The June Editor's Pick Writer is James Kidd
Please feel free to email James at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim started peeling off decking boards and shook his head at how stupid some people can be.
There was no flashing along the rim joist connecting the deck to the house. He knew it was the number one cause of deck failures because water gets in and rots the structure. He removed another couple of deck boards, and could feel the sun on him now. He stripped off a layer; it had been cold this morning but it was once again becoming unseasonably warm. By noon he’d be down to a t-shirt which is unheard of in upstate New York in mid-December. But here he was, riding the wave of the warmest December in recorded history.
He looked down the property from the deck and looked at the pond. There was a kaleidoscope of colors as is if there’d been an oil spill. Looking at the slope of the property he was on, he wondered if the homeowners had an underground oil tank. Then he scanned the ridge line around the pond, there were two or three other houses all about twenty-five years old or better. Any one of them can be the culprit, he thought.
He went down near the pond and pulled out his cell phone to take a picture of the grease on the pond’s surface.
“Hey baby, you should see this,” he texted to his girlfriend, Michelle. She was a civil engineer for a local firm and she specialized in storm water management. Aside from that, she was a pretty staunch environmentalist.
He sent her the picture.
She didn’t text back. She apparently thought it was important enough to call. “Oh fuck, is that a spill site?” she asked.
“It’s a back yard pond.”
“That can’t all be sheen from organic materials. Has to be from a busted oil tank.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“Drop a pebble or stone in the pond and let me know how it reacts.”
She explained, “It’s a general field method to tell if it’s organics or an oil spill. Organic or bacterial film on the water surface will fracture when disturbed with the pebble…”
“Oh, cool. I didn’t know that.”
She ignored his interruption. “…while a sheen caused by an oil product will flow back into place as if it’s not disturbed at all. You might smell a petroleum odor if that’s the culprit. I’ve done this numerous times at different sites. I learned this trick from the DEC.”
He looked around for a pebble but there was nothing. “Will a piece of gravel work?”
“Sure, but just drop it in, don’t throw it.”
“Okay” he said, then hung up. As he headed closer to the pond, the colors seemed to move. It was a slight movement, maybe caused from the wind. “This is the weirdest,” he said out loud.
He texted Michelle. “I’ll video it for you.”
Jim held the piece of gravel just over the surface of the water. He let the piece of gravel drop, just as Michelle had instructed. He was holding the cell phone and videoed it. “This is going to be the most boring video ever taken,” he said to his phone camera.
But just as the gravel was to hit the water’s surface, the kaleidoscopic film opened around the falling stone, like a mouth and then closed.
“Hon,” he texted, “this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” and he sent her the video.
After a few minutes she replied, “That’s crazy.”
“Find another stone. There may have been something like detergent or another chemical on the gravel and it caused the film to react. Kind of like oil and water.”
“Sure,” he said, forgetting about the deck for the time being, and kicked around looking for a stone. “Ah,” he said when he found a nice, rounded piece of quartz. Nice and white and it would show up nicely against the dark pond water and the film.
He rubbed the stone clean against his shirt and crouched at the shore line. The oil film swirled, the sunlight dappled on its surface and for a brief moment Jim felt dizzy. He took a deep breath and shook his head. “Wow, that was weird.”
Jim held his phone in one hand and as he readied to drop the stone, he heard the slop sound of a fish hitting the water’s surface. He looked up toward the sound just as the stone dropped and missed what happened. He looked at his phone’s screen and replayed the video. Nothing but a blur from him jerking his hand when he looked up. “Shit,” he said.
“Hey babe, I’ve got to get back to work,” he texted and sent her the blurred video anyway. When he looked up from his phone he froze. His phone dropped from his hand into the pond.
The shimmering film undulated. Large bulbous growths formed and broke and a thrashing came from under the water’s surface. Jim sprinted a few steps and twisted his head around to look at the pond. The oil slick had condensed into a form…struggled, slumped…then fell below the surface.
He patted himself for his phone and in a quick flash memory grab remembered he dropped it and there was no way he was going to go back for it. He was not going to be able to text Michelle.
His heart thudded in his chest, and there was the faint metallic taste of fear in his mouth. Sweat leapt to the surface of his skin as he watched something arise from the pond. The oil slick congealed into a form. Long appendages emerged from the dark kaleidoscopic oil film and they blindly flailed about. It looked like it was trying to grab for something.
Then one of the ragged, dripping appendages hit shore, and the whole mass gathered itself into a more cohesive form and materialized into something ghastly.
“Move!” he silently shrieked inside his head, but his body was rooted. Staring, his body quaking with fear, he felt frozen, heavy with lead.
Somewhere deep in his head, like when he was having an especially terrifying nightmare, some part of his brain bent on self-preservation screamed again, “Move!” and this time his body obeyed the alarm.
Sprinting up the hill, he zoomed past the ripped-up deck, cut past the corner of the house, his arms pumping like mad, and skidded. His feet flew out from under him and he slammed into the lawn and instantaneously threw himself back to his feet. Running to the truck, he grabbed the door, jumped inside, and slammed it and rolled up the window. He stretched himself straight in the tight front seat and dove his hands into his front pockets and yanked out his keys. His hand hovered over the ignition for a second and he held his breath.
On the house, something dark slithered up over the roof’s peak.
His breath came out of him as he punched the key into the ignition and turned it. The thing on the roof moved toward the engine’s sound and Jim wanted to floor it and get the fuck out of there. But he knew better than to flood the engine. He put the truck in reverse and eased backwards.
His eyes flitted back to his mirrors and to the roof’s peak. Back and forth, back and forth. He took a last look at the house, and the dark shape on the roof seemed to lose its form. It broke apart and flowed down the roof, poured over the edge, hit the lawn and was gone from his sight.
At that, he stomped on the gas, the tires chirped, and he was raced down the street. The Clash was playing something about being lost in a supermarket and the song was cut off by an electronic pulse. “This is the emergency broadcasting system. If this had been an actual emergency…”
He palmed the wheel, turned left and right in quick succession, hugging the tight turns of Stone Jug Road, his loose tools sluicing against the sidewalls of the truck bed. The familiar tree-lines whizzed by and Jim was driving by instinct, navigating by habit.
He blasted down to the end of Stone Jug, and running the stop sign shot down County Route 5 through the center of town. He was hoping there would be a Statey lying in wait, ready to pull him over. For once in his life it would be a blessing.
Instead, the roads were clear. Jim slowed to a stop, turned off his radio, and scanned the area. The same unchanged vacant fields of threshed corn stalks, and the familiar farm houses revealed nothing to him. Leaf bare trees reached up out of the ground like skeletal hands.
Everything seemed the same, except for the silence. That’s what was wrong. Usually there were crows haunting the fields. Their caws so common they became background noise you only noticed when it went missing.
He stepped out of the truck. The only sound was the wind and his truck’s engine. He slowly walked out in front of his truck and scanned the road into the city of Hudson and to where Michelle worked.
Honk, honk. There was the toot of a horn behind his truck and Jim jumped a bit. He turned, smiling with relief that it was not a monster, and waved.
“Hey, Jim,” the woman said, but her voice had a high pitched gurgling sound to it, like some kind of cartoon version of the Creature From The Black Lagoon. She leaned out her car window a bit.
“Hi Mary,” he said, and hesitated. She sounded funny; odd.
“Having truck trouble?” There was that faint gurgle again. “I could give you a lift.”
His instincts started screaming at him again. “Nah, I’m good. I just stopped. Thought I heard something, that’s all.” Jim was close enough to see, as the old saying goes, the whites of her eyes. In them he saw the same sheen that he saw on the pond. The nearly metallic, transparent swirl. “You ok, Mary?”
“Fine, dear. Just fine. Doesn’t hurt a bit, you know.” As she smiled, a thin trickle of water leaked out of the corners of her mouth.
Jim backed away from her car, then launched himself toward his truck. He had to find Michelle. She would know about this…it was her job to know.
He stopped the truck in the middle of the street in front of Michelle’s office and left it running. The city looked as if it had just gotten a good rain, but there wasn’t a storm cloud to be seen. The streets were wet, as water flowed in the gutters and down the street drains. All around him he could hear the trickle of water.
He jumped out, and as he sprinted between two parked cars he saw the first body. It was a man, splayed out on the sidewalk. His face was turned to one side, his eyes glaring open and his teeth were bared in a grimace of excruciating pain.
He took a deep shaky breath, steadied himself, swallowed hard, and stared at the body. He was stunned to see the gruesomeness of death, and the shock made bile rise in his throat. He fought nausea and his head felt too light for his body. After a few seconds it became possible for him to absorb this, a body on the sidewalk, but just barely. His stomach settled but he still trembled.
He looked again at the man and saw he was liquefying. Water trickled from his nose, his mouth and his eyes. The man’s clothes folded in on themselves. The kaleidoscopic puddle left behind at first brimmed with surface tension, then it did something Jim had never seen before. It defied gravity. It flowed uphill a few feet, then, very deliberately, it turned toward the flowing water in the gutter and slipped silently into the stream.
Jim hopped over the clothes and opened the door to Michelle’s office. He sprinted up the stairs because getting stuck in the elevator would have driven him out of his mind. He ran past the front desk, there was no one there, and down the hall to a row of cubicles. He peeked a look in each one as he passed. Just the same wetness that he’d encountered on the street. Row after row of cubicle was exactly the same thing.
“Michelle!” he screamed like a panicked child. “Michelle!”
He darted to her cubicle and paused. She was sitting there, staring at something on her computer screen. It looked like a screen-saver of some kind. It was a drop of water hitting a placid surface and launching a row of concentric rings. “Michelle,” he whispered. “Baby?”
“Hey, baby,” she replied, her voice soft, calm, and wholly familiar except that it sounded wet and phlegmy. “Can I have a kiss, my love?”
He squeezed his eyes shut for a second as he felt a choking sob emerge from deep within his chest. It sounded wet, gurgling to the surface.
Jim reached for her. He caressed her cheek and stared past the swirling colors in her eyes. He leaned in close. “Baby,” he whispered, “will it hurt?”
“It’s excruciating,” she murmured before their lips met.
James Kidd is a work-boot wearing, saw-dust making, tool-buying carpenter by day and avid writer by night. His fiction has appeared in Blood Moon Rising, Flashes in the Dark, and Everyday Fiction. His journalism has appeared in several national magazines and newspapers.