Kelly Piner is a Clinical Psychologist who in her free time, tends to feral cats and searches for Bigfoot in nearby forests. Ms. Piner’s short story “The Old Man and the Cats” was just selected for publication by Storgy Magazine. Weirdbook’s annual zombie issue just published Ms. Piner’s short Story “Lazy River.” Her stories have appeared in multiple anthologies. She also has short stories published inThe Literary Hatchet, East of the Web and be-a-better-writer.com. Shejust completed her first novel, FAT SANDS.
Inside the darkened room, Clyde Foley opened his eyes and pressed his hand to his forehead. When he sat up, he felt like he had a jackhammer in his skull. Disoriented, he blinked and searched his memory. How did he end up on his sofa, and what day was it anyway? He pressed a dial to illuminate his watch, 11:29 pm. He had a vague memory of being at Louie’s Pub around noon, drinking beer with his fish and chips. So how’d he get home? He stumbled into the small bathroom off the foyer and removed a bottle of Aspirin from the medicine cabinet. He dumped three tablets into his hand, then filled a water glass and peeked out the bathroom window. In the faint glint of the street lamp, he spotted a lump, lying in his driveway. He squinted and looked again. In the night, the eyes play tricks. But when he took a second look, the form appeared more defined, like a mangled body, lying motionless in his drive. A pile of metal lay nearby, on the grass. As he gulped down the tablets, his mind raced. He’d been passed out so he wouldn’t have heard a crash. A light snow had carpeted the grass and the country road outside his house. He figured the biker had been driving too fast. Likely he’d hit an icy patch and had been flung right into Clyde’s drive. He thought of phoning the authorities, but slipped his phone back into his pocket. After all, he’d been drinking and still felt woozy. He probably smelled of alcohol. They’d interrogate him, all for being a Good Samaritan. His best friend, Bill, had been dragged from his apartment and arrested for drinking and making too much noise during the college football game; disturbing the peace, they called it. For Christ’s sake, didn’t a man have a right to drink in his own home? He slipped on his jacket and opened the kitchen door that led to his garage. But when he flipped on the light, he gaped. Right there in plain sight sat his new Ford truck with the front end bashed in. He felt sick. Unsteadily, he slumped onto the steps and buried his face in his hands. He had to be dreaming; he just knew he was dreaming. He had no memory of an accident and wouldn’t he remember? He took a deep breath and forced back the salty fluid creeping into his mouth. He leaned over and examined the truck. A bright red tinge of fresh blood clung to the bumper. He felt dizzy and looked away. In his drunkenness, what had he done? He needed to check on the injured man. Maybe he’d only been knocked unconscious. So he pushed a button and raised the garage door. As Clyde approached the lifeless form, he looked for any sign of movement, anything to indicate the man could be helped. But when he leaned over the body, the man’s neck had been twisted, like a dead bird’s. The motorcycle, now a mangled piece of metal, lay on its side in the corner of the yard, covered by a light film of snow. Clyde placed two fingers against the man’s neck to check for a pulse, but felt none. An uncontrollable sob wracked his body. His heart felt like it might explode. He tapped his fingers against his temples for any memory of what had happened. Maybe he hadn’t hit the man at all. But he couldn’t ignore the evidence, his smashed-up truck and blood on the bumper. He couldn’t call the authorities now. They’d run his name and discover his DUI from five years ago. Then, they’d ask to inspect his truck. He couldn’t risk going to jail. He’d lose his job with the electric company, and he’d spent the past twenty years working his way up the ranks, to supervisor. Plus, he had two kids to support and with his ex-wife disabled after her wreck, everyone counted on him. His nearest neighbor lived over a quarter mile away, so no one would had witnessed the accident. But someone must be looking for the dead man, maybe a wife or parents. Clyde wondered if the dead man had children. In the darkness, he couldn’t tell his age, but maybe late twenties, practically a kid. On an impulse, he pulled a wallet from the man’s coat pocket and flipped it open; Jeffrey Harris, born 1992, only 28 years old. Clyde wished he hadn’t looked. He slipped the wallet back into the man’s pocket and forced his mind blank, like when he’d been in Iraq during a mortar attack and had seen his best friend, Joey, blown up. Clyde had been only 20, younger than Jeffrey. He’d need to eradicate all traces of the tragedy before anyone showed up looking. So he raised the demolished motorcycle and rolled it into his garage and laid it on its side, out of sight behind a pile of plywood. Painted cherry red with silver monster racing strips, Clyde could see the custom-made machine had been cared for and cherished. He’d dispose of it later. He folded his arms across his chest. How long had the dead man been lying there on the stone-cold pavement? And what would he do with him now? He considered taking the body to a nearby creek and dumping it, but it’d resurface. Bodies always did. And just what did he know about disposing of a body? He trembled as he leaned down and looked into the man’s vacant eyes, staring up into space. He couldn’t risk being stopped in the dead of night by the cops, smelling of alcohol, with a body in his truck. He’d do the only thing he could. He had to hide the biker on his property. At first, he thought of burying him in a shallow grave, but if the cops came around asking questions, they’d discover it. Plus, too many wild animals roamed the area, digging around. He scanned his property until he spotted it, the old well at the edge of the woods. He’d drop the body down into it. No one would have any reason to look there. It’d be perfect. But a pain gripped his chest when he thought of what he planned, denying the man a proper burial and leaving his bereaved family in the dark, never knowing what had happened to him. They’d never have the closure they needed. But he’d been left with no choice. Anyone could see that. And with only six hours left before his shift, he couldn’t miss work and draw suspicion. So he pulled an old blanket from his truck and tossed it over the man’s face. He couldn’t bear looking into the dead eyes anymore. Then, he raised the body from behind and slid his hands underneath the man’s armpits and dragged him a few feet. But the body was so heavy, and Clyde had a torn rotator cuff. That wouldn’t work, dragging him clear out to the edge of the woods. So he lowered the body to the pavement and went into his garage. Moments later, he emerged with the deer cart he’d recently used to haul an 8-point buck out of the woods. A large dark red stain saturated the green canvas. Clyde blinked and looked away. He used his good arm and rolled the torso onto the cart, making sure the blanket concealed the corpse’s face. But the man’s legs dragged the ground as Clyde maneuvered the cart around the side of his house and around trees and bushes. Once, he hit a stump and the cart toppled, sending the dead man tumbling onto the ground. Clyde rolled him back onto the cart and put the full weight of his body into it until he reached the old well. Despite the freezing temperatures, beads of sweat formed on his forehead, and his flannel shirt clung to his body. He needed a hammer to loosen the lid, but as he walked back to the garage to retrieve one, headlights approached. A police cruiser slowed as it passed his house and then stopped in the middle of the street. Clyde hovered near the corner of his house when the cruiser backed up and pulled straight into his driveway. A police officer emerged and shone a flashlight into the garage. Clyde couldn’t let him discover the mangled motorcycle, so he rushed from around the corner of the house. “Officer, can I help you?” Despite his attempt to sound casual, his quivering voiced betrayed him. The officer shone the light into his eyes. “Is this your place?” Clyde nodded. “I noticed your garage open. There’s been a rash of burglaries in the county. It’s not safe leaving it open all night.” Clyde swallowed over the lump in his throat. “Of course. Thank-you, officer.” “It’s kind of late, isn’t it, to be working outside? Is everything okay?” Clyde shrugged. “I’m an insomniac and heard noises. I was just checking it out.” “Noises? Want me to look around?” He took steps toward Clyde and ran his flashlight over the yard. Clyde forced a laugh and held out his hand. “Oh no. Don’t bother. I think it was just a deer. It’s fine now.” But the policeman stood motionless, like he doubted Clyde’s story. Then, he turned toward the garage. Clyde’s mind raced. What if he asked to look inside the garage or worse, search the back yard? “Thanks again, officer. I best be getting to bed, work and all.” “Just remember to keep that garage shut after dark.” Before he could say more, his emergency radio sounded, and he rushed back to his vehicle and disappeared into the night. Clyde’s legs buckled. He doubled over and wheezed. He couldn’t have the officer drive back past and see the open garage, so after he grabbed a hammer, he retrieved the garage opener from his truck and shut the door. He stuck the opener in his pocket and took swift steps toward the well, where the body waited. He wouldn’t think about it. He’d just flip the man off the cart and into the dark hole below. Then he’d seal the lid and return to the safety of his house and force his mind blank. No one could ever know about this, not even his best friend, Bill. He banged the hammer against the lid of the old well until it loosened, and then with a burst of foul odor, it slid off. He averted his gaze when he stooped down and raised the man from behind and forced his upper body over the side of the well. Almost there, he told himself. But when Clyde tried forcing the legs over the side, the man moaned and opened his eyes. He looked straight at Clyde as he grasped the side of the well. The biker’s lips trembled as he struggled to speak, and for a split second, Clyde thought of pulling him to safety. But paralyzed with shock, he only stared back. A cop had just been in his driveway, and Clyde hadn’t mentioned any accident. Maybe he only imagined the man alive. He’d read about how alcohol affected the brain, seeing things and all. Plus, he’d checked the man’s pulse only thirty minutes earlier and had looked into his dead eyes. It had to be the alcohol. The man’s hands turned white as he grasped the well, and then his eyes rolled up into his head. Before Clyde could react, the man’s hands slid from the well and without thinking, Clyde loosened his grip on his legs, allowing him to fall backwards into the black hole of nothingness, a roach-infested cesspool. Clyde took several heavy breaths. What had he done? It was as if he’d killed the biker twice, once in the accident and now with the well. He had never intentionally harmed anyone since a ninth-grade fight when he had punched a classmate for stealing his bike. Now, how would he live with himself? He replaced the well lid and pounded it shut. He shuffled back to his house, the hammer dangling loosely in his hand until he threw it into the corner of the garage on his way to the bathroom, where he stood in a steaming hot shower for twenty minutes, as if washing away his guilt. Afterwards, he made a pot of coffee and sat in his kitchen, blankly staring out onto the back deck. Wind chimes jingled in the evening breeze as he pressed a wad of tissues to his face. He wouldn’t think about it, couldn’t think about it. The accident was likely unavoidable. For all he knew, the biker had probably crossed the center lane just as Clyde had turned into his driveway, sending Jeffrey head first into the truck. The man had been dead when he had wheeled him to the old well. He knew it. He’d only witnessed a reflex, like stories of corpses bolting upright at funeral homes before being embalmed. Maybe he’d done the family a favor, not letting them see Jeffrey all busted up like that. His throat constricted as he recalled an old line from an AA meeting; the most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves. Numb, he shuffled upstairs to his room where he curled up in a fetal position onto his unmade bed. He pulled the blankets high up around his neck and tried forcing sleep. But he tossed and turned until he lapsed into a dream-like state and thought he heard someone knocking on his window. He opened his eyes and lay still and thought of the young man, lying 100 feet below the earth’s surface, maybe moaning and screaming for help as rodents and vermin infested his body. At 5 am, Clyde solemnly slipped into his work uniform. Downstairs, he filled his travel mug with coffee. He couldn’t risk being stopped by the police with Jeffrey’s blood smeared across the bumper, so he eased his truck into the driveway and spritzed the front end with the garden hose. He’d get the smashed-up truck repaired later. He’d be careful and park at the far end of the lot, away from staff. Only 24-hours earlier, he’d had a good life, a job, family and friends. And now…. He’d keep busy. It was the only way not to think of the man in the well. Later, he’d figure out how to dispose of the bike. He went back inside and searched for his wallet in the wicker basket where he always tossed it. But his wallet was gone. With no memory of returning home on Sunday, he couldn’t know what he had done with it. He raced upstairs and checked the pockets of his jeans as well as his coat pockets, but the wallet was nowhere to be found. Had it dropped from his pocket into the old well? If Jeffrey’s body were ever discovered, they’d find the wallet right next to him. He couldn’t talk his way out of it then. With his blood pounding in his ears, he checked his watch. With only thirty minutes left to make it to work on time, he rushed outside and pointed his truck east. Five miles from his home, flashing orange and blue lights illuminated the night. Clyde eased his foot off the accelerator, wondering if they were looking for Jeffrey. A police cruiser had parked to the left, on the grass. Clyde didn’t know if he felt worse about the dead man or his fear of being discovered. He considered turning around, lest they see his damaged truck, but as he drew closer, he recognized a county vehicle. Two uniformed men were dragging a deer off the highway. He stopped and waited. Then out of nowhere, someone banged on his window. When he turned, a policeman stood next to his truck, looking serious. He couldn’t know about the man in the well, Clyde told himself. He hadn’t been speeding either. Clyde lowered his window, and the officer asked for his registration and proof of insurance. Clyde’s pulse quickened as he leaned over and flipped through a pile of maintenance receipts until he came to the registration and insurance card. Without speaking, he handed the identification to the policeman. Once the officer had retreated, Clyde leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He imagined his kids visiting him in jail. And what would his mother think? This would break her heart. When he opened his eyes, the officer had leaned over, inspecting the front of his truck. He knew, Clyde told himself. He expected to be dragged from his truck and read his rights, like a common criminal. When the policeman returned, Clyde lowered his window, “You have a headlight out,” the officer said. Then he smiled. “Did you lose something, Mr. Foley?” Clyde squinted his eyes, and the officer handed him his missing wallet. “We found this near the dead deer. From the looks of your front end, it was quite the collision. Lucky you weren’t killed.” Clyde’s jaw went slack. He had hit the deer, not the biker. With a sweaty hand, he took his wallet and slipped it inside his coat pocket. “What a relief. I looked all over for it. Thanks, officer.” “Drive safely. And get that headlight fixed.” He watched the cop return to his cruiser and disappear. His hands trembled on the steering wheel. He thought of whipping his truck around and speeding back to his house to try and save Jeffrey. But he’d fallen so far into the well. He couldn’t save him by himself. He’d need help. And what could he say? The two county workers had hurled the deer into a nearby ditch, and they waved Clyde past. He eased his foot back onto the accelerator and drove on, en route to his job, just like thousands of other guys on a Monday morning. He forced his mind blank and proceeded toward the power plant. He’d keep busy all day so he didn’t have time to think. Whatever else, he couldn’t let himself think.