Authors: Kealan Patrick Burke
Tags: #Horror, #Short Stories, #+IPAD, #+UNCHECKED
, Wade told himself, absently
slipping the cell phone back into his pocket.
looking in there. Just go.
But without being fully aware that he
was doing so, he moved slowly to the door and peeked
The floors and walls were blackened, as
if by fire. The air smelled like soot and charcoal, and burnt
The windows were boarded
There was no furniture.
Staggering drunkenly toward him was a
woman with a broken neck. She was naked, her heavily veined breasts
like punctured balloons hanging down over ribs that poked through
her mottled blue skin. One broken-fingered hand covered the dark
thatch of her pubic hair in a gruesome parody of modesty. Her head
had been twisted almost all the way around, the skin on her neck
bunched into folds. He could see the ridge of one ear, the faintest
curve of a bloody smile as she tottered like an infant toward where
he stood, horrified. There were needle marks on her arms and legs
and feet, and he could not stop looking at them.
The woman gargled, then
Wade blinked rapidly.
The woman flickered again, like a movie
with gaps in the reel, like the yards seen through the fences as
he’d fled, and then she changed, whined much like the boy in the
bathroom had. Abruptly the film jumped and she became a terrible
charred thing, patches of red visible through a veritable carapace
of roasted flesh.
She stopped her tottering advance and
screamed, and though it made little sense to him, it was that
scream rather than the pantomime of broken-necked burning that made
him remember who she was.
“Gail?” he said, and the door slammed
shut so suddenly and so forcefully it cracked the wood and
shattered the frame. Wade cried out in surprise, his attempt to
back away foiled by something that had insinuated its way between
his feet. The doll torso, he saw but was already falling, the
notion of another cry dissuaded by the floor as his back thumped
against it, winding him.
Though the instinct to flee was
overwhelming, he stayed on the floor for a moment, eyes closed
while he regulated his breathing.
So how do you explain this?
Did I break into a haunted house or
, he thought.
It’s a trick, and a damn good one, but a trick just the
He slowly, painfully got to his
Wade didn’t believe in ghosts. In his
line of work, he couldn’t afford to. Bad enough that he spent his
life looking over his shoulder looking for living enemies than have
to consider the ones he’d already put in the ground. But it was
that clear whoever had engineered this little theater production
knew him, and had somehow managed to corral him here for a little
show-and-tell. But to what end? And exactly how had they known he’d
particular house? Were all the
others similarly booby-trapped? He might have thought that stoolie
sonofabitch Cartwright had included Wade’s hiding place among the
notes he’d sung to the police, but Cartwright didn’t
where he had gone after they’d split up.
That’s when he thought of the
The only one without a sign. And while
Wade had no particular feelings about dogs one way or another,
common sense dictated that a man seeking a haven would choose the
path of least resistance. No psychological profiling necessary to
glean that particular nugget. But what if he hadn’t? What if,
instead of choosing Seldom Seen as his hiding place, he’d run on
and sought sanctuary elsewhere? He had
to come here,
neighborhood. Why then did he
feel as if he’d been lured here?
No, it didn’t add up. Factor free will
into the equation and nobody could have known he’d have chosen this
house, dog sign or no.
And yet, here you
Because of a sign, or rather, the lack
The sign, he realized, and the sirens.
He now recalled that those wailing sirens had seemed to come from
everywhere, from all around him until he hit Seldom Seen Drive.
Then they’d only been behind him. Closer and closer all the time
until he felt trapped, vulnerable, desperate…
“Jesus, this is ridiculous,” he said
aloud and brushed himself off. He took a deep breath and slowly
How are they doing
He didn’t know, nor did he care. It was
time to go.
A kick sent the doll torso flying over
the balcony and down the steps. Wade listened to it tumbling,
waited until it stopped, then followed it down.
At the foot of the stairs, he stepped
on the doll and gave a start when it emitted the sound of a woman
quietly sobbing. He had no wish to give this further consideration
and so stalked through the house until he had reached the living
room and the sliding doors he had used to gain entry.
Wade was no idiot. He knew that walking
out there with the cops on his tail was likely to be the last thing
he ever did, at least as a free man. But he couldn’t stay here
either. Not while there was someone hiding in the house who knew
him, knew what he was and what he had done, someone who was having
just the grandest time tormenting him with sideshow trickery. It
all felt a little bit too predestined for his taste.
No. He was going, and he would just
have to be careful once he crossed the threshold. He did not want
to think about Cartwright and the money, and what it meant for his
chances of a future. All that mattered now was getting
Resolute, he stayed down and moved in a
crouch to the curtains, parted them with a finger and felt his
breath catch in his throat.
There were two cops in the yard, and
they were heading toward the house, guns drawn.
“Great.” Wade backtracked to the hall,
then hurried into the kitchen where he flexed the fingers of his
free hand, the sweat oozing from his pores, and tried to think. In
seconds the cops would knock on the sliding door. After seeing the
gate they wouldn’t be so easily persuaded that nothing was amiss.
They would force the door and they’d have him.
Keep it together, man
, he told
You’ve still got a weapon. You’re not done,
But despite his own encouragement, he
Cartwright was gone.
The money was gone.
The pigs were at the back door and his
hidey-hole was filled with spiders.
Check the front.
The rapping of hard knuckles against
solid glass echoed through the house, each knock sending a jolt of
electric fear up his spine.
Wade ran to the kitchen window, looked
Two cruisers were parked at the curb,
lights flashing. The trio of cops standing around them was the only
sign of life on an uncannily empty street. If the sight of police
hadn’t lured the curious out of their homes, then it was quite
possible that nobody lived in them after all. It put him in mind of
the fake homes filled with mannequins the military set up in the
desert as targets for nuclear testing.
His head hurt. Things had gotten way
more complicated than they should have been. Rob the bank, nobody
gets hurt, split up and meet later to divvy up the score. That was
it. A simple plan. Instead, people had died, victims of
Cartwright’s itchy trigger finger, Wade was stuck in some kind of
sick-joke carnival funhouse designed from blueprints straight out
of his head, and now Cartwright was in custody and telling the
Still looking out onto the street, he
Just what did Cartwright
tell them? That he hadn’t robbed the bank by himself? There were
ample witnesses who’d testify to that, and if not, there were the
security cameras. There wasn’t much else he could give the pigs
that they could use. Cartwright didn’t know him well enough. He
wouldn’t, for instance, be able to tell them where he was likely to
hide, or whom he might seek sanctuary from. In fact, Cartwright
didn’t know jack. So, assuming Wade had properly understood the
text message, what exactly had he “TALKED” about? Who exactly had
he “TALKED” to?
Then it clicked.
Not the cops, but the instigator of
this little ghost house tour that had been set up in his honor.
Whoever the Wizard behind the curtain was, he would need to know
everything about Wade to be able to pull this off and had, it
seemed, enlisted Cartwright’s help in constructing the charade.
Which in turn explained why the only “ghosts” Wade had seen had
been ones he had managed to forget over the years. The minor
transgressions. The puppet master of the house hadn’t had access to
his deeper, darker secrets or the show might have been an
altogether more gruesome one.
Figured you out, you
Glass shattered in the
“Wade Crawford,” one of the cops
called. “This is the police.”
You don’t say
, Wade thought and
crossed the room, shoving his back up against the wall beside the
His phone hummed.
Christ, now what?
“Wade, we’d like to do this quietly if
at all possible. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, and that
includes you. We just want to talk.”
Wade hadn’t fired a shot since he’d
arrived at the house, out of fear that it would alert the cops to
his position, but that was hardly a concern now. Fortunately, it
meant he had a full clip now together with the extra one in his
jeans pocket. He could hold them off for a little while, at least
until a better option presented itself.
He took out his phone, slid his back
down the wall until he was sitting, and peeked around the corner.
There was nobody creeping up on him, but it wouldn’t be too long
before they would, right before the SWAT team arrived to teargas
his ass. He checked the phone. Another message from Cartwright, and
just as cryptic as before:
He studied the message for a brief
moment before pocketing the phone. He didn’t know if there was a
basement in the house or not, and didn’t much care. Basements were
not traditionally famed for being good escape routes unless they
had a series of intricate tunnels leading elsewhere. They were
traps. And even if he’d chosen to overlook that glaring fact, he
wasn’t about to take advice from Cartwright now that he knew he was
in on the whole thing.
So no, to hell with the
An attic on the other hand…
It would still be trapping himself, but
better the high ground than the low, and it would be difficult for
anyone to get at him without getting a bullet to the
He almost laughed at the image of
himself, knees drawn up, shooting a succession of cops one after
the other as they poked their heads up into his hideout.
It wouldn’t work. The only option then was to shoot his way out and
hope for the best.
Movement in the hall made his shoulders
tighten. He leaned out and saw a young, fresh-faced cop doing the
same thing. Only the cop looked surprised.
Even more so when Wade shot him in the
The cop fell back against the
There was stunned silence for a
Then all hell broke loose.
More glass shattered, men shouted
commands, furniture was overturned, more crashing, hammers were
ratcheted back, static exploded from radios.
Wade grinned. “Get the message, you
assholes?” he called out.
“You’re a fucking dead man,” one of the
cops shouted back and was quietly reprimanded by
From one of the upstairs rooms came the
sound of footsteps. They were penning him in, as if he wasn’t
already penned in enough.
As he prepared to rise into a crouch
and make a break for the stairs, his plan to intercept whoever this
latest unwelcome visitor was before the option was taken away, he
noted that the doll torso had somehow found its way into the
kitchen. It lay between his legs, eyes open and staring at
He rose onto his haunches.
“You hear me, Crawford?” the angry cop
yelled at him, his voice cracking. “You’re not walking out of
It was clear the young cop’s death had
hit the guy hard.
, Wade thought.
“What? You mean like that kid out there
missing the top half of his head? Like him, you mean?” he called
The humming sound came
A quick check told him it was not his
He tried to filter out the clamor from
the cops as they tried to talk some sense into their incensed
Hunkered shadows moved past the kitchen