The neon pirate that hovered over the bar winked at Steve Cavanaugh as he tossed back the last of his whiskey and wiped moisture from the auburn whiskers that dotted his chin. Steve dug in the pocket of his dingy jeans and produced a wrinkled five-dollar bill which he threw on the reflective surface of the counter. The jukebox in the corner clicked as its long skinny arm reached for a record, a hiss resonated around the small smoky dive, and Bob Dylan began a hollow call for redemption.
Outside the sun shone so bright, reflected off an African dust cloud, that it looked like a white-out in mid-December. Steve Cavanaugh enfolded his crooked elbow across his face against blustery, searing August wind that threatened to pack his eyes and throat with debris. Steve’s boots crunched as he strode across the dusty parking lot of Cobra’s Bar, and he threw open the door to his black ’67 Chevy Chevelle—he slammed the door against the wind behind him. Steve reached into a specialty pocket sewn into the worn leather jacket he could always be found wearing. He pulled out a pistol and a long sleek silencer and placed them under the passenger seat. The horses that drove the car’s engine roared to life, and Steve Cavanaugh squealed out of the deserted parking lot leaving a river of dirt in his wake.
The headstones at Meadowcrest Cemetery were mostly ancient and unreadable. The marble had seen too many years of heavy rain and snow. Ice had formed in thick sheets and broken off, taking small sections of stone with it, until the surfaces of the markers no longer shined like well-oiled beauties in the sun. Steve Cavanaugh lurched among the old, wilting headstones taking note of a fallen angel or cradled baby as he made his way to a freshly dug grave at the back of the desolate landscape.
Cavanaugh stood with the toes of his black scuffed boots at the very edge of where the overturned dirt and crisp, green grass collided. His hands constricted and released in his jacket pockets, and Steve blinked thoughtlessly at a worm that squirmed against the sun and the wind. He inhaled sharply and said, “Well, that’s that then.” Steve turned and stepped casually when he heard an odd thud somewhere in the distance.
The wind and the traffic speeding on the interstate a few miles away created an ever- present hum, but Steve Cavanaugh was acutely aware that the sound did not belong inside Meadowcrest Cemetery. Steve became a stone, rigid and immovable, as his ears pricked up and listened. A muffled groan and muttering met his eardrum. In the distance, the silhouette of a petite woman came into view.
Better to remain a specter, Cavanaugh began retreating to his waiting car.
“Hey, mister, wait up.” Soft footsteps padded after Steve in the thick grass. She had removed her shoes, if she had been wearing any to begin with. “Hey you, buddy, hold on a second.” The girl yelled in a lilting voice as she ran after him.
Steve swallowed hard and slowed his pace but kept moving. He hadn’t spoken to anyone who wasn’t a client or didn’t work at Cobra’s in months. He was a ghost now. Steve Cavanaugh had relinquished his identity as flesh and blood when he signed on for the job. Every instinct he had told him slowing down would be trouble.
“Hi,” the girl said through gasps of air. She put a hand on Steve’s shoulder as if they were intimately connected and she hadn’t seen him since high school. “Hey, hi.” She repeated as she squinted in the colorless light.
“What?” Steve grunted.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said adjusting the purple dress that hugged her petite curves—silver heels dangled from her index finger. “Are you heading out?”
“Yeah. I have some business--” Cavanaugh started.
“Oh man, that’s great. Are you headed in town? I’ve been walking forever. These heels, they’re murder. You think you could give me a lift?”
“No.” Cavanaugh grunted and started walking again. The tiny woman scurried after him.
“Look, I have,” she reached into her bra with her free hand and pulled out some wadded- up cash. “I have ten bucks. It would really help me out.”
“You have money. Call a cab.”
“Do you see a pay phone around here?”
Cavanaugh surveyed the area knowing there was, in fact, no pay phone nearby. “Thumb it.”
“Isn’t that essentially what I’m doing here? I have cash.”
“I don’t pick up strays,” Steve stopped to give her a good once over. She halted and looked at him with her head tilted—her big brown eyes both piercing and pleading. She had her sun-lightened blonde hair tucked up, but it was wilting, tendrils dangling around her face and caressing her shoulders and back. Her lips were full. The way she parted them, just enough to see her teeth peek out between them, made hunger stir inside Steve’s belly. She was so small. She couldn’t possibly be a problem.
Steve Cavanaugh’s tongue traced his teeth, “Fine. Where are you going?”
She jumped up and down like a young girl skipping rope. “Oh, thanks a bunch buddy. Just to a hotel downtown. It isn’t far.”
“I’m headed downtown anyway.” Steve resumed walking toward his dusty black Chevelle. The car sat like a Rorschach Test on the horizon. It was Steve’s Fortress of Solitude—his Batcave—and he was admitting an outsider.
“Geeze, buddy, his that your car?” the girl said as she tottered after him.
“My name is Steve. If you’re going to keep talking to me I’d rather you drop the buddy stuff.”
“Nice to meet you, Steve.”
“You call this meeting someone?”
“What do you call it?”
Trouble, Steve thought. “A favor for a stranger.”
“Well, then how do you meet people?”
“I try to avoid it if it’s possible.” Steve opened the passenger door for Lilith. She tossed her glitter-soaked heels onto the floorboard where they immediately shed tiny, iridescent flakes. Then, she shimmied into the leather seat.
“I think you could use a new friend,” Lilith smiled.
Steve shut the door, “Like a hole in the head.”
Steve pulled into the parking lot of the Maplewood Hotel. It towered over the vehicle like a broken, ancient monster. It had two high, pointed turrets that poked the white sky as if they could punch a hole into an alternate dimension. Tall Victorian windows peered out upon the streets like spider’s eyes watching everyone’s movements—some of them boasted shattered glass. Those eyes were particularly proud of their age. Untreated pine boards had been carelessly nailed to the body of the hotel covering holes instead of repairing them. Haggard steps that didn’t look fit for traffic led to a peeling lavender door. A fragile sign knocked against it in the wind, “Vacancy—Cash Only”—it read.
“Jesus,” Steve said as he gazed up at the Maplewood Hotel. “You’re staying here?”
“Sure. Why?” Lilith said as she fumbled with her shoes.
“Is it even up to code?”
“What do ya mean?” Lilith smiled with her head between her knees.
“I mean is the water, water. Or is it mud?”
“I don’t drink water. I have some great gin in my room.” Lilith popped back up having put her shoes on and brushed her hands together. “You want to come in for a drink?”
“Not even a little.”
“Why do you think it’s haunted? Are you scared? The place really isn’t haunted.” She giggled and shoved Steve.
“No. I told you. I don’t do friends.”
“Doesn’t seem like anyway to live.”
“Who says I’m living?”
Lilith considered this statement for a moment. She inspected Steve Cavanaugh as if he were a Botticelli hanging in the Louvre. He had chin-length brown hair. He didn’t take much care in styling it and it had taken a beating by the wind. His face was prickled by a five o’clock shadow. His clothes were an effort to look hard, but his face showed all the lines of someone who had once smiled and worried and loved. “I think you’re plenty alive. You’re sitting there aren’t ya. You have a beat in your chest. My hand didn’t go straight through ya just now. So, come have a drink.”
“I can’t. Business.”
“Well. Alright, suit yourself. But if you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
Lilith leaned out of the car and skipped to the front door of the hotel as if she were on some sort of drug that made her think the run-down place were a bubblegum palace. Steve Cavanaugh watched over the dashboard of his travelling office before he sped off down the road.
Night had begun to fall, and shadows of signs and cars and people grew long and dark as the sun descended. Steve watched through a greasy diner window—a red and white menu obstructing his face. Coffee cups rattled, meat sizzled on a grill, and quiet voices chattered away inside Steve’s head, but he couldn’t shake the yearning that had been activated in his gut by Lilith. He had wanted to meander into that hotel room of hers. More than that, he wanted her out of Maplewood Hotel. It couldn’t possibly be safe. The whole structure looked like it might implode leaving tiny, helpless Lilith squashed like a gnat in the rubble. She needed to be saved, just like Amy had needed to be saved, but Steve couldn’t save either of them. He was just an apparition.
The brass bell above the diner door dinged and Steve peeked out from above the menu. A tall man in a faded green baseball hat and plaid shirt carelessly careened past booths and barstools and sat across from Cavanaugh.
“Evening,” the man said as he grabbed a menu and perused it aimlessly.
“Strange weather for Pennsylvania. Isn’t it?”
A middle-aged waitress in a faded blue uniform appeared next to the table. She was chewing a wad of gum and had tobacco stained teeth. “Can I get you guys something to drink?”
“Coffee,” both men answered without looking up. She cocked her head to the side, sneered, and left.
“You rang me four days ago. What took so long? Second thoughts?” Steve Cavanaugh mumbled.
“Damn wife wouldn’t get off my ass. Clean the garage. Fix the sink. Help Jimbo with his homework.”
“Anyway,” Steve said, “I don’t need your life story. You’re supposed to set the meeting up the moment I send word I’m in town. I should charge you extra for making me wait.”
“Look, I’m sorry about the hold up. If you had another job—”
“I don’t. Yet. Just give me the package.”
The man in the faded green hat pulled a large, yellow envelope out of his flannel shirt. His protruding belly shrunk considerably after its expulsion. The envelope exchanged hands discreetly under the table. Steve Cavanaugh put it into a backpack tucked into the booth next to him.
The waitress returned with two lukewarm coffees and a tin pitcher of cream. She eyeballed the two men who were still staring at the menus. “You two need a few more minutes?”
“Please,” Steve murmured.
The waitress huffed and stomped away as she tucked her pencil into her red curls.
“It’s all there?” Steve asked as he glared across the table—only revealing his eyes.
“Do I look stupid?”
“Hard to tell.” Steve stood up and heaved the backpack over his shoulder. The other man didn’t look at him, but kept his face buried in his menu.
“When will it be done?”
“As soon as I say it’s done.” Cavanaugh said as he walked out of the diner. The brass bell above the door announced his departure like bells in heaven announce anointed angels.
The black and white television in Steve’s motel room had a grainy picture that jumped and quivered as if it too felt the vibration of the Magic Fingers that moved his bed. When the gears stopped grinding and the motion ceased, Steve inserted another quarter into the face of the steel box.
A little girl with shiny chestnut hair and pigtails stared back at him with a gap-toothed grin from a photograph. Steve was using it to block out the caustic light that was screwed into the ceiling above the bed. Amy had once been the thing that brought Steve’s heart peace. Now, she was the thing that allowed battery acid to flood through his veins. Steve’s vision became distorted as he studied the angelic beauty. Objects in his peripheral vision failed to exist and were replaced by emptiness. It was the same vast chasm that had cracked and emptied his chest, leaving it a vacant wasteland. Steve Cavanaugh’s head felt like fire. Sweat began to bead and wet strands of his long brown hair. His palm tingled. Yet, this time, he recognized something different. The same strange hunger jabbing at his insides like a fire poker. It had existed since he met Lilith earlier that day. He knew she’d be trouble.
A knock on the door stirred Steve from his usual preparations. He crawled from the bed feeling woozy and disoriented. Steve stumbled toward the door but remembered the gun and silencer he had left on the small particle board table by the window. He wrapped it in a t-shirt and tossed it in a bedside drawer with the photo of Amy.
Steve opened the motel door with the gold-plated chain still attached. It jerked to an abrupt stop and he leered through the slivered gap. “What the hell.”
“What are you doing here?” Steve said as he unfastened the chain on the door. Lilith skipped in and pulled a half-empty bottle of gin from a patent leather bag.
“I was bored.” She smiled and flopped onto Steve’s bed. Lilith didn’t appear to dress down. This time, she was wearing a black ruched dress decorated with an uncountable number of sequins.
“How did you find me?”
“I just called around. You gave me your name.”
“I don’t use that name—” Lilith had already poured two glasses of gin and shoved one under Steve’s nose. “I don’t drink.”
“Liar! I saw a matchbook from a bar in your car.”
Steve sighed, “I only drink alone.”
“What’s the fun in that?”
“Who made the rule that drinking had to be a team sport?”
Lilith shrugged, “It’s just better that way.”
“You’re a real optimist, aren’t you?”
“What good is it being pissed off all the time? Really, I’m asking. You seem to be doing a fine job of it.”
“We don’t all have it easy.”
“And what? You think I do? I just prefer to look on the bright side.”
“Is the bright side in that dump you’re currently residing in?”
“It isn’t so bad. Better than some places I’ve been,” Lilith smirked. “Anyway, I don’t stay anywhere very long.”
“Yeah. Me either.”
“I have to hit the head.” Steve ran a hand through his hair and disappeared into the bathroom.
Lilith sat on the edge of the queen size bed. Her lithe frame was huddled over the photo of Amy—the drawer of the nightstand hung open. She hummed a haunting melody as she swayed to and froe.
“What the hell are you doing!” Steve shouted and charged across the room.
“It’s her isn’t it? She’s the reason you’re so angry.”
“It’s none of your business,” Steve said and ripped the yellowed photograph from Lilith’s skinny fingers. She looked at him—her giant chocolate eyes a church confessional. Steve sat on the bed next to her. “Amy, her name was Amy.”
“Was. What happened?”
“Yes. My only child. Her mother and I. Well, things didn’t work out, but I saw Amy every day anyway. Her mom never tried to keep me away. One evening, it was late October, Amy was riding her bike while I watched. A car came speeding down the street, swerving from one side of the road to the other. I screamed and ran to grab her, but I didn’t get there in time.”
Lilith gasped and clutched her throat. She put a hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“She was killed on impact. The guy driving—drunk. He got five years. He didn’t even serve the whole sentence. Can you believe that? He got off early for good behavior.”
“I’m so sorry,” Lilith said as she averted her eyes.
“Yeah. Well. That’s life isn’t it.”
Lilith pulled the gun and silencer from the drawer, “And this?”
“Business,” Steve cleared his throat and tugged it from her hands.
“Not for me.”
“I see. And that’s why you’re here?”
“I go all over.”
“Do you know them?”
“No. I just get a name. I don’t know anything about him or any of them. The people who hire me. They pay me to do a job. I do it.”
“When will you do it?”
“Does it matter?”
“I want to go with you.”
“Absolutely not,” Steve Cavanaugh stood up grabbing Lilith by the arm. “You know too much. You have to go. Don’t come back.” He led her to the door, but she dug her heels into the indoor/outdoor carpet.
“Wait, Steve. Wait.”
“I can help.”
“Your job. I know the guy. He works at the state store a few doors down from the Maplewood.”
“Thanks,” Steve said and pushed Lilith out of his motel room.
“Good morning,” Lilith chirped when Steve sat down behind the wheel of his Chevelle. The morning sun was still white and hazy. The wind had stopped blowing. Instead, the air was sticky and still.
“What the hell!” Steve shouted reaching for the pistol tucked into his jacket lining.
“I brought you coffee.” Lilith handed him a Styrofoam cup printed with the local coffee shop’s bright orange logo. Steam poured from the open plastic lid. Lilith smiled a broad, toothy grin. The rest of her face was hidden behind giant black sunglasses that made her look like a fly.
“How did you get in here?”
“Picked the lock.”
“Holy Hell. I told you to stay away.”
“You didn’t really mean that.”
“I really did.” Steve started the engine. It purred loudly and loose change in the cup holder rattled. “You’ll be an accomplice you know.”
“Have you ever been caught?” Steve Cavanaugh looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “I’m not worried,” Lilith smiled as she sipped her coffee.
They sat quietly across the alley from the state-run liquor store and watched Steve’s target, Joseph Bigby, unload boxes from a truck. The balding man with a prominent gut scuttled in and out of the building with his red smock blowing behind him. Steve licked his lips in anticipation.
It was noon before the truck left and big Joseph Bigby was alone in the store. Steve methodically removed his photo of Amy, studied it, and placed it back in his pocket. He had begun to feel the familiar burn of rage. Flashes of Joseph’s face popped like kernels of corn in Steve Cavanaugh’s mind. The first image was simply Joseph Bigby. The second, Joseph Bigby with a black, empty hole in the center of his forehead. Every image after became bloodier as Joseph’s memories and pain and love oozed out.
Lilith squeezed Steve’s hand. “What now?” he said.
“Steve. I can help.”
“I don’t think so. You’ve interfered enough.”
“I can help, Steve.”
“You are the most frustrating person I have ever met. What are you talking about, Lilith?”
“What if you didn’t have to do this anymore?”
“I like doing it.”
“Ok. What if I hire you?”
“Sure,” Steve chuckled, “right after I’m done here.”
“Seriously,” Lilith removed her sunglasses and squeezed Steve’s chin, forcing him to look at her. Lilith’s coffee stained irises were ruby flames licked by gold flecks.
Steve twisted in his seat, struggling to break free from her grip. Lilith’s fingers dug deeper into his skin until he held still. Steve breathed heavily, unable to look away. “Who are you?”
“I go by lot of names. I like Lilith for now.”
“What do you want?”
“I just want to help, Steve. That’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
“I’ll ‘hire’ you,” she used her fingers to make air quotes. “It’s a good deal, too. You don’t really have to do anything. Just stop doing what you’re doing. You’re sort of, messing with the natural order. In return, I’ll take your soul.”
“My soul. How does that help me?”
“No soul, no pain. You won’t miss Amy anymore. You won’t feel the need to do this, so quitting won’t be very difficult.” Lilith had taken a fifth of whiskey from her purse and sipped from it.
Steve considered the options laid out before him. He could suffer a lifetime of agony constantly mourning the death of his daughter. Battle overwhelming demons of guilt and loss and emptiness. Steve could go on hiring himself out as a private hitman, killing so that others could exact revenge, or he could sign his soul over to the pretty little blonde in his passenger seat. He’d never feel anything ever again. Either way he’d probably spend eternity in Hell.
“I can’t verify that,” Lilith said reading Steve’s thoughts.
“The eternity in Hell thing. I can’t confirm or deny it. I mean, you’re kinda living in Hell now, aren’t you?”
Steve shook his head—a futile attempt to shake out the abstract nightmare he seemed to be living in, but when he opened his eyes everything was still there. He sighed, “Ok. How do we do it?”
“Oh, yay!” Lilith squealed. “Just let me kiss you.” Lilith licked her lips and leaned across the center console. She pulled Steve’s face into hers and their lips met. Lilith pressed her slippery lips against Steve’s and slid them around. She parted her lips and sucked on Steve’s lower lip until it became painful. Then, she bit him. Steve felt a sharp pinch and the warm copper of blood against his tongue.
“It’s done,” Lilith wiped her lip with her index finger.
“That’s it? I don’t feel any different. I assumed I’d feel different.”
Lilith looked at the crimson blood smeared across her finger and crooked her head at Steve Cavanaugh. “It didn’t work.”
“You haven’t got a soul,” Lilith smiled. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“How is that possible? How does that happen?”
“I have no idea,” Lilith slipped the fifth of whiskey back into her bag. She opened the door of the Chevelle and flung one of her skinny pale legs out. “Sorry, Steve. Guess that’s the way the blood squirts.”
“Wait!” Steve called to her, “You can’t leave me. Lilith, I need you.”
“Sorry, can’t stay.” She closed the door and bent down through the open window, “Not a lot of room for friends in my line of work.”
Steve Cavanaugh sat in solitude as he watched the tiny woman disappear into dust and blazing sunlight—Lilith’s silhouette forever branded on his pupils.
#HumpdayHorror #MissingPieces Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.