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POLTERGEISTS

This is the fourth installment of the series. Click here to read the first, here for the second, or here for the third.

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Poltergeists

 

     "They call us Thumpers, you know that movie? What's that movie Larry? Bambi? Well o-fucking-kay Larry I've got it. Well that's why they call us that, because of that movie. What do we do when we catch somebody Larry?"

     "We give them a good thump." 

     "That's right," Both men cackled. They were hunched down in front of her, one very big and the other very small. The smaller man was the one talking, his face was angled sharp, almost a knife point; the kind of face no hair grew on, sick skin, a slight jitter to his movements. "Now the question I've got to ask you is, are you the kind of woman that likes to talk or likes to listen? We don't much care either way, but we've gotta ask. We need to know what kind of trouble you're going to be. What kind of trouble do you think she is, Larry?"

     Larry was the taller man, his face was wreathed in a beard that went past his neck and when he laughed, spittle dropped out his lips into the pubic-like curls spread over his mouth. Larry looked like he could pull her head clean off her shoulders with a twist of his calloused hands. "I think she's going to be big trouble Ed," he rubbed his palms together. "I think maybe we'll have to figure out some way to keep her in line." 

     Ed ran his fingers over his arms like he was cold. He was thin but wired with muscle,  skull tattoos lined from bicep to wrist. The light from the broken ceiling fan shined against his naked scalp, the reflection of it swaying back and forth as it hung from a cord. The bolts that had once held it in place had long ago rotted out of the ceiling, leaving a hole you could see the boards through. Like most of the house, the living room was caving in and looked in danger of collapse. "Maybe she needs some sweets?" he asked. 

     Jane bit down on the duck tape, it hadn't stayed taut over her lips. They had placed it sloppily when she'd been thrown into the back of the van. How many days ago was that? Two? Three? It was an impossible thing to remember now, with the blindfold over her face and the back of her head throbbing. They hadn't been lying about giving her a good thump, they'd done that sure enough. ‘Sweets,’ she thought. ‘That wasn't part of the deal, Bill never said anything about that. Thumpers don't use drugs, right? They are a different breed…’ The zip tie around her wrist tightened as she tried to move, the plastic was cutting off circulation and the flesh was growing numb. She didn't let her face betray any fear, Thumpers liked that sort of thing, the fear. Bill had trained her well enough, in a chair just like this one, with the lights down low and him standing over her with a bucket of water and a blow torch, anything he could think of to scare the ever living shit right out of her. Jane lived in that kind of world, a child of it, and there was a fat chance in hell she was going to let Thumpers see her shake like a leaf. Bill's words rang in her ears even now. 'You're a Poltergeist, and Poltergeists don't get scared. They do the scaring. Remember that, Janie.' 

     "I remember, Bill." she tried to say through the duct tape. 

     "The fuck she say?" asked Larry, rising as he glanced at Ed, who was staring at her with that weird electric glare that all Thumpers had. That was the only similarity that he shared with the smaller man crouched beside her, hand on her thigh, exhaling putrid, vomit-filled breath on her. Ed had a habit of tossing his guts every twenty minutes, throwing open the screen door and lurching out into the night to heave over the side of the railing. Jane made note of her surroundings when the door opened. There was a wrap-around porch outside, old, ugly and paint chipped, the kind they’d built around two story victorians in the 1800s. Past that, she could see the faint, artificial twinkling of street lights over a flat, pan-like horizon: ‘Kansas ground maybe, if they were in the states. No, that wasn't it. There was a smell in the air, thick, earthy and dry...salt. She was somewhere in the southwest, Utah maybe. Yes, that might be it.’

     "I can see what you're doing." Ed said, staring at her like his eyes were the ends of electric cables. Jane glanced at him and raised her brows as if to say ‘Who, me?’ He grinned but she saw that he wasn't amused. "You want to know where you are, don't you?" he asked, snatching up a discarded chair from the floor. The legs moaned too far to the left as he sat down, the chair ready to drop him. Ed picked something off the carpet, a pamphlet that looked like it had been dropped long after the pea-green rug had been stapled, giving off that musty and decaying smell that slightly covered the cancer-rot of the house. "I don't mind telling you where you are, you know why?" 

     Jane shook her head and her feet slipped across the carpet, touching broken glass. ‘Humor them, let them feel in control. Let them think they've got the room, and that you're just a scared little kid. The more in control they are, the more mistakes they'll make.’ Jane listened and stayed quiet, she didn't fight. Not yet. ‘No point in coming all this way just to blow the whole thing, was there? Yes Bill, whatever you say. You're the boss, just get here quick won't you? You said Thumpers don't rape, but I'm not sure I buy that. They're about to do something nasty Bill, I can feel it…’

The pamphlet was spread out in Ed's lap, and he was grinning a little as he held it open. She glanced down, just barely able to make out the header. "The Utah Preservation of Native Artifacts: Facts About the Baskin Lake Basin and the Boonville Salt Flats." Jane felt a spring somewhere in her chest, fear was spreading through her, wet and cold as it trickled in her heart. 


     Ed began to read aloud. "The Morrison Salt Flats is a 30,000 acre slate of salt crust that stretches 15 miles long and 10 miles wide across the western edge of the Baskin Lake Basin. During the summer, the temperature reaches over 100 degrees and a haze of magnesium conjures from the soil like a ghost, creating mirages of water that look so real that dead travelers have been found with sodium chloride crystals in their mouths. When the sun drops, a thin layer of frost glazes the desert, even in mid summer. On a clear night the sky opens up and you can look through the curtain of the world and see the universe stretch on into an infinite sea of light and color, as clearly as if you were standing on the moon. 

     The salt flats are famous for a number of things; probably the most prestigious of which are high-speed motorcycle races. Every year, the Great Salt Flat Run sports motorbikes flying across the ivory-white expanse at over 200mph. The desolate track is marked only by orange, nylon columns inserted through Utah emptiness. It's a fine trek during dry weather but when it rains the Flat Run has to be postponed. Under the flats, the mud becomes a quagmire of watery quicksand that will suck in a full-sized crotch rocket, and the person riding in. Many motorcyclists have died over the fifty years the race has been open. Still every summer ten-thousand people descend to break records in the desert and enjoy the spectacle. 

     The second reason is because of Hollywood films. A number of big budget movies have used the backdrop for anything from alien planets to desert car chases due to its strange lightning and barren landscape. Film crews can be seen, now and again, caravanning across it with high-definition cameras and stunt drivers willing to die for a paycheck. 

     The third reason the flats are famous is because of all the ancient remains. For a time beyond recorded history, the Flats were sacred to the native peoples, and the ground is ripe with ancient artifacts that the racers sometimes destroy during their motor runs. The mountain range to the east of it houses caverns chock full of such items, and university paleontologists, archeologists and common looters can often be found there. What artifacts escape the hands of thieves are preserved by the Utah Preservation of Native Artifacts. 

     The fourth reason that the Morrison Salt Flats are famous is because of all the sex-trafficking. Every year, thousands of people plastered on Missing Person reports are driven through the salt flats between the Siena Mountain range and the secluded foothills surrounding Boonville, where mothers and their children are separated like bitches from pups and stuffed into the backs of vans and SUVs that carry them cross-country. Some go down into holes they never escape from, others are taken aboard airplanes to countries they've never heard of, all of them filled with the Sweet Stuff. The profit made from this business is not something to scoff at, reaching into the billions annually. It is a funnel network, an off-the-grid shadow land, the real-life equivalent of the Dark Net before such a thing existed.The traffickers wear faded blue jeans and flannel shirts, but the people they sell to run Fortune 500 companies, own sports franchises and lead governments. It is a business of alchemy, where promising lives are stolen and transformed into heroin-addicted slaves for men who can buy things with actual gold."


     "Ok," he said, smiling slowly. "Maybe I made up a bit of that. It's not too bad though right? I'm a regular fucking Hemmingway, just a little bit, don't you think? Pretty good right? Ain't it the fucking truth though, about the sex trafficking." he leaned forward. "That’s not what Thumpers do. No, we're something a whole lot worse..."

     Jane knew that, that's why she'd let them come and take her in the first place, but none of that mattered to them. She shook her head and spoke into the tape. "Tesh mabpollutely."

     "The fuck you say?" said Ed and with a roll of his eyes, he reached over and snatched the edge of the tape. 

     She recoiled at his touch, hoping to God he didn't notice the wincing. Her cheeks stung where the adhesive had been, she licked her lips. "Yes absolutely, is what I said. Do either of you fellas have water by chance? My mouth is dry as desert pussy and I can't say that either of you two are wetting my whistle.” 

     Ed blinked at her in surprise. She had to do everything in her power not to let a smile crack her lips. Neither of them had given her time to open her mouth before they'd kidnapped her. They hadn’t experienced the wondrous wit of Jane Olsson until now, she guessed she wasn't their normal kind of livestock and that suited her just fine. That would buy her a little time, just enough she hoped...

     "Are we ready with that Sweet Stuff?" said Ed, eyeing her curiously. 

     "Almost there," said Larry. He'd unzipped a black, nylon holster and sat it on what was left of a nightstand near the wall, it lay flat and open on the desk, the little velcro straps on the inside had been pulled open, and now the needle was in his hands, filling slowly with a blue liquid that Jane thought looked a whole lot like DRAIN-O, Tide detergent, or some fucked up kind of window cleaner. 

     "You're not going to do something bad to me are you?" she said with a wry smile. "We haven't even been introduced. I'm Jane, Jane Olsson. Either of you fellas know me?" 

     Ed scratched his chin and glanced around the living room, as if he were suddenly far more interested in all of the discarded furniture, the broken stereo laying on the ground, the 1980s television with the rabbit ears broken off half way and the cracked screen. A cold breeze swept through the window, bringing in the chilled night air and making the moldy-grey draperies dance around like ghosts through the shattered remains where glass had once been. Ed was silent, twitching and Larry finished pulling out the plunger on the syringe. "Ready here," he said. 

     "Well you two should know me, I'm a Poltergeist. And if you don't know my name, you sure as hell know what the Poltergeists do, don't you? I'll bet you're not quite that stupid, at least I hope. Because if you don't, you don't know how deep in the shit you really are. You don't know who's coming." 

     Larry walked across the room. "I need you to pin her arm down," he said. "She's not going to hold still." 

     Ed's jaw clenched. "You can't just shove it in anywhere? We've got to find a vein? It's potent as fuck, just do it." 

     Larry shook his head. "You know how this is, we do it right. That's what we're told..." 

     "Fuck," growled Ed, and got to his feet. "You're lucky I brought more of these. He reached behind his back and unsheathed a knife as long as her forearm, one that instantly reminded her of the Crocodile Dundee line.. That's not a knife.. But it was certainly a knife big enough to cut her in half, and judging by how easily it slit the plastic from her wrists, it was sharp enough to do the job as well. Ed Grabbed her arm and pressed it down on the arm rest of the chair she'd been sitting on, the force of his maneuvering was jarring and for a moment she felt as if her wrist might snap as it slammed down, exposing the soft flesh underneath, exposing her own tattoos. "Aim for the monkey there, right there. Right in its eye." 

     Larry tapped the needle. "You have to put that 3-D visor on her face first, with the phone in it.”

     "Right..." he said, pressing the knife into her neck. "Don't move, you move, you die. Get it?" Jane nodded. Ed hesitated at her expression, it was having the desired effect and he looked off kilter, uneasy. He reached behind her, grabbed what looked like a plastic set of goggles, pulled the strap over the back of her head and suddenly she was staring at the dark. Then the front of the visor tilted open and there was a phone screen suddenly staring back at her, when it shut again, she was staring at glaring yellow light. An app was open, some kind of game. A pixelated, white rabbit jumped out of a hole. Something about the rabbit was unsettling, its flat eyes were staring at her as it hopped again and again and a sickening crunch sound echoed like bones breaking as it devoured falling carrots. Suddenly the rabbit stopped, smiled at her. It reached past the screen, trying to gouge elongated, black claws into her mind, as if it had seen a carrot within her thoughts. Fear crawled up her spine, right up to where the rabbit was trying to sink its demonic talons . ‘Hurry Bill’, she thought, as the needle punched the monkey. 


--


     Bill Casper came flying through Baskin Lake Basin near midnight, his motorcycle roaring and the salt trailing behind him in a thick cloud. Ahead of him, the light from his Harley showed nothing but ivory white. He choked the throttle, the engine growled, and the bike sped up again. There hadn't been rain in a few weeks now and the Flats were dry as bone, nothing for the bike to snag on and send him flailing through the air. He was well over 150mph and had no reason to slow down. The air rushed past and far ahead of him the faint, yellow lights of Boonville, Utah were creeping closer. It was 5 more miles, maybe, before he'd have to slow down so that no one would hear him coming. Not that it mattered, motorbikes are a constant noise outside of the town. The Flats are only silent during its two month winter season when it rains. Only three or so things were constants out here, the sound of motorcycles thundering over the flats, the unusually high percentage of vehicles parked outside the hundred or so homes that saddled the Wichita River, and the sirens from various government law enforcement agencies converging on those houses a few times a month; ICE, FBI, Sheriff's Department. Bill did not belong to law enforcement, but he was going there for a similar purpose. He was armed but he didn't bother to bring any handcuffs. Anyone who came back with him wouldn't need them, anyone that the police would use them on wouldn't either. 

     Two minutes later he reached the edge of town and now he could see the yellow light from the street poles at the bottom of Main Street. There the ground turned from salt to asphalt, marking the edges of the only hard-surface road in the entire town. Main Street was crumbling from years of neglect from the Tolequio County street department, and few bikers drove down that road, with its potholes and cracks and snags to break springs on. Most chose instead to park their wheels on the salted earth behind the buildings, where the roads were old, scattered dents created in the salt due to a hundred years of tire wear and a hundred years of horse tracks before that. Only traffickers used Main Street, in their beat-to-shit vans with bald tires and engines that sounded like low-powered lawnmowers. They went up and down that main drag, sometimes a score at a time, like mosquitos carrying what they stole from the flesh of society. Then they flew off into the Flats once more, laden with the ghosts of families. Over the years, Bill had left a number of dead bodies here, more than he could remember anymore.

     He let his engine rumble as the bike came to a stop, dropping his weight to one side so that his boot touched the salt. The headlight went dark and he waited there, watching the wind blow a sheet of dust under the streetlights like a yellow curtain. The sign from the only bar in town was swaying with the gale, he could hear its hinges squeaking all the way from here. A faded, orange tiger was painted across the wood, and the words 'The Wild Cat' was scratched beneath the image. No one had bothered to touch up the slanted, two-story stone building. Like the rest of the two-block town, it had been constructed in the 1800s from limestone shipped over a thousand miles east of here from the Harrisburg Mine and it had remained that way ever since. Boonville reminded him of some kind of moratorium, a grave marker that represented the good intentions of settlers that had tried to build an oasis in the dust. Those good intentions had faded with each shrinking generation of permanent residents and had at some point died in the salted crust, like everything else in this Basin. Now it laid like a corpse and its citizens only still-feasting on maggots of a dream long dead. The wind howled across the earth, and Bill reached in his leather jacket to retrieve the black 1911 from its holster. He checked to make sure there was a round in the chamber. There was, and he popped it back in place, sliding the gun back in the holster. He checked his phone to see if Janie had activated the alert, ready for a blinking blue light, but it didn't. "Come on Janie," he grumbled. The night didn't answer, no one did. It was maybe fifteen minutes before the phone let him know that it did not have full bars like it'd claimed. Something had blocked the signal, something had interfered. By the time Bill had figured it out, Jane was full of blue liquid with a monstrous, white rabbit trying to tear her mind right out of her skull. 


     Then suddenly the alarm went off, loud and clear. 


     --


     "Is it taking? For fuck’s sake, is it taking or not?" 

     "You'll have to give me a cunt hair longer than that, Ed. This isn't Jenga we're playing, you know? It takes a minute." 

     Ed culled up phlegm from his throat and spat on the pea-green carpet, the color of his mucus was almost identical to the shade of the wool. "It didn't take me this long, not half this fucking long. She should be drooling on her tits by now." 

     "She's got a strong mind," said Larry with that soulless grin, he hadn't taken his eyes off her since they'd started. 

     "Fuck you Larry,"

     "Fuck you, Ed. Just be ready when she pops. The others are upstairs, we'll need them. This one has friends coming, that was the point, wasn't it? We can't get caught with our pants down, he won't like that very much will he?" 

     Ed stopped pacing and stared at the other man, his face seemed even paler. "You said that fuck wasn't involved with this Larry, you said so." 

    There was a savagery in his gaze as Larry whipped his head back, that made Ed take a step away. "He's always involved, Ed. You should know that by now. Just do yourself a favor and get the others ok? They're upstairs.”

     "Because they're ghosts," said Ed. "Have you seen them up there? Have you seen what they're doing? They haven't moved..." 

     "I don't care if they're shoving billiard sticks in each other's asses, just get them down here ok? Or I'm going to sit you right down next to Jane and you can catch the carrots too. I've got a lot more of this shit." 

     "I got it," Ed spat again, glancing at the split stairwell leading to the rooms above. The bannister wobbled when he touched it and his first step on the stairs pushed the wood down, and for a moment he thought his foot would go right through it. He took a final look in the living room, where the woman was moaning in the chair, grabbing at the arms of it, shaking her head. She was attractive, slim, with platinum blond hair and the kind of curves that turn heads, emphasized by the jeans and a tight, Black Sabbath shirt. ‘What a fucking waste of a good time. Where she’s going that body won’t help her one bit.’ 

     Then he took the steps one at a time, trying to ignore the weird, peeling wallpaper with its grey diamond patterns, keeping his eyes to the ground as he hit the hallway. The passage had six solid-wood doors and a window at the far end, where another curtain was blowing in the breeze, this one yellowed by the coating salt of the Flats as they sprang against the east side of the house. There was no furniture, nothing but that infectious odor of decaying asbestos and a light fixture hanging from the ceiling with all the bulbs burnt but one. ‘Second door on the right.’ he thought.

     The door wasn't latched when Ed put his hand on it, and when he pushed it a syrup-like darkness seeped from the room. An artificial, static roar echoed down the hall as the door came fully open, revealing a seventies Zenith television, old and fat, with a dome screen full of electric snow. The smell of decay was worse in there somehow, rolling out the door on a wave of hot fog that made the eyes water. The darkness was thick, but slowly his sight adjusted with the aid of the flickering screen. A mattress had been picked up and slung against the wall, its frame a series of shattered boards at its feet. A couch now sat at the center of the room, one of gold felt with embroidered flowers in the fabric, now layered in dust and sporting a number of tears along its spine. 

     Three people were sitting there, facing the television. A fly swirled down in the quivering glow and nestled in the greying mane of the woman on the left, but she didn’t seem to notice. The fly danced from her to the crooked nose of the man next to her, then flitted its way to the shoulder of the other man with a mop of shaggy brown hair. Ed stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the hallway light. He thought about turning around and walking back downstairs. Larry probably wouldn't know the difference, and Ed wasn't even sure... 'are they even alive?' he thought. Not one of them had moved, nothing but the flies and his fingers slippery with sweat on the door knob. 'Fuck it, they can rot.' He grabbed the handle and started to shut the door, it was nearly closed when something flashed at the corner of his eye. He snapped a look into the room again, the woman had cocked her head and she was staring at him with one filmy-black eye. 

     "What is it?" said the woman.

     Ed jumped. “Jesus, If I ever get constipated remind me to give you assholes a call, eh? You scared the shit right out of me." The woman watched him but said nothing else; silent but for the white noise coming out the television speakers. The sound was so loud that he wasn't sure he'd heard anything else in the first place. ‘The mind plays tricks in a cave like this.’ he thought. "Larry says come down when you can. No rush. We've got fresh meat, seems to think the Boss wants this one." Ed didn’t wait for a reply, and slammed the door shut. He took the stairs two steps at a time, the old wood giving under his feet as he rounded the railing to the bottom. "Christ," he said, hitting the living room. "We've got zombies upstairs, you know that?" 

     Larry looked up at him and smirked. "Oh whatsamatter Ed? You don't like tv?" He laughed but the sound of his voice was hollow, dry. 

     "Tv isn't what they were watching," he said. "They weren't watching any..."

     A loud sound drowned out Ed's voice, the noise of an angry engine barreling somewhere in the distance. He scowled as he crossed the room, shouting angrily, knocking his leg on the side of a turned over coffee table. "Fuck this day, you know?" he said, pulling back the curtain on the window. "What asshole comes past this side of the river like that? They should know better, they should..." 

     One headlight was beaming at him, bright and enveloping. The beam shot up at him through the glassless window where Bill Casper was riding his Harley over the slanted cellar doors. The motorcycle groaned like a demon as it leapt and the front tire was still spinning as it fired into Ed's chest, dropping him to the carpet, pulling him underneath it. Ed screamed as the full weight of the motorcycle stoved in his chest, trying to pull the thing off of him and failing. Bill cranked the throttle and the bike lurched forward, he pulled back on the handlebars, planted his feet and the front tire rose in the air. The back tire caught Ed’s shirt and tore through his clothes, burning rubber against skin and then flesh, caught in his rib cage where the front tire had broken him. Ed screamed and screamed, but he couldn't escape. 

     Larry was up now, sprinting toward him like a linebacker but Bill had the 1911 out in his hand already and the gun went off like thunder. Larry touched his chest and felt where hot metal had gone through him: three shots, two hits. He fell to the ground and crawled aimlessly across the floor in a streak of blood, taking short, panicky breaths as he glanced up at Bill, then to Jane as if he expected one of them to help him. Bill pulled the trigger again, painting the wallpaper. 

     "Janie," said Bill, dropping the Harley on a corpse. He yanked the visor off her head. "Jane, Jane Olsson. Earth to Janie," he slapped her face hard with the back of his knuckles. "Wake up darlin', we don't have all night.” When she didn't stir, a cold stab of fear shot through his gut. A moment of hesitation and the gun hung like a lead weight in his fingers, he reached forward with the opposite hand and opened her right eye with his thumb and forefinger, glancing into her pupil; veins crawled in bulging threads from the epicenter, bloody, electric and milky. 'But not white.The Thumpers always go white, some faster than others. She’s still my Janie for now.' he thought, stuffing the gun into the back of his pants and reaching for the switchblade in his front pocket. 'She might still be there. Christ Janie, I'm sorry. Please be there.' The knife severed the zip-ties holding down her wrists, her ankles. She weighed almost nothing as he marched back across the room with her in his arms. Janie was a fine looking woman in her mid-twenties, 120 lbs of hell raising metal that men followed like magnets. The tattoo above the swollen monkey in the crux of her arm said it all, a bullet with platinum hair, a shit eating grin, with two thin arms giving the world the finger. Janie was the daughter of Poltergeists if there ever was one, his adopted daughter who he'd sent out as bait for the wolves to tear at so he could chase them across the country. He looked down at her neck, where a faint scar marked the place he'd inserted the GPS chip. That had lead him to this backwater place, where the Thumpers gathered like cockroaches. 

     Bill could remember the look on her face when he'd asked her to do this, how his single-minded determination compelled him to hang her on a hook. They'd been in Iowa at the time, not the two of them but all of the Poltergeists, swarming in Gabby's father's hundred year-old-barn, god rest him. The land was Gabby's now, serving as something of a hub from which the gang planned missions and prepped rescues. Her father wouldn't have recognized the barn anymore if he'd been alive. The smell of gasoline, oil, and the hungry chant of twenty Harleys would have been familiar, sure enough. But the soft glow of a dozen computers, wires webbing the loft in every direction to more screens and backup generators and work tables laden with military-grade tech, he wouldn't have recognized any of that. He would have known about the armada of firearms, explosives and ammunition maybe, but not the electric-glow of the orbs hanging precariously from metallic spires like something out of a Tesla lab. He wouldn’t have known the world of the Poltergeists. 

     The night he'd told her, she'd been outside, hugging herself against a December wind miles away from the Barn next to a little pond she liked to fish during the summers. Somehow she'd known that he was going to ask her to do something big, she had that kind of freaky supernatural perception that some people had, the spider-sense if you wanted to get nerdy, that told her some shit was going to hit a fan and she was on top of the pile. Bill didn't find her right away, she'd been nestled in the shadow of a high hay field near the water's edge. "I could hear you stormin' across the field for almost two miles," she said. 

     Bill flashed his gun to his right faster than his eyes could travel, by instinct he cocked the hammer and laid his finger on the trigger, waiting to fire on whatever voice had come out of the night. It took him far longer than it should have to realize it was her. The moment he saw her, he lowered his weapon. "I almost shot you in the face," he said. "You know better than to spook me like that, especially here." 

     She got to her feet, footfalls crunched the ground, approaching him from the darkness. There he found her, leather jacket pulled off her arms and wrapped around her shoulders, blond hair flickering in the breeze while the moon hung half-cocked above her. She didn't take her eyes off it, staring up into the pale-light, reflecting in those sharp eyes.The silhouette of Jane Olsson was a welcoming sight, he hadn't seen her in months but he kept his face emotionless. It wasn't a social visit, and what he had to tell her... 

     "And still not wearing a helmet," she said, ignoring him as she stopped at his bike. "You're going to break that bald head of yours like an egg one day.” She had a haunted look to her, her skin was bleached with the cold. Bill put the gun in its holster, scowling as he turned his gaze.

     "You shouldn't run away from the barn," he said. "Shouldn't wander out here alone." 

     Jane smiled, pulling her jacket around her thin frame and zipping it shut. "You're just mad you couldn't hear me coming is all. I'm a Poltergeist too, Bill. I can handle myself." 

     "It's not about that and you know it," he snapped. His gaze trailed down to her abdomen. He grunted as he looked away again "You shouldn't be out here, in your condition..."

     She rolled her eyes. "'Condition,'" she said. "I got knocked up Bill, It's not ass cancer. For the love of God stop treating me like I'm dying, will you? I'm fine. Bigger tits maybe, but Ted seems to like that enough. The only thing that might kill me out here is you with that cannon in your hand. So don't preach at me like you're my papa, ok?" 

     Bill was silent, his thick mustache bristled as he rubbed his hand over his head. "Seen anyone yet?"

     Jane shook her head. "I've been here an hour, nothing so far. We're just now closing in on 2 am Central Time though. Gramps is never out before then, right?" 

     "Not usually," said Bill. "Sometimes he comes before that, but not often. He'll be right over there, fishing off the old dock." he pointed toward a slanting, wood square hanging over the edge of the water. 

     Jane nodded and reached behind her head with a hair tie, opening her fingers to slide it over a knot of her hair. She tied it behind her in a messy bun. Bill didn't smile outwardly, his forty-five years on the earth had long ago kicked off any kind of visible affection from his face, but he loved her. She glanced over at the dock, and a small smile split her pale lips. For a long time she was quiet, as if any moment she had expected gramps to come stalking out of a tree line. "Where is the rendezvous?" she asked.  

     He reached inside his jacket and pulled something out of it. She heard the shake of his pills inside the prescription bottle, and frowned. "We meet Joe and Sonya outside of Los Angeles, Aljon's Bar. They'll take the kid from there." 

     Jane looked over at him in shock. Bill could feel her eyes on him, and raised an eye at her. 

     "What is it?" he said. 

     "You don't know?" 

     "Know what?" 

     Jane turned her gaze back toward the pond, she seemed to be considering her words very carefully. "You need to take it easy on those pills Bill. You've been on them too long." 

     "What the fuck happened Jane," His eyes were glints of steel.

     "Bill, maybe I should wait until.." 

     "Tell me now," he said. "Don't fuck with my head Jane, not you. What happened." 

     She lowered her head toward the ground and sighed. "Joe and Sonya are dead Bill. Killed on that job in Tulsa last week. Thumpers were waiting...I'm sorry, I thought Gabby told you." 

     "Fuck," he growled and she could hear his hands tightening around the bottle. 

     "Gabby says they're getting wise to us. That's the fourth Poltergeist down in three months..." 

     "I know, " he said.

     Jane could feel the tremor of Bill's rage growing rapidly. When he was mad, he gave off a kind of heat that was almost physical, like steam rising in the frozen Iowa air. He unscrewed the plastic lid again to take another pill from the bottle. 

     "Don't go fighting with Gabby, I'm sure she had a good reason. It's not something to think about while you're stuck out here, I wish I hadn't said anything." 

     "She should have told me the second it happened. Now I can't do jack shit about it, the Thumpers that killed them are in the wind, we'll never figure out who did it." 

     "Bill.." she began, but he shook his head. She knew better than to press him, he was never good with bad news. 

     "All the Poltergeists are here," he said, turning the subject. He pointed back the way he'd come. "All the living ones, I mean. You see the barn?" 

     Jane squinted at the distance, clouds were sweeping in from the south to obscure her view. "I don't..." 

     "Look there," he said, his finger touching the nighttime horizon. For a long time she couldn’t see anything, then finally the obscured edges of the far-away structure took shape. Steel gleamed outside it, the metal of motorcycles. "How the hell did you see it from here?"

     “I’ve got a hunter’s eyes. Everyone's here Janie. We've got something big going on, maybe big enough that we can end this once and for all. We might have figured out how to find it." 

     Jane put her hands in her pockets, she tilted her head at the ground. "So much for worrying about me being pregnant, right? Sometimes I think you fake all the father-daughter shit, Bill, or at least you only care about that when it's convenient."

     "Janie..." he held out a hand on her shoulder. "It has to be you…you're the only one that's…”

     She pulled away from him. "That's been one of them." she said, trying to keep her voice from quivering. "What is it you need me to do, Bill?" 


--


     Bill sat Janie down near the window. He didn't want to leave her for long, but he had to get the bike out of the puddle of Thumper that lay smoking underneath. Ed was dead as dead could be, but his eyes were wide open, face caught in a permanent scream, mouth slit back over teeth while blood dripped from frozen lips. His intestines were exposed and wrapped around the back tire in knots of crimson rope. With a heave, he pulled his beast off its side and inspected it. The Harley, black with blue flames, was splattered red with Ed. Some of the tire tread had come off spinning on Ed, but it seemed in fine enough order to ride. He kicked the stand down and let the bike rest, then drew out his pocket knife, severing the dead string in the wheel. It took time to get it off, staining his fingers while he cut. Finally the bike came loose and he started dragging it off the corpse, but the wheel caught again. Ed's head jolted up and down as if he were nodding at Bill’s progress. "Shut up," Bill muttered at the dead man as he pushed the handlebars forward, but the wheel was still clamped in Ed’s rib cage like a car cuffed with a boot. "Fuck," he growled, punching a fist at the wall. He hoisted it in reverse, then forward again, using the momentum to try and yank it free. 

     The noise wasn't noticeable at first, it took a minute for him to identify the sound because it'd been so long since he'd heard it, finally it clicked and he looked up. White noise. Suddenly it was loud, loud enough to give a man a migraine and every second that passed it got louder. He could see them standing on the stairwell, two men and one woman. The former two in t-shirts and jeans and the latter in a sundress. There was old light coming from the top of the stairwell shining on them in a single slice of illumination, it did not brighten their features, it only pronounced the shadow. Bill wasn't certain they were much more than shadows. He could tell that their mouths were open as wide as they could make them go, like they were screaming the way Ed would have been screaming if he were alive, but what came out of their throats wasn't human. It was that static sound that drowned out every other noise like someone had left on a radio and the station had carried away. It was enough to make any man shit himself, but that wasn't the end of it. As Bill slipped a hand over the ignition he saw that their eyes were glowing, not glowing, electric. 

     Bill flicked the ignition but the bike didn't start. The people on the stairwell didn't move. He hit it again and the bike turned, but no fire. "Janie.." said Bill, staring at the people on the stairs. "Get up Janie.." 

     One of them made another noise, one that Bill never forgot for the rest of his life. It wasn't a screech exactly, but that's as close as he could mentally come to it, like a child with his leg in a bear trap. It was something else, unearthly...demonic. He turned the key a final time, and the bike roared. 

   "Janie Olsson'' shouted Bill, and this time her head snapped up at him, confused, exhausted. "Get on the fucking bike!" Janie held out her hand and he took it, pulling her on the back of the motorcycle as the tires squealed. It took only a moment to get all the  horses running for the wheels to come loose. Bill pivoted on his foot toward the screen door and they lanced through the opening so hard the frame shattered. The stairs of the front porch were rotten, decrepit, barely able to take the weight of a man let alone the Harley, and it crumbled instantly. That didn't do anything for their speed, and the bike barely paused as they collapsed through it and onto the salt. 

     The sound behind them became louder and louder. Bill never looked back to see it but he could tell the people on the stairs were moving. He pictured them in his mind like spiders, leaping from wall to wall, screaming static hiss with their eyes bright white.

     "Go Bill!" screamed Janie, hugging her arms around his waist. The bike galloped across the road, picking up speed every second, turning one direction and the next as they maneuvered the short city limits of Boonville and past it into the salt flats, where the slated desert gave them free reign under a starry sky. 

     "They're following us!" Janie shouted in his ear. "They're...running!

     Bill glanced over his shoulder, slack-jawed. The bike was closing in on a hundred-miles-an-hour. Silhouetted against the night was one of the people on the stairs, sprinting across the salt, her legs snapping backward with each jolt as if her knees had been screwed in the wrong direction. She screamed that artificial noise so loudly it was as if she were standing next to them. "Hold on real tight Janie," said Bill. He hit the throttle and the wind howled. 

     "I know what they are Bill. I know where it is." said Janie, shaking against him, pressing her face into his back. She began to cry while the people on the stairs closed in on them. Bill didn't respond, there was nothing to say yet. Then he felt Janie reach over his shoulder and grab for his gun. It came out of his holster with practiced ease, and she turned on the bike, hair flying in the wind while she opened fire. The night flashed with muzzle flare as her finger danced on the trigger.

     In the distance, the people on the stairs were flying across the sand like ghosts, pumping their arms and legs with a disjointed sort of awkwardness, there was no grace to their stride, no animal quality to help define how they stalked. It was the run of a ruined thing on feet that didn't belong to them. As they closed in on the motorcycle at speeds in excess of 120 mph, Janie could see that their legs looked like rubber sticks that no longer had a use for the shattered bones beneath their skin, inverted backward.   

     "Hold on!" shouted Bill and he squeezed the throttle as far down as it would go. The motorcycle fired on all cylinders, gas became fire and turned into horsepower. The Morrison Salt Flats became a watery blur as the moonlight struck it from above, reflecting on the salt like God had dropped a sea of diamonds across it. A trail of dead earth shot behind the wheels, obscuring the distance behind them and as the gun-magazine emptied she stared into Bill’s back with tears in her eyes, waiting. She breathed just enough to make sure she was still alive, her chest was tight with fear. 

     "I think they're gone." 

     "What?"

     She turned and shouted in Bill's ear. "They're gone. I think. They're..." 

     Then she heard it, the white noise, impossibly loud and impossibly close. Jane turned and looked again and now there they were, sprinting across the sullen earth, almost close enough to reach out and grab her by the hair. She could see the fingers reaching for her from the dark, gaunt and elongated like the legs of a flesh-coated spider. In a matter of seconds those fingers would knot against her scalp and tear her off the back of the Harley. ‘Were they even running anymore? Were they just flying?’ She turned away and pressed her forehead again into Bill's back, trembling. 

     "They're here!" she screamed again, the sound of her voice was muffled in his leather jacket. "Bill they're... " Then something caressed her. 


--


     Slap Slap Slap...


     Slap Slap Slap...


     The room was black except for the television. I was seated, I didn't remember being seated before. Where had I been? I remembered lurching through that jagged cavern, trying to find my way back to where we'd left the truck alive and purring, the headlights the only light in the mine. Then it had shut off and I hadn't seen anything after that. Where was Matt? I think he's still out there somewhere, lurking in the dark. He could be dead I suppose, but I don't think so. I don't know why I don't think so other than to say I can feel him still being close, still breathing, alive but not so. He isn't in the room with me, not with the purple rock underfoot and the tv glaring at me like a single, static-white eye, roaring at me like a dump truck dropping a thousand pounds of gravel. 

     I was here on the purple rock, right where I'd been before, but not alone. Something was here with me, showing me things I shouldn't see. In my mind I was still watching the little girl and her momma on the roller coaster, the old woman in her bed, dreaming old dreams. Then motorcycles raced across the desert while the Thumpers flew behind them like banshees in the wind. I'd seen it all, something was showing them to me, something that terrified me so badly that I'd pissed down my leg while I'd watched.

     Suddenly the white noise on the tv went silent, like someone had hit the mute button. I could hear those footsteps again, naked feet, sprinting over rock beyond my sight. It was coming closer to me and as it did the television floated off the ground and came with it, swiveling closer and closer. It had something to show me, something I didn't want to see at all. I tried to get out of the chair, but my body wouldn't move, my arms and legs were weights on the bottom of a current and no matter how hard I struggled I couldn't rise. 

     Then the television stopped in front of me, so close that if I'd stuck out my tongue I could have licked the screen,and asked me a question.’



Copyright © 2020 by Kenneth McIntosh


All rights reserved. No parts of this short story may be reproduced or

 used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner

 except for the use of quotations in a review.





Thank you for reading! Comments are always welcome and appreciated. This is the fourth entry for the Mine'd Scanner series. Click here to read the first story, here for the second, or here for the third. If you wish to download this as a .pdf file, it will be available in the next few hours. Remember to sign up as a member for notifications and access to more. And be on the lookout for exciting news about my upcoming book, The Silent Hand!

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3 comentarios


Jason Conn
Jason Conn
28 may 2020

Super good stories, loving the visuals, you paint a picture in the mind with your storyline that is just like I'm there..can't wait for more... waiting for the movie version....

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Dee Land
Dee Land
25 may 2020

I am a total sucker for mystery and horror, and these short stories are for sure hitting the spot. My favorite part is the t.v. people running on the chase. The writing and the details make me feel like I'm right there on the back of the bike! Can't wait for the next one!

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Haley McIntosh
Haley McIntosh
24 may 2020

My favorite part is the father-daughter relationship between Bill and Janie! Anyone else reading, what’s your favorite part?

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