David Harry Moss

The June Featured Writer is David Harry Moss

Please feel free to email David at: dm1219@verizon.net


by David Harry Moss

Robbins eyed the odd-looking kid with the acid burned face peering through the smudged window of the diner. It seemed that someone went over the kid’s face with a sharp rake, leaving crooked ridges in his skin from below his right eye, across his nose and mouth to his chin. Half of his face looked normal; the other half looked like yellow tree bark. The kid wore a raggedy green army parka and cupped his hands around his eyes like a visor to cut the glare bouncing off the grease stained glass.

Finally, a sneering Robbins ignored the kid, a local loony he figured, and focused instead on the cherry pie on the shelf behind the counter. After filling his gas tank on his ten-year old Cav, Robbins had only eighty bucks left, and he needed it to get across country to Seattle. Tonight, he’d smoke a joint and sleep a few hours in his car, and then he’d get back on the Interstate and drive straight through. Long way to go, Missouri to Seattle on eighty dollars.

He caught the blubbery guy behind the counter glowering at the crazy, burned kid who was peering through the window. The fat guy waved a chunky fist. “Get the hell going, you freak!” the fat guy yelled as though he thought his voice could pierce glass.

The fat guy dripped sweat from his forehead and his eyes were red-rimmed. When he brought his arm down, the sweat glistened like butter on his round pock marked face. The fat guy looked at Robbins. “Kid’s name is Buckly. He’s a freak like those buried on old lady Orley’s farm. Should be locked up.”

“How’s that?” Robbins swiveled on the stool and saw the kid with his chunky yellowed nose pressed flat on the glass and his hands shielding his eyes. His face resembled a Halloween mask, ugly, scary.

“Everybody humors that kid because they feel sorry for him, but I don’t.” The fat guy crossed his meaty arms. “He called the F.B.I. on me once.”

Robbins snickered, agitating the fat guy who reddened.

“He looks at those wanted posters in the post office and said he saw me in one,” the fat guy explained. “Called the F.B.I. Since that I let everyone know he’s crazy. Nobody will ever believe that crazy freak again.”

Robbins liked the idea of nobody believing Buckly about spotting criminals. He was on the lam from two states for a dozen break ins. Robbins stuck a toothpick between his gapped his teeth and kept watching the kid, hair shaved into a Mohawk, acid-scarred face, right upper lip scorched and looking like rubber.

“How’d he get hurt?”

“It happened in high school. Fooling around with chemicals and a vial of acid exploded. Amazingly none of it got into his eyes or he’d be feeling around out there with a cane.”

“What about those buried freaks?” Robbins asked, just to get another laugh.

“They’re buried on old lady Orley’s farm,” the fat boy muttered. “She traveled with Ringling Brothers until they scaled down in the fifties and got rid of the sideshow. Passed herself off as a Gypsy fortuneteller. Family owned 50 acres up in the hills on the North Road. Run down place, always was. Lured all kinds of circus weirdoes here,” the fat guy yammered. “Scaly things. Slithery things. Siamese twins. A three-foot dwarf with a head the size of a basketball. A guy with green lizard skin. Another with long fingers like worms, no nails or bone, just slimy wriggly red flesh. Came into the diner once. Everybody got sick seeing the way his fingers crawled when he reached for the menu. One lady puked in her pea soup. Worms touching things on the counter. Lots more. Use your imagination and they’re there. All buried on old lady Orley’s farm. All you can see now is a stuffed five-legged cow she keeps in a pasture by the barn.”

Robbins plucked the toothpick from his mouth and sucked in grease-thick diner air. The fat guy rubbed his sweaty palms on a soiled white apron and the odd-looking kid kept peering into the diner through the window.

“Get going you creep,” the fat guy yelled. The kid peered through the glass.

Robbins grinned with morbid amusement. He put this place numero uno on his list of hick towns. “How old is this Orley dame?”

“Who knows? Ninety. A hundred maybe.”

“How does she hold on to it? The land? How does she pay the bills?”


“Old lady Orley we’re talking about,” Robbins stirred impatiently in the seat. “How does she support herself?”

“Who knows? Social Security. Maybe she has some money stashed. Strange old bird. Gives me the creeps.”

Robbins stood and stretched. He was medium height and stocky with a sharp brutal face. He watched the kid shuffle across the street and disappear into the funeral parlor.

“Nobody else ever goes out to Old Orley’s. Only that Buckly kid. He buys groceries for her. See where he went?”

Robbins nodded. “That hotel for stiffs.”

“Buckly works there, believe it or not. He likes dead bodies. Says they can’t see his face. He fixes them for viewing. Dresses them, cuts their hair. You watch, someday he’ll get buried with all of old lady Orley’s dead freaks.”

Robbins snickered as he got up and walked out of the diner. He said over his shoulder, “Some town you got. You’ll never see me here again. Bet on it.”

Robbins needed to rest before he continued his travels. He parked his beat-up Cav in a clearing in the trees between two porto-johns and an overturned trash barrel near the North Road. He watched the daylight fade, saw a raccoon slink across the pot-holed two lane. He tried to fall asleep for a few hours, but he couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking about a lousy eighty bucks in his pocket.

He needed more money.

He gulped down a can of warm beer and then opened the glove compartment and snatched the gun, a .38 snub nose, and a pearl-handled hunting knife with a rusty blade. He got out of the car and stepped onto an unpaved road that was almost a trail.

In the rapidly fading light of late afternoon, he trekked the North road, all cracked stone and hard lumpy dirt, narrow and rutted. Weeds and thorn bushes bordered both sides giving way to shadowy hemlocks. Gradually the gritty land rose into black jagged mountains, but Robbins had no plans of going that far.

He came to the freak cemetery first. He caught enough light seeping through leafy tree branches to read some of the gravestones. “Three Eyes. The Human Mole. The Siamese Twins.”

Robbins wondered, “What if one twin gets a brain tumor and dies, do they lop off the head of the dead one? Or does the heart stop beating for both? Sick.” 

Those three gravestones were all dated from 1960. Six decades, they had laid there. Creepy place for a freak graveyard, Robbins mulled. Robbins looked around. The way the man in the diner talked there should be lots of dead freaks buried on this hill. Where were the rest of the graves, he wondered?

Most of the sun had dripped over the distant mountains leaving only scant daylight, yellowish gashes—yellow like jaundice, yellow like Buckly’s acid-burned face—yellow ick in a gray crepe sky.

Below the freak cemetery, the ground turned mucky. Robbins saw a shallow looking green pond and worked his way around it. He trekked through a pasture, high with spiny grass, spotted a barn, its timber roof caving. In high weeds he came upon the stuffed five-legged cow, the fifth leg growing from the chest, mushy bone, limp like a rope with a hoof attached. Robins recoiled, didn’t touch the dangling leg or any part of the mangy looking, spooky, lifelike dead creature, not even the eyes, so real, soft and moist like egg yolks.

Darkness encased Robbins now. He shivered from chilly evening air that rustled tree leaves. In the breeze the leaves sounded like small bones rattling. Robbins heard the incessant buzz of crickets; saw a floaty moon like a gray rubber raft in a black lake. There were no stars.

He reached the house: two crumbling stories of rotting wood and a long front porch that looked like a long forlorn mouth with the teeth missing.

A light clicked on in a window upstairs and Robbins stiffened instinctively. Old lady Orley, he guessed, the Gypsy fortune from Ringling Brothers until the late fifties, now a caretaker for three dead freaks buried on fifty acres of stone and swamp. Strange. Harmless. Creepy. Had money. He intended to take it from her.

Robbins went around back through more high thorny weeds, smelled mint, stepped through overgrown wild rose bushes, pried open a door, stepped into a mildewed kitchen. He caught more mildew smell in the parlor and cleared his throat of dust. He heard a clock ticking. He saw shadows in the humming darkness, felt a jolt of fear, felt tiny bug teeth gnawing on his gut lining. “Steady now.” He took a deep breath, gagged on an odor akin to spoiled chicken meat.

He slunk up creaky stairs and spotted a gauze of light eking through a space in the bottom of a warped door. Cold slivers of sweat rolled down his back and chest and soaked his shirt. He breathed in ages of dust and mildew. “How could anyone live in this crypt?” he asked himself.

He pulled the hunting knife with its six-inch blade from its sheath on his belt and felt more in command. He patted the butt of the gun. He tried the doorknob found it stuck or locked. He kicked the door. Weak hinges groaned and old wood splintered. He barged into the room.

Stunned by what he saw, Robbins froze.

In dingy light dozens of freaks lined the walls. They were preserved the way a taxidermist preserves dead animals. The Lizard Man, scaly pickle-green skin; a pygmy with a misshapen face lumpy with blue golfball sized warts, one large drooping eye hanging like a white marble on a thread: a gangly thin man, seven feet tall, 100 pounds, with arms and legs like pencils and no chin, a long neck like a foot long hotdog; mold face: elephant ears: a freak with a large oval mouth full of fangs, bulging marshmallow eyes: hairy freaks and bald albino freaks; twisted bodies; rubbery blotched skin; a ten pound freak with a small deformed head, Tiny floating in a bottle of formaldehyde: freaks lined up like a chorus line of dancers or like soldiers ready to charge.

For a moment, Robbins’ eyes stayed on a blond-haired girl with a beautiful face, an angel face a lonely man dreams about. He moved toward here to view her up close, maybe even touch her red lips, maybe kiss her, she was that beautiful, and then he noticed she had rat paws and a stumpy rat tail under a brittle yellowing bridal gown. Robbins made a whistling sound and backed away feeling queasy and cold and slimy all over.

He heard a noise from the hall and turned around to face old lady Orley

A gagging odor of mothballs rushed from the old hag, who was wrapped in a mottled shawl. She grinned toothless pink gums at Robbins as she entered the room. She sat in a soft, cushioned chair.

He saw wispy gray hair, wax white skin, and thin bony hands folded like a tired gray fan in her frail nest of a lap. She blinked bleary oyster eyes, took a raspy breath.

“Want your fortune read?” she cackled. “If not, enjoy the show.”

Robins coughed. He spit on the floor and watched his spittle twirl like larva in the dust. “I’ll look around first,” he said. He put the knife away. Dead freaks and a crazy old fortuneteller can’t hurt nobody, he thought. He stepped gingerly forward.

“Bet you’re wondering why they’re all here,” the old hag cackled.

He jumped at the sound of her creaky voice. He swallowed dust and coughed and spit again. “You tell me.”

When old lady Orley twisted in the soft cushioned chair Robbins’ gut tightened. He squeezed the cold handle of the knife and felt for the gun to reassure himself. “Creepy old hag,” he hissed. “Stinking old bitch.”

“I heard that but I will ignore it. Lobster Lady didn’t want any more bodies buried out there with her. Wants all that space for herself and her lover.”

Robbins sneered. “Who might her lover be, Lobster Man?” Robbins laughed at his crass joke. He needed a laugh to cut into the tension. Lobster Lady and Lobster Man, they must be a sweet looking pair.

“Pretty claws for hands and feet,” old lady Orley cackled. “Pretty face, pretty pink tongue. Short ruby-red hair stiff like wire bristles. Flat nose, wide deep nostrils. Ears the size of dimes. Skin shiny smooth and hard like red glass. You’d love Lobster Lady.”

“Oh yeah?” Robbins made up his mind never to eat lobster again.

“Want your fortune read? If not, enjoy the show,” she repeated.

Robbins sidestepped the blond-haired girl, yanked open a dresser drawer, winced and gagged against mold and mildew, saw a large dead spider and neatly folded female clothes powdery from dry rot. In an old tin candy box with “Niagara Falls 1949” scrawled in fancy blue lettering on the lid, he found a stack of musty old bills, a few hundred dollars. That would be enough. He had to get out of that creep room.

Old lady Orley cackled, “One of them is still alive.”

Robbins heart lurched. His panic-filled eyes zoomed over the chorus line of stuffed freaks. They all seemed to be moving, swaying gently side to side in synchronization.

“No, that ain’t so. They’re all stuffed.”

“Look again.”

Robbins’ stomach turned over. He had the gun in his right hand, and he started shooting randomly at all the freaks. One freak with a lumpy potato-sack body, stumps for arms and legs, a flat face with no nose, and hard-boiled-egg eyes took three slugs in the chest but kept grinning through a purple slash of a mouth that showed one short spike of a tooth. The potato-man hadn’t moved before Robbins fired his gun, and didn’t move afterwards, either.

Robbins tore from the room and clambered down the creaky stairs in the darkness. Near the bottom he tripped on a loose board, fell forward, cut his hands on broken glass, and sliced open a knee on a rusty nail. He kicked open the kitchen door and rushed outside.

In the moonlight, he ran fast in the direction of his car through the weed field of a pasture, past the crumbling barn and the five-legged cow. Up ahead, through shadows, he spotted someone standing amidst the tombstones.

Robbins ploughed forward, the knife in one hand, the gun in the other. In the pale white glow of the moon, he recognized the Buckly kid in his army parka holding his arms out, his hands raised like flags. He wanted Robbins to stop but instead Robbins rushed him and slammed the gun against his head. Buckly tumbled sideways into the brush.

Robbins ran and stumbled for another ten yards downhill and found himself in marshy ground. Gagging for air, he stopped to catch his breath. Water soaked his shoes. Bad mistake, stopping where he did in wetness, he realized, too late.

The soggy earth beneath his feet shivered. Claws clamped onto his ankles cutting into his flesh, reaching bone. Blood spurted from the rents the claws opened. Robbins tried jerking his legs free. He made a gasping sound. Pain ripped into his knees. Ice cubes of sweat rolled over his skin yet blast furnace heat roared up in his brain.

Robbins heard a shrill voice call, “Lover.”

Strong claws pulled on his ankles, sucking his feet into the mucky earth. Rat’s teeth of fear gnawed and chewed his gut. Robbins emptied the gun into the mud, aiming for the claws. The gunshots whined and echoed.   

He threw the gun away and fought furiously to free his legs. He hacked at the claws with his knife, but the iron hard shell resisted and broke the blade. The “thing” gripped him and pulled him down. Slime touched his knees. The more Robbins tried pulling his legs up the more his legs sank.

Waist deep in muck suddenly. Chest deep.

His heart leaped into his throat and beat wildly like a demented animal as it fought frantically to escape his thrashing body. Robbins scraped madly at the earth with his fingers to find something solid to grip.

He heard the shrill voice again, “Lover.”

His hands and then his arms disappeared. The putrid, moist earth tickled his chin. Before mud clogged his throat, before his face and head disappeared, Robbins screamed, “No!” 

Moonlight seeped through the trees. The shrill voice screeched, “Lover!”

David Harry Moss is a fiction writer and at one time a film actor. He writes in many genres and has been published many times in print and online.

Currently he lives in Pittsburgh but has also lived in Phoenix and Minneapolis. You can find him as the man in the grape-colored shirt in this short film titled The Lady in Red HERE