the same nails that dug into Craig’s back.

My chest ached, but from anger or pain, I couldn’t tell.

“Come on,” She lifted my hand and planted a kiss on my knuckles. “We’ve been married for ten years. I know that look. What’s on your mind?”

My gaze lingered on the place her lips touched. “I just hoped we could have the evening to ourselves,” I tried to ignore the cold numbness left behind from her kiss. Like poison. “But you’ve been on the phone all evening.” I didn’t want it to sound as whiny as it did.

She tipped her head to the side. “You’re right. I’ll tell you what. I’m gonna run to the john, and when I get back, we’ll start over. Just you and me.”

I nodded. She gave my hand another kiss, and then pushed back her chair, giving my hand one last squeeze as she left. “Be right back.”

I watched her vanish behind a potted plant, and then snatched her phone from the table. I typed in her PIN, and went over her recent texts. All Craig. All about what he was going to do to her the next time he could sneak away.

My hand tightened until the plastic creaked. I checked her other texts, the ones just before we left. Jess wasn’t lying. Sara, Lisa, Amy… they had all texted her. Each one asking about her rendezvous with Craig.

The rhythm of Dad’s pounding screamed in my head. They all knew. Everyone at the Daycare, all her friends. Neighbors. Everyone at work.

I clicked back to the screen it was on when she left and laid it back next to her untouched plate. All I could think about was the shotgun. It was a goose gun. The barrel was way too long to hide under my jacket, the stock too.

But that could be remedied.

* * * * * *

I fumbled my timecard out of its slot on the rack, the same way I did every morning. And, just like every other morning, I slid the paper into the notch, and hit the button on the top of the clock wondering if Craig was ever going to update to a new system. It thunked just as a rap sounded on the glass behind me. My jaw clenched, but I swallowed the rage and turned around with my usual morning smirk firmly in place. Craig tapped at his watch from the other side of the window.

I forced my jaw to relax. I needed to keep calm, and play it cool or they’d win. Taking a deep breath, I shrugged, pantomimed driving, and shrugged again. It wasn’t the first time traffic made me late.

He shook his head, with an understanding nod, and sat back down at his desk.

Shall we gather at the river? I took my hard hat from its hook on the wall, and jammed it on my head. The image of me walking through the door, going to the time clock, and instead of punching in, pulling the gun from under my jacket, and shooting him in the head through the glass played through my mind.

I fished a couple of foam earplugs from the bin by the door to the factory, pressed them into my ears, and went inside. The dull thrum of heavy machinery vibrated through my body in time with the hymn playing in my mind.  No one back here would hear a gun blast. I could kill Craig, and be at the daycare before anyone even knew he was dead. It would work.

But then I caught a glimpse of the friendly secretary, Mary, sitting at her desk. Dad’s pounding faded. She’d notice. Her death would go as smoothly as Craig’s, but I didn’t want her dead. Her smile was like a ray of sunshine, every shift. And her husband was a nice guy too… or so I heard. Pictures of her daughter stretched out like a timeline across her desk. A sweet-looking girl with her mother’s smile. Mary never harmed anyone, as far as I knew. It’d be wrong for her to die on account of Craig.

I paused and let the thundering noises close in around me before turning to go find the one guy I knew who could help. Mary’s special project, Hank. I wasn’t sure where they met, but I do know he was down and out in the worst possible way, and she talked Craig into taking him on. Hank was likable enough, friendly, hardworking, eager to please, and reliable, but the guy attracted trouble like flies and garbage. Mary was always out of the office helping with something or other, goofy unexpected things that just shouldn’t happen. Like, the exploding beans fiasco last week, when he put a can on a hot pipe to warm up… without poking a hole in the lid. I snorted back a laugh just thinking about it, but Hank was definitely my best shot at getting her out of harm’s way.

Blue tanks three stories high rose up around me like a gigantic six-pack. I ran my hand along the base of the nearest one, feeling for the telltale buzz of a blockage in the line. A smooth rumble coursed through my fingers, and I moved on to the next.

Failing Hank, Ex-lax in her coffee would work. I guessed. But knowing Craig, he’d want a cup too, and I needed him in the office.

The tank was clear. I pulled my hand from its warmth and placed it on its neighbor.

I could shoot him while he was on the toilet, but Mary, or some other poor schmuck might hear and call the police. I’d never make it to Jess.

The tank rumbled under my hand. “Sludge,” I whispered, and splayed my fingers out against the smooth surface, searching for the familiar rattle of the outlet valve opening. But it wasn’t there. It wasn’t functioning. It needed to be opened manually.

My gaze jumped to the catwalk at the top of the tanks, where Hank should’ve been, but there was no sign of him.

A low rippling crack vibrated through my knuckles. My blood turned to ice. There was too much pressure building. Way too much. If I didn’t hurry, it was going to burst.

Cursing under my breath, I sprinted to the end of the row, and flew up the stairs two at a time. “Hank! Hank!” But when I got to the control station, Hank wasn’t there.

Ignoring the warning lights, I bolted down the catwalk, and half slammed my shoulder into the wheel on the pressure relief valve.  It groaned when I hit it, but nothing else. It wouldn’t budge. I braced my foot against the pipe and pulled on the side of the wheel. “Come, on.” It didn’t move. I leaned in harder, until the tendons in my arms stood out like ripcords, but the wheel refused to turn.

“Turn, dang you!” The rib in the handle’s casting cut into palms as I jerked the valve back and forth. But it was useless. We were going to lose it. It would be like a bomb going off, and set off a chain reaction big enough to take out the entire site.

Just as I let go of the wheel and turned for the control station to sound the alarm, Hank barreled past me. Sweat mixed with the white powder coating his face as he jammed a pry-bar into the webbing of the wheel and threw his weight against it.

I rammed my shoulder into the bar along with him, praying that together could break it loose.

The valve cracked. A deep shuddering groan shook the catwalk as Hank pried the valve until it spun freely. Finally, he fell to his knees, panting.

I flopped down beside him, slapping him on the shoulder as I landed on my backside. My hardhat bounced as it landed between my legs. I tossed Hank a tired smile to let him know it was all good, but he didn’t smile back. Instead, he buried his face in his hands.

The rumble of the factory made talking impossible, so I reached out my hand to grab his arm and let him know it’d be okay. But my eye caught on the white powder sticking to my hand.

I stopped and rubbed the grit between my fingers, but even then it took a second to click as to what it was. Filtrate. I glanced back at Hank’s shirt. He was covered in it. I must have gotten it on me when I slapped his shoulder.

And, that’s when it hit me. Mary was seriously allergic to the stuff.

I tapped Hank’s hard hat and gestured for him to get down to the office.

His shoulders slumped, but he nodded, pushed himself to his feet and shuffled down the catwalk.

I watched him go, grinning like an idiot despite the adrenalin buzzing in my ears.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The second Hank walked into the office with that powder on his clothes, Mary would go into anaphylactic shock. She kept an epi-pen handy, so she’d be fine. But it’d put her out for at least a couple of days.

I literally could’ve kissed him.

* * * * * *

That evening I stood at the workbench in my garage, humming. Jess went to bed a while ago, and I’d taken to sleeping on the couch months before. Even so I balanced an empty beer bottle on the doorknob to give warning if she tried to come in.

Unlocking my tool chest, I pulled my hacksaw out of the bottom drawer, along with a rat tail file and laid them beside the vice. I took an old rag from a bucket I kept hanging on a nail off the corner, then glanced back at the automatic garage door to make sure the lock was pressed into the track. Only when I was sure I was alone, did I reach up on the shelf, and pull my shotgun out of its hiding place behind the boxes of Christmas decorations.

It was a strange sensation, watching my hands wrap the rag around the action and clamp it in the vice. They moved without feeling. Peaceful.  My fingers snugged around the handle of the saw. I pressed the blade against the barrel, just where the magazine stopped, and started to saw, wondering if this is what Dad felt when he went out into the shop on those nights he and Mom fought.

I saw Craig’s body moving in the same rhythm of the saw. Jess’s moan echoed in the dull rasp of the blade. But there was no fury. Not even a hint of pain. I hadn’t planned any of it, not really. Every piece fell into place so neatly…my coming and going unnoticed, the yard sale and gun, the layout of the factory, even Hank’s blunder…as if it were destiny. God’s judgment for adultery. I was just the tool of His wrath.

The barrel broke free. Still humming, I caught it to keep it from banging onto the floor, and dropped it into the trashcan. I didn’t bother to try to hide it. There was no coming back for me. My life would end tomorrow no matter how this was about to play out.

I moved to the other side of the vice, positioned the blade behind the round section of the wooden stock, and began to saw again. The wood sounded different. I don’t know why, but it made me think of Jess’s friends, who worked with her at the daycare. I knew they’d be there when I went in. But I didn’t care. They knew what she was doing. And not one of them told me. They gossiped, and laughed at me behind my back. They deserved to die as much as she did.

“Yes we’ll gather at the river…” The words danced from my lips as the stock broke loose in my hand. I tossed it in the trash with the barrel and picked up the file. The only thing I cared about was making sure there weren’t any kids there when I showed up. But there wouldn’t be. Jess went to work at six. There was a field trip tomorrow. She told me last night she had to have lunch ready for them when they came back at noon.

I stuffed the file in the end of the gun and cleaned out the ridge left by the saw. My one regret was what it would do to the kids…knowing what happened, even if they didn’t see it.

Blowing the dust clear from the opening, I worked on smoothing the butt of the gun to a pistol like grip. Maybe it’d do them good. When they got a little older and heard why their teacher died… that she was a dirty backstabbing whore who got what she deserved…it’d keep them from doing the same.

I ran my hand down the wood. Not perfect, but good enough. I spun the handle on the vice and lifted the gun free. It was lighter now, quicker, almost eager to be used. I put the butt down on the bench so it pointed up at the ceiling, and following the video I found online, unscrewed the cap of the magazine. The spring popped out into my hand, along with the plug, limiting the capacity to three rounds. I chucked it into the trash, pressed the spring back into place, and screwed the cap into position. Five  rounds. It wasn’t many, and I didn’t know how many people will be at the daycare. I needed to practice loading.

Picking up the gun, I pressed the little button on the bottom of the finger guard and pumped the action back and forward. It gave a satisfying chick-clunk, so I did it again a few more times before slipping the shells into the bottom of the gun, and running them through the chamber, over and over again. I practiced all night until the light outside the window over my workbench turned pale pink. Until my hands moved on their own.

Until I was ready.

By the time I wrapped the gun in a rag and tossed it onto the backseat of my car, everything about the shotgun felt natural, smooth.  I shut the door on the car and went inside the house. Jess was in the kitchen, still in her robe. I watched her pour a pot of water in the coffee maker, and etched the last moments we had together into my memory. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what I expected. But there was no rage, no love, no regret. Just emptiness.

Without turning around, she asked, “What are you doing in the garage this early?”

“I had a few things I needed to do before I took off this morning,” I walked up behind her, slipped my arms around her waist and planted a soft kiss on her cheek. Our last kiss goodbye. The warmth of her skin against my lips made me wonder if Craig’s lips had ever touched her there. If there was any part of her that was truly still and only mine.

She twisted out of my arms, opened the cabinet door, and reached for a mug. “I’m meeting with a friend after work, so don’t wait up.”

“Okay,” I sighed, catching sight of her purse on the counter. “I’ll just order a pizza, and find something on Netflix or something.” I turned around and leaned back against the sink to face her. “When will you be back?”

“Late.” She flopped the mug down beside me.

I slid over to get out of her way, and that’s when I see the pack of Trojans tucked in her purse beside her billfold. “Okay.” I shrugged and pushed off the counter. “I have to go get ready. Have a good day sweetie.”

But if she heard me, she didn’t answer. The only words I heard echoed as a faint whisper in the back of my mind. The beautiful the beautiful river…

* * * * * *

I nosed into the factory parking lot at quarter to eight. The line of workers outside the door waiting to punch in stretched halfway to the lot, made me laugh. “You thought you show up right in the middle of the morning rush, Stupid?”

But I couldn’t be too hard on myself, I hadn’t done this before, and one mistake wasn’t the end of the world.  I turned back out onto the street and headed out to grab a cup of coffee. It was just a matter of time. There was no hurry. In fact, there was no reason in the world not to sit down, and have some pancakes while I waited.

There was a diner at the next corner. I ordered my food, sat, and had just poured the syrup when a man in a tie-dyed T-shirt flopped down in the chair across from me.

“Burnt Forest,” He said.

My hand froze, syrup still dripping from the pitcher. “Excuse me?”

He gave a nervous sounding chuckle and leaned back in his chair. “That’s what I’m getting off you, Man. Like some fire came through and burned you out.”

I dropped the pitcher on the table. “I’d really rather be alone, if you don’t mind.”

He leaned forward, and folded hands on the table, just staring at me with those hazel eyes. “No, you don’t. But your chakras are so plugged up with sludge you don’t have a clue what you really want. Shoot, I’ll bet you can’t feel a damned thing.”

“Chakras…” A vein in my forehead twitched. That’s just what I need right now, some freaky, new-age, hippy throwback psychoanalyzing me. But I didn’t need any drama, not now, so I swallowed and picked up my fork and knife. “Please just go away.”

“I’ll go,” He said, his eyes boring into mine. “But tell me one thing. Do you think it will make it any better?”

My hand froze with the fork halfway to the plate. “Would what make what any better?”

“Let it go, Man.” His forehead creased. “Pain only brings more pain. You need to let her go and move on. Love is the answer. Love and forgiveness.”

For a second time stopped. This was insane. He didn’t know. He couldn’t know…

“Sorry, man. I’m messing this up, huh?” A slight smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “I only realized what I am a couple weeks ago. It’s wild, and I don’t have that much figured out yet, but you need help. And that’s what I’m meant for… to help people.” He reached out and touched my hand. His fingertips brushed against my skin, tingles prickled in my arm, and his eyes went wide. “Oh, God…” His mouth dropped open and he pulled away. “God… I’m just a baby lightworker. I’m not ready for this kind of fight…” He rubbed his hand like it was in pain, but never took his eyes from mine. Not once. “Look. Evil is a living thing…like a parasite that infects everything. It uses people in pain to spread, and it wants you, man. But you have to master it. Don’t do this.” He reached out his hand again. “Let me help you.”

He blinked, and whatever spell he had over me shattered. I jerked my hand away from him, threw my fork on my plate, and jumped up from the table. I didn’t know what was happening, but I didn’t need it. Any of it.

Without another word I dumped whatever cash I had in my wallet on the counter by the register and stormed out to my car.

He followed me. I could hear him shouting at me all the way across the parking lot. I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror when I backed out. He stared at me for a minute, and then glanced over at the factory.

I tipped the mirror so I couldn’t see him, jammed the shifter into drive and peeled out of the lot. Whatever kind of crazy this guy was, I wanted no part of it.

* * * * * *

My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I looked down at the clock on the radio. Quarter after eight. I wasn’t late enough. I should’ve circled the block a few times to kill time. But that guy…

I needed to clear my head.

“Soon we’ll reach the shining river…” I sang, my fingertips drumming on the steering wheel in time with Dad’s hymn.

I pulled into the factory lot, parked in my usual spot, and shut off the engine.  But I couldn’t get the guy out of my head. His eyes…what he said about the darkness wanting me. I glanced over my shoulder, down the street at the the Diner’s sign peaking up over the treetops and shivered.

I never should’ve gone there. I should’ve just parked and waited. Taking a deep breath to steady my hands, I climbed out of the car. It didn’t matter. I was here now.

My breathing slowed.

Even if someone saw the gun, even if they called the police now, I’d have ten minutes at least, probably closer to a half an hour, before they could get here. And it would take time for them to figure everything out, who was even responsible for Craig’s murder. By that time, Jess and all her friends would be dead, and I’d be…

Laughing, I shut the driver’s door, and opened the back. I never even thought about trying to get away. I had no idea what would happen after that.

I took my jacket off the back seat, shoved my arms in the sleeves, and reached back in for the shotgun. It felt unnaturally cold in my hands.

I pressed the button on the bottom of the finger-guard and cracked open the action to double check, but I loaded it last night. I didn’t want to stand out here loading a gun. Too much time out in the open. Too many opportunities for things to go wrong.

Footsteps slammed against the asphalt behind me, and I tucked the gun under my jacket.

“Oh, thank you God, I made it in time,” a voice behind me panted.

The guy from the Diner.  A high pitched buzz rang in my ears, and I gripped the gun tighter. If I shot him now, Craig would hear. He’d run out, or hide, and everything would be ruined. I didn’t know what to do.

“Look, I know it sucks,” he said, still gasping from his sprint. “But you can get a divorce, get a new job and start a new life… a happier life. I’ll help carry some of that for you. Let me try, please.”

His hand pressed against my shoulder.  I spun on my heel…

* * * * * *

The cut on my head burns, and the memory’s gone. Replaced by red and blue lights, the strange quiet murmur of people trying to talk without being heard, and the soft rustle of Alicia’s scrubs as she works on my head.

She pulls at the gauze taped to my cut, and I wince. Sucking a hissing breath through her teeth, she lifts a hand from my temple, and whispers, “Sorry…” She rips a bit of tape from the row of pieces she has stuck to the back of her glove and pushes it against my forehead. “Guess, pain’s a hero’s reward, huh?”

I bite my cheek to stem the pressure building behind my nose. Alicia’s wrong. I don’t dare say it. If I do, if I say anything, I won’t be able to hold back the tears. But I’m no hero. I don’t know what I am, but not a hero.

A pair of black leather shoes appear alongside Alicia’s white ones, and she steps back. I don’t look up. Not even when the officer clears his throat. “Mr. Wallace?  I’m sorry, I know this isn’t easy for you, but I need to take your statement. What happened?”

I take a deep breath. “To be honest-”  A metallic clank cuts me off. I glance over at the other ambulance. At the body bag as they load the gurney into the back. My shoulders slump. “The truth is,” But I can’t tell him the truth, because I’m not even sure what happened.

“Did you know him?” The detective asks, pointing the back of his pen at the gurney.

I shake my head. “No… I only met him today.” I didn’t even know his name.

“You did meet him before?”

My chest aches. “Yeah.” I pull my eyes from the ambulance, and cover my mouth to fight against the sobs rising in my throat. “I just found out my wife was having an affair, with my boss. My friend.”  My voice chokes out, and it takes a few moments before I can speak again. “I wasn’t in a good place. So I stopped for breakfast to buy some time… I…”

“And that’s where you met, Jeff…” The detective finishes.

I nod, but notice he called him by name. Jeff. “Who was he?”

“Not really sure yet. Sort of a strange drifter, we have a few reports of him harassing people, telling them they needed help… but nothing violent. Not until today.”

My gut clenches. All he wanted to do was help.

“Mr. Wallace?” the detective asks.

I take a deep breath and raise my eyes to his neck. Not his eyes. I’ll never look another person in the eye again. “I know this isn’t easy, but I need to know exactly what happened. Was it a heated exchange at the restaurant?”

“No,” But that’s not true. “Sort of… He said I needed help.  And with the affair and all, I shouted at him to leave me alone and stormed out.”

“And that’s what triggered him. And after that? What happened when he confronted you here? When did you see the gun?”

“I didn’t.” I watch his Adam’s apple rise and fall as he swallows and scribbles in his notepad. “It was 8:30. I got out of my car, and…” My voice trails away, and I have to shake my head to clear the memory. But my cheek still tingles where he touched me, where all my pain and rage flowed out of me and into him. Like some crazy psychic transfusion… When his eyes turned from hazel to black, and he started to sing “Yes, we’ll gather at the river that flows by the throne of God.”

My gaze drops to a yellowish stain on the detective’s shirt, half-hidden behind a dark blue tie. He’d never believe the truth. No one would. So I clear my throat and tell him, the part he will believe.  “He appeared out of nowhere. I just reached into the back seat of my car, grabbed my jacket, slid it on, and there he was. He grabbed my shoulder, and spun me around. And that’s when I saw the shotgun. I tried to talk him down, but he just kept screaming about how everyone deserved to die.” I nod over to Craig, who’s still talking to a couple of uniforms. “Craig must have seen us through the window. He came running out. The guy pointed the shotgun at him, and… that’s when I tackled him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted to get the gun away from him. I swear, I never meant to…” My voice cracks. “But he just kept fighting. He wouldn’t stop. That’s when the gun went off.”

The detective stops writing. “Mr. Wallace, people think being a hero is a noble thing, but I’ve been involved in a few shootings and it never feels right. All you can do is console yourself with the knowledge that you did the right thing. That you saved lives. It helps.”

I know he means well, but his words taste bitter on my tongue. I swallow to clear the flavor and catch a glimpse of Craig pacing back and forth in front of the building, a cigarette still in each hand. But the rage, the hate, is gone.

Empty, I turn my focus back to my hands. I don’t know what Jeff did to me when he touched my face, but one thing I do know. I am not a hero.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dirk Stevens
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dirk Stevens

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