Authors: Heath Lowrance
Tags: #SSC, #Dark, #Noir, #Crime, #Hard-Boiled
Dig Ten Graves
Short Stories by Heath Lowrance
All stories copyright 2010-2011 by Heath Lowrance. Rights reserved, etc.
It Will All Be Carried Away
Emancipation, with Teeth
From Here to Oblivion
Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner
Always Too Late
The Most Natural Thing in the World
The Bad Little Pet
It Will All Be Carried Away first appeared in ChiZine.
Bleed Out first appeared in Pulp Metal.
Emancipation, with Teeth first appeared in Necrotic Tissue.
Gator Boy first appeared at my blog, Psycho-Noir, as part of a Patti Abbott fiction challenge.
The Bad Little Pet first appeared in The Nautilus Engine.
Always Too Late, From Here to Oblivion, Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner, The Most Natural Thing in the World and Heart all appear here for the first time.
Cover image and design by Dawn Sketch and Ron Warren of Aspiring Authors Book Covers (
It Will All Be Carried Away
I read in the paper this morning that Charon was dead. Somewhere in the back pages, just a two paragraph story with the header WOMAN OVERDOSES, FOUND IN BACKSEAT OF CAR, her identity given as Charon Whitfield, age 37, her place of residence some Podunk town fifty miles or so north of Detroit. And that was it. It didn’t even mention what drug she’d overdosed on, and, what I knew about Charon, it could have been anything.
The name, in bold black letters, Charon Whitfield, nudged something in the back of my brain and it took several seconds before I connected it to the Charon I knew, the Charon who wasn’t thirty-seven but seventeen. And then my hands started shaking and I dropped the newspaper in my lap.
On the sofa across the room from me, Sarah looked up from the book she was reading and said, “You okay?” and I nodded. But a tangle of jagged images had washed over me, images of a face I barely remembered back-lit by the gray light of faded memory.
Charon. Young, weird, sexy Charon. Dead of an overdose. I tried to picture her at thirty-seven and just couldn’t get my head around it.
An image flashed in my head, and at the time I couldn’t have said where it came from. Charon, thin and frail and white, naked. Bound with heavy black cord to a wooden post. People everywhere, strolling past her without even a glance. Naked, bound to a post, struggling to get free, in a store or shop or something.
Like I said, I didn’t know right at that moment where the image came from; I’d buried it. Later, I would remember.
I tossed the paper on the coffee table and went into the kitchen. The kids played in the backyard, Sunday morning, no school, and they had the day to do whatever they wanted. Homework done, chores completed, happy happy Sunday, not a care in the world. I poured a cup of coffee, went to the window and stood there watching them for awhile.
Anna is ten, Wade seven, and Christ… they’re closer to the age I was when I knew Charon than I am
. I was twenty-one, she was seventeen. Too young for me, really, only just legal as they say, but Christ she was a strange one and I can’t be sure if what I feel now was what I felt then.
I was a surface fixture then, a good-looking kid with a mouth smarter than his head, a malcontent with a natural instinct to rebel, even though there didn’t seem much to rebel against. But beyond the rebellion, beyond the great music and interesting drugs and homemade fashion sense, there were the girls. Lots of girls, if I’m being honest.
I don’t even remember most of them. But I do remember Charon. Charon, more than anyone else. Charon, more than any long-time girlfriend or serious relationship or one-nighter. Charon, who occupied a space in my life of three or four months, on and off. Who should have been completely inconsequential, a cheap fuck for those nights when nothing else was going on, a mere phone call away day or night. Who should have been nothing, nothing at all.
Charon, age 17, naked and white and frail, bound to a wooden post.
Charon Whitfield, age 37, dead of a drug overdose, found in the backseat of her car.
I’m standing outside the club, smoking a cigarette, when she comes out. She’s by herself and she’s a little drunk and I perk up right away because I’d noticed her earlier. I’d thought about talking to her but it was getting late and I had to be at my job at ten in the morning. So I’d left, and got caught up just outside the door talking to Kev. Now it’s almost three and the parking lot is nearly empty, and still the thumping bass of some song by Ministry strains through the door like the heartbeat.
She comes out by herself. She’s wearing black—black leather mini-skirt, black bustier, black fishnet stockings, big black boots—and a vintage purple overcoat with a black fake fur collar. The overcoat hangs comically on her willowy body. Her pageboy haircut is bleach blonde, with black at the roots. Her nose is longish, and her eyes are brown and impossibly huge, like one of those weird Kewpie dolls.
I toss away my cigarette. She glances at me with those crazy eyes, those dark eyes, and she blinks. She walks on.
All it takes, one glance from those eyes, underscored by black eyeliner, and I must have her.
I trot to catch up to her, and I can’t remember the last time I made even that much effort. A few feet behind her I stop and say, “Hey.”
She turns around slowly, almost languidly, and I know right away that that’s the word I’ll always use to describe her: languid. She doesn’t seem surprised that I’ve spoken to her. She cocks her head, not smiling but not looking unfriendly either. She says, “Yeah?”
In my mind it takes a million years to come up with something to say, but in reality I speak right away, just a simple, “Are you okay? You seem like something’s wrong.”
Her voice is deep and lazy and now that she’s looking right at me my heart is pounding along with the Ministry song coming from inside and my stomach feels weird. She says, “You’re concerned that something’s wrong with me? You don’t even know me.”
“No,” I say. “I don’t. But yeah, I’m concerned, sure.”
She smiles a bizarre crooked smile that doesn’t touch any part of her thin face. “Thank you,” she says. “Thank you. All I wanted… all I really wanted was for one person to ask me if I was okay. Thank you.”
I walked her to her car and we sat in the front seat for a long long time, talking. We smoked a joint, talked some more. By four o’clock in the morning, the club was closing up and the last of the diehards were ambling across the parking lot to their cars to go home, and Charon and I were completely engaged in making out, tongues down each others throats and my hands under her bustier, fondling her small breasts.
I don’t remember anything of what we talked about but eventually the sun sent out its first tendrils of gray light and Charon said, “I really should go,” and I said, “Me, too,” and we made out a little bit more before she gave me her number and I got out of the car and she drove away.
I went home and slept and dreamt about her, dark, sensual dreams, and as soon as I woke up I called her.
I jumped online this afternoon to see if I could find out anything else about her death. The local newspaper for the Podunk town where she’d been found had an article posted.
Charon Whitfield, age 37, was found this morning in the back seat of her car, dead of an apparent drug overdose. The car was parked less than four blocks from the deceased’s home.
Investigators say that Ms. Whitfield, recently divorced and depressed about the death of her only child earlier this year, apparently took her own life. A needle and other paraphernalia associated with heroin use were found in the vehicle.
Ms. Whitfield had spent several years in various drug rehabilitation programs throughout the nineties and early ‘00’s, and co-workers and neighbors said that, despite a long battle against depression and addiction, Ms. Whitfield seemed happy and content until the death of her infant daughter from brain cancer. That, and her divorce, investigators say, may have led to her sudden reversal and suicide.
Ms. Whitfield leaves no next-of-kin. Funeral services provided by the city will take place on Sunday, March 3, at 9:00 am.
There was a picture, taken in 2002, of a woman I didn’t recognize. A puffy, used face, mousy brown hair, slack mouth. The nose, so straight and narrow before, had been broken at some point. Only the eyes looked familiar—huge and dark and innocent.
Funeral services on Sunday, March 3. Today. Her body was found five days ago, and they’d buried her this morning, right about the time I was dragging my creaky body out of bed.
I rubbed my temples, and thought again about that image, the one of Charon, her naked body like a wisp, billowing white smoke, lashed to a wooden post with cord. In the middle of a shop, customers in a buying frenzy, ignoring her as she struggled to get free.
And I remembered where the image had come from.
For all the posturing of my cynical youth, I’m not immune to the disease that afflicts middle-aged men, the disease of memory. These days I get up to an alarm clock, never feeling fully rested, to go to a job I hate because, damnit, the bills need to be paid and I have a wife and two kids who count on me. The credit card bills never seem to go down. Sarah’s car needs new brakes. Anna wants to go to camp this summer. Our twelfth wedding anniversary is coming up and I promised Sarah that this year we’d go to Hawaii like she always wanted to do. I’ve promised her this for seven years now.
My back hurts all the time. My vision is getting worse and I’m overdue for a new glasses prescription. I get depressed more often and drinking doesn’t make me happy anymore. In fact, if I have more than a few drinks, I get morose and mean-natured.
If I hate that young man I used to be, I hate him because I’m jealous of him.
It’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m at Charon’s. The place is modest, even a bit run-down. Charon is wearing only panties and a tee-shirt with the Cramps logo on it. Her legs are thin and insanely white and the place smells like vanilla.
“Hey,” she says.
Her mom isn’t home and it will turn out, over the next few weeks that I know Charon, her mom is never home. Maybe she works nights? Maybe she’s always out at a boyfriend’s house?
Charon has friends but when I see her, she’s always alone.
She doesn’t bother to get dressed. I settle in on a ragged sofa and she goes into the kitchen and comes back with a couple of beers. She’s seventeen, I find out, and I wonder how she managed to get into the bar, but I don’t ask because I never ask anything.
We talk about stuff, nothing important, and she shoves a tape into the VCR and in silence we watch a collection of Siouxsie and the Banshees videos. I’ve seen most of them before and Charon’s proximity to me, her vanilla smell, is driving me nuts but she shoves me away impatiently and says, “I wanna watch this.”
So I sip my beer and wait. When the last video on the tape is over, and the final gypsy poundings of “Spellbound” are still lingering in my head, Charon sighs and straddles my lap and we start making out.
In her room, a few minutes later, I finally see all her stuff.
It’s a little weird, this bizarre collection of incongruous items. A twelve-inch tall Batman statue, cape unfolded, perches on the nightstand by her bed. The bed itself has a Scooby-Doo bedspread. There’s a commemorative plate of Mr. Spock, flanked on either side by a plush doll of Papa Smurf and a plastic see-through horse.
On the other side of the room, one entire wall is lined with things on shelves, very neatly and in some order that doesn’t make sense to me. A large crystal ball with the words COME TO ARIZONA floating inside it. A framed photograph of Stephen King. A toy mouse wearing a pink ribbon on its head, looking up with big loving eyes at a Darth Vader action figure.
Charon takes my hands and leads me to her bed. Her thin fingers trace a line on my chest, under my shirt, and she’s nibbling gently at my neck and making a soft moaning sound.
A life-size bust of Nefertiti. An old album cover by Elvis Presley. One of the California Raisins, tiny microphone raised to its wrinkled face.
I pull down her panties and we slide into bed and her body is white and slender in the dim light of the lamp next to her door. She’s moving against me, pulsing like a gently revving engine. She’s so… sleek, I think. Her ribs are symmetrical shadows and I’m strangely aware of her mortality, her thin pulse beating under me.
A scale-model dune buggy with huge wheels. A stuffed raven with a tee-shirt that says Nevermore, already. A toy carousel with pink and baby blue elephants.
I’m kissing her and notice that her eyes are wide open and looking at some vague point above my head. But she bucks her hips against me and I slip off my jeans and she takes me in her hand. She makes an odd little grunting noise but never looks at me.
When I enter her, my eyes have locked onto a lobby card of Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu, taped to the wall.
Sarah took the kids to see their grandmother. I’m supposed to fix the bathroom sink today. It’s been clogged up for over a week. There are other chores on my list, but that one is the must-do.
Instead, I log back on the computer and do some research.
I find a posting dated 2004, and it’s enough to almost make me stop, it’s so horrifying.
But I don’t stop. I mark the page to come back to. Three hours later, this is the information I have about the stranger named Charon Whitfield:
She dropped out of high school in 1987 and somehow made her way to California. A photo book about life in L.A. came out in 1988 and there’s a picture of Charon in it, a surly-looking little punk rock girl with an orange Mohawk and a blister on her upper lip. The caption reads
Sunset Strip is thronged with punks and other outsiders, begging change from passers-by. Charon, age 18, has only one comment—“#@**# you”
I find a brief article from a San Francisco newspaper, dated October 1990.
“Three homeless people were arrested late last night in connection to an armed robbery that occurred last Friday at the Hazelton Liquor Store on King Avenue. Two of the suspects have warrants outstanding and are being held pending trial. The third, Charon Whitfield, age 19, has no criminal record but is being held for psychiatric evaluation.”
And then nothing for a couple of years.
The next thing I find is dated March, 1993. Detroit. Charon managed to find her way home.