Become a Book Nerd
When you’re not reading books, read our newsletter.
A scream echoes from outside. One by one, the houses on my street go dark. My house is next and I’m not surprised. Not after what we did.
In our defense it had to stop. What amounted to half a classroom at the local Elementary for our small town had gone missing over the last six months. No one was any the wiser as to where the kids had gone to, or what had happened to them.
It was the topic of discussion as I laid in bed with Marley a week ago, taking the opportunity to smoke after our vigorous fucking. I was never allowed to smoke in the house when Sasha was home, but she had taken the kids to her sister’s—a stop gap measure since the police were just as clueless as everyone in the neighborhood was.
“Harwell?” Marley asks as I look over at the beautiful not-quite-thirty year old lying in my wife’s place and smile as I hand her the slightly wet nub of a cigarette that was left. She makes a face but takes it and inhales greedily. “Do you think someone in Garden Grove is doing this?”
“Has to be,” I murmur. The ticking of the damned analogue clock that Sasha insisted on having in the room was the metronome to my racing thoughts. We’re a gated community—we have guards and a paid security force, as well as the neighborhood watch that I run. How the hell no one could find the now four missing children blew my mind.
Marley exhales the last drag left in the cigarette and hands me the butt to ash in the dregs of my eighth beer of the night. It hisses as the cherry hits the liquid, a signal that the night is over and it’s time for Marley to go home.
She rises, her tits defying gravity in contrast to my wife’s limp and lifeless set, and dresses slowly. Marely hates my rule about not staying the night. I keep telling her as a veteran of extra-marital affairs: staying over is never a good idea.
“I’ll walk you home,” I tell her, groaning like the old man that I am. My hips scream at me for pounding someone other than my wife. I pull on my boxers that were shoved in a lump at the end of the bed and get a load of Marley’s t-shirt, something I hadn’t been paying attention to when she’d arrived after another fight with her wife, Inez.
“’Homosexuals are Gay’,” I read aloud and chuckle. “Well this may be true, but for a lesbian you sure work a pole like a pro.”
“You’re a fluke, nothing more,” she says dismissively.
A fluke that’s been happening at least twice a month for the past year.
I just grin and pull on my slacks hoping that the crease Sasha ironed in wasn’t ruined. She’d kill me if she had to fix another pair of my pants. If there’s anything my wife hates, it’s laundry day.
We both stand in unison and look at each other. The urge to bury myself in her again is strong, and her eyes are hooded as she looks me over. Why? I’m not sure. I’m in my fifties, fat and hairy. I’m graying but nowhere near what you would call a silver fox. I think I’m just a way to get back at Inez, which is fine—she’s just a way for me to sate my sexual urges.
If it weren’t Marley, it’d be some stranger from a dating site, and those were a crap shoot. However, I knew the moment I met young Marley at the first neighborhood watch meeting when my family moved to Garden Grove that I wanted her snatch more than anything.
“You sure I can’t stay?” She pouts.
“I’m sure.” I say and slide on my bright white tennis shoes. ‘Dad’ shoes my teenager calls them.
Much like my teen daughter, Marley folds her arms and walks from the room giving me the silent treatment.
Another thing I’ve learned from having outside relationships for so long? Never let them leave angry. It’s a recipe for disaster.
I pad down the hall after her, calling out for Marley to look at me. She finally does at the top of the stairs, her overpriced manicure grips the railing.
“Let me take you somewhere before I get you home.”
“You’re not worried someone will see us?”
“Nah,” I grin. “We can always say we’re patrolling.”
Though still trying to remain bitter, I know the redhead is curious about where I would take her on foot at this hour. Her head cocks to the side flinging her shorter strands of hair into her face and over brilliant blue eyes.
“C’mon,” I put my hand over the one she has on the banister. “It won’t take long, I swear—little bit of memory lane.”
“Fine,” Marley murmurs and pulls her hand away to make her way down the carpeted steps.
I can’t believe she hasn’t already figured out where we’re going. We never go out together—the most people see us with one another is at watch meetings or patrolling. I roll my eyes to the heavens praying that I’ll be out of the doghouse soon and follow behind. The stairs that were noticeably silent for her decent scream at mine.
The balmy summer night greets us and my fat ass is immediately starting to sweat. I turn on my flashlight I’d grabbed from its spot in the foyer and let the blinding LED bulb do its thing. I hold out my arm for Marley to take and once her tiny limb is wrapped around my meatier one we’re off down the walk in the direction to the park and the public restroom where we first fucked.
“Do you think we’ll ever find them?” Marley questions out of nowhere.
“Maybe…at this rate? Probably not. The Mahan boy’s been gone six months now. If we do find him, it won’t be alive.” I shudder at the thought of my own children going missing. I can’t understand the heartbreak that the parents of those missing must be feeling.
I do understand their anger, though. I’ve been getting it in my mailbox nearing every day for the past four months. If it wasn’t one family telling me how my fat ass failed them it was another. Sundays were quickly becoming my favorite day. There isn’t any mail on Sunday.
They’re right to be angry. Unlike the security guards, we in the watch know the neighborhood and the families here personally. We’re more likely to know where the kid’s favorite places to go are. We’re friends, neighbors…not authority.
Marley and I were most of the way to the park. All that was left was to cross the canal that ran through the subdivision and in a few minutes we would hopefully be having make-up sex in the men’s room.
“I just hope we find Lexi Lieberman befor–”
The ear piercing shriek Marley lets out makes my ears ring. She was leaning into me as she spoke and was so close that I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d actually done damage.
She’s pointing hysterically over the side of the bridge, and I don’t want to look, because as soon as I hear ‘it’s her’, I know she’s talking about the Lieberman girl.
I’ll stick to death threats instead of having to see whatever’s in the water, thank you.
Marley doesn’t give me the choice, though, and swings my frozen body to the right, the LED pointing straight at her.
Little Lexi Lieberman floating face down in the tepid canal water, naked as the day she was born save for the ruffled socks on her feet and a plastic bag tied around her head.
I hurled. My three helpings at the Golden Corral covered my polo as the surf and terf battled to see which would escape my body first.
Things happened quickly after that. The next day they drained the canal and found the three boys all weighted down. They were stuck against the grate that ran along the bottom of the canal’s bridge.
Poor Emilio Mahan had been feasted on by the canal’s fish that were put there by the city. Had they not, he would have been found with a face. Instead his parents would have to identify their son by dental records.
He was eight.
Benny Hexner and Simeon Lwell weren’t in much better condition.
The only one who came out somewhat pristine was Lexi Lieberman. A blessing for her family in the smallest of ways. For the next two days after she was found all I could think of was the ribbon her father painstakingly made perfect the last day he sent her out the door to school. It was limp and misshapen, mirroring the girl wearing it.
I was still thinking about it three days after the bodies were found, at the watch meeting. Sasha was back and none the wiser about Marley and I, as she happily serves drinks and pretzels to the others. Marley is huddled under Inez’s arm her eyes red and puffy from crying.
Annamaria and Dakota Masters were on the opposite side of the couch from Marley leaning on one another asking Sasha about the kids and if they were safe.
Wyatt Paine, a local officer and his wife Gina were equally as quiet as Gina clutched a peculiar old book to her chest, a neon post-it note sticking out about half-way through the tomb. Her mousy brown hair was limp and in her face as she stared at our new carpeting, refusing to interact as she usually did.
Once Sasha came to sit on the arm of my recliner, like I’d told her not to do a thousand times, the meeting begins. No one touches my wife’s hard work as we all try to figure out how to start. What was there to say? We’d failed those kids, and what’s worse? The police were no closer to catching the perverted asshole that killed them.
“Well,” I cough and clear my throat, “I for one think that we need to double our efforts. This bastard has to be waiting somewhere when he’s looking for a new victim and we’ll catch him that way.”
“Harwell, we’re not the police, honey—we’re supposed to report on what we see, not go looking.”
“Tell that to the families shoving death threats in our mailbox.”
Sasha puts a hand on my shoulder and rubs it. I shirk away, not in the mood to be comforted in the slightest. Not by her.
“I just keep seeing her,” Marley whispers, actually letting her partner try and maker her feel better. “We’re being punished–” she says looking right at me.
I glare at her. Now’s not the time for a breakdown, and I’m about to tell her that when Gina’s voice pipes up through the quiet chatter.
“I know what we can do.” The woman’s round face shows her hesitation to speak, and she clutches the book tighter to her. “I know how we can stop this.”
Wyatt looks at his wife and rolls his eyes like he knows whatever is going to come from her lips next would be a waste of everyone’s time.
“Share away, Gina,” I sigh ignoring the questioning look my wife has been giving me since I denied her touch.
The next words out of her mouth left a static in the air—like just speaking of summoning a vengeance demon had power in it of itself. Gina was serious, too, going as far as to kneel on the carpet and put her large book on my coffee table to show us what she’d found.
It could all be done with some household items. Gina talks faster and with more passion as time goes on, her meaty fingers scramble to turn the thin pages of her book without tearing the tissue like paper.
The only sound other than Gina’s prattling about how to summon a vengeance demon was the soft breathing of the others in the room.
“We can’t say we’ve done everything to avenge those children and save more if we don’t do this,” Gina finishes. She licks her lips to bring some life back to them.
After a long beat of silence, Annamaria speaks slowly: “Gina—are you truly suggesting that we try and summon a demon? I go to church, I believe in God, how can you expect me to–”
“Because I expect you as a mother would want to keep other mothers from feeling the loss of a child. Because if what your faith tells you is true, you have time to repent, and get right with your God before you die.” Annamaria looks away, biting her thin lower lip.
“We’re supposed to help protect people,” Gina continues. “I’m too scared to do this on my own, or else I wouldn’t be asking.” Her head whips to me, her hazel eyes water as she silently pleads for my endorsement.
“Harwell—you saw Lexi, tell me you don’t wan the monster that defiled that little girl to get what’s coming to him, We have to do something.”
Her last sentence hangs heavy in the air. I shut my eyes and sigh. What could it hurt? Gina was right about one thing—if we didn’t do everything we could to stop whoever was hurting Garden Grove’s children, more would go missing.
“If you don’t want a part in this, leave now.” I say and sit forward to take a look at the book in front of Gina. “But before you do, I want you to really think about what you’re saying about yourself if you leave.”
Annamaria gets up immediately, quietly mumbles an apology for both her and Dakota, but when he doesn’t get up to leave and just shakes his head at her, the white haired woman exits on her own.
Malrey and Inez are having a near silent discussion. The two of them are nose to nose, Inez’s body language reeks of annoyance. The cords in her neck are sticking out as Marley weeps and shakes her head.
“I’m sorry,” the redhead croaks and pulls herself from Inez, but her apology is pointed at me. “This is too much—I can’t—I–”
I wave her off dismissively. I can always find another lay. Maybe not one as spry and eager as Marley, but one that will do for a while.
I look to Inez and Dakota, who despite their willingness to stay, seem less than comfortable with the idea. Dakota’s right eye is twitching and Inez is wringing her hands while we all listen to Marley exit.
Summoning a demon is simple if you have the right guide. Salt, a few herbs, some cow’s blood from the butcher, a bowl and some chalk later and you have the makings for a ritual.
Sasha wasn’t happy we had to draw on our hardwood floors, but other than that we all worked together as a well-oiled machine to bring Asmodeus, as I learned his name was, into this plane of existence.
Sasha, Dakota, Inez, Wyatt and I all took place kneeling at one of the points of the intricate symbol that Gina had drawn , our concoction in dead center. I wondered if I could bargain with the demon for new knees, because mine were blown out and aching as soon as I put my weight on them to kneel.
There were some phrases we had to learn, praise to be given to Asmodeus and each of us had to ask for the same thing, if the book Gina had in front of her was to be believed. Upon the start of the ritual, the charge in the air grew and I could feel the thick hair on my arms standing on end. There was something going on—and the shared glances between the others in the circle told me they could feel it, too.
But then there was nothing. No three headed beast appeared in my kitchen asking us for our eternal souls. Nothing. Once we all spoke of what we wanted, namely: ‘the end of the person killing the neighborhood children’, just…nothing.
It was rather anticlimactic and I was a bit pissy about it because I would not hear the end of the chalk on the floor. Sasha looks at me, her wrinkle ringed eyes narrowed at me as she got up to get items to clean the floor. Like it was my idea in the first place.
Gina’s mouth is practically an upside-down ‘u’ as she quietly shuts her book and leans against our kitchen island. A long low creak comes from the aging island and Sasha, ever protective of her kitchen asks Gina to leave in a harsher tone than necessary.
Wyatt gets up, dusts off his jeans and reaches for his wife’s arm. I try to offer the woman a reassuring smile. It’s not her fault it didn’t work. Shit like that doesn’t happen in real life, and I knew that….but for a little while there I’d hoped…
My ‘entertaining satanists in our home’ was a fight between Sasha and I after everyone had left with nothing to show for our efforts. She bitched and nagged as she scrubbed at the floor. All I could see was how her breasts sagged in the direction of the floor, swaying like pendulums while she tried to erase the memory of what just happened.
“Can you shut the fuck up, please, Sasha,” I say and rub my temples as I pace along the far side of our dining table. The sound of scrubbing stops and I catch her slack jawed as she stares from the floor. “I’m trying to think—our hail Mary pass just fucking failed and now there’s no end in sight to this–”
“Maybe,” her shrill tone cuts me off and hurts my ears all in one go. “If you didn’t spend half your time patrolling fucking Marley, then maybe you would have seen something, Harwell.”
My sneakers squeak on the floor as I come to a dead stop. My gut hits one of the chairs and knocks it from its perfect positioning from the force of my turn.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Sasha.” It was hard to get that sentence out. My mouth had gone dry as soon as Marley’s name came out of Sasha. How did she know? I’d done everything right—I’d made sure we were both careful.
“Then why do you look like you’re about to have a heart attack, Harwell?” She drops the rag she was holding and gets up with moderate effort, and squares her shoulders—her eyes dry as a bone.
That’s a bad sign. A very bad sign.
If she was crying, I knew I could fix things. I could promise to never do it again. I’d quit the watch and keep my distance. I would stomach fucking my sagging wife to get us back on the right track if I had to…but she didn’t look anywhere near tears.
“Sash, look—I promise you Marley is just a–”
“Stop,” Sasha raises her hands. “Anything you say will just dig you deeper, Harwell. I’m a patient woman. When you stopped touching me, I took it in stride. When you started fucking Marley a year ago, I let it continue because it made things easier—you were more affectionate to me.
“But that’s stopped. The kids will be gone in a few years, and I’m done with having to take care of a man that doesn’t love or appreciate me. Going to Judy’s made me realize I’m worth more than that.”
Of course Judy is to blame. The woman never liked me. Not in the twenty plus years Sasha and I had been married has she ever had a kind word for me. She’s been trying to break us up the entire time.
“I bet Judy’s proud.”
“You are to blame for this, Harwell,” Sasha’s voice and chins sway with the force of her anger. “You cheated. You made your bed and you’re damn well going to lie in it soon enough.”
His name was Jeffry Hogle. The son of a bitch who coached my son’s little league team was the culprit. No one would have know had Mr. Kern not been up at his usual ungodly hour to walk his dog and hear the screams coming from inside the black house.
The street not an hour later is packed with police, security and homeowneers alike that had been woken up by flashing lights. All of us from the neighborhood watch are gathered as close to the police tape as we can get. Even from the two house birth, as soon as the lights are turned on inside we can all see the blood splatter on the front windows. It raises more questions before anything is answered.
I am situated between Sasha and Marley—always an uncomfortable place to be but even more so now that I wasn’t sure if my normally placid wife was going to confront the woman given an opening to do so.
The only one of us allowed beyond the tape is Wyatt—and though he is still in a robe and slippers, he manages to skirt his bosses and step into the house and out of the early morning chill. It is maybe fifty six degrees tops, but none of us are making a move to leave.
Wyatt comes out bug eyed a few minutes later and walks our direction doing his best impersonation of an old Romero zombie. His demeanor and watching the body bag get turned away at the door of Hogle’s home tells me that the ritual had worked.
There might not have been a big song and dance about it, but Asmodeus had heard our plea for revenge and answered.
“There was just human frappe in here,” he says mystified. “There’s—there’s no body to bag. He’s just…everywhere. The walls—the ceiling…”
Seeing a grown man having a breakdown in the middle of the street while he’s in his pajamas is a humbling experience. The man before me grips my arms, his eyes so wide I can see white all around his irises.
“Harwell, what did we do?”
“What we had to, Wyatt,” I grit back under my breath as his coworkers look at him with worry. “Get a grip on yourself. C’mon.” I yank the yellow plastic tape up and pull the younger man to our side. I lead him back to my house with the rest of the watch on my heels. Maybe its because I move with purpose, but that’s only because I want to be far away from the Hogle household.
Everyone gathers in my living room as per usual and it seems while my back was turned the fear has spread from Wyatt to the others.
“Tea. I’ll make tea,” Sasha says in an overly chipper tone and heads into the kitchen leaving me to deal with six terrified adults on my own.
“What did you do?” Annamaria is the first to speak, her voice shaking as she looks around the room, her eyes landing on Dakota. “You told me it didn’t work.”
“It didn’t,” he exclaims, holding his hands up defensively. “We-we did the thing, and then nothing happened, so we all left!”
“Well something turned hoggle into a smoothie,” Wyatt says slowly. “Never seen a human that could do that. Not with the time it would’ve taken. We got extra patrols all over this place, no way it was human.”
“But this is it, right?” Inez asks. “It’s over?”
We all look to Gina who has a reassuring smile pushing up her chubby cheeks. She smooths her husband’s hair and kisses his bicep.
“It should be.”
‘Should be’? Fucking ‘should be’?
“You mean you don’t know?” I speak from behind gritted teeth.
“From what I read, Harwell, we did everything right. I wouldn’t worry about it,” she says and straightens herself, brushing her pajama top over her round belly.
The group explodes into chatter. Terrified faces whip from couple to couple as everyone tries to speak at the same time. It turns into a white noise for me as I sway slightly in my spot near my recliner, my hands slowly clenching into fists.
“You fucking cow—how can you drag us into something like that without all the information?” I shout over the din and everyone’s mouths snap shut as Gina’s face goes red. She stares me down, her narrowed eyes mirroring mine.
“Did your lard ass have any solutions? No, and I didn’t put a gun to anyone’s head. Everyone that participated wanted that fucker dead just as much as I did—so don’t you dare try to berate me, Harwell.”
“Everyone out,” I say deathly quiet, not caring that Sasha has just walked in with a tray set up for tea. The others just stand there, stunned to immobility. “All of you go home, stay inside, and for the love of God, if anything weird happens, let me know.”
Its nine o’clock on the dot when I get a text from Dakota saying he feels that static from the summoning. It comes with a picture of his forearm riddled with goosebumps, his lighter body hair sticking straight out from his skin.
I’d been drinking beers in the bedroom all day since the rest of the neighborhood watch had gone home. Aside from my usually chipper wife who seemed to know exactly when I needed a fresh beer and came upstairs to hand me a cold can, I was left alone.
There was a scream that forced its way through the bay window of my bedroom from the street. Whoever the sound came from would put any ‘scream queen’ from the 80’s to shame. It gave me a chill, and jolted my eyes open.
Getting up from the dip I was sure I left in my side of the mattress, I stumble my way to the window to get a look at the state of Maple Street. It’s the weekend and the houses are all lit casting yellowed glows into their front yards.
I crane my neck to the right and see nothing, but when I turn left I see Annamaria three houses down out on the street staring at her and Dakota’s home. There’s not glow on the grass which is keeping me from reading more than a glint in Annamaria’s eyes. She backs up father into the road to the far side of the street, her bare feet dragging on the asphalt.
A cold sweat breaks out on my body as I watch Annamaria, now under a street light, stare in abject horror at her home. If Hogle was anything to go by, there was a high chance the blended remains of Dakota were dripping down the walls, right now.
I didn’t want that end. I was a few years from getting my life back. I might be an adulterer, and yeah, that’s a sin, but other than that I do my Christian duties to the letter and I volunteer to keep my community safe. That’s why I went out on a limb and agreed to Gina’s bright idea in the first place. I wanted the children of Garden Grove safe.
My heart raced. The beating pounds in my ears as I see the house two doors down go dark. Gina and Wyatt’s place. No sound came through the glass my nose was now pressed against as I waited. For what? I don’t know. Some signs that I was wrong—that I’d just had too many beers and was having some sort of drunken nightmare.
But there was nothing. And there would be nothing. Both of them had participated in the ritual, and if Annamaria being in one piece was anything to go by, Marley would be fine, but–
My phone goes off. A call. I shamble over to the bed and see Marley’s name. My thick thumb hits the green dot on the screen.
“Harwell? It’s happening, isn’t it?” Her voice quivers and I can hear what sounds like the ‘Our Father’ in the background in Inez’s alluring accent.
“What are you doing calling me, Marley! Get out before it gets you,” I snap into the tiny microphone.
“That feeling’s back,” she breathes.
“Get out of the house,” I tell her again and wheel back to the window. Well, I try. I lose my balance and fall to the floor with a thunderous whack. I cry out in pain as it flares in my right shoulder. It’s white hot, and stings.
“It won’t hurt for long,” I hear Sasha’s voice from the doorway. It’s soothing and gentle. It’s a stark contrast to the two sets of screams that start coming from my phone.
My hands dig into the thick pile of the carpeting as I push myself up to my knees and grab onto the bay window’s seat. The screaming is just one woman, now. Inez if I’m not mistaken. My head drops to the padding of the window seat and I let out a cry of my own.
“Harwell, it’s okay,” Sasha says.
“Bitch, what about any of this is okay?” I shout, my face getting hot from how angry I am that she seem unbothered that we’re about to die.
I feel the air change as if on cue, and I know we don’t have much time left. The moan that rips through my chest betrays my usual air of being calm and collected.
I hear a giggle from behind me.
“Oh Harwell, try to go out with some dignity.” The bed creaks and I jump turning to see Sasha sitting on my side of the bed just a few feet from me, a cruel smile on her face.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?
“I think the better thing to focus on, would be ‘what the fuck is wrong with you’, Harwell.” She looks down at me, pity rolling off of her in waves. “If you hadn’t cheated…things would have turned out differently.”
The mechanical tick of that stupid clock is the only sound in the room as I stare up at Sasha. I have known my wife to be many things, but vengeful was never one of them. But there she sits admitting to having a hand in the night’s horror with an impish smile.
“I’m just glad Gina didn’t ask any questions when I asked to borrow that book yesterday.”
The static nature of the air gets worse. My body sags making me struggle to stay upright. Sasha moves with unusual grace back to the door, patting my balding head on the way past.
“See you in hell, Harwell.”