Ancestry

cnn.com

WOMAN, 32 CHARGED WITH MURDER

As details of a grisly murder surface, questions arise

by David Rath

Alerted to the possibility of foul play, investigators were called to the home of Maria Rathbone, 32, of Howard’s Falls, Idaho on Wednesday. After speaking with the homeowner, one of the officers asked to see the inside of the home, alerted to something amiss by what he described as a ‘suspicious odor’. Ms. Rathbone was compliant, and led the officers on a tour of the home, culminating in a small den, the scene of which investigators said reminded them of a butcher shop.

Ms. Rathbone had murdered her father, Elias Rathbone, 72, and was attempting to connect his organs to the internal components of her desktop computer. Ms. Rathbone has not been forthcoming about her reasoning behind the murder, and investigators are currently awaiting the results of a psychological evaluation.

Sherriff Stephen Clarke of Howard County was unavailable for comment.

 

The Ones We Left Behind (excerpt)

by Amy Wong

Simon & Schuster

…and in the context of family, it’s the weight of a thousand years that drags us down. Our grandparents, and their grandparents, and their grandparents’ grandparents all lead to an unbroken genetic chain that informs everything from our eye color to the things we fear. Can we look back on that chain, at the sacrifices and mistakes and lost loves and wonder what if? Can we truly say we are doing them proud, or that we have our own future generations’ lives and livelihoods at heart? What happens when we forget those things that build our heritage? Who lives for the ones who died? Who loves those? Is it all worth it, or would they find disappointment in their modern descendents? Is there any one thing we can do to bring them joy? Or are we only serving the memory of a life that simply doesn’t exist, a light that winks out when the void closes in, clinging to religion and belief and tradition like lichen to a stone? No one really knows, but I like to think there’s something there. Even if it’s only in our hearts and minds. My grandmother used to say There is only one life, but it goes on forever. In that, maybe we have all the answers we need.

 

honeydo.org

Seeking Mr. Wrong

Oh, SamMy, I KNOw you see me. PLEasE Call.

 

Sun-Valley Tribune  

Obituaries, May 9

Vera Sawyer, age 63, passed away today at Carrol Family Care. She was preceded in death by her husband, John Sawyer and her parents, Claude and Juliet Hopper (Baumann). Vera leaves behind a son, Samuel, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. The family has asked in lieu of flowers, a donation be made in her name to the Voight-Kampf Memorial Fund.

 

wechat.com

flowergurl has entered the room

dingdong97: Hey!

humpa: Hey!

samman: hey

[samman to you]: hey, you like flowers? what kind?

[flowergurl to samman]: Gardenias, lilacs.

[samman to you]: you like Georgia O’ Keeffe?

[flowergurl to samman]: Who?

[samman to you]: the vagina lady

[flowergurl to samman]: Shame on you, Sam! You were raised better!

flowergurl has disconnected

 

theguardian.co.uk

WORLDWIDE OUTAGE AFFECTS 75% OF USERS

Internet row could cost well into the trillions

by James Canon

On Tuesday, a massive outage affecting nearly the world’s entire Internet user base was attributed to solar flares. Experts in IT, commerce, and infrastructure are still reeling from the shutdown that affected commerce, transportation, and medical care.

Perhaps more interesting are reports that alongside the outage, many users experienced visual or auditory errors upon logging on, including the voices of people they knew, or files on their desktops they couldn’t remember saving.

When asked about the situation, one MP referenced the harsh new conditions the Tories wish to place on Internet in the UK.

 

abovetopsecret.com

[Mr. Higgles] Theory: The government not only knows about magic, but is keeping it secret. In 1997, they started building the largest database of death certificates in the world. You know who else manipulated the dead? Necromancers. I’m telling you man, they plan on using our dead relatives in a future conflict, most likely against their own people. Sure, a well-armed populace can stand up to their government, but how the hell do you fight ghosts?

Before you poo-poo me, take a look – there’s an entire database online. It’s like they’re not even trying to hide it. And they sort them all by Social Security Number. I keep telling you guys – pay to get that shit erased. Otherwise, you’ll be serving well into the next seven lifetimes.

[HubbleEyes] Have you filed an FOIA request?

[JFKWASNOTALONE] How do we know you’re not a Russian plant, man? Who says ‘poo-poo’? A quick Google search tells me that phrase isn’t US-based.

[MKULTRAHIGH] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necromancy

 

twitter.com

VERA SPEAKS @veraspeaks

Hello? Hello?

VERA SPEAKS @veraspeaks

Sammy? It’s dark in here.

VERA SPEAKS @veraspeaks

Sammy

 

cnn.com

COPYCAT MURDER BRINGS QUESTIONS

The second murder in a week, this one raises more questions

by David Rath

Alerted to the possibility of foul play, investigators were called to the home of Samuel Sawyer, 40, of White Plains, New York on Wednesday. A call was placed by neighbors who reported screams coming from the home of the White Plains lawyer.

Mr. Sawyer had murdered his wife, Celia Sawyer, 38, and in a scene similar to the previously reported murder was attempting to connect her organs to the internal components of his desktop computer. When questioned on the scene, Mr. Sawyer claimed his mother was ‘so, so lonely’.

Vera Sawyer passed away last month.

Lawyers for Mr. Sawyer declined to comment further on the case.

 

twitter.com

Celia @samwife

Sammy?

 

 

The Things We Leave Behind

“Do you think he was a narcissist?”  Katie asked.

She was wearing shorts rolled up at the thighs and thongs, and a y-back shirt with a sweat stain up the lower back.  Her long dark hair was pulled back in a pony, and she was leaning a large mirror with a gilded frame against the wall, and frowning down at her reflection.  She had spent the morning helping me wrap and cover and move my dead father’s more valuable belongings in bubble wrap and bed sheets.

I glanced over at her reflection and shook my head.

“Never struck me that way.  He was a lot of things, but never really vain.”

She tossed a sheet over the mirror, and I watched it billow out and float down, the fabric softening the sharp edges.  She shrugged.

“Odd thing for that man to own.  Fancy.”

I knew what she meant.  My father was not an ostentatious man.  I nodded absently, and went back to taping boxes shut.

*

We had lunch with the door open, letting a meager breeze play down the hall and through the rooms.  I chewed my sandwich, and watched the whisper of air move loose strands of her hair.  They lifted and waved, and settled, and in between bites, she would absently smooth them down.

I looked at her, and thought of my father’s relationships.  He was terse, and cold.  Sometimes, he would drink, and it would bring him to the edge of violence, but he never raised a hand, at least to the women that shared his bed.  I remembered the way he shuttered physical pain the same way he shuttered emotions.

He had a way of subsuming people to his will.  Sometimes he bullied, sometimes he cajoled, and sometimes he just broke them.  In the end, they did what he wanted.  He could be brutal.  I remembered scars and bruises brought on by hard, calloused hands.

He was deeply flawed, and yet, somewhere in there, there must’ve been more to the man, because there had still been women, and a family.  I’d loved my father, maybe in the way that a hostage loves his captors – a Patty Hearst sort of reaction to trauma; Stockholm of the heart – but I hoped to God I didn’t share any of his traits.

In the middle of those thoughts, Katie caught me looking at her, and winked.  I grinned back.  Then, we were finished with lunch, and we got to our feet with aching backs and aching knees, and went back to work.

In the hall, the sheet had fallen from the mirror, and as I went to cover it, I thought I saw, for just a moment, a dark smudge in the bottom corner, like a stain on the glass, or the reflection of someone in the room behind me.  I shrugged it off, and dropped the sheet back over it.  I wondered how my dad would feel about that stain, knowing how he’d taken meticulous care of the things he’d owned.

Katie cursed from the other room, drawing me from my thoughts for the second time that day, and I went to see what the matter was.  She was standing in the den, a puddle of glass and water at her feet.  Small flecks of white drifted in the puddle, and led to a broken globe with a wooden pedestal.  The plastic skyline of Chicago stood out from the dome, and water seeped into the soles of Katie’s thongs.

She was looking down at the broken snow globe with a look of annoyance.  She looked up when I entered the room, and her face shifted to one of apology.  She gestured to the mess on the floor.

“Sorry.  I was trying to wrap it, and it just kind of jumped out of my hands.  Must’ve still had mayo on my fingers.”

I shook my head.  “No big deal.  Dad had about a thousand of these things.  They’re worth about five bucks apiece, and he never really made a big deal out of them.”

I left the room, and grabbed a towel and the broom.  When I returned, Katie thanked me, and I watched her as she soaked up the water and shuffled the broken pieces into the dustpan, then the trash.  I watched as she hunched over, the play of muscles in her shoulders, the way the hair clung to her neck.  When she stood, I flushed a little, hoping she hadn’t caught me looking.

“Thanks,”  I said.  She smiled again.

I turned to go, back to the living room to finish boxing the last of the paintings.  I paused in the hall.  The sheet was off the mirror again.  I picked it up from the floor, and lifted it to cover the mirror, looking around for some tape to fix it in place.  In the mirror, that stain had grown larger; was the shape of a man in a dark brown suit.

He was indistinct, still too far away to see fine details, but I could see him.  He was wearing a homburg, and his face was a smudged fleshy blur with two dark pinpoints for eyes.  His mouth opened, a dark slash in the pink flesh.  I heard his voice in my head.

Disappointing.  You can’t let these bitches rule you.  You can’t let them break your possessions.  It starts there, you know.  They break your things, and then they break your will.  They think because of the pink slash betwee-

            I didn’t let him finish.  I threw the sheet over the mirror, and found a roll of tape.  I taped the fabric down, my hands shaking, and then slumped against the opposite wall and closed my eyes.  After a few minutes, I felt the air change, and smelled sweat and something sweet.  I looked up.

Katie was standing over me, a smirk on her lips.

“Getting a nap in?”

“Sorry -”  I cleared my throat.  “Sorry, I was just – headache.”

Concern crossed her face and creased her brow.  “You okay?”

I smiled.  “Yeah.  Fine.”

She turned to go, and caught sight of the mirror, wrapped in tape and sheet.  She looked down at it, hands on her hips, then back at me.

“Well.  Afraid of it getting away?  Here, it’s on there all cockeyed.  Let me help.”

She started to unwrap it, and I watched, unease growing in my belly.  I couldn’t tell her to stop.  She’d think me insane.  Maybe I was.  It’s not every day that your dead father comes to life in a mirror.  She finished, and pulled the sheet free to resituate it.

He was closer, and I could see the disapproving expression on his face, and the ring on his hand that he was using to gesture with while he spoke.

See?  She’s doing it.  You might as well be neutered now.  Maybe next time she’ll change your diapers, wipe your ass.

The sheet settled back over him, and Katie never batted an eye.  She didn’t see him, then.  Didn’t hear his invective.  For a moment, I wondered what I had happened to cause this.  Had I breathed in too many fumes from the cleaning chemicals?  Had I smacked my head?  Heat stroke?  Whatever it was, it wasn’t going away soon.  I’d have to learn to cope.

Katie finished taping the sheet off, and turned back to me, a smile on her face.

“There, all set!”  She looked down at her watch.

My father must’ve been closer, because I could hear him through the sheet now, though a bit muffled.

Checking the time.  Checking ’til when she can leave you and clean you out.  There’s a solution, you know.  You can stop this.  End it.

            The impression of a knife, long and sharp and silver, flashed through my mind.  I pushed it away with a mental effort.

Katie looked up.  “Head feeling okay?”

I nodded.  She leaned in and planted a kiss on my forehead.  “I have to run.  Yoga at four.  See you tomorrow?”

I nodded and kissed her back.  She was soft and warm and tasted of sweat and honey.  Then she left, and I was alone in the hall, an afternoon breeze pushing dust across the floor, and lifting the edges of the sheet on the mirror.

I looked around, and decided we’d done enough for the day.  I looked at the mirror, and decided it needed the trash.  I picked it up, and lugged it out to the car, tossing it in the hatch with little ceremony.  I was a little disappointed when it didn’t shatter.  I closed the car, locked the front door, and went home.

*

I looked at the mirror wrapped in sheets, leaning against my living room wall.  I wasn’t sure why I’d brought it home, or why it wasn’t in the trash.  Maybe it was because I’d seen my father in it.  Despite the venom that had come out of him, he was still my father.  Time and tide hadn’t changed that yet.

He’d been silent for some time, and I wondered again if I’d imagined it all.  Curiosity propelled my fingers, and I found myself pulling at the tape, and then the sheet.  It came away in a billowing puff of air, and I dropped it to the side and looked in the glass.

He was there, still in his brown suit and homburg, his gray hair peeking from beneath the brim of the hat, his dark brown eyes clutching at my face.  His lip curled up in a sneer, and his voice assaulted my mind.

Disappointment.  You were always weak.  And a bit stupid.  You never planned, never looked ahead, and never were cautious enough.  Now look at you.  Spineless, cowering under a woman’s skirts.

            “”Shut up -” I started to reply, and was interrupted by a knock at the door.

I listened.  Katie’s voice came floating through the wood.

“Hey, it’s me.”

Redemption.  You can make it right.  Let her in.  End it.

            Again, that vision of a blade flickered through my mind, and I found myself making my way toward the kitchen.  I forced myself to stop with an effort of will.

Weakling.

            She knocked again.  “Kevin?”

WEAK.

            Pain blared through my head with the force of that thought, and my vision disappeared in a wave of blackness.  When it passed, I was standing in the kitchen, groping for the knife block.  Once again, I forced myself to stop, to turn away from the knives.  Instead, I cast around for something heavy, and found the sharpening rod.  I pulled it from the block, and stalked to the living room.

The doorknob rattled, and the old man started in on me again, his voice like nails on glass in my mind.

You can do it.  Make me proud.  End it, and take control of your life.

            I threw the sharpening rod into the mirror, and it shattered, a thousand pieces scattering on the carpet.  The sound was loud, like the crash of a wave on rocks, and from the hallway, I could hear Katie slipping a key in the lock.

I looked down, at the shards of glass on the floor, and wondered how I would explain it.  The old man was looking back at me, a thousand disapproving faces, and a thousand pairs of angry eyes.  I heard his voice once again, a cacophony of discordant sound that raked at my ears.

DO. AS.  I.  SAY.

            I was in the kitchen again, and Katie was coming through the door.  I saw her turn the corner, and felt the knife in my hand.  I heard her footfalls on the linoleum, and saw the light play on her skin.  My legs twitched forward, and I could hear the old man laughing.

I sobbed, and drew the knife across my throat.

Vengeance

A short piece I wrote a while ago, when I was tinkering with different styles and even darker themes. Sometimes I write things like this just to break a block, or to work out an idea that makes its way into a more coherent piece. Enjoy.

Vengeance

                You know the clichés.  Revenge is a dish best served cold.  If you go looking for revenge, dig two graves.  An eye for an eye.  None of them matter.  In the middle of the night, when you can’t sleep for the rage that sits in your stomach, caution and reason seem like foreign countries.  Even when the cold light of day dawns and spreads reason like a beacon, you still calculate and plot, the anger like a pit of ice in your gut.

They took something from me in the woods.  I still remember rough hands and tight rope.  Lives snuffed like candles.  There are times I can still smell moss and loam and the dry dead scent of leaves rotting in drifts on the ground, and can feel the prick of their cold blades in my cheek.  I still see the pale moon resting overhead in a cold autumn sky, and wonder how much suffering it can watch before it slips its moors and hurls itself into the Earth.  Mercy or murder I wonder, and know my answer.

I watch them.  It cost my house and the insurance, and the tatters of my life, but I watched, and I learned.  I know where they live, where they play, and who they love.  Normal channels break down.  They tell me it’s an open case; they tell me they have no leads.  They tell me they’re working on it.  My therapist says it’s time to move on, to heal.  Still, I pick at the scab.  I open the scar and let the hate bleed through.

There are words, if you know where to look, that provide the gate and the key.  They are whispered between madmen and scrawled in broken speech on bathroom stalls.  You can find them in dead letters and the spilling of bone shards in pools of gore.  I read them, and I know my path.

*

                The pills were cheap – soporifics I picked up from an online pharmacy.  The kind of place where they worry less about what kind of insurance you have and more about what kind of currency you carry.  The walls are marked, the highway laid out in the red language of intent.

I wash the pills down with a glass of wine and lay myself to sleep one last time.  In my mind’s eye, I keep the rage, all of the hate I feel for the world in an icy ball, and I think of the place I need to be.  Other thoughts, memories of a life once lived, drift past and I push them down.  I feel my heart slowing, like the unwinding of a clock spring, and feel no fear.

*

                Awake.  Aware.  You come into this place in a blinding pain, agony like fire encircling your neck.  Let the punishment fit the crime, they say.  Let them hang by the neck until dead.  But we’re already dead.  We swing in the hot breeze, ash and cinder floating by in the wasteland, hung from blackened trees.  The rope that circles my neck is hot and chafing, and I can feel it dig into my flesh.  I choke back the urge to scream, and reach up, forcing my hands under the rope.  Somewhere in the distance, drums beat the air.

It scrapes my skin as it travels upward, and I clench my jaw, force it past my chin.  In a sudden jerking movement, the noose slips free, and I am spilled to the ground in a heap.  I fall on my hands and knees and can feel the black glassy rock under the ash cut my palms, cut my legs.  It is warm, and it takes a moment for me to stand.  I am naked.

I turn and see that behind me lies a vast forest where the dead sway from stark limbs.  I reach up and pull the noose from its limb, the branch giving way with a sharp crack.  I wait, but no one comes to investigate.  The hate still cold in me, I begin to walk, toward a red horizon where jagged reefs of bone stand white against the sky and stab at its heart.

*

                I pass through a red desert of misery, trenches dug into the clay, where men and women chase back and forth, flayed by beasts with pale flesh and two faces.  One or the other mouths always call to the condemned, the air full of threats and promises.  They wield whips made from thin chains that jingle as they walk.  They don’t notice me as I walk atop their walls.

I walk a bridge made from screaming human flesh that spans a river where the dead are knee-deep and ravaged by birds with knife-like beaks that refuse to give them rest.  The bridge moans as you walk on it, and whispers thoughts best left unheard.  I ignore them and move on.  Through it all, the drums beat on.

Finally, I arrive at the black plain where the bones of beasts great and small lie buried and half-buried, jagged ends jutting out like the teeth of some vast predator.  In the black mud between lie more men and women, buried to their chests.  The heat is worse here, and their skin is parched and dry, their eyes sunken, their lips cracked and bloody.  They cry out for relief, though none comes.  They bite their lips and cheeks and drink the blood greedily.

It is here that I begin to work, finding first small jagged bits of bone, ignoring the cries of the damned.  The first one I skin screams until I can hear nothing else, not even the drums.  My hand shakes, and then steadies as the cold wash of my hatred, of my purpose, covers me and washes the doubt away.  After a time, they begin to fear me.  I leave a garden of stripped souls behind.

When I am satisfied I have enough, I begin to build.  Bone and sinew, and blood, to hold it together.  I wrap it in flesh and give it black stone for eyes.  It stares back at me, cold and hard and unyielding.  Still, it needs life.  I cut the heart from my chest.  It’s surprisingly easy, and when I hold it, it is cold, vapor coiling from it in a white mist.  I place it in the chest of my machine.

Mist coils from its mouth and the cold heart beats in time to the drums.  It speaks.

“Mother.”

I use the noose and fashion a sling for his back.  I’ve named him Peter.  I climb up and dig my heels into ribs he doesn’t feel.  I wrap my arms around his neck.  We walk.

*

                The dead have roads.  We walk them to the dark places, the places where the membrane between the worlds is thin, stretched taut like skin over bone.  We push against them, and slip through, gazing out of mirrors, peering from behind closet doors.

We find them, eventually.  It has been a long time, longer than I imagined, but they still live.  They still go on, after ending my life.  They scream.  They plead and weep.  They try to escape to madness, but we pull them back and rip the muscle from their skeletons before they die in puddles of their own excrement.

We are avenged.

*

                When it’s over, we walk on.  We rest in the quiet of the world, and we wait.  There is still so much punishment, and we are patient.

 

 

 

All Our Tomorrows Are Kaboom

My homage to bad movies, overblown masculinity, and a certain director. It’s a lot stupid, a little funny, and in no way should be taken seriously.

 

INT. NASA
Monitors glow in a dim room. Men in white short sleeves, with cotton ties and black glasses, sit at consoles watching radar screens. Each has an identical pen behind their ear. JENKINS’s console blips and pings, a glowing dot appearing under the sweeping digital arm. He looks up at the big display set into the wall, and sees the object in real time. His eyes widen.

JENKINS
Mother of God.

BOSS
(appearing at his shoulder)
What is it, Jenkins?

JENKINS
A class four anomaly sir. And it’s headed right for us.

BOSS
Get me the black phone. We. Need. Masterson.

[SMASH CUT TO]

EXT. RANCH
BLAST MASTERSON, a rugged hunk of man that is definitely manly, rides PONYBOY, his prize horse, inside a fenced-off area. A lariat twirls in his hand like a ballerina on crank. He lets it go, and it loops around a bunny, which thrashes as the rope draws tight. Blast dismounts and hogties the rabbit, then flips open a panel in its stomach. A timer reads 1:00. Blast pulls out a pair of snips and hovers over a tangle of wires. His phone rings. He sighs and brings it out.

BLAST
‘Lo?

BOSS
Blast, we need you.

BLAST
I told you never to call me here!

The timer is still ticking. 00:30 now. He wedges the phone between his cheek and shoulder.

BOSS
You’re the only one who can save us.

BLAST
And?

BOSS
(sighs)
And you’re Captain McAwesome of the Very Large Manhood

Blast clips the red wire on the bunny. The timer stops at 00:01.

BLAST
Damn right.

He hangs up the phone and unties the bunny. It hops away. One hop. Two hops. Then explodes. Bits of bunny rain down everywhere.

BLAST
Damn. C’mon, Ponyboy.

He hops on his horse and spurs it. Its hooves become rockets, and it blasts off into the sky.

[FADE TO]

TITLE CARD
BLAST MASTERSON in BAD BUNNY

[FADE TO]

EXT. NASA
Space stuff in the background. I dunno. Give it rockets. Maybe wings. Point it up. Blast and the Boss shake hands. Ponyboy grazes in a nearby field. Just over Blast’s shoulder, he eats a crocodile that wanders by.

BOSS
Glad you could make it.

BLAST
I always ‘make it’, if you know what I mean.

BOSS
Yes, I-

BLAST
I like women.

BOSS
Great. I-

BLAST
I’m a man’s man. No one can out man me. LOOK!

Blast spits, and it hits a shuttle in the background, exploding it.

BOSS
GREAT.

BLAST
Now, whaddya want?

BOSS
Space. There’s a thing. It looks like a blob, but it could also be an irregular orb. Maybe a flying city of killer monkeys. You need to stop it. It’s making all our stuff go ‘ping’.

BLAST
Gotcha.

He winks, then starts toward Ponyboy. Stops, and turns around.

BLAST
That was a manly wink, by the way. Not an ‘I like you wink’.

He turns around, gets a few feet, and stops.

BLAST
I like women. You know that, right?

BOSS
Sure. Whatever. Go. To. Space.

Blast nods and climbs on Ponyboy, then spurs him. The rockets emerge, and Ponyboy launches into space.

BLAST
BLAST AWAAAAAAAAAAAY!

[CUT TO]

EXT. GIANT SPACE BLOB
Blast lands on the blob and looks back at Earth.

BLAST
Pretty.

He takes a picture with his phone. When he turns around, HIMENA, QUEEN OF THE PEOPLE OF THE BLOB, APPEARS

HIMENA
Hi, man.

Blast shrieks and hides behind Ponyboy.

HIMENA
Come out from behind your quadruped, man.

Blast steps tentatively out.

Himena pulls out a painting by Georgia O’ Keefe. Blast FREAKS OUT and scrambles onto Ponyboy, blasting off back to earth. Himena stands, puzzled.

[CUT TO]

EXT. NASA
Blast and the Boss are both looking at the sky.

BOSS
Doomed, you say?

BLAST
Yep. They’re too powerful. Kiss me.

BOSS
What?

BLAST
Too powerful. I said too powerful. And then nothing else. I like women.

Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Close My Eyes’ starts to play’. Georgia O’Keefe paintings rain from the sky, skewering men and women, exploding on impact. Vast destruction. The scene fades with Blast puckering his lips as the shadow of a giant blob darkens the earth.

[FADE TO BLACK]

 

Idle Hands

Milosh wiped his hands on the rag, the blood already dried under his nails and up his wrists. He glanced at the broken body tied to the chair. For a little guy, he’d held on for a long time. Milosh tossed the rag to the side and stepped across the concrete floor of the basement, ducking as he passed under a particularly low rafter. The location wasn’t ideal, but it was convenient, and he didn’t think the old couple upstairs, Mr. and Mrs. Cottingham, would care. Not that they would care for anything much anymore. He regretted having to kill them. It would have been easier if he had been able to snatch up Parker in an industrial park, or the warehouse district, but you worked with what you could.

Regardless, he didn’t think anyone would notice. The house smelled like mothballs and Ben-Gay, and the furniture glistened with plastic covers that held barely a wrinkle. Milosh guessed they hadn’t had a visitor in some time. Now, they sat side by side on the couch, a small entry wound behind their ears. Boris had always made fun of him for the .22 he carried, but get close enough and it would pierce a skull as well as a .45, and with less mess. He grabbed Parker’s hair and lifted, the head lolling on a soft neck. The man’s eyes were still closed. He’d shut them when Milosh had brought the pistol out. There was no breath. Satisfied, Milosh dropped the man’s head and went upstairs, his boots thudding against the wooden steps.

He surveyed the kitchen, his stomach rumbling. Work always got his appetite up. The furniture was as old as the homeowners. Everything, including the table, was laminate and chrome. Two plates sat in the sink with congealing bacon grease and a fat fly buzzing around them. A fat fly circled a fork stained with egg yolk. A pan sat on the oven, a crust of egg white around the edges. He’d caught them just after breakfast.

Milosh opened the fridge and rummaged around, coming up with a carton of orange juice and half a chicken salad sandwich. He sat at the table and ate, the chicken salad crunchy with bits of celery and a pickle that sent a sour tang through his tongue. The taste of the pickle reminded him of solyanka, and he wished he had some vodka to wash it down. A sound echoed up from the basement, and Milosh paused, the sandwich halfway to his mouth. He set it down, a frown rippling his brow, and walked to the head of the stairs, head turned to hear better. It came again, rasping, like wood on wood. He drew his pistol and stepped down, slow.

The basement was as it had been, dim and quiet. Milosh looked around, checked the corners. Nothing moved, and the sound didn’t repeat. Probably just a rat, then. He shouldn’t have been surprised. The city was full of them. He holstered the pistol and walked back up to the kitchen. Everything was as he’d left it, a quarter of sandwich on the plate, open carton of orange juice. He took a breath, and his stomach rumbled. Trouble in paradise.

After a minute or two of wandering the house, he found a toilet on the first floor. He sat, his stomach still rumbling. The sound came again, drifting up though the vent in the floor. A rasping like before, and Milosh bore down, trying to clear his bowels. He hoped it was and wasn’t a rat. He’d read about them, coming up the sewer pipes, biting people on the ass. His mind conjured a picture of a fat rodent, gray, with its bare tail whipsawing behind it, narrow face and sharp teeth leading the way as it forced itself through pipe and foul water to be free of its prison. His bowels emptied and he wiped, practically leaping off the toilet when he was done. He flushed, the sound almost comforting in the near-silence, washing away his fears. He finished up, washing his hands, picking the blood from his fingernails, and then walked back to the kitchen.

He stood in the white and yellow linoleum nightmare and stared at the sandwich. With a frown, he picked it up and heaved it into the trash, plate and all. That sound came from the basement again, and he heaved a sigh. Rat or no, he had to finish. He needed to be in Baltimore by tomorrow. He took the stairs one at a time, pistol out again. No reason not to be cautious. At the bottom, the room was silent. Parker stared at the ceiling. Milosh’s skin crawled and he walked over to the corpse, shutting its eyes and tipping the head forward again.

That wasn’t supposed to happen, was it? He’d been around plenty of dead bodies – a hazard of the work – and yes, sometimes they sat up. Sometimes they belched or farted or moaned, but they didn’t usually move. Did they? Boris could have told him. The man seemed to know everything about death. Regardless, it was errata. Milosh had a job to do. He holstered the pistol and grabbed a knife from the workbench built into the wall, then turned to the body.

“If only I had been a butcher, eh tovarich?”

Parker didn’t reply. Milosh had hoped he wouldn’t. He rounded the body and began cutting the ties holding it in place. The wrists and ankles were worn pretty hard – Parker had really struggled – deep bands of red cut in to the flesh. When he was done, he hefted Parker and dragged him to a tarp in the center of the floor, laying him spread-eagled. Milosh stepped back to make sure the body was centered – in order to catch as much of the gore as possible – and nodded when he was satisfied. He laid the knife back on the workbench and began to pull tools from his duffel bag, chattering as he did. Milosh liked to talk to the dead. He felt it eased their way out. Boris thought it eased his conscience, but Milosh wasn’t sure he had one after this long.

“You know, back in the old country, we would have just buried you somewhere. For this I am sorry. Cities – someone’s always finding a body. But, you dump them in the water, and poof. No one sees. Upstairs, that’s a home invasion. But add you…more suspicious.”

He pulled out a hacksaw. “I was eager to meet you , you know. Boris told me you were into weird shit.” He shook his head. “Tattoos. Not so weird. I have tattoos!” He rolled up a sleeve, showing a double-headed eagle clutching a hammer and sickle. Parker seemed unimpressed.

“Ah, here’s the thing. I feel bad. Every time. You guys, you get in some debt, maybe you flaunt the money we give you. No big deal. But when you start doing really stupid things – you slept with Ivanna, are you mad? Then, we have to do things like this. Then I get messy, and you get hurt. If only you could have kept the pecker in your pants, eh?” Milosh shook his head. “Vek zhivi, vek uchis. Live and learn, friend.”

He walked to the tarp and knelt, pressing the saw against Parker’s wrist. After a moment, he began to draw it back and forth, ripping at the flesh. It parted easily, as did the muscle. The bone was harder going, and it took Milosh a couple of minutes to get through, sweat beading on his forehead, his breath coming in small grunts. With a pop, the hand separated, blood seeping from the stump. He repeated the process – elbow, shoulder, then started on the other. After an hour, he had dismantled the man’s arms. Milosh stood and wiped an arm across his forehead. The blade was dull.

He walked back to the workbench and started to pull the saw apart, rummaging in the bag for a blade. Behind him, the tarp’s plastic crinkled. Milosh turned, squinting to keep the sweat from his eyes. A hand was missing. His heart sped up. Was there a rat in here after all? He sat the saw down and pulled the pistol free. Shelves stood in one corner, paint cans and solvents weighing down the shelves. He walked over, his guard up, and moved a few of the cans with the barrel of the gun. Nothing leapt out at him. He breathed a sigh of relief, and turned. Something tugged at his pant leg, and he jumped, letting out a curse.

Ty che blyad?!”

Milosh spun, the pistol leveled at the floor. He hated rats. His mind conjured up another image, of his grandmother after the famine, her stomach bloated. He and Boris had found her – they had been only six – round and rotting in her cottage. He remembered her stomach moving, squirming, crawling, and the thing that had come out of her, the size of a terrier, covered in gore and viscera.

Something grabbed the back of his thigh, and he squealed, firing off a shot. The bullet pinged off the concrete and lodged in the rafters. He brushed at his pants, but it was too slow, and the thing was crawling up him, on his back, his shoulder, his neck. He grasped for it, but it was too fast, and already grabbing his mouth. He could see it now, Parker’s hand, squeezing his chin, the severed stump oozing blood. Milosh staggered back and slapped at the fingers, but they felt nothing. He fired a shot into it, but it again, felt nothing. He smashed his head against the shelves and a paint can came down heavy, knocking him senseless. The lights went out.

*

The world faded back in, the dim gray of the basement trickling into his retinas like poison. He sat up and rubbed his head and his jaw, then looked over at the tarp. The hands were missing. He stood and picked up his pistol, then grabbed the hacksaw. He had less time now. The hands were missing. His stomach rumbled, and pain shot through his abdomen. Ice crawled up his spine.

Milosh lifted his shirt and saw the skin of his stomach, distended as though someone were pushing on it from the inside. The hands were missing. His stomach rippled like a bowl of Jell-O, and he vomited from the pain. The hands were missing. He dropped the saw and drew his pistol, and thought of his grandmother.

The hands were missing. There was a bullet in the chamber.