Friday, November 9, 2018

BAD MOON RISING

Genre: Horror




BAD MOON RISING
By Daniel Skye


           

Peter Morganti stepped out outside and drew a deep breath as he surveyed the vast, unyielding woodlands that enveloped the secluded cabin. The location had all the makings of a B-rated horror flick. The cabin was deep in the woods, and with the exception of a few other occupied cabins that were spaced out within the area, there was nobody else around. No internet service, and no cell phone reception, either. No way to call for help, if necessary.

            Sunset had ushered in a gloomy, dismal twilight. Soon, night would creep in and the darkness would swallow everything whole.

         Amanda joined him outside on the porch and observed Peter the way he observed his surroundings. He was a tall, lean man with short dark hair and green eyes; steady eyes that captured everything around him.

            “Dead quiet,” she observed. “You could hear a pin drop.”

           As a writer, Peter was not fond of clichés, but it was an apt description. You really could hear a pin drop, he thought. Hell, you could probably hear a rat pissing on cotton half a mile away. Peter chuckled silently at the thought. He’d have to write that one down.

            It was his writing that had made him invest in the cabin. A change of scenery and the calm, quiet reserve of nature was usually what the doctor ordered when Peter settled down to work on his first draft. Though he never could quite get adjusted to the serene settings. He was a city boy, born and raised. And even after he left the city and settled down in the suburbs, the noise never ceased.

            He was accustomed to all the noise and traffic and congestion. Every morning he awoke to a symphony of lawnmowers. Every night he’d go to sleep to the sounds of sirens and the rumbling of passing trains. He couldn’t tell if this was paradise or the opposite. It was so eerily quiet, he could hear the steady beating of his own heart.

            This place reminded him of a story his father used to tell. An urban legend that he would share when they went camping or fishing.

            The Woodsman. Not exactly the kind of name that inspires fear or leaves one shaking in their shoes. But it was the way his father told it that really got under his skin.

            The Woodsman was a lumberjack who returned to his cabin early one particular afternoon and caught his wife in bed with another man. To make matters worse, the man happened to be his best friend. The sight of them together drove The Woodsman over the edge. He took his axe and he hacked away at his unfaithful wife and his former friend. Something in his mind snapped that day. And he never recovered.

             He retreated into the woods and disappeared, along with his axe. His father described the axe as an additional appendage. It never left The Woodsman side. And of course, he didn’t truly disappear. The axe-wielding maniac roamed the woods late at night, looking for campers or lost hikers to chop up into coleslaw.

            The Woodsman was merciless. And he showed no prejudice. Men, women, even children were fair game. That morbid little detail used to send shivers down Peter’s eight-year-old spine.

            Maybe it was those tales of madness and macabre that molded Peter into a writer. Or maybe it was his knack for telling them. He was a natural storyteller. But he was also his own worst critic. Then again, aren’t all writers?

            “Shouldn’t you be working?” Amanda chided, playfully. “Before it gets late,” she added.

            “No good ideas,” he confessed. “I’ve got plenty of ideas, but nothing interesting. I feel like Nicholson in the Shining.”

            “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

            He wagged his index finger. “Redrum, Redrum.”

            They shared a laugh that carried over the tall, dense trees and echoed through the woods. It was getting darker by the minute.

            “It’s going to be a full moon tonight,” Amanda said.

            “Perhaps I’ll put my writing off until the morning.”

            “Perhaps?” she said, as if there was some choice in the matter.

           Darkness slithered in, slowly engulfing their surroundings. Peter stood under the awning of the porch, avoiding the glare of the moonlight.

The dark obscured their vision, but didn’t affect their sense of sound. Though, Peter wished it had. He heard the boots shuffling through the woods, twigs snapping and dry leaves crunching underfoot. The razor-sharp head of the axe glistened under the bright beam of the moon.

The Woodsman, he gasped. Amanda saw him lumbering towards the cabin and raised one hand to her mouth to stifle a scream.

“Knock, knock,” a voice echoed through the trees. A voice of sheer malevolence. “Anybody home?”

A low, guttural sound emanated from the woods–a cross between a growl and a snarl. A sound that made even the axe-wielding psychopath quake with fear. Someone–or rather, something–came running full-speed through the tree line. He could only make out parts of it, sections.

Whoever–or whatever–it was, it was more beast than man. It had hair; thick, glossy, blood-matted hair. And claws. And teeth. Dear God, the teeth. Those jagged teeth seized the would-be Woodman by his calf and dragged him off screaming like a child.

And when it was done tearing him to pieces, it returned to the cabin. Its short, wet snout twinkled in the moonlight. Its low growl still echoed through the woods. It bared its jagged, razor-sharp teeth at Peter, as if signaling him out, challenging him.

Challenge accepted, Peter thought.

Amanda ran inside and locked herself in at Peter’s behest. He stepped out and let the moonlight consume him. His nose and mouth evolved, producing a hideous wet snout. Claws protruded from his fingertips. His teeth grew longer and sharper, his flesh turned to fur.

            He hadn’t come all the way out there just to write.

            He came out there to hunt.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

KARMA: PART TWO

Genre: Horror




KARMA
PART TWO
By Daniel Skye



October 29



            Skinned alive.

            Detective Boone clutched at his unsettled stomach, his insides churning at the sickening sight. Fifteen years on the job and he couldn’t remember the last time he felt this queasy.

            The victim’s skin had been sliced, flayed, and stripped down to the musculature of his anatomy. Boone had never seen anything like it–the muscles, fat, tendons, ligaments, and soft tissue all exposed at once.

            The victim was male, no doubt about it. That was another ghastly sight Boone could have lived without. But they had no chance at a positive ID without dental records, which would take hours, especially at that time of night.

            The medical examiner confirmed that the victim was alive when it happened, right before he excused himself to expel his wife’s pasta primavera. He felt every second of it, the examiner had shared with Boone. And that hideous thought would stick with him in the days to come.

            The men from his precinct were combing the area, searching for any clues or evidence, perhaps a murder weapon that the killer carelessly left behind.

            Slim chance it was the same guy. But he had to question the MO and the timing. This was too savage, too aggressive to be a petty grudge or a simple act of revenge. If you want someone dead, you get a gun and you shoot them. Quick and easy, Boone thought. And if you want them to suffer, there are plenty of other ways. But nobody takes the time and effort to skin another human being alive unless the act itself has meaning or they’re trying to make a statement.

He had to give George Sloan a heads up. They went back a long way and he owed him the courtesy of a phone call.

It rang several times before Sloan picked up.

“Eddie,” Sloan said, acknowledging him. “It’s late. Everything alright?”

“We’ve got a body out here in Dorchester, skinned from head to toe. It was found in the woods, but left out in the open.”

“And you’re thinking–”

            “I don’t know. I know you’re almost two hours away in Hither Hills, but it’s still Long Island. And I heard about the incident in Fairview. It just got me thinking.”

            “Yeah, everyone heard about it. Some asshole in our department leaked it to the press before we could even ID the victim. The vultures swarmed on our only witness and got him to sing. Now everyone in the county is spooked. The papers are printing articles about a killer clown terrorizing Long Island. It’s going to be on the damn front page tomorrow.”

            “Detective Boone,” one of the officers interrupted. “You’re going to want to take a look at this.”

            “George,” Boone said, his voice a whisper. “I’m going to have to call you back.”



October 30

           

Three missed calls from Gina Vasquez.

            She can wait, Val thought. She’ll thank me when I bring her this story.

            Val returned to the room her editor reserved for her. But only for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Her instructions were to interview John Mendelson, check out of her hotel, and head back to the city.

            Change of plans.

            The prison where she’d interviewed Mendelson was upstate, about a three hour drive from the Manhattan offices of the Daily Buzz. And about a six hour drive from Hither Hills, Long Island.

Val’s plan was simple: Check out after she collected her things and washed the prison stink off of her, then haul ass back to the office. She’d drop off the tape, the one with Mendelson’s interview on it. The Daily Buzz would have their story and she’d be free to continue her investigation. She couldn’t let this rest.

            Hither Hills was where the Mendelson’s had lived. And something told her she’d find the answers she needed there.

            Her phone pinged. One new text from her editor: ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE!

            Alright, the bitch has waited long enough, Val thought. She called Gina back. No hello. No greeting of any kind. She just came right out with it.

            “We’ve got a fresh body on Long Island, unidentified. But there was a witness. And the perp matches the description that Mendelson gave the cops years ago. A giant lunatic in a red-and-black clown suit, green hair, floppy shoes, the whole deal.”

            “Hither Hills?”

            “Nope. Fairview, Long Island. About three towns over from Hither Hills. But the same two detectives who handled the Mendelson case were assigned to this one. Their department has jurisdiction over almost half of Suffolk County. You’ll want to talk to them too, if they’re willing to give a statement.”

            “Way ahead of you,” Val said.


***


            Hither Hills, Long Island.

            Val wasn’t the least bit surprised that the Mendelson’s neighbors refused to speak with her. Nor was she surprised that the local police didn’t return her calls. Turner and Sloan weren’t talking to the press or answering any questions at this time.

            But Val was tenacious and she had her share of connections. From what she gathered, Sloan was the more sensible of the two. It only took a few phone calls and a few cheap bribes to snag his address. She parked along the curb and waited for him to return home.

            Sloan pulled into his driveway just before dark. Val caught him as he was walking to the front door. His senses were sharp. He knew she was behind him without even turning his head.

            “I can’t answer any questions at this time,” Sloan said, without turning to face her. He fished through his pocket for his house keys and accidentally dropped his cigarette pack. He snatched it up quickly and stuffed it back into his pocket. Must be hiding it from his wife, Val thought.

            “I saw John Mendelson this morning. He told me quite the story. Even gave me some new information about the clown.”

            “Lady, there’s no clown,” he sneered. “Just drop it.”

            “My paper is publishing the article tomorrow, whether your department likes it or not. This is your one chance to have your voice be heard before it goes to press, and to shed some light on the murder in Fairview.”

            “I’ll pass.”

            “Detective Sloan, please, I drove a long way to get here and my editor will kill me if I don’t get a statement.”

            “You want a statement? John Mendelson murdered his family in cold blood. Hacked them up into pieces. I can get you the photos if you’d like to see them yourself. And as for the incident in Fairview, we’re looking into it. I can assure it has no connection to the Mendelson case.”

            He slammed the door in her face.

            “Pssst,” someone whispered. She saw a teenager pressed against the side of the house, smoking a cigarette, clearly trying to hide the fact from his father. How ironic, Val thought.

            “You want information?” the kid whispered.

            “Information is always useful in my line of work.”

            “Not here,” he said, shaking his head. He crushed his cigarette under his foot and pointed east. “Drake’s Deli. It’s six blocks from here. Meet you in fifteen minutes.”


***


            Val waited fifteen minutes outside of Drake’s Deli before Sloan’s son arrived. The kid’s punctual, she thought. She hadn’t even gotten his name. But she didn’t need one. She couldn’t get an official statement without his parent’s permission. So any comments would have to be kept off the record or credited to an anonymous source. But Val had a feeling his info would lead to further revelations.

            “What’s your name?” she inquired. She didn’t need to know, but she wanted to know in order to establish a connection. She wanted to know a little about him first. It was her curious nature that had led her to this job in the first place.

            “James,” he said. “But everyone at school calls me Jim or Jimmy. I prefer Jimmy, to be honest. My dad hates it. My mom’s not crazy about it either.”

            “And you’re a smoker, Jimmy?”

            “You want one?” he asked, reaching for his pack.

            “No thanks,” she said. “I gave it up. Do your parents know?”

            “They don’t have a clue. My dad’s too busy trying to hide the fact that he smokes from my mom. And my mom is too preoccupied worrying about him. The job and everything, you know. It’s normal for a cop’s wife to worry.”

            “So Jimmy, what do you have to tell me?”

            “Buy me a pack of smokes and I’ll tell you everything I know.”

            What a little punk, Val thought. But bribes were common in her profession. Though she didn’t like the idea of buying cigarettes for an underage teenager. That still didn’t stop her from wandering into Drake’s Deli and grabbing Jimmy a pack of menthols.

            “I overheard my dad talking,” Jimmy told her as he lit one. “He said there witnesses description matches the description Mendelson gave them. Someone in his station leaked the info to the press and he’s pissed. He won’t talk to you. But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about the clown. It’s like a local urban legend. Karma the Clown.”

            “Karma, that’s what Mendelson said.”

            “Yeah, I have no idea who came up with it. But it stuck. He even has a following.”

            “A following?”

            “Yeah, like a cult. COK.”

            “Cock?”

            He chortled. “C-O-K. It’s an acronym. Cult of Karma. I don’t think they put a lot of thought into the name. They’re not the thinking type. They’re doers.”

            “And what is it that they do?”

            “While when they’re not worshiping Satan, they’re spray painting they’re insignia all over town and terrorizing the locals. They never really hurt anyone. It’s usually vandalism, destruction of property, that sort of thing. But man, those guys give me the creeps. And I wouldn’t put it past them to do something extreme.”

            “How extreme?”

            “Like kill someone.”

            “You think they killed the man in the alley?”

            “No, I think it was the real deal.”

            “Karma? Don’t tell me you believe he actually exists.”

            “A loon in a clown costume who likes to mutilate people? It’s totally possible.”

            Val was rapidly becoming a believer. The kid was right. It was not only possible, it was probable. There are active serial killers all across the company. They all have an MO, a calling card, a clue they leave behind, a message they’re trying to send, a gimmick or a nickname. It was plausible for one of these lunatics to slap on some clown makeup and adopt an alternate persona. Maybe this was how the killer justified his actions. It wasn’t me, it was the evil clown controlling me.

            “That’s all you’ve got for me?”

            “Afraid so. But I can point you in the direction of somebody else. Jack Yee. He’s a local. Guy is ancient. Been living in Hither Hills long before I was born.”

            “Thanks for the tip.”

            As Val drove away, she caught a peculiar sight in her rearview mirror. A black balloon tied to the grating of a storm drain, dancing in the wind.


***
  

            “Mr. Yee?” Val presumed as he opened the door.

            “Whatever you’re selling, I ain’t buying. I’m happily retired. I just take photographs for my website now. I don’t need a timeshare, I’ve already found Christ, I’m not looking for a new security system and I like my current cable provider.”

            “I’m not selling anything, Mr. Yee.”

            “Then why are you here at this hour? How do you know my name and my address?”

            “A local kid mentioned you, told me this is where I could find you. I’m a reporter for the Daily Buzz. Do you have a minute?”

            Silence.

            “I suppose I could spare a few minutes. I think I know what this is about.”

            He invited her in. His living room could use some renovations. Mustard yellow wallpaper. A couch laminated in plastic. A rocking chair crammed into the far corner of the room. A box TV that dated back to the 90’s. Hardwood floors that were all scuffed up.

            She sat on the sterile couch and Jack returned with a cup of coffee. He offered her one, she declined.

            “You mentioned a website. What kind of pictures do you take for your site?”

            “All kinds. Pictures that capture the magic and beauty of Long Island; the side people don’t always get to see, the side people don’t always think of when they think of Long Island. There’s beauty in everything. You just have to look for it.”

            “Not much beauty in Fairview. I’m sure you’ve heard by now. It’s in all the papers.”

            “I heard. Poor guy. Hard to believe that anyone could be capable of eating another man’s face. Makes me sick.”

            “But do you believe the story?”

            “Do I believe there’s a killer clown on the loose? I don’t know about that. But, stranger things have happened in this unpredictable world.”

            “You’ve lived here a long time?”

            “Longer than a piece of string.”

            “So you know about John Mendelson and his family?”

            “Oh, yes. Everybody does. It was national news.”

            “And you think this is all some coincidence?”

            Jack simply shrugged his meek, sagging shoulders.

            “It has a name you know,” Val said. “The clown. That’s what John Mendelson told me.”

            “You spoke with Mendelson?”

            “I interviewed him this morning.”

            “And then you drove all the way to Long Island?”

            “I’m very dedicated to my profession.”

            “I can respect that. So what do they call it, the clown?”

            “Karma.”

            “Hmmm…I’ve heard it before. And there’s a group of degenerates that hang around these parts. They’re a cult. They paint their faces, cause havoc and destruction. They worship this urban legend as if it’s real.”

            “What if it’s not just a legend?”

            “I mean, I know a lot of people have disappeared over the years in this county. A lot of people. I’m not saying it’s all the work of one person. But…”

            “But, there’s always a chance.”

            “If you want my advice, I’d quit while you were ahead. This whole thing reeks of trouble. Nothing good will come of this.”

            “I’ll take my chances. But thanks for your concern.”

            As Val was ready to excuse herself, Jack shared one more seemingly unrelated detail.

            “When I was a kid, I remember a disturbance at the town fair. A mother had lost her child. She was frantic, running around screaming, calling his name, asking everyone if they had seen him. The only witness was the town drunk, Petey Matthews. But he swore he saw the boy being dragged off by a tall clown. He said he looked away for a second to find help, and when he looked back, the clown was gone and so was the boy.

            The cops didn’t believe Petey, him being the town drunk and all. But they went through the procedure. Questioned all the workers at the fair, searched the grounds, interviewed all the locals who were in attendance that evening. But they never did find that boy. That was, oh God, almost sixty years ago. I must’ve been seven or eight at the time. But there’s no chance in hell it’s the same guy. He’d be older than me and I’m pushing seventy.”

           No way, Val thought. Couldn’t be the same man. Unless he isn’t a man at all. Unless he’s…not human.


***
  

            “It’s about time you called me back,” Sloan said, answering his cell.

            “George, we’ve got a serious situation out here,” Eddie Boone said.

            “You told me, Eddie. The John Doe in the woods.”

            “It’s way, way worse than that. Our boys made a gruesome discovery at the abandoned rock quarry. George, it’s a…it’s a mass grave. We’ve already pulled twenty, maybe thirty out and they’re still pulling bodies as we speak.”

            “Jesus Christ,” George sighed. “What do you know so far?”

            “As much as you do. We don’t know if it’s the work of one person or if there’s a bigger picture here. But…”

            “There’s that word again.”

            “What if it’s him, George? What if it’s really him?”

            “You really want to go down this road?”

            “We have to consider every possibility.”

            “I could really use a fucking cigarette right about now,” George groaned. “Okay, say for a second that he’s real. That there is some seven-foot-tall, psycho killer clown running around Long Island undetected. If he’s that good, how do we catch him?”

            “Oh fuck,” Boone exclaimed.

            “What is it?”

            “You know what tomorrow is.”

            “Halloween,” George gasped.

            “If that sick freak really exists, he’ll be able to blend in with everyone tomorrow night. But we can look for him. We can stop him. Or stop whoever’s behind this.”

            “I’ll make my department aware of the situation. Our boys will be out in full force tomorrow. They’ll be on every street corner. I’ll tell them what they need to be on the lookout for. I advise you to do the same out there. And Eddie, if you are right, God help us.”


***


            Val popped the brakes and the car skidded and jerked before it came to a dead stop. It was dark and the streets were poorly lit. Her eyes had to be deceiving her.

            She got out and observed her surroundings. The area was deserted, and the building in front of her stood abandoned, with its windows boarded up and a sign posted to the door that read BUILDING CONDEMNED: NO TRESPASSING.

            But none of this was what originally caught her eye. What grabbed her attention was the lone black balloon tied to the door handle. It danced and swayed in the wind, almost inviting Val, beckoning her to come on in and take a peek.

            Val felt a dirty hand clamp over her mouth. She tried to scream, but her protests were muffled by this grimy, catcher’s-mitt-sized hand covering half her face. The person grabbed her by the waist with his free arm and dragged her inside the building.

            He threw Val down to the floor and instructed her to stay put. Her instincts told her to scream for help or beg for her life, but fear got the better of her and she remained silent.

            One by one, they emerged from the shadows, their faces smeared with paint. She didn’t recognize any of them; not like she could with the clown makeup. They formed a tight circle around her, boxing her in.

            “We’ve been watching you, Ms. Reed,” one of them spoke. “You have many questions about our leader.”

            “You know him? You’ve seen him?”

            “We serve his cause, whether or not he truly exists. Karma isn’t just one man. It’s an ideal, a philosophy, a way of life. We are all Karma.”

            “You’re all crazy,” Val said boldly, given the situation.

            “Enough talk. Enough questions. It’s Devil’s Night. Time for the party to begin. But first, let’s take care of Ms. Reed. She can be the first victim of the evening.”

            Val felt a skull cracking blow on the back of her head and her whole world went black as she was swallowed into the dark abyss.

            When she came to, she gasped at all the blood. She ran her fingers through her hair, rubbed the back of her throbbing head. Some bruising and a small gash. Nothing life threatening. So where did all the blood come–

            Her eyes spun around the room. The walls were streaked red. Eight torsos littered the floor; their heads severed, limbs hacked straight through the bone. The floors were slick with blood and she could barely take a step without sliding or tripping over a severed appendage.

            Val gasped and nearly bit her tongue to stifle an oncoming scream. It was standing in front of the door, blocking her only exit.

            It was a man, if you could call it a man. Seven feet tall, maybe taller. He made Val look like a mere insect in his presence. He wore a red-and-black suit with vertical stripes, just as Mendelson had described it. Tufts of green hair sprouted on opposite sides of his otherwise bald head. Toxic green, the color of slime.

           He had black diamonds painted over his sinister eyes. And white paint smeared all over the rest of his face, nothing meticulous about it. This wasn’t a man who spent hours in front of the mirror painting his face.

He wore fingerless gloves, exposing the burnt skin that his costume and the paint concealed. Val wondered if he had been in an accident at some point or if the twisted freak had done it to himself.

He pushed the door open and backed out slowly, never taking his eyes off of her. But he hadn’t laid a finger on her. He left her alive, just as Mendelson had theorized. That he often leaves a victim or a witness behind, not to frame them, but to tell his tale. To spread the word.

Val waited until long after he was gone before whispering his name. “Karma…he’s real.”



October 31
Halloween



            Val was wiped. She’d spent her night at the police station, having the tables turned on her. Normally it was Val asking all the questions. But now Sloan and his partner had questions of their own. She’d told them everything, and then she told it to them again, and again. At least Sloan is finally talking, she thought.

            They were looking for any cracks in her façade, any inconsistencies in her story, anything they could use to cast doubt over her claims. But nothing changed the fact that there were eight dismembered bodies in the building Val had led them to. Sloan couldn’t deny that. And he seemed more convinced by Val’s story than his partner.

            She took more a liking to Sloan. Michael Turner was cold and lacked any sense of charm. He was the kind of detective who cracked bad jokes at murder scenes. Sloan was serious and straight to the point, but he had a big heart under his rough exterior, Val was certain of that.

            Sloan brought her coffee and a bagel in the morning.

            “We’re obviously not charging you with anything. And we’re not going to hold you here any longer. You’re free to go anytime you want. A bit of advice, leave Long Island. Don’t stick around here any longer. It’s not going to be safe tonight.”

            “Your men are going to find him and put an end to this?”

            “They’re going to try.”

            “I can help. I can be like a lookout or something. There’s got to be some way I can help out.”

            “No way. Just go.”

            “I’m not going anywhere. So either find something to arrest me for or let me help.”

            “I won’t let you help, but I won’t force you to leave town either. Do what you feel you need to do, but please stay out of our way.”

            “Deal. And detective, I wish you the best of luck.”

            Val left the station in a hurry, got her car, and went back to work. First, she reached out to one of her many sources, an ex-con named Felix. For two hundred dollars, Felix got Val what she had requested.

            An unregistered firearm. She ran her thumb across the part where the serial number had been scratched off.

            “It’s loaded,” he told her as she tucked it into her purse.

            “Safety on or off?”

            “Off. You know how to use it?”

            “I’ve shot a few in the past. My dad was a hunter.”

            “Should I ask why you need a gun?”

            “Better not.”

            “For an extra hundred bucks, I’ll be your bodyguard. I got nothing going on today. I’ll stick with you all day.”

            “A hundred bucks? What a gentleman.”

            “It’s the least I can do for an old friend. I appreciate you not burying me in that article.”

            “You were young. You made a mistake. It happens. I’m glad to see you’re staying out of trouble though,” she said motioning to her purse.

            “Hey, you asked for the gun. You have your connections, I have mine. But I’ve been keeping my nose clean and I haven’t robbed any houses. Those days are behind me. I even have a job now.”

            “I believe you,” she said. “And I’m happy for you.”

            “Ah what the hell, I’ll hang out with you for free. It could be fun. Consider me your personal bodyguard for the day.”

            “You really are bored, aren’t you?”

            “You have no idea how boring sobriety is.”

            “Well, if you’re bored now, you’re really going to be bored where we’re going.”

            “Where are we going?”

            “The library.”


***


            “Google would be quicker,” Felix said.

            “Google wouldn’t have all the articles I’m looking for,” Val said as she used the libraries microfilm archive to look up various missing persons articles. She went all the way back to 1958 and found the story Jack Yee had told her about the missing boy.

            The cops had assumed the town drunk had cried wolf. But he had given a vague description of the clown that was included in one of the articles. It made mention of a red-and-black clown suit with vertical stripes and green hair. Petey Matthews had gone out of his way to make note of its eyes. “The blackest eyes I’ve ever seen,” he was quoted. “There was something evil behind those eyes.”

            Then she went through the others. And there were dozens of missing person’s articles. Unsolved cases dating back even further than 1958. Karma had been busy. Very busy.

            When she’d read every article word for word and her eyes were sore, she searched for articles involving town fires.

            “Oh my God…”

            “What is it?” Felix asked.

            “There was a fire in Hither Hills, 1932. A circus tent caught fire. One of the performers was badly burned. He died shortly after, succumbing to his wounds. His name was–”

            “Karma,” he finished.

            “I should tell Detective Sloan.”

            “Well if you’re going to do it, do it without me. Cops and ex-cons go together like pizza and pineapple.”

            “I like pineapple on my pizza.”

            “Why?”

            “Let’s save this discussion for another time. Come on, we have to go.”


***


            Val decided it best not to tell Sloan. What would she have told him? That a clown with the same name died from a fire in 1932 and there must be a connection? That it’s his vengeful spirit killing people off? That this is a case of the supernatural? He’d laugh in her face.

            But Val wasn’t going to let it rest. It was Halloween. The perfect night for him to come out and play. He could blend in with any crowd on this night. So Val and Felix cruised the neighborhoods, drove up and down every street, circled every block. It was getting dark when they stopped for coffee and to refill her gas tank. Once Val had her caffeine fix, they found a street to park on and plan their next move.

            “We’ve been driving for hours,” Felix said. “We need to try something new.”

            “I’m open to suggestions.”

            “Maybe there’s a way to call him out. Batman has the bat signal. Maybe there’s a signal or a sign, a way to summon him. Or maybe just saying his name draws him out. Maybe you have to say it a certain number of times.”

            “He’s not The Candyman.”
            
“Wait a second…he killed those eight people, but he let you live. Why?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said that John Mendelson had a theory that he wanted witnesses, that he wanted people to spread the word about him. But what if he let you go because he was…saving you for later. What if he marked you as one of his next victims?”

The passenger window exploded. A colossal hand reached into the car and grabbed Felix by the throat. Felix gasped for air as the man dug his burnt fingers into his neck. Blood spurted across the windshield as he ripped Felix’s throat open with his bare hand. Val screamed as she stumbled out of the car, dragging her purse with her.

Trick-or-treaters were screaming, sobbing, and scattering in every direction. Val frantically dug through her purse and produced the gun she got from Felix. She raised the gun, thumbed back the hammer, and squeezed off one shot. The bullet ripped through his chest. He stumbled back, then lurched forward.

She fired a second shot, which clipped his shoulder. He staggered back, then took a few steps forward. She squeezed off two more rounds, the bullets tearing through his red-and-black stripes. How is he still standing?

She emptied the gun, all ten rounds, hitting her target every time. The last round finally brought him to his knees and he collapsed in the street.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” the officer shouted. “DROP THE GUN NOW AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Val tossed the gun and raised her hands. “It’s not what it looks like. I was defending myself. He killed my friend. And a lot of other people. Call Detective George Sloan. He’ll tell you who I am.”

“I don’t care who you are. Just keep your hands in the air.”

The officer looked down and saw the seven-foot monster that matched the description his department had given out. He called it in with his radio and turned back to Val. “You can put your hands down. Good job. Nice shooting.”

Val breathed a sigh of relief. She was still trembling.

“It’s okay,” the officer assured her. “It’s all over.”

Karma sprang to his feet, knocking the gun from the officer’s hand. He wrapped one hand around his throat and lifted him off the ground with ease, before launching him into the windshield of Val’s car.

Val made a move for the officer’s gun. He kicked it away and snatched her wrist. She jammed her thumb into his eye, digging her nail in. He didn’t scream, but the pain was enough to get him to release his grip. She scrambled towards the gun, picked it up, turned and fired a shot into the air.

“Where the…where the hell did he go?”

Sirens emanated in the distance. Her eyes scoured the block, frantically searching for this monster of a man. But he was nowhere in sight. The night went from chaotic to quiet in seconds.

The police arrived and Sloan and Turner followed. “What the hell is going on here, Reed?”

“He was just here. I shot him ten times. Ten times, Sloan. He’s not human. He isn’t fucking human.”

“The clown? He was here?”

“His blood is in the street.”

“Where did he go?”

“He just vanished. I didn’t even see him slip away.”

“Something tells me this is going to be a long night,” Turner sighed.


***
  

            Turner and Sloan let Val ride along with them. Sloan insisted on it. She was bruised and she was battered, but she wasn’t beaten. Valerie Reed never quit.

            “We’re never going to find him,” Turner said. “We’re wasting our time. This psycho has gone back into hiding. He won’t show his face again tonight.”

            “I’m not giving up,” Sloan said.

            “Stop!” Val shouted. Sloan hit the brakes and they all stared out the window at the house with a dozen black balloons tied to the mailbox.

            “The son of a bitch is taunting us,” Turner slammed his fist on the dashboard.

            “The place looks empty,” Val said.

            “It is,” Sloan said. “This block is a housing development. Real estate agency bought up the neighborhood and they’re in the process of remodeling.”

            “Let’s go,” Turner said, not even waiting for Sloan. He kicked the door in and was the first one inside. He was also the first one to smell the pungent stench of gasoline that filled the air.

            Sloan followed him in, and Val followed behind him. They cleared the foyer and the living room, then the kitchen. They went up and down the hallway, clearing the bedrooms.

            “Nothing,” Turner groaned. “We lost him again.”

            The closet door swung open and Karma grabbed Turner by the head, squeezing with both hands until they heard his skull crack and his eyes burst from the sockets. Sloan couldn’t risk firing a shot in a house soaked in gasoline. He struck Karma with the butt of his gun, which didn’t even faze him. He ripped the gun from his hand and flung Sloan halfway across the room and into the wall.

            Val rushed to his side and checked his pulse. He was alive, just unconscious. She frantically searched his pockets and found his cigarettes and the lighter tucked into his half empty pack.

            Karma crept across the room, moving towards her. She looked him dead in those black eyes and smiled. “Karma is a bitch.”

           She brought the lighter down to the floor and house went up in flames, the fire spreading from room to room at an alarming pace. Fire crawled up the walls and engulfed the hallway. Sloan regained consciousness as Val pulled him to his feet.

            Flames licked at her legs as they spread across the floor. The intense heat and smoke was already too much to bear.

            “We need to get out here,” Val said as they hobbled towards the door. Sloan glanced around the room.

            “Where is he?”

            Val looked back and saw his crumpled body on the floor, a giant ball of flames, his suit melting in his skin.

            The smoke was thick, the oxygen thin. They dropped to the floor and crawled on their stomachs, like crawling through hell itself.

            They gasped for air as they made it outside, just before the fire could consume the house entirely. It took the fire department an hour to put it out as paramedics tended to George and Val.

            “I’m sorry about your partner,” Val told him.

            “I’m sorry too. He was a good man. I’ll miss him.”

            “What do we tell people?” she asked.

            “The truth, I suppose. I don’t know who will believe it though.”

            One of the firemen approached them as they were sitting in the back of the ambulance.

            “Detective Sloan?”

            “Yes, what is it?”

            “The fires out. But…”

            “I hate that word.”

            “But we only found one body.”

            “Come again?”

            “We’re still searching, but as of this moment, we’ve only got one body. Looks like Detective Turner, from what we can tell. I’m sorry for your loss, by the way.”

            Val and George exchanged worried glances.

            “It can’t be,” she whispered. “It can’t be.”

            Sloan gazed skyward, as if the clouds above held all the answers. But the sky offered no reply. It held only gloom and gray and a promise of rain to come.

            Some things could simply never be explained, and this was definitely one of those things. And it still wasn’t over. It would never be over. The legend of Karma would continue to grow and spread. And he would live on, one way or another.


THE END?