A cabin in the woodsEric Hurley took pride in his woodcraft and survival skills. He used to boast to his friends that he could live off the wild with nothing but a knife, a fish hook, and a spool of ten pound line and gain twenty pounds.

It hadn’t quite worked out that way. During the four months he had spent eluding the authorities in the deep woods of Tennessee he had actually lost about that much weight. That was fine by him. In retrospect he had to admit he had let himself get soft in the intervening years since his dishonorable discharge. Now he was downright svelte. While his muscles did not bulge, they were iron hard and gave him a wiry strength that belied his five feet seven inch stature.

Since killing the old couple at the gas station in Green Springs Eric had led the authorities on a merry little chase. At first it was a local affair, entailing naught more than a little cat and mouse with the County Sheriff and his band of hapless Deputies. But once he killed that State Trooper the manhunt had gotten serious.

Not that it worried him much. Despite the added manpower, the dogs, and the aerial surveillance he continued to evade authorities. He even managed to lay down a false trail. According to the news his ploy had worked. While the search moved west, Eric moved east.

But summer had waned into autumn, and winter was fast approaching. Culverts, hollow trees, and abandoned animal dens were not going to cut it much longer. He needed to find someplace halfway decent to hole up in where he could relax in relative comfort.

Luck was with him. Three days ago he spotted this little cabin in the woods. Exercising caution he keep a careful eye on it ever since. No one had come or gone, despite the start of deer season. But the best indication that the place was truly abandoned was the overgrown path to the door. No one had been here in a long time.

Today was the time for action.

He moved cautiously toward the cabin, staying out of its lines of sight. Once next to the building he eased his way to a window to take a quick peek in. Then a longer look.

Inside seemed relatively well maintained. It had two beds – a full and a twin, a table by the fireplace, with two accompanying straight back chairs, a couple of stacked wooden crates, a three legged stool, and an ax sitting upright against the wall next to the door. He studied the ax for a long time, looking for wires to trip some sort of booby trap, but it appeared to be nothing more than an ax.

There was a crude kitchen under the window directly across from him with a hand pump for a well. If the well was not dry this place would be ideal. A cabinet next to the sink stood ajar, and he could see canned goods neatly stacked on the shelves. His stomach rumbled.

He tried the window but it would not budge. Inspecting the inside frame revealed four ten-penny nails holding it closed, the heads slightly raised so they could be pulled during occupancy. Clever bastards.
He moved to the back window in order to better examine the door. After careful study he decided it did not look to be booby trapped. Feeling more confident he walked around to the front.

He stood to the side and tried the latch. It depressed easily. This made him suspicious. He pushed the latch fully down and gave the door a shove, then flattened himself against the outside wall. Nothing happened.

He took a quick peek inside. Nothing gave him cause for alarm. He smiled broadly and stepped across the threshold.

He was nearly deafened by the roar of a blast as shotgun pellets tore into him from above. Blood gushed from his right shoulder and arm. The right side of his face felt horribly wrong, and he could not see out of his right eye. With that he passed out.

He awoke in a bed, his head, shoulder, and arm nicely bandaged. He had trouble getting his bearings at first, could not recall where he was, or how he had gotten there. He hurt everywhere – head, neck, back, right shoulder and arm, and both legs. He tried to see his surroundings but everything to the right was a void. There was a full sized bed to his left, and a small double hung window, nailed shut. If he strained to lift his head he could see a fireplace with a table and two chairs. Then he remembered – the cabin!

Christ, the door had been booby trapped after all. But how? He tried to turn his head to see the door, but the pain was too intense. He sank back into the bedding, feeling nauseous.

He heard the door open and then quickly close, someone moving into the room.

“Oh, you’re awake!” It was a cheerful, feminine voice.

He opened his mouth to talk, but his tongue seemed to be glued to his palate. Footsteps grew closer. A woman finally moved into his field of vision.

She was of an indeterminate age, had long dark brown hair and matching eyes, was slightly chubby, yet not unattractive. She examined him, or perhaps her handwork with the bandages, for a moment before moving closer to him.

He opened his mouth again and managed to rasp out, “Water.”

She nodded, turned, and disappeared once again from his field of view. He heard the pump being worked furiously for a few seconds then slower as the sound of water gushed from the spout.

He considered grabbing her when she gave him the glass, but then what? In this condition he probably would not be able to subdue her. And even if he could, to what purpose? He needed her now, needed her to nurse him back to health. He accepted the water and offered a feeble thanks.

She stepped out of his reach and smiled.

“It’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?” she asked.

He tried to frown, but it sent pain shooting through the right side of his face, across his scalp. “What?”

“The booby trap.” She stepped over to the fireplace and began adding some chopped vegetables to a pot he had not even noticed before. He suddenly became aware of the smell of something savory cooking and his stomach protested his lack of food.

“No one ever looks up,” she went on.

He dropped his head back down, the strain of trying to watch her was too much.

“It’s an electric eye mounted in the lintel. A little image processing software, and a 20 gauge shotgun shell, electronically triggered – voilà.”

Despite the pain he furrowed his brow. There was no electricity to this place. He was certain of that.

“It is amazing what they’ve done with solar cells.” She stepped back into his field of view, looking quite pleased. “They’re mounted on the top rim of the chimney. Nobody’d ever see them there. I rigged it all up myself. I’ve got a degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State. Bet you didn’t know that.”

The gleam in her eye told him she was quite mad.

“I need to get to a hospital,” he said. Screw the State Police. Just get me out of here.

She smiled and spun away on the ball of her foot, traipsing back over to the kettle. “Oh no, they’d just arrest you. And me. We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”

She took a spoonful from the pot and smelled it appreciatively before sampling it.

“Stew’s almost done. You hungry?”

In a panic he threw back the sheet and let out a scream. Both his legs were amputated below the knees.


© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of the Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County via the Creative commons. No known copyright restrictions.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.It started in middle school, when they were too old for trick-or-treating, but too young to drive. The appeal of wandering the neighborhood, smashing pumpkins or setting a paper bag full of dog poop on fire on Mister Swaney’s front walk, had quickly worn off, lasting no more than a year or two. By Seventh Grade they still wanted to go out and do something on Halloween, but what to do? Greg Lewis finally hit a homer when he came up with the idea of ghost stories in the graveyard. It was great.

Nowadays they were never destructive – oh sure, Greg had pushed over a few headstones in his adolescence – but they were older and wiser now, and gave the dead the respect they deserved.

They began to gather near the gate behind St. Martin’s Catholic Church around sundown. The four guys – Greg, his younger brother Mark, Tony Bishop, and Randy Murray – all showed up at about the same time. They lingered near the gate, glancing around furtively, until there were no passersby, then darted for Section A. It was the oldest, and therefore creepiest, part of the cemetery where the monuments rose in Gothic splendor.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Pegs and Ally?” Mark asked, jogging along side the others.

“They know where to find us,” Randy replied. “Those two are always late.” It was more bitter commentary than a simple statement.

Section A also afforded them the best concealment, with its combination of mature scatterings of trees and shrubs as well as the ornate statuary. The four guys settled near the base of Henrietta McAllister -Smith’s memorial, where an imposing figure of a severe looking angel stood over them holding aloft the hilt of a broken sword.

“I wish I had a smoke,” Tony Bishop said as he settled onto the lawn, propping himself comfortably against Henrietta’s tombstone. “Anyone got a smoke?”

Shrugs and shaken heads were his only replies.

“We could always go down to Kroger, and nab a few,” he suggested.

“Forget it,” Greg said. “You should have thought of that before you came.”

Tony flipped Greg the bird and flicked a small twig at him.

“Shh, someone’s coming,” Mark warned. They all scrambled to hide themselves from whoever approached.

They recognized the voices of Peggy Lane and Alice Spencer as they came down the long serpentine lane. They were chatting without regard of being overheard or attracting attention to themselves. The boys waited until the two girls cleared the shrubs. Without any preplanning on their part all four guys jumped out at the same time yelling some variation of, “Boo!”

“Ha ha.” Alice mocked them. “We’re so scared.”

“You’re late,” Randy snapped. Alice stuck her tongue out at him.

“Give it a rest,” Greg grumbled. As the group meandered about to find good resting places Tony Bishop and Alice Spencer gravitated toward each other, their eyes doting on one another.

“How ya been?” Tony asked her.

“’K,” Alice replied with a slight blush. They settled down as if trying to occupy the same spot of ground. Randy rolled his eyes.

They took turns telling ghost stories, each more outrageous than the last, but most heard before, so there was no real thrill in it. Yet somehow they enjoyed it, not for the stories themselves, more for the camaraderie, the sense of time well spent with good friends. They laughed, they playfully pushed at and teased each other. They shared intimate family secrets never heard before with the assurance not a word of it would ever go beyond their tight little circle.

Once or twice they had to hush, when the sound of voices carried in from the sidewalk on Washington Street, or a car seemed to pass at an unusually slow speed. On one such instance a beam of light suddenly flooded the grave markers, casting harsh shadows across the lawn. They laid flat, scrambling for those shadows, as the light played back and forth. Mark edged up to the crest of the slope and peered over toward the street.

“Cop car,” he whispered. When the light went out he sighed his relief and resumed his place in the circle. “He’s going.”

“I’m cold,” Alice said, giving a shudder.

“You’re always cold,” Randy replied with a sneer.

Tony gave Randy a warning look, and drew Alice into his arms. She settled, but still shivered.

“It’s always cold,” Tony consoled, rubbing his hands up and down Alice’s arms to no effect.

Once again a warning shush went up, and they all fell silent. Some ways down the hill, toward Oak Street, they could hear the sound of someone walking through the fallen leaves, of hushed voices whispering in the dark. All six of them scurried behind the avenging angel and peered through the night for whatever was coming.

“Zombies.” Mark teased.

“Shhh.” This from Tony.

“Is that Becca Townsend?” Peggy hissed as three teens wandered into view. “God, I hate that little bitch.”

Greg leaned forward, squinting to see. He settled back and shook his head, no. “Too young. Looks a lot like her though.”

“I think it’s Ann,” Mark said. “Becca’s daughter. She’d be about that age now.”

Peggy scowled. “Well the nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. Let’s scare the bejesus out of ‘em.”

“I don’t think we should…” Mark looked to the others for concurrence.

“Oh, come on,” Peggy urged. “It’s been years since we’ve had any fun.”

The three teens drew closer. Henrietta seemed to be a popular locale.

“OK.” Greg said, and with that the decision was made. As the three teens turned toward the angel the six friends slowly rose up from behind it. Mark must has put the idea in their heads, for they all reached out with stiff arms, miming zombies.

“Brains.” Randy moaned.

The three teenaged girls shirked in terror and ran for the fences, never looking back.

The six friends fell to the ground, laughing out loud.

“Oh, that was great!” Peggy managed to say between guffaws. “Did you see the look on their faces? I bet they peed themselves.”

“Won’t be back here for a while,” Tony said, as he struggled to get up from the ground. “Serves them right for trying to horn in on our spot.” He looked up and saw the clock tower on St. Martin’s and suddenly became somber. “Oh, crap, look at the time.”

They all glanced up. Both hands pointed to twelve.

“Well, it’s been fun,” Greg said.

Randy started to drift away.

“He still hates me, doesn’t he?” Alice asked Tony, glancing toward Randy.

Tony pulled her into a hug. “Don’t worry about Randy, he’ll get over it.”

“If I just hadn’t been late that night–”

He massaged her shoulders and leaned in close. “Don’t blame yourself, Ally. He’s the one that tried to beat the train.”

The clock on St. Martin’s began to chime midnight. As Tony leaned in to give Ally a kiss they all faded into the night.
© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.The forest floor was nearly pitch black in the moonless night. In full summer it no doubt was, but now with the trees nearly bare, starlight and the urban glow of Memphis gave just enough light to see by. Jackson Grange paused momentarily, shifting the shovel and pick from his left to right shoulder, eyes constantly darting about looking for any chance of escape. There was a sharp poke in his back.

“Keep a moving.” Leon Mason prodded Jackson none too gently with a branch he’d picked up as a walking stick. The stick afforded Leon enough distance to urge Jackson on while staying out of range of a sudden swing of the shovel. Ahead Tommy Phillips stopped, turning to regard the two.

“I think we’re far enough,” Tommy decided. “Stay still a bit.”

The other two stood stock still, hardly daring to breathe. Tommy listened hard, but there was no sound from US 79.

Finally, “Yeah, this’ll do.”

Jackson threw the pick and shovel to the ground, his breath now coming in desperate gasps. “Listen, Tommy, I didn’t talk to no stinking cops. I swear.”

The walking stick crashed down on his left shoulder, making him squawk.

“Shut up,” Leon ordered.

“Don’t break his collar bone,” Tommy admonished, “else he won’t be able to dig.” He pointed his .38 at Jackson’s belly. “Pick them tools back up. Where you standing good as anyplace.”

Tears began rolling down Jackson’s cheeks.

“Awe, Jackie’s crying, poor fella,” Leon mocked. “Get’a going.” He prodded the shovel with his stick.

“I never done it,” Jackson mumbled over and over again as he lifted the shovel and slowly began to clear the leaf litter near his feet. It took several whacks across the back to get him motivated to put any effort into his chore.

He dug for nearly an hour before they stopped him to appraise his the progress. Jackson stood just over knee deep in his shallow grave.

“A li’l deeper,” Tommy decided. “Come on up, Leon’ll spell you a bit.”

“Say what?” Leon look daggers at Tommy.

“We’ll be here all night else wise,” Tommy explained. “I’ll take a go at her too,” he added to cut off any protest. “You,” he said pointing the gun at Jackson’s middle, “sit next ta that tree. Move an inch an I’ll shoot ‘cha.”

Grumbling, Leon jumped down into the hole and set to with the pick.

Leon alternated with pick and shovel for about a half hour before his shovel hit something other than dirt. He poked and prodded with the tip of the shovel, trying to dislodge it to no avail. Finally he leaned down to inspect the obstruction in the poor lighting. He jumped back with a cry of “Oh Christ-a-mighty!” tripping over the pick head as he back scrabbled. “This here’s a grave!”

Tommy stepped closer to peer into the deepening hole.

“This place already taken,” Leon cried as he scrambled back to his feet to the side of the grave. He reached up to Tommy. “Quick, give me a hand.”

Tommy shot Jackson a sharp look of warning, then locked his left hand around Leon’s wrist while still holding the gun in his right. Leon latched on like his life depended on it. “Not so hard,” Tommy squawked.

A lifeless arm, draped in moldering flannel, shot out of the loosened soil, its boney hand grabbing Leon by the ankle. Leon screamed. Tommy dropped the gun to pry at Leon’s fingers, trying to wrench himself free. The gun tumbled into the pit.

Jackson bolted like a jack rabbit. He ran blindly, ignored the branches and bracken that ripped and tore at his face and arms. The screams of the other two men diminished as he went, and would haunt him the rest of his days.

Jackson Grange never set foot in those woods again.

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.


A mailbox with a bridal bouquet on it.“Good morning, my name is Tabatha, I’m sorry for your wait. How may I help you?”

“Oh.” Frank was startled back to the present.“Yeah, jeeze, I’ve been on hold for like twenty minutes.” His voice was edged with anger.

“I do apologize for that sir. We are experiencing heavier than usual traffic volume following the holiday.” Tabatha’s voice remained upbeat, if not downright perky. “I’ll be happy to assist you now. Can you tell me the nature of your call?”

Frank glared across the room at the Christmas present he had bought for himself. She blankly stared back at him.

“Well, yeah.” Now that it came down to it he found it hard to talk to the woman on the other end of the line. Why couldn’t he have gotten a man? “I’m not happy with this item I purchased from you, and I’d like to return it for a full refund.”

“I see, sir. Can you give me your purchase ID?”

“Purchase ID?”

“It’s in the upper right hand corner of the invoice.”

“Oh, sure.” He fumbled with the phone as he sorted through the paperwork. “Yeah, here it is. ZB104-2271953.”

There was some quick keyboarding on the other end of the line.

“Yes sir. I see you purchased Anna Marie, from our line of Eternal Bliss Instant Brides. Is there a problem sir?”

“Well, yeah!” He kept his voice just below a shout. “I don’t want her. She’s creepy. And she stinks!”

“I’m sorry you are disappointed with your purchase, sir. I’m afraid all our reanimated brides are non-returnable items. Failure to rehydrate is the only acceptable reason for a return. Did she rehydrate?”

Frank shuddered at the memory. He had been so excited when the package arrived, could hardly believe there was a real woman in a bag no bigger than a loaf of bread. Like they say, the Human body is something like 90% water. The instructions said to place Anna Marie in a bathtub full of warm water, wait twenty-four hours for complete re-hydration, carefully assist her from the tub, gently pat dry, and then wait twelve hours before use to allow all of her systems to properly stabilize. He’d gotten a boner just drawing the tub.

Then, around midnight, he’d woken up to the most god awful smell. At first he went to the front door, but stepping outside made it clear the smell was coming from inside the house. His nose led him to the bathroom. When he looked in the tub he almost lost it. The ‘loaf of bread’ lay at the bottom of the tub, completely submerged, and had expanded into a grotesque approximation of a woman, about three feet long, curled in a fetal position, shriveled skin, and with dead looking eyes staring up from under the water. It was all he could do to keep from hurling. He’d bolted from the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

“Well, yeah.” He hated to admit it, but she had rehydrate properly. When he looked again in the morning he saw a drop-dead beautiful woman laying in the tub. She now floated, her face, breasts, and thighs just breaking the surface. But she still had that vacant stare and the stench had not gone away. “She rehydrated.”

“I’m glad to hear that, sir. As indicated before, if the reanimated bride properly rehydrated we cannot accept it as a return.”

“But she stinks!” Now he did shout.

Tabatha remained cheerful in the face of his distress. “I am sorry sir. The catalog did discuss that particular limitation…”

“It said there was a slight odor the user could easily mask!” He rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. “I sprayed her with about a half a can of Lysol, and it hasn’t helped much.”

“The odor will dissipate over time, sir. You can speed the process with frequent showers, and we recommend Fabreeze. It also helps to keep the windows open.”

“It’s 38 degrees outside. I can’t open the windows!”

“You can place your bride outside while you wait for the smell to dissipate…”

“In the cold?”

“She’s already dead, sir. I assure you, the cold won’t hurt her.”

That reminded him of something else he hadn’t considered when he’d made the purchase.

“Uh, so what does she eat?”

“Oh, no worries there sir. All of our reanimated products have been modified to turn off the appetite. She doesn’t eat or drink anything. She’s completely safe.” He could almost see Tabatha smirking at the other end of the line.

He looked at Anna Marie sitting there naked, dripping water on his couch. God, what a mistake. Still, he had to admit, she was beautiful, if slightly gray.

“Her color’s awful.” This, almost to himself.

“I can recommend our Eternal Bliss body make up and perfume kit, sir. It comes highly recommend by others who have bought this product. It’s just $59.99.”

Frank dropped his head in resignation as he reached to get his credit card from his wallet.

He could kick himself for not just settling for the blow up doll.

© 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved. Photo © 2014 by J.M. Strother, all rights reserved.


A cartoon picture of Frankenstein.I let out a quiet curse as I stepped to the windows to draw the curtains for the evening. Dave’s car was just pulling into the driveway. My dear sweet brother, Dave. Goddammit.

Not bothering to close the curtains I made my way to the front door. I opened it just as he was about to knock. He stepped back, a little surprised, and flashed me his best car-salesman smile.

“Whoa! You startled me.” He took another step back to make room for the storm door as I swung it open for him.

“I saw you pull into the drive.” He nodded in understanding. “So, what’s up?” Like I didn’t know.

He gave a slight shrug as he stepped inside. His eyes scanned the hallway and the living room beyond. “Just wanted to drop by and say hi.” He started toward the kitchen. “Got any beer?”

We settled at the kitchen table, each nursing a bottle of lite beer. I opened a tin of nuts and we nibbled at them between sips.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Dave said. In fact it had been three months. “What you been up to?”

“Nothing special. Still the daily grind, down at the office.”

He bobbed his head up and down in commiseration. “Yeah, no rest for the wicked, eh? Can’t remember the last time I had a Saturday off. The car business has certainly recovered, I can tell you that. I’ve sold over a million dollars worth already this year.” He beamed with pride.


“There’s going to be a banquet for all the million dollar dealers around Christmas time. You want to come?”

I frowned a bit. “Is it a good date?”

His smile looked somewhat forced. “Not sure yet.”

“Well, that could be awkward.”

He took a large pull off his beer. “Yeah, the 6th would be bad. Hopefully they’ll pick the 13th or the 20th.”

“Thirteen’s bad luck,” I observed. “Aren’t you lot a superstitious sort? And the 20th is awful close to Christmas…”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” His good spirits seemed to be waning. His eyes darted around, not focusing on anything. He does that when he’s trying to change the subject. But what he wanted to change the subject to wasn’t much of a change at all. Not really.

“So,” he began, “we going to see you next Wednesday?”

Dive right in.

I sipped at my beer. Frowned. “I don’t think so.”

I saw the anger flash in his eyes.

“I’m really sick of Randy,” I said. “And frankly, the others aren’t much better.”

“You going out by yourself?” he asked, incredulous. “Lone wolfs don’t fare too well.”



“It’s lone wolves, not wolfs.”

His face contorted into a grimace. “You and your freaking grammar. It’s shit like that that gets you picked on.”

“No, it’s Randy being a prick that gets me picked on. Alice and Fredda eat it up, which just eggs him on. I’m not doing it anymore, Dave. I’m done with the pack.”

He almost rose out of his chair.

“You can’t run alone. It’s too damned dangerous.”

He was actually concerned about me. How touching.

“I won’t run alone—.”

“You found another pack?” He was dumbfounded.

“No. I just won’t run.”

He stared at me in silence for a good thirty seconds, the veins in his neck visibly throbbing. He turned in his chair and looked at the basement door. “You don’t have a freaking cage down there, do you?”

I said nothing.

He jumped up, pulling at the hair on the back of his head and let out a howl toward the kitchen light. He slammed his fist down on the table so hard his beer bottle fell over. It was nearly empty, so no mess made. “No brother of mine locks himself up in a cage for a full moon! No, dammit! No!”

I shrugged, but made no reply.

He started toward the basement door, then stopped and whirled back toward me. “I can’t look. Shit, Tim, what will Mom say? It’ll kill her.”

“Not if you don’t tell her.”

He paced back and forth.

“You can’t do this. You’ll bring shame on the whole family.”

“I’m going to live my life the way I see fit, Dave. I’m done running. There are more of us then you realize, and we get along just fine without the pack.”

“What? You got a freaking support group?” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.

I nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact we do. We meet the day before the full moon, eat rare steaks, have a few Margaritas, and give each other the kind of support a pack ought to give. We don’t have to bare our throats to some stupid asshole who thinks he better than everyone else. We just have a good time, help each other through, and go back to work the next day.”

He stood there, wild eyed, panting. You’d think the Moon was raising.

I gestured toward his chair. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

At that he spun on his heel and headed for the front door. As he jerked it open he snarled over his shoulder, “Mom’s going to have a fit!”
© 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Image used by permission, © by Angie Capozello, for use with the #FridayFlash Halloween Humor and Horror contest.


He slipped from one back yard to the next, trying doorknobs as he went, casting furtive glances over his shoulder to check if he’d been spotted. They were close, way too close for comfort, and he needed to find somewhere to go to ground for a while.

His heart skipped a beat when the knob in his hand actually turned. He held his breath, hardly daring to believe his luck. If luck held the house would be empty, and there wouldn’t be any ugly complications. He turned the knob slowly until he could tell there was no longer any resistance from the bolt before pushing gently inward.

A little light shone from an above-counter fixture in the kitchen. There was the slight hum of the refrigerator, but otherwise the house was quite. Best of all, no barking dog to give him away. Please let these people be out of town, he silently begged. I just need one night for things to cool off. He stepped inside and carefully closed the door behind him.

He took a moment to look around, to get his bearings. Nice place. Attractively decorated, with all the latest in electronics in the adjoining family room. Whoever lived here did all right by themselves. A momentary thought crossed his mind, to lock the door, but he shook that off. Maybe they always left it unlocked, and to find it locked would send up a red flag. Judging by the amount of swag, he doubted it, but people are funny.

After checking the garage he was able to breath a little easier – no cars present. These folks must really be gone. Out for the evening, or out of town? Probably not out of town. Surely they would have locked up tight if they were leaving for more than a few minutes.

That thought got his heart racing again. He needed to find somewhere to hide in the event they did come home.

He silently crept deeper inside.


“OK, sweetie, I want you into your PJs and your teeth brushed, like pronto.” Marybeth gave little Pete a playful swat on the butt as they came in from the garage. “No arguments, and no more candy. It’s late. Mommy’s tired.”

The Halloween party at Rachel’s had been exhausting enough, but then she had to also swing by and pick up groceries or there would be no milk in the morning.

Pete, still in his cowboy outfit, rushed off but paused in the middle of the kitchen.

“Can I have some chocolate milk?” He gave her his best puppy dog eyes and all so innocent smile.

“No, you can’t.” She juggled two bags of groceries onto the counter nearest the fridge. “And leave that bag on the table, you’ve had enough for tonight. Now go brush your teeth. I’ll be in to tell you a story in a minute. Go on. Scoot!”

He reluctantly put his bag of goodies on the table, then spun and rushed off for his room.

By the time she had the groceries put away Pete had on his PJs, and had brushed his teeth. When she stepped into his room he was in bed with his covers pulled up to his chin.

“Mom! There’s a monster under the bed!” His eyes were wide with fear.

Not this again.

“There is no monster under the bed, Pete. We’ve talked about this over and over—”

“Yes there is! I really saw it this time! There is!”

She let out an exasperated breath. “Stop. Just stop, or there will be no story time.”

“Mom.” His plea was heart-wrenching. “Please look! Please!”

“You have got to get over this.” But how could she ignore such a plea? Against her better judgment she knelt down and stooped to look under the bed.

Her scream was cut off by the hand that shot out and grabbed her by the throat.

Pete’s screams died a few moments later.

~ © 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


I could tell Molly got her second wind as soon as the Neimeyer’s house came into view. She straighten up, shifted the bag of goodies from her left hand to the right, and quickened her pace. I grimaced and reached out to gently grab her shoulder.

“Well sweety, I think it’s about time to head on home.” I kept my voice light and cheerful.

She squirmed out of my grasp, whirled round, placed her free hand on her hip in a scold, and stomped her little foot at me. “I want to go to the green house! They are the bestest.” Her purple fairy wings bobbed up and down with each syllable of her angry retort.

True, the Neimeyers were the bestest. Never a hint of crotchetiness crept into their old age. They always had a kind word for anyone crossing their path. They were known for their generous spirit, especially among the young on Halloween, it being well known throughout the neighborhood that they gave away full sized candy bars.

Not this year.

“They’re not home, sweetheart.” I squatted down to be more on Molly’s level and pointed to the darkened house. “See? No lights on.”

The police turned all the lights off when they had left.

Her lower lip came out in a pout as she looked at the house. “Why aren’t they home?” There was more than just disappointment at not getting a big candy bar in her voice. She truly liked George and Helen Neimeyer. Her face lit up any time we ran into them.

We tried not to talk about it around her, but I suspect she had heard at least some of our muffled conversations. I hated lying to my little girl. I ran my hand through my hair as I rocked back a bit on my heals. How much to say? How far to go? No. She was still too young to know the awful truth. Still, she needed some of it.

“I’m sorry, sweety. They passed away.”

The bag of candy landed on the sidewalk with a thud. There was a moment of stunned silence as she struggled to contain the tears forming in her eyes. “Like Nana Bowman?”

I reached out and cupped my hand at the nape of her neck, rubbing gently and nodded. “Yes. Like grandma.”

The tears and sobs came in a sudden rush as she leaned into me, burying her face in my chest. I hoisted her onto my shoulder and she wrapped her arms around my neck as I stood, then I dipped at the knees to nab the bag of candy she left forgotten on the walk.

“Let’s go home sweety.” I shook the bag. “I think you already have more than you had last year.” Another placating lie. She made no objection.

I turned and hurried home. Alice awaited us there, alone, giving out candy. And they still hadn’t caught the guy.


I remember the last words he ever said to me as he headed out the door.

“I’ll be back in a bit.” He flashed me his silly little smile. “If I don’t get hit by a meteor, that is.”

Who would have ever thought?

(c)2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


A NASA concept image of a space station.I hovered just outside the circle of Dockside officers surrounding Captain McGuire, trying to catch his eye. No doubt they were busy, what with launch just six hours away, but I really needed to bring this issue up with him post haste. McGuire was known for his temper, as well as his disdain for civvy staff members. Since I’m definitely a civvy I dared not interrupt. Hendricks, our Chief Operations Officer here on LF-4, finally left the little cluster of uniforms and the Captain cast me a skeptical glance.

“What is it, Abbot? You’ve been dancing around there like you’ve had to piss in the worst way for the last half hour. Get it off your chest.”

Clearing my throat, I stepped forward, close to the remaining circle, yet not actually joining it. Fleet boys have an overdeveloped sense of personal space and have been known to deck anyone stupid enough to intrude. The three remaining officers stood nonchalant regarding me with smiles, bordering on sneers. I paused, uncertain of myself, of the situation. “Get it off your chest,” was a questionable invitation at best.

“Sir, I need to talk to you about the supply situation.” The sneer on Lieutenant Du Val’s face melted into a blank, unreadable expression. Lieutenant Anderson looked at her watch.

As Dockside Logistics Specialist for this launch it was my job to make sure everything was properly procured, delivered, and stowed aboard the ship before we sent her on her way. Once launched there’s no turning back, no resupply. First Crew would not emerge from stasis until the ship reached its full cruising speed, in about three years. The survival of the colonists depended upon a full manifest.

I cleared my throat again. “There seems to be a problem.”

Lieutenant Du Val frowned, folding his arms over his chest. Sub Lieutenant Gamble assumed Parade Rest, hands behind his back. His half smile-half sneer remained on his face. Anderson looked like she suddenly remembered something needing doing, and departed at a good clip.

I did not interpret the officers’ body language as good signs, and felt my situation growing tenuous.

“May I speak to you in private?”

Captain McGuire scowled, ever so briefly, then jerked his head to the side, dismissing the others. Du Val saluted and walked away, casting a black glance my way. Gamble stood off to about 3 meters and resumed his at ease position.

“What’s on your mind, young lady?” McGuire asked, his countenance all sincerity and concern.

“I’ve just finished my inventory, Captain, and there are critical shortages in the supplies.”

McGuire looked puzzled and stepped a bit closer to me. “What do you mean? Last week you told me everything was well accounted for.”

“Last week everything was well accounted for. I supervised that inventory personally, and everything was there down to the last gram of coffee.”

“Then how can there possibly be any shortages?” he asked, scratching his graying beard. “And what kind of shortages are we talking about here? Food? Medicine? Materials?”

“Yes. Yes to all of that. Plus equipment. Two tractors are missing. Otherwise, about 30% of the food and building materials have disappeared, and fully half of the pain killers.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “That can’t be right. All those supplies have been under guard and seal since their arrival. Either you must have made a mistake upon delivery, or are mistaken now. I can’t see how they could have just gotten up and walked away.”

My stomach dropped.

“With all due respect, Sir, there was no mistake. Then or now. Obviously someone has stolen these goods, and in doing so put the lives of hundreds of colonists in peril.” I could not help letting my eyes drift toward Sub Lieutenant Gamble. As if being reminded he was there, Captain McGuire turned and signaled the Officer over. As Gamble approached I took a reflexive step back.

“Yes, Sir?” Gamble stood rigidly at ease.

“Joe, Liz here seems to think there is a problem with the supply inventory.”


“She says close to a third of it has disappeared.”

Gamble’s face remained a study in stone.

“You can confirm that Warehouses 6 and 7 have been under 24/7 security?” McGuire looked stern.

“Yes, Sir!”

“And that the contents were moved, in their entirety, aboard the SS Hudson last night?”

“Yes, sir. I observed the transfer personally.”

“But–” McGuire cut me off with a gesture.

“And that the hold has been under constant guard since being sealed?”

“Yes, sir.”

McGuire turned to me with a skeptical, half bemused look on his face. “I think you must have made a mistake, Ms Abbot.” I opened my mouth to object, but he cut me off again. “Now don’t fret. We’ll double check everything, and believe me, if anything is missing – one, I will personally lead the investigation, and two, we will not launch until any shortfall has been filled. Thank you for coming to me with this. We’ll get on it right away.” He turned to Gamble. “See to it, Joe.”

“Yes, Sir!” Sub Lieutenant Gamble saluted, smirked at me, turned on his heal, and marched away.


McGuire glared at me. “I think we are done here, Ms Abbot. Dismissed.”

He walked off, leaving me drained and shaken.

I knew what I needed to do. I had to downlink right away. I turned and rushed back to my quarters.

I locked the door even as I noticed my message board blinking. When I called up the text any hope for support melted away. Instead of a reassuring message from Captain McGuire, it was orders. I was being reassigned. I was the new Logistics Specialist for SS Hudson. I was to report onboard within the hour. As I reached for the communications console my door swept open. Two Marines stepped in, one to each side, followed by a grinning Lieutenant Du Val.

“Good afternoon, Liz. Come with us please. Oh, don’t bother to pack.”

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.

NASA image believed to be in the public domain.


My instructions were clear.

Only go to houses with the front light on.
Always keep your sister within sight.
Don’t cross the streets.
Stay on our block.
Say thank you.

Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood starts around twilight for the little kids, and sometimes lasts as late as nine o’clock for the bigger ones. My sister and I were of that in-between age, she being seven, and I a very mature ten. She was still too young to go out on her own, so I was tasked with the burden of being her escort.

I was of two minds on the matter. On the one hand it made me feel important, and I took my responsibility seriously. On the other hand, what ten-year-old wants to be saddled with their kid sister on the coolest night of the year? If my parents were the audience, it was the worst burden they could have possibly dreampt up, pure and simple. Out of their purview, I pretty well strutted with self-import, and tried to boss Molly around as if it were my divine right.

Not wanting to be confused for a little kid I insisted on waiting until five-thirty to roll around, much to Molly’s protestations. Five-thirty was what my friends, Tim Morgan and Bill Taylor, and I had set as an acceptable departure time. By then many of the little ones were already being shepherded home by their over-protective parents.

Halloween night of ’05 was all one could ask for. The weather was warm and dry, the sudden cold snap at the start of the week past, with only the lightest of breezes to stir the air – no jackets were necessary.

We all gathered down at Bill’s back gate. Tim looked none too happy, for while I was encumbered with Molly, he had it worse – his twin sisters, Mary Ellen, and Tabby were in his care. Bill, on the other hand, looked pleased as punch. He was the youngest in his family, and this was the first time he was allowed to do the rounds on his own.

The six of us – me as Albert Pujols in my Cardinals jersey and cap, Molly as a witch à la Hogwarts, Tim a hobo as he was every year, his sisters as Kim Possible and Dora the Explorer, and Bill as a pirate – headed out, intent on making the best haul ever.

Our block, though not particularly long, is known to be generous. Another factor going for us, Crestview Court – the short cul-de-sac bisecting the back side of our block – adds another nine houses to our route without requiring us to cross a street. So, despite our parents’ rules, we had a good chance of meeting our goals.

We did our own street, Brookdale, first. Unfortunately, we made old lady Carter our first stop. Valuable collection time was lost while she puzzled out who we were. In the end Mary Ellen and Tabby stumped her. They had to say who they were, and then had to go into a long explanation detailing the exploits of Kim Possible and Dora the Explorer. Still, it was my first chance to try out my home grown joke, and I delivered it with gusto.

“How many Cubs does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Mrs. Carter stared at me for a moment before making the obligatory response. “I don’t know. How many?”

I started cracking up before I even delivered the punchline. “No one can remember, they haven’t done it since 1908!” My laughter subsided as I realized Mrs. Carter was still staring at me as if waiting for the finish. “Get it?” I asked. “Since 1908.”

She smiled and said, “That’s funny,” in the most unconvincing way. All this, and all we got was a lousy fun-sized plain chocolate bar.

Fortunately the rest of our street made up for it. Green Meadow, being the cross street was pretty much a wash. There are only two houses on it, and the Stewarts’ porch light, as always, was off.

By the time we got halfway down Woodcrest our bags were actually getting pretty heavy. Tim looked longingly across the street at the Turner’s well lit house. Word had it that the Turner’s went all out, gave full-sized candy bars, and had a great haunted house setup in the basement.

“Let’s check out the Turner’s this year,” Tim suggested.

“We can’t cross the street,” Molly said.

“It’s not busy. Let’s go.”

I was all for it, but Molly said she’d tell mom if we did.

“We’ll we’re going,” Tim decided for himself and his sisters. He was determined. He was also drawn by the fact that he had a major crush on Jenny Turner. “You coming?” he asked Bill.

Bill looked torn, but in the end decided to stick with us. Tim and the twins gave a quick look both ways and then dashed across the street and disappeared into a crowd of about a dozen other kids heading up the walk.

The three of us continued on and soon came to the corner of Woodcrest and Crestview Court. Of the nine houses only three had on lights. Bill suggested we skip it as not worth the effort, but Molly insisted we do the circle. After a good deal of wheedling she got her way.

The last house we came to with the light on looked a bit unkempt and Bill suddenly lagged behind.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“Oh, nothing. I just don’t want to… That’s old man Henderson’s place.” I didn’t know much about old man Henderson expect he seemed to be lonely and walked a tired old black lab every day. I shrugged. “He’s kind of creepy,” Bill went on. “They say he killed his wife and keeps her in a rocking chair, like in that movie.”

“He did not!” Molly retorted. “He’s a nice old man, and Bo is a really nice dog.” She started down the walk.

“Molly, wait!” I reached for her, but she jerked out of my grasp and darted to the door. Before I could stop her she rang the bell.

What could I do but follow her onto the stoop? I looked back, and Bill stood there at the end of the walk, neither coming nor leaving. Distracted as I was, I nearly jumped when the front door jerked open. A warm orangish light washed out upon us.

“Trick-or-treat!” Molly shouted.

An old man in a red T-shirt and bluejeans stood on the other side of the storm door regarding our attire. A rolly-polly black lab stood just behind him, lazily wagging its tale. The man glanced aside, into another room, then slowly opened the door a crack.

“Trick-or-treat!” Molly shouted again, her eyes fixed on the black lab.

“Hello, Molly. Is it Halloween? I clear forgot.” He looked a bit perplexed. Then he opened the door wider to allow us to step in. I reached, but Molly was over the threshold before I could stop her. What could I do but follow her in?

The house had that vaguely sweet yet unpleasant odor reminiscent of the nursing home grandma was in. I glanced back out the door to see Bill standing resolutely at the curb.

Molly made straight for the dog, who nuzzled up to her warmly. They obviously knew each other well. Then she glanced into the other room and said, “Happy Halloween, Mrs. Henderson.”

That’s when I noticed the hospital bed. I took in a sharp breath when I saw a pale withered arm rise up and give a fluttery finger wave before dropping back down. The arm belonged to a gaunt old woman laying under several blankets. With a knit cap on her head only her pale arms and face were visible. Yet her clear blue eyes were very much alive, and she gave us a warm smile.

“I’ll see what I can rustle up,” Mister Henderson said, shuffling off toward the kitchen. As he did so Molly went over to visit with his wife, the dog tagging right behind her. I lingered by the door, undecided whether or not to bolt. As I fretted, Molly blithely related the adventures of our evening thus far and detailing her night’s haul. I was about to make a move to grab her when Mister Henderson came back into the room.

“This is all I could manage,” he said, almost apologetically. Molly joined us in the hallway and he dropped a full-sized chocolate bar into both of our bags. “So,” he said, “you have a joke for me?”

I told him my Cubs joke and he laughed heartily. Then he handed me another chocolate bar. “This one’s for your buccaneer friend out there,” he said, indicating Bill.

Old man Henderson watched us walk back out to the curb. When we got there Molly let out a gasp and turned back abruptly as if she forgot something. “Thank you!” she shouted down the walk toward the house.

In response Mister Henderson gave us a friendly wave. As we turned to go he closed the door, and front light winked out.
(c) 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

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