Friday, November 6, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy Halloween! Hathburn Avenue

Hi there!

it's almost Halloween and I do so love the season, so because I can, I'm going to post one of my Halloween tales for you. 

Naturally it's copyrighted. Naturally I'll ask you not to print it and sell it for profit. If you MUST print it, please include my name. Just kidding, don't print it. Well, okay, you can print it if you want to read it off the computer screen, but you know what I mean.

The first time Hathburn Avenue showed up was at Horrorworld. The online site then owned and run by the lovely Nanci Kalanta. The second time was in my collection SLICES, which I may even eventually put out as something other than a limited edition collection. 

It's been a while, so hopefully this is a treat and not a trick. 

Hathburn Avenue
James A. Moore
Copyright 2007

Candles lit the insides of carved faces on nearly every porch on Billings Street. The sun was almost gone and the jack-o-lanterns were more obvious, more deliciously sinister as the darkness swallowed most everything. I remember looking at the glowing caricatures with a mix of fear and anticipation. It was excitement at first; but even as the night started, I had a strange feeling that bad things were coming.

There were seven kids in the group and we were all supposed to follow Mike Berry’s mom as she lead us door to door. Mrs. Berry was a heavyset woman who wore baggy clothes to hide her size and covered her face in enough make up for a dozen teenaged girls, but she was also a very nice lady and seemed, to me at least, a little sad. That night the make up wasn’t as out of place as usual. In the spirit of the evening, she’d dressed herself as gypsy in the tackiest run of clothing I’d ever seen and enough scarves to open her own accessories shop. Her son was dressed up, too, in a long, dark cloak with a cheap plastic skull face that was far more effective in the growing darkness. Mike Berry was always a weird kid, sort of prissy and prone to laughing at the strangest things, but his mom was our chaperone that night and we all had to hang with him by default.

There were supposed to be nine of us, but Rick Treacher wasn’t there yet. Chuck Willinger wasn’t there. That didn’t seem right at all. Chuck had been planning his Halloween the way generals planned wars. He had a list of the best houses to get candy from and a second list of the ones he intended to visit after the official fun was done with. Chuck had a memory for slights, and at least three grown ups had caused him enough grief to get on his bad side. Chuck was a little too intense sometimes, a little too willing to hold a grudge or work out the details for elaborate revenge plots. Mostly, he was also too willing to go through with his plans. No one should be that vindictive at the age of eleven.
Rick being gone was weird, and unusual, but not as important as Chuck not being there. The three of us had been friends for as long as any of us could have remembered, but that Halloween, I was the only one of us ready to go out and have fun. I had no idea why Rick hadn’t shown, just knew that he was missing. In the grander scheme of things, Rick was always the least predictable of us.

It took me a second to remember that Chuck was dead, and when I did I felt a shuddery breath slide out of me. Chuck Willinger was dead, along with his entire family. I knew that. But part of me kept trying to forget it. Like I could ever really forget the heat from the flames of the house next door burning away, or the wheezing sound in my father’s voice for the next couple of weeks afterward. Dad had tried to go in and save our neighbors right after he’d called 9-1-1, and he’d failed. I watched my best friend’s house burn down to nothing but a few walls and a mountain of ash, and I knew that he’d died in the same fire. The police said the fire that took them was probably an accident, but I could remember the spokesman on the evening news, a round faced man with a tight crew cut who made the statement about the Willinger Family and seemed, to my eyes at least, to doubt the very words he spoke.
I pushed the thought out of my head. Chuck had loved Halloween and I decided that I’d have fun that night despite the relatively fresh wound of losing a good friend to a stupid fire. Not all that far away, just past my own house, the remains of the Willinger place sat brooding and scorched in the dying light; a ghost of what it had been, a memory of sleepovers and watching crappy horror movies and talking about everything from comic book heroes to the way we’d started noticing girls. It was only Chuck I talked to about those things, because Rick would have never understood. Rick didn’t let his mind wander the same way. Chuck should have been with me. He should have been there in his zombie costume or whatever he’d spent half the summer working on. You could always count on Chuck to have the coolest costumes.

I was eleven, just at that age where people start looking at you funny if you still go out trick or treating. (By people I mean my older brother Troy, who was fifteen and thought I was the world’s biggest loser. That was okay; I thought he was up near the top of the charts for being a dick, so it balanced out.) I didn’t care if they looked. I had a mask and I had a bag waiting for candy.

Mrs. Berry pushed several of her bracelets aside and looked at the delicate watch on her ham hock wrist and frowned. “I think we’re going to have to go without Rick, kids.” A few of us made token noises of disappointment, but let’s be honest here, we wanted goodies and if Rick lost out, well, that was his problem, not ours. Oh, who am I kidding? It was also a perfect chance to tease one of my best friends about what he didn’t get to snack on for the next week, and to get closer to Mindy Carruthers, who we both wanted to know a lot better. Mindy had never been all that interesting in the past, but she managed to turn pretty over the summer and it wasn’t easy to look away from her sometimes. She’d always been short and a little pudgy—not that I had room to talk about on those fronts—but these days she was vital, energetic and had the ability to catch my eye from 30 yards away. The freckles that used to look like mud splatters on her skin were somehow more interesting than when I was younger and her eyes didn’t seem to have changed that much but were now absolutely fascinating. Mindy, if I didn’t mention it already, was one of the other seven kids in our group.
After the false protests, we were on our way, and it pleased me to no end to know that the pirate standing next to me most of the way was Mindy under a tricorn hat, an eye patch and a stuffed parrot.
We’d only made four houses—my entire haul of candy consisted of a bite sized Snickers bar, a piece of petrified bubble gum that would require nothing less than the teeth of a shark to make chewable, one candied apple from Mrs. Murphy, the widow on the corner, and a religious tract with a Hershey’s Kiss taped to it—when I first got the feeling that someone was watching me, maybe even following me.  

Now, I bet most people could tell you that at one time or another in their lives they felt like they were being followed. I bet you could tell me about a time or two yourself. But this didn’t feel like eyes watching me so much as it felt like eyes intent on killing me. My skin crawled under the rubber werewolf mask I’d begged for and finally gotten (not a cheap rubber mask like at the grocery store, but a Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolf Man mask from Don Post Studios that cost my parents a cool forty-five dollars. I’d have never gotten it if my birthday wasn't two weeks before Halloween.), and I know I wasn’t the only one feeling it, because Mindy turned and looked behind us a couple of times and so did a few of the others. The only one who didn’t seem to notice anything strange on that chilly night at the end of October was Mrs. Berry. The kid who lived next door was six years old and stuck with the unfortunate name of Kilroy Houseman. He was dressed up as a clown, with oversized shoes and a red and blue jumper that looked almost big enough for me.  He kept peeking over his shoulder so many times that he managed to trip over his own feet and gave himself a goose egg on the head. Poor Kilroy was hardly the most graceful kid, and the knot was big enough that when he started crying, no one thought he was being a baby about it.

Four houses in, and already things were going bad. I might have worried a bit more about that, but Mindy was there and I had to look brave for her. This was my chance, you see, to get in good with the girl who was occupying most of my daydreams even when I didn’t want her to.

After a few minutes of hemming and hawing about what to do, Mrs. Berry decided it would be best if Kilroy went home and she would gather the rest of his treats for him. Kilroy didn’t cry about it, but his disappointment was written on his face and in his wide, shocky eyes.

She gave me his bag to hold, as I was the oldest. I promised Kilroy I’d make sure he got the good stuff and he smiled his thanks before leaning in close and whispering “There’s something out there, Tom. Something bad.” I wish I could have told him it was just because it was Halloween and the wind was blowing just so, but I couldn’t. Deep down inside, I agreed with him.

So did all of the others. I think there’s something almost paradoxical about adolescence and childhood. Think about it: as a whole, I’m convinced that every single kid there knew something was wrong, really wrong and maybe even dangerously wrong. We were scared enough that not a single one of us even gave the notion of skipping on to the next house consideration, because there were no parents to watch us. And at the same time, I seriously doubt that any of the kids that stood around waiting for Mrs. Berry to come back even considered leaving, because it was Halloween, and this was our night to have fun. So instead of moving forward with the whole group or even retreating to our homes and hiding under the covers—that trick still worked when I was eleven, but not for much longer—we stood around and waited in a rapidly growing, uncomfortable silence, for our leader to return.

And all the while I felt those eyes on me. I was surrounded by a very small witch, a female pirate, two unknown kids in ghost makeup with sheets wrapped around them and billowing in the light breeze, and the Grim Reaper, all of whom looked exactly as worried as I did if I could judge by the way they fidgeted. I looked at every house, near the ground and even on the roofs to see if I could locate the source of my unease, but there was nothing. The scent of Chuck’s ruined house—burnt plastic and wood—was gone from the air, replaced by the smell of dying leaves and the promise of winter just around the corner. The houses I knew in the light of day were still there as the last of the dusk died and gave birth to the night, but they were made unfamiliar by shadows and patches of darkness so complete that anything could have been hiding in them. The trees I walked past on the way to school were barren now, skeletal ghosts of their former selves, bathed only occasionally in the luminescence of the street lights.

I lived seven houses down the block from where we stood, but my house may as well have been a thousand miles distant. It made no sense to me. It made no sense to the kids around me. We were neighbors and friends or even just friendly acquaintances, but you couldn’t have proved it at that moment. We were all scared…of nothing.

Mrs. Berry finally came about after what seemed like half the night but was really only a handful of minutes. She forced a pleasant smile on her round face and took Kilroy’s bag from me and we were off again.

The Bowers family had popcorn balls. A lot of hype had been in the newspapers and on the five o’clock news about how dangerous homemade treats were, but everyone knew the Bowers and this year they’d added M&Ms to the family recipe, so no one was worried or upset about the treats.
Mindy and I ate ours on the way to the next house, sneaking back a little from the rest of the group to flirt with our eyes and finish our treats. We didn’t lose sight of them though. That little notion never crossed our minds, because we knew that something was out there, watching us and hating us. By the seventh house we were holding hands and ignoring the fact that the remnants from the popcorn balls practically fused our fingers together. I couldn’t imagine a better person to be glued to for the rest of my life.

We kept looking over our shoulders from time to time, too, because whatever was looking at us seemed to be following us as well. There was another group of kids that passed us at one point, and I watched them as closely as I could from the corner of my eye to see if they were going to start looking over their shoulders. They did, but they were still laughing as they reached the house we’d just finished at.

We rounded the corner of our street, moving around to Hathburn Avenue, a larger road that had more houses, better houses and not a single street light. Most of the homes had lanterns or light posts of their own, but there were none of the sodium lights I was familiar with spilling beams of bright yellow illumination across the road and sidewalks.

The feeling of being watched got worse as we started walking. I think by that time even Mrs. Berry with her perpetual smile was starting to notice something was wrong, even if it wasn't on a conscious level. She pulled her shawl in a little tighter and rubbed her arms amid the chiming tinkles of her costume jewelry as if to ward off the chill of the autumn night. It wouldn’t have seemed so unusual, but the temperature wasn’t that bad. Something about that simple gesture of hers made the paranoid feelings of being watched even more intense and for the first time in several minutes I was thinking more about heading home than I was about candy or even Mindy.

I don’t know about where you grew up, but in my home town the idea of showing you were scared at eleven was almost a death sentence, so I braved the new street and the dread that grew inside of me. Potential ridicule was easily outweighed by the need for candy corn and chocolate bars. I’m weak like that.
There are sayings in this world that make no sense until the first time you experience them. That night, after the third house on Hathburn Avenue, a goose walked over my grave. I felt the chill start at my feet and move like frozen lightning all the way up my back and I wasn't the only one. I saw the rest of the kids as the feeling hit them and I saw Mrs. Berry tightening her shawl around her oversized torso at the same instant. Next to me, almost in my blind spot, I heard Mindy let out a small gasp of surprise and quickly turn around, trying to look everywhere at once. Mike was the same age as me, but I saw him step closer to his mom without even realizing he’d done it. Death comforted by an overweight gypsy. I couldn’t blame him; I wanted my mother around then too.

Mrs. Berry put an arm around her son and he let her for a few seconds before stepping back. The matron looked at us and forced a smile that looked more like a stifled scream onto her face. “Does everyone have enough now? It’s getting sort of late.”

My bag had ten, maybe fifteen pieces of candy, nowhere near the usual amounts, and I was seriously considering nodding a yes anyway. Mike blew that chance away when he stepped back from his mother.

“Mom, no!” His voice brooked no argument. As far as he was concerned, she may as well have pantsed him in front of everyone there and all the girls in class at the same time. His mother was sounding scared and instead of being afraid himself, he decided to take offense at the very idea that Halloween was done. I know the reasons and I bet you do, too. When you’re eleven there’s little as important as being seen as one of the cool kids and having his mother ruin Halloween for everyone was just about a guarantee of public humiliation.

Mrs. Berry, who made the best lemonade and always had some kind of treats for us when we came over, looked at her son as if he’d slapped her and blinked her eyes several times in rapid succession before answering. “Well then,” her voice was half an octave too high and as cheery as her attempt at a smile. “I guess we better keep going.” I couldn’t help wondering exactly when Mike had become the head of the family, but even at eleven I knew he was in charge and I felt embarrassed for the woman who was watching over us. He might have felt like he’d been humiliated by her, but the truth was closer to the other way around.

She didn’t walk to the next house, she stormed toward it. Any of the kids who’d been thinking about going home and calling it quits got over that idea around the same time Mrs. Berry turned her back on us and started for house number four.

There was a pumpkin sitting on the stoop of 362 Hathburn Avenue, but the candle that had been burning away inside of it was dead, and only the faintest hint of roasting pumpkin aroma still wafted around it. There were no lights on, either.

Have you ever had a moment when you realized you knew a place? I’m not talking about déjà vu where you think you might have seen a place before, but a sudden realization that you know a house as well as you know the back of your hand. I felt that when I looked at the dark building in front of us, and there was no denying the feeling.

362 Hathburn Avenue, two blocks away from my house, was a perfect duplicate of Chuck’s place before the fire burned it to the ground. I hadn’t been on Hathburn Avenue very often. It wasn’t a part of my world. I headed the other direction for school, and the woods back behind our street were far more interesting than a busy road with oversized houses. I can’t say I’d never been down to that road in the past, but I can tell you this: I never once saw a perfect copy of the Willinger residence, a location I knew very well before it was consumed in flames.

I stopped walking and looked at the house. It had the same style of shingles on the roof, the same front porch, with three steps leading to the front door with the oversized knocker. I counted the number of posts on the railing, and noticed that post number seven was missing, just like at Chuck’s place.

Mindy bumped into me lightly, and I kept staring, not believing what I was seeing.
“What’s wrong?” Her voice was a whisper, the same sort reserved for libraries and churches.
I shook my head and took off my Wolf Man mask to speak to her, feeling the chill in the night air erase the moisture from my skin. “Not that house. I’m not going to that one.”

“Why not?” Her lips asked the question, but her eyes moved from me and studied the house. Finally, she nodded her head ever so lightly and backed up two paces, as her eyes widened.  “Okay. We’ll skip this one.”

We stepped back to the sidewalk as the rest of the group walked across the boards of the porch, their feet thumping and clumping along as the wood creaked in mild protest.

Mrs. Berry lifted the ornate brass knocker from its resting spot and I swear her hand trembled, though from fear or effort I could never guess. The metal let out a squeal of disuse as she caught it, held it and waited. Beside her, Mike reached toward the knocker, his face still covered in his cheap plastic skull mask. I think he meant to stop that knocker from coming down. I really do. Why? Because he jumped when he saw her hand in motion. His whole body shook a bit as if he’d been startled out of a daydream. 

As her fingers dropped the knocker, a deep thump issued from the wood and that feeling I’d had of being watched, of being hated, increased. Every kid on that stoop backed away from the sound, because no piece of wood ever made a noise like that. It was a bass drum, a hollow deep booming noise that made as little sense as the Willinger house being on the wrong road.

Mrs. Berry stepped back, too, her foot catching on an uneven board and her weight suddenly plummeting, falling, landing roughly on the planks that let out a deeper groan of protest that almost hid the sound of her grunt of pain. I don’t think it was my imagination, I really believe to this very day that I heard the sound of her arm breaking as she hit the deck, even though the sound was covered over by the scream that came from Mike when the door opened.

Scream? No, it was more than that. It was a primal jolt of fear that was ripped from his soul. The sound dwarfed everything around it, consumed the other noises like a banshee’s wail. Mike Berry, resplendent in his Grim Reaper’s outfit, staggered back as if he’d been shot in the chest and clutched at the area over his heart as the door swing inward.

Mindy and I stepped back too, ready to bolt back toward our homes, to do almost anything to get away from whatever was coming out of that doorway. Every kid there moved, stumbling, falling, running, and crawling as the darkness seemed to swirl from inside of that impossible house.
Darkness, and something else.

I don’t think it could have spoken. It didn’t have a mouth or a face for speaking. Or maybe it could have and simply chose not to speak.

The darkness moved, a chaotic cloud of smoke and soot that whipped around itself in a frenzy of activity. It rose from the threshold and stepped onto that porch, barely acknowledging the existence of the heavyset woman lying at its feet. Mike Berry didn’t seem to care that his mother was in front of the thing, close enough to feel the wind from its passage and to be left with a trail of black soot across her body and face where it touched.

Mike was too busy trying to get away from it, to run as fast and as far as he could. The skull mask fell away from his face, torn aside to let him see his escape route better. I remember watching it drift and fall, before one of the eye sockets got tangled in the shrubs at the front of the porch. The cheap plastic face stared at me with blank, idiot eyes and seemed to accuse me.

Mindy’s fingers clenched in mine painfully, but I was barely aware of them. I was too busy looking at Mike as he tried to run, tried to get away from the thing that moved after him.

The blackened shape had grown, taken on a form that was unsettlingly similar to the costume Mike wore. Not quite a human shape, but similar enough to be unsettling.

Mrs. Berry rolled over, her face pasty under her makeup and the layer of soot, and screamed for the thing to leave her baby alone. It paid her no attention.

Mrs. Berry stood up, bracing with one arm while the other hung loosely at her side, and swayed toward the thing, reaching out, doing all she could to stop the monster from touching her precious boy. It was one of the most amazing sights I ever saw, a colossal act of courage and determination that still leaves me a little awestruck when I think about that night. I could see the blood dripping down her arm and spilling in thin streams down from her useless fingers. She should have been curled up and moaning on the deck, not moving to save her son.

I still remember her face when her good hand grabbed for the body of that darkness. She staggered forward and her hand pushed into the seething blackness and came out on the other side in a shower of white hot sparks. It stopped moving toward Mike for a moment and simply stood still, the rough head shape craning down to look at the dark hand that thrust from its torso.

I don’t know if it meant to hurt her. I really can’t say. All I know is that an instant after her hand plunged into the figure, Mrs. Berry let out a wail of pain and forgot all about Mike’s health. She was wearing all of those scarves, all that costume jewelry. It only took a second to realize that something was wrong with her skin after she’d plunged into the shape. You could tell by the way her bangles stuck to her flesh, taking on new shapes as the heat softened them.

The woman let out a second, weaker wail as her clothes caught aflame. Fabric shrank back from the inferno that must have been cooking inside of the ghostly figure and then exploded into tongues of fire that enveloped her in seconds. She drew in a deep breath, surely for another scream, but the heat must have cooked her lungs away before that could happen. In a matter of seconds she was a column of fire that fell to blazing knees and bowed toward the porch of the house, supplicant to the pain of her own death.

Mike’s sense of preservation outweighed his need to check on his mother. He jumped over the railing of the porch and landed in the dark lawn to the side of the house, stumbling to catch his balance and pin wheeling his arms madly.  

And the smoldering reaper went after him, flowing over the boards of the porch without causing them any damage and moving through the railing as easily as the smoke it resembled.

Mike’s eyes were wide and rolled blindly in their sockets, looking for some way to avoid what was coming next. He focused on me for the briefest moment and called my name as if I could somehow make what was about to happen stop. I couldn’t do a damned thing but stare. My feet felt like they’d been fused to the lawn, and my legs hadn’t enough strength to step in any direction.

“We didn’t mean it! It was an accident!” Mike’s voice cracked as he spoke, and I felt an involuntary shudder move through me as his words struck a chord deep inside.

An accident. A little mishap. I looked at Mike as he ran, heading further away toward the back of the house, and thought hard about his words.

Mike had always loved to play with matches. It there was something he could burn and a lighter or a book of Diamond matches to be found, there would be a fire inside of five minutes. It was almost guaranteed. Mike and Rick Treacher used to be thick as thieves, but while I still saw Rick regularly, Mike didn’t show up as much as he had before the fire.

I couldn’t believe what I was thinking, couldn’t get a solid grip on the notion of them burning down the Willinger place, because at eleven years of age, I’d have never considered letting something like that get out of hand. Still, it made sense in its own way and, really, of all the people I knew, I could see Mike starting a house fire easiest.

“I’m sorry!” Mike fell on his knees in the back lawn, and I saw him for only a second before the black form fell over him. Mike screamed as it touched his skin. He was only a silhouette in the darkness by then, more easily heard than seen, but oh, how he screamed. “I’m saaaawwwreeeee!” His voice broke and was silenced, leaving only the sound of my panicked breathing and Mindy’s next to me.

Breathing and the sound of something hissing, like bacon in a hot skillet.

In the midnight shade of the house, the ash and smoke monster turned and I saw glimmers of red light within its form; coals burning within the heart of the demon.

It moved toward me and my legs remembered how to run after it had come only a few paces closer. I looked to where its face should have been, even as I turned away, and saw the hatred that burned inside of it, the merciless rage that seemed to emanate from it like heat from an open over door.
I also saw something of Chuck in that darkness. Not his face, not really, just a hint of his face.
My feet bolted hard toward Billings Street and my right hand, still stuck to Mindy’s, hauled her along for the ride. She didn’t protest. I don’t think she could have.

Somewhere behind me, I heard one of the little kids cry out, one of the ghosts, I think.  I’d been so fixated on the burning ash and dust that walked when it shouldn’t have been possible, that I never even noticed the car coming. I can only guess that the ghost never saw it either. I heard the bloody shriek of tires locking and scraping along the road and I heard a loud thump. My mind told me the rest of the story. I didn’t stop running.

By the time I got back to my house, my parents were already on their way out the door, coming looking for me, no doubt, and the distant cry of an ambulance siren was coming closer. I was breathless and sweating despite the mild air. So was Mindy beside me.

I know there were a lot of questions. I answered them as best I could and so did Mindy until her parents arrived to pick her up. The police came by to ask more questions, having been summoned by my father who went over to Hathburn Avenue to investigate the incident himself.

I wish I had all of the answers, but I don’t. There was no sign of Mrs. Berry ever found at the sight and the same is true of Mike. There was a trail of burn marks that ran from the front of the house along the porch, and inside the house there were more scorch marks but no bodies were found. Tina Lawrence was hit by a car that Halloween night and lived through it, though there were several surgeries she had to look forward to, if she ever wanted to walk right again. Her leg was nearly severed when the driver of the car tried to back his vehicle off of her. I never knew the driver’s name, or whether or not charges were ever pressed against him. My parents did their best to shelter us from the ugly realities of daily life, and that was one of the things that simply was not discussed around me or my older brother.

I learned about crematoriums later on and learned that the human body is a pretty amazing thing. Even after being deliberately set ablaze, there are some bones that have to be ground into dust to add to the ashes of a loved ones remains. Fifteen hundred degrees of heat and parts of the body are still intact. There was nothing left of Mike or his mom. There was nothing left of the people who lived at 362 Hathburn Avenue. I checked, believe me.

It was almost a month later when I went down Hathburn again. My mom had to take me to a dental appointment, and she drove that direction without even thinking about it if I remember it right. But she stopped when she reached the house where it all went down, and she stared for a few moments, as if trying to reason out what had happened for herself.

The house looked nothing like Chuck’s place. Not from the front and not from the back which I knew a lot better from the numerous times I’d gone there to play at Rick’s. I hadn’t recognized the place on Halloween, hadn’t even considered it, because we always went in through the back door at Rick’s place. It was easier to cut across the back lawns and through the woods than it had ever been to walk along the side of the street. 

Was it Chuck I saw that night, coming from Rick’s house? I don’t know. Whatever it was, I know I never saw it again. All I can tell you is that Halloween was never the same for me after that, and neither was the neighborhood. We moved away less than a year later, when my father got transferred to a different branch of the bank that he worked for. By that time Mindy and I had already sworn undying love to each other, roughly a month before her family moved away. There were no letters, no phone calls. We each went our own way and moved on in the world; still, I remember her now and then and miss her a bit.  

I think my dad might have requested the move, because really, I don’t know that anyone who was there that night was ever comfortable in the neighborhood again.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


So, a good while back now I wrote the novel BLOOD RED, which was released as the first of the Halloween novels done by Earthling Publications. Earlier that year the publisher, Paul Miller, asked several of his writers who were going to be at the World Horror Convention in New York City, to write short stories to go along with their forthcoming novels.

This tale, "Blood Tide" was my precursor. There were only 150 copies printed, I believe, so the odds are decent you haven't read it before.

Here it is, just for kicks.

Blood Tide
By James A. Moore 
Copyright 2004

The Cliffside Walk in Black Stone Bay was one of the most popular attractions the town had to offer, but that was in the daytime, when the sun shone down on the jagged black teeth thrusting from the waves, and when a person could easily see where each foot was settling down.
         Currently, it was just after two in the morning, and while a lot of people might have been hassled by the police for being out on the long run of private property that late, the issue never came up with the owners, all of whom the police knew very well.
         Besides, neither of the men was making much noise aside from speaking softly.
“You’re certain this is the property you want?” Albert Miles spoke with genuine regret. “I’ve grown very fond of the old place over the years.”
Jason Soulis smiled and nodded his head. “Oh, yes, Albert. I am certain.” He cast his dark eyes over the waters of the bay and nodded again, slowly, as he drank in the fresh salt air. “It’s as perfect for me as any location I’ve seen could be, don’t you think?”
Miles grinned, looking more like a stocky old trucker than a multi-millionaire. He would have probably been perfect cast as the stodgy old grandfather in almost any 1960s sitcom. He dressed in flannel and jeans, because that was his preference.
Jason Soulis on the other hand, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit and wore a thick coat over it. The air was very cold as it came off the ocean.
“Well, I suppose a deal is a deal. Still, I’m going to miss this spot.” He looked at the estate behind him and sighed. “Lots of fond memories.”
“Well, of course you can visit, Albert.” He lifted one eyebrow and let his lips play at a hint of a smile. “There’s nothing to say you can’t come back and chew the fat with me from time to time.”
Albert Miles looked at his long time associate and chuckled. “You’re still planning to go through with everything, aren’t you?”
The smile stayed on Soulis’ lips but left his eyes. “What on Earth would you know about that?”
“Remarkably little, actually. What you do is only of minor concern to me, Jason. You know that.”
“Let’s try to keep it that way. We have been friends for a long time and I value that.”
“Relax, Jason.” Albert Miles pulled out his pipe and fumbled with a match for several second before he finally got it lit. Soulis watched, but otherwise made no moves. “Who warned you in Ohio?”
“That’s very true.” The man nodded and eased up on the tension in his face. “You could have just left well enough alone and eliminated me if you wanted me gone.”
Miles laughed openly. It was a friendly sound, a jovial noise and it helped relax Soulis even more. “Jason, my good man, I have no reason to want you hurt. What you seek from the world and what I seek have never been at odds.” He put his hand on Soulis’s shoulder which, considering the man’s idiosyncrasies, would have left many people dead a few moments later. “We’re friends, Jason. I know that isn’t easy to accept. I’m in the same situation as you along those lines, but we are friends.”
Soulis leaned against the narrow railing that separated the two of them from the cliffs below. At this particular juncture, the water was almost a hundred feet down and the jagged rocks that rose from the waves looked as deadly as they were. More than one person had been shredded against the black stones, torn apart by the pounding seas as it battered the coastline.
“Forgive me, Albert. It’s not always easy to trust someone.”
“Oh, hellfire, Jason, I wouldn’t trust me as far as I could throw that old house you just got from me.” He was still laughing, but it had muted down to a chuckle. “I’ve killed more friends than most people have.”
“True enough.” Soulis smiled again. “I suspect we both have.”
“Side effect of living, my friend.” He shrugged. “Live long enough and you make enemies more often than you make friends. I like to keep the few I have, whenever possible.”
“True.” Soulis pursed his lips and nodded again, his eyes drawn to the waves that slammed themselves blindly against the rocks. He smiled when he noticed the motion of the waves and that they hid something below the surface.
“I have another favor to ask of you, Albert.”
“Just feeling frisky tonight, aren’t you?” Miles was in a good mood. He hadn’t made a single demand for payment on any new favors. Not yet, at least. But he might. Soulis knew the man that well.
“I need a contact here in town. Preferably a young lady.”
“There’s a college girl I know of,” Albert Miles stayed silent for a long time before he answered. They had always had that sort of conversation and the long stretch before he got a response didn’t offend Jason Soulis in the least. “She’s a rare beauty, and might have certain…talents you are looking for. But I’m also rather fond of her.”
         “You’ve sampled her talents then?” Soulis’s voice was lightly mocking.
“What? Heavens, no. Not along those lines. I haven’t had sex in forever.” Albert Miles sounded offended.
“My apologies, Albert. I forget myself.”
“Not at all.” His friend leaned against the railing to his right and looked down at the waves as they pulled back with a whispered moan. “You never met my wife. You couldn’t possibly know how wonderful she was.”
“It has been a long time, Albert. Don’t you still feel the need to be with a woman?”
“Of course I do.” He chuckled and then puffed away at his pipe for a moment. “I just don’t listen to that need very often.”
“I do. Mostly it’s force of habit.”
“Then Maggie will be perfect for you. She is a wonderful girl.” He looked at Soulis and winked. “I also hear she is very imaginative and quite accommodating.”
“Well, then I shall ask you for the proper way to contact her. I have a few needs that I must take care of before I can settle in properly.”
“I already thought of that. You’ll find her picture and her current address in the upper right hand drawer of the desk in the den. You’ll also find the name of the man who will procure her for you.” Miles puffed away contentedly on his pipe for a moment and then winked. “Don’t you worry, Jason. We’ll get you situated in town.”
“Where will you be going, Albert?”
“I have several irons in the fireplace.” He shrugged. “There are things I need to take care of in Europe. I might go there for a while. I haven’t really decided yet.”
“I think I like the feel of this place. I think I shall like it much more than I did Ohio.”
“Well, really, what is there to do in Ohio, anyway?”
“You might be surprised.” Jason leaned out over the edge of the railing and studied the waves as they crashed. There were secrets under those waves, and he knew he would be exploring them soon.
Albert Miles reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a ring of keys. They tinkled together softly as he tossed them in the air and caught them several times. When he bored of the game he threw them toward Jason Soulis, who caught them effortlessly.
“There you go, old man. All yours.”
“Will you be staying the night?” He pocketed the keys.
“What? No. No, we’re friends, Jason, but I don’t feel quite that foolish tonight.”
Albert Miles chuckled to himself as he walked away. He did not look back and Jason Soulis did not watch him go.


Matt Casey was unaware that he was being watched. He probably wouldn’t have cared either way. He was running on a serious high and the only thing he much had a desire for currently was anything that could keep his high going.
Of course, that required money, and Matt was running low. He had paid his tuition over at the Winslow Harper University earlier in the week and that had pretty much drained the coffers until his father sent his next allowance check. He’d paid, because he knew good and damned well that if he didn’t maintain good grades his parents would cut him off. He wasn't quite far gone enough to want to try living on the streets.
But he was getting there.
Beside him, his best buddy and roommate, Louis, was grinning ear to ear and looking at things that only he could see. From time to time he came back to the real world and asked what they were going to do next. If he asked again, Matt was pretty sure he’d have to cave his skull in. Lou was a bit of a downer when he started asking too many questions.
“What are we gonna do next, Matt?” Yep. There it was, that need to snap his friend’s neck. He held it in check.
“We’re gonna get more money, is what we’re gonna do.”
“How? Dude, we’re all tapped out.”
Matt closed his eyes and tried counting to ten. He made it to seven before he forgot what he was doing, but by then he’d grown calmer again.
“Lou, old buddy, old pal, just shut the fuck up and let me think.”
“Oh. Yeah. All right. It’s all good.”
They were standing in the shadows of Parminter Street’s alleyway, the only source of light near them coming from the liquor store across the street. If he could just focus for a minute, Matt knew he could remember the reason that he’s chosen this spot. There was a good reason. A damned fine reason.
That damned fine reason walked out of the liquor store a minute later. Margaret Preston, Maggie to her friends. And to her clients. She was dressed just the way he liked to see her, like she was all money.
Maggie had dark, curly hair pulled back into a ponytail and small, expensive diamond stud earrings in her ears, and a face that had visited his wet dreams more than a few times. She was hot, and she knew it, but she was also unavailable for dating.
Her dates had to pay for the privilege. And they had to play plenty for it, too. He knew a few guys who’d scraped up the cash, and she was supposed to be a pretty amazing lay. Normally when he saw her at school, she was dressed as casually as possible and looked like the girl next door. He’d heard she dressed for whatever was required of her when she was working, and apparently that meant that she was supposed to dressed like a high-stepping bitch tonight. Her pants were black leather, supple and tight in all the right ways, and her shirt was a little pink baby-doll T with the word Princess stretched across her impressive breasts. Her shoes were dark leather short boots with just an inch or two of heel, and designed for walking all over a man. Matt figured he could spend a week or two nailing her and never have a reason to get soft. Something about the good-girl-gone-bad look always did that to him.
Not that he wanted her just for the pleasure of sticking it to her. He had other plans. He wanted her for the wad of cash she probably had stuffed into one of her too-tight pockets. If what he’d heard was true, a night with her cost enough to pay the rent for his house for about a month. Not a bad trick to turn.
“Dude, that bitch is hot…” Louis was giggling. That couldn’t be a good sign. He reached over and pinched Lou’s arm hard enough to leave a dark red mark. “OWWW! What the fuck?”
Maggie turned sharply, her dark eyes hidden in shadow, and her sweet mouth stuck in the sort of pout that made him think bad things about what he’d like to do to her.
Before Lou could open his stupid mouth again, Matt slapped a hand over it and pushed him as quietly as he could into the darkest recess of the alley. Lou struggled for a second and then relaxed, his breath and spit covering Matt’s palm.
“You shut up, Lou. You shut right the fuck up. You ain’t gonna fuck this up.”
“mumm wumph umf?” Fuck what up? Even when his mouth was open and free to flap away, Matt could always understand Lou, which was pretty damned impressive considering how often he slurred his speech. Understanding him while he was gagged didn’t cause a problem.
He moved out of the way so Louis could see Maggie again. “She’s our meal ticket tonight? Get me?”
Lou watched the girl for a second or two, as she finally decided she hadn’t heard anything to worry about and started walking again. He nodded enthusiastically. Both of them had talked about how much they would like to use her as their sperm bank on more than one occasion.
“Wn munna fug erm?” Are we gonna fuck her?
“Maybe. But not if you screw this up, so keep your fucking mouth shut.”
He watched Maggie walking, mesmerized briefly by the shape of her ass as she swayed softly down the sidewalk. It wasn't a forced sashay, just the way her hips were designed to work. 
Maybe, hell. He had every intention of peeling her out of those pants and having a party. She might scream, but he could arrange for that to be muffled. Just let her chew on Lou’s thing for a while, or make her eat a few pieces of newspaper.
Either way, he was going to get what he wanted from Maggie. The right drugs always helped him feel good about taking what he wanted and she probably had enough money on her to keep him guilt free for at least a week.
Maggie Preston turned a corner, taking the short cut through the park back to the apartments where she lived.
With several urgent gestures and a warning to stay the fuck quiet, Matt led the way. The hunt was on, as it were, and adrenaline mixed with his high and a serious case of blue balls to make him feel down right predatory.
Halfway down the alley, he forgot all about all of that. Maggie had company. Tom Pardue was standing next to her and grinning like a baboon.
At thirty-five years old, Pardue tried his best to look like he was twenty. He had thin blond hair, more than a few acne scars and a face that bore a strong resemblance to a chimpanzee’s. He was also the man to talk to if you wanted to pay for Maggie’s services.
Okay, so he dressed like a loser; normally doing his best to look like he belonged at the beach and ready to catch a few waves, with oversized shorts and baggie shirts that failed to completely hide the fact that his muscles were like steel. If the rumors were true, he also carried a weapon or five almost all the time.
Tom was also the number one source of fun when it came to getting a good high, and he knew both Lou and Matt as members of his regular clientele.
It looked like the two of them were going to have an argument. Maggie had her arms crossed over her chest and Tom had his hands planted on his hips. There was no way in hell to get close enough to hear what they were saying, but the expressions on their faces made it clear they weren’t having a social moment.
The argument started getting heated, but in a quiet way. They hissed whispers at each other and Matt put a hand on Lou’s shoulder to make sure he kept his mouth shut. Excitement mixed with disappointment. On the one hand, he wanted to get his hands on Maggie and her cash. On the other hand, it might be fun to see what Tom did to her if she gave him too much lip. Just thinking about being the one to put her back in her place was giving his desire for her a major boost.
Tom’s phone let out an annoying little chirp and spoiled the moment. He held up one finger to shut Maggie’s mouth while he answered and then spoke quickly, turning in Matt and Lou’s direction. Matt hauled Louis back again, his heart thudding hard. Tom didn’t like peepers. He didn’t like them enough to hospitalize a few of them in the past.
Not really a plan that suited Matt’s desires.
A half a minute went by without a word being heard, and with Lou getting edgier and edgier. Lou never took it well when he had to behave himself and also he might be seeing things again.
Matt shot him a look: What? What is it this time, Louis?
And Lou pointed with his right hand to the tops of the buildings around them.
Matt swallowed his little yelp before it got out. The buildings looked wrong in the darkness. It took him a second to realize that the roofs of the structures were moving.
They were covered with crows. Hundreds of the carrion eaters were perched along the edges of the buildings and looking down at Matt, Lou, Tom, and Maggie. Four people to scores of birds.
Matt felt his skin crawl. He didn’t have a problem with crows, thought they were kind of neat, actually, but there were so damned many of them and they were all silent. It wasn't natural.
As he looked up, several of the birds turned their heads and looked down at him, inspecting him like they would a tender piece of dead rabbit in the road. It was unsettling.
“What the fuck, dude?” That was Lou, but his voice was soft and nervous.
“I dunno….Weird shit, Lou. Really weird.”
Before either of them could say anything else, Tom came stomping out of the alleyway, his phone to his ear. He didn’t notice them. He looked far too busy handling whatever crisis was coming over the phone for him.
Tom looked back into the alley and pointed a finger at where Matt guessed Maggie was still standing. “This isn’t over. You get your ass home, and I better not have to double count tomorrow, you understand me?”
If Maggie made a response, it was hidden by the walls of the alleyway.
He risked a look down the alleyway when Tom stomped his way toward the campus. Not much of a reason to drive this time of night. Everything was close by in Black Stone Bay. Maggie was leaning against the wall, and lighting a cigarette. His lips parted in a small grin. He’d never have guessed she was a smoker.
“I wonder what else I’ll find out…”
Matt started walking, and Louis was right behind him. This was going to be fun.


Maggie leaned against the wall and willed her hands to stop shaking. He was being an asshole again, which was one of his specialties. She took a drag off the Salem in her mouth and blew the cloud away, barely taking the time to savor the burning nicotine. She didn’t really even want a smoke, just a good reason for her nerves to calm down.
Now and then Tom liked to accuse her of a few misdeeds, knowing full well that she wasn't stupid enough to steal from him, just so he could rough her up. It was his thing, his fetish. And while she supposed she had to accommodate the man to keep him happy, she did not have to like it. She’d had enough of the rough and ready for one night. Lance Brewster was one of her regular clients and while he was normally a gentleman all the way through the proceedings, he was currently having arguments with his soon to be ex-wife. That meant he had to take it out on someone, and with what he paid Maggie, he figured she was a good whipping post.
Bad move. As of now, Lance wasn’t getting any ever again. Not unless there was a lot of groveling going on. She wasn't a hooker, she was a call girl. She could always decide not to answer a call. And there wasn’t a damned thing anyone could do about it. Not even Tom, who had tried more than once to convince her to do things the same as all the other girls working for him.
“Not gonna happen, you prick.” She threw down her cigarette and crushed it under her toe. “Not for you or anyone else. I pick, I choose and if that changes, I don’t play any more.”
She reminded herself that this was strictly temporary. It helped to remind herself of that fact at least once a day. This was a means to an end, nothing more. It sure as hell wasn't her career for the future.
One year to go and she would be done with the university. Then she could have a life. A real life. Damned near anywhere she wanted.
Someone giggled down in the alleyway, back toward the liquor store, and she looked that way as causally as she could. Two guys, both of them students at the school. They were looking her way and trying to be sneaky, but neither of them was acting very sober. Okay, to be blunt, they were wasted.
And she wished Tom was still there, just like that. He was a known threat. He was not two losers hopping on the sort of stuff that made their eyes all glassy and their hands twitch.
Her hand slid into the left hand pocket of her leather pants and she caught the top of her pepper spray canister. Then she turned away and started walking, her skin crawling, knowing full well that they intended to do something.
Never show them fear. That was a lesson her father had taught her a long time ago. He told her that fear was like a wounded animal to predators. It made them twice as hungry and dangerously stupid.
So she walked with her back to them and prayed she’d be able to hear them coming closer. So far, no problem, because they were both doing their best to whisper—and failing.
“Damn, Matt, lookit that ass”
“Dude! Shut up!” Neither of them was speaking loudly, but at two-thirty in the morning they may as well have been using bullhorns.
Maggie turned and faced them when they were only fifteen feet from her, crossing her arms and hiding her hand on the trigger for the pepper spray. “Hi. Matt, isn’t it? What can I do for you?”
She looked him dead in the eyes, not allowing herself to blink. And he blushed. He actually blushed.
“Hi, Maggie. Yeah. I’m Matt. This is Louis.”
“I know both of you.” She looked from Matt to the other one, a skinny dark-haired boy who couldn’t stop smiling if his life depended on it. “Louis and I go to the same church. I see him there every week with his mother and father, isn’t that right, Louis?”
Matt was doing the school-boy crush thing, which was kind of cute. Louis was looking very, very embarrassed, as if he’d just realized he was walking the streets without his pants on.
Subtext was everything here and she knew it. She had identified both of them and pointed out that it wasn’t a casual thing. She could tell people who they were if they tried anything stupid.
Louis finally nodded and looked away from her. She’d just won the battle with him, if she could do the same thing with Matt, they wouldn’t have to get sprayed and she wouldn’t have to risk getting the crap beat out of her or worse. They were high as kites, but they weren’t so far gone that they didn’t understand there could be bad consequences if they did anything to her.
At least that was what she was counting on.
Matt nodded his head, and looked at Louis, who looked away from his friend like a kicked puppy trying to find an escape from its master’s shoe.
“You guys have a great night. Be safe. There’s a lot of weirdoes out.”
And off she went, heading back toward her apartment. Listening carefully. She heard only silence, and that was a good thing.


Matt spit on the wall as soon as she was out of view. “Fucking bitch.”
“Dude. She knew us. There’s no way in hell we can do anything to her. She’d point fingers and I am not getting busted again. I barely got out of it the last time.” Louis was sounding a lot more sober and more like a wimp with every passing second. Matt was feeling a lot more sober, and that wasn't making him happy either.
He clenched his hands together until the knuckles creaked and he could feel his nails biting into his palms. “Yeah? You want to go a week or two without any money? ‘Cause right now? We’re almost broke.”
“So we’ll find someone else, dude. Or we can hock something. Let’s just go.” Lou was whining. One mention of his sainted mom and he became a pussy.
“No. I want her. She’s got cash and I want to fuck her.”
“Dude, she’s Tom’s girl.” Louis was trying to talk reason, a sure sign that he was coming down fast. In half an hour he would be ready to go to sleep.
“Lou. Tom’s not here. I won’t tell if you won’t. She’s going into the park, Louis. Into the park. There’s no lights out there and there’s no patrols or any of that shit. I say we do this.” He stared hard at Lou. The thing he liked about Lou was that he was a good follower. Matt could normally browbeat him into doing almost anything. Especially if it involved getting high or getting laid. This situation had both as benefits.
“Lou. When else are you ever going to get a chance to nail Maggie Preston?” He was winning the argument. “Dude, whatever we do to her, we just gotta make sure she isn’t gonna talk about it later.”
“Yeah?” He could almost hear the drool forming in his buddy’s mouth. He had him.
“Let’s go. We don’t do this right now, we might never get another chance.”
They started moving, silently this time, truly silently, remembering that this was a one-time chance, a one-time deal. And remembering what their goals were. Sex and money; the greatest motivators known to man.


She heard them as they came for her again and felt her stomach rime over with frost. They were running hard and she doubted that they were just going to talk this time.
Maggie ducked down low and tried to hide behind a bush only a few inches shorter than she was, cursing the pants she was wearing and the way they cut into her midriff. Hard to breathe when your pants are trying to strangle you.
Matt, the one with the scary eyes, was in front again and close enough that she could get him with the spray, but he was going too fast. The only good news was he had to slow down to veer her way. The bad news was that he’d spotted her.
“Come on, Maggie, we just want to play.” He was panting hard from running, but he was doing his best to look cool and relaxed. His face was too flushed to actually carry it off.
“Don’t you come near me, Matt. I’ll hurt you. I shit you not.” Her voice was level and calm. She was good at holding things in. Always had been.
“You and what army?” He was laughing. So she took aim at his snotty, happy expression and sprayed red liquid over his eyes and into his nose and mouth.
Matt screamed, rearing back and covering his face, doing exactly what he shouldn’t have been doing and rubbing furiously at the pepper, smearing it across his flesh and into his pores.
“Oh! Oh, fuck it burns!”
Maggie didn’t wait around to see if he was okay. She got to running, putting her years on the track team to good use and hauling her ass for home at top speed.
Louis had different ideas. He came at her instead of going to help his friend. She was hoping they were close enough that Louis would worry more about him than about trying to get to her. She had miscalculated.
“Louis! You let it go and I won’t have to tell Father Wilson what you’ve been doing!”
“You can’t tell him if you can’t open your mouth anymore.” He didn’t sound right. He wasn't even breathing hard. He should have been, if Matt was any indication, but he wasn't. He sounded like he could go a couple more miles without getting too tired.
She was just preparing to take aim with the pepper spray when he tackled her, sending her sprawling and practically riding her down to the ground like a toboggan. His hands were all over her arms, pinning them, and his sweating, heavy body pressed her into the dirt and grass.
“What are you gonna do, Maggie? Tell Father Wilson that I didn’t pay for a suck and fuck?”
More than the snide tone in his voice, the words hurt. She’d done her best to keep anyone from learning what she did for a living. Most of her clients wouldn’t have considered talking, but someone had loose lips.
Louis ground himself against her ass and used his left hand to start pulling at her shirt, keeping both of her wrists pinned with his right.
“Get off of me!”
“Fuck you, you tease.” He grunted, his breath spraying the side of her neck as he groped her and then slid his hand lower, fumbling first at his own jeans and then going for her pants.
The sound seemed to come from everywhere at once, a loud screaming cry, a thunderous cackling laughter that froze both of them where they were.
Maggie looked around and saw only the night and the darkness, and then she saw Matt standing up, swinging his hands at the sky and screaming.
“Louis! Help me! Help, oh God, help me it hu-urts!” Whatever was happening, it wasn't a joke. Maggie could hear the pain and fear in every word the creep spoke and she wasn't alone. Half a second after the screams started, Louis pushed off of her and stood up. The sick bastard had already gotten his jeans open and had meant to take what he wanted by force.
He zipped his pants, narrowly missing cutting into his own penis with the teeth of his zipper, and then ran back the way he’d come. “Matt! I’m coming!” She couldn’t see his face. That was just as well, she never wanted to see him again. He hadn’t actually done it, but he’d been willing to rape her and she hated him for making her powerless.
Back toward the alley and the campus, she saw Matt fall down, screeching and begging as something tore at his flesh. She saw the wounds appear, saw the gashes open on his skin as something in the darkness tore at him again and again. His face appeared briefly in the darkness, his eyes wild and tear-stained. Then the seething black mass covered him again, shifting, sliding around. When next his features appeared for an instant, his left eye was nothing but a black pit crying crimson tears down his cheek.
Louis had almost made it all the way back to where Matt lay on the ground before he was swallowed by the obsidian cloud. His screams were loud and thunderous, agonized bellows as he vanished into a flurry of black, swirling insanity.
Maggie sat up, barely breathing, and looked on as the fluttering darkness kept tearing at the two of them. Her eyes adjusted and revealed what she hadn’t seen clearly before: crows. Maggie’s heart stuttered in her chest as she let herself absorb the information her eyes sent to her brain. There had to be close to a thousand crows hovering over and covering the two men, ripping at flesh with sharpened beaks and plucking away soft bloody gobbets to eat. They tore and clawed and chewed and the two would-be assailants died while Maggie watched.
She started to be afraid and then forced it down, pushed the emotion away. It wasn't appropriate, not now. Emotions were for later, when she was safe.
She didn’t stay to watch. She left, her eyes constantly scanning the skies and making sure that none of the birds came for her.
None did. They focused solely on Matt and Louis. By the time Maggie reached her home a few blocks away, the bones of the men had been picked clean. Then, working with an unsettling precision, the birds gathered the grisly remains of their feast and lifted them into the air. It took a lot of crows to carry a human femur, but they managed it, settling a few times to recover their strength before they continued on.
By three in the morning, the remains had been taken away. The black birds dropped the debris into the ocean, scattering bones along Black Stone Bay and watching them sink into the waters.
 By four in the morning, a stray dog had managed to devour what little was left of blood and evidence that there had ever been a crime.
By five, Maggie had convinced herself that she’d been slipped something in her drink. That Lance Brewster was starting into the wonderful world of drugs and that she now had one more reason not to see him again.
By six, just as the sun was getting ready to rise, Maggie drifted into sleep, completely unaware of the man who looked into her third-story window and watched her as she relaxed into a peaceful dream.
He made sure her dreams were peaceful.
He smiled and watched her as she curled into a loose fetal position, looking far younger than her years.
Jason Soulis nodded to himself and spoke only to the wind. “Yes, Albert. I think she’ll do perfectly.”