April 2022 Winner

Horror & Mystery Book Club March 2022 Submissions


C. I. I. Jones

She passed. Or failed. It depends on your perspective. Trina picked the very thought from his head. She was getting good at that, she knew. And she knew that the giant man didn’t like it. Didn’t like her going into his mind and picking his thoughts. That’s why he made her watch the TV. That was the test she passed. Or failed. But she was good at it, and so as he carried her off, she listened to him think. 

The TV test was enough to give Blue what he needed. Blue wasn’t his real name. He worked for all of the big scary acronyms; CIA, FBI, NSA, as well as the more obscure ones, for so long, under so many given names, he had a hard time remembering the name his own mother gave him.

No matter, he thought. This week he was Blue, next week he’d be Tony, and a year from now he’d be Yousef. He was whoever they needed him to be, and this week they needed him to be Blue. And Blue was tasked with tracking down and testing Trina Jenkins. Trina “passed” the TV test, and she met the organization’s criterion to be dispatched.

His current employers hired him to find these people. Most of them were younger – between nine and fifteen. Most didn’t have a clue what was happening. If the kid didn’t know what Blue had planned for them, it made his job easier. Less fight. If they knew what was in store for them, had even a slight idea, things could get difficult. If they knew how to use their capabilities, things could get scary. Blue thought Trina Jenkins had very little idea of what was happening to her. After the TV test was done he threw her over his shoulder like a bag of dirty laundry. 

She’d go easy. Like so many before her. 

Blue’s current gig had been lengthy and lucrative. He kept a list. Trina could picture it. Blue had a bag with him, a big black one. Buried somewhere deep in that bag was a list of names. More than a few of the murders were covered by big news outlets. A few of his kills were linked together, and the term serial killer was batted around. The first time he heard it, Blue shrugged. There was maybe some validity to the idea. He had a pattern that he followed to a T, and the victims shared enough characteristics to make it feasible. He never got hot under the collar though. He had friends looking out for him, friends in the right places. Most of his kills were eventually pinned on someone else or slipped into the cold case files of local police departments. It was just a job to Blue, but to his employer, it was dire. They were scared. These little freaks could really be a threat. To what? This girl, Trina, looked harmless, Blue thought.

Trina’s feet were tied. Blue didn’t see the point in tying the hands. If she could harness her capabilities, hands wouldn’t be needed anyway. He let her slip off of his shoulder onto the dewy grass.

“Are you going to let me go, please?” she asked. Her voice drifted from her like a feather on a breeze.

“Humph,” Blue grunted. He was shuffling through his canvas bag. “‘Fraid not, missy.”

“Okay,” Trina said, sounding complacent. “Well, what’re we doing out here? Why’d we come here for the TV?”

“Why you want to know?” Blue asked, still rifling through the bag. Trina could feel the frustration eking out of him. He was upset that she didn’t seem scared. She snatched the thought zipping through his mind, that the little brat should be scared out of her wits. He glanced over his shoulder at her. She stared right back at him. Strange. He thought she was too young. Ten years old. Maybe she didn’t get it. If she could see the tools Blue was sifting through in his bag, she might get a little scared. It pissed Blue off when they didn’t get scared. Made him want to draw the whole ordeal out. Trina tried not to make herself see what was in that bag. The list of names was bad enough.

“Just curious, Mr. Bruce. That’s all.”

Mr. Bruce? Bruce. How the hell? It didn’t matter. She was in there, up in his brain. Maybe she knew her capabilities a bit more than he initially thought. She’d certainly got the right marks for dispatch on the TV test. He set it up like he had for any other kid. Empty field, far away from most or any sort of aerial electromagnetic activity. If the TV came on at all, it was something to take note of. Trina brought in a clear picture from the 10 o’clock news. Immediate dispatch. But, Mr. Bruce? He couldn’t remember actually thinking of his birth name. 

He turned toward her. “Who’s Mr. Bruce?”

“That’s a silly question,” she giggled. “You are, of course!”

“Quiet,” he whispered. “Not so loud.”

“Okay,” she nodded. “But you told me if I watched the TV with you I could go home. I’m ready to go home now.”


He turned back toward his bag and she could hear his thoughts. Yeah. Go ahead and get in my head if you like. I think I’ll take my time with you. 

He was looking for something deep in the bag. Trina saw the word, but didn’t know it. A garrote. Blue, or Bruce, was looking for a garrote. He stuffed his arm deep and felt for it.  Then the light caught his eye. 

Back out in the field the television was on. Worse than that, he could see the silhouette of someone standing in its glow. Flashing hazard lights from a car parked on the side of the distant road blinked off and on. Blue turned toward the girl, his eyes narrowed to vicious slits. It was clear he underestimated the child. She’d somehow called for help. Blue shook his head and looked back toward the silhouette out in the field. An interruption. An intruder. One more fucking body. This one would have to go before the girl. Trina sat in silence, but her lips moved slightly. Help me. Please, help me. She mouthed the words but made no sound. 


The good Samaritan’s name was Lowell. But only Trina knew that. Lowell had slammed the brakes of his old beater truck. He was driving back roads, something he hadn’t done in years. A lifetime ago he spent most of his summers in these fields, making a couple dollars doing odd jobs for the farmers. That all changed. He got an office job, a wife; the whole white picket fence thing. The nearby farms were in his past. That night though, a sudden urge hit him to go for a drive. His wife had looked at him funny and he could only shrug and say, “I gotta go!”

The drive was a nice cruise down memory lane. The night was clear. The sky was full of stars. But now he wasn’t driving. He was stopped in the middle of the road.  There was a light coming from the middle of one of the fields. Granger’s field, if Lowell wasn’t mistaken. It was a white, wavering light, like a movie projector for an audience that didn’t show up.

“Little bastards,” Lowell grunted as he pulled the truck to the side of the road and yanked the parking brake. He killed the headlights and turned on the hazards. The neighborhood kids pulled this kind of shit. They’d ride their bikes from one of the nearby encroaching suburbs and pull pranks meant to give the farmers a little scare. The farmers were usually good sports about it until sowing season, when their livelihood was at stake. Granger was a good guy, certainly took care of Lowell with an extra buck or two for chores back in the day. And here were the little neighborhood shits, tramping all over Granger’s seeds. 

Lowell walked around to the back of the truck and pulled open the tailgate. These kids better be able to take what they dish out, he thought. He opened the black case he kept secured in a corner of the truck bed. The pump shotgun inside was a classic Remington model. He pulled it out, and looked over the field toward the light, still flickering. The sound of the pump action on the gun would have those kids pissing themselves. They’d go running and that would be that.

He took a step onto the field, the flickering light calling him in its direction like a moth to flame. The ominous glow made Lowell turn around. He put a couple shotgun shells in his pocket. He wouldn’t load the thing, of course, but you could never be too safe. He started across the field, none the wiser that no kid waited for him. Just a big ugly man named Blue that had been watching him the whole time.

Blue watched it all through a set of binoculars. He could see the shotgun on the guy’s shoulder, could see the nerves in the guy’s eyes. Hell, he practically knew the guy’s back story – probably out for an evening drive to get away from the wife and kids for a few minutes peace and quiet. Well, the poor bastard made a wrong turn.

He heard the good Samaritan clear his throat as he approached the glowing television. The gruff voice traveled well across the open field. Blue heard him say, “What’re you kids doin’ out here?” No answer.

“You’re parents know what you’re up to?” Lowell tried again.

No answer. Blue could make out his face in the static television glow. It went from nerves to fear. Lowell looked back toward his truck. He could see the red hazards flashing every half-second through the dark. He looked further across the field to the tree line where Blue and Trina were safely hidden. Lowell so no sign of life. He walked closer to the light. The shotgun was no longer an empty threat. It was at the ready, aimed, even though Blue hadn’t seen him load the damn thing.

Blue’s intruder walked into the rays of light from the flickering television like an alien abductee in a 50s sci-fi flick. Blue watched as Lowell examined it, likely freaked out to find the television set out here in the middle of an open field. An old set, the kind you’d expect to have rabbit ears to tune into the right channels.  

“These kids are gettin’ too damn creative,” Lowell grunted. “How the hell is it even on?” There was no noticeable power source to the television. You can make anything wireless if you got the money to spend, Blue thought as he watched Lowell’s confusion grow. Blue thought the whole spectacle was hilarious. After a few minutes Lowell bent down and found the classic knobs. Three total. One for volume, one for channels, and one for power. He flicked the power knob to the left and the light died, leaving him alone in the dark. Blue laughed to himself. The idiot was bound to roll his ankle walking back to his truck without a flashlight.

Lowell took three steps back toward the flashing hazard lights. By the fourth step he was bathed in static glow again, frozen in place. The TV switched back on. He turned to face the white glow, mouth agape, unsure of what to do next. Blue let his eyes fall from his binoculars and glanced back at Trina. He was starting to get nervous about this little girl. She was too good with her little mind tricks.

Blue looked through the binoculars again. The intruder was turning in circles, probably trying to figure out just how the hell the TV had turned on. He watched as Lowell approached the TV and reached out for the knob to turn it off for a second time and leave. Before he could, there was a sound, something coming through the static that even from a distance Blue could hear. A soft voice. A child’s voice. 

Blue watched Lowell crouch in front of the TV, dumbfounded. The guy’s initial frustration with some annoying kids pranking the old farmer was giving way to genuine concern. 

“Someone please help me!” 

It came through the static screen like a bullet. Lowell scrambled away from the television and tripped. He landed on his ass, hard. His eyes didn’t leave the static screen. The sound carried across the field and could be heard by Blue and his hostage, clear as a bell. The girl had signaled him using the television, Blue thought. And now, she was talking through it. Amazing.

Lowell moved from his ass up to his hands and knees. He crawled toward the TV. It was unmistakable now. The TV spoke. Spoke to him. It was begging him for help.

“With what?” he asked. He sounded like a lunatic. He pulled himself up by the chair, it creaked beneath his weight. He looked down now at the TV, then looked back toward his truck where the hazards still blinked, toward the distant farmer’s house, and last, to the tree line, maybe a football field’s length away. The moon was brilliant over top of the trees, almost bright enough to light a direct path across the field toward them.

Blue watched all of this with restrained amazement. He was starting to understand the agency’s resolve to control kids like Trina. He paced over to the girl and crouched in front of her. He whispered, “You know you’ve killed him, right? I can’t let him walk out of this field after what he’s seen.”

Trina did not answer. She went on looking out of the tree line, over to where the television glowed, a look of stern concentration plastered on her face.

Lowell scrambled to his feet and picked up his shotgun. One of the shells fell out of his pocket when he stooped over. He chambered the shell and pulled back the pump, making that antiquated and dreaded sound – CHU-CHA. He leveled the barrel at the static screen.

“Please don’t do that, mister!” The TV voice pleaded. “Please, don’t shoot.”

The gun shook in Lowell’s hand and lowered a few inches. Then it went back up, with more determination. Blue watched on, hoping he’d pull the trigger and walk away.

“No! If you do that, if you leave, he will kill me. He’s going to kill me out here. Please help me. Don’t shoot the TV.” The voice paused. “I’m so scared.”

Lowell lowered the gun. “You kids are getting good at this shit, you know?”

“What shit?” it asked back.

“This prank shit! I can’t believe you boys would bring your little sister out here. Just to harass a poor old farmer. The bastard’s probably half blind by now.”

“This is not a prank. No jokes, I promise!” The voice stopped for a moment, then said. “I’ll try to show you.” 


“I’m saving you for last, girl,” Blue whispered. “Just hang tight.” He’d tied her, hands behind her back, and bound her to the trunk of one of the trees. He was thinking of terrible things that made Trina shudder. He kept telling himself that this was collateral damage and that it came with the territory. He didn’t pick up a bigger check for stacking up an additional body. All he got was a worse backache from lugging another stiff around, and more heat and publicity to avoid when two or three bodies were discovered instead of one. The farmer would have a lot of explaining to do. He’d mutter through some interviews on the local news, maybe get questioned by a few law enforcement agencies, and then settle back into his normal day-to-day. It’d be one last strange, good story for the old man to add to his repertoire to tell when he actually made it into town.

Blue had a pistol in his hands. It was loaded. He always kept it loaded. He turned to look at her. “I’ll be back in a moment. But you already knew that.” He looked out across the field. The silhouette of the intruder was still pacing back and forth in the television’s glow. “I’m gonna need you to turn that TV off now,” he added and moved closer toward her. The pistol was aimed at her, not sticking into her, like a threat, but more just there, like an unspoken fact.

“Please, sir,” Trina said with a tremor in her voice. “You don’t need to do this. He can just leave. I can convince him to go. You know I can.”

“Afraid not,” said Blue. “He’s here now. Has to be taken care of.”

Trina searched his face, searched his mind for the truth. Maybe there was something deeper she could pull at to make him stop. But Blue, or Bruce, had spoken truthfully as far as he was concerned. In her kidnapper’s mind, all Trina could see was a blank wall on this matter. 

She was only beginning to discover her abilities. She’d started with moving things, like most early developers, then moved into the more frightening stuff. She only dipped into her parents’ thoughts on a handful of occasions. There was darkness there, too. But it was different than Blue’s type of darkness. They used words she couldn’t grasp the full weight of. They thought about each other. And not only nice things. It scared Trina to be in her parents’ brains. But it was nothing like this. Blue’s was a pure darkness. 

On the dark plain of her kidnapper’s mind, Trina saw pale, lifeless faces. They were covered in dirt. They were dead. That’s a dark thought she could understand more than the complex thoughts of her parents. It was definite. These little kids Blue was thinking about were all dead. Some of them were buried, some were in rivers. And then there was her face right next to the others. She was one of the dirty ones. But she wasn’t dead yet. 

“Okay,” she whispered.

Blue stared at her another moment. A thought came across, loud and clear for Trina. Now you know what you’re dealing with. Read my mind all you want. It makes no difference to me. 

The gun was still pointed at her. She only nodded, and the light from the television flickered out. Blue stood, readjusted his stretched polo over his protruding gut, and took a step out of the tree line gripping his pistol. 


Blue watched as Lowell moved in the dark, but the clouds began to move and seal out the light of the moon turning Blue’s prey into a shroud of shadow. Lowell smacked the TV set after the signal went out. “Shit,” he whispered. Blue was having a hard time seeing him clearly in the dark but he could hear the voice, and it sounded scared. That was good. Blue wanted the guy to be scared.

The television was off, but Blue knew Trina’s voice wasn’t gone. He could practically hear Trina telling the man to run, run now. He’s coming. Lowell cradled his shotgun. He looked toward his truck.  The hazards went on blinking, beckoning him like a lighthouse over troubled seas. Back to safety. He looked toward the distant farmhouse, then the tree line.

Blue was tiptoeing in the direction he knew the TV to be, but stopped in the dark. He heard boots, the kind work a day office types wear on weekends when they feel tough. People like Blue knew that what you actually need is lighter footwear. You can move faster, quieter, especially if you’re trying to sneak up on someone.

But the would-be hero walked right past him. Blue had to keep himself from laughing. He could have reached out and touched Lowell’s arm. The moon was still obscured though, and the man must have been blind as a bat. The only thing that kept Blue from doing him right there was the man’s shotgun. He wondered if he could kill the guy without it going off. If it did go off, he’d have the farmer to take care of, and the farmer’s wife. And four holes in this damn field was too much work. Maybe he could stack ‘em all up somewhere in the house and torch it.

He thought all of this while keeping ten paces behind the man. They were 50 yards from the patch of trees where Trina was tied up. He’d let the man go all the way into the thicket if he could. He’d save himself some energy, wouldn’t have to drag the man’s body so far, just to bury him with the girl.

Blue kept his gun on the man, waiting for a sudden move. If so, he’d end the game, put two in his back and be done with it. Then the dragging would start. After that, the burying. It didn’t come to that though. Lowell made it to the trees without noticing he was being followed. Pretty soon, he’d find the girl, and with Blue seemingly nowhere to be seen, he’d think the girl was saved, that he’d scared the bad guy off. He’d let the two of them have their moment of hope, and then make it quick. 

“Are you there? Hello, are you there?” Blue could hear Lowell asking the darkness.

“Please don’t come any further.” Trina sounded stoic for such a young girl. “He’s looking for you. Turn around and go home and forget all about this.”

It was even darker here in the thatch of trees. The leaves sealed off what little light there was left from the moon or the distant streetlights. Blue had a penlight in his pocket. He reached for it with his free hand. He still kept a few paces behind his new target. At least, he was pretty sure Lowell was only a few paces ahead. It was too damn dark to be positive. He would wait until he was in the same spot he’d left the girl to turn the light on. Who knew how fast the intruder could turn on him with that shotgun?

“Just call out to me and I’ll come untie you. You’re safe now.” Lowell shouted.  He must be right in front of him, Blue thought. 

“I’m over here, Lowell” Trina answered. “Please come quick. We need to leave. He’ll be back soon.” Now Trina sounded like she was right in front of Blue. Less than ten feet away even. He heard shuffling in the leaves and overgrowth. It sounded like the man was already untying her. Give it a second Blue, wait for the right moment. 

Blue took another step in the direction where he left Trina. Where he was sure the intruder was untying his next victim. He raised the gun and the light, pulled a deep, slow breath, and clicked the light on.

The plan was to turn the light on and fire, no hesitation, just shoot. But what he saw when he turned the light on stopped him cold. In the white beam from Blue’s penlight, there was no man. It was just him and little Trina Jenkins there in the small tree covering, the same as it was before. Almost the same. The girl was no longer tied up now. Instead of fear in her eyes and quivering lips, she had on a grin and her eyes were set, determined. 

Blue looked back toward the road, scanning the length of pavement for the blinking hazard lights. They weren’t there anymore. They’d never been there, he realized as a lightning bolt of terror ripped down his spine. He looked back toward the smiling girl. His brain told him to pull the trigger. Pull it as many times as he possibly could, but his finger was frozen. He never came across any of them like this. Mind reading and object manipulation, Blue had seen. Sometimes he’d seen it in targets even younger than Trina Jenkins. But projection, detailed projection of this degree, never. She had imprinted a man in Blue’s brain that never existed. Went as far to give the man a name, Lowell. This man Lowell even had a history that Blue could understand. A man named Lowell completely fabricated and imprinted on Blue’s conscious mind. All done by this magnificent child.

“Remarkable,” was the last thing Blue ever said. Trina twitched her head to the left. Blue’s gun dropped to the dirt. She reached her hand out toward Blue. He stepped forward and took the garrote wire she held for him. He thought about the gun, thought about picking it up and unloading it into the little girl. Instead, his legs moved against his will. They walked despite his efforts to stand still. His feet dragged him to a nearby tree, wire still in hand. He reached one handle of the garrote around a low hanging branch and created a loop. He thought about all those faces that Trina saw floating around in his memory, and all the incriminating papers detailing his crimes just a few feet away from him, somewhere in his canvas bag. The old farmer would find him out here before too long. Or maybe one of his grandkids would come out here, looking for a place to play. And then the authorities would find that canvas bag, and the sensitive documents in that canvas bag. Then a few of those big acronym organizations would be hard at work to make sure that Blue, or whatever his name was, never existed.

Trina picked up the flashlight that Blue had dropped. Another twitch of her head and Blue’s neck was in the noose fashioned from the garrote, and the wire tightened into the fat of Blue’s throat. She let the light shine up into Blue’s dying face. “Mr. Blue, you’re turning blue,” she said without a hint of irony. 

Lowell stepped from the shadows as Trina turned away from the dying man. He stopped to watch Blue as the light flickered in and out of the killer’s eyes, then joined Trina as she walked back toward the road. In her mind she said thank you to Mr. Lowell, he didn’t answer. They came to Lowell’s truck and he opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat. He smiled at Trina then closed the door, and like the words from the last page of a story book, disappeared from the road, and from Trina’s conscious.  

She began to think about what Mr. Blue may look like tomorrow morning, tongue bulging out of his mouth, eyes nearly popping from his skull. She didn’t like this though, so she thought about her parents and hoped they weren’t scared. She thought of herself, lying in bed, safe and warm. She knew her parents saw the same thing. She made sure of it. That would do for now, until she made the long walk back home, and really was fast asleep.



About the Author

C. I. I. Jones has been writing horror and crime stories for about a decade with a few publications in magazines and anthologies. He has a website and one book of short stories available on amazon. His first published novel is scheduled to be out sometime in late 2022.


Amazon: Egg Man: And Other Tales


March 2022 Winner

Horror & Mystery Book Club February 2022 Submissions


Terrye Turpin

Our dispatcher, Corinna Boddy, met me at the door on Monday morning with a Styrofoam cup of black coffee and a neon green sticky note. 

“Carol Adams called, said her sister’s missing.” 

Corinna held onto the coffee until I took the note from her. Corinna’s been with the sheriff’s office over forty years. Her hair is the same brassy reddish orange as the day she started, but her uniform size is larger by half. She works the day shift now, but comes in before the sun rises so she can point out all the mistakes Harmon, the night shift dispatcher, makes. 

“When did she last hear from Lynette?” I took the coffee and walked past her to my office. My position as the sheriff in our small county affords me my own desk but little privacy. That’s what you get for settling in your hometown, there wasn’t much that folks around here didn’t know about me. I imagined Lynette had trouble keeping her own secrets. Corinna followed and settled across from me in the straight-backed wooden chair designed to discourage lingering.  

“She says Lynnette was supposed to come by last night, but she didn’t show and she’s not answering her phone.” 

I blew on the coffee and set the cup down next to the sticky note. “Thanks Corinna, I’ll give her a call.” 

“Thought you might want to send Zach out to Weldon’s place, see what’s up,” she said. 

Zach is our newest deputy. Fresh from the army, he’d probably appreciate the chance to tackle something besides tracking down feral dogs and issuing citations for burn ban violations, but I would handle this one myself. 

“I’ll swing by after I talk to Carol,” I told Corinna. 

“Be careful, Troop. That boy is trouble.” 

The “boy” was thirty-nine years old, same age as me. Lynette, Weldon and I came up through school together. I left after high school, joined the army to see the world. When I got my fill of sand and heat, I put in ten years as a state trooper then drifted back to my hometown. They elected me sheriff last year.  

I pulled out my mobile phone and listened to the ring go through to voice mail before I dialed the number Corinna had written down. There was no answer on that one either. 

Carol lived in town, in the childhood home she took over after her folks retired. Her younger sister Lynette moved out right after college, when she came back to work for Jim Turner, a local accountant. She took back up with Weldon Foster and married him. Weldon had a short-lived stint of fame as a high school running back. He’d attracted the attention of college scouts until an aggressive linebacker the size of a pro-footballer fractured his knee in Weldon’s junior year. Now he lived out by the lake and made a living doing odd jobs, handy-man stuff mostly. He’d haul off your trash or remodel your bathroom, and in the summer, he picked up work as a fishing guide.

When I pulled up, Carol’s wife Maria was out front tugging on weeds in the flower bed that lined the drive. They’d kept up the white frame house. Except for the daffodil yellow trim, it looked much the same as the last time I’d visited here, back in junior high school. I parked the car as Maria stood up and gave a little wave. 

“Carol’s out back, smoking,” she said. She frowned and shook her head.

“Any word from Lynette?” I asked. 

“No. Carol’s worried sick about her.” 

Walking toward the back of the house, I spotted Carol on the deck. She stubbed out her cigarette and turned to me. Her eyes had dark smudges under them and her lips were chapped, rubbed raw. 

“When’s the last time you spoke to Lynette?” I asked as I settled in the chair next to hers. 

“Sunday morning. She called and asked if she could stay awhile, said she was leaving Weldon. I thought she’d come right out then but she told me she’d be here later that day. She wanted to pack a few things first.”

“Have you talked to Weldon?” I asked. 

She laughed, a choked off snort and shook her head. “Weldon and I don’t exactly get along, Troop. He doesn’t approve of my ‘lifestyle.’” 

I gave Carol my card and wrote my personal mobile number on the back. “Call me if you hear anything. I’ll run out to their place and let you know what I find out.” 

She nodded and put my card in her pocket, then shook another cigarette out of the pack and lit up. I left her staring out over the back yard, a haze of smoke circling her head. 

You never forget your first love. Mine had been Lynette Adams in eighth grade. We first kissed there on the deck in her backyard, the summer we turned thirteen. She tasted like the cinnamon gum she chewed, and her long brown hair tickled my neck as she leaned in to press her lips to mine. Swatting mosquitos and watching fireflies light up the balmy evening, we held hands, reluctant to go inside to the air conditioning and the watchful eyes of Lynette’s mom. In high school we drifted apart, I took a part-time job after school and went out for football. Lynette joined the band and dated the star running back on the football team, Weldon Foster. 

I steered the sheriff’s department SUV along the potholed white rock road that led out to Weldon and Lynette’s place. When I topped a small hill, I spotted the blue-green line of the lake meeting the grey sky at the horizon. A battered aluminum mailbox marked the turn off onto their property. The sagging barbed wire fence lining the approach held dozens of softball-sized black objects. I looked closer–Weldon had strung dried catfish heads along the wire. Monstrous, their dead mouths gaped. Spiky whiskers sprouted from the flat sides. Empty eye sockets followed my approach, like sentinels set to watch. 

The house, a one-story red brick ranch style, had a carport to one side. Weldon’s boat, a maroon and grey Nitro with a Mercury outboard motor, was stored next to his Ford pickup. I radioed Corinna to let her know my location, then got out and ambled toward the house.

When no one answered my knock, I started around the side to the back. Weldon appeared before I turned the corner. Shirtless, his hands were bloodied, and he held a seven-inch fillet knife, wicked silver blade pointed down to the ground. 

“What?” he asked. 

“Carol called the sheriff’s, looking for Lynette. She around?” 

For answer Weldon motioned for me to follow him, waving with the hand that held the knife. At the back of the house a large blue cat, at least sixty-pounds of fish, hung from a frame made up out of a child’s rusted swing set. The catfish, hooked through the lower jaw, was suspended over a white plastic five-gallon bucket. I watched as Weldon slit the fish from dorsal fin to tail and scooped out the innards into the bucket. 

“I ain’t seen Lynette. She packed up and took off yesterday.” 

He spoke as he worked, next slicing down the side of the fish and tossing the chunk of meat onto a plywood table. His hair hung in greasy strands past his collarbones, pulled off his forehead with a dirty blue bandana. Every so often he’d sniff and twitch, wiping at his face with his upper arm. Weldon’s arms, face, and legs were pocked with small sores, some scabbed over and others dotted with fresh blood where he’d scratched. His eyes were shiny and wild, the pupils dilated. 

I remembered talking to Lynette right after I first moved back. I’d stopped in the Dairy Queen for lunch, and there she was, in a red vinyl booth at the back of the dining room. I carried my tray over and joined her. Her face lit up when she saw me. The years had been pretty good to her, she had lines at her eyes and her shoulders slouched a bit, but when we got to talking about the old days, she threw back her head and laughed out loud like the high school girl I remembered. We caught up on town gossip and eventually I got around to the reason I joined her in the Dairy Queen booth. I knew Weldon was out on bail after his arrest for methamphetamine possession. 

“You deserve better than that, Lynette.” 

“He’s had some bad breaks, he’s gonna straighten out,” she said. The sleeve on her shirt rode up as she reached for her drink, exposing a set of bluish-green bruises on her arm. 

“He do that to you?” I asked. 

She pulled at the sleeve to cover the bruises. “It’s not what you think, Troop. He’s never really hurt me.” 

Not yet, I thought. 

While Weldon worked the knife, slicing and cutting the catfish into neat fillets, I studied the line of dirty white plastic buckets stashed beside the plywood table. Flies buzzed around the lids and settled now and again on the slick surface. I reached down to lift the top off one of the buckets. 

“Hey law man, you got a warrant?” 

Weldon pointed the fillet knife at me. He grinned, showing brown stained teeth. “You don’t want to open up that bucket, that’s my special recipe stink bait. We’d have to clear out the neighbors.” 

Stink bait, the nastier the better according to its aficionados, was a mix of fermented fish offal, moldy cheese, and any other gross garbage that could be found to toss in. It was mashed and stirred together with a binding agent, usually loaves of soft white bread or cornmeal, then fashioned into lumps that could be held on a fishhook. Some fishermen swore by it, and dumped buckets of it into favorite fishing holes to lure the big catfish, the bottom feeders who fed by scavenging. 

I held up my hands. “Not going there, Weldon. I came out here to ask about Lynette that’s all.” 

“And I told you I don’t know where she went. Took off with a suitcase Sunday night,” Weldon said. His face darkened and his voice rose as he spoke. “Why don’t you go ask the guy she’s been fucking!” 

He stepped close until we stood almost toe to toe. I kept my eye on the knife. 

“I’m leaving, but if I need, I’ll come back with a warrant. You keep your hands off her if she does come back.” 

At home that night I sat at my kitchen table, cleaning my service revolver when Carol called me on my mobile. 

“I talked to Tom Alvin, he’s got a boat dock there on the lake, and he says he saw Weldon running his trot line late Sunday night,” she said. 

“Oh?” I waited while Carol took a shaky breath. 

“Weldon was tossing something into the water from buckets he had on his boat.” 

The image of Weldon, bent over and laboring over his hideous task, stayed with me late into the morning. I thought about those white plastic buckets, the stink bait fermenting in his yard. I fell into anxious dreams of monsters swimming through brackish water, huge fish with streaming hair and rotting jaws stretched open in screams. 

The sun was up, high overhead when I drove back out to Weldon’s place. He was out back again, a new fish hooked up on the frame. I moved close to him, watching over his shoulder as he dumped the bloody guts into the bucket. 

“You catch that fish on a trot line?” I asked.

“Working for the game warden are ya’?” 

“Just curious. You run your lines every night?” 

Weldon set the filet knife on top of the stained plywood of his work table. The wooden handle of the knife held Weldon’s bloody fingerprints. The long, thin blade curved to a delicate point. 

“I’m on the lake whenever I get a chance,” Weldon said. 

I stepped beside Weldon to bump the bucket of offal with the toe of my shoe. 

“What’s that?” I asked as I bent, my palm down and my fingers stretched out to pluck something from the mess. 

I turned my hand over to show Weldon what I’d scooped out of the pail. A wedding ring, gold and shining despite the gore spotting it. 

Weldon stared at the ring, comprehension slowly coming across his face as he took a breath, stepped back, and snatched the knife from the table. Grunting, he slashed the blade across my midsection, leaving a trail of fire. Weldon turned, to stab the blade deep into my shoulder. I gasped, but held my ground and drew my gun across my hip. Weldon pulled the knife out and cocked his arm for another blow as my bullet tore through his chest. He looked surprised as he dropped the knife and fell to the ground, sightless eyes staring at the clouds above. 

They stitched me up in the hospital and insisted I stay a couple of nights. Even though Weldon’s knife had missed vital organs I’d lost a lot of blood before the ambulance arrived. They wrapped up the crime scene investigation without me, and I’m not sorry for that. The Rangers cleared the shooting, ruling it justified in self-defense, considering my injuries. As for Lynette, they found enough for Carol to bury, and enough evidence they could have sent Weldon away, if I hadn’t saved the state the trouble. 

Corinna brought flowers when she came to visit me in the hospital. She fussed around with the vase, arranging the petals just so before she pursed her lips and looked at me. 

“What a coincidence, her ring winding up in that fish’s belly,” she said. 

“Ah huh,” I said, “coincidence, or just what he deserved.” 

She nodded, satisfied at my answer. There’s not much a smart woman can’t figure out on her own, but I was glad Corinna left it at that. 

I’ll take the truth to my grave. I had the ring in my pocket the morning I went back to see Weldon. She’d left it on my nightstand the day of her murder.  

“I need time to sort things out, Troop. By myself. I’ll call you when it’s safe.” 

She stretched to kiss me goodbye. Her breath smelled of cinnamon and she smiled while she told me she’d leave him that day. 

“I’ve got a few things I want to pick up from the house, first, and then I’m leaving town.” 

“I’ll go with you,” I said. 

But I was glad when she said she wanted to do this alone. I had no stomach for showing up at Weldon’s doorstep, the man who’d made a cuckold of him. I told myself it’d be easier this way. He’d never really hurt her.

I don’t know if Weldon believed the fish had sucked up the ring from the bottom of the lake, or if he’d known me as her lover when he saw it gleaming in my palm. I don’t want to think about those plastic buckets, or where parts of her finally came to rest. I’d like to think of her floating out of the lake, following the path of rivers to the wide deep ocean to sleep there, undisturbed.


“Stinkbait” copyright © 2018 by Terrye Turpin. First published online at www.theweeklyknob.com.


About the Author

Terrye is a native Texan who enjoys writing stories set in her home state and other strange places. In her free time Terrye enjoys exploring antique, junk, and thrift stores for inspiration and bargains. She’s had stories published in small print and online journals, and writes short, humorous essays for her blog.

Some of her work can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B085XLZMCX


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Justin Boote

The first to hit you is the smell. Imagine a thousand cows burning to death in an enclosed barn. The rank stench of burning flesh, hair, and bone. The heat is secondary—it can be dealt with—but the smell…You vomit the first time, the second, and all the others. Nothing on Earth can help or prepare you for it. All you can do is hope and pray, so when you lie in bed at night with your wife, the smell lingers no more in your memory. Impossible, of course. It stays with you just as the sight of what caused it.

Afterwards, when your sense of smell has been virtually obliterated, it’s your vision which seems to be confused. My first time, at the tender age of twenty-three, I was presented with the colourful sight of a pair of slippers resting in front of an armchair. The problem was the feet which were still inside them, and nothing above. They might have been some bizarre ornament or drunken artist’s invention, because where the rest of the body should have been, was ash. A large pile sat like some miniature pyramid on the armchair, while other, smaller piles lay indifferently around the floor.

Jagged bone tissue, like the bones my dog, Saltan, gnaws on, protruded above the ankles. The leather on the armchair showed not a single sign of scorching. The handkerchief hanging over one side looked brand new. Beside the armchair was a small table with an empty bottle of Smirnoff and an empty coffee cup, no doubt for drinking the vodka from.

So, where was the rest of the body? No blood gave indication of foul play, no splattering on the walls or the tiled floor. Nothing except those little piles of ash and two single slipper-clad feet directly in front of the armchair.

I recall how my stomach began its rapid ascent to my throat. Before I even had time to turn, I ejected all my breakfast upon the floor and including upon my senior, Inspector Sargent Briggs, who to this day I suspect has still not forgiven me. He, of course, had seen many mutilations and terrible scenes in his time, but even so, a certain pallidity overcame his features when we entered the house.

Dismayed, we entered further into the living room, for some reason both with hands upon our gun holsters, although it was evident that no weapon was necessary in this case. Sargent Briggs picked up a prong by the fireplace and prodded one of the feet. The ankle bone disintegrated upon touch. I don’t remember my own response, but Briggs jumped back and whimpered like a scared puppy.

“Get out of here,” he said to me, although it cost him maintain composure, and to speak with any degree of clarity.

We had been called to the scene because a neighbour had seen smoke emanating from an open window in the living room, yet upon inspection of the rest of the room, there was no evidence of any fire except in front of the damned chair, not even a smoke-stained ceiling. We were both shocked and mystified. What could possibly conceive to cause such tragedy, and burn a human being to the point of ashes without destroying the rest of the house?

For the victim it had to be. No other remains were ever discovered, and the ashes were deemed to be human.

The victim was identified as Donald Flanders, a seventy-year-old widow known for his intimate relationship with hard liquor. The empty bottle of Smirnoff seemed to confirm this. On many occasions, the neighbours had been received with a severe rebuking for disturbing him at his home, and it was not uncommon to see him stagger down his path to leave his garbage, often falling in his drunken state in the process.

It was decided that the cause of death be ‘fire’, yet too many questions remained which could never be answered satisfactorily. Sargent Briggs suggested we try and forget about it. Some combination of bad luck and fate had condemned this helpless person to a terrible end. We could only pray that this was an isolated incident.

Sargent Briggs was already hearing his retirement calling to him from a close proximity, and by God did he deserve it, but even now, I still wonder if he awakens in the middle of the night, panicking as he imagines an odour of burning flesh. I know I do.

A brief series of ‘interviews’ with the police psychologist helped me overcome my initial horror and shock at my first real crime scene, and eventually I was to witness events far gorier in design and effect, but the first encounter never really left me. The smell lingered permanently, even after scrubbing myself daily with a hard brush and soap in the shower.

And then, three months later, I was called to a crime scene. This time I was alone, Sargent Briggs now enjoying his retirement, and I had been promoted to a plain-clothes officer left to my own devices, after pulling the plug on a real nasty band who plied their trade in drug selling and women trafficking. 

I remember arriving at a small house and seeing two young officers outside the premises; one bent over vomiting, and the other with a decidedly pallid aspect to him. This, of course, raises instant red flags. Policeman are trained to be prepared for the worst sights imaginable, but I can vouch that sometimes no training can prepare you for your first or last scene of extreme brutality upon another human being. When children are involved not the hardest, most stubborn man alive can avoid reacting in some way. All you can do is take a deep breath, and have your handkerchief ready for the worst. And that’s what I did.

I confronted the first officer; the one who wasn’t vomiting.

“What’s the situation?” I asked.

First, he simply pointed to the door, gesturing for me to enter.

“Come on, officer. What’s happened?”

“A burn victim. But not like one I’ve ever seen before. And we have to assume that it’s a person in there, because most of him is… umm…missing.”

By recounting to me the situation, his stomach finally lost the battle and he joined his companion in regurgitating the morning’s breakfast. Me? A memory came flooding back. It had never entirely gone, of course, but I had somehow managed to bury it behind other images which, although far bloodier and gorier, seemed to represent a more realistic image of what being a police officer was all about.

Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

The smell. That smell. Unforgiving, unmistakable. My stomach began to perform circus tricks inside, the bile rising rapidly to my throat, seeking an escape route from the madness occurring to my intestines.

“Dear God, not again,” I muttered to myself. My chest felt like a great weight was pressing down hard impeding me breathe with normality, and it was not the heat that almost blew me off my feet.

I walked into the house. The hallway led to a living room on the left. I could see the heat coming from within, as one can see it rise from the tarmac on a hot day. I feared the worst, yet was unsure of what the worst could be. I thought I had already confronted that previously. Holding my handkerchief to my nose and mouth, and suspecting the cleanliness of it may soon be violated, I headed tentatively to the living room.

What I was confronted with can only be described as the most abominable, sickening sight a human being can envisage and still have room left over for a twisted imagination.

As with the previous incident, the living room was in perfect conditions, albeit somewhat dusty and grimy, but this was to be expected from a seventy-three year old pensioner. The first thing I noticed was the almost empty bottle of Jameson on a small coffee table by the armchair, and this was something which would come back to disturb me later. The armchair was turned to face a small television, so from my position all I could see was its back. A linen cloth, white and almost immaculate, hung over the back of it. This also provoked a certain unease; a sense of what was to come.

Before heading over to the armchair, I looked around. There appeared to be no sign of fire, robbery or anything that resembled a crime scene; only the intense heat and smell signified a ‘situation’. This, of course, made it worse.

So, already guessing what I was to find, I headed over to the armchair. Taking a deep breath, and praying that that morning’s breakfast would stay in place, I peeked over the top of the armchair.

 To immediately jump back.

Two blackened, bloated hands lay on the floor.

In-between two sock-clad, slipper covered feet.

For some bizarre reason, the first thing that came to mind was those childish clock-work feet one winds up and watches as they prance around the floor. Maybe they belonged to some child’s life-sized doll—his niece’s perhaps. But I knew that I was just trying to find logic in a desperately illogical situation. As the morning’s bacon sandwich came alive again in my stomach, I remembered Sargent Briggs’ tactic. Picking up a prong sitting beside the (cold) fireplace, I prodded at one of the hands as though it were some poisonous snake that might still be alive.

The fingers separated from the hand. Five bloated worms morphed into ash, like when Dracula or one of his kind were hit by sunlight. That’s when my previously tasty bacon butty joined the party.

I knew there was nothing I could do to help, so I left and told the officers to call the coroner, but not before picking up and smelling the empty (and cold) bottle of Jameson. Something in me—that instinct that only a hardened police officer can possess—suggested a connection; empty bottle of vodka at Donald Flander’s home; empty bottle of Jameson at Kenneth Streller’s.

Even now, six months later, I still see that connection. And it scares me.

### ### ###

Two victims. Completely unrelated except in being pensioners, and apparent alcoholics. Neighbours related pretty much the same as Flanders’ did; abusive, grumpy old man prone to tasting the grass in his garden when he took out the garbage and fell over drunk. No indication of pyromania, no suspicion of foul play on behalf of neighbours or family members with perhaps an eye on the property. Another case of ‘burned to death’.

It was then I began to look into the matter closer when not investigating cases of an earthlier nature. At the time, I was heading a big operation concerning another drug smuggling ring, and my free time was short, but I started reading about fires and their composition on the Internet. Did you know it takes almost two hours to cremate a human body at roughly fifteen hundred degrees centigrade? Your average house fire burns at approximately one thousand at its peak. According to reports, the fires at both homes apparently started only twenty minutes before the fire brigade arrived. 

It was reading these statistics and other phenomena on almost a daily basis, Ballantine’s and Coke in hand, when I started to suspect other…unworldly possibilities. What others are there? How is it possibly for a human body to be almost completely cremated in twenty minutes when it takes the professionals almost two hours? And their houses should have melted to the ground.

It was with a growing unease that almost everything I had ever been taught, both at school and at police training school, I came to realize was in jeopardy. I was taught logic, science, reason. Things happen because someone or thing has caused them to happen. Deliberately or indirectly. And yet, I discovered there had been reports of unexplained human combustion for centuries. And in almost all cases, the circumstances were exactly the same as those that I had witnessed.

Except the last one. The one that saw me retire prematurely from the forces, and sees me sitting here at home, a half-empty bottle of Ballantine’s by my side, and wondering.

 I wonder a lot now.

The drug smuggling operation was drawing to an end. As were my nerves. I had to take sleeping pills, mild sedatives. Night after night, I would awake to the smell of burning. I’d dream of things scurrying across the floor as I watched television. But not spiders or bugs. Instead; feet. A hand. Charred and rotting, smoke emanating from it and filling the air with noxious human fumes. And the hand would sit up on its bloody, bony wrist and waggle one, bulbous, warped finger as though signalling me, beckoning me; its fingernail dangling, hanging on by a tiny thread of flesh. 

And then I’d feel a heat in my groin, and expand throughout the rest of my body until it reached my head and then, sweating like a pig, smoke would start billowing from every orifice, until…

Until I woke up screaming.

It was after one such nightmare that I awoke, drenched in sweat (that by now had a certain similarity to the smell I dreamed of each night), to my phone ringing. It was my boss Lieutenant Pullin. There had been an ‘incident’ that required my presence. He mentioned something about a possible fire, although the circumstances were unusual. Immediately I knew. The sweat froze to my body, goose-bumps like boulders smothered my arms and chest, and I felt like I’d been sleeping in a deep-freezer. Reluctantly, I said I was on my way.

By now, coffee did little to alleviate the pang in my chest and the throbbing in my head in the mornings, so the remains of the previous night’s binge went down the chute instead. Shave? Later. 

With a sense of utter dread, I arrived at the alleged victim’s home. Apparently smoke had been seen coming from under the front door which had provoked the phone call from the neighbour to the fire brigade, but after just a few seconds, it had stopped, so the neighbour had phoned back to say it was a false alarm. But, seeing as I lived nearby, Pullin wanted me to check it out. I had experience, he said, in such matters.

Nobody was waiting for me when I arrived at the house, so I knocked on the door. Everything seemed completely unremarkable, but, we now know, appearances can be deceiving, so after knocking on the door again, I tried the handle. It was hot. Not to the point of burning, but decidedly, unnaturally, so. Taking a deep breath, and wishing I’d brought my little flask with me for ‘awkward’ situations as I liked to call them, I pushed the door open. 

In my short time as police officer, I have seen multitude of horrors. I have seen pregnant women inject themselves with heroin, not a care or thought of the child within. I have seen human beings mauled and decapitated, a ‘sign’ from rival drug dealers. I once was witness to a child who had been savaged by a rogue Rottweiler. They confirmed his identity via his dental records. Yes, I have seen many horrors in the world, but nothing can compare to what I witnessed when I opened the front door. Not a drop of blood, or mutilated body so to speak but something which might have appeared so innocent and even natural, that any belief in God that I may have once retained, evaporated in that one split second when I approached the armchair.

Tense, a mildly trembling hand automatically hovering near my gun holster, as we are trained to do, I peered in and stated loudly my name and rank. No-one answered. I stepped into the house, and gave the living room a quick scan with roving eyes. Everything seemed fine.

 Except for the smell.

It smelled as though the owner had left a rotting carcass cooking in the oven for too long for whatever reason and had forgotten to turn off the switch. My eyes watered instantly. It reminded me slightly how when I was kid, I had discovered a decomposing rat in the basement underneath my father’s workbench. Only this time, it might have been a whole family of rats, ancestors included.

I gagged, and had to use all my willpower not to vomit on the owner’s plush carpet. Maybe the quantities of alcohol I was inducing at night were acting as a natural barrier or liquefied wall against rising bile. I liked to think so anyway, because the most natural thing for me to do would be unload there and then.

With my left hand covering my mouth and nostrils, I stepped further in. And that’s when I heard the rustling, scratching sound.

Instantly, my right hand brought out my most faithful partner—my .38. 

“Who’s there?” I asked. 

No answer.

“I am a police officer. Is there anybody home?”


Except, there was a soft humming coming from in front of the sofa, as though someone was singing to themselves. I clicked off the safety, and edged my way towards the sofa, its leather back facing me.

There was a young girl no more than four or five sat in front of the sofa drawing in something on the floor. 

My heart, which had been pumping like some demonic piston in my chest subsided slightly, only to be replaced by an uneasy twisting of my intestines, as I looked at what she was doing.

I first assumed she was drawing on a piece of paper, hence the scratching sound, but when I approached her, there was no paper on the floor with her. She was making shapes with her finger in some kind of dust pile.

She looked up at me and smiled. My heart dropped. My Adam’s apple was bobbing up and down like a yo-yo, as I tried to fully comprehend what I was seeing.

“Hello,” she said. “My daddy’s not here, and I’m hungry,” as if this explained in one simple, yet terribly tragic sentence every answer to the questions my brain was desperately trying to decipher, and find a logic where there could be none. I tried to force a smile and failed dismally. I knew, see. That smell which the girl was evidently oblivious to, holds no secrets to me now.

I stepped on traitorous legs into full sight of what she was playing with. Smallish piles of dust congregated around her, now given the appearance of snaky tracks where a lizard or snake runs under sand in the desert. And then I saw what my heart and eyes prayed not to have to deal with. A single cream-coloured shoe sat by the side of the sofa; the white, melted bone still protruding.

 The girl was playing, unknowingly, in her father’s ashes.

How could such a cruel abomination of fate occur? The same thing which had happened to the previous two victims I had witnessed, had evidently occurred once again. And yet this was far, far worse than all others combined. The young girl waiting for her father to come home, and yet ignorantly and naively playing in his very remains. How could I possibly tell her that Daddy wouldn’t be coming home, and even worse, she could see for herself why?

A combination of fury and great sadness overcame me as I stood there, helpless, unknowing how to proceed. My years of training did not offer any clue as to correct procedure in such matters, and I regret I took the coward’s approach. I staggered out the door and called my boss Pallin. Let him deal with the social services, and the locating of the rest of the girl’s family.

I don’t know what I said on the police radio, but when reinforcements arrived, I suspect they thought I had been shot or something, because they jumped out the police van, guns poised. All I could do was point to the house, and repeat over and over; “the girl, the girl”. Again, they must have thought the girl was seriously injured or dying, because they burst into the house, shouting for any intruder to present himself, but very shortly afterwards, a terrible silence broke the confusion, followed by sounds reminiscent of regurgitation.

The young girl continued humming.

And I still hear it now.

Several weeks later, I received a call from Pullin, asking about my condition. I told him I was doing better. The indefinite time off work, combined with the psychiatrist and the pills I was taking were slowly working, I lied. I was finally able to sleep a few hours at night, I lied. He told me to take my time, there was no rush, but he thought I might like to know that the girl was taken in by her mother—the parents were divorced—and it was recommended that she never learn of the reasons behind her father’s demise. I agreed, and hung up.

Two months after, I handed in my badge and weapon. Pullins suggested a stay at Northgate Hospital for the Mentally Impaired for a period of time. Evidently, he didn’t like what he was seeing when I presented myself at the station. I told him I would think about it, knowing that it would never happen.

All I can do now is sit here drunk in my armchair, bottle of Ballantine’s by my side, and wonder. I wonder a lot. I wonder if what I witnessed could in some, malevolent way be contagious. The empty bottle of alcohol, the armchair, the nightmares, living alone as a recluse almost. I wonder about a certain smell that invades my senses occasionally. I swear that sometimes I see wisps of smoke rising from my body, a deep heat smothering me, and I hope and pray for a swift end should I succumb to the terrible phenomenon known as spontaneous human combustion.

About the Author

Justin Boote is a 47-year-old Englishman living in Barcelona, author of dark and horror fiction. Having spent 5 years writing short stories, he now dedicates his time to writing novels. His first 5-book series, The Undead Possession Series, is already available on Amazon, with a standalone serial killer novel to come afterward followed by another short series.

To find out more visit his website at justinboote.com and receive a free, short story for signing up!