This year, there were a few great subs for the 2015 Spooky Short Story Contest. Here’s the 1st Place winning entry in entirety.
And when you’re finished reading it, chillax for a bit. At 6:15 PM CST, Peter Oliver Wonder will spill his guts (and possibly his beer) in an interview.
Enjoy the 2015 Spooky Short Story 1st Place Winner,
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
By Peter Oliver Wonder
The coffee splashed over the edge of the cup as he continued to bang his head against the counter of the small diner.
“Is everything all right, hon?” the waitress asked as she walked by. She was wondering what manner of crazy this man was. Criminal? Mental case? Perhaps something less sinister, like heartbroken?
The ash from his cigarette fell free as he looked up at her. “No. Nothing is all right,” he said as he took a long, slow drag of smoke.
“You wanna talk about it? Maybe I can help,” she said with a smile. She loved people and thought she had a special talent for cheering up those who were in a bad place. It didn’t hurt that she thought he was kind of hot in a gritty sort of way too.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said, letting out the smoke.
The waitress could see tears welling up in his eyes yet refusing to fall. She cautiously wiped away at the spilt coffee and dropped ash.
The bell that hung over the door gave a ring. The man at the counter snapped around and jumped out of his seat. Every muscle in his body tensed and he looked like a crazed lunatic.
It was just another man looking for a good slice of pie, but the sight of the man with crazed eyes promptly caused him to change his mind. Without saying a word, the almost-customer left the diner.
The waitress was now quite worried for her own safety. She was alone and the place had been dead all night. “Is someone out there looking for you?” she asked as she side-stepped toward the phone near the register.
The man was still stiff as a board when she spoke, but he slowly lowered his shoulders and turned back toward the counter. “Someone? No, it’s not someone that’s after me.” He sat down and took a slow sip from the hot cup.
“Then what’s got you acting like such a mess?”
He glanced at her name tag. “Well, Nancy, I just saw something I wasn’t meant to see.” With a jittery hand, he picked up the coffee cup and took another swallow.
Nancy watched as he set the cup down and went for another puff from his trembling cigarette. “Am I in any danger by you being here?”
He looked up at her. “I really don’t know.” He paused, unsure what to say next, or just how much of the story he should tell. “I was on my way home, and I was the only one on the road for as far as I could see. You know, there are no lights on that long desert road, so it was pitch black except for the short distance my headlights can cover. It’s late, and I’ve had a long day, so I was already pretty tired.” He paused for another drag. “I saw the roadside sign that advertises your establishment, and when I looked back to the road, I saw a woman on the shoulder, and she was being overcome by something. It was huge, and I don’t think it was just a man. I had drifted while admiring the sign, and it was too late to swerve. I ended up hitting both of them.”
“Oh dear sweet Jesus!” Nancy exclaimed.
“I pulled over right away. I was in shock, and horrified. What if I had just killed these two people? I got out of my truck as quick as I could to run over and help, but before I even got halfway to them, the big fucker was already getting to his feet. I yelled over to ask if he was okay. I couldn’t see his face, it was so dark, but he let out some sort of howl, the likes of which I’ve never before heard. I stopped in my tracks, and the fucking thing it…it started to charge me! It was like it didn’t even notice it was hit by the damn truck. So I ran back to the vehicle and sped away. I watched in my rearview mirror as it went back to that poor woman…” He trailed off as a distant stare sank onto his face.
He took in the last bit of his cigarette before squashing it in the ashtray. He seemed unconcerned by police involvement. As far as Nancy could tell, he was really concerned about the girl though.
Nancy picked up the phone. “I have to call the police and get an ambulance over here. He might have been all right, but what about her?” She began to dial.
With a shaky hand, he drank some more of the still-warm coffee. He could hear her in the background as she spoke to someone on the other end of the call.
He placed his cigarette between his lips and headed over to the glass door. After a quick glance around the parking lot he propped a nearby chair under the door handle.
Nancy stopped her conversation mid-sentence and lowered the phone. “What do you see?” she asked.
The man now peered through the glass window. He could see the fairly well-lit parking lot. “There is a new vehicle, but no movement, and no one that I can see.” He continued to scan the area. “Hang on, I see something. It’s pooling up behind the vehicle and making its way toward the drain. Doesn’t look like it’s oil. It looks more like blood.” He looked back at her to see the wide-eyed expression on her face. “Oh fuck, I think he killed that poor guy,” he said, voice hushed.
“Jesus Christ, just hurry up,” she said into the phone, mimicking the man’s snakelike voice. “Send someone right now, or you might show up to more dead bodies!” She slammed the phone down and sank behind the counter. “What the hell are you doing? Get the hell over here and hide!”
“My truck is out there. He’ll know someone is in here. You think behind the counter isn’t the first place he’s going to look?”
Nancy risked a glance over the countertop to observe the place. He was right. There weren’t many other places to hide in the quaint little diner. She ducked back down and crawled over to the register. Beneath it, an old sawed-off shotgun covered in a fine layer of dust rested inside a cabinet. She grabbed it and crawled to the end of the counter, whacking the gun on the ground every inch she crept.
Once she got to the end of the counter, she rose and, in a hunched-over position, ran across the room to the strange man she now trusted with her life.
She thrust the weapon at him.
He looked at her with a confused expression. “What the fuck is this?”
“Just take it.”
He did as she said, reluctantly. “Is this fucking antique even loaded?”
“I don’t know. You’re the man. Figure it out!”
“Sexist pig,” he muttered under his breath as he pulled back on the pump.
A cartridge ejected, causing them both to jump.
“Holy shit, Nancy! You could have fired this thing off by slamming it into every damn object in your path. I’m lucky you didn’t kill me!”
“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed, maintaining the hiss speak. “I don’t know shit about guns. If I touch that thing, shit is bad!”
He accepted the fact that the gun was better left in his possession. Nancy watched as he shouldered it the way she had seen it done in the movies.
He continued to look through the glass door to try and catch a glimpse of the thing pursuing him.
“Well, go on,” Nancy said with a nudge, startling him.
“Go on what?” he asked in a what-the-fuck sort of way.
“Go out there and scare him off or shoot him or something.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind, lady? I hit that thing with my goddamn truck, and then it ran after me. I’m not going out there unless I have to. Besides, the cops should be here any minute, right?”
“The nearest town is thirty miles away. I told ’em to hurry it up, but who knows how long it’ll be before they actually get here. At this time of night, they’re probably going to want to stop and grab some coffee before making the trip out-”
A loud thump sounded against the wall right next to them, cutting Nancy off mid-sentence and causing them both to jump.
“Go get him,” Nancy said with another nudge. “You know right where he is and you have a gun. If he charges you this time, shoot him!”
“I must be out of my fucking mind,” he said to himself, shaking his head.
He took a few breaths and mentally prepared himself to shoot and kill whatever might be out there. He got a better grip on the weapon and placed his finger on the trigger, mindful of the pain on his knuckles from when he’d knocked on the wall to cause Nancy to jump.
With one last deep breath, he took a step, slapped the chair away, shoved the door open with his left foot, and shuffled around it. The sidewalk outside was empty, save for a bench and a trash can.
He twirled around as fast as he could in a panic. Then he hustled back into the diner and began to barricade the door with anything he could find.
“What are you doing?” Nancy questioned.
“He’s out there, and we’re in here. If we make sure he can’t get in, we’ll be safe until help arrives,” he said as he scooted tables and chairs across the floor.
Nancy gave in to his plan and stacked some chairs in front of the door as well.
Once satisfied, the man lit up a fresh cigarette. “What other entrances does this place have?”
“There’s just one more, ’round back, but it only opens from the inside unless you have a key. Should we board up the windows or something?”
He walked over and tapped on one of the windows. “They should be fine. Looks like they are double paned, laminated windows. Typical out here in the desert. Saves energy on cooling the place down.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about windows just from tapping on them. What kind of work do you do? And I don’t believe I caught your name.”
“I do mostly freelance work. A contractor of sorts.” He took another drag from the cigarette, ignoring her request for a name. “I’m going to go around back and make sure it’s all secure. You keep piling stuff in front of that door until there is nothing left,” he said as he headed behind the counter and into the kitchen.
Once he was out of view, he looked at the shotgun and smiled. He grabbed the pump and racked it back again and again until no more shells remained. Once finished, he opened up an oven and placed the weapon inside.
He saw the rear door Nancy had mentioned. He pressed on it and it opened easily enough. He looked on the other side and confirmed there was no handle or knob, just a keyhole.
He didn’t bother to look around outside. He knew where the real threat was.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his switchblade. It was a beautiful stiletto with a pearl grip and gold trim. He ejected the blade, which shot out like a bolt of lightning with the slightest pressure.
He slapped the side of the blade into his open palm a few times before retracting the blade and putting the knife back into his pocket. Then he reached into his interior jacket pocket and removed a photo.
Oh yes, this was the right Nancy, all right. She wasn’t as attractive as her husband had led him to believe, but killing her would still be a most pleasurable experience. The lack of sex appeal was made up for by the fact that she thought he might be her savior.
The irony was so sweet.
He headed out of the kitchen to find Nancy pacing nervously with a cup of coffee in her hands.
She saw him and asked, “Hey, do you suppose I could get a cigarette from you? My nerves are out of control right now.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He pulled out his second to last, saving the lucky for himself, and then dumped the lighter from the box. He handed the cigarette to her. She placed it between her lips and allowed him, a total stranger, to light it for her.
She took a drag before finally noticing something was amiss. “Where’d the gun go?” she asked, exhaling smoke.
“There’s no one getting inside this place unless we allow them to. Walking around with that thing when we’re both jumpy is just asking for trouble.” More smoke flowed into his lungs.
“You’re probably right. Thank you for helping me out. If there was something out there and I was all alone, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.
He did his best to suppress the sinister grin that so badly wanted to make its way across his lips.
Nancy took another swallow of her coffee and set it on the counter. She took another hit of the cigarette, then dropped the half-smoked tube into the cup.
“All finished?” the man asked.
“I guess I’m about as calm as I’m going to get in a situation like this.”
The man wrapped his fingers tightly around the knife in his pocket. With his free hand he took one last drag of smoke before dousing his cigarette in the coffee. “I’m glad that you’re feeling relaxed,” he said. “It’ll make my job easier.”
She began to speak, but before a single sound escaped her lips, the man swung his packed fist straight into her jaw.
As she hit the ground, she heard the sound of the blade spring from its housing. In a dazed and confused state, she could barely make out the words that were being said to her.
“Some men out there get really upset when their wife sucks another man’s dick. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit less where your mouth has been. Your life savings has already been handed over to me.
“But your husband… it seems as though he really gives a shit. And he didn’t just want me to kill you. He wanted me to skin you alive. Which is a shame. You were nice to me even though you don’t know me.”
He stood over her and knelt down with the blade pointed at her chest. He began to cut the buttons from her blouse one by one.
“As luck would have it, I learned the proper ways to skin a kill when I was just a boy. While that may sound like a good thing, which it really is, it helps you in no way. See, when your husband told me what he wanted done, I asked if I could keep what I cut off. He didn’t seem too bothered by it, but wanted to know why. I know a guy, a real sick fucker who will pay good money for an intact human pelt. He’s got an unhealthy obsession with Ed Gein. Anyway, it’d be real kind of you to not struggle while I do this.”
She lay there, totally nude, as he began to open a shallow cut across her throat. She tried to struggle, but the blow to the head had left her weak, and his knees were on her wrists. She couldn’t even scream out for help as he began to tug down on the skin, separating it from the muscle.
She went into shock briefly before fainting.
He continued at his task until he had his very own Nancy costume. He went out the back door and, on his way out, tossed a lit cigarette into the pathetic attempt at a lawn. It was all dead and dry, and caught fire quite nicely.
He tossed what was left of Nancy onto his passenger seat and got behind the wheel of the truck, the only vehicle in the lot. He pulled out the burner phone he’d requested from the man who’d ordered the hit and held down the preset speed dial number.
Nothing was said on the other end, but he could hear that the line had been answered. “It’s done,” he said, and then tossed the phone out the driver’s side window, onto the burning lawn.
After a few seconds of watching the blaze spread into the diner, he started the truck to begin the drive home after a long night’s work.