Edward Owen – Author

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


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.

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