The basketball game had gone into double overtime. Mason's only hope to meet his wife, Linda, at Toro Loco for margaritas at six thirty was to take the short cut through the woods. This would save about thirty minutes. He might even have time for a quick shower if he walked fast. He tried to call Linda on his cell, but she hadn't answered. He left a message he might be late.
He'd caught a ride to the high school with Carlos, a friend who worked in the mailroom. Unfortunately, Carlos couldn't stay when the game went into overtime, but Mason didn't give it a second thought. He didn't mind the long walk home. He'd burn more calories and still have plenty of time to get to Toro Loco before Linda, that is, until the game went into double overtime.
He found the beaten path he had walked many times as a teenager, which seemed like a long time ago now that he had children of his own. He guessed it would be about a mile to his house taking the shortcut.
It got dark early this time of year and the cloudy December day with no stars and no moon made the forest seem a little more eerie than the times he walked here with Linda on Sunday afternoons. If he remembered correctly and had found the right path, the picnic tables where they took the kids last summer should be just a little further to the right.
Suddenly, he heard a gunshot. The reverberation in his ears told him the shooter was very close. Thinking about the black clothes he wore made him feel extremely vulnerable in the darkness. Even with the aura of suburban street lights in the distance beyond the woods, he couldn't see anything moving in any direction and he doubted anyone could see him, particularly, dressed in black from head to toe.
He thought of shouting out to the nutcase that must be illegally hunting in this residential neighborhood, but the hefty fine made him think something other than hunting could be in play here. Hearing the snap of a twig ahead of him, he dove behind the cover of a fallen tree. Something felt nasty in the leaves, but he dared not make a sound. In seconds, he heard voices approaching. In the darkness, he made out two men standing fifteen feet in front of him; one lit a cigarette. The flame illuminated his face.
"Good Lord!" he thought. "I know this man. It's Tom Sullivan, a bartender at Clyde's in South Orange. My son rides the same school bus as his son."
Mason felt foolish diving into the pile of leaves for no reason until the next words from the two men rang clear as a bell.
"Is he dead?" The non-smoker asked.
"Right between the eyes. He never knew what hit him," Sullivan said coldly.
"Do you think someone heard the shot?"
"Who knows? Someone probably heard something, but in these deep woods, they may not know what direction it came from. And they might think it was just a backfire. No one came the other times."
"That's right. No one even came when we shot the second guy three times when he came to and tried to run. Are we going to leave the body out here like before?"
"Sure. Let the animals have a feast. I don't want to mess up my trunk. Let's drag him behind this trusty old log and cover him with leaves like the others."
Mason trembled with fear, terrified they may find him if they came closer.
"I'll bet the picnickers will find them next summer," the non-smoker said.
"I doubt it. There won't be anything left but bones by then."
Mason lay as silently as he could, not moving a muscle. He smelled something dead under his nose in the pile of leaves. In his haste to find cover, he had plopped down on something grisly and put his fist through the putrefying remains of a dead thing, rotting and reeking to high heaven. Most likely, it was one of the bodies the killers had left here before.
"You didn't believe me when I told you how easy it would be to roll the big money winners at Winky’s on Friday nights," Sullivan said. "Hit ‘em with the stun gun in the parking lot and push ‘em into the van. They’re all good for at least 5 grand a pop.”
"It's been easy money so far. I can't believe the cops haven’t caught on by now.”
“Patience is the key. Never make a move on a regular; only the ones we don’t know, who come from out of town and get lucky.”
“Until they get to the parking lot, huh Tom?”
When Mason thought of his cell phone in his pants pocket that could ring at any moment, his heart pounded so hard in his chest, he thought the men would hear it. Linda would be ordering her first margarita soon and was sure to call to check on him. If she did, his life would be over. He couldn't chance turning off the cell because it played "2001-A Space Odyssey" when it powered off. A few seconds passed and neither of the men said anything, but he didn't have the nerve to make a run for it.
He heard them cursing when they returned, dragging a large mass down the path on the opposite side from his hiding place.
"Damn it! This lowlife weighs a ton," Sullivan shouted huffing and puffing. "We put the other two on the other side of the log. Let's start a graveyard on this side."
The two of them heaved the heavy mass to the ground, gathered armfuls of leaves, and covered the fresh corpse. They also broke some dead limbs off the fallen tree and placed them on top of the leaves to keep them from blowing away.
"Time for a brew. I'm really parched after all this exercise and the money's burning a hole in my wallet," Sullivan said jubilantly.
Mason heaved a silent sigh of relief when the men started to move toward the path that led to the picnic tables and their car.
Suddenly, the woods lit up with the beams of two extremely bright flashlights and Mason heard a new voice call out, "Police! Put your hands in the air so we can see them?"
Sullivan and the other man stood still with their flashlights pointed toward the ground.
The two officers approached with revolvers pointed at the two men. The same officer spoke again, "Did you hear me? Put your hands in the air so we can see them and don't make any fast moves. Did either of you fire the shots we heard?"
"No sir… uh officers," Sullivan said raising his hands and flashlight above his head. "We didn't fire any shots. We're unarmed."
"Is that your car parked next to the picnic tables?"
"Yes, it is," Sullivan said as his accomplice raised his hands and flashlight above his head.
Then Mason's cell phone exploded with the opening riff of Jimmy Buffet's classic, "Margaritaville". All four faces, two flashlights, and the policemen's guns turned toward the music coming from behind the fallen tree.
"Who's there?" The first policemen called out.
Mason arose from the pile of leaves, put his hands over his head, and said, "I'm Mason Kutz. I dove for the cover of the leaves when I heard the shot. I was afraid the shooter might think I was a deer and take another shot." He turned off his cell phone at the part where Jimmy Buffet had cut his heel on a pop top and had to cruise on back home.
Realizing this distraction was their best chance to catch the officers by surprise, Sullivan went for his gun and took a shot at the first officer. The second officer saw the fast movement and opened fire on him at the same moment.
In the beam of a flashlight that had fallen to the ground, Mason saw part of the lead officer's head disintegrate just after he'd fired a shot at Sullivan’s accomplice who had simultaneously unleashed a Bowie knife toward the second officer. Incredibly, in one motion, Mason watched all four men topple to the ground. Their flashlights rolled away into the leaves.
Mason stood in shock with a spray of blood splatter across his right cheek and arm. All motion before him had ceased after the crossfire had ended. His ears rang and the forest had become deathly still. In the beams of the four flashlights strewn upon the ground, Mason looked for something to move, cry out, or take a shot at him. To his relief, everything around him remained in a kind of surreal suspended animation.
He picked up the closest flashlight and pointed it in the direction of the two murderers. Sullivan's chest had several gaping holes and blood had pooled in the leaves around him. The other man had a small hole in the center of his forehead. His blank, open eyes stared into what had become a starry night.
Mason stood there in the aftermath of the bloodbath, happy to be alive. He reached for his cell to call 911 and then Linda, but couldn't find it. He returned to the area where he'd turned it off and searched the grisly leaves until the stench became too great to continue. He started toward the picnic tables in hopes he could communicate with someone with the radio in the police car he assumed would be in the adjacent parking lot.
Suddenly a bright light lit up the sky that was so intense he thought his eyes might burn out of his skull. Finding himself paralyzed where he stood, he began to levitate into the air in an encapsulated beam of white light. In seconds, he rose far above the forest and saw the town of South Orange and the surrounding communities getting smaller and smaller. In a flash, a mammoth circular object appeared from out of nowhere and floated above him. He heard a whirring sound and saw an opening form in its underbelly. He continued to rise until he was entirely inside the craft and the round opening below him whooshed closed.
Looking around the interior, he saw hundreds of strange beings that were obviously not of this earth. His head began to spin as several aliens hoisted him on a gurney and some kind of mental lightning bolt made him pass out.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself on what appeared to be an operating table. His arms, legs, and his head were connected to hundreds of tubes that led into various machines with flashing monitors. Strangely, he felt no inclination to try and stop the aliens from having their way with him. His mind felt like it had been drained of its knowledge and magically refilled with thoughts and ideas that seemed much more fascinating than anything he'd learned on earth. His will was no longer his own. He had to answer every question and respond to every command. In spite of this dominance, he felt calm and had no fear.
* * * * *
The next morning, Mason found himself on the outskirts of the woods adjacent to his housing development. As he walked toward his home, he noticed all of his senses were much more acute than they had been before the abduction. He felt better than ever before and he sensed that he had undergone significant bodily modifications that were hidden under his black sweatshirt and pants. In his lower abdomen, he could feel two more orifices than he'd had before the abduction. He also discovered he could make his tongue touch the ground if he wanted. He still had no idea what these changes meant and what the future held in store. All he knew was he was alive and the four men he'd encountered in the woods were stone cold dead. Despite what the aliens had done to him or what they expected him to do for them, he preferred being alive. At least, for now.
When he opened the front door of his house, Linda screamed from the sofa in the family room, "Where the hell have you been? I waited for you for three hours. You're so lucky that the guys at the bar didn't take advantage of me. I was that drunk."
Mason entered the living room and sat on the loveseat across from her and said nothing.
"Let's hear it, bozo. Did you find a bodacious babe with gigantic boobs on your way home? I'll bet…"
Linda's rant was cut short when Mason's tongue shot from his mouth across the coffee table separating them into hers. Her eyes rolled up into her head and she started to suck.
"You know, honey, I think you’re gonna really like these extra orifices and the variety of plug-ins you can choose after you've had your makeover," Mason said as a long tail with fingers slithered from behind his back and fastened on the zipper of Linda's jeans and pulled it down.
This is a story from my compilation of thirty stories entitled "Shivers and other nightmares". If you liked this story, buy my book as well as my first compilation of 32 short stories entitled "Black Is Night".
My third compilation Don't Look Behind You will be FREE to download on amazon.com on July 6-10, 2013.
Anyone who reviews my book on amazon.com will be eligible to receive my undying gratitude for a considerable amount of time.