Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Untitled Poem

I wrote this years ago after I lost a very close friend and decided to share. I thought it would be a nice change of pace from all the fiction I post here. If you're going to share this elsewhere, please give credit where credit is due, thank you.

Daniel Skye

My eyes well up and the tears start to flow

I’m so sad to see you go

It’s never easy to say goodbye

When strangers ask if I’m crying, I lie and say, “I’ve just got something in my eye”

If I had known then what I know today

I wouldn’t have been so far away

But that’s the mystery of life, I guess you can say

You wake up never knowing that today can be your last day

So cherish the time you have to spare

And let the ones that matter know you care

In memory of a true friend

R.I.P. Joseph Sargent

Flat Tire (A Gravedigger Story)

Genre: Horror

Note to Readers: This short story is a sequel of sorts to my previous story, “Tight Spaces” which you can access and read by using the archives found on the right-hand side of the page.

Daniel Skye

            Georgia Nelson left the club that night with a wad of cash stuffed in her back pocket that amassed to about three hundred dollars. Not bad for one nights work, though there were nights where she had left the club with an easy five or six hundred bucks.
Outside of the club, she was Georgia Nelson; a dedicated student on her way to Harvard Law in a year. Inside the club, she was Georgia Peach; a stripper for the perverted masses of Westlake. Though, she preferred the term exotic dancer. She found the word stripper to be demoralizing.
Living on her own, Georgia put her pride aside and did what she had to pay her college tuition. Even if that meant grinding against drunken slobs for lap dances and letting them stuff singles down the cups of her bra.
She walked to her blue Volkswagen and got in and it took her a second to notice the difference. One of her front tires was flat. She got out to inspect the damage and realized the tire was deflated, as if someone had deliberately let the air out.
The first suspect that popped into her mind was her ex-flame, Nick Jordan. She didn’t put it past him to stoop so low, not after she caught him in the shower with her former best friend. She once caught Nick trying to pour sugar in her gas tank so she supposed she got off easy this time. Replacing air in a tire is a lot simpler than buying a whole new car.
She turned to walk back into the club when a patrol car that was cruising through the lot came to a halt. “Car trouble?” the officer shouted as he rolled his window down.
“Flat tire,” she yelled back. “I think it was my ex.”
“You want a lift down to the station to file a report?”
“No thanks,” she said as she walked further to the patrol car. “Asshole will get what he deserves eventually. You can give me a lift home if you don’t mind. I’ll put air in the tire tomorrow.”
“If that’s what you want,” the officer shrugged.
When she opened the front door, the officer gestured with his hands for her to step back. “Sorry, but I can’t let a civilian ride up front. It’s policy. You’ll have to ride in the back if it’s not too much trouble.”
Georgia shrugged her shoulders as she closed the front passenger door and hopped in the back. The officer was tall, lean, and had wavy brown hair. It was dark inside the patrol car and all Georgia could make out now was the back of his head, but he appeared handsome when she first laid eyes on him. She felt warm and safe in his presence and she didn’t even know anything about him besides his last name.
Downey. That’s what his brass name tag said.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your full name, Officer Downey?”
He chuckled and said, “Call me Patrick.”
“Patrick Downey. An Irish boy?”
“Half Irish,” Downey answered as though he had rehearsed these questions time and time again. His benevolent tone made her feel welcome and almost made her forget about her money woes and troubles with Nick.
“I have to admit, I’ve got a thing for the Irish. The accents drive me wild.”
“Well, I don’t have much of an accent.”
“I bet you still drive the girls wild,” Georgia insisted. “The ladies love a man in uniform.”
Patrick blushed. “I do ok. Not as good as you though, huh?”
“What’s what supposed to mean?”
“It means I know your type. Body to die for, ex-boyfriend causing you trouble, working at the local strip club. You probably have a different guy at your place every night. That why he broke up with you? You cheat on him?”
“No,” Georgia balked. “It was the exact opposite. That pig cheated on me.”
“Uh huh,” Patrick nodded, his tone sharper, more accusing. He was no longer the kind gentleman who offered to escort Georgia home. “You bitches are all the same. It’s never your fault. It’s always us pigs who commit the atrocities and the rest of you are innocent, right? You were even ready to jump the gun and assume it was your old boyfriend who let the air out of your tire. You never considered the possibility that it was someone else who didn’t want you driving out of that parking lot this evening.”
“My house is two blocks from here,” Georgia said, trembling in the backseat. “You can just drop me off and go back to whatever it was you were doing.”
“I’m afraid we both know that’s not going to happen, Georgia Peach. Oh yes, that’s right. I know all about you. I had to watch you closely in order to estimate your height and weight. You don’t know what a pain it is to build these things to a person’s exact specifications.”
In addition to being a respected authority figure, Pat was a skilled carpenter. It started as a hobby in his teens and developed over the years. It was a good way to score extra work on the side. And it also came in handy when building makeshift coffins to match a person’s exact size and measurements.
Patrick Downey sped past Georgia’s block and continued down Main Street. Of course Pat Downey was not his real name. His real name was Charles Gein AKA "The Gravedigger", the notorious serial killer his station had been hunting for months. Whoever the real Patrick Downey was, he clearly had no use for the name anymore.
It had been three weeks since the discovery of Pat’s last two victims, Amelia Walsh and Todd Brennan. And if his intentions weren’t clear enough, they became apparent when Georgia saw the sign that read FORT HILL CEMETERY – TURN LEFT.
Pat veered to the left and drove down a narrow dirt trail that led them to the ominous iron gates of Fort Hill Cemetery.
“Depending on how much you scream, it should take four hours for you to run out of air.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ghost Story

 Genre: Horror

Daniel Skye A.K.A. Randy Benivegna 

Dead man’s breath.
Ever walk out to your car in the morning and see fog built up on your windshield? When you open the door, you realize the fog is on the inside of your car, not the outside. Well, that’s what they call it; dead man’s breath.
Who are they? Paranormal researchers and investigators, of course. They want to convince you that when you see this fog, it’s a sign that a ghost was or still is present inside your vehicle.
How can a ghost fog up my windows? Daryl Morgan always wondered. If you’re dead–and even if you are a ghost–you would have no breath. No pulse or heartbeat either. You would be nothing more than an exanimated reflection of the living.
Daryl loved debunking the theories and rumors these so-called paranormal experts circulate. But he never did so publicly. It made no sense to ruin the mystique when his very career depended on it. But every time he crossed paths with one of his colleagues, he made sure to step on their work and their beliefs as much as possible. To say he was not popular amongst the writing community would be like pointing out the sky is blue. Everyone knew it, even Daryl. He couldn't accept the fact that other people liked to believe in the possibility of any form of life after their death.
Daryl Morgan was not an atheist or an agnostic. He was a nihilist. He never believed in God or supported any form of organized religion. Ask him for a church donation and he’d hand you a used Kleenex.
Being a nihilist made Daryl the ideal candidate for his job. If you don’t believe in God, it's unlikely you believe in ghosts or spirits. Therefore, he wouldn't shy away from the job like others had before him. And Daryl didn’t shy. No assignment was too scary, too creepy, too unnerving. It was all the same to him. Drive in, spend the night, write a story, cash the check and then repeat the formula.
Morgan was paid weekly by a group of wealthy publishers to investigate allegedly haunted sites and then write about his experiences. Mostly he just hyped up the legends, sold the mystique no matter what results his investigations yielded.
He never reported any actual ghost sightings because he never actually experienced any. But he could still make your skin crawl with his vivid details and exaggerated accounts. After all, his readers weren’t reading for the truth. They were reading because they wanted cheap thrills and screams.
The concept of spirits never scared Daryl. The things that disturbed Daryl were the horrors that existed in the real world. Robbers, rapists, terrorists, computer hackers, identity thieves, the crumbling economy, the lingering threat of nuclear war. These thoughts are what made his heart race, his spine tingle. That and spiders.
The scariest story Daryl had been told growing up didn’t involve ghosts or spirits or paranormal activity. It was a variation of the old spider egg urban legend. You’ve heard that story about the guy who gets a spider bite on his cheek? The bite turns into a boil. The boil eventually pops and a horde of baby spiders come oozing out.
Knowing he was terrified of spiders, Daryl’s brother Tommy tormented him once with a story about a man who was sleeping comfortably when a hideous brown spider crawled into his open mouth. The next day, he starts getting these sharp pains in his gut that he mistakes for an ulcer or maybe a kidney stone. About a week later, they find the man dead in his apartment. A small tear in his stomach lining is discovered during the autopsy. The autopsy later confirms that the man’s internal organs were missing. The spider had laid eggs in his belly and the baby spiders had eaten him from the inside.
He thought about this story on many occasions, as he did on the way to his latest assignment.
Daryl checked in at eleven, giving himself a good hour to set up his infrared cameras and EMF meter. He wasn’t really into the gadgets and gimmicks, but his publishers insisted on recording everything and they paid for it all anyway.
Dorothy Carmody, the caretaker of Westlake Manor, was there that Tuesday night to greet Daryl at the gate and guide him through the acres of property. The manor was once a prominent symbol of the Westlake community, but the place hadn’t turned a profit in years. They were letting Daryl spend the night free of charge in the hopes that his story would get attention and attract more tourists.
“You’ll be staying on the fourth floor as you requested,” Mrs. Carmody said, handing him the key to room 411. “The plumbing doesn’t work too well up there so there’s a plunger if the toilet backs up and I wouldn’t recommend using the shower. If you do, turn it on and let the water heat up for a good fifteen minutes before you get in, otherwise it’ll feel like you’re showering with ice cubes.”
“Will do,” Daryl said, wondering why more people didn’t want to spend the night there.
“If you need drinking water, I have it in bottles. Whatever you do, don’t drink from the faucet.”
“I brought my own food and water. Anything else?”
“Yes, I have some leftover chocolate from Halloween if you’re interested. I don’t eat it and I’d hate to see it go to waste.” Daryl’s growing gut pleaded no, but his sweet tooth cried yes.
“That would be great,” he responded. “One more question: Is the room smoking or non-smoking?”
“There are no smoke alarms so feel free to smoke up the joint all you’d like. Just don’t go burning the whole place down on me.” Daryl grabbed Mrs. Carmody’s bag of chocolate and dragged it along with his other luggage. The elevator was out of service, so he took the stairs.
The stairwell was eerily silent and he felt the vibes instantly. Actually, he had felt them as soon as he stepped foot inside Westlake Manor. But he shrugged it off the first time and told himself it was just indigestion. This time he could not deny the strange vibes that this place gave off.
Daryl wasn't the type to be startled. And if he was scared, you’d never witness it. His true emotions were hidden beneath intricate layers and he never used the word “fear” unless he was trying to sell a story to his readers. To ease his nerves, he gorged on some of the chocolate Mrs. Carmody had provided him. By the time he ascended all four flights of stairs, he had eaten the whole bag.
He approached room 411, inserted the key and heard the lock clock as he twisted it. He nudged the door and a musty odor rushed out at him. He flipped the lights on and saw the room–the bed, carpets, TV cabinet, writing desk–was coated with dust.
First thing Morgan did was peel back the sheets and blankets to inspect the bed for bugs. To his amazement, he found none. He checked out the bathroom, didn’t dare run the sink. There was a small shower stall, no bath. The shower curtains were old and ragged and Daryl didn’t even want to brush against them accidently. He couldn’t fathom the amount of germs and filth that had soaked into them over the years.
Once he set up the cameras and equipment, Daryl dusted off the chair of the writing desk and pulled a small spiral notebook from his luggage. He found an ashtray in the top drawer, lit one of his Marlboros and opened the notebook to the first page.
Daryl was sent to Westlake Manor on his publisher’s dime to write a new story for his latest book.
A story about the legend of Chloe Bell.
The legend dictates that Chloe Bell usually appears between midnight and four A.M., the peak hours for paranormal activity. A string of pearls laced around her thin, swanlike neck. Depending on who’s telling the story, she’s either wearing the cliché white dress or she’s decked out in an old cheerleading uniform, sans pom-poms. Her skin is described as being chalky but not transparent.
They say the ghost is more of a Samara than a Casper. She's not warm or friendly. She's everything you're afraid of boiled down into one. The tales vary but they do exist in many circles. Some people say she appears rotted, her features distorted and hidden behind locks of dirty black hair. Some claim that blood leaks out from the dry sockets of her pupil-less eyes. It oozes from her nose and ears. Snakes and maggots crawl from her mouth and slither across the carpets.
Then–in the blink of an eye–she vanishes and you find yourself alone and in desperate need of a fresh change of underwear.
There are hundreds of unfounded rumors surrounding her death, but when Morgan did an internet search, he couldn’t even scrape up proof that the girl had ever existed. The gossipers of the spirit world say she died on the night of her prom. Some believe that she was murdered on a family vacation. That she drowned in the in-ground pool out behind the manor. A popular rumor Daryl heard was that when they found Chloe, she was still alive. But someone had used a knife or razor to slash X's across her eyes, forever blinding her. For all Daryl knew, Chloe Bell had died in that very same room, though this morbid thought brought him no comfort. In fact, it made his whole body shiver.
            Morgan’s digital wristwatch buzzed soon, informing him it was midnight. He waited anxiously for the spirit of Chloe Bell to appear before him. He anticipated the apparition rising from the floor, the string of pearls jingling around her neck like the sound of wind chimes. Her white dress caked in dirt and her dark hair flowing from the presence of some invisible force of air.
            But instead, his anxiety turned to boredom. All that changed was now he had a belly ache from wolfing down too much candy and chocolate. Nausea soon set in and Daryl sprung from his chair to make it to the bathroom in time.
            Leaned over the toilet, he gagged and heaved as he tried to force the rotten sweets out of him. Never take candy from strangers, Daryl thought.
            Then he felt it. That unsettling vibe had returned. The air was thick and he could feel it circulating, almost creeping around him. A chill rushed down his spine and he felt something brush the small of his back.
            When he raised his head from the toilet, he saw a brief flash in the mirror. All his eyes made out were a string of dirty white pearls. He blinked and the image was gone, the mirror reflecting nothing but Daryl's subtle expression of terror.
            Daryl stumbled from the bathroom in a dizzy state, his stomach gurgling as he slumped on the edge of the bed. Black and white dots clouded his vision, and the room seemed to shrink or grow wider every time he blinked or rubbed his eyes. His eyes shifted to the floor and he recoiled at the sight.
            The girl was inches from the bed.
She crawled along the floral carpet, her arms and legs twisted and disjointed to form angular positions, giving her the flexibility and motions of a human spider. Her white dress was tattered and dirt-stained, her pearls as dark and grimy as the hair that obscured parts of her face. Unfortunately for Daryl, the hair did not obscure the scar tissue of the X’s that had been carved over her eyes.
Daryl tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. He could feel something causing the resistance, perhaps a chair or object wedged under the doorknob. The girl moved closer, her lips parted but no words escaped. Only deep growls rising up from her throat.
The room grew smaller again, closing in on him. Daryl’s need to escape overwhelmed him. He made his move without even considering it twice.
The window shattered and Morgan plunged some thirty-five feet below, his neck snapping upon impact.

Dorothy Carmody discovered Morgan's body in the morning, the pavement stained with fresh blood and shards of glass.
“Never take candy from strangers,” she remarked shrewdly.
Dorothy Carmody had played her part well, done her job to perfection. By spiking the chocolate with powerful hallucinogens and making Daryl see what his mind refused to believe, she had succeeded in literally scaring Daryl Morgan to death. And the business would flourish as a result. Every hack horror writer would scribble a tale about Westlake Manor and the ghost that killed Daryl Morgan, the man who believed in nothing. Those ghost hunting reality shows would line up in droves to get the opportunity to film there. Every psychic and medium in the country would flock there and attempt to channel the spirit of Chloe Bell. And the ghost-obsessed tourists would surely follow.
Despised by his peers for spurning their beliefs, Daryl's death would not be viewed as a tragedy. It would be viewed as a horror story for the ages. And the legend of Chloe Bell would live on in infamy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Genre: Crime/Horror/Mystery

Daniel Skye

          AVERY MORRISON clutched a snifter of brandy as he flipped through the pages of his high school yearbook. He had stumbled upon the book earlier in the day, buried inside a box full of old junk he found while cleaning out his garage. Each page sparked distant memories; some positive, though mostly negative.
          It wasn’t that Avery was unpopular. Quite the opposite. Avery was a jock; he had a plethora of friends and admirers. All the girls loved him, and why wouldn’t they? He was tall, lean, handsome, good at every sport he tried, and still sharp as a whip when it came to his schoolwork. But Avery also had a cruel side that was reserved for the less fortunate.
          He riffled through the yearbook until he reached the first pages of his graduating class. A gleeful grin spread across his pale, aging face as he glanced over Amy Holster’s picture, the girl he lost his virginity to halfway through his freshman year. That grin rapidly dissipated as he browsed over the next page and spotted a photo of Augie White.
          Augie was a social outcast who felt the wrath of Avery and his buddies on one too many occasions. He wore dark baggy clothing, corrective lenses, and a drab olive green jacket. There was something peculiar about the way Augie walked. His legs were very stiff, rigid. His knees didn’t bend properly and his feet dragged everywhere he walked, barely lifting from the ground. A lot of kids used to laugh and snicker behind his back, sometimes to his face.
          Avery and his crew would often invite Augie to hang out under false pretenses. One day, in the midst of a blazing summer heat wave, Avery invited him down to the park to play a game of football.
It ended with eight kids chasing Augie down and locking him inside a portable toilet. They all took turns shaking and rocking it back and forth until the toilet finally tipped and spilled over onto its side.
Augie screeched and pounded against the walls to be released. But his pleas could not be heard over the uproarious laughter that ensued from Avery and his buddies. They strolled off, never once looking back. Avery had heard later on that Augie was discovered a few hours later by a Public Safety officer.
With his glasses broken, his hair and clothes soiled and reeking of stale urine and excrement, Augie was too embarrassed to think about filing a report or giving up any specific names. He just wanted to go home and get cleaned off, put this humiliating ordeal behind him.
Shortly after graduation, Avery called Augie and asked him to meet at a local bar. He said he wanted to buy him a drink and make amends for the hell they put him through. They met at a crowded pool hall; Avery was already waiting when Augie showed up, two cold pints of beer in hand. One for him, one for Augie.
Augie drank his beer, didn’t say much. Frank apologized profusely and said nothing like it would ever happen again. Augie accepted his apology and finished his drink.
Not too long after he finished his beer, Augie started to feel strange, sick. So Avery and two friends offered to give him a lift home. He assured Augie he would be okay. You’re probably just not used to drinking, Avery had said. And it was true; Augie was one of the only kids in his school that hadn’t tried alcohol at least once before graduating. He wasn’t the kind of kid that got weekly invites to raves or keg parties.
On the way, Avery passed Augie an aspirin to soothe the migraine that he had developed. But it wasn’t aspirin; it was a hit of ecstasy. Augie didn’t even look twice. He just swallowed the pill dry.
High on ecstasy and the LSD that Avery had spiked his beer with, Augie never made it home that night. Instead, Avery dropped him at a random street corner and sped away, howling with his football buddies.
Augie was discovered several hours later, wandering completely naked, rambling incoherently, and missing a small chunk of his left ear. The cops were the ones who found him. They charged him with indecent exposure, disturbing the peace, and being under the influence. The loss of his ear occurred in a drug induced haze when he tried to scale the fence of a junkyard that was shielded at the top with barbed wire. His hands got sliced up pretty good too. Doctors were concerned about potential nerve damage, but the cuts healed up nicely and he was left with minor scars. They never did manage to reattach the chunk he lost from his ear. They never even found it.
Again, Augie refused to sing. He could have ratted on Avery, told the cops about his involvement. But never once did he implicate him. Maybe he was afraid, maybe he was just too embarrassed and humiliated again. That was the last time Avery had seen Augie White.
The arthritis in Avery’s hands flared up eventually and he had to set the snifter and yearbook aside. It sucks getting old, Avery thought. The body is not like a fine wine, it certainly doesn’t improve with age.
The joints in his wrists and knees were constantly swollen and sore. His back ached and his neck creaked at the slightest twist of his head. He was prescribed heavy-duty painkillers to alleviate the pain brought on by his peptic ulcer. He likened the pains from his ulcer to being stabbed in the gut with a dull blade, from the inside.
          It made him think of the word Seppuku, which refers to a ritual form of suicide practiced by ancient samurais. Rather than face disgrace or suffer through prolonged torture, the samurais would willingly die with honor by plunging the edge of their swords or daggers deep into their gut, causing self-disembowelment.
          His old acquaintance, Todd Reynolds was obsessed with old Kung Fu movies and introduced Avery to the concept of samurais. And in a twisted way, this was how Avery viewed himself. A modern day samurai.
          He lived by a code of honor and quiet dignity. But that wasn’t the only code he lived by. Avery’s profession required him to enforce a set of rules that his employers had to abide. The first rule was no women and no children. The second was no police, authority or political figures. There was no rule number three.
          I’m not a monster, Avery thought. I’m not a hitman. I’m just a regular guy who’s damn good at killing people. Well, I used to be. Now I’m just a retired old fart with a broken body and a whole lot of time on my crippled hands.

 AVERY woke the next morning feeling like he had been struck by the front of a bus. Every muscle in his body was sore and the searing pain in his gut was starting to kick in. He snatched the bottles of painkillers from his nightstand and took two at once. He rolled out of bed slowly and felt the cold sting of the hardwood floor beneath his feet. He slipped his loafers on and wrapped a bathrobe around his shivering body.
His knees ached and he could feel the bones grinding as he descended the staircase and made his way to the kitchen. He felt sluggish and thought an energy drink would pull him out of this slump. But the carbonation only exacerbated the pain from his ulcer.
Avery stared attentively at the fridge magnets that held many birthday cards in place, all from his parents and all outdated. Avery hadn’t received a birthday card in nearly a decade. Not since his parents passed away.
Avery never married or had kids. And his brother, Mitch, died at age twenty-two from kidney failure while he was waiting on a donor. He knew the family name would die with him, and he was content with this fact.
          Avery Morrison was the loving handle his parents gave him, though he never had much use for it himself. His employers and bosses knew him better by his alias, Swordfish.
          Avery earned the moniker after he was hired to put some fisherman on ice. Turns out the guy had seen a business exchange no one was supposed to witness. His bosses didn’t want the fisherman’s story to reach the police, so they snagged his address and sent Avery in. But a struggle ensued, and Avery wound up impaling the fisherman on an eight-foot taxidermy swordfish that was mounted to the living room wall.
          If his dad had known the truth, he would’ve been proud. Mark Morrison was a pretty good sport considering Avery and Mitch used to drive him to the nuthouse and back. They would pester him day and night, asking nonsensical questions that only kids could think of. Why is there salt in the ocean? Where do leprechauns get their gold from? Why do zebras have stripes?
Mark Morrison was a simple, easy-going man. He loved beer, hotdogs, baseball games, and spending time with his family. What he did in his time away from home, they didn’t know. They didn’t ask, he didn’t tell. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t curious. Every time the phone would ring, their mother would nearly leap out of her skin. She seemed to anticipate bad news with every call.
At age sixteen, Avery discovered his father’s pistol stashed away in the toolshed. He vividly remembered the weight of the gun, the sight of dry blood on the barrel. Mark looked like he was going to whip his boy silly when he walked in on him. Avery knew the toolshed was off-limits to him and his brother. But instead Mark pulled young Avery aside and let him in a little secret.
Mark Morrison worked for a man named Bucky Wallace. Bucky was a wealthy man, powerful. You don’t get as far in the game as Bucky did without burning bridges and making a few of enemies along the way. But Bucky knew just who to call when those enemies stepped out of line.
Mark was able to retire at age fifty. He got out clean; never saw the inside of a prison cell. He was lucky. Back then, you didn’t have to worry about guys squealing. Those guys were from a different era. A time of honor and respect, a time where you didn’t have to worry about guys testifying or getting whacked by their own crews.
Nowadays, these so-called gangsters will sell their friends down the river for a pack of smokes and a two-year sentence reduction. But even at a young age, Avery maintained that old-school mentality. He wasn’t a rat or a snitch. He’d rather burn than snitch.
He never told his father of his career choice. He lied to the old man for years, convincing him he was a big shot on Wall Street. Avery even used his connections to feed his father inside trading tips to keep the old man off his back. Only Avery knew the real truth.
He killed his first man at age twenty-four, a few months after his brother Mitch passed away. He slit the throat of a petty crook named Floyd who was peddling dope to children and pimping out a few teenage girls he had in his stable. For Avery, this was a personal matter. Floyd was scum and he knew it. He deserved everything he got and more. But he didn’t handle it as a personal matter. He handled it right, left no prints or evidence behind. There were no witnesses, Avery made sure of that. Still, word spread through the local criminal syndicates. The Westfield crew recognized his potential and paired him with a budding Todd Reynolds. Todd was a psychopath with just the right amount of psycho.
Their first target: Bucky Wallace.
Todd wanted to go in guns blazing. But at Avery’s suggestion, they used cyanide. Made it look like a heart attack, which everyone bought considering Bucky’s weight and deteriorating health. The Westfield crew was satisfied with the results and decided to make Avery a fulltime employee.
His second hit was the infamous fisherman job that branded Avery as a legend in the business.
With an empty stomach, the painkillers hit Avery harder than usual. He went to the living room to rest briefly on the couch and wound up passing out instead.
The doorbell was what finally woke him again that evening. It was Philip Baxter, Avery’s only living social contact. Baxter was a financial investor who had turned Avery onto the Laundromat business, which was a perfect front for laundered cash. And Avery had enough cash to fill ten offshore bank accounts. He needed something to invest in, and Laundromats seemed like a wise choice.
They drank scotch and brandy all night, laughed and smoked fat cigars that Baxter had brought. Philip was ten years younger than Avery, but this made no difference to either man. Philip didn’t have many close friends outside of work and Avery barely knew the meaning of the word close. They were the ideal pair.
“How’s the Laundromat treating you?” Philip always had to ask. He could never go one meeting without discussing business of some kind.
“The maintenance is a pain in my wrinkled ass,” Avery wasn’t afraid to share. “Every week another machine breaks. The customers keep overloading the machines. They don’t want to pay to use the damn thing twice so they just cram as much in as they can.”
“America,” Philip laughed. “The land of the cheap.”
“How are things on your end?”
“I should have been an architect like my old man,” Philip laughed again. He was always laughing, smiling. This was one of the things Avery admired about him. He yearned to have a conscience so pure and clean. He wanted to be able to laugh without having to force it.
“I think we both should have been architects,” Avery squeezed out a laugh that sounded as phony as Ray Liotta’s laugh in Goodfellas. “We might have been better off then.”
“What is it you did before you got into the Laundromat business again?”
“I was involved in construction. I started at the bottom, worked my way up to foreman. The union took care of me well. That’s why I got to retire so young and had enough money to invest. Otherwise, I’d be on the street with a cardboard sign and a squeegee.”
Avery had been tempted on several occasions to spill the beans to Baxter. Tell him who he really was, how he really made his living. He trusted Philip, just not enough to know that he would keep his mouth shut.
He was smart enough to keep his secret just that–a secret. Just as he was smart enough to know Philip had consumed too much alcohol to drive that evening. So he offered up his couch for the night.
Avery took some aspirin to relieve his dull migraine and the light ringing that had developed in his left ear. Then he retired to his bedroom.

THE MIGRAINE was still present when Avery woke the next morning. In fact, it had only intensified. The ringing in his left ear had turned into a loud buzzing noise.
When he was able to pull himself out of bed, he took one aspirin for his migraine and one painkiller for the ulcer.
He peered out the bedroom window and noticed Philip’s Chrysler still parked along the curb. Then he turned to the vanity mirror above his dresser. Avery was not a squeamish man. He never flinched or gasped those countless times he pulled the trigger. He didn’t gasp when he impaled that helpless fisherman. But he gasped at the sight of his left ear. The lower half of his ear was missing. No blood, no mess. It was just… gone.
Avery tied his bathrobe and descended the stairs, shaken for the first time he could remember.
“Philip, don’t be alarmed,” Avery said as he entered the living room.
But Philip Baxter was incapable of being alarmed. The carotid artery of his neck was severed, a trademark of one Todd Reynolds.
          Avery spoke seven different languages. It helped in his line of work. Tod is the German word for death, and Avery was careful never to speak his name aloud.
          I was happily retired, Avery thought. But you had to go and rattle my cage again. I don’t know what your game is, bud. But Philip was a friend of mine, and retired or not, I won’t let this slide.
          Todd and Avery were virtually all that was left of the original Westfield crew. Most of the founding members were retired, dead, or rotting behind bars. And soon Todd would join the ranks of the Westfield alumni.
          Avery meticulously wiped down every surface, every spot Philip had made contact with. He dusted and cleaned the lock and handle of the front door. Then he got a plastic tarp and spread it out across the floor. He rolled Philip’s body from the couch and wrapped him like a mummy. Then he used every ounce of strength to cart Philip’s body down to the basement for storage.
          “Sorry about this, buddy,” Avery said as if Philip was still listening. “It’s only temporary.”
          He placed a call to an old connection simply named Jack and spent the day plotting his next move.
          Westfield was a forgotten memory of Avery’s. He had resided in Ocean City for years now and had no desire to return to his hometown. But if he was going to find Todd Reynolds, he’d find him there. Todd wasn’t bright enough to go into hiding. His style was to hide in plain sight. And that would be his downfall.
Avery packed a suitcase, which was just to conceal the semi-automatic pistol buried beneath his clothes, along with a glass jar. Inside the jar was a little surprise that Avery had set up for Todd. If things went according to plan, he probably wouldn’t even need the pistol. But Avery needed to play it safe.
He stuffed the suitcase in the trunk of his yellow mustang, which stood out like a yellow mustang. Avery liked the fact that his car was conspicuous. It made it seem like he had nothing to hide.
It was a fifty minute drive from Ocean City to Westfield. Avery made it there in thirty.

TODD REYNOLDS was a cautious associate of Avery. He made sure to double-check all the locks before he went to sleep every night. And in James Bond fashion, he slept with a gun tucked under his pillow. He only ate food that was packaged, boxed, or canned. He never took his chances with exposed fruits or vegetables. And if Todd drank in a bar, he would watch the bartender pour it and he never left his drink unattended. He had a remote starter installed in his vehicle so he didn’t even have to turn the key.
But he also had an incurable sweet tooth. There was always a candy jar filled with M&Ms or Skittles on his living room table that Todd would dig into around nine o’clock.
Avery waited patiently in the shadows of Todd’s hallway that evening when Todd flopped on his couch and lifted the lid from his candy jar. When he dug in for a handful of peanut M&Ms, the buried frog poked its head out from beneath. His fingers made minor contact and with the slightest touch, his whole body caved.
Todd’s body sunk from the couch to the floor, his muscles contracting, tightening and locking up. He was heaving and gasping for air, and his eyes watered as he struggled to retain his breath.
Avery turned the corner and entered the living room, approaching the candy jar at the center of the table. He pulled the frog from the jar, cradling it in the palms of his gloved hands.
There are two kinds of hit-men in this world. The ones who make it quick and leave no trace behind. And the ones who take their sweet ass time and still manage to leave no trace behind. Avery belongs in the latter category.
“Long time no see,” Avery remarked, still refusing to acknowledge his first name. “See my little friend here? This is a golden poison frog. Very rare thing to find here in America, but not impossible with the right connections. Note the special leather gloves I’m wearing. You see, my little friend here has a layer of skin that’s densely coated in alkaloid poison, which is absorbed through a person’s skin at first contact. Once it works its way through your system, it stops your nerves from transmitting impulses. It leaves your muscles in an inactive state, a form of paralysis. You’ll still be able to feel everything.”
“Swordfish,” Todd muttered between deep gasps.
“I haven’t heard that name in years,” Avery smiled. “I know you’re a busy man, so I won’t waste your time. I just have one question: Why did you kill Philip Baxter? Was it just to set me up, or did someone pay you off?”
“The fuck is Philip Baxter?” Todd asked convincingly.
“You know I hate games, pal. That poison is working its way through your body faster than you think. Why don’t you make this easy on yourself and I’ll end it quick.”
“You think I’m your enemy? I was the only friend in this business you ever had. You want answers? Go to a little place called Eden Harbor. Your real enemies are waiting for you there. That’s all you’re getting from me. Torture me all you want.”
“You’re not worth torturing. Besides, I have all the information I need to get the ball rolling. The poison will run its course and kill you in about five minutes. That’s just enough time to repent for your sins. It’s been a pleasure knowing you."

            AVERY stayed up until the wee hours of the morning before he moved Philip’s body to the trunk of his Chrysler and ditched it at the bottom of a lake. It wasn’t the proper burial his friend deserved, but he couldn’t have the cops on his back. Philip didn’t have many friends so chances are no one knew where he was heading that night. They’ll just assume he disappeared, ran off without giving notice.
When the deed was done, he placed another call to Jack, his connection. He couldn’t find Eden Harbor on any maps, recent or old. And a Google search turned up nothing more than a few articles about ancient witchcraft. He asked Jack to locate the town for him and put together a list of potential enemies that reside in the area.
Jack had the answers in less than three hours.
“The place is four hours east from Ocean City,” Jack relayed the info over the phone. “It’s a small back-roads town in the middle of nowhere. The closest town from there is Dorchester and that’s a good forty miles. You’ll want to take the Expressway to Route 24A. From there, you’re going to drive until you see signs for Dorchester. When you get to Dorchester, turn left onto Oak Street. You’re going to drive down Oak Street for a good thirty minutes before you reach a four-way intersection. At the intersection, make a right onto Jerusalem Ave and you’ll reach Eden Harbor eventually.” Avery jotted all the information down on a notepad and waited for more. “I only have one name for you. Vinnie Bonelli. You can find him at a place called the Last Chance Saloon. He hangs around there, works the night shifts a few times a week. But I wouldn’t go poking around this town if I were you.”
“Why’s that?” Avery inquired.
“In the old days, Eden Harbor used to be a witch town. A lot of innocent–and some allegedly not so innocent–people were accused and burned at the stake. A lot of people refuse to live there. There have been accounts of strange occurrences since the town was renamed in 1921.”
“Give me some examples,” Avery pushed for more details.
“Some people have claimed to see a dark silhouette floating above the skyline just after midnight. The figure appears to be flying on what could only be described as a wooden broom. Photographs that are taken in town square all come out horrid, the people’s faces blurred out and distorted. And that’s not all of it. But I’ll leave a little mystery for you should you decide to pursue this.”
“Thanks, Jack.”
“You’ll get my bill in the mail,” Jack said, hanging up on his end.
Avery hung up the phone and looked over the notepad. Vinnie “Bones” Bonelli was a former associate of Bucky Wallace. He was the only living associate of Bucky’s that Avery could think of. Maybe Vinnie Bones got to Todd and Todd squealed about the night of Bucky’s death. Maybe Vinnie forced Todd to do the job on Philip Baxter. It wasn’t about killing me. It was about setting me up for my friend’s murder. Or maybe it was just about sending a message. Well, message received, Vinnie. Now it’s time for you to receive a little message from me.
A sharp sting rose from Avery’s palms. He looked down at his hands, clenched on his living room table. Trickles of blood were starting to seep out between his fingers. He turned them over and stared in disbelief at the deep lacerations that had formed across his palms.
He washed his hands in the bathroom and used pure alcohol to disinfect the wounds. Then he wrapped both hands with bandages from the medical kit under his sink and phoned Doctor Dodge to make an appointment for that afternoon.

DOCTOR DODGE said the cuts were deep, but assured Avery it would not require stiches.
“How’d this happen?” the doctor asked.
“Wish I could tell you,” Avery shrugged his shoulders and heard his weak bones creak again.
“Stigmata,” Dodge said with a soft chuckle as he cleansed the wounds a second time and changed the bandages. Avery didn’t find it quite as amusing as his doctor did. “How’s the ulcer?” Dodge felt compelled to ask.
“Getting worse,” he said.
“You’ve got to try and take better care of yourself,” the doctor lectured him. “You’re falling apart, Avery.”
Avery wanted to argue, but he couldn’t. He concurred with his doctor’s prognosis. He was coming apart at the seams.

AVERY packed all the necessary artillery into the trunk of his mustang and was on the road by six o’clock. He followed Jack’s directions and arrived in Eden Harbor by ten.
It wasn’t difficult to find the Last Chance Saloon. It was the only bar in town. Actually, it was the only place of business that seemed open. All the other stores and shops were closed or boarded up from the outside.
He parked around back so no one would spot his car from the road. When he got out, he unloaded one semi-automatic pistol from his suitcase and stuffed two loaded clips into his jacket pockets. He jammed the pistol into his waistband and zipped his jacket.
Since his retirement, Vinnie Bones had resorted to bartending at saloons and bouncing at strips clubs to make ends meet. Even with Bucky’s crew out of commission and Vinnie in retirement, he assumed Vinnie still had friends, connections. People he could rely on for solid backup.
So Avery circled the bar before he went in. He wanted to mark every entrance and exit in his mind so he could plan a quick escape if things turned sour.
Avery didn’t recognize the bartender. He was young, jet-black hair with an assortment of tattoos and piercings. He wore special contacts that made his eyes unnaturally green. They glowed like a cats eyes.
A lone barfly sat at the far-end of the bar, nursing a mug of cheap beer in front of him.
Avery sat at the other end of the bar and ordered a glass of scotch. He questioned the cat-eyed bartender about Vinnie Bones. Avery sensed some resistance, but assessed that the bartender was not a threat. He was just wary of giving a coworker’s personal information to random strangers. All he would tell Avery was that Vinnie worked the night shift on Tuesdays and Sundays.
“I think I know you,” the barfly spoke directly to Avery. He grabbed his mug and slid down to Avery’s side of the bar, examining his wrinkled face. “I think I made a doll in your likeness. A guy sent me a photograph. You were wearing a charcoal grey suit, striped tie, and a beanie. I remember the beanie ’cause it looked so out of place with the suit. No offense. I mean, if that was you in the picture.”
Avery would’ve dismissed this man as crazy a minute ago, but he had just exactly described what Avery was wearing at Philip Baxter’s last Christmas party. His heating system was busted and the apartment was freezing because Baxter couldn’t get a serviceman to fix the problem last second during the busy holiday season. So he opted to wear his beanie throughout the party, which he wore strictly for warmth, not to appear young or hip. Though, he did feel foolish after a while.
“You’re saying someone paid you to make a doll that looks like me?” Avery inquired.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the guy. That’s not the weirdest request I’ve had.” The barfly motioned with his finger for Avery to lean closer and when he did, the barfly whispered, “This guy once paid me to construct a life-size doll that resembled his own sister. Now that guy gave me the willies.”
“Who paid you for the doll?”
“Some creep who had a fetish for his own sister.”
“Not that doll,” Avery rolled his eyes. “The doll that looks like me.”
“I don’t recall,” the barfly said, searching for a name in his head. “He had a funny way of walking. His legs were stiff, rigid. He was kind of bowlegged.”
Avery’s lips parted and his jaw stretched as wide as it could go. If it could have extended to the floor, that’s where it would’ve landed. His eyes were wide with shock, his mouth open and distorted. He couldn’t even begin to find the words.
Finally he spit out the name, “Augie White.”
“That’s the name!” the barfly exclaimed.
It took Avery more than a minute to process this newfound information. “Can you tell me one thing; can you tell me if he was missing a chunk of his ear?"
“I never noticed,” the barfly admitted. Avery could tell he was being sincere. “He came into the shop once to talk to me about making the doll. Then he mailed me the photo, spoke to me over the phone after that, paid with cash. I shipped the doll to his house when it was ready. I remember the address though.”
“You couldn’t remember the name but you remember the address?”
“It was 921 Wendigo Street. You don’t forget a street like that. That’s where they torched all those witches back in the day. A lot of spooky shit goes on around those parts of town. They got a whole modern age coven brewing down there. Neo-witches who think they can cast spells and put a hex on somebody. That’s why I tend to avoid it.”
“Point me in that direction,” Avery demanded.

WENDIGO STREET was two blocks from the saloon. Avery ditched his car and marched there on foot. His afflictions–the ulcer, the migraines, the muscle spasms, the sliced hands, the missing chunk of his ear–all took a backseat. He was running on pure adrenaline. His mind had no time to process pain. It was too busy working out the last pieces of the puzzle.
Avery was going about this all wrong. It wasn’t Vinnie Bonelli or anyone from Bucky’s crew who conspired against him. It was Augie White all along. He must’ve been plotting and scheming for a long time. As early as last Christmas. That’s when the photo was taken. Augie could’ve dug deep into Avery’s past, found out about Todd Reynolds. Maybe he paid Todd to do the job. Maybe he just stole Todd’s M.O. to avoid suspicion on his part.
The house at 921 Wendigo Street was dark and desolate. But even from the street Avery could see the door was slightly ajar. It was almost calling out for him to enter. Avery took a quick peek around the neighborhood to make sure there were no witnesses lingering about. Then he made a run for the door.
Once inside, Avery gently closed and locked the door behind him. He drew the pistol from his waistband and attached a silencer at the end of the barrel. He did a sweep of the living room and found not one piece of furniture. The room was bare and dusty, full of cobwebs.
In the kitchen cupboard, Avery found two dolls; one that eerily resembled Philip Baxter and one that uncannily resembled him.
The doll that resembled Baxter had a thick razorblade stuck through the neck, right about where the carotid artery would be. The doll that resembled Avery had a few more alterations to it. There were sewing pins jammed through the head, the back, the knees, the arms, legs, and gut. The hands of the doll had been sliced with a sharp object, most likely a knife or razor. And a portion of the dolls left ear had been carved off.
Avery slammed both dolls down on the countertop and grabbed his back as he felt a sharp, sudden pain. Just to be sure, he grabbed the Avery doll from the counter and twisted its head slightly to the left. He felt the bones and muscles in his neck crack and tighten. He placed the doll down gently this time and grabbed his piece.
Voodoo? Avery wondered. You’ve got to be shitting me. I always knew Augie was a freak. But this is too much.
Upstairs, Avery discovered one bathroom and two bedrooms. The first bedroom was bare, empty. So was the second bedroom–minus the long, narrow box placed in the center of the floor. The box was addressed to Avery by name. All it said was Swordfish.
Avery opened the box cautiously. Inside, a samurai sword that made the word Seppuku spring to mind again.
Avery dropped his pistol and clutched his back again. It felt like a muscle spasm, but it turned it to be more of an electrical shock. Someone had zapped him with a Taser. He was able to withstand the first jolt, but the second jolt caused his body to fold. He fell to the floor, writhing and flopping around helplessly like a fish out of water. He couldn’t stand on his feet or control the movements of his body. His muscles refused to communicate with his brain.
“In a town full of witchcraft, spells, and sorcery, it’s not impossible to get your hands on something like a voodoo doll. Or two in this case.” The voice was painfully familiar. It was the voice of Augie White. “I let you torture, belittle, and humiliate me. I let you and your friends drug me and make me the laughing stock of Westfield High School. I never spoke up or pressed charges. But then you had to go and kill my uncle, who was like a fucking father to me. That’s how you got your name, right? Swordfish?”
Avery remembered now. The fisherman’s name was Bobby White.
“Todd Reynolds told me all I needed to know. Everything I needed to lure you in was right there in front of me. It’s amazing what that sleaze will do for money. He sold you up the river, Avery. I hope you got to return the favor before this evening, because it will be your last chance.”
Augie held up the Avery doll and removed something from his pocket that he had specially designed by the barfly to resemble a miniature samurai sword.
Without control, Avery followed the movements of the doll and lifted the real samurai sword from the ground as the fake sword hovered above the dolls belly. Augie drove the sword down with one lightning-fast motion, tearing it down the center. Avery followed this action by ramming the edge of the sword deep into his gut.

AN ANONYMOUS TIP led to the police discovering Avery’s body in the upstairs bedroom of 921 Wendigo Street. They found him curled up in the fetal position, his stomach torn open, ribcage partially exposed. The entrails that had slid out and spilled across the floor were still warm. They searched the house afterwards for a murder weapon or signs of a struggle, but found neither.
“You know who this is?” the first officer asked.
“No,” the second responded. “Who?”
“Avery fucking Morrison. They used to call him Swordfish. Rumor has it, he used to do hits for the Westfield crew in his heyday.”
“Well, looks like someone from his past finally shut him up. I’d say this is a case of a suicide, but where’s the weapon?”
“I don’t know. Either way, I don’t think we’ll be solving this case anytime soon. Whoever did this covered their tracks. You don’t whack somebody like Avery Morrison without watching your step.”
They never did find Avery’s killer. But he was right about one thing. The family name died with him. Only he would still be remembered forever. Just under a different alias…