Authors: T Patrick Phelps
The Devil’s Snare
A Derek Cole Suspense Thriller
T Patrick Phelps
This is a work of fiction. Any and all similarities with
people, living or deceased is purely coincidental.
Edited by Mischa McGehee
Cover Design by Nathanial Dasco
Published by Jabby House Publications
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Copyright © 2016
T Patrick Phelps Writing Services, Inc
All rights reserved.
To My Brothers John, Dan and Ken.
“Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself”
- Mark Twain
Had he the ability to check his heart rate, he was certain it would show it hadn’t risen above 80 beats per minute. His tranquility impressed himself and he wished he could tell others about his ability to remain in control despite all that he was doing and all he had completed. He longed to demonstrate to others how a true artist should control not only his media, his environment and his expression, but also his body.
Others needed to know. He did not want followers or copy cats, but like any artist, he did want others to at least admire his work. To understand the artist behind the work. But his chosen genre of expression demanded his face and name remain a mystery, otherwise, his progress would be stopped. With his work still waiting to be discovered, being stopped now would be a tragedy.
A loss to humanity.
He was so close to his first creation coming to life, his skin turned to gooseflesh at the anticipation. Still, he remained eerily calm. His first public showing needed to make a statement, to send a clear and defined message to all those who showed up to view his work. It was the message which would define his course of expression. His intended message guided his steps, the movement of his mind and his hands, the timing, the controlled expansion. Everything.
And to think, his masterpiece, nascent now, had been a black, empty void less than a few hours earlier.
As he brushed the dirt off his hands, feeling the coolness of the earth’s remnants falling from them, he sighed. He wondered how many would understand the message he had so carefully crafted. He wished he could have done more to ensure that his viewers would not be confused, assuming a different message was sent, or worse, that no message was intended. How others reacted, he understood, was beyond his control. There would be many more openings, more reveals for his message to be conveyed, but this being his first, he needed to at least set the tone. To establish his position in the genre. If not to deliver an unmistakable message, to at least point his viewer’s minds in the correct direction.
He was crouched among a line of cedar trees that defined the property line. The line gave him the wanted concealment as well as a near-perfect viewing location. He wouldn’t be allowed to watch for long, maybe five to ten minutes, long enough to see the spreading but not the consumption. The twenty-three cedars—many of which he himself had carried from a flatbed truck and placed in the holes he’d had a role in digging seven years prior—lined the western property line and ended less than three feet from the wooded area to the north. Worst case, if viewers arrived earlier than expected, the line of cedars would provide a direct and mostly concealed path for his exit into the woods. If that turned out to be his exit, he would still be able to view his reveal, but from a position more distant and occluded. He hoped viewers would keep to their normal response time and showed up—staggered in their increasing numbers—a full nine minutes after he set everything in motion.
From the line of cedars, he could see the flickering white brightness from the cellar casement window. There were two on each side of his medium, one in the rear and one in the front. His catalysts had yet to find their intended targets when he saw a car driving much too slowly past the front. It didn’t stop and its pace in front of his canvas seemed to be a continued pace, having started somewhere before his area and, hopefully, would be continued after. As the car drove slowly past his canvas, the artist saw that the dome light inside the car’s cabin was illuminated. The light cast enough brightness to display a single figure behind the wheel but not enough for the artist to recognize the person sitting behind it. The artist’s breath staggered in his lungs. His reveal was not ready and a viewing now would almost certainly create an impossible obstacle for his message to be conveyed.
The car drove on. The driver, and prospective viewer, saw nothing. The artist released his breath when, a few seconds after seeing the passing car, he heard it accelerate to a more appropriate speed. The possible spoiler was gone.
He returned his attention to the basement windows just in time to see it happen. His catalysts found their targets in the perfect order. One, two, three. Their successful journey signaled by a sudden change in the flickering brightness. The windows went from a strobe-like pattern of brightness and dimness, to a brilliantly filled and uncontainable yellowish glow, spilling out through the windows, onto the grass and even sending their warming glow to the cedars closest to his canvas.
It was a silent eruption, much more subdued than the artist expected. It wasn’t disappointing, the silence; it was just an expression that his art chose to take. It was, after all, a living and soon to be breathing being. Being such, the artist was not surprised when it chose an unexpected announcement. Like a baby born into the world without a cry, a scream, a declaration of its life. Had it sounded its birth with a triumphant boom, the artist would have been just as pleased and just as surprised.
It was growing quickly, each passed developmental milestone sending shards of joy racing through the artist’s soul. His art would soon grow and expand beyond his control; exactly what the artist expected and desired. Soon, his art would choose its own paths, leave unique traces and make decisions that he might never make. It was his spawn, given life by his choices, his actions, and allowed to grow by his allowance. He knew it wouldn’t be dependent on him for long, but now, as he crouched in the trees, his art was learning to breathe on its own. Drawing and expelling oxygen, each cleansing breath was fuel for its growth and each draw created the need for more. He knew his creation’s dependence for more would ultimately be its demise, but now, there was plenty.
The artist moved further north along the line of cedars, closer to the woods. He expected viewers would arrive soon, some standing in impotent awe and others ready and eager to kill his creation. It was the others he needed to delay and from them, he needed to hide. The woods—where he had spent countless hours learning landmarks—would serve as his escape. From the woods, he would watch his art grow and consume and die.
Seven minutes passed before he heard the distant sirens, indicating that his audience would soon be arriving at the viewing. The artist crept into the woods but not so far that he lost visual contact. He fell deeper into the woods as his art grew, spreading its brilliance deep into the dark night. Soon, he could be deep into the woods and not lose the ability to watch his spawn declaring its life and power through whatever darkness the night and forest could create.
He heard the sirens grow silent, indicating their arrival. He felt a pang cross his heart, knowing the viewers were not there to enjoy his work, but to end it. He kissed his hand, then raised it above his head and towards his art. A tear slipped down his cheek as he turned away and disappeared deeper into the woods.
The worst thing an alcoholic can feel in the morning is nothing. No headache, no waves of nausea and nothing to demand remorse for the previous night’s indulgences. When Bo Randall finished brushing his teeth, removing the fetid smell that had taken up residence in his mouth, he shot a quick glance through the crack in the bathroom door to see if his bed was occupied.
“Empty,” he said to himself, sighing a mixture of relief and disappointment. He wasn’t expecting to see a woman sleeping in his bed but wasn’t sure how far things had progressed with the college-aged girl he was drinking with last night. “What was her name?” he asked his reflection in the mirror. “Heather? Maria? Hell if I know.”
It was close to ten thirty in the morning before Bo was dressed, had finished picking up the clothes spilled across the floors of his one-story ranch and had slammed down enough calories to soak up any remnants of alcohol still sitting dormant and impotent in his gut. By the time he finished his second cup of coffee, he knew his mind was fresh and sharp. Sharp enough for that day. After all, he was on vacation for the rest of the week and the recognized haziness softening the corners of his mind wouldn’t cause him any problems. He didn’t need to respond to any demands, to snap out intelligent and confidence-laden decisions or even to craft any email responses to angry customers, discouraged employees or quota-focused senior leaders. A slower mind was all he needed today. Though the feeling of dread playing in the distance of his mind concerned him, he couldn’t recall anything that happened the night before that would give credence to whatever was feeding the cloudy feeling of apprehension.
“Probably said something to someone that I shouldn’t have said,” he comforted himself.
It was a gentle nag, a tug suggestive of something he needed to do or something he had done, that was playing on those corners of his mind. He remembered hearing someone—perhaps it was some pandering psychologist hosting one of those Jerry Springer knock-off tv show’s host—saying “the best way to catch a fleeting thought, is to let it chase you.” He dismissed the pursuit of the slippery thought with a shake of his head.
“It will come to me, if it’s really important,” he said to the vacancy of his house.
He clicked the remote and his sixty-inch LED flashed to life. Still standing, Bo brought up the channel guide and surfed for something worth his attention. A few minutes of surfing produced no results. He tossed the remote control onto the couch and walked into his home office. His MacBook Pro was where he expected it to be, on his paper-cluttered desk, beside a half-empty bottle of some craft brewed IPA, a half-smoked Fuente Fuente Opus X cigar and a Ziplock bag which held his remaining supply of coke. “Damn,” he said, looking at how little of the white powder remained in the Ziplock, “what the hell happened last night?”
Tracing his movements and activities of the previous night would come in time. Since he woke up alone in his bed and no friends or strangers were milling about his home, Bo decided there was nothing critical to remember about the previous night. Nothing that demanded immediate investigation. He didn’t need to leave himself any reminders or notes to find out who had the hungry nose, the lightness of the Ziplock was all the reminder he would need to chase that mystery down. Never being a personal fan of cocaine and only an infrequent user, Bo knew that someone else had been in his house the previous night, and that someone or someones were aggressive in their enjoyment of the powdery nose candy.
After retrieving his MacBook Pro, Bo walked out of the office and into the living room where he plopped himself onto the couch. He felt it the second his butt cheeks drove into the cushions. A sharp, penetrating stab. Unable to bridge the half-second gap between the nerve signal’s alert and his brain sending an appropriate reaction to his body, whatever it was he had sat on drove deep into his butt cheek before his body responded to the brain’s command, arching his lower half up and away from the offending sharp-as-shit object.