Category Archives: Short Stories Spring 2018

“The Agent” by Nadira Boddie

Chapter 1

Sabrina pushed the bangs of her pixie cut out of her face as she stared at the bald-headed presenter in the middle of the small, indoor amphitheater. He was describing an AK-47. Bidding started at $10,000. The glaring ceiling lights made it hot, and Sabrina wouldn’t have been surprised if her eyeliner started to run. Being clothed in a halter, tight pants, and thigh high boots didn’t make her any more comfortable. It wasn’t a look she would’ve normally chosen. But she wasn’t playing herself. She was playing Nikki and the outfit was Nikki’s style.

Josiah, however, looked comfortable in a navy polo, trousers, and dark jacket. Sabrina didn’t know how he could stand the heat. Ironically, he took a tissue out of his pants pocket and dabbed some sweat from his brown hairline. Sabrina almost laughed. She was seated with Josiah and his crew on the end of what was about the tenth or twelfth row from the front. The bald man was moving onto the next weapon.

“How long?” Josiah suddenly asked.

“How long what?” Sabrina inquired.

Josiah flicked a piece of imaginary lint from his jacket.

“How long have you been working with the Feds?”

Sabrina kept a straight face, but her insides tensed. “What?”

Josiah looked up. His eyes were opal stones glazed with intensity. He gave a small smile. “You heard me. How long have you been working with the FBI?”

He twisted piece of Sabrina’s hair around his right pointer finger. Too close for comfort. Sabrina took a deep breath.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” she said.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“You’re being paranoid,” she replied.

Josiah’s hand was immediately around her neck, squeezing. The ceiling lights became brighter and sharper.

“Don’t…do that!” Josiah snarled. The intensity in his eyes increased. Sabrina could almost hear his teeth grind together. “Don’t make me out to be crazy.”

“I’m not,” Sabrina chocked.

A meaty hand come down on Josiah’s shoulder. “Jo, relax.”

It was Ray, Josiah’s bodyguard, right-hand man and best friend. At 6’6 with a wide, solid body he could give the Hulk a run for his money. Despite his words, the pressure on Sabrina’s throat didn’t waver.

“You know…” Josiah whispered. “Ever since you came back things have been off. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I had this feeling that…that things weren’t as they appeared to be.” He furiously searched Sabrina’s face. She kept her eyes focused on the gritty panels above.

“Then it hit me,” he continued. “You turned, didn’t you?”

She remained silent.

“When the chips fell and the Feds came you made a deal to save your own ass. Didn’t you?!”

People in the next row were starting to stare. Mercenaries, kingpins and other criminals ready to throw down at the first sign of trouble.

“Jo, keep your voice down,” Ray advised.

But Josiah wasn’t about to let up. His temples were pulsating and he breathed fire on Sabrina’s cheek. She had to do something quick.

“Josiah…listen to me. You got it all wrong. I didn’t turn. After the Feds raided the compound they locked me up. They questioned me, but I wouldn’t talk. Plus, they didn’t have enough evidence on you to make an arrest. So they let me go.”

Josiah scoffed. “You expect me to believe that?!”

He squeezed harder. Sabrina could feel the blood beating against her throat.

“Jo! Seriously! You really want to air your business out here like this?” Ray looked as if he wanted to take his best friend out himself.

“It’s true!” Sabrina cried. “I wouldn’t lie to you, baby. You know that.” Sabrina was able to conjure up tears. The salty rivers were ready to overflow at a moment’s notice.

Josiah’s eyes softened. He slowly released his gripping hand. Sabrina took in as much air as her lungs would allow. Her vision focused and the commotion around her became clearer. Ray resumed his position overlooking the crowd while Josiah sat back and stared straight ahead.

Baldy was now grasping a different weapon; big as an AK but heavy like a bazooka. It was lifted onto his shoulders. He touched a button and a red beam shot out. He pointed it at the crowd as if he were specifically choosing a target. Sabrina, on the other hand, could still feel the imprint of her companion’s meaty digits. Her speeding heart slowed. She shakily swooped the bangs out of her eyes again. Keep it together, she thought.

“Why didn’t you look for me?” a soft voice spoke.

Sabrina turned. Josiah was still looking ahead but his demeanor had changed. He slouched and his hands hung loosely between his legs.

“Why didn’t you try to find me?” he repeated. Hurt. Josiah was hurt.

“I could ask you the same question,” Sabrina shot back.

Josiah stiffened.

“I tried,” she replied quickly. “But I was under surveillance. Feds had people tailing me everywhere. I didn’t want to lead them to you.” She watched for a reaction. Josiah just blinked.

“When the heat died down, that’s when I went looking. I couldn’t run the risk of traveling out of the country but I kept my ear to the ground. Nothing. Nobody had heard from you; Beanie, The Flynn Boys, not even Marko’s crew.”

Josiah still said nothing.

“Now answer my question; why didn’t you look for me?” Sabrina asked.

Josiah started to say something but he changed his mind. Instead he said “You wouldn’t lie to me…would you, Nikki?”

Sabrina shook her head. “Of course not,” she answered.

“Promise?”

She didn’t reply. What was this man up to? What was with the third degree? He turned towards her. His jaw was relaxed, eyes gentle yet cautious. He sighed.

“That’s ok,” he whispered, patting Sabrina on the knee. Then, he raised his hand, causing Sabrina to flinch.

But he cupped her chin and brought his steady lips to her nervous ones. His usual confident, pressuring kiss was now comforting and pleasurable, loving even.

Something was wrong.

Josiah stood and nodded towards something in the row behind. Sabrina felt the tip of something sharp press itself against her spine. She craned her neck to see one of Josiah’s other men, Benning, displaying a gold-toothed grin. His jet black hair fell into his right eye covering an old scar above his eyebrow. He pressed the blade slightly. That was Sabrina’s que to move. She stood. She followed with Josiah and Ray leading, Benning at her side, and Troy at her back. Sabrina walked with her head held high, but her legs were noodles and her stomach was folding in on itself. Who knew what Josiah and his crew were going to do once they stepped out the door?

Sabrina had a pretty good indication.

* * *

Agent Matthew Stanfield was dressed in a black shirt, jeans, and boots. The heat was getting to him but he couldn’t worry about that now. He was situated in a seat towards the back right corner of the amphitheater. From there it looked as if Agent Urie and Josiah Alexander were necking. Nothing to be alarmed about. But it made him sick. Agent Stanfield, along with agents Gutterman and Cassidy, had been tailing Agent Urie as backup for about a month now, and it didn’t get any easier seeing Alexander paw his fellow countryman. But Sabrina could handle herself. Stanfield causally looked to his left. Cassidy was located two rows behind the intended target. She was wearing leather pants and a low cut blouse with a sapphire necklace nestled in her bosom. Gutterman was on the far left occupying a space on the wall. His dark baseball cap masked most of his face and his oversized tee hung on his twiggy body. It was almost comical.

“What’s your status?” Stanfield asked through an invisible microphone in his ear.

“Not sure,” Cassidy replied. “He seems to be whispering something but…it doesn’t look good. His buddy looks worried.”

“How about you, Gutterman?”

“Pretty much the same on my end,” the other agent responded. “People are starting to stare. And the bodyguard doesn’t look happy. Josiah must be pissed about something.”

A big bruiser of a man with a plaid shirt and bad tan walked by, making Gutterman duck his head.

“Okay,” Stanfield declared. “Remember the plan; observe, no interference.”

“We’ve been doing this for a while now, Matt. I think we can handle it,” Gutterman remarked.

“Not what I meant, smartass. No matter what happens we can’t risk blowing our cover. Or Agent Urie’s.”

“Who are you trying to convince, Matt?” Cassidy chimed in.

Stanfield said nothing. He honestly wasn’t sure. He never wanted Sabrina to go back under in the first place, but they had no choice. The Agency had failed once and they weren’t going to fail again. Other than the bodyguard, Raymond Ambrose, Agent Urie was the only one Alexander really trusted. After the raid, they held Agent Urie “in custody” for a while hoping to draw Alexander out. Three days had passed and nothing. Josiah Alexander still didn’t resurface even after two weeks of surveillance once Agent Urie was “released.”

“Why?” she had asked. “Why didn’t he come for me?”

“He could be lying low. Waiting until the perfect time to strike,” Stanfield had assured her. But Sabrina wasn’t easily swayed. She was convinced Alexander would’ve rescued her. She sounded…wounded. Matt didn’t know how to feel about that. Sabrina Urie was one of the best agents in the field; precise, alert, motivated. She couldn’t possible care for a low-life arms dealer.

“He’s calm now.”

Stanfield snapped out of his reverie once Gutterman spoke. He refocused on the task at hand. From what he could make out, the bodyguard was surveying the crowd while Alexander and Agent Urie were looking straight ahead. Suddenly, Agent Urie turned her head towards the criminal.

“What’s happening?” Stanfield asked.

“They’re talking,” Cassidy replied.

“Can you make out what they’re staying?”

“Nope. How ‘bout you Gutterman?” Cassidy asked.

Gutternman squinted his eyes and tried to focus on Agent Urie’s lips but to no avail.

“Nah. I’m too far. Maybe if I get closer…”

“Be careful, Trevor,” Stanfield cautioned. He watched as Agent Gutterman casually moved down the aisle. He stopped when he got about three rows away from Agent Urie. He leaned against the wall, folded his arms across his chest, and tried to look bored and restless.

“Well?” Cassidy prodded.

Gutterman observed. Agent Urie’s natural full brown lips were coated in deep purple lipstick and they were moving slowly with pauses in between her sentences.

“She’s talking about her supposed arrest…and that she tried to look for him…”

Stanfield’s heart raced. “Shit.”

“Do you think he knows?” Gutterman asked.

“He may suspect.”

“Shit.”

Stanfield was afraid of this. This was exactly why Sabrina didn’t want to go back under; for fear that after all this time Alexander would finally know she was an FBI agent and kill her. Or worse.

“They’re on the move,” Cassidy announced.

Stanfield watched Alexander, Urie and the rest of Alexander’s crew get up from their seats and head towards the aisle. They had Agent Urie boxed in. Gutterman put his head down as they went by. Stanfield’s heart beat faster. This was not good. A few seconds later, the group disappeared from his sight.

“What do we do now?” Cassidy asked with a hint of panic.

Stanfield took a deep breath. “We do what we’ve been doing; we tail, we surveil. Nothing more. Cassidy, you leave first. After a few seconds, Gutterman. I’ll bring up the rear.”

“Copy.”

“Copy that.”

Cassidy stood and made her way towards the exit. Stanfield counted: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…”

Gutterman pushed himself from the wall and followed suit. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…”

Stanfield stood, smoothed out his shirt, and sauntered casually up the aisle. When he got outside the two other agents were already waiting by the black Ford Focus. Stanfield started to jog while pressing the button to unlock it.

“They couldn’t have gotten far. What’s their location, Trev?”

Gutterman held a small gray device in his hand. On its screen was a satellite image and a little green dot that moved at a steady pace.

“They’re heading south,” he said.

“South? Are you sure?” Stanfield asked.

“Positive.”

Stanfield started the car, shifted gears and barreled out of the parking lot heading towards the direction of the green dot.

“South is in the opposite direction of town,” Cassidy observed. “What’s south?”

Gutterman tapped the glowing screen twice to zoom out. He rotated, zoomed back in, rotated again, and so on. He frowned.

“Uh…nothing really. Just a lot of wooded areas, a stream here and there, a field or two. The two lanes stop about a mile and a half where a gas station is. But after that…zip. If they keep driving they’ll reach the next city in an hour and a half. Two tops.”

“You think they’re going to the next city?” Cassidy asked.

Stanfield didn’t respond. He highly doubted Alexander’s attending target was leaving the city. Driving down the road in the middle of the night with nothing but towering trees and vast fields on either side of the road? No. Matthew Stanfield believed Josiah Alexander had something else in mind and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

Chapter 2

Sabrina was still sweating. Not just from the multiple bodies in close proximity, but also from nervousness. She was seated in between two of Josiah’s goons in the back seat of a GMC Yukon; Troy was to her left and Benning was on her right, still pointing the knife at her. Out of the corner of her eye, Sabrina could see him smirking at her. His eyes roamed the length of her body and lingered a little too long on her chest. His smirked widened. Sabrina groaned in disgust. She and Benning had never got along. She couldn’t believe Josiah allowed this grade A pervert to be a part of his posse. According to agency files, Benning was associated with two sex trafficking rings in Latvia and Croatia. But then again nobody was actually able to prove it. It wouldn’t have surprised Sabrina in the slightest.

Once when the boys were playing cards, she had overheard Benning bragging about banging a 20-year-old redhead. Sabrina didn’t think much of it at the time. Sure, Benning was a misogynistic asshole, but every man bragged about sleeping with a younger woman whether it was true or not. But sometime later, when they all went out to dinner, and Benning had too much to drink, he set his sights on a group of young girls who looked to be high school age. Josiah had just closed a deal with one of the biggest drug lords in Europe, Preston Santos, and the crew was celebrating at one of Jo’s favorite restaurants in Spain. The girls were sitting a table across the courtyard from theirs; two blondes, an Asian and one girl who could’ve been either white or Hispanic. They were laughing and drinking, and Benning was eyeing them the whole time. After the fourth drink, he decided to make his move.

“Where are you going?” Josiah had asked when Benning stood up from the table.

Benning smiled his devious smile and said “Well…if you must know there are a couple of women over there that need my…special attention.”

Sabrina scoffed and took a sip of wine.

“You got something to say, Nik?” Benning had asked.

“No. Not at all.” Sabrina dramatically licked the chocolate off her fork and smacked her lips loudly. Josiah was amused.

“If you’ve got something to say, say it babe.”

“Well,” Sabrina started. “I was just wondering…just how special Benning’s attention actually is.” She made doe eyes at Benning and batted her eyelashes innocently. His coyote smile wavered. Josiah chuckled. Even Ray and Troy, who were standing on either side of the table, cracked a smile.

“I’m just saying B. These girls may be young but I’m pretty sure they know it’s supposed to last more than five minutes.”

This made everyone laugh out loud.

Benning placed his tongue in his cheek. “Is that right?” he asked.

Sabrina shrugged. A few seconds passed when suddenly Benning slammed his hand down on the table. Everybody stopped laughing. Even Sabrina was surprised.

“How ‘bout I take you out back and show you how special I really am!”

“You better watch yourself, Benning,” Josiah said evenly pointing a ring clad finger. “You don’t talk to my lady like that.”

Ray and Troy sobered up; tensed and ready to handle business if needed. Benning took a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.

“It’s all good Jo-Jo!” He aimed a pointer finger at Sabrina. “It’s all good, babe.”

Sabrina gave him a head nod.

“All good, B,” Josiah said. “But Nikki’s got a point, you know. Get with those girls and you’re just asking to be put in prison.”

“Don’t worry about me, Jo. I can handle myself.” Benning’s gold tooth shined brighter than the overhead lanterns in that devilish grin of his. He swaggered his way over to the young girls and started to make conversation.

“You shouldn’t make fun of Benning, you know,” Josiah advised.

“How else am I supposed to entertain myself?”

“I thought I was entertaining you pretty well these past few days.”

Josiah purred and kissed Sabrina’s neck sensually. But Sabrina wasn’t paying attention. Within a minute, the high school girls invited Benning to sit down. He looked over his shoulder and winked. Sabrina wanted to gag. What was wrong with these young women? Didn’t they know better than to invite a strange man to sit with them, especially in a foreign country?

“Let it go,” Josiah said.

Sabrina turned towards him. “What?”

“Just forget it.”

“This man is about to commit statutory rape and you want me to let it go?”

“Oh, please. Benning’s not gonna sleep with those girls.”

“Oh, really? So what the hell is ‘special attention’?”

Josiah waved the question away. “All talk, Nikki. Man talk.”

Sabrina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

“Besides for all we know those girls could be legal,” Josiah said.

“For all we know they’re not,” Sabrina shot back.

“Goddamn it, Nikki! You’re the one egging him on in the first place, remember?”

For that Sabrina didn’t have an answer. Poking fun at Benning was an impulse, but she did it anyway. As she said before; she and Benning had never gotten along. And now, because of he,r some girl was in for what could be the worst night of her life. Josiah sighed and wrapped an arm around his significant other.

“Look baby…as a woman I know you want to protect them, but truthfully it’s none of our business. Now I may be his boss, but I’m not gonna deny the man the simple pleasures in life. Okay?”

When Sabrina didn’t answer Josiah jostled her shoulder. “Okay?”

Sabrina sighed. “Okay.”

Josiah went back to his drink and dessert. In a sick, twisted way, Josiah was right. He was her intended target. No matter what Benning, Ray or anybody else did, Josiah Alexander was her concern. That was one of the worst things about the job; not being able to stop all of the bad things that you came across.

Back in the present, Josiah hadn’t said a word since they left the auction and that was 20 minutes ago. He stared straight ahead.

“Josiah?” Sabrina tried. No answer. “Josiah, where are we going?”

Again nothing. He just sighed deeply.

“Josiah, answer me,” Sabrina almost screeched on the brink of panic.

Benning held the knife to Sabrina’s throat and pressed slightly.

“I’d shut up if I were you, princess,” he said. Sabrina could feel the serrated edge prick her skin.

“Relax Benning,” Josiah finally answered. “She’s no good to me dead.”

Sabrina’s blood ran cold. She knew Josiah was planning something sinister, but it wasn’t so bad that he wanted to kill her. Yet. He needed her. Benning removed the knife and replaced it near Sabrina’s rib. She was pretty sure the cut was going to scab over gruesomely in a matter of minutes. Her throat was going to be sore in the morning. Up ahead, stark white lights illuminated the dark road. It was a gas station.

“Turn in here,” Josiah commanded.

As the Yukon got closer, Sabrina could see the outline of a mermaid spinning on top of a pole near the driveway. The minimart situated across the lot said Merlin’s in big blue and green lettering. Ray decided to park furthest away from the building in the darkest corner of the gas station. At this time Josiah turned around. His eyes were blank. Sabrina couldn’t tell what was going through that mind of his. He looked at Benning and Troy.

“We’ll be back. Try not to kill her.” With that, he and Ray got out of the car. They both headed towards Merlin’s and disappeared inside. There was nothing in the parking lot except for a red Camry and what looked to be a green station wagon parked near the entrance of the mart. On the left side of the Yukon were three air machines and to the right were trees; a thick canopy of vegetation. Other than the sound of the wind, it was silent. So silent it made Sabrina even more anxious.

“What’s the matter, princess?” Benning whispered in her ear. “Scared?”

Without looking at him Sabrina asked, “What makes you say that?”

“Because you don’t look as tough as you think you do.”

Sabrina said nothing. Benning scoffed.

“You do know Jo is going to kill you, right?”

Sabrina swallowed. “Why? He needs me.”

“Not for long he doesn’t. That’s why we’re here; for supplies.”

Sabrina turned then. Benning was wearing that same smirk. She couldn’t help but ask, “Supplies for what?”

Benning’s smirk turned into his signature coyote grin. “You’ll see.”

Troy was quiet throughout this conversation. The whole car ride in fact. He wasn’t much of a talker anyway. There was a running joke that Troy’s tongue was cut out sometime in his life, and that’s why he couldn’t speak. It was a ridiculous joke but the more he hung around the more paranoid Sabrina got about it being true. About five minutes had passed and Josiah and Ray were still inside. Sabrina thought about Matthew Stanfield.

She knew he had been surveilling her at the auction and he couldn’t be far behind. Especially not with a small tracking device fitted on her back molar. It can track up to five miles through satellite imaging. Sabrina was glad it wasn’t a microphone. On the one hand, it could save the Agency a lot of time if everything were recorded, but then again she didn’t want the higher-ups listening to the flirting that was exchanged between her and Josiah. And especially the sordid conversations, among other things, that happened behind closed doors. Sabrina would do anything for her country, and she accepted the fact that she would have to do things she wasn’t proud of. Regardless, she didn’t have to like it. Sabrina took a deep breath and sighed.

“Getting restless, are we?” Benning asked.

In fact, she was. What could possibly be taking Josiah and Raymond so long? It wasn’t like the minimart was filled with customers.

“It’s not like you have anywhere to be, you know,” Benning continued. “At least not now anyway. Soon, you’ll be six feet under. Buried where no one can find you.”

Beside her, Troy breathed a sigh of annoyance. The problem with Benning was that he didn’t always know when to shut up. Similarly, Sabrina didn’t always know when to keep her mouth shut, either. Like now.

“You don’t really believe that?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“They say behind every good man is a good woman.” Sabrina leaned in closer and whispered, “I’m that woman. I make Josiah better. A better business man than he ever was before.”

Benning glowered. “Please! You mean nothing to him. You’re just a piece he keeps around to play with. A common whore.”

Sabrina smirked. “Maybe so. But who does he trust to count his money, to set up meetings, to use his personal computer? Me. Who does he constantly protect, Benning? Who does he care about? Again, me.”

Sabrina knew she was getting to him. His breathing was getting deeper and his eyes had hardened.

“Even after all this time, after all the shit that went down at the compound, Josiah let me back into his arms as if nothing ever happened. He loves me.” Sabrina figured that last part was a bit of a stretch but it still had the desired effect. “Face it, Benning. I’m better than you. Always have been and always will be.”

Sabrina scoffed. “A common whore as you put it. So if anybody’s going to be six feet under, it’s you. And your soul? It’s going straight to hell.”

Before Sabrina could process what was happening, Benning reached out and punched her so hard on the jaw that it sent her head flying into Troy’s rough shoulder. He then grabbed the back of her neck and brought it down on the console and back. Sabrina was seeing stars. Her head was pounding and her nose throbbed viciously. She wasn’t sure if Benning had broken it or not, but one thing was for sure; blood started to dribble from her nostrils. Her jaw was on fire, feeling like it had been dislocated. With a good grip on the nape of Sabrina’s neck, Benning growled. She hoped that her wig hadn’t fallen out of place.

“You always did have a mouth on you, Nikki. Maybe that was something Josiah liked about you. Maybe you’ll extend that same pleasure to me, princess.” Benning cackled like an insane hyena.

“Benning.” Troy spoke and placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Enough. Josiah’s coming.”

Sure enough, Josiah and Ray were strolling through the parking lot with a shopping bag in tow. One damn bag. Benning gave one last squeeze before letting go. Josiah climbed into the passenger seat, and as he did, he met Sabrina’s eye in rear mirror. No doubt he saw the blood on her face as well as bruises beginning to form. Something flashed in his eyes. Concern maybe, but it was gone as soon as it came. Ray climbed into the car next and tossed the grocery bag to Troy. He followed Josiah’s eyes and saw the same thing. He immediately frowned.

“What the hell happened?” he demanded.

Benning shrugged. “Jo said not to kill her. She’s still here isn’t she?”

“Telephone Game” by Evan Hoke

The Joanne Harrison Hopkins Literary Achievement Award Winner (2018)

 

“Oh my god, did you see what he was wearing today?” Cassidy asked with obvious distaste in her voice. She could hear her friends giggling through the speaker of the phone in her bedroom, and that notified her that it was time to continue with her onslaught “I mean, if his clothing didn’t give away the fact that he was an ugly loser, all you need to do is listen to him talk for like, three seconds before he shows that he’s a freak.” The eruption of laughs from Trixie and Sarah, her friends in the three-way phone call, signified that she had done a good job in entertaining them.

“Jesus, Cassidy,” Trixie spoke through her laughter, her high-pitched voice echoing through the phone “You’re so savage, you need to calm down.”

“I mean, sometimes the the truth hurts, Trixie,” Cassidy smirked, responding playfully “Someone has to be real enough to tell the little loser the truth.” Cassidy paused for a moment, twirling the crystal white telephone cord in her hand as she shifted around on her bed, turning to flip on her stomach and settling in before going on “In fact, I think I’ll remind him tomorrow how much he means to all of us.” Cassidy listened as the snickering died down on the other ends and heard a gasp of air, likely from Sarah, as that’s always what she did before she began speaking.

“Aw, come on, Cass. Andrew isn’t that bad.” Cassidy rolled her eyes dramatically at Sarah’s statement, as if her eyeballs were about to disappear into the back of her skull, but let the other girl continue “He helped me last year in calculus, he’s really smart!” Cassidy scoffed, perhaps a bit too loudly, but she had a hard time picturing Andrew being good at anything. It was really amusing. As she prepared a cynical response, she heard some faint yelling in the background of the call, coming from one of her friend’s homes before Sarah began again, “Hey guys, my mom needs me for something, I’ll call you back later if you’re still up. Talk to you later!” The sound of Sarah’s phone clicking on the receiver made it obvious she had hung up, leaving just Trixie and Cassidy in the call.

“Oh my god, Sarah totally has a crush on Andrew” Cassidy stated without hesitation, hoping that Trixie would take the bait to go in on their friend. Almost as if on cue, she heard a gasp on the other end.

“Really, Cass?” There was a pause, as if Trixie couldn’t believe it, but something seemed to click as she spoke “Actually, that would make so much sense. He went over to her house like, all the time last year! And she said she was a virgin!”

Cassidy smirked, having been given all of the information she had needed, thanking Trixie in her mind for unknowingly biting the hook.

“So that’s what she calls studying, huh? Oh help me, Andrew, I’m so confused, oh Andrew, oh Andrew, oh…oh!” Cassidy began making loud moaning noises, clearly mocking the nasal quality in Sarah’s voice, causing Trixie to chortle, a sound that Cassidy found particularly gross, but continued on with her insults, “Andrew, screw calculus, screw me instead!” The teenaged girl proclaimed passionately. Cassidy listened as Trixie lost it, a high-pitched squeak emerging through the speaker which made Cassidy winch, her face scrunching up in annoyance.

Luckily, Cassidy knew Trixie, and she had seen her laugh until it hurt to do so anymore, which would likely be the case here. Cassidy colored herself impressed, she considered herself clever and quick-witted, but if this was all it took to make Trixie believe to her, she was so much better at tricking her friends than she thought. But then again, she already knew she was good at what she did.
When Trixie’s giggles seemed to subside, she listened as her friend was able to speak again.

“You’re so funny Cass, oh my god, and I can’t wait to see Andrew tomorrow, we’ll have to save him a seat next to Sarah at lunch!”

“Literally, you’re so right, Trixie,” Cassidy mustered up as much sincerity as she could generate, navigating her eyes over to the vanity across the room and catching her reflection, locking eyes with herself before going on “That’s why you’re my best friend.” Cassidy listened as Trixie let out a relieved sigh, seemingly content, before she heard her take a breath.

“Well, of course I’m your bestie! But for real, I’m exhausted, I’m gonna head to bed. Night Cass.”

Cassidy didn’t respond immediately, seemingly lost in her image, but after a moment managed an uncaring, “G’night Trixie.” Upon uttering those words, she heard the click of Trixie’s phone hitting the receiver, and put her own phone down in response. She turned her attention back to the mirror and smiled devilishly, taking note of how her bright blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders, the curls and waves layering themselves perfectly to her, settling right above her upper arms. She knew that her look was right. How could it not be? Her silky peach nightgown only helped her image too, as she knew that when she looked good, she felt great. What a wonderful philosophy, right?

Seemingly lost in thought, she barely noticed her telephone ringing in the background, only breaking out of her trance when the ringing had continued on for several seconds. Upon realizing it was going off, she nonchalantly picked up the phone, mumbling a disinterested, “Hello?”

“Hey, Cass, did Trixie go to bed?” She instantly recognized the nasal quality in Sarah’s voice and rolled her eyes, but pitched up the tone of her voice to sound excited.

“Oh, hey girl!” She exclaimed rather fakely, gathering as much interest as she could muster. “Yeah, she was tired, but how was helping your mom?”

“Oh, it was whatever, y’know.” There was a quick pause, and Cassidy wondered if Sarah wanted to say something more, but only replied with, “So, what did you and Trixie talk about?” The edges of Cassidy’s mouth curled upwards, and she knew that she had just been given her opportunity.

“Girl, you’ll never believe what she told me,” Cassidy flipped to sit up, lying against the large pillow at the head of her bed to get comfortable, as this was gonna be great. “It turns out she has a massive mega crush on Andrew, can you believe it?” The gasp on the other line told Cassidy all she needed to know and she let her friend absorb the information before listening to her talk.

“She really said that?” There was a moment of silence before a loud exclaim, “That’s so cute! Should we help set them up?” Cassidy groaned to herself at Sarah’s positiveness to her lie, biting her tongue from spewing something unsavory at her so-called friend. As she was about to respond, she heard a knock on her bedroom door before it slowly crept open, her younger sister stepping into the small crack she had created between the wall and the door.

“Hey, Cass, are you busy right now? There’s something important I want to talk to you about, I really need your advice.”

“Get lost, Lola,” Cassidy responded sourly. “I’m on the phone. I don’t have time to deal with you right now.” God, couldn’t Lola see that she was busy? Cassidy thought that after turning fifteen, she’d have more self-awareness and be less annoying. She caught her sister’s defeated face as she returned to the shadows of the hallway, closing the door behind her. She couldn’t be bothered with her sister right now; she had more pressing concerns to deal with.

“Sorry, Sarah, that was Lola, being annoying as always.”

“It’s alright. Your sister’s super sweet!” The cheerfulness in Sarah’s voice made Cassidy gag, but not loud enough for Sarah to hear.

“Anyway,” Cassidy continued “Keep it on the down-low, Sarah, I don’t think Trixie wants anyone to know.” She could practically imagine Sarah nodding on the other end of the line, believing every second of her lie.

“You’ve got my word!” she declared with resolve.

“That’s why you’re my best friend, Sarah,” Cassidy stated dryly, smiling to herself the entire time, as if to convince herself she was telling the truth.

“Aw, that’s so nice of you Cass! But I guess I should let you get to bed. Goodnight!” Sarah’s congested voice disappeared as she hung up the phone.

Cassidy put the phone back down on the receiver before laying back further on her pillows. One of her only thoughts was how annoying Sarah’s voice is, but as she was absorbed in this thought, she heard a banging sound coming from outside of her room.

“Hey, Lola, shut up!” She screamed, clearly annoyed at her sister for making such a racket. Maybe, once she woke up in the morning, Lola would be much less annoying. She settled backwards into her array of pillows, reaching over to switch off the lamp next to her bed. She closed her eyes and let her body relax, letting sleep slowly take her over.

A cheerful ringing sound echoed throughout the walls of the room, and Cassidy sat up immediately, her eyes trying to alert themselves to her environment but struggling to do so as only moonlight shone in through her bedroom window, illuminating the room in yellow tint, staining both her carpet and vanity. She glanced around the room, spotting her alarm clock reading three forty-one in the morning, sending her into a rather pissed off mood. Eventually, she managed to focus on where the annoying pitch was coming from; her bedside phone ringing incessantly. She groaned, thinking that it was probably some prank call, but decided to pick up the phone anyway, leaving the receiver placed on her bedside table.

“Hello?” She answered groggily, not fully interested in whoever was talking to her at this hour.

“Cassidy….” A voice whined, heavy sobs leaking through her speaker “Why did you do this to me?” Cassidy instantly became more aware of whoever was talking to her, something in her head notifying her as to who was speaking.

“Trixie?” she questioned, unsure if she was actually correct in her guess.

“You did this…” her friend uttered, not answering her question. There was no doubt in her mind, that was definitely Trixie’s high-pitched voice on the other end.

“What’s going on Trixie? Are you on drugs?” Cassidy asked with a defiant tone in her words, more than annoyed that Trixie had decided to bother her this late at night.

“You did this…you caused this to happen to me.” Her friend’s voice seemed somber and unclear, as if she was holding back something. Cassidy was unsure of what was going on or what to even say, but she needed some kind of explanation.

“Trixie, I don’t-”

“You’re not my friend. You would’ve stopped this!” Trixie screaming was all Cassidy could hear as she was cut off, a loud and abrupt clicking sound signifying that her friend had hung up on her.

Cassidy huffed, clearly annoyed, and threw down her own phone. What the hell was Trixie’s problem? Maybe she was on drugs after all. Regardless, she didn’t have time to worry about whatever Trixie was up to, her bed awaited her. As she readied herself to return to sweet bliss, her phone began ringing again. With an agitated scoff, she picked up the phone again, answering with a pinch of aggression this time.

“What is it now, Trixie?” While she expected an immediate response, there was nothing on the other end of the line. She pressed the phone closer to her ear, before picking up on some kind of muffled sound on the other end that seemed like it was slowly getting louder, as if it was approaching her.

“Hello?”

“Cassidy…” a voice moaned out, in a seemingly erotic way. She knew by the way the voice rang through her phone that she wasn’t talking to Trixie anymore, but a new person entirely.

“Who is this?” She asked ignorantly, already tired of whatever shenanigans were occurring.

“You…did this…to…me” The words were slow and were separated by deep groans, as if something was occurring on the other end that she shouldn’t be listening to. However, after listening to the nasal quality of the voice, she knew who she was talking to.

“Sarah, what the fuck is going on?” she questioned demandingly, growing more and more uncomfortable in the situation. Was Sarah having sex right now?

“You’re the…reason this happened….it was…you…the whole time….” One final moan emerged from the line, a deep one that rang throughout Cassidy’s phone speaker before a soft click ended the conversation.

The phone remained in Cassidy’s hand as she sat in awe, dumbfounded at why her friend had called her if she was having sex. Even more importantly, what had happened that she had done? If Cassidy was the reason Sarah was getting laid, she should be thanking her. It was about time that she lost her v-card anyway, right? Right. Snapping out of her daze, she haphazardly threw the phone back on the receiver, ready to go to bed and ask what the hell her friends were smoking last night when she woke up in the morning.

Yet again, though, as she tried to settle back in, that same ringing sound began again. She turned towards the sound, signifying that her telephone was going off once more. What the heck was going? Her parents were going to be so pissed if this kept going on, especially if they woke up at this point.

Beyond annoyed, she picked up the phone and started yelling into the mouthpiece. “Listen here, I don’t know what’s going on but you guys better fucking stop, like now.” She said indignantly, simply wanting to return to sleep.

“But, you never stopped, did you, Cassidy?” a deep voice answered quickly, and she was taken aback by the lack of life in the voice of the individual on the other end.

Thinking quickly, she responded, “Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Frustrated, she continued, “If you call me again I’m gonna call the cops to come here.”

“You’ll need them soon enough…after all…you did this,” the voice threatened, and Cassidy felt instant chills thrust down her spine and creep over her arms. What the hell was he talking about? What had she done? As she pondered these thoughts, a new one entered her head, one that explained everything to her.

“Andrew, did you just threaten me?” Her voice was loud and commanding, and after a few moments with no reply, she knew she was right. “Did you do something to Trixie and Sarah, you freak? I heard them call me earlier. Did you make them do it?”

“I didn’t make them do anything Cassidy,” he responded without hesitation. “Everything here is your fault. It’s all…your…fault.” The angry emphasis on the last word made Cassidy jump from her bed and she listened as the other phone was seemingly placed down carefully, listening to the click of the phone being hung up.

She slammed her own phone back down and shivered nervously. What the hell was going on? Why had Andrew called her and blamed her for something? The unnerving sensation of the three phone calls she had received seemed to hit her all at once, and she couldn’t help but feel exposed, the moonlight setting ablaze every inch of her. Maybe she should just call the police. Or was that too dramatic? Should she just disconnect the phone from the wall instead? That would probably be easier, but then again, if she called the police and claimed that Andrew was harassing her, wouldn’t she be recognized as a hero for taking down the creepy pervert who calls girls in the middle of the night? In her mind, she would be.

Deciding to do just that, she reached for her phone to dial for the police when it began to ring again. She smirked triumphantly. If it was Andrew, she knew she could gloat to his face about what she was about to do, and she knew she’d have the belief of everyone around her to back up her story. After all, who was going to believe ugly, old Andrew?

Confidently, she sat down on the side of her bed, picked up the phone and began speaking, “Don’t bother saying anything Andrew, I’m calling the police now, they’re about to zap your ass.” She gloated, but all she heard on the other end was a low humming sound that sounded nothing like a teenage boy. She didn’t say anything, but honed her senses in on the hum before it grew into low sobs, like a gutter collecting and spewing out water during a rainfall.

Thinking back to the crying she had heard earlier, she asked, “Trixie, is that you?” She did not receive a reply, but there was something different about these tears compared to Trixie’s. They were much quieter, much more reserved, as if something was holding them back. Cassidy listened quietly to the sobs for about a minute before Cassidy decided that she had had enough. She couldn’t take this anymore, and snapped loudly at the telephone in her hand, shrieking, “Go to hell!” Her voice echoed throughout her room, and within an instant she listened closely as the low sobs began to stop. Silence ensued, before a meek voice emerged from the other end of the phone.

“Goodbye, Cassidy. This is what you wanted.” The voice uttered, and Cassidy’s stomach lurched forward as she recognized the voice. She stood up and tried to move somewhere before a shadow stopped her, flying past the large image of the moon showcased in her window, covering the brightness of the glowing object for a moment, encompassing her room in darkness before it passed by the window. A large thud occurred, signifying that the shadow had hit the ground. Cassidy leapt towards her window and looked at the the mangled body below, legs and arms bent in unsightly and horrific ways. A pool of blood emanated from beneath the body, staining the grass with it’s horrific red coloring.

A low wail emerged from Cassidy as Lola’s body remained unmoving, broken by the impact of the fall, illuminated only by the yellow glow of the moon.

“Holden Apollo’s Origin Story” by Rachael Leubecker

His father came home from work, the shattered glass of a beer bottle imbedded in his back. Little brown spikes of glass speckled his shirt. With booze clotting the air, Bradley Apollo lumbered to a chair, feeling heavy and thick. His feet felt numb, catching beneath him with every step.

Holden Apollo watched from around the kitchen door jamb as his father fell into the chair. Bradley, rocking like a man at sea, cast his glassy eyes to his son.

“Get over here, boy.”

Holden flinched, quickly stepping out from behind the door jamb. He loved his father, but the sudden slurred voice broke the boy out of his staring.

“Holden,” his father slouched, his huge shoulders sagging like an abandoned toy.

“Yes?”

“Get the bag.”

The boy shuffled to the counter, swinging up his small leg. His little pink hands grappled in the cabinet until he closed around a little velvety handle. Sliding the red bag forward and catching it to his chest, Holden hopped back down, bare feet slapping the floor. He walked over to his exhausted father and, using the second dining chair as a stool, stepped up onto the table.

The boy folded his legs under him and heaved the bag in front of him. The bag sagged. It looked like an exhausted old woman, sighing with the weight of responsibility. Holden rustled around inside the bag, pulling out a small blue box—inside was a reverse cutting needle and sutures.

“What happened tonight, Pop?” Holden’s young voice was casual as if it were a dinner table conversation. In a way, it was. Holden and Bradley were at the little, two-person dinner table that stood like a lone soldier in the wooden kitchen.

“You know Ed? Ed Mercer?”

The boy nodded, stringing the suture through the needle, “Sure, I know Uncle Ed. What’d he do?”

“Well,” Bradley shifted, grimacing as Holden tore his shirt way from the broken glass. “He lost his job this morning.”

“What? At the mill?”

“Yup.” Bradley chuckled, but winced as Holden began, pinching a piece of glass between his thumb and forefinger.

“Ah hell, get the whiskey, boy.”

The whiskey frowned at them from the old, bowed shelf. It looked lonely, standing among a few empty cups. Holden got up, swiping the amber bottle off the sagging shelf. His father accepted it gratefully, downing as much as he could without choking on the trail of fire it left in his throat. Holden began suturing again.

“The mill decided to lay off half the workforce this morning, claiming it was for the benefit of the community.”

The silence that followed marked the end of Bradley’s story. Father and son sat, tending to their tasks—the father with the whiskey and the son with the needle. Holden worked on removing all the glass before suturing.

“Pop?”

“Yeah?” He took another hardy gulp.

“Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”

Bradley grimaced, “Because the world is full of scum, my boy.”

Holden went quiet as he yanked out a shard of glimmering glass. Blood held thick to the smooth surface, sticky like syrup. Thankfully, most of the pieces had fallen out when Holden tore away the shirt. It wasn’t long before the boy gestured for the amber bottle. Bradley handed it to him, gripping the chair in anticipation for what would come.

Holden emptied the bottle on his father’s wound, to which the grown man growled with clenched teeth. The actual suturing didn’t take the boy long; this wasn’t his first time stitching up his father.

“Do you think I could do something about it, Pop?”

The older man, appearing very weary, looked up to his son. The boy’s hands were a slick red and his young eyes were full of dull ambition. Suddenly sober, Bradley reached up and placed a hand behind Holden’s head. A tired, worn smile showed the father’s lack of hope. The world had broken him, as he knew it would one day break his son.

“In this world, people like us can’t do anything about it.”

Holden didn’t look convinced. Watch me.

His slim, powerful fingers flipped on the light switch, only to be jolted with an angry bolt of electricity. Holden, attempting to get more light so he could finish his final project, ignored the little spark. The rundown house had its quirks, which included a faulty switch that zapped everyone. He laid out the ten-page paper, scratching at his collar. The high school uniform itched, its dark blue fabric rasping against his skin.

It wasn’t long after Holden began working—maybe twenty minutes had passed—when the yellow-cream landline began screaming. Holden, idly procrastinating, eagerly picked up the phone. Any excuse not to do his work was welcome. Plus, it wasn’t due for another twenty-four hours, right? Plenty of time. He put the phone to his ear.

“Hello, is this Mr. Apollo? Holden Apollo?”

“Yessir, this is Holden,” His forehead pulled together, confused. He’d been expecting a telemarketer, not someone who called him by name. There was a popping noise, some static, and hushed voices. The phone was being passed.

“Holden, my boy,” It was Ed Mercer.

“Uncle Ed? What’s up?”

“Holden, it’s your pop. He picked a fight at work.”

Worry began to chill through Holden’s chest, his heart beating faster. Pop always got into little skirmishes, but they rarely warranted a call. The boy shivered, bringing a second hand up to the phone. He held it closer, as if he hadn’t heard Ed right and was listening harder.

“What happened?”

Another rustle and crackling noise, but it was still Ed who replied, “I think you should come down to the plant, son.”

Holden dropped the phone into the dock. It didn’t take him long to scramble everything into his backpack, jamming the zipper shut. Slinging it over his shoulder, the echo of house keys remained by the time he was out the door. Holden was on his bike; the ground slipped away, the tires pulling him forward.

Hein’s Electric Plant had been established by Ed Mercer after he lost his job. Bradley quit along with the fired members. It was a day or two later that the Electric Plant opened. They ganged together, all working for the Electric Plant. Since that day eight years ago, Highland County Grain Mill had a vendetta. There had been safety reports, sabotage, and gangs of employees attacking the Plant.

Rocks clattered against metal paneling as the bike skid, abandoned, and clattered to the ground. Holden was already entering the Plant. He cleared the small staircase and ran for the office, “Uncle Ed!”

Sturdy with bush-like facial hair, Ed Mercer peered around a corner. “Over here!”

Voices dropped as they hit the walls, making everything sound short and clipped; all the walls were lined with thick rubber. Holden moved beside Ed and, before he could ask anything, was wrapped in a tight embrace.

“Uncle Ed? Is Pop okay?” His voice sounded faint. He had to be okay—the man could walk home with shards of a beer bottle in his back.

“No, son. He’s not.”

Holden had known. He could feel his father’s loss like a bullet wound in his chest. His heart sped up. The pain was deep and hollow, like a stomach ache. Holden’s breath quickened and he looked at Ed with wide eyes. “Where is he?”

“Upstairs. I’ll have the boys give you a minute before we move him,” Ed grabbed the back of Holden’s neck and pulled him in for another hug.

As soon as the burly man’s arms left his sides, Holden was walking away. His feet carried him like a ghost, all noise absorbed by the rubber floors. Bradley was on a catwalk by a transformer, lying still and prone. Holden lifted his chin as if it would hold back the emotion that burned his eyes.

“Pop?”

Holden’s knees felt weaker the closer he got. When he saw the pallor of Bradley’s face, he went numb. From the inside out, Holden couldn’t feel anything. Losing control, he kneeled and bowed over his father. Little blue dots bloomed along the sharp red stains of his father’s jumpsuit. He was crying.

Ed came up. It had been thirty minutes already.

“Where did they go? The men who attacked my pop?”

“What?”

“The men!” Holden shouted, shoulders trembling.

“I don’t know, Holden.” Ed stepped forward. A look of realization lit his face. “Your father was closing up. Only the front was open and I didn’t see anyone—“

The realization became astonishment. The astonishment became a bloody cough. Ankles bending from beneath him, Ed Mercer crumbled like a stone statue. Four men stood on the narrow catwalk, trickles of scarlet slipping from the knife like tears.

“I’m sorry, boy. We really need our jobs.” Their eyes were desperate and Holden frantically stood, his feet catching beneath him. As soon as he managed to rise, pain blistered in his side. Jolts of clawing electricity scorched the breath from his lungs and every hair stood straight. In a moment, Holden was on the ground, an electrified shard of rebar piercing his side and projecting out both ends. He curled in on himself involuntarily, muscles rigidly electrified.

A fifth man towered over the boy, looking conflicted. It took a moment before the men chose to leave, too guilty to properly off Holden. Instead, unable to navigate past him on the thin catwalk, the fifth man shoved Holden off the side.

Holden fell. The catwalk crossed the generators—mountains of giant metal objects growled with the rush of water. This was one of many sections of the plant: fifty water-powered generators that hooked up to a high voltage transformer. The rebar was clamped with a jumper cable, electrifying it, yet it also prevented Holden from falling smoothly.

He fell, unable to breath from the volts of electricity. The rebar snagged, the jumper cable going taunt and snapping off with a loud pop. Holden gasped, suddenly able to breath short, twitchy breaths. It happened in a matter of seconds until Holden slammed into the ground. The floor wasn’t insulated; instead, it was a thin pool of highly conductive liquid mercury.

Electricity flowed through him, stimulating every cell. Holden’s entire body ached distantly, as if his muscles had been tense for too long. His joints popped and his heart froze. He was acutely aware of being freezing cold, shivering uncontrollably. With a startling stop, everything went deathly still. Holden stared at the iron mountains around him, the growl of motion having stopped. The electricity had stopped, too. Unable to stop himself from shaking and twitching, the boy worked his uncooperative body to his feet. Shoulders bowed, Holden wiped a trail of drool and blood that slid over his lips. Prodding the rebar, his blurry thoughts forced him to rip it out. With the rending of flesh, Holden tore the metal from his side, a cry ripping from his lips weakly. The metal clattered to the ground. Holden stared.

Before his eyes, the wound stitched itself together. Holden choked on a breath and clawed at the hole in his shirt. Tendrils of blue light jumped between his fingers. They spread, crackling and popping, up his arms until his entire body was threaded with little bursts of lightning. An insane smile flashed across his face. He looked up to the catwalk, eyes becoming orbs of white-blue light. Sparks jumped across his skin; electricity crackled between his body and everything conductive in his environment.

Holden Apollo thought back to the men who murdered his father, to the Highland County Grain Mill that hired them, and to the words his father had spoken to him.

“In this world, people like us can’t do anything about it.”

Holden thought of all the towns who “couldn’t do anything” due to oppressive companies. Holden made a vow to wipe them all out.

His doubt told him he couldn’t do it.

A moral conscious told him he shouldn’t do it.

Watch me.