New Free Short Story. A Pretty Stone, A Hole, And Some Fleeting Memories

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

A Pretty Stone, a Hole, and Some Fleeting Memories

Jeff Prebis

1

A day in the 1990s. Joe Olson sat at his desk with a burning cigarette between the fingers of his right hand. Yesterday’s newspaper was spread across his desk. There wasn’t a story written by him in it. These days his editor, Harper, saved the best stories for him. Recently there hadn’t been anything spectacular to report on. Boredom started to creep through him.

A young reporter named Nelson stopped by his desk. The young punk placed a copy of Olson’s book on his desk. The book was in the top ten on the least-seller list. “Can you sign this bestseller for me,” he asked jokingly. Olson just blew a ring of smoke at him. He placed the book on Olson’s desk. “I loved your story about cartoon characters on ice,” Olson said sarcastically. “I just read the story. Wonderful. The way you investigated the fact that cartoon characters ice-skating was popular with kids. Exquisite reporting.” “Go fuck yourself,” Nelson muttered.

“Didn’t I tell you not to smoke in the office,” Harper said harshly. Olson leaned back in his chair and blew a smoke ring at his editor. “When are you going to have another story,” Harper asked. Olson shrugged. “Hey, Olson, you have a call,” a female intern shouted. “Transfer it to my line,” he told her.

Emphatically he put the cigarette out in his ashtray until it was bent and torn. “Hello,” he said into the phone. “My name is Jeanine,” a woman said with a low voice. “I have a story involving a senator. He hurt me badly. He does unspeakable things to women.” “Who’s the senator,” Olson asked excitedly. “Jennings,” she whispered. “Meet me at Holland Cemetery at ten o’clock tonight.” Hastily she hung up the phone. “Jennings,” Olson said. “I voted for him. Might have a story for you, boss.”

2

Holland Cemetery. Ten o’clock. Olson walked between headstones eagerly. He took a swig of scotch to calm his nerves. These days he always suspected a trap because of the multitude of enemies he made over the years. “A specific part of the cemetery would’ve been nice,” Olson said out loud. “Hey, ten o’clock. Meet me at the cemetery. Just wander around until you get tired. Make yourself at home.”

“Mr. Olson,” the woman said from behind him. He froze in place beneath a tree with branches which were like long fingers reaching down to grab him. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” she said apologetically. “You’re right. I should’ve given a specific place to meet.” “Well, it would’ve been nice,” Olson said. He turned around fully and saw the mutilated face of the woman. He tried not to gasp, but was sure that some form of revulsion appeared on his face. A brand was seared into the flesh of her face. Despite the darkness that enveloped them, he discerned that the brand was a pentagram.

“I was mutilated by Senator Jennings as you can see,” Jeanine said sadly. “I read many of your stories and you are adept at handling unusual circumstances. I was afraid to go to the police. They may not believe me.” “He is popular,” Olson said. “I voted for him.”

Jeanine went into detail about what happened to her. She was tortured with a branding iron. There were more marks on her body. A goat was allowed to fornicate with her. A shack and an underground torture chamber were located in field of tall grass adjacent to Jennings’s property. It sounded lovely to Olson. He pictured the cozy place in his mind. Jennings bragged that he killed close to twenty women. Most of the victims were buried in Holland Cemetery. Their graves were marked by blank headstones. A pretty stone, a hole, and some fleeting memories. That was how life ended for everyone, no exceptions. She gestured to where they were located at. Jennings brought her here after he grew bored with her. According to Jeanine, she was taken to an empty grave, but the gun misfired, and she grasped the opportunity to run away. He scribbled notes on a pad of paper with a pencil.

“Take me to the graves,” he said eagerly. “I brought my camera. I can have the cops here later tonight.” He took a sip from his flask. Jeanine reached for the flask, he handed it to her, and she drank the remainder of his scotch. “I want to give you a map to find the shack,” she said severely. He handed his pencil and pad of paper to her. Carefully she drew a crude map for him. After finishing the map, she ran away. Perplexed by her sudden departure, he looked around, and noticed flashlights shining beams of light on him. He ran also. His face was too pretty to be branded in his opinion.

Zigzagging between headstones, he put some distance between himself and the men. Then he ran out of breath, and collapsed on the ground beside a headstone. Slowly he raised his head enough to see over the headstone. The men weren’t after him. They wanted Jeanine. The cemetery was illuminated each time a gun was fired. Olson counted eight shots. He stood up hastily and took two pictures with his camera. More than likely, the pictures would be blurry, but it was worth a try. Shots were fired in his direction. He kept his body close to the ground, and crept around to where Jeanine was shot. The thugs shined their flashlights around the cemetery futilely. He stood over her corpse, and took a picture of her. A headstone stole his attention away from Jeanine’s cadaver. The headstone was blank. He snapped a picture of the headstone. A quick glance at the adjacent headstone. It was blank also. He snapped a picture of that one as well, but he was out of film. Creating flashes in a dark cemetery wasn’t a great idea. Now he was out of time. The men started shooting at him again. Rapidly he ran between headstones until he was back in the parking lot. His Cadillac had the top down. He dived into the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition, and the Cadillac roared to life.

3

“Do you see the fucking pictures,” Olson shouted at Harper. “Where the hell is Jennings in these pictures,” Harper shouted back at him. “You have a story about a woman being murdered in a cemetery. Keep in mind the cops couldn’t even find her body. Then you have a map. We need more information. We need proof of Jennings doing something. A jury couldn’t convict him on this nonsense and we can’t print a story about it.” “That’s not the point,” Olson said. “The point is that something funky is going on. I have a story. I know Jennings is the chosen one. He could be president possibly. But he’s fucked up.” “You and your damn conspiracy theories,” Harper said. Harper lit up a cigarette. “I thought there was no smoking in the building,” Olson said with a smile. “How many times have I been wrong?” Nelson held up a copy of Olson’s book. Olson took a hit from his cigarette, pulled his flask out of his pants pocket, and took a long drink. Harper gestured for the flask, Olson handed it to him, and he took a drink also.

“You didn’t tell the cops that Jennings was a serial killer, correct,” Harper asked. “Of course not,” Olson said. “They’re not solving the crime. I am.” “Old-timer, you are not Magnum P.I.,” Nelson said and laughed. “Kid, you have no idea what I’ve seen,” Olson told him. “I did get a fifty thousand dollar advance for my book. People loved the stories that appeared in the paper.”

“Listen, just don’t embarrass the paper,” Harper said. “Let me hit that flask again.” Olson handed it back to him. “Of course not,” Olson said. “When have I ever let you down? You know my stories are great.” Harper finished off the scotch in the flask. “What’s the play,” Harper asked. “I follow the map to the shack and see what’s cooking,” Olson said simply. “If there isn’t a shack, I concentrate on the men in these pictures, and the cemetery. I called a friend I have on the force and he’s going to check out those blank headstones. The graves will be exhumed if he finds them.” “For what reason,” Nelson asked. “There’s no proof that anything is wrong.” “Shit, I’ll exhume the graves my damn self if I have to,” Olson answered back. “What’s wrong with this guy, Harper? He doesn’t know anything about reporting. He saw the damn pictures.” “Just don’t embarrass the paper,” Harper repeated emphatically.

4

The shack with the underground dungeon was located roughly a mile and a half from Jennings’s estate. The property belonged to someone else who didn’t believe in lawn care. Olson parked his car in the field amongst grass as tall as six feet high. Immediately he wished he brought a machete or some hedge clippers to cut down the grass. Finding his car on the way back would be as much of an adventure as finding this alleged shack. As usual he brought his flask. The map was essentially useless. It lurked somewhere in the jungle of tall grass. Liberally, he took small swigs from the flask, kept looking back at the mansion, which he used as a beacon, and struggled through the tall grass. He walked in a complete circle, and was back at his car.

In the distance was a flashlight beam moving through the grass. “Yes,” Olson said out loud. Briskly he jogged through the jungle after the light which would guide him to the shack. The person with the flashlight walked at a leisurely pace while Olson ran as fast as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking individual could run without having a heart attack. Despite his deficiencies, Olson was able to keep up, and had to slow down in fact before he was seen by the person with the flashlight. The tall grass reminded him of the cornstalks in ‘Children Of The Corn.’ Did Jennings pray to some unholy god of overgrown grass? Was that the reason he lifted off the smooth façade, and revealed the demonic visage beneath? A few swigs from the flask made his imagination run wild.

The person with the flashlight reached the shack, causing Olson to crouch down amongst the tall blades of grass, which tickled his face when the wind blew. He pushed the blades of grass away from his face before he sneezed. The flashlight turned off once the person entered the shack. Olson found the little shack of horrors. Maybe five minutes passed. Then he stood up and approached the shack slowly, puffing on another cigarette as if his lungs were made of steel. He reached the entrance to the shack. There was no door, just a frame. Stealthily he leaned against the left wall of the shack by the doorway. The structure could’ve been a century old. There were no windows, just boards nailed over the openings.

A pair of skinny coyotes approached him and growled viciously. They looked hungry enough to eat him. “Shhh, I’m working on a story,” he hissed at them. “I’m not a good meal. Go find a rabbit or something. I’ll kick your ass.” They were feral enough to rip him apart if they chose to. They forced him to enter the shack sooner than he wanted.

Entering the shack didn’t deter the coyotes from attacking him. The bolder one lunged and bit into his pants leg. He shook his leg frenziedly to remove the beast from him. “Damn, get off me,” he hissed and inadvertently stomped his foot on the floor. The element of surprise ceased to exist. There were noises from below the shack. A hatch blended in with the floor almost seamlessly. The only reason Olson noticed it was because he stepped on a hinge. Moans rose from below the floor. The hatch opened suddenly, separating the coyote from Olson’s pants leg, and knocking Olson down at the same time. Jennings appeared clearly for Olson to see, though he was oblivious to Olson’s presence. It was official. Olson voted for a sadistic psychopath. Jennings lunged at the coyote, seized it by the hind leg, and sliced into its midsection with a hatchet, killing it instantly. Rising farther into the shack, he dragged the coyote closer to him. Aggressively, he bit into the leg of the coyote, tore a piece of raw flesh from the leg with his sharp teeth, and chewed and swallowed the flesh.

Jennings’s senior advisor appeared in the doorway with a flashlight shining into the gloom of the shack. Olson forgot his name. The lack of horror on his face indicated he was very aware of Jennings’s killings, mutilations, and other hobbies. The lackey asked if he could have a bite of the coyote. The ravenous way Jennings gnawed on that leg and the inarticulate grunts he let out indicated that he didn’t intend to share. “Boss, do you need me to put you on the leash,” the lackey asked. “No, no, I’m just famished,” Jennings said calmly. It was the same voice he used in public. The calmness chilled Olson.

Olson wanted his vote back. He drank the Kool-Aid wholeheartedly, and felt swindled. A quick sip from his flask drew the attention of Jennings’s lackey. “Who’s that dude behind you, boss,” the lackey asked. A snarling Jennings looked back at Olson. The jig was up. The last hit from the flask emboldened Olson. He snapped two pictures of Jennings with blood dripping off his chin and a coyote’s leg in his hands like a turkey drumstick on Thanksgiving. Olson jumped on the hatch, pinning Jennings down, and he hopped up and down on the hatch until he was sure he heard a few ribs crack. Jennings howled like a wolf. Olson stepped off the hatch and Jennings fell into whatever pit lay beneath the dilapidated shack. The hatch fell back into place with a bang like a peal of thunder. Two distinct voices screamed out for help. Quickly Olson opened the hatch. “He’s hurt,” he shouted. “Run if you can.”

The lackey pointed a gun at Olson. It was quite a large gun. The flashlight shined in his face, making it hard to determine what type, but it was big enough to scare the shit out of him. The other coyote attacked the lackey, leaped on his back, and started gnawing on him the way Jennings gnawed on the other coyote’s leg. After numerous brushes with death, Olson always felt there was some divine influence helping him tell the truth about the world. Before the lackey could shoot the coyote, Olson tackled him, and wrestled the gun into his hands. This particular coyote was strong. It dragged the lackey out of the shack while he shrieked cacophonously. Olson walked to the hatch, flipped it open, and descended into the pit, dungeon, whatever the fuck it was.

Jennings held his abdomen, coughed up blood, and growled in a low whisper. The décor of the underground room was a tad uncouth. A goat was chained up in a corner. Strange symbols were painted on the walls in blood. There were bowls of feces. Two naked women, with a variety of burns on their bodies, were bound to the ceiling by leather straps attached to chains. Pendulously they swung around as they tried their hardest to break free from the restraints. Jennings growled at Olson. He pointed the gun at him, but pondered the consequences of shooting Jennings. Could a reporter shoot a senator and escape the electric chair? Mutilated women were bound by leather straps. The pictures of the senator eating a coyote’s leg. One woman had been branded on her face already, the other was ready for the same treatment, a branding iron was sitting on a stove burner, and it was in the shape of a pentagram. Excrement lay on the floor beneath the dangling women. Still he couldn’t shoot him.

Jennings growled like a vicious animal. He possessed the darkest eyes Olson had ever seen. Olson smacked Jennings across the jaw with the butt of the gun, knocking the ravenous animal down. Hurriedly, he went to the closest victim, and worked on the leather straps until the woman was free. She ran for the ladder that led to the surface. “Hey, wait, I need you to convict this scoundrel,” Olson shouted. He went to work on the other woman’s leather straps. A glance back at the lunatic. Jennings growled aggressively, but didn’t seem to be able to stand up. The woman babbled about everything she’d been through. Olson paused and turned on a tape recorder in his pocket. “Micliga, Micliga, save me my god,” Jennings muttered. The straps became loose on the woman’s wrists. She pulled her hands free, and ran rapidly to the stove. Jennings lunged at her, but she moved aside, causing him to hit his head on the side of the stove emphatically. She picked up the branding iron from the stove, brought it down on the back of Jennings’s head, and caused a sizzling sound as his hair burned off and a pentagram formed on his scalp.

“Stop that,” Jennings’s lackey shouted. “You’ll hurt him.” The leg of his pants was torn and the flesh beneath was bloody. Blood dripped copiously to the ground. A minute knife was in his right hand. Jennings howled in agony. “Just stay where you are,” Olson said and gestured with the gun for the lackey to stay back. “She’s burning the senator,” the lackey pleaded. “Who cares, I voted for him,” Olson said. “He tortured and killed women. Let him get burned back. It’s only fair.” “It’s been preordained that he will be president,” the lackey said. “Just back up with the knife,” Olson said. “Ma’am, come with me. Let’s get out of here.” The lackey lunged at Olson with the knife. Inaccurately Olson fired the gun. The bullet struck the wall, creating a hole, and snakes started crawling out of it in droves. Bringing snakes to the party wasn’t what Olson intended to do. The introduction of the snakes to this lunacy made the woman give up on torturing her sadistic tormentor. Once this clown was locked up, Olson hoped a psychiatrist could penetrate Jennings’s madness, figure out what a Micliga was, and what the symbols on the walls meant. Concentric circles inside squares. Cows with humans inside them. An empyreal being with three arms, three legs, eyes like a chameleon, and teeth like a cobra. Illogical crap. There was a belief system present. It seemed to have worked pretty well for Jennings, until he let a victim escape.

The woman stepped beside Olson. Her face was like a Picasso painting. The underground dungeon was inundated with snakes. Hundreds crawled through the hole. It must’ve been the alcohol. He could shoot better than he exhibited with that shot. The snakes looked like cobras. What the fuck were cobras doing in Texas? Then again, what the fuck was Jennings doing with his life? Olson stepped forward with the gun pointed at the lackey. “I won’t let you escape,” the lackey said defiantly. “His purpose is far greater than your lives.” “I’m a good reporter,” Olson said. “I think I’m important. I caught you buffoons. I’m going to shoot you if you don’t step aside.” The woman had her arm on Olson’s shoulder. The coyote dropped down on the lackey, bit his neck like a vampire, causing the lackey to shriek, collapse to the ground, and fight to break away from the beast. “That’s our cue,” Olson said. He led the woman to the ladder. She pushed him aside and ran up the stairs. “Hey, don’t run too far, I need you as a witness,” Olson shouted. “There has to be justice.”

By the time he reached the surface, she was gone. He saved two lives, but had no witnesses, no chance of writing this story about Jennings, no chance of having the popular senator convicted of any crimes. He hoped she would resurface.

He returned to his car. There was no sign of the woman. Both victims were safe at least. Jennings would have plenty of explaining to do. A pentagram burned into the back of one’s head was hard to explain. But the story. Oh, he wanted this story badly. Harper wouldn’t publish a word of it.

He pulled up at a strip mall five miles away, placed a call to his contact, Martinez, with the police force, and told him to check out the property. Martinez said after the goose chase in the cemetery, he wasn’t interested in checking out the torture chamber. Dejectedly Olson drove home for the night. Two women with mutilated faces were out there. Maybe they would come forward. Maybe they wouldn’t. He took a hit from his dented flask, and walked to his car.

5

Back at the office, he sat at his desk, and stared up at the ceiling. “You have tape recordings, you have this story, but you have no witnesses to back you and you want to publish the story,” Harper asked. “Yeah, why not,” Olson said lackadaisically. “I’m only a hero who saved a pair of women from unspeakable torture.” “You aren’t a hero,” Nelson said. “You’re delusional. None of that shit happened.” Olson picked up the pictures he placed on his desk and showed them to Nelson. “What do you think,” Olson asked. “Shitty photography, no sources, no story,” Nelson said, and laughed devilishly. Olson lit up a cigarette, leaned back in his chair, and blew smoke rings in the air. “It’s the truth,” Olson said with confidence.

Olson’s phone rang, disturbing his malaise. “The women came forward,” Martinez said excitedly. “We got him. We
searched the property, found his torture chamber. They will testify. They described a man who fits your description. You’re a hero. Jennings is being arrested on television right now.” Olson leaned back farther in his chair, and blew the largest smoke ring yet. “Ah, I’m a hero again,” Olson said. “Nelson, turn on the television. I have a story.”

Nelson frowned at him, but turned on the television, and sure enough there was Jennings being led from his mansion in handcuffs. “Ah, Harper, we have a story,” Olson said victoriously. Harper walked over to the television. “So do you want me to start writing this story or what,” Olson asked. Harper put his hands on his hips and smirked at Olson. “How do you do it,” he asked. “You always find out this weird shit.” “It’s a gift,” Olson said simply. “I should get the keys to the city for this one. I took down some kind of psychotic, satanic imbecile we both voted for. I question our judgment.”

The report stated that a man fitting Olson’s description saved the women. Olson’s smile grew wider. “They’ll know me when they see me,” he said confidently. “I have to thank this coyote. It was extremely helpful. What do you think? Pulitzer? Rookie, this is how it’s done.” Nelson started to walk away, but Olson beckoned him to come back, signed his book, and handed it to him with a smile. Nelson took the book grudgingly. “I think he envies me,” Olson said to Harper. The pair laughed.

Don’t Forget about The Debacle, my novel from 2007. It’s still out there.

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