Read Seldom Seen in August Online
Authors: Kealan Patrick Burke
Tags: #Horror, #Short Stories, #+IPAD, #+UNCHECKED
Ahead of him was a doorway, the light
from the hall unable to reach very far over the threshold.
There’s no one here
, Wade told himself. He was alone. He
could feel it, but he knew better than to rely solely on instinct.
Last time he’d trusted his gut, he’d enlisted Cartwright to help
him with a heist and now six people were dead and the police were
hunting them both. Unless of course they had already caught
Cartwright, and Wade might not have been bothered to learn that was
the case had his idiot partner not been lugging around with him the
fifty grand or so they’d cleared from the bank job.
He moved on, back pressed to the wall,
until he was inside the kitchen. It smelled like disinfectant in
here, and he imagined the chaos of a busy family in the morning:
kids yelling and shoveling cereal into their maws while their
parents got dressed and tried not to let show the hatred and regret
they felt for their own lives and each other. He pictured a woman,
just this side of good-looking, her teeth grit as she vigorously
scrubbed down the kitchen surfaces while pretending the sponge was
a lathe and the counter her husband’s face. They would exchange
pleasant farewells for the sake of the kids, all the while secretly
wishing fatal misfortune on one another.
Wade had lived it and so found it easy
to envision. Indeed, though he recalled little of his childhood, so
generic was this house that it summoned what unpleasant memories he
had retained of it.
Annoyed, he shook off the reverie
before it could properly take hold of him and moved further into
the kitchen, sure now that he was alone in the house. The kitchen
was empty. The dirty cups, bowls, and glasses piled in the sink in
the center of the L-shaped counter confirmed his suspicion that
what he had walked into was the aftermath of an ordinary morning in
a hectic household. It was Monday; if he was lucky, the family
would be gone until early evening when school and work relinquished
its hold on them. If not, and someone came home for lunch, things
could get ugly. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
There was a small calendar tacked to a
corkboard beside the refrigerator. He noted that today’s date had
been circled in red marker. August 16
. The picture
above it was of a lush green meadow, speckled with dandelions
beneath a sprawling blue sky. It might have been a pretty scene if
not for the monstrous black satellite dish dominating the right
side of the picture, the red tip of its phallic probe turned
After uncocking the gun and tucking it
back into his waistband, Wade opened the refrigerator and helped
himself to some milk, straight from the carton. He belched and,
still thirsty, exchanged the milk for a cold bottle of water, which
did a better job of soothing his parched throat. His stomach
growled, but he decided that could be dealt with after he’d
inspected the upper rooms. He finished the bottle of water and
tossed it in the trashcan, then moved to the large window, which
looked out on the street. Cautiously, he fingered open the Venetian
Cars sat silently beside
Windows reflected the clear blue
Sunlight through the sycamore trees
painted leopard skin patterns on the sidewalks. Heat shimmered on
But there was nobody on the street, no
neighbors enjoying a day off, no retirees out mowing their lawns,
no housewives gathering up the morning paper, no dogs barking
despite the signs he’d seen that claimed the place was chock full
of them. It was completely deserted, which was odd. If he’d chosen
a dilapidated neighborhood as his hiding place, the absence of
people would not have bothered him so much, but Seldom Seen Drive,
while clearly not upper class, was no ghetto either. There should
have been someone out there.
And you should be thankful that
, he told himself and a moment later nodded his
agreement. There would be countless obstacles in his path before he
made it home free, he knew. Better not to question the things that
weren’t a problem.
He let the blinds snap back into place
and returned to the hall. Averting his gaze, he stepped over the
doll torso and quietly ascended the stairs. The further up he went,
the darker it got until his progress slowed to a crawl and he was
left fumbling for a light switch. Again he was reminded of the
danger of switching on a light before he had explored the whole
house, but concluded that it was equally dangerous to be trying to
explore it blindly.
“Shit,” he hissed, almost tripping when
his foot connected with something hard and unyielding. He steadied
himself, dropped to his haunches and listened for signs that
someone had been drawn to his presence on the landing, but heard
nothing. Only his own steady breathing. He squinted down at the
floor and reached out with his hands until they touched on
something smooth and round. An attempt to form a picture with his
hands of what the object might be proved fruitless, so he lifted
it, surprised by the weight, and lugged it over to the head of the
stairs where he set it down on the top step.
It was a large pink ceramic pig with a
slot in its back.
, Wade thought.
friggin’ piggy bank
It was loaded with coins, but why it
had been left in the middle of the landing, like a lure for thieves
pettier than he, was a mystery that immediately seemed less of one
when he reminded himself that children lived here. Not without
difficulty, he shoved it aside and thought that maybe he’d rob it
after all, just because it had inconvenienced him. Besides, it
would do the kid who owned it good to learn a hard lesson about
life early on, so maybe the shit that lay ahead of them wouldn’t be
nearly so surprising.
He stood, turned, and flipped the
switch on the wall behind him. The landing flooded with stark white
light from another unshaded bulb and he raised a hand to shield his
eyes. Spastic shadows slipped under the three doors on the second
floor and down the stairs as he blinked ghostly orbs from his
Nice house like this
No shades. Fucking weird.
He took a step and put a hand on the
nearest door. It swung easily open revealing a cramped,
unremarkable bathroom that seemed unsuitable for anything but a
bachelor who didn’t mind getting piss in the sink. The shower
curtain was spotted with mildew and pulled back to reveal a bathtub
with a pink slip-proof mat, a drain clotted with long dark hairs,
and a decidedly unhappy looking rubber duck. Time and multiple
saturations had erased the pupil of one eye, leaving it with a
cataract, while the other stared myopically upward as if
questioning the injustice of it all. Wade grinned and turned
In the absence of any ambient sound,
the sudden vibration against his right thigh made him jump and he
scowled, embarrassed and glad as hell that no one had seen his
reaction. From the pocket of his jeans he withdrew a slim silver
cell phone. It hummed faintly as he checked the display.
“About goddamn time,” he muttered, and
though he wouldn’t have admitted it under duress, he was relieved
to see his partner’s name on the phone’s readout. It meant two
things: Cartwright was alive, and he was loyal enough to keep in
touch. The opposite in either case would have meant a whole lot of
money lost to the wind.
Beneath Cartwright’s name was a
flashing envelope icon. It was not a call but a text message. One
of the last things Ward had barked at Cartwright had been “no
calls, you hear me? I don’t want to be hiding up a goddamn tree and
have the cops find me by following my
ring tone.” And he was glad he’d imparted that little caveat, for
while there were no cops breathing down his neck at the moment, he
still didn’t know for sure that there wasn’t someone hiding in one
of the other two rooms. Turning the phone off hadn’t been an option
either. He needed to regroup with Cartwright once the heat died
down a little, and the sooner he knew the score, the better.
I don’t hear from you by sundown
, he’d told his partner,
going to assume one of two scenarios: (a) you got caught, or (b)
you got greedy and decided to split with the money. If the latter
happens, I won’t come after you, because I probably wouldn’t know
where to start looking. That’s just me being honest. So you’ll
probably get away with it. I won’t dog you. Instead I’ll visit your
family and you can see what I’ve done to them on the main evening
news from whatever hole you’re hiding in, got it?
And apparently, Cartwright
Wade pressed the green phone symbol and
the text message spread across the screen:
SRRY. FUCT UP
Wade bit down on his lower lip, his
breath whistling through his nose. What the hell did that mean?
Sorry, I fucked up.
Was he referring to his little rampage
at the bank despite Wade telling him only to shoot if someone got
brave? Or was this some new turn of events? Had he lost the
Aggravated, he quickly hit REPLY and
thumbed the buttons until he had typed:
FUCT UP HOW???
He hit SEND and cursed a little too
loudly. He ran his free hand through his hair and caught a whiff of
himself. The odor was rank, unpleasant, like sour cream, an
unnecessary reminder that he needed to take a shower. And he would,
but not here. He was relatively fearless, but not enough to totally
disregard common sense by taking a soak in the house he’d broken
Agitated and eyeing the phone in the
hope that he wouldn’t have to wait long for the response, he pushed
away from the wall. “C’mon, c’mon,” he whispered urgently, willing
Cartwright to respond. If it turned out the money was gone, Wade
figured he might as well come out with his hands up. His share of
the takings wouldn’t be nearly enough to pay back the men who were
out to break his legs, but it would keep them off his back for a
while. Without it, he was as good as dead. And if they didn’t get
to him first, the cops surely would. But if he settled some of his
debt, he still ended up with nothing, which was why Wade planned to
kill Cartwright and take his share. It would be just enough to
finance his relocation somewhere south of the border. It was a
cliché, sure, but one that held endless appeal. He liked the sun,
he liked Mexican food, and he liked dark women. Where was the
So intent was he on the phone’s display
that it took him a moment longer than it should have to sense that
there was someone standing behind him. Hair standing on end, body
braced for the feel of slugs punching into his flesh, he turned,
fumbled for the gun, but by the time he had it withdrawn, cocked
and aimed at where the—
—had been standing only a
split-second before, it had vanished into the bathroom, slamming
the door shut so hard behind it that for a moment Wade thought he’d
pulled the trigger.
“Jesus H,” Wade murmured, his heart
thundering. For a moment he stood there, vacillating, unsure what
to do next. Only when he carefully walked himself through what he’d
just seen did he realize how convinced he’d been that there had
been nobody in the house with him. And perhaps he hadn’t been
wrong. After all, he couldn’t be certain that
whoever had scurried into the bathroom hadn’t just come home. Wade
hadn’t heard a car, or a door, but that didn’t mean
, he told himself.
were here all along
His hackles rose, his senses on full
alert now. He had let himself get complacent after the exhaustion
of the chase, and that was an amateurish mistake to make, one that
might have been his last.
Swallowing a lump the momentary shock
had lodged in his throat, he pocketed his cell phone and took a
step closer to the bathroom door.
It was a kid
, he thought.
Not that it mattered a damn. He had no
interest in taking hostages, only lives, especially those that
intersected with his in ways in which he didn’t approve.
Slowly, he dropped to one knee and
brought his face close to the latch panel, his eye to the keyhole.
He squinted, caught a glimpse of a bare chest rapidly rising and
falling, the acne-flushed cusp of a chin. It was a boy, probably no
more than fifteen or sixteen, sitting on the toilet,
Wade exhaled explosively, his knees
cracking as he stood up.
“Hey,” he said evenly. “Hey kid, come
There was no answer, but he fancied he
could now hear the faint hush-whisper of the boy’s breathing as it
quickened in panic.
“There’s nowhere you can go. You
understand that, right?” Wade said into the door. “You’re stuck in
there and I’m out here with a gun. What’re your
He waited a few moments, but the kid
“How about I give you three seconds to
open the door, huh? One way or another, this hide-and-seek game’s
gonna end, but it’d be easier on us both if you just came on out of
there on your own. One…”
Despite what many people had said over
the past twenty years, Wade would get no pleasure at all from what
he was about to do.