Friday, February 28, 2020
By Randy Romero
“Cheers,” Vinny Lopresti said, raising his glass.
“What are we celebrating?” Lou Burkhart asked.
“It’s been seven years since we started coming to Flanagan’s. Same bar, same after work ritual, seven years in a row.”
“Isn’t seven years supposed to be bad luck or something?”
“No, seven years is the penalty, the consequence. Like they say breaking a mirror is seven years of bad luck.”
“Either way, it feels unlucky to me. Let’s drink to something else.”
“Then let’s drink to victory,” Vinny declared. “I pulled off a miracle in that courtroom today.”
“To victory,” Lou said and they drained their glasses.
Vinny was debating switching over to hard liquor. Why not? It was a night to celebrate. He’d just won the biggest case of his professional career, and saved a man who was facing life in prison. The money was just a bonus. The mafia tend to be high paying clients.
Before he could decide on hard liquor or another beer, the bartender refilled their glasses and gave them a round on the house, and they went on drinking and talking.
“I still want to know how you pulled that off,” Lou said.
“They had nothing on the guy. His prints weren’t on the gun, there was no serial number, no way to trace it back to him. They had one eyewitness, and any cop will tell you, eyewitnesses are rarely reliable. Put them up on the stand and they could easily destroy the whole case you’ve built. This eyewitness turned out to be on the sauce the night she allegedly saw our guy in question. Factor in her age and her mental stability and it wasn’t hard to discredit her testimony. It also didn’t hurt that she showed up to court reeking of booze.”
“Incredible. I don’t know how you do it. But I bet you’re happy to put this whole thing behind you.”
“I can definitely sleep a lot easier knowing that the mafia won’t be discarding my body in a river. And I won’t lie, the money was worth the risk.”
Lou was practically in awe of his friend, but it was clear to Vinny what set the two men apart. Vinny had one trait that Lou severely lacked. Charisma. When he talked, people listened. His words could be very persuasive. That’s why Vinny was a wealthy attorney and Lou was still kicking around as a public defender.
Vinny tried giving him some pointers, but the man was hopeless. Lou Burkhart could fuck up a cup of black coffee. He just didn’t have the magic that Vinny had to pull it off in the courtroom. To Vinny, it was all an act. He wasn’t a lawyer, he was a showman. And the judge and jury were his audience.
“How’s life as a public defender?” Vinny asked, just making conversation.
“Ouch. No need to throw salt in my wounds. It’s about as good as you expect. I represent pickpockets and purse snatchers and illegal immigrants because they all can’t afford a lawyer. My only clients are the ones too broke to afford my services. The court cuts me a check and then I move on, next case.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You know I spent years as a public defender. You got to pay your dues. Besides, I’m not always this lucky. I’ve had some blunders in court. I mean not all of them were my fault though.”
“Oh, I’ve got to hear this,” Lou said. He was a sucker for a good courtroom story.
“I was representing this dumb, pitiful redneck. Below average IQ. Not the most eloquent speaker. But he swears he’s innocent. Even has an alibi that sort of checks out. And I’ll be damned, but he actually convinced me. Guy was accused of stealing three trucks from his construction job. He says he was shacked up with a girl the night it happened. I had my firm check her out. Of course she turned out to be a druggie and therefore unreliable. But they didn’t have anything on him. I figured somebody else stole the trucks and the company he worked for was using him as a scapegoat. What I didn’t know was that they had footage of the robbery.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, this jackass made it even easier for them to convict him. Two of the trucks disappeared. I can only assume they were sold for cash or chopped up. I don’t know and I didn’t care enough to ask. The third truck wasn’t hard to find. This dumb motherfucker rolled up to court driving one of the stolen trucks. Just pulls right into the parking lot and strolls into court like it’s no big fucking deal. They arrested him on the spot. I couldn’t even convince the prosecutor to go for a plea bargain.”
Lou laughed until his cheeks were purple. “That almost makes me feel better about some of my cases.”
The fiery redhead sat at the end of the bar, wearing wraparound sunglasses. How long had she been sitting there? How had Vinny not noticed her until that moment? She was impossible not to notice. Her beauty was virtually hypnotic. Did she just walk in, or had she been invisible for the duration of Vinny of Lou’s conversation?
Vinny chugged his beer and waved the bartender over for another round.
“Who’s she?” Vinny whispered to the bartender when he paid for his drinks.
“No clue. Comes in here at least once a week and picks up some random guy. I guess it’s that time of the week again.”
“What’s with the sunglasses?”
“Beats me. Ask her yourself. Maybe you’re the lucky guy she’s looking for tonight.”
“You know any good divorce lawyers?” Lou chimed in. “Carmella’s taking me to the cleaners. Between that and the kid, I’m going broke over here. Joey wants some expensive video game thingy for Christmas. The Super Nintendo.”
“Super Nintendo? I’ve heard of Nintendo, but what the fucks a Super Nintendo?”
“I don’t know, I guess it’s supposed to be better than the original. Fucking kids and these gadgets. We didn’t have half that they had growing up. They’re spoiled nowadays if you ask me.”
“I concur. Listen, if you need help, I’ll put you in touch with a guy I know. He specializes in divorce. Now if you’ll excuse me, happy hour is almost over, and that pretty little redhead over there is calling my name.”
“Good luck,” Lou scoffed. “A bit out of your league if you ask me.”
They exchanged an awkward handshake behind the bar as Lou slipped him some cash and Vinny slipped him a bag of cocaine. A little side business Vinny had going for himself.
“Until next time,” Lou said and made himself scarce.
Vinny took his drink and moved to the end of the bar.
“Mind if I sit here?” Vinny asked.
“Make yourself comfortable, I guess,” she shrugged.
He took a seat and introduced himself. “Vinny Lopresti.”
“And do you have a last name?”
Vinny kind of enjoyed the whole mysterious act so he let it play out.
“Alright then, Jade. I can’t help but notice your drink is almost empty. Next round is on me.”
“I’d rather finish this drink and get out of here. I know a place we can go…if you’re interested.” And Vinny was.
Vinny followed her out of the bar and into the alley.
“Where are we going?” Vinny asked.
“Shortcut,” Jade said, slightly ahead of him.
“Hey, wait up,” he called.
Jade stopped and turned to face him.
“I’ve got to ask, what’s the deal with the sunglasses? You just have surgery or something? Somebody hit you? If somebody hit you, tell me who they are. I’ll take care of it. I know people.”
“I’ll show you,” she said.
She took her sunglasses off and Vinny froze, trapped in the stare of her glowing yellow eyes. He was powerless, couldn’t move a muscle. Soon he became aware of the searing pain. His eyes were burning intensely.
He gasped for air, but found none. The color slowly drained from his face. Everything burned now, as if his entire body was set ablaze.
“Can you feel it?” she asked. “Can you feel your soul slowly leaving your body? It amazes me that you even have a soul. All those murderers and thieves and rapists you’ve helped get off over the years. All those poor customers you have hooked on your little nose candy. You have no heart at all. And yet you still have a soul a take.”
Vinny’s lifeless body crumbled to the ground. Jade put her sunglasses back on and walked away unseen. Vinny Lopresti was nobody special to her. Just another lost soul added to her collection. Her quest would continue. Nothing would change. Every night she sought out the dregs of society and claimed their very essence. And in a city this corrupt, she didn’t have to look far.
She hailed a cab, got inside.
“Hey, toots,” the driver said, eyeing her up in the rearview mirror. “You need a ride? I’d be happy to give you one, back at my place.”
“Not interested,” she said. “Just take me home.”
“Oh, come on, sweetie. I won’t hurt you. I’ll be real gentle.”
She sighed. “You brought this on yourself.”
Jade removed her sunglasses and the cab filled with bright light.
Friday, February 14, 2020
By Randy Romero (Randy Benivegna)
I work for a security company whose name I won’t mention for the obvious legal reasons, and because it’s not relevant to my story. Part of my job is monitoring various alarm systems for trouble signals and notifying the police if we are unable to reach the customer in question. A few weeks into the job, I noticed that my headset would hiss in between calls. It was this low hum of static, almost like feedback from a microphone or something.
No big deal, right? My supervisor figured it was a faulty headset and he issued me another one. A few days later, the noise returned.
I decided to leave it be. The noise was intermittent and very low, not serious enough to cause a major disturbance. So one night my headset started hissing like a snake and I heard that crackle of static. I tried to tune it out and just kept working…until I heard the voice.
“Hello? Is anybody there?” It was the voice of a young woman, early to mid-twenties if I had to guess. She kept cutting in and out like there was a bad connection. I checked the caller ID screen. No incoming calls.
“Hello? Somebody help me. Help me please. I’m stuck. It’s so cold here. I can’t feel my fingers or toes. It’s cold all the time. I’m freezing and I’m scared. I just want to go home. But they won’t let me go. I’m so scared. Somebody, anybody, please help me. I’m all alone. And it’s so cold. So very cold.”
I was shivering myself at that point. The voice went away after a few seconds and my headset cleared up. I was so freaked out over it that I didn’t say a word to anyone at first. They would’ve thought I was crazy. But I eventually mentioned it to one of my co-workers who’d been there a few years.
He turned pale when I mentioned it and told him what the girl had said. “Young girl? Early to mid-twenties? Soft voice? Did she say her name was Tara?”
“She didn’t give a name.”
“Tara worked here when I first started. She used to sit at your desk. She got into a bad accident one night when it was snowing, slid off the road into a ditch. She was trapped in the wreckage for a couple of days until she froze to death. They didn’t find her until the snow melted.”
It’s so cold here.
I could feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck standing up, and my arms were riddled with goosebumps. Tara never did “call” again. But anytime I heard that little hiss of static in my headset, I knew she was there, watching, listening. The room would grow cold and I could almost feel her presence, like somebody was standing over me, looking over my shoulder. My co-worker and I never spoke of it again and I never mentioned it to anyone else until this moment.
Monday, February 10, 2020
By Randy Romero
The following is a transcript of two Instant Messenger conversations found on Ellie Rowe’s desktop computer. Ellie and I went to Seaford High School together. The police found these messages on her computer while searching her house for evidence. These messages were never released to the public.
I had a friend in high school whose dad worked for the local police department. He sent me these messages via email a few years after we graduated and it scared the hell out of me. I asked my friend if I could publish these messages and he agreed as long as I didn’t release his or his father’s name. I'm not posting these for shock value. I just want people to know Ellie's story. And if anyone has information regarding the case, I urge you to contact the authorities and tell them what you know.
SexyFlirt85: Do I know u?
RedReaper: Nah. I got your screen name from a chat room.
SexyFlirt85: Oo OK
SexyFlirt85: Well nice 2 meet ya lol
SexyFlirt85: O wow your from NY 2? Where in NY?
RedReaper: All over the place. I move around a lot.
SexyFlirt85: A nomad huh? Lol
SexyFlirt85: So what’s up?
RedReaper: Nm. U?
SexyFlirt85: Oh nm. Watching a movie.
RedReaper: What movie?
SexyFlirt85: A scary movie lol
RedReaper: Do you like scary movies?
SexyFlirt85: Haha r u quoting Scream? I loved that movie. So scary!
RedReaper: I like scary movies
SexyFlirt85: Me 2
RedReaper: But nothing beats real fear
RedReaper: Primal fear
RedReaper: I love when people are afraid. They taste so much better when they’re afraid
SexyFlirt85: Uhhhh your kinda creeping me out dude
RedReaper: Are your parents’ home?
RedReaper: Don’t lie to me. Lying to me would be a big mistake.
SexyFlirt85: My parents are home! Now leave me alone!
RedReaper: You’re lying
RedReaper: Your parents aren’t home. I know they’re not home.
SexyFlirt85: O yea smart guy. How would you know that?
RedReaper: Because I killed your father. Split his head open like a coconut. That was after I removed all his skin. Peeled him like an apple.
SexyFlirt85: This is not funny anymore
RedReaper: It wasn’t meant to be funny. I don’t tell jokes. I’m dead serious. About as dead as your parents are.
SexyFlirt85: OK bye! Get a life loser!
RedReaper: You really don’t want to insult me or call me names, little girl. I am not one to be trifled with. Ask your parents. Oh wait you can’t.
SexyFlirt85: I’m calling the police.
RedReaper: I don’t think so. If you end this conversation or call the police, your mother dies. She’s still alive. I can’t say the same for your dad. He’s long gone.
RedReaper: But your mom is alive…for now. She’s lying at my feet, gasping for air. You do anything to attract attention, you disconnect or log off, and I will rip her open and feed her entrails to her.
SexyFlirt85: OK! OK! Please just tell me what u want!
RedReaper: I just wanna have a little fun with you Ellie
SexyFlirt85: I never told you my name…
RedReaper: Don’t sign off. Just get up and go to your bedroom window.
RedReaper: You see the blue van parked outside your house?
RedReaper: I’m watching you Ellie
RedReaper: Your mom is in here keeping me company
RedReaper: You make one wrong move and your mom is as good as dead
SpunkyMonkey has signed on
Sexy Flirt85: Becky!
SexyFlirt85: Becky I need your help! There is a man parked outside my house in a blue van. I think he killed my dad and he has my mom with him. He says if I sign off or disconnect I’m dead. Please call the police!
SpunkyMonkey: Whoa whoa whoa slow down
SpunkyMonkey: This isn’t funny Ellie
SexyFlirt85: Its not a joke!!!
SexyFlirt85: Please send help!!!
SpunkyMonkey: Calm down Ellie. It’s gotta be a prank. Prob Dan or Joe
SpunkyMonkey: How can this guy be messaging you online if he’s parked in a van outside your house? Wouldn’t he need a computer for that?
RedReaper: Hey Ellie. Your friend is right. I couldn’t possibly be messaging you without a computer. Hmmm if I’m not in the van where could I be? Hey don’t your parents have a computer downstairs in the den? And isn’t your basement soundproof? Maybe you should go down there and check on mom and dad.
RedReaper: I warned you Ellie. I told you what would happen if you didn’t comply. Your mom’s a goner now. And you’re next.
SpunkyMonkey: I told my mom and she called the police. They are on the way.
SpunkyMonkey: Answer me!
SpunkyMonkey: Ellie! Ellie! Please answer me!
SexyFlirt85 has signed off
Ellie’s parents were found brutally murdered inside their home, their bodies discovered in the basement. Ellie was never seen again. And the man responsible for this heinous crime was never apprehended.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
By Randy Romero
It always happened at night, when he was alone in the car. Most evenings, Andrew Bell would give his co-workers a lift home. Or he’d volunteer as a designated driver and pick his tipsy friends up from the bar. He even picked up a hitchhiker once. Always hoping that it would happen in someone else’s presence. Just so he could prove that he wasn’t losing his grip on reality.
But, no. It only happened when Drew was alone.
The radio would turn on by itself. He’d hear the crackle and hiss of static. Then those tormented souls would echo through the speakers.
The disturbing din lasted only a few seconds at a time.
He thought the stress of his job had pushed him to the brink of madness.
But the voices, as surreal as they seemed, were no figment of his imagination.
He was a few blocks from his home that evening when it happened again. The radio click on. That irritating buzz of static. Then the voices came.
Indistinguishable, overlapping voices.
Sometimes it was impossible to decipher the words over their screams and moans of agony.
But that evening, among the shrill cries of the dead, he heard a message as clear as day.
The voices were telling him to do something sinister, something irreversible. They were telling him to hurt everyone he cared about.
The car was a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda, black in color. The car was obviously used and Drew had purchased it for a steal. Now he understood why the owner was so eager to get rid of it.
He still had the address and decided to drop by, ask a few questions. He pulled up to the curb and got out. Walking up to the house, he saw the yellow patch of grass where the Plymouth once resided.
Something came over him that day when Drew saw it parked on the grass, FOR SALE sign taped in the window. Looking back on it, he didn’t know what possessed him to buy it.
He knocked on the door and didn’t recognize the man who answered it.
“I’m looking for John Henley,” Drew said.
“Well, you’re four months too late. I’m his brother, Vic.”
“I bought your brothers car. Any idea where I can reach him? It’s kind of urgent.”
“You got a Ouija board, because that’s the only way you’re going to get in touch with him. He’s gone.”
“Sorry to hear that. How did he go?”
“He took his own life. I’ll spare you the grisly details.”
“You don’t sound too broken up about it.”
“My brother lived here with me, but we were never really closest growing up. And his behavior became erratic over the last few months of his life. I wanted to get him help. But everyone else in my family ignored the warning signs. If you ask me, it all had something to do with that car. He was never the same after he bought it.”
“Do you know where he bought it?” Drew asked.
“Police auction. It was dirt cheap. Don’t ask me who owned it before him. Probably a drug dealer or some murderer on death row. I never liked the thing. Always gave me the creeps. Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. And John was obsessed with it. He never did say why he decided to give it up.”
“I think I know why…”
“You want my advice? Sell that thing before it’s too late and the same thing that happened to my brother happens to you.”
“T-thanks f-for your time,” Drew stammered and slowly backed away from the porch. “I really should be going. Sorry again to hear about your brother.”
Drew didn’t give anyone a ride home that night after work. He made two stops. One to the gas station, where he filled up a gasoline can and loaded it into the back of the Plymouth. And the second stop was in a vacant lot on the outskirts of town.
He felt dirty just sitting in that car, like he needed a shower. He couldn’t help but think about who owned it before John Henley. Had somebody died in this car? Was it more than one? Did the cops find a rotting corpse in the trunk? Did it belong to some murderer like Vic Henley suggested?
Drew got out and retrieved the can of gasoline. He opened the doors and doused the interior of the car, poured the rest of the gasoline on the roof of the car. It trickled down the windshield and onto the hood. He lit one match, tossed it into the car. He lit another and tossed it onto the hood, and wiped his hands of this nightmare.
He slept like a baby that night. Better than he’d slept in months. But that peace was subsequently shattered when he went outside to retrieve the morning newspaper. The car was sitting in the driveway, unscathed. Not a mark on the exterior. Not a scratch in the upholstery.
No, it’s impossible, he thought. I torched the damn thing! I destroyed it!
But Drew was being taught a valuable lesson. Evil never dies. You can’t burn it. You can’t destroy it. You can’t bury it or hide it away. Evil never rests. And it was only a matter of time before the voices pushed him over the edge. It was only a matter of time before he obeyed their malevolent commands. It was inevitable.
He only had one other option.
He put a FOR SALE sign in the window that day and got an offer almost immediately.
Friday, January 24, 2020
By Randy Romero
It was a bright, humid day in July of 1992. Pre Google. Pre Netflix and YouTube. Pre social media. Before everybody carried a cell phone in their pockets. It was a time when the world wasn’t so crazy and parents weren’t afraid to let their kids play unsupervised. And it was the summer Drew Parker would never forget.
The sun was blinding and the heat was blistering. Billy Locke wore his lucky red cap for shade. It kept his eyes and face out of the scorching glare of the sun.
Billy was biking home with Drew from the baseball field. They took a shortcut through the woods, as they usually did to avoid the local bullies that loitered around town.
“Race you home,” Billy said with a sharp grin.
“No fair. You already have a head start,” Drew complained.
“Ah you’re just making excuses because you know you can’t win.”
“I could beat you any day of the week,” Drew said, though he didn’t sound too sure. Drew carried a few extra pounds on him and he wasn’t quite as fast or agile as Billy. When they played baseball, Drew always made sure they played on the same team so he wouldn’t be on the losing side.
“Then let’s go. I’ll make it interesting. If you beat me, you can have my Gameboy.” Billy was competitive, but also compulsive. He wasn’t even thinking when he offered up his Gameboy as a prize. He would’ve said anything to get Drew to accept his challenge.
“Oh, it’s on now,” Drew said.
Billy shot ahead of him on his red Schwinn. Drew pedaled his feet off in an attempt to catch up, but Billy was leaving him in the dust. Drew huffed and puffed as he worked his way uphill. He reached the top and let his bike glide down the small hill and pick up speed. He was closing in when Billy jammed on his brakes and skidded in the dirt. Drew pedaled past him, then came to a stop.
“Hey, you stopped first. That’s a forfeit. I win. I’ll take that Gameboy anytime.”
Billy didn’t reply. Just stared quietly off to the left. Drew circled back to see what was so captivating.
Hiding under the shadow of a dead sycamore tree, Drew saw the well.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Drew said. The sight of it creeped him out, hidden in the darkness. It was as if the sun refused to shine on it.
“Me neither,” Billy said. “We ride our bikes through here all the time. I can’t believe we never noticed it.”
They got off their bikes and walked towards it. It was a dry well, dark and deep, with an old fashioned wooden ladder descending down.
“Let’s check it out!” Billy exclaimed.
“No way, man. I can’t even see how far down it goes. I’m not messing around in there. It’s probably crawling with spiders.”
“You’re such a chicken.”
“Am not! I just don’t want to go messing around in some dark, dirty well. Besides, I’ve got to get home. I can’t be late for dinner or my mom will freak out.”
“So go. Nobody’s twisting your arm to stay.”
Drew didn’t want to leave his friend behind. But he wasn't about to break curfew. His mom expected him at five o'clock sharp, and she would raise hell if he was even a second late.
Drew told him to be careful, got on his bike, and pedaled away.
Billy stood around the mouth of the well, contemplating, reconsidering. The ladder was old and didn’t look too sturdy.
“Billy,” a voice whispered.
“Who said that?” Billy stammered.
“Billy,” the voice called again, beckoning him. “Billy Locke. Come on down. Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear down here. Just follow the sound of my voice.”
Billy followed the strangely hypnotic voice and descended the rickety ladder. It got darker and darker with every rung he slipped down. He was almost at the bottom when he looked down and saw two glowing red, malevolent eyes staring up at him.
“Hello, Billy,” it whispered. Billy scrambled up the ladder, but one of the rungs snapped on the way up, and he felt something seize his ankle. It dragged him to the bottom of the well, Billy screaming all the way down as he disappeared into the darkness.
Billy Locke never made it home that evening. His parents called Drew’s parents and Drew told them about the woods, about the well, about Billy staying behind.
Billy’s parents led a search party out to the woods. Drew was there, escorted by his parents. He showed them the exact spot. He was certain of it. He remembered the dead sycamore tree. And Billy’s red Schwinn still rested in the dirt.
But the well was gone, as if it had never even existed. And so was Billy…