a serial novel: Part 1
by CHRIS CASTLE
ob Riggs sat on his porch and looked out to the town. Wasn’t much more than a village really, hell, a hamlet if they were old times. Bob looked out to the houses, the people coming back from the city, his neighbours. He looked out for his son, Steve, but he wasn’t amongst the folks drifting back. After taking a sip of his tea, Bob grabbed his telescope and lowered it from the sky to the city. Sometimes he wondered why he forced himself to look at that big, ugly place but, truth was, he knew. It was the place of high times and all-time lows. It was when Bob, back when he was still Bobby the Cat, was really living.
The city seemed to crackle, like it always did at dusk, when the workers eased off and partying began. It felt to Bob’s eyes as if fireworks were being let off in every second street over there, like a creature that couldn’t bear to sit still. His days of partying were long gone now, but there was still a pang in him somewhere, regret for that lost time. He peered closer down the scope and frowned. It seemed as if lights and sparks were setting off on every corner, like the commotion was giving way to chaos, somehow. He...
A noise brought him away from the telescope and over to the sight of his son padding up the street. Poor, heartbroken Stevie, who carried the divorce around with him like a sign around his neck. He raised a hand to Bob but even that seemed like an act somehow too heavy for him. Bob forgot the mess of the faraway city and focused on his flesh and blood.
“Got tea in the pot if you want some?” he said. Bob couldn’t ask about his son’s work on account of not knowing a damn thing about computers, apart from how they seemed to steal time away from families.
“Appreciate it. Down in five,” came the reply, as his one and only crept by and straight up the stairs. Eight hours in front of the screen and then he goes right up to it, Bob thought with a sharp pang of confusion and maybe, just maybe, anger. Could be that’s why she left him, he thought and then shushed the idea out of his mind.
Bob pulled himself out of the chair and went to ready up the tea, almost reaching back to take another look at the city before stopping himself. As he stepped inside, the footsteps of his son wandering around what was once, and was again, his bedroom echoed above his head.
“Tea’s up!” Bob hollered. As he poured into the second cup, Bob frowned again. The sounds coming from above sounded a little off, almost peculiar. The movements were jerky and there was another noise around it, like paper tearing. He called up again and got no reply. Although Bob should have been angry with his son, something else nagged at him: a sharp pang of fear. He wasn’t stupid enough to think sometimes his boy sometimes used the machine to get what he wasn’t getting from his ex-wife anymore but the movements now started to sound more like spasms. It began to feel like something close to violence.
As he gripped the banister and started to walk slowly up the stairs, Bo wondered what in the name of blue Christ his boy could be getting up to in that pokey old room. Something in the back of his mind itched, almost linking two unconnected moments, like there was something he was missing but almost snagging, like a worm on a hook.
“Steve?” Bob was surprised to hear that his voice had become a whisper. In the short hallway that led to his son’s bedroom, paper was scattered along the floor; some in sheets, others torn into shreds. As he bent down to scoop one up, he felt his bones ache, before coming back up with a torn piece of paper. It was the left side of a naked woman, from a photo-shoot of some sort. Bob looked up at the closed door at the end of the hall and the light that flickered underneath it. He’s drawn the windows so it’s dark, he thought and stepped closer. The drum of the printer wheezed out of life until the only sound left was his son pacing around inside the small room and the small beep-beep of the machine. The door suddenly swung open, his boy hidden behind the door as it rocked against the hinges.
“You stop this, Stevie and you stop this right now,” the old man said, his head suddenly aching with everything going on around him. It was the noise of the printer, the shredding paper, the commotion of his son’s unnatural movements and something else, too. It was the itch in his head, the thought that he was still missing something. He shuffled closer to the open door. The darkness inside was almost like a living thing, inhabiting the room and spreading, regardless of light or not. As he reached the doorway, the red light of the printer pinged on, like some sort of sniper’s dot, into his eyes. As he blinked, the hand shot out of nowhere and drew him into the dark.
The force that took Bob Riggs threw him high up onto the ceiling and held him there, as if impaled on the air itself. He gasped, of course, but behind the fear he registered what was below him, the thing that was once his baby, his boy, his friend and something finally clicked in his brain. The two unconnected moments came together in his head, just as he pain turned from black to white and he started to lose consciousness.
The city, he thought, the chaos of the city has come here, to my house. It’s everywhere.
SHERIFF NEW BOY
Michael Sheridan parked his car in the spot and looked to the sheriff’s building. His building. It was a town so quiet; he wondered why they’d even bothered marking out a spot for the cruiser. The day had added up to one scene of vandalism, one broken mailbox and an actual cat stuck up an actual tree. Michael shook his head, thinking how, until today, he had no idea just how hard it was to actually climb up and get the damn thing out of the branches. Twice, he had almost lost his footing and fallen but his grip - and fear of appearing as a comedy death in the newspapers, or god forbid on YouTube - stopped him. As his life flashed before his eyes, Mike had waited for his big epiphany. Instead, all he got was a fluffy clawed paw across his forearm and the muffled laughter of several local teenagers nearby.
He ran his hand across said forearm and inevitably down to the hand with the ringless finger. He’d thought by now the indent would have gone, but it seemed just as defined, if not more so, than before. Before he’d moved out of the city, Mike had even contemplated getting a spray on tan, just to mask the sight of the pale circle, but common sense and his own keen sense of embarrassment stopped him. It was one thing to be thirty five and divorced, it was another to look orange, to boot
“Damn cat,” he muttered and stepped out of the car.
It had been something of a joke to have a police force that worked nine to five hours, but to him, it was win-win. The town was quiet, the people were quiet. That wasn’t to say they were stupid, the same as they weren’t hicks, far from it, in fact. Amongst the locals were academics, scientists and various others who had escaped from the shadow of the city for the exact peace the town brought. Sure the few kids would get restless but then they would get old enough to either head out on the bridge and not come back or stay and make a life of it. Mike, even after the initial try-out period, still felt like the New Boy Sheriff in town and knew he would be for…oh, let’s say, the rest of his life.
“How’d it go with Mrs. Frank’s cat?” Nick Creasy asked.
“It won on points,” Mike replied, offering up his forearm as proof. He noticed the older man was pale and wondered if he’d had a fresh surge of pain from the arthritis he pretended not to know about. Mike’s mother had suffered with it for most of her life and he’d guessed the first time they’d met from the way the man carried himself, from the slightly hunched walk to the over-compensating steps, and confirmed it when the two shook hands. Mike, whose handshake was so light it had led to rumours amongst the city force, managed to make the old guy wince without trying.
“You know, I’ve weighed up the pros and cons of shooting that cat three or four times. I might treat myself one of these days as a retirement present.” Mike accepted the coffee and he nodded his thanks.
“Let me know when you do. I want to be there,” he said, blowing on the cup and smiling.
The two had become friends almost immediately. From the off, there was no sense of rivalry from either man and Nick had been as welcoming as Mike had been eager to learn. Both were relieved; Mike was a laid back man by nature and Nick, over the years, had mellowed considerably. People around the town had remarked how much they looked like a father and son going out on a fishing trip rather than the local law enforcement. Both were aware of it and sometimes even played up to it, especially with the older men and women in town; Mike would open the cruiser door for Nick as they left, sometimes Nick would come out and pat the younger man on the shoulder as if he’d just scored highly on a test and not just issued a ticket.
The office was a factor.
On his first day, Mike had been shown around and was not sure if he was being put on or not. With the exception of an old transistor radio and a telephone, there was nothing that seemed have been built in the last fifty years. There was the ancient coffee pot, the broken down fridge, a complete absence of TV, a computer or any hint of technology. When the tour was over, approximately thirty seconds after it had begun, Nick had looked round and given him a broad smile, seeing his bemusement.
“I like to think of it as retro,” he said and winked.
The truth of it was, Mike had liked the place from the start. Not blessed with computer literacy beyond the very basic - he knew what Facebook was but had no intention of using it - he liked the feeling of escape that came with the office.
Nursing a cell phone that did not go beyond taking and making calls and weighed roughly the size of a house brick, he welcomed the lack of interference and interruption that came with the room. It had also meant that the two men had to talk, almost out of necessity more than anything else, and to their great mutual relief, they could while away time, ranging from the music on the radio to the crosswords and their daily routine. A radio that, for the first time in the three weeks he been there, suddenly died out without warning. Both the men looked up to it and then to each other.
“I only put batteries in that thing a month ago,” Nick said, already walking over to it. Mike winced just looking at the old man walking, and wondered just how bad the pain was in that moment.
“Radio’s usually die out slowly anyway, don’t they?” he said, watching as Nick opened the back of it.
“What we have here sheriff, is a one hundred percent mystery,” he said, looking up and smiling at the absurdity of their conversation. Mike almost laughed out loud and offered up his hands for the radio, in order to stave away a fit of giggles.
“Ah, we’re throwing the investigation open to other avenues, now?” Nick said, handing it over.
“FBI will be our next port of call, I imagine,” Mike said, patting down the batteries, looking for any sign of acid. He shrugged and saw Nick looking out of the window.
“Power surge?” Mike said, setting the radio down and slipping the batteries back into the spine.
“Maybe,” Nick said, turning round to look just beyond Mike’s shoulder. “Didn’t affect the coffee pot though; didn’t even see the light flicker. Try the lights.”
Mike did as he was told, noticing the slight shift in tone in Nick’s voice. Some of the jocularity had gone out of it now and the stiffness of there almost being a problem came into his tone. The lights came on, blinking once, as they always did, before settling down.
“Faulty wiring, faulty battery,” Nick went on, as if reading from a list. Mike opened his mouth to speak when suddenly a huge squawk of white noise roared out from the radio, almost moving it, making them both jump. The sound went on for about twenty seconds until Mike stepped forward to turn it off. Just before his hands reached it, the machine died out again.
“Odd,” Nick said, peering down to the tin pot square for a moment and then up to meet Mike’s eye.
“Strange,” Mike said, feeling his own body lock up with a sudden tense snap. Both their walkie-talkies on their hips ripped into life, making them jump for a second time.
“Jesus Christ!” Mike blurted out, not ashamed at being the first one to crack. Nick was lifting his out of his pocket, nodding. Both the machines were wired into the phone-lines, so calls could go direct to them. It meant the town could cut down on paying out for a secretary.
“Who is this?” His voice had retained its calm, cool edge, at odds with the crackling around the receiver itself.
“It’s Jim Banes, Nick. You’d better get over to Bob’s place, there’s-” the man’s voice warped and was eaten up by the noise.
“Come back, Jim, come back, Jim.” Nick held the machine over his mouth and then let it slip down to his hip. When he looked over to Mike his eyes were lit, as if he’d heard more than he was letting on.
“The place where the son moved back in with his dad?” Mike asked, still glancing to and from the radio, as if it might explode back into life at any point.
“One and the same,” Nick said, walking over to the coat stand. “Looks like a little over-time for you and me,” he muttered, slipping his jacket on, the star shining in the bright light. Mike did the same, scooping up the keys to the car.
“You got the keys to the front of the station?” Mike said, flicking off the lights. Nick nodded. “Did you think that static on the radio sounded a little like…screaming?” He looked over again and watched as Nick nodded for a second time.
BEDLAM DAYS continues in the Spring issue of HelloHorror.
Chris Castle is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 300 times and has been featured in various end of year and best of anthologies. He is currently writing a novel. His influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached for feedback at email@example.com. Chris has become a regular contributor to our journal: His stories, Grid, Slumber, Last House on Vector Street, Stealing Three, Zombie Cake, Button and Pa, The Garden, Butterfly Eater, Finger, and The Last House all consecutively appear in the January, April, June, August, October, and December 2013 issues of HelloHorror and its February, April, August, and October 2014 issues.
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