Fifteen years and longer ago, I was very active teaching and displaying my artwork and being an active founding member of Artists’ Guild, an artists group in my hometown. Once in a while, my exploits made it into the local newspapers. Sometimes the reporters misspelled my name, as seen in the photo below. You can click on the items to see them larger.
© 2006 by Steven L Campbell.
Fred Shafer eyed an emerald-colored family-type van enter the near-empty K-mart parking lot in Ridgewood. As it parked a few spaces next to his Impala, he leered past the old car’s passenger seat and out an open window. A thirty-something woman bundled in white imitation fur slid from the van’s driver’s seat and dropped onto the black pavement. She wore her dark auburn hair shoulder length and was dressed in black jeans and black pumps. She opened a red umbrella, looked up at the dark, galling sky, and held up a hand as though trying to catch a raindrop. Then she reached far inside the van for a white purse before she hurried across the sparsely lighted lot and entered the store.
Fred began to breathe again. He had strained hard to hear the blip from the door lock gizmo on her keychain. Now he couldn’t believe his good fortune: He’d make it to Florida after all.
He took a long swig of ice coffee from his red thermos, squeezed his large body out from behind the steering wheel, and left the useless car he’d stolen yesterday from that black man in New York.
He licked the chilled air. He hadn’t wanted to return to Ridgewood, but his money had gone quickly and the Impala he’d stolen sucked up the gasoline.
He caressed the last of his savings from home and looked at the van in contempt as he crossed behind it. “Damn women are always driving these gas hogs,” he said. Then he saw the MY CHILD IS AN HONOR STUDENT bumper sticker and added, “Honor this,” as he took his hand from his shirt pocket and raised a middle finger.
He threw the empty thermos into an abandoned grocery cart and opened the van’s hydraulic sliding door. A strange musical sound came from inside when the door pulled from his grasp and opened itself.
The roomy rear interior contained two rows of bench seats. Plastic toys, some children’s books, and a box of loose crayons littered the first seat. A day planner had fallen behind the passenger seat. Fred opened the book. His victim had a name. He wondered if he would say it when he raped her. He usually didn’t know his victims’ names.
He flipped away the planner, climbed inside on all fours, closed the door (which actually closed itself when he pulled at the handle), and hunkered on the floor of the back row seat. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a crumpled bag from McDonalds beneath the seat in front of him. He found cold fries inside and savored their salty taste while he waited.
The van was warm. Great drippings of sweat pooled across his forehead and mixed with the rain there. He undid the top three buttons of his flannel jacket before he wiped his fat face with his sleeves. He was a short, floppy man with red hair that seemed to explode from his head. He had a mocking thick-lipped face that appeared anxious to snicker from behind his pudgy grease-stained fingers always lurking there. And his bulbous brown eyes—not so much looking as unable to relax—were forever in motion.
Finally the dome lights came on and the woman got in. She tossed a couple of plastic bags on the passenger seat and started the van. A pleasant tone reminded her to buckle up. She jabbed at the radio and a tearjerker song from the quadraphonic speakers encircled her and a mostly concealed Fred.
Fred barely heard the click as she fastened her seat belt. Large wipers slapped across a panoramic windshield in tune to the music as he strained to hear. He almost dared to laugh out loud when she put the van in gear, drove onto the nearly deserted main street, and headed east away from downtown Ridgewood.
When he slowly crawled through the darkness and crouched behind her seat, he estimated they had gone about two miles. He took the black Smith & Wesson M&P pistol from the belt holster of his sagging blue jeans and pressed the gun into the back of her neck. She jumped and he heard the sudden intake of air as she gasped. It made him grin.
“Pull over, Karen,” he said. “Pull over, or I’m gonna blow your brains out.”
“Who … who are you?” She was trembling and no longer looking at the road, staring instead into the rearview mirror, trying to see the man behind her. The van was on the wrong side of the two-lane highway.
“Pull over!” Fred shoved the barrel of the pistol against the base of her skull to show her he was serious. She cut the wheel sharply to the right and drove the van hard onto the berm. Fred held tight to her seat and chuckled at the idea of the gun going off and blowing out her brains.
“Damn women,” he muttered. He ordered a shaken Karen to park the van at the roadside and to leave the engine running. When she did, he grabbed her purse and bags from the passenger seat and ordered her into the vacant seat.
She fumbled to undo her seat belt. “Please don’t kill me,” she pleaded. Her stare reflected lightning in the corner of her wet and anxious eyes.
Fred came close to slapping her. No matter how many times he did this it was always the same: Please don’t kill me.
“If you don’t do what I say, I’m gonna do worse than kill you.”
She got unbuckled and Fred pushed her into the passenger seat.
“Buckle up,” he grumbled at her. He pointed the pistol at her and waited until he heard the shoulder harness fasten to the belt. Keeping the gun aimed at her head with his right hand and holding her purse and bag with his left, he climbed into the driver’s seat. It was a difficult maneuver because of his size. This was Karen’s chance to get away, he reasoned, but she remained seated, shaking, and gulping for air.
“Thanks for staying for the ride, Karen,” he said and settled behind the steering wheel. As he adjusted the seat to his liking, she suddenly rattled out several questions in a raspy voice. “Why are you doing this? What do you want? How do you know my name?” She began to bawl.
“Shut up.” Fred took a cell phone from her purse and tossed it out the window. It clattered onto pavement and splashed as it landed in a large puddle. He kissed the wet air before he rolled up the window.
“I have money.”
“Look, lady, if you wanna live you’ll shut up.” He threw the purse and bag at her and pulled the van back onto the road. They hadn’t gone far when she began to gag.
“I’m gonna throw up,” she said, her voice shaky as she clutched her purse and bag close to her throat.
“Forget about it.”
She began to hiccup.
“If you’re gonna hurl, then you’ll have do it inside. I ain’t stopping.”
“Please pull over.”
“Hurl in your lap.” He chuckled, and then scowled because of his sudden outburst. He had to compose himself and remain serious. He had plenty of time to laugh when his crime was over.
Suddenly her window was down and she was vomiting out the side of the van. The wind swept most of it back inside and onto her coat.
“Yum, tasty,” Fred chuckled in spite of himself. “Always better the second time around.”
“Screw you,” she muttered under her breath.
Fred stopped laughing. “Roll that window back up or I’m gonna shoot you where you sit. Now! And turn off that damn music! Stuff makes a person insane.” The pistol cracked to life as he fired a .40 caliber slug into the van’s roof. The moment was thunderous and disquieting, and Karen leaped to obey his orders. While she did so, Fred attacked the automatic door lock on the door panel and locked the two of them inside. He checked the gas gauge and saw that the tank was almost full. He smiled big yellow dentures that appeared sinister and green from the dashboard’s electronic lights. “You get comfy and enjoy the ride.”
Her question came on a whisper: “Where are you taking me?”
His mocking smile widened. “You just enjoy the ride,” he repeated.
She sunk further into her seat. He picked his fat nose and drove deep into the woods south of Ridgewood. After the rape, he planned to drive all night and be in Virginia by morning, long before those roly-poly Ridgewood donut eaters or the PA patrol boys started their searches for a missing van. By then, she would be dead like the others, her body deep in some mountain woods in northern Maryland.
That was the plan and it made him almost giddy. He struggled to remain focused as he spotted a man, tall and lean, standing in the middle of the road.
Fred pulled to the left to pass. The man stepped in front of him. Fred yanked the wheel to the right. The van swayed and the man again stepped in front of the van. With no time to react, Fred plowed through him. Karen screamed. A plume of red lights shot into the night air, but no sickening thump of running over a body rocked the van. Fred searched in the mirrors for any sign of a body behind them. There was none.
Fred ordered Karen quiet as he puzzled over what he had seen. Then, ahead, a man identical to the first one stepped in front of the van.
“Another one?” Fred punched the gas pedal and plowed into the man. Again, there was no collision. Just the hiss of red lights and the swish of rain striking against the van. Karen began to bawl again, this time hysterically.
“Shut the hell up,” Fred growled as he again searched the darkness in the rearview mirrors.
As the van crested a hill, another man identical to the last two stepped onto the road and into the van’s path.
“Son’bitch,” Fred shouted. “Somebody’s let the loonies out.”
When he speeded into the man, the van’s engine stalled. Fred threw the gearshift into neutral and tried to restart the van. The engine squawked in protest and refused to start. Dismayed, he coasted the van to a turnaround at the bottom of the hill. There he pressed the pistol against Karen’s skull as the mysterious man approached her door.
Fred shouted, “I have a gun.”
The dome light popped on and the van’s alarm sounded when Karen’s locked door opened. Fred shivered and squeezed the trigger. The pistol jammed and Karen struggled from her restraint. She fell freely into the man’s long arms. A deep, male voice clanged like bell chimes. “There’s a house a quarter-mile up the road, Karen. Call the police.” Then the man released her.
She stumbled away and Norman Gentry turned to face Fred and the Smith & Wesson. Fred’s eyes widened when he looked Norman’s thin, gray face and whiskered chin.
The alarm stilled and the inside returned to grayness. Norman’s deep voice clanged again like bell chimes, this time from Karen’s seat. “Where are you going, Fred? On another joyride to Virginia? Or are you going on to Florida like last year? Biscayne Bay wasn’t it?”
Fred shrank in his seat and continued to stare at the man who bore the striking exactness of every picture he had ever seen of President Abraham Lincoln.
Norman’s voice chimed louder. “Everyone knows Abraham Lincoln is dead.”
Fred coughed and felt bile rise from his stomach. He looked at Norman’s faded army coat and the old army cap stuck with several fishing flies. “Who are you, mister? What d’you want?”
Norman was silent for a moment. The whites of his eyes glowed crimson as he stared at Fred. Fred’s large body shrank some more until the pistol in his hand grew heavy. Then Norman said, “Where did you get the gun, Fred?”
Fred’s throat tightened. He gurgled. “It’s mine.”
“That’s a policeman’s weapon, Fred. It was stolen five years ago from the Ridgewood Police Department.”
Fred choked back a denial.
“It belongs to a missing police officer, Fred. Her name is Rita Malloy. Remember her?”
Fred tried to speak. He shook his head instead, his eyes searching the darkness at his left for an escape route. He saw none.
Norman squinted hard at him. “Were you going to shoot me with Rita’s gun, Fred?”
Fred shook his head again and managed to utter a whispery uh-uh through the phlegm collecting in the back of his throat.
“Who were you going to shoot, Fred?”
Fred choked out an answer. “I-I … nobody.”
“Are you sure?” Norman laughed and bell chimes tolled in Fred’s ears. A cold hand closed around Fred’s and effortlessly took away the gun. Norman’s eyes sparkled in rapid and brilliant flashes of pointed light dancing red and yellow, back and forth.
“Isn’t that why you kidnapped Karen White tonight? Weren’t you planning to rape and kill her like the other women, Fred?”
Fred’s voice became small and girlish as he denied it.
“But you were. I know you were. Let me show you how you were going to do it, Fred.”
The rainy windshield cleared and lit up with fractured moonlight streaming past bare tree branches overhead. The rain and road were gone. They were inside woods Fred didn’t recognize. In front of them, they looked upon a van identical to the one they sat in. The driver’s door of that van opened and Fred watched himself stumble out of it, then hurry to the passenger door and pull Karen White out.
Norman said, “You know those pictures of lonely clowns and homeless puppies and starving children, Fred? That’s how she looks right now. Just like the others. Just like Rita when she begged you for her life.”
Fred tried to close his eyes, tried to look away, but he no longer controlled his eyes. He watched his other self do what he had planned to do later, out of Pennsylvania. It was brutal and bloody.
“Stop,” he said.
“Are you going to vomit?” Norman grinned. “Hurl in your lap, Fred. I ain’t stopping.”
In the windshield, the other Fred finished the rape. He collapsed on Karen’s body and rested. Then he rolled away. Her body looked lifeless next to his. His great stomach heaved as he caught his breath. Then he sat up, wheezed, pushed himself to his knees, wheezed some more, and stood and staggered toward the van while zipping his pants. That’s when Karen’s left arm moved. Her fingers wrapped around some dark object. She rolled on her left side and fired five rounds from Fred’s pistol until the other Fred fell to his knees, wheezed deep and hard, and then fell backwards and stopped breathing. The windshield went dark.
“She would have killed you there, Fred. But I’m not going to let that happen.”
Fred turned and cast a bewildered gaze at Norman’s glowing red eyes. “You’re not?”
Fred whispered, afraid he would sound intrusive if he spoke out loud. “What are you gonna do?” Then he cowered while he waited for an answer, terrified he had offended the thing sitting next to him, terrified the devil Lucifer himself had come to take what little sanity he had left.
Norman’s eyes sparkled in another flashing array of red. His gaze never left Fred’s as he pulled from his right pocket a sheet of paper folded in half. He placed the paper on the dashboard, opened the door, and assaulted Fred’s eyes with the dome light and his ears with the car alarm. The rain pushed inside past Norman’s body as he stepped out.
“Someone wants to see you.”
Red lights danced outside the door. Then a young woman wearing a black sweatshirt with Ridgewood Police lettered across the front got in. Sadness edged her pale green eyes framed by ragged hair that had once been short and strawberry blonde. The ghost’s papery voice hissed at him although her pallid face remained calm. “Remember me, Fred? Remember when you kidnapped me that night in my driveway five years ago as I was going to work.”
Fred shook his head in denial as his memory deceived him into remembering the lust he’d felt upon seeing pretty Rita Malloy at the K-Mart store. Only, he hadn’t known she was a police officer. Not until he had actually paid attention to her shirt after she became his prisoner.
The edges of Rita’s eyes burned red. “I never made it to the station. You raped me, Fred, at knifepoint. Stabbed me in the stomach when you were through. But I didn’t die. So you shot me with my weapon when I tried to escape. Left me for the wild dogs and coyotes. The remains of my body have never been found.”
Fred shook his head harder as the memory haunted him. “No. Not true.”
“Then where did you get my gun, Fred?”
Fred looked at the pistol pointed at him. He closed his eyes.
“You took my money,” Rita said, “went to Atlantic City, didn’t you? Won nine hundred and seventy-five dollars. Dismantled my car down there and scattered away the parts, piece by piece.”
Fred covered his ears.
Rita aimed her pistol at his forehead. Fred saw it in his mind.
He was certain Rita’s pistol would not jam now.
Thirty minutes later, when the Pennsylvania State Police officers found Fred Shafer’s body in the driver’s seat of Karen White’s van, they were certain his death had been a suicide. Rita Malloy’s government-issued pistol was in his right hand, his index finger on the trigger. On the dashboard, the police found a sketched map on yellowed paper showing them the location of Rita’s body.
At the bottom of the page, the map contained an elegant scrawl.
Abe, it said; nothing more.
You may read various versions of this story, but this is closest to the original content. Enjoy.
© 2006 by Steven L Campbell.
A Friday evening blood-red sun sank eye-to-eye with Myers Ridge and blistered the west side of the craggy peak to look like a plug of magma. But Myers Ridge and its Eagle Rock Incline had not been forged by fire from the earth’s interior; they had been pushed into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago, and Myers Ridge’s deep limestone bowels were filled with tunnels and caves as cold as the day it was born. From its chilly repose, the ridge seemed to awaken with a shudder, as though frightened to be cast in a redness that threatened to scorch drier its valleys of evergreen and deciduous trees.
Deep inside and miles below the ridge’s icy chambers, the internal earth erupted and hurled carbon into the ridge at supersonic speed. Millions of gallons of underground lake water quickly cooled the carbon into diamonds and shot steam to the surface. The old Pennsylvania hill—a mere remnant of the mountain it once was—grumbled and shook down trees and rock. Several caves collapsed. Loose stone and sod tumbled down hillsides and spilled into unpopulated creeks and ravines. All around, small animals hissed and shrieked and scurried into burrows. Black bear stood and roared. Deer crashed through thickets, their eyes wide and their breath quick and snorting through flared nostrils. The clash and scream of bats and birds and ducks and geese taking flight sounded like someone had ripped open the August sky. Thousands of these dark winged creatures detonated into evening’s crimson inferno.
The tremor, which lasted almost fifteen seconds, stopped. Myers Ridge and many of its creatures settled.
Inside the ancient depths of an underground lake, a long plume of silver cloud rose from the ashes. Red and yellow bristle-pointed lights radiated from within the elongated cloud, boiled the lake, and sparked nearby stone into fire. Like overcooked blackened eggs, several geodes burst open and gave up their multicolored crystals to flame. Even the diamonds there were blistered into obsidian-like cinders.
The silver cloud lifted and turned and shifted, squirmed its way topside, and summoned the heavens for electricity. The red sky outside pitched along its horizons and gave birth to thunderclouds. An uneasy crow lumbered lonely above the ridge and cawed sharply for its scattered mates that had left him during the tremor. No answer came. The crow squawked as if it were annoyed to be left by itself.
The cloud shrilled and sent darts of red light from its brumous interior. The crow cried out and lumbered to get away from the oncoming attack, its black wings flapping hard to gain altitude. The lights pierced its body as the crow flapped higher into the blood-red skylight until its wings flapped no more.
The lights returned next to the cloud. A swarm of yellow lights exited the cloud and stood with the red lights, pulsating like thousands of miniature hearts. The silver cloud thundered at the sky for electricity. Equal thunder answered from the horizons; the sky around Myers Ridge buzzed with immediate electricity.
“Take off your ring,” Lisa told him. Her voice trembled. She threw her own rings onto her sleeping bag.
“Hurry. Get rid of everything metal.” Lisa undid her belt from her blue jeans and threw the belt aside. Her cell phone—the new red one she had bought last week—followed and clattered against her rings inside the tent. Her long auburn hair frizzed and the ends danced in the air, almost alive. Then she had her hands inside his pockets, pulling them inside-out. His keys and loose change clattered against his folded painter’s easel between their sleeping bags, waiting like him for the approaching storm to pass.
“What’s going on?” David Evans scratched his neck where he felt tiny insects crawling on the hairs. His wedding ring vibrated on his finger. He stared at his hand.
“David.” His mind emerged from the thought that something extraordinary was happening. “We’re inside an electrical charge.”
Wind pushed them across Myers Ridge when she pulled him from the tent. Then he was up and racing with Lisa toward the woods. Above the wind came the sound of angry bees.
“Lightning.” David barely heard Lisa’s voice. “We’ve got to get to lower ground.”
Rain broke from the sky and slashed their backs. Lisa reached for his hand—the one still bearing the wedding band—and they ran inside the woods, along the trail that led to Ron and Josie McCutcheon’s ranch house a half-mile away.
Thunderclouds churned and rumbled. Lisa pulled him over briars and deadwood and rock. The trail’s unevenness jolted them; the ground tilted to the left and she fell. He dove after her and landed at the edge of a sinkhole. The hole was large enough to swallow his Sequoia parked safely at Ron and Josie’s.
His boys were there with Josie; he had to rescue their mother.
Lisa’s rain- and mud-streaked forearms rose from a cloud of silver fog that filled the hole. Her hands clutched a tree root above the cloud.
“Help me,” she called from inside the swirling cloud. “I can’t hold on.”
Her hands were out of reach, but David still reached out to save her. That’s when the rain stopped. Heat suddenly blanketed his back as a bolt of lightning struck the cloud. He felt an explosion in his skull. Electricity hammered the bones in his outstretched arm before he screamed and rolled away.
His head throbbed; fire tore inside his arm. The air cooled and the rain started again. He scrambled on his belly closer to the edge of the sinkhole and called Lisa’s name. The cloud was gone. So was Lisa.
One mile east of Myers Ridge, the only angler hitched his sharp-angled shoulders and returned to casting his line from the shoreline rollicking from the tremor. Long ripples reflected broken red skylight across Alice Lake.
Norman Gentry’s reflection was that of funhouse mirrors. When the lake flattened, a face like Abraham Lincoln’s looked back at him. Norman was almost certain that Lincoln had never seen sixty.
Happy birthday, he reminded himself as he fished for his supper at the lake he called home.
His lake—Alice Lake—used to be a good lake, tormented many years by industrial dumping until the plastics factory in town moved overseas in 1990. EPA claimed the lake clean again last year, but only a few ever ventured to eat from waters that still maintained a mysterious middle.
Good trout ran downstream, he’d heard, but no fish from Alice Lake had killed him yet. He knew how to recognize cancer sores on his fish, and he knew good meat by its smell before he put it to butter, lemon, and salt and pepper.
Bars of silver flashed close to his dock. He cast his line and hooked a minnow. He cast again and brought in a bluegill. He cast and forgot everything on earth except the lake until the rain came.
“Are you going to ignore me all night?”
She stood behind him and was bright, too bright, and came closer and closer and finally stopped just behind his back. He ducked round, away from her heat. Her long auburn hair was aflame upon a slim figure in a burning array of silver.
Yellow lights sparkled above her right shoulder; red lights above her left.
“Choose,” she said.
An invisible torch swept over him. Her wide grin thrilled him abruptly and sorely. Only two or three women from town ever looked at him that way, and she wasn’t any of them.
Her beauty inside the fire stopped him. There was nothing but dry gravel in his throat as he tried to speak. He drank in the rain that got past the licking flames consuming him, and he managed to cough a bit and feel his face flush in the heat.
The slim point of his fishing rod bowed to the dancing water under the elm trees before he released his hold of the rod to accept the kindling voice that sang him to bed.
To be continued
I spent the morning changing my PubIt! Account at Barnes & Noble to NOOK Press. Although I have only two of my five Ridgewood Chronicles books there, I plan to add the others soon. I also brought down the prices to $0.99 per book. The new prices may take a day or two to appear at B&N.
Meanwhile, I am still having issues with their Nook for PC app, which I downloaded three months ago. Customer complaints are years and many about this app, and B&N seems unable to offer a fix. The basic problem I am having is it will not automatically list the ePub books I own. I have to add each book one at a time to my library. Another problem is it will not stay synced with books that I am reading in my library. If I stop at a page in the middle of a book, it will not bookmark that place, but start at the beginning the next time I open the book.
Overall, I like Amazon’s Kindle app for the PC. I have used their app for two years and I have never had a problem. However, it will not open ePub books, so I have resorted to using Calibre’s e-book management app to convert my ePub books to formats that Kindle can open.
Calibre is a great app for anyone who has a huge e-book library. I like that you can edit the book descriptions, as well as choose from various covers. Or, if you are creative, you can design your own covers.
Now, the clock is telling me that I must return to working on my novel, which will be available at Amazon and B&N. Stay tuned.