Edward Owen – Author

Monthly Archives: June 2014

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Ray Bradbury Challenge #38 One in Fifty-Two

For me, in writing horror and thrillers, there are no sacred cows. I find the things that scare me the most are those that are the most real. “Jaws” is one of the scariest movie I have ever seen. Sharks are real. So are the two legged predators roaming our cities.

One in Fifty-Two

 cards

The cross hairs lined up on her chest just above the neckline of her tank top. The lower line nestled between her breasts like a lover’s caress. Even at nine hundred yards and thirty stories up he could see the droplets of perspiration dotting her tan skin. He pulled away from the scope for a moment and stared at the playing card leaning against the brick ledge of the rooftop. The Queen of Hearts. It would be more of a tragedy, given her age and nearly perfect beauty, but that was the point. Besides, it was the cards that made the choice.

He pushed his eye against the scope, double checked his shot and let out a slow, controlled breath. His finger pulled back on the trigger with the precision of a surgeon. A burst of flame erupted from the end of the thirty eight inch barrel. The report echoed through the glass canyon, lost among the noise of the city. A small red flower blossomed on the young woman’s chest and she crumpled to the ground without a sound. The young man with her reacted as though she had fainted. When he turned her over on her back, he screamed for help. He placed his hand over the wound but it would not help. The round had burst her heart on impact and she had died before she hit the ground.

On the rooftop the man removed the spent cartridge from the chamber. The brass cylinder gleamed in the sunlight, the number four etched into its surface. He disassembled the rifle and laid it in the case.

He placed a small rock against the playing card, set the cartridge next to it and strolled to the stairwell. There was no reason to hurry. It would be hours before the rooftop was searched and then only after his ‘anonymous’ tip led police to it. Half a mile was a respectable shot only a highly trained sniper could make. This was the fourth demonstration of his skill. They would be connecting some of the dots now. Good. There were still forty eight more cards in the deck. He had work to do.

*****

The shooting commanded the undivided attention of the evening news. Speculation on the shooter’s motives were postulated by a parade of ‘experts’. He switched stations as he took another swallow of beer. He especially liked the theory that he was a misogynistic loner, relatively unattractive who spent his time playing video games and watching copious amounts of pornography.

“Want another beer?” asked his wife, a stunning red head and former model.

“Thanks, hon,” he said as he handed her his empty bottle. He might not have movie star good looks, but he was far from unattractive. “Where are the boys?”

“Upstairs doing homework. They both have mid-terms next week.”

She glanced at the television. “Another shooting? My God, that’s horrible. I’m surprised you’re watching this.”

“Occupational hazard I’m afraid. Smells like enchiladas. Chicken or beef?”

“Chicken. You want to eat in here? I told the boys they could eat in their rooms since they were studying.”

He unfolded his arms and legs as he rose from the easy chair to his full six foot height.

“Sure. I’ll grab the trays.”

*****

After dinner, after some television and uninterrupted conversation and after he and his wife made love, the man lay in his bed and listened to her soft snoring. His thoughts turned to the deck of playing cards tucked away in his bag in the basement. He had drawn the two of diamonds. Two days until his next event. Even number meant his target would again be female and diamonds meant she would be Hispanic. The location had already been planned out. It was the one aspect he could not leave to chance. As he slipped into sleep, blueprints and schedules ran through his mind.

*****

Rosa Juarez pushed her daughter’s stroller toward the park and their usual Wednesday play date. While their excursions were a delight for Annabelle, they were a much needed break for Rosa. There would be at least four other moms there and sometimes a father or two. Rosa craved adult conversation like a junkie craved the needle. It was one of the challenges of being a single mother that was rarely discussed on talk shows.

The moment the stroller wheels hit the playground, Annabelle released her mother’s hand and shot toward the slide. Rosa sighed. At four years old, her daughter had two gears; full speed ahead and sleep. Another benefit of the playground was afternoon naps for mommy and child.

*****

The images in the cross hairs were a kaleidoscope of color and movement. He had chosen this location because of the challenges it presented. He had had to wait nearly an hour for an appropriate target. Plenty of middle class white women and one man, but the cards dictated otherwise. He let out a deep, controlled breath as the woman with the brown eyes and dark hair pushed the stroller and led her daughter into his field of vision. It took him another fifteen minutes to line up the shot. The rifle’s report boomed across the street and every parent turned in his direction. One of the women screamed at the sight of the blood and the parent’s scrambled to collect their children and get them to safety. All but one.

*****

His cell phone rang as he loaded his weapon into the back of his truck.

“This is Lawson,” he said.

“There’s been another shooting, Lieutenant,” said the voice in his ear. “The Captain wants the entire task force here within the hour. It’s bad, sir.”

“They’re all bad,” he said.

“Yeah, but this time he shot a little girl in the park. What kind of sick bastard does that?”

“I don’t know. Tell the Captain I’ll be there in twenty.”

He clicked off the phone, slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine to life. Forty-seven to go.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #37- Star Crossed

coffee

Star Crossed

 

Toby crashed to the floor, coffee and papers spilling across the carpet. Beth stooped to help retrieve the soggy pages.

“Are you alright?” she said.

Toby’s face burned as he scrambled to collect the report.

“Yeah. Just tripped …” he mumbled as he scooped the coffee soaked mess into the folder. “Gotta reprint all this again.”

Beth smiled and handed him his cup as he stood up.

“Don’t sweat it,” she said. “Jensen will be late.”

“Mmm … okay.” Toby glanced up at her face. He never got tired of her smile. It was the best part of his day so far. The image of her lips touching his flooded his mind. His face grew hot and he looked away.

What are you going to do? Stand on a ladder?

The voice added to his misery and he squashed it away. Of course it was right. Beth Mowry was five ten and Toby barely hit five seven. She was everything he wasn’t; beautiful, outgoing and moving up the corporate ladder.

“Thanks,” Toby said as he slunk back to his cubicle and dropped the dripping pile into his trash can.

As he changed in the employee locker room, the image of Beth’s face floated into his mind again.

If I could just show her who I really am.

Toby sighed as he finished buttoning his shirt. He glanced at his watch; 9:05. It was going to be a long day.

*****

Beth looked out across the empty bullpen. All of the cubes were vacant except one. The click of a keyboard cut through the quiet. As she strode across the floor, she realized the sounds were coming from Toby’s cubicle. She peeked over the wall.

“Hey, what’s keeping you here so late?”

Toby jumped.

“Oh, uh … just collecting some figures for McBrian.”

Beth strode around to the entrance and stood beside Toby.

“He’s taking advantage of you. Come on, let’s go. Coffee’s on me.”

Toby’s face flushed crimson.

“Uh, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

Beth laughed. “Don’t worry, we’ll drink it sitting down. Just leave the report. If McBrian says anything, I’ve got your back.”

“Why?”

Before Beth could answer, the floor shook and both of them were knocked off their feet.

*****

Toby’s head was ringing. The light over his cubicle swung back and forth creating shadows that danced to silent music. He got up from the floor and stared at the office. Every cube had come apart and the ceiling was destroyed.

Beth!

Toby panicked as she filled his mind.

“Beth?”

“Mmmmm …” The moan came from under a pile of debris in the walkway. As he looked closer, her hand came into view. Toby tore through the junk until Beth was completely uncovered. He knelt down next to her.

“Beth? Can you hear me?”

“Yeah. Wow! Some earthquake, huh?”

Beth tried to stand. Her legs gave out and Toby caught her. His arms tingled and he almost dropped her.

“Oh shit!” Beth said. “What time is it?”

Toby eased Beth into his chair and glanced at his watch.

“It’s seven o’clock. You have a hot date or something?”

“No, nothing like that. I just need to get home. Please help me to the elevator.”

Toby draped her arm across his shoulders and the tingling started again. They reached the elevator and he punched the button but it remained dark.

“Elevator’s not working,” he said. “Probably not safe to take it anyway.”

“Then we have to take the stairs.”

“Um, we’re on the twentieth floor and you can hardly walk. Let’s just call 911 and get some help.”

Toby directed her back to the chair and helped her sit down.

“I need to go. It’s important.”

Beth looked out the window.

“The sun’s almost down.”

Toby followed her gaze.

Beth sighed. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’m not who you think I am.”

“Really? Government spy … witness protection?”

Toby grinned.

“Toby, I’m serious. When the sun goes down, I, uh, well, I change and it isn’t pretty.”

“What do you mean, you change?”

Beth stared at him, her eyes tearing up.

“I’m not human anymore. You’ll see in a few minutes. Then you’ll probably quit working here and …”

Toby took her hand in his.

“I’m not going anywhere, you’re the only friend I have.”

Beth gave him a weak smile. “You might want to back up.”

Her face contorted and she let out a groan. Toby let go of her hand and backed away. Beth stood up and stretched out her arms. They grew shorter with bulging muscles. Her legs shrunk and her torso widened. Black wings erupted from her back and her nose lengthened. Within a minute, Beth Mowry had turned into a five foot gargoyle, her onyx skin glistening in the fading sunlight.

“I told you,” her voice croaked.

“You’re not the only one with a secret,” Toby said.

His body began to glow and grow taller. His unruly black hair became long, golden locks and his pudgy body rippled with muscles under a flowing white robe. He too sprouted wings, but they were covered in shining silver and gold feathers.

“You can change at will?” Beth said.

“Yes, but not in the sight of humans. You said you are not human anymore. You were human once?”

“Yes, but I was selfish and cruel. I insulted a homeless woman because she was dirty and dressed in rags. She was a witch and she cursed me. Why do you choose to live among humans as a clumsy man?”

Toby folded his wings and crouched down to Beth’s level.

“I was arrogant and disobeyed our leader. Several of our people died because of my actions. He sent me to Earth in human form to learn humility. The last two hundred years have been a hard lesson. Between my appearance and immortality, I haven’t made any friends. Until I do, I am cursed to stay here.”

Beth’s dark eyes lit up.

“Me, too! Actually, the witch said I must keep a lover for a year to break the curse. I tried a couple of times, but you can imagine the responses I received looking like this.”

“Actually, your appearance doesn’t matter to me. We can see auras and yours is much brighter than your physical body.”

Beth took a tentative step toward Toby.

“You don’t care that I’m hideous looking?”

“Did you care what I looked like when I was human?” Toby held his hand out and Beth took hold of it. Blue streaks of electrical energy shot from their hands, lighting up the room. He pulled her to him and kissed her softly on the mouth. Lightning bolts shot through the building and all of the lights exploded.

*****

Toby still spills his coffee and occasionally trips over his own feet, but he always has a smile on his face. He and Beth eat lunch together every day and spend every night in each others arms. Their coworkers all shake their heads in amazement.