brendan halpin


Old friend Seamus Cooper, author of The Mall of Cthulhu, stopped by yesterday and dropped off a story in manuscript form. “A little break from my arcane studies!” he said before disappearing into the night. I present it here for your amusement.


Content warnings: emotional abuse, severed hand

            Everything changed the day she found the hand.

            She was on her hands and knees in the loose dirt under the porch, the afternoon sunlight shooting through the lattice boards in waffle-cut patterns. She was looking for a rat. Or a mouse. Possibly a raccoon. In any case, something was dead under here, and she liked to sit on the porch with Bethany after Bethany’s nap, and it was becoming increasingly unpleasant because of the smell of something dead.

            She’d asked Alex to investigate. “Babe, this is the country. There are animals around. Sometimes they die,” he’d said

            “But they don’t usually die under our porch! And it stinks! Bethany and I can’t sit on the porch, and now the front hall is starting to stink.”

            Alex rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry we’re not living up to Candace’s standards,” Alex had spat out, slamming the door behind him and driving off to work. Candace was Emma’s mother, and while it was true that they weren’t living up to her standards and that her standards were impossibly high, this really had nothing to do with the rotting animal smell.

            So Emma decided she had two choices: wait until Alex got home and have another fight about it, or find and dispose of the dead thing herself. She had some latex gloves she used on those rare occasions when she had time and energy to do a deep clean. And of course a bunch of N95 masks she’d stocked up on during the worst of the pandemic. So she donned her gloves and mask and grabbed a dustpan and a garbage bag and prepared to scoop a dead animal into the garbage bag and solve her own problem. Descending into the basement, she opened the window that led to the space under the porch and crawled through.

            And then she saw the hand. It was a left hand, skin grey from decay, maggots eating patches of the flesh away. And it was large. Palm a basketball large. That was all her memory could reconstruct because she screamed in surprise and horror, and her scream woke Bethany up from her nap, so she had to scoot back into the basement, close the window, remove the gloves and mask so as not to alarm Bethany, go and wash her hands thoroughly because she did not want to touch her beautiful child with hands that hand been contaminated by proximity to their severed cousin. Finally she made it to Bethany’s crib, picked her up, held her, and cried.

            She’d found a hand. This was not the life she had imagined for herself. Then again, she thought,  very few people probably imagine they will one day find a severed hand. Soldiers, maybe.  But not Emma.

            When Alex had said, “let’s buy a farm and move to the country,” she’d pictured a charming old house amid rolling hills, a sumptuous garden, some chickens and maybe goats, maybe alpacas, friendly, low-maintenance animals, and she and Alex tired at the end of the day, not tired like they’d been after a day on Wall Street—an honest, clean fatigue brought on by the hard work of bringing life from the soil.

            The reality, though, was that the house was old, and would perhaps have been charming if Alex had done all the repairs and improvements he’d pitched when they looked at the house. But it was more dingy than charming. And Emma was alone with Bethany here in upstate New York, carless all day and a mile from her nearest neighbors and hundreds of miles from her mother’s support.

            “You two are codependent,” Alex had said. “You need to cut the apron strings and start living like an adult.” Which apparently meant alone with a baby in the middle of nowhere.

            Once she’d collected herself, Emma realized she should call 911. But first Alex. She needed to hear the sound of his voice, to be reminded that she was not completely untethered from reality just because something bizarre had happened.

            “Babe, I can’t talk” Alex said.

            “It’s an emergency,” Emma said.

            “Is Bethany hurt?”


            “Are you hurt?”


            “Is the house on fire?”


            “Then it’s not an emergency, honey. I’ve gotta go. We’ll talk when I get home,” he said.

            Well, that phone call was certainly a reminder of her reality, though maybe not exactly the kind of reminder she’d wanted. She used to dash off a Slack message and get five people to do things.  People had listened to her, taken her seriously, even if she was only pretending to be competent.

            Maybe Alex was right. Nobody was in immediate danger. Of course it was concerning to find a human hand under your porch, but an emergency? Was the hand going to come to life and kill her and Bethany? Extremely unlikely. So not an emergency then. Alex was right. She would not call 911 because it was stupid to tie up an emergency line for something that was not an emergency, and anyway, Alex would probably be upset if she took a step like that without consulting him. And then what would she do if they asked to search the house? Alex would definitely be angry at that. Best not to call. Best to wait until Alex got home.

            Still, there was the smell. The pungent, sweet smell of decay had been gross when she thought it was a raccoon. Now that she knew that a hand that had once called the end of a real person’s arm home was rotting under her porch, it was intolerable. It would nauseate her just to smell it.

            She knew she was irrational, as Alex often reminded her, but she felt that Bethany’s purity and innocence would somehow be tainted by inhaling the foul stench of the rotting hand. That Bethany’s entire future would turn dark when she inhaled the hand’s corruption. (of course Bethany had already inhaled the corruption, but that was when Emma hadn’t known. Everything was different now).

            She went out the back porch. The grass was high, of course, but there was no need to nag Alex about it, he could see high grass as well as she could. She would just have to be vigilant about ticks. So, though the temperature was in the 80’s, she dressed Bethany in a onesie, pajamas, and socks, and herself in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt she’d gotten at her old firm’s offsite meeting at Mohonk Mountain House three years ago, when she’d sat in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch and fantasized about escaping Manhattan for the beauty of upstate New York.

            She had no wraparound porch here, nor a rocking chair, but there was an old wooden bench left by the previous owners under an elm tree about fifty feet from the back door. It was in the shade now, so it would be cooler, but not exactly cool. She and Bethany sat, and she sang songs and read board books and nursed and it was actually quite a pleasant afternoon. Mostly. Because every now and again, Emma would remember why they were out here, would see the hand again in her mind, and would begin to worry.

            How had the hand gotten under the porch in the first place? Was it placed there by an animal? Some sort of animal that would snatch Bethany from the yard the second Emma turned her back? How would she ever be able to let Bethany enjoy the country if she had to fear that something out there saw her as prey?

            She scanned the yard, looked at the tree line, mentally preparing to fight…Wolf? Mountain lion? Bear?—to save Bethany. She didn’t see anything and realized that jumping at every movement on a day when the wind was causing tree branches to sway and shadows to jump was a quick way to lose her mind.

She realized there was a darker possibility. That The Hand was put here as a warning. That some In Cold Blood killers were trying to terrorize her before they came back in the night to kill them. As Bethany settled into a post-nursing snooze, Emma took out her phone, just barely within the reach of the house’s wifi signal, and searched for murders in the area, for news of people with their hands cut off, for examples of entire families found murdered in their beds.

The fact that she found nothing was not reassuring. Maybe the killers had dismembered someone who hadn’t been missed yet. Maybe Emma and Alex and Bethany would be their first victims.

There was a third, even darker possibility, but Emma would not let her mind go down that path. If she did, she’d be sure to say something to Alex, and he’d be sure to get angry.

Finally, Emma heard the crunch of the BMW’s tires on the driveway. Scooping up Bethany, she went running around the house to the front, meeting Alex before he got to the front door. At the sight of him, all of Emma’s pent up fear and worry and trauma came spilling out her eyes. She wanted to say things, to tell him about The Hand, to seek reassurance, but all she could do was sob.

Alex enfolded her and Bethany in his arms. “Whoa, whoa whoa,” he said. “Babe. What is it? What’s wrong?”

Emma tried again to get words out, and again she failed.

Alex pulled away from her. “I can’t deal with you when you’re hysterical,” he said, walking toward the house.

This threw the switch in Emma’s mind to “anger,” and the anger made her feel strong, strong enough to yell at Alex without thinking of the consequences. “It was a hand, Alex!” she yelled. “The smell. Under the porch. It’s a human hand! A rotting hand! Do you understand? Do you understand why I’m upset? Why I felt like being trapped in the house with the stench of rotting human flesh was an emergency even though the fucking house wasn’t on fire?”

Alex whipped around. “Don’t you swear at me. Don’t you ever swear at me,” he said.

The switch went back to “afraid,” and in a quiet, meek voice, Emma said, “I’m sorry. I just got so frightened, and so disgusted. I wanted to call the police, but—”

“Whoa,” Alex said. “But you didn’t, though, right?”

“No, I wanted to wait for you!” Emma said.

“Good girl,” Alex said, smiling. “We don’t want cops around here.”

“You mean you’re not going to call them?” Emma said.

Alex walked back to her and patted her on the head. “Hon. How’s that gonna look? If we tell them we found a body part. You know who the prime suspect is going to be? Me, that’s who. Because it’s at my house. They’ll start hounding me day and night, trying to prove that I cut off somebody’s hand and hid it under my own porch, and the fact that that would be an incredibly stupid move doesn’t mean they’ll stop. And you know how gossip spreads around here.”

She didn’t. She never left the house.

“Once word gets out that I’m being investigated for something like that, watch my business dry up. Watch Bethany’s life be a living hell when she starts school. You think people here will ever forget that? You think they’ll care that there’s not enough evidence to charge me? We’ll be pariahs, Emma. Think.”

She did. And she saw the wisdom of what he was saying. But still. Somewhere a body was missing a hand. Surely the hand was an important clue to bring someone to justice. Emma had seen cop shows. There might be DNA under the fingernails. Maybe that’s why the hand was cut off in the first place!

“But why? Why do you think it’s here?” Emma said. Put my fears to rest.

“How the hell do I know?” Alex said. “Maybe a vulture or a crow picked it up. Or a cat or something. I don’t know. Some kind of animal was going to eat it, probably got scared off by the sound of us walking on the porch.”

That was a good explanation. It was as nonthreatening an explanation as there could possibly be for having a severed hand under your porch. “Can you…can you please get rid of it?” Emma said. “I can’t stand the smell. And the…just the way it looked. It’s so gross, Alex,” she said, crying again.

He patted her on the head. “Of course, Babe. You and Bethany go out back and I’ll grab it and take it down to the lake and throw it in. And then we never have to think about it again.”




Except they did have to think about it again. Because Alex wouldn’t stop making jokes about it. First, on his way to remove the hand,  he’d come out of the basement with a garbage bag singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” And then, after dinner, he asked if she wanted to play a HAND of Uno.

And he kept this up all night. Singing songs about hands. Asking her after dinner if she wanted to watch a movie. “Here’s one—Michael Caine in The Hand,” he said, laughing.

“Alex, this isn’t funny to me. Please,” she said. “It was really upsetting to me, and I know it’s a joke to you, but it’s not to me. Will you please stop making jokes about it?             He rolled his eyes. “Lighten up, babe. You’ve got no sense of humor, that’s your problem. How are you gonna get through life if you take everything so damn seriously?”

She wanted to yell at him, scream at him, make him understand how much this hurt her, but she knew he wouldn’t understand. He’d just get angry with her for ruining a perfectly good joke.

She put Bethany down for the night and did the dishes, and then had a seat on the couch next to Alex. She hoped he’d had his fun, but she decided to try and steer the conversation in a serious direction just in case. “Thank you for getting rid of it,” she said.

“Well, I am pretty handy around the house,” Alex said, grinning.

“Honey,” she said. “Please. It’s upsetting to me. I mean, it’s gross and horrible to find a human hand, but also it just makes me worry. What did this?”

“I told you,” Alex said. “An animal. Did you see the gap under the lattice? Solid six inches. A lot of things could make their way in under that.”

“Do you think they we need to worry about something grabbing Bethany?”

He laughed. “See, this is why I was making jokes. You worry way too much! Bethany’s bigger than a hand, okay?”

“It was a pretty big hand,” Emma said.

Alex sighed, exasperated. “It was a big hand, but it did not weigh as much as Bethany. And it’s not...things that scavenge are not predators. You don’t have to worry about an animal.”

“What if it’s not an animal? What if it’s like...a threat or something?”

“What kind of threat? Like, it’s a pretty obscure message, if you ask me. It’s not like there was a note. Just a hand. Look. Honey. I know it was gross and I know it upset you, but you have to grow up a little bit and just get past it.”

Emma used to make six figures on Wall Street. She’d had her own apartment, a rigorous exercise schedule, bills that she paid on time. She was not a child. She stood from the couch. “I’m going to sleep in the guest room,” she said.

Alex sighed theatrically. “Great. I’ll expect an apology when you wake up in the morning.”




Emma lay in the guest bed, not sleeping. Was she overreacting? Was it childish to get upset over finding a severed body part? According to Alex, it was childish to get upset about anything, ever, unless you were him. And how was he so sure it was an animal?

What if it had something to do with the attic?

She didn’t know what was in the attic because Alex had told her in no uncertain terms that she was never to go up there. He’d also padlocked the door just to reinforce the idea. When she’d asked why, Alex had gotten very angry, but it had just seemed like a weird thing for a husband to do to his wife. “I paid the down payment,” she said. “It’s not fair that there’s a whole part of the house you don’t want me to go in.”

“God, I knew you were gonna throw that in my face,” Alex had said. His mouth moved like he was about to say something else, but then he’d taken a deep breath and calmed himself. “It’s just...not for you. Okay? It’s my attic. It’s private. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean you get to snoop around in my entire life.”

And that had been that. She’d pushed thoughts of the attic aside because who really wants to go in the attic anyway? But now, in the darkness, with the wind blowing outside and the old house creaking, scaring her each time till she reminded herself that the house always did this, that it wasn’t a serial killer, she couldn’t stop thinking of the attic.

What kind of warning was it, Alex had asked. But maybe he was running a drug business out of the attic. Maybe he was into things, sexually, that he didn’t want Emma to know about. Maybe that’s what the warning was about. Keep your hands off. Watch where you put your hands. That kind of thing.

It really was the only explanation that made any sense at all. Why would an animal drag a hand under the porch and not eat it? Why would someone want to terrorize them? People didn’t really do that for no reason except in the movies. In real life, there was a reason. And Alex knew what the reason was. Emma was sure of it. And, tomorrow, so would she.

Bethany got her up at 5 AM, and Alex yelled groggily from the bedroom that she needed to keep the baby quiet. The baby. That’s what he always called Bethany. Like she wasn’t a small person carrying half his DNA. Just a thing. Just like me, she realized, suddenly sure that he always referred to her as “the wife” when he was out of the house.

When he came down at 7, he said, “Are you ready to apologize yet?”

Emma just stared at him.

“I said, are you ready to apologize?” Emma didn’t dare refuse to answer a second time.

“I’m still upset,” she said. “And I didn’t sleep well. I kept closing my eyes and seeing—”

“Yeah, you need some medication, babe. Get the baby onto a bottle and start taking something. Because I gotta tell you, the sleep deprivation is making you a real bitch.”

She couldn’t storm off. She didn’t want to upset Bethany, and she certainly couldn’t leave her with Alex. So she just sat there. “I’ll see you at dinner,” she said.

“See? That’s what I’m talking about. I have to go out and work hard all day to support this family, and you send me out the door with that. You will start getting the baby weaned and onto a bottle today because I can’t live with you when you’re like this.”

Maybe you won’t have to, Emma thought but dared not say.

Alex left that house, and shortly after that, it was time for Bethany’s morning nap.

And Emma stood there, watching Bethany sleeping, and wondered if she was ready. She had looked at the lock many times. The screws on the hasp were superglued. The only way in to the attic was to break the hasp off the door frame, probably with a crowbar. And once she did that...well, she was confident that she and Alex couldn’t live in the same house anymore.

She played out the scene in her mind and found that, once she imagined Alex telling her he had just one simple rule for her to follow, just one thing he asked of her in return for all he did for her (but this wasn’t true. There were so many rules. So many things he asked of her), he would, at last, step over the line into violence. Emma didn’t know where this would stop, or even if it would stop. So breaking the hasp wasn’t just about finding out why the hand was in their house. It was a decision to leave. To escape.

Of course she could leave without breaking the hasp (and what if he had a surveillance camera up there that would ping his phone and bring him speeding home?), but she had to know what the hell was up there and why it had brought a severed hand into her life. Into Bethany’s life.

She ordered a grocery delivery. Alex would get the notification from the credit card app, but he wouldn’t think anything of it. She ordered groceries all the time. And then she just had to pray that a bedraggled young mother in tears could manipulate the delivery driver into giving her a ride somewhere where she could wait for mom to pick her up.

She packed a bag for Bethany. For herself, nothing. She didn’t want anything from this house.

“Your delivery driver is five minutes away!” the phone told her.

“This is it,” she said aloud. She went to the basement and grabbed a crowbar off the pegboard. She walked upstairs. Her phone beeped, the notification for a text from Alex. What the hell do you think you’re doing with a crowbar, it said. So he did have cameras here, watching her. If she’d ever voiced the suspicion, he would certainly have called her crazy.

She stomped up the steps. In her crib, Bethany began to cry. “Just a minute, sweetie, Mommy will be right there,” she called out. She walked to the attic door and looked around for cameras. She didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any there. “Watch this, you son of a bitch,” She said. She pried the hasp out of the door frame with a loud crack, splinters of the door frame flying. One of them got stuck in her cheek.

Opening the door, she marched up the attic stairs. She looked around. Her phone beeped twice. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING???? YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON and YOUR DELIVERY DRIVER HAS ARRIVED.

Emma descended the stairs, grabbed Bethany from her crib, grabbed Bethany’s bag, and went outside to throw herself on the mercy of the delivery driver.



            Seven hours later, she put Bethany down in the portacrib next to her childhood bed and went to the living room to join her mother. Her mother had tall glasses of lemonade for them both, and Emma took a sip.

            “Are you ready to talk about it now?” Candace asked.

            “I guess so,” Emma answered.

            “So what was it? After all this time,” Candace said, “What the hell was in the attic?”

            Emma took a sip of her lemonade and looked out the window, seeing only the moths swarming in the beam of the outdoor floodlight.

            “Dust, mostly” Emma said at last. “It was empty. It always had been.”

#ShortStory #fiction

Alter ego Seamus Cooper penned this five years ago. There were more parts planned, (and promised in the foreword!) but they never came to pass. Cooper tells me he needs time to fully recover his sanity before diving back into the depictions of eldritch horrors therein. So here’s part one: “Something Fishy!” Read at your own risk!


I fully expect questions. How did you come across these manuscripts? Are we but meaningless specks of dust adrift in an uncaring universe? Can a dog really talk?

Unfortunately I have no answers, or at least no satisfactory ones. One day, the first manuscript appeared, quite literally, on my doorstep, typed on an actual typewriter and wrapped in twine. Curiosity compelled me to begin reading, and the writer’s skill compelled me to finish.

I should reveal, in the spirit of  honesty, but also as a warning, that I did not sleep for three nights after reading the first manuscript. Months later, a second appeared, and, the process—read, shudder, lie awake for three nights in feverish contemplation of the horrors I had just read—repeated. Manuscripts continued to arrive on my doorstep at irregular intervals afterwards.  Have the deliveries ceased?

O God! I pray that they have.

I share these with you now for purely selfish motives. For one of the things that has been most difficult about being the recipient, caretaker, and only reader of these tales is the terrible weight of being the only person alive, outside of the four (or, depending on your definition of person, five) who are the subjects of these tales, who knows the terrible truth about the world in which we live.

I warn you, therefore, that the secrets contained in these tales, once they have settled into your brain, can never be un-known. I’m sure some of you will say, “Very well, then! Let the scales fall from my eyes!” I encourage you to reconsider. For the scales that obscure the true nature of our world provide comfort enough that you can go about your mundane routines and fall into the sweet embrace of Morpheus at days’ end, and after you read this, these simple pleasures may be denied you.


--Seamus Cooper

Providence, RI, September 2018


This is a short (2800 word) noir story I wrote for an anthology where it failed to find a home. It has also garnered rejections from a number of fine short fiction publications. It’s a nasty little jolt of a story that does exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s noir, so content warnings aplenty: Suicide (discussed), Sexual abuse (discussed), violence and murder (depicted).

I don’t think anybody really wants to work third shift, but that was the job that was open, so that was the job I took. Doing security for minimum wage plus a buck twenty-five an hour shift bonus at a warehouse in Somerville. It was boring as shit.

That’s inaccurate. Because even shit varies. Whereas security at the Krebs Envelope warehouse was exactly the fuckin same every single night. Walkthrough at 12:30 PM after the last of the second shift workers were out, just to make sure nobody was hiding in the machinery or, I don’t know, fucking in the break room or whatever. Another walkthrough at 3 AM, and a final one at 6:30 before anybody from first shift was in the building. Every walkthrough exactly the same: me walking around, shining a flashlight, not seeing shit. But I had to do it because if I didn’t show up on the security camera footage walking through the warehouse at the appointed times, I would be summarily fired. Or so my boss at Gravitas Security told me.

So: same shit every night. I read a lot of books, played a lot of games, watched a lot of TV. Easy money, and I should have been happy. I was even saving because I never got to go out. But it sucked. One night I got off the T at 11 o’clock and was seriously thinking about just bailing on the whole thing. Stop going to work, get evicted I guess, and then what? Move back in with Mom?

Might as well be dead. I knew I had to find a way to get through the night. The Store 24 two blocks away was open, so I went in. There was a young woman behind the counter. Short, black hair, sleeve tats—I’m not gonna say she made the Store 24 uniform shirt look good because that’s impossible, but she looked good despite it. I was browsing for a while, and she was behind the counter on her phone. I couldn’t find anything exciting enough to get me out of my seat for the 3AM walkthrough.

And then I realized I knew somebody else who worked the late shift who might be able to give me some advice. I got a can of Red Bull, I guess because they didn’t sell caffeinated piss and this was the closest thing. And it was also good to have another purchase in my hand when I asked her about snacks so she wouldn’t think I was just there to perv on her. So I went up with my Red Bull and said, “Hey, so I work all night at the warehouse down the street and it’s boring as fuck and I need a snack I can like, look forward to at 3 AM so I don’t just run screaming into the night from being bored out of my skull. Got any recommendations?”

She smiled. “Get those wasabi almonds,” she said, pointing at an endcap that had a lot of skinny plastic bags of nuts. “Wake your ass right up. If you take a handful, it feels like your nostrils are on fire. Not, like, completely pleasant, but if you’re gonna fall asleep and then get fired, those’ll do the trick.”

I bought two bags. “Thanks” I said. “If I don’t get fired tonight, I’ll owe you.”

“Does that mean I get a cut of your paycheck?” she asked, and at that moment I had this stray thought like I would totally give you anything you asked for, but that sounded both dorky and creepy in my mind, so let it go.

But I was back the next night. I brought a flower. I was like, “Hey, I wanted to thank you for the tip about the wasabi almonds, and I was gonna like, bring some food in, but I don’t know if you’ve got food allergies or whatever, so I went with a rose.”

She looked at me for like ten seconds, then said, “You bought me a rose. Because you were afraid I had food allergies.”

“I mean, I guess it...I mean, you were nice to me on a shitty day, and I wanted to say thank you.”

“Well,” she said, looking at the rose and smiling, “You’re welcome.”

And so that’s how I wound up going back there the next night and the one after that and pretty much every night before work. I started taking an earlier train so I would have a few more minutes to shoot the shit with her. Her name was Candace, and if you called her Candy she would put a Doc Martens so far up your ass she’d knock your teeth out from the inside. Or so she told me. I did not want to test it.

After a couple of days we exchanged numbers and then we would text each other while we were working. I probably should have asked her out sooner, but, and I know this is going to sound dumb, but she was the only thing making my job bearable, and so the only thing keeping me anchored to a stable life. Or a life that was on the way to stability, anyway. If we went out and it was weird, or she decided she hated me or whatever, I’d have to go and be alone in the warehouse again with no texting and no wasabi nuts, and I honestly didn’t think I’d last a week.

But then I decided I was going to do it because it was dumb not to. It had been a month and she was going to think I wasn’t interested if I didn’t pull the trigger. So I walked in and walked straight up to the counter and said, “Hey, so I’ve got my day off in a couple days, and I don’t know if you—” and that was as far as I got because at that moment I swear to God David Fucking Chapman walked into the Store 24.

In order to understand what came next, you have to know a little bit about David Fucking Chapman. He was a Latin teacher at Boston Classical when I was in seventh grade there. Teacher of the year like three times. Everybody loved him—one of those teachers who has a little cult around him all the time because he’s mister inspirational Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society or whatever.

I always found him creepy, but my sister Bridget liked him. Until he raped her. But she was just townie trash with a drunk for a dad and a mom who was never home, and he was teacher of the year and worked at Boston Classical where the mayor and half the city council went, and if you thought anybody was gonna stand up for a girl like my sister against that kind of power, well, you’re obviously rich or stupid or both.

After the rape came the drugs and…well, I don’t wanna get into it, but my big sister Bridget was dead four years later. And our whole fuckin family blew up. I stopped going to school because why go to school when they just protect rapists there, Dad left and never came back (this part wasn’t actually that bad), and Mom just decided she was gonna do nothing but sit in front of the TV 16 hours a day for the rest of her life.

So imagine my surprise when David Chapman walks into a Store 24 in Somerville at 11:30 on a Tuesday night.  “Hey, Mr. Chapman!!” I said when he walked in. He looked at me, confused.

“Did I have you in class?” he said.

“No, but you had my sister. Bridget Connolly?” I watched his face to see if he would flinch or have any kind of tell that he felt guilty or afraid. He didn’t.

“Mmm. Sorry, I don’t remember, but I have a lot of students, you know.”

I got up real close to him. “Yeah, but how many of those do you rape? I mean, I bet it’s a lot, motherfuckers like you always do it a lot, but it can’t be so many that you actually forget them. Can it? Bridget Connolly? Nothing?”

Now he looked uncomfortable, but I figured this was more because I was in his face than because he remembered my sister. I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his face on the counter. I heard his nose break, and blood went everywhere.

“Bridget Connolly,” I said. “Remember her now, you piece of shit?”

“I…I have no idea what you’re...” BANG. I slammed his head down again. He started crying “Please,” he said. “You’ve got the wrong—”

I brought a knee into his nuts before he could finish his lie.  He crumpled to the ground, and I got on top of him and started slamming his head on the linoleum. “Bridget! Connolly! Bridget! Connolly!” I said, over and over again. He was crying and I didn’t care because I missed my sister and she deserved better than she got, and she might have had a chance if it weren’t for this fuck.

I guess I kept slamming him for a while, because I felt Candace’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I think he’s had enough.”

I looked at the bloody mess underneath me and at my bloody knuckles. Looked like maybe I punched him in the mouth a few times too. There was a tooth on the floor next to his head. Candace reached down and felt at his neck. Then she kicked him in the ribs. He didn’t react. “Yeah, I think he’s dead,” she said.

I immediately came off my anger high and just stared into space, feeling like I had just been dropped into someone else’s life. Candace put her arms around me for five seconds. “Hey,” she said. “I need you here. You can fall apart later,” she said. “But right now we’ve got some work to do.”             “What do you mean?” I said. I was just starting to realize that I had killed a guy in a Store 24 and was maybe going to spend the rest of my life in jail.

“I mean, you wanna go to jail for killing that asshole, or you wanna do a little work?” She dug into the guy’s pocket and pulled out the key to his Prius. “Take this,” she said.  She locked the front door and turned out the store lights. She went to the little machine where the hot dogs and taquitos rotated on hot rollers and grabbed two pairs of gloves.

“Help me move him to the back door,” she said, so I did.

“Great. Now I’m gonna disable the security cameras. You—pour some bleach in that bucket and mop the shit out of the floor, then wipe down the counter and anywhere you see blood.” She looked at me. “And you’re eventually gonna have to bleach the uniform and probably throw the shoes away somewhere far from where you usually go. I don’t suppose you’ve got any extra clothes?”

“Um. No.”

“Okay, well, for now, wash the blood out of that shirt. Just don’t forget to bleach everything later. And then maybe burn it. Except the shoes. The soles stink like hell and make a lot of black smoke.”

I washed the blood out of the shirt in the bathroom sink, then got to work mopping.

Even though there was light from the streetlights spilling into the store, it was still a little challenging to mop in the dark, and a couple of times people came to the door and I had to duck behind the chips and stuff, but it only took me ten minutes or so to get the floor mopped and the counter wiped down.

I smelled something horrible and started to cough. I looked over at the counter, where Candace was pulling something off the hot dog roller with a pair of tongs. “Sorry about the smell,” she said. “Had to cook the security camera DVR’s hard drive. Now I’m gonna go reinstall it.”

I didn’t really know what she was talking about, but I trusted her.

I dumped out the mop bucket and put the paper towels in a garbage bag which I threw in the dumpster.

“Great. Now here’s the plan. You’re gonna pull his car around—oh, I guess you better call in sick, by the way, this is gonna take a while.”

“Shit. I am totally getting fired.”

“Yeah, I know this is gonna be a big loss for you because your job is really something special. Kind of like mine! But maybe one day, if you’re really lucky, you can find another job that sucks your soul out.”

“Okay, okay, touch ,” I said.

“Also it’s better than going to jail.”

I pulled the Prius around back and we wrestled the body that once belonged to David Fucking Chapman into the passenger seat. “I kind of wish I’d let him live and just cut his dick off,” I said.

“Yeah, well,” Candace answered, “Maybe you can do that to the next rapist. Now, turn your phone off. Then drive the car to Everett, by the casino. Send a text from his phone to anybody in his contacts when you get there. Doesn’t matter what—you just have to make sure his phone pings a tower there. But stay out of the Casino lot—they’re bound to have cameras. Wipe the phone down and stomp it till you’re sure it’s broken and leave it on the ground. Then drive to the rear parking lot of the Wellington Orange Line station. If you drive to the far end of the station you can back right up to the tree line. Pull him out of the back of the car and drag him to the water—it’s only about fifty feet to the Malden River.”

She had very specific knowledge of how and where and how to dump a body. I did not ask why.

“Don’t take the T because there are cameras in the station. You’re gonna have to walk back. Oh yeah, and keep those gloves on until you’re out of the car. Then ditch ‘em.”

“Got it,” I said. I followed her directions. When I saw the sign for the casino, I pressed Chapman’s dead finger on the phone and then sent a text to the number one person in his frequent contacts: Marjorie. “Going to the casino,” I said, then turned the phone off. It turned out to be very hard to text using a dead guy’s fingers. Stomping the phone to death was much easier.

After this, it took me about fifteen minutes to find my way to the rear parking lot at Wellington Station because of course I couldn’t turn my phone on to navigate there. But I did eventually find it, and it was exactly as Candace had said. I pulled Chapman out of the back of the Prius and dumped him into the Malden River, which was more of a creek here, but whatever. There was enough water for his corpse to start floating away. “Good riddance, you fuck,” I said.

Then I started the long walk back to Somerville. Maybe I should have gone home instead of back to the scene of the crime, but I felt like I was just about to fall apart, and I needed to see Candace again.

It took a little over an hour to get back, but I didn’t have anything else to do. I walked in and looked around at the immaculate store. You’d never know a guy was murdered here a couple hours ago. From behind the counter, Candace said, “Welcome to Store 24!”

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’m off at 6:30,” she said. “And you’re taking me to breakfast. Least you can do.”

She was right about that. The morning shift guy came in, and she sloughed off her Store 24 shirt, revealing the Misfits T-shirt underneath.

We walked away from the store, arm in arm, not talking. And after a block or so, I started to cry. I just had a lot of feelings all the sudden, and it got kind of overwhelming. We stopped, and she gently wiped the tears from my cheeks. “Hey,” she said. “You did a good thing. You don’t have to feel bad.”

“I don’t feel bad about that guy,” I said. “I just…it didn’t bring my sister back. You know? She’s still dead, my old man’s still a drunk piece of shit, and my Mom is still catatonic in front of the TV. Nothing’s better.”             “Well,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be better when we get the next one.”

“What next one?” I said.

“I’ll tell you over breakfast,” she said.


#ShortStory #fiction

If you liked this story, you might well enjoy my novel The Long Detention. Pay what you want!