Notes on a Mystery (Part 2): Creating Tension

One of the players in my Call of Cthulhu game was an experienced GM who had been playing tabletop RPGs for years, with way more experience than me both when it comes to playing a character and crafting a fun story for players. When I first brought up the idea of me GM’ing a game of CoC he was intrigued but said that, in his experience, he didn’t think that creating horror was possible in an RPG. After our second session of CoC had ended and my group stepped outside for fresh air he admitted to me, shaken, that I had proved him wrong and that’s all thanks to one word: Tension.

I’m a horror fan. My favorite author is Stephen King, I hold a scary movie marathon every year on halloween, and I frequent subreddits like r/horror and r/writing to understand the nature of spooky storytelling. I guess that’s why Call of Cthulhu was such an appealing system to me. And, from all my experience learning the craft of horror stories, I can tell you that creating a gripping, tension filled environment is key to scaring your audience; in Call of Cthulhu or otherwise.

Here’s what happened.

After their first in-game day, the players found themselves being questioned in connection to a grisly killing. The night before, they had heard a woman’s scream and, running to investigate, found a young man who was covered in blood and looming over the savaged body of a young woman. The killer fled into the darkness when the party had found the murder scene and half of the players ran after him while the other half tried to save the doomed victim with First Aid (she was still barely alive at this point, but died seconds later from blood loss). Two players rolled a successful Track roll and caught up with the killer only for him to disappear into a cloud of smoke. They Party regrouped at the murder scene only to be handcuffed and taken into custody by the local cops for questioning.

They were released the next in-game morning, free to investigate the murder of the young woman and her strange killer who could vanish like some stage magician. Two of the players, The German Professor and Ms. Price the journalist, heard rumors that there was something wrong with the body of the victim and went to the county morgue to ask questions. What they didn’t know and what I only knew, however, was the nature of the killer: a vampire. This meant that the victim was set to reanimate at any moment.

The trap was set, my prey were walking straight into it, and it took every ounce of will power in my body not to grin and cackle like a lunatic.

Of course, I played it cool; acting as if the entire scene at the morgue was a straight up questions-and-answers-type deal with no hint of danger. The Medical Examiner greeted the players, traded jokes (“you came at the right time,” the M.E. said, “it’s positively dead in here.” Yes, bad puns are my specialty) and lead them downstairs into the basement where the dead bodies were stored and autopsies were performed. The M.E. lead the party passed the body of the victim on the operating table, a blanket draped over her lifeless form, and into the office adjacent to the operating room. More questions, more vague answers. Finally, the players concluded that they had learned very little but may have made a possible ally in the M.E. so they left the office, expecting the scene at the morgue was over. That is, until I fed them one last detail…

The operating table with the murder victim on it was now empty, the blanket previously covering her cast aside onto the cold ground.

“Oh, shit;” was the collective response of The Professor and Ms. Price.

The description was soon followed by the sounds of bare feet pitter-pattering against the linoleum floor and then concluded with all the lights in the basement going out. Something I emphasized by getting up from my chair, running to the light-switch next to me, and flipping it off.

Before I had even gotten back in my chair The Professor said, “My character runs for the exit.”

Here’s where I made the one mistake I regret from that encounter. I told him to stop and think instead of just letting him flee for his life. If I did, I could’ve had the newly risen vampire ambush his character in the dark while he was away from help or just attacked the remaining Ms. Price who was now a friend short. But, instead, I told him to stay where he was while I explained the situation to the players. They could either run for their lives and risk fighting a vampire in the darkness  or they could try and find the circuit breaker in the basement to bring the lights back on and even the odds for the coming fight ahead. I even had the M.E. lend them a flashlight to help them navigate in the blackness.

I know, I coddle my players too much. It’s a fault I’m working on.

This is basically how I view my players

Anyway, both players agreed to find the circuit beaker, which was located in a supply closet, and turn the lights back on. I could’ve just let them go straight for it but instead with each step I tolled them to roll for Spot Hidden while I played ominous music from the Rule of Rose soundtrack to set the mood. The players cringed and made their rolls, expecting an unseen, undead monstrosity to ambush them both each time. But I had other plans for them.

The first time, only Ms. Price rolled a successful Spot Hidden. I told her that her flashlight had found a smashed container of donated blood on the floor, nothing that could induce a Sanity roll but it helped keep the players on edge as the maneuvered their way around the puddle of blood.

They both rolled successes on the next Spot Hidden and found a pile of blood, human teeth on the floor; as if freshly pulled by a dentist. This one did cause a Sanity roll which they both failed but I only made them lose 1D3 SAN. Mildly perturbed, they moved on.

Finally, they reached the supply closet that contained the circuit breaker. Shaking, both players were convinced that the vampire lurked inside. The Professor held the flashlight steady while Ms. Price readied her derringer. They threw open the door to the closet and I paused for dramatic effect when describing what was inside, leaving both players quite literally on the edges of their seats.

Nothing was inside. There was only the circuit breaker and some cleaning equipment. Breathing a sigh of relief, they turned the lights back on, turned to leave, and found standing in the doorway of the closet they were now both squeezed into/trapped in the looming form of the newly vampirized young woman.

It looked like both players nearly had a heart attack, quite the opposite reaction of their characters who succeeded their Sanity rolls. The fight after that was actually quite anti-climactic. Unfamiliar with the combat system I was unsure how it would go but a two-against-one fight is never good odds for anyone, even a vampire. It also didn’t help that I rolled poorly while the players almost always had successes.

Worse, the players were regaining their confidence in the situation. The Professor shouted for rope after he successfully grappled the vampire, wanting to tie it up and examine it safely. I had to turn my vampire into smoke again, however temporarily, to prevent that near-plot-derailing event from happening. My players were forced to kill the vampire, as I intended which was when I hit them with the final Sanity roll which they both lost.

Ms. Price was shaken while the previously brave Professor fainted at the grisly act of re-killing the vampire. There were no more combat encounters after that, only more mystery and storytelling, but with that first encounter engraved in the party’s collective minds’ every time I called for a Spot Hidden left every player trembling with fear and cuss-words being muttered on shaking lips.

Basically, in the words of the great poet Ice Cube:


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Notes on a Mystery (Part 1): My First Time As A Keeper


I had never played Call of Cthulhu before. I had never GM’d a tabletop game before. Hell, three or four months ago, I had never even roleplayed before. So when I offered my gaming group to host my first game (a Call of Cthulhu game, no less) I knew I was leaping head first into the deep end.

I was terrified, but only at first. Then, last thursday, the game started and everything (somehow) fell into place. I thought I’d record my thoughts and feelings of how the game went for all the other nervous would-be keepers out there. Maybe this will help, maybe it won’t. Maybe I’m just writing this for my own benefit. Either way, get a glimpse into the madness.

The Set Up

I had always wanted to play Call of Cthulhu. As a lover of horror fiction the aesthetics were right up my alley and I found the sanity system intriguing. When I first joined my gaming group and discovered how much fun RPG’s were I immediately set to planning an adventure of my own, ideally with CoC, but only in the loosest and vaguest of story telling terms. After my group all agreed to me GM’ing a game, I had to get serious with planning my adventure and it was then that I realized just how hard making your own adventure is.

(Yes, for my first GM’d game I created my own instead of using one from the book like The Haunting. Again, I was feeling ballsy when I did this and didn’t think it all through.)

Following that old adage of “write what you know” I had the setting already picked out: a rural Illinois college town (I grew up in and have already written about a similar area) in the 1920s. I knew what I wanted: a mix of bootegging gangsters, black magic, and a monster running around that needed to be stopped. Beyond that, I didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do or how to get the players to follow the story.

At first, I tried a straight forward story with a basic point-a to point-b progression. That is, until I remembered what kind of players were in my group and knew that they would rather spend ten minutes picking fights and fucking around than following a boring trail of breadcrumbs. I knew that if I tried to railroad my players, they’d set fire to themselves just to spite me or, and this was the part that really frightened me, derail the entire adventure on accident by doing what they wanted to do instead of what I wanted to do.

The story I ended up going with was sort of a sandbox one. I drew out a detailed map of my setting, filled it with interesting places to go (some of which had clues to the bigger myster, some were just there for fun) and decided to just let my players go nuts. Here’s my first tip to would-be keepers designing their first adventure: don’t expect anything to go according to plan and you’ll never be surprised!

My second bit of advice is this: don’t be stingy and buy the actual physical book!

At first, I just wanted a digital copy or loaned information off the internet. But batteries run out and a PDF isn’t as easy to skim through as the real deal. If you’re going to play this game you need to know weapon damages, resistance table info, spell characteristics, and a hundred other things you didn’t think of and having the actual book to flip through in front of you is a million times easier.

The Adventure (pre-game)

When game day finally came we played for about three hours, at least half of which was spent on character creation. Here’s my next piece of wisdom: be patient.

The rules for CoC are actually quite simple when you actually get right down to it but for first time players, they will seem daunting. What skills actually do are vague and they don’t always fit into what the players are thinking they do. Players will also obsess over some of the most inconsequential things in the name of role playing. One of my players, we’ll call her Ms. Price, ended up being the group’s bankroll with over three million dollars worth of modern day currency in assets.

But, since she was used to playing games where money had to be spent before playing, she spent most of her character creation time trying to spend the loads of money she found in her possession. If I hadn’t stopped her and told her she didn’t need to spend it all, she probably would’ve bought everything in the Equipment section part of the book.

Speaking of equipment, I initially wanted my players to start without weapons to add to the horror atmosphere. But with two of my player’s characters being a war veteran and a cowboy (we’ll call them Ace and Roy respectively) I had to relent and allow them some basic weaponry. But I had to invoke keeper’s law to keep them from starting the game with weapons like a field cannon or a box of hand grenades.

The Adventure (so far)

Now we come to the main event. The game started with five players (technically six but our sixth player won’t show up til next time). They were: Ms. Price, wealthy heiress and investigative journalist; Ace, a fighter pilot from the Great War turned stuntman; Roy, Texarkana tough guy and gunslinger; the Professor, a German scholar of languages; and finally our group’s PI, whom I will refer to as Dick Whiskey. (His actual character name was only slightly more ridiculous than that)

Our sixth player, who was in Canada at the time, already had his character prepared. One Johnny Dubois, a southern gentelman/occultist. I justified his absence from the rest of the group by saying he was spending the first day of the adventure shut up in the local library looking for rare (read: mystical) books. We’ll find out how well that works out for him in part two of this little diary.

With the characters assembled I had the adventure start on a train ride towards the game’s setting as an opportunity for them all the get to know each other and role play a little. I played some music from the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack for period appropriate atmosphere, which is something I can’t recommend enough to other keepers.

Anyway, five minutes into introducing each other, Roy tried to punch the Professor for basically being German in post-WWI America.

Already the game was going swimmingly.

Fortunately, Ms. Price played peacemaker and got the team to at least tolerate one another, if not necessarily work together. When the train pulled into the station, my players were unleashed on the world and things went surprisingly to plan after that. They met up with the old friend professor who had invited them all to the picturesque town and he gave them a tour of the town.

Note I didn’t say the game went smoothly but nothing plot derailing happened during that first day of gaming.

Roy continued to be an abrasive dick to just about everyone. The only reason he didn’t succeed in punching (and, at STR 18 and a +1d6 db, probably killing) the Professor was thanks to the Professor rolling a successful Dodge. After he got off the train, he went right to work getting even more weapons (he had started the game with a bowie knife and a revolver, he then bought another, smaller revolver and a rifle). Once in the gun store to buy more weapons he very nearly started a fight with the local rambling/exposition spouting old man but showed restraint and didn’t try to murder him with his fists. He spent the rest of the game looking for people to fight but amazingly didn’t get into one due to one reason or another.

Ms. Price played better and is already showing signs of being the most promising player. Once off the train she went to the town’s local Fall Festival to play some games. She saw that a small child was crying next to the ring toss and his mother was trying desperately to console him and failing. Intrigued, she gave the ring-toss game a try only for me to reveal that the game was rigged and the only way to win was to score a critical success.

She got it on her first try.

I didn’t expect that to happen. Hell, if I had to title this post as anything else it’d be “Damn, I didn’t expect that to happen.”

That’s my final and most important lesson to would-be keepers: be quick on your feet. You can bend and manipulate the situation as much as you like but you will never be able to predict what will happen in a game and what the players will do once left to their own devices. From picking fights with NPC’s with no real stats, to winning unwinnable games, to just not cooperating with each other; you gotta think quick on how to keep the game going and keep it interesting for all involved.

Ideas For Next Session

All in all, my players really enjoyed the game, even though it was mostly set up with only one spooky thing happening. Most players had enough to do but some eyes noticeably glazed over when characters followed the group and found themselves in situations out of their usual element.

Come next game session, I’m introducing some new events/characters so every character will have something to do without straying too far from the main plot. Let’s see what new shenanigans they get up to next week.

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The Last Door, a review

The Last Door

I found The Last Door on accident.

I was browsing through the r/horror subreddit, looking for something Lovecraft-themed to scratch a particular itch I’d been having lately. As a proud horror junkie I saw a lot of familiar names on the lists of recommendations but kept looking just in case there was something I had missed and found recommended a free to play game that, as one commenter put it, left him “thoroughly heebie-jeebied.”

Well, if it was Lovecraftian and free-to-play, so I figured “what the heck?” and clicked the link. What transpired after that, dear readers, was a night and a half of some of the best examples of atmospheric horror I’ve ever seen in gaming, and that’s some damned fine praise for a point-and-click adventure with pixelated graphics straight out of the 90’s.

behold, the graphics of terror!

The game’s graphics are pretty basic but effective with a lot of help from the game’s absolutely awesome soundtrack. Before playing the game, a screen advises you to play it in the dark and wearing headphones and I whole-heartedly agree. From the jump scares with their sudden strike of chords to the background noises and eerie soundtrack, the game’s music and effectively used imagery will suck you into the game’s world and leave you wondering just what god-forsaken horror is waiting for you at the end of story. Tension is always high and the end of each episode offers no release, only tantalizing clues of the horrible truth lying in wait behind the scenes, forcing players to keep playing and keep feeling the tension rise higher and higher.

even when you meet other characters, you will always feel alone

Unfortunately, this brings us to the game’s two weak points. The first is the gameplay and the second is the story itself.

Like I said, the game is a point-and-click style adventure in a series of episodes, each episode taking place at a different level and with different puzzles to solve to advance the story. The game may have great atmosphere but it suffers from the common “Moon Logic” problem when it comes to puzzle-solving and it can be quite frustrating.

Players will navigate through the levels and miss plot-important items due to the pixelated graphics, or at least I did. One example was in the first episode where I needed a key to pass through a locked door. I searched through the entire abandoned mansion maybe three times only to realize (after cheating and checking a walkthrough) I had passed by the key, an item maybe three pixels large, several times without realizing.

Other times, it will take a while for players to read the developer’s mind on what solutions are supposed to work. I figure a lot of other players will break down and use a walkthrough like me and realize why games like these died out in the first place!

The second problem isn’t really a whole problem, maybe half of one, at least this far into the game’s development and that’s the story.

The game’s story is told through a series of episodes which are further organized into seasons. Each episode offers tantalizing hints of what horrible evil is lurking behind the events of the game but so far, with one season concluded and the next in development, the game’s story leaves more questions than answers. Each episode adds a new clue but doesn’t resolve much and the actual season finale just feels like another episode instead of the conclusion of some part of the story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does leave the impression that the developers want to drag out the mystery as long as possible. This can be a good thing if properly executed but its easy to bungle with an unsatisfactory ending that doesn’t live up to the hype. See the finale of Lost.

i don’t know what’s behind that mist, but i know its not great

The characters are also pretty thin, with only the barest motivations or development. If I had to name a favorite character, I’d say it’s the games setting. A creepy, corrupted Great Britain in full 1890’s gothic mode with decayed slums, abandoned mansions of horror, and boy’s schools converted into hospitals for the dead and dying.

All in all, the game may have its weaknesses but the haunting atmosphere and awesome scenes of horror more than make up for any short comings. After all, how many times can players get to play out their character’s own suicide?

that wasn’t a joke, you play out a man’s suicide. See why I love this game?

The Last Door is free to play for the first three episodes of season one, with the season finale behind a paywall so far. Season two is in developement. Please, anybody who reads this, support these awesome developers!

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On Killing Your Darlings

Thomas Edison once said: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Given old Edison’s penchant for plagiarism and general skulduggery we should take anything that comes out of his mouth with a grain of salt but the above quote does have a bit of truth to it. Especially once it’s combined with another famous quote: “Kill your darlings”

For years I (and, no doubt, thousands of other aspiring writers) have heard these words as prophecies of doom in regards to their work. That, sooner or later, you will have to pull the trigger and edit out a favorite phrase, line, scene, etc. And, like many aspiring writers, I didn’t think that this would happen to me and, if it did, it couldn’t possibly be THAT big of a deal.

A line can be replaced. A scene can be altered or removed. It makes no difference so long as it betters the story. I thought that until two days ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just killed a 120,000 word potential novel because it just didn’t work.

First, let me back up and explain.

I have been working for almost a whole year on the sequel to my first self published novel Avalon’s Lost. The writing process came in fits and starts but, just like the Grinch, it came all the same. When I hit the big, imposing PUBLISH button on Kindle Direct Publishing for Lost I had already several chapters of its sequel already under my belt.

The plot for my sequel was challenging, bigger and broader than anything I had ever attempted before. While Lost’s plot had been relatively straight forward, this time I wanted something more surprising. I wanted a plot full of twists and turns, red herrings and shocking reveals. The ideas infected my brain like a fever. I wrote them all down on a white board set up in my bedroom with a timeline of the novel’s events so I could keep track of all the moving pieces.

It was an ambitious undertaking but I thought, “What the hell. If I put the pieces together correctly, I can make it work. I could have a real gosh darn mystery novel on my hands.”

Fast forward a few months later, I was at 90,000 words (Lost’s length when it was published) and I wasn’t even close to the climax of my new story yet. My novel had become bloated, cumbersome under the weight of its own subplots and half-formed ideas. I knew something was wrong but I hadn’t lost hope yet.

Avalon’s Lost was lengthy too, at first,” I thought. “But that’s what editing is for, right? I’ll trim the fat and after a few more drafts it’ll be the same length come publishing time. No problem, right?”


A month ago, my old laptop died (unfortunately, not under mysterious circumstances) and I had to have it replaced. Of course, I backed up my work but I had lost two or three chapters that I had recently written. I thought rewriting the lost chapters would be a cinch but every time I opened up my word processor on my new computer something felt off. Wrong, even.

I retraced my steps, forcing myself to recreate scenes from memory. Stuffing in expository dialogue like foam into an overstuffed mattress. Then it came to me two days ago, an epiphany as suddenly as lightning (to borrow a line from Bob Hoskins) striking my brain.

I was forcing myself to enjoy my own novel. It wasn’t fun anymore.

“Why?” I wondered. “How could this have happened?”

I took an objective step back, looked over what I had written with a critical eye. The realization was horrifying but not unexpected, like a man realizing he has lung cancer after a series of horrible and bloody coughing fits.

I had written a bad novel. I had, for nearly a year, produced almost 120,000 words of pure dreck.

Panic set in. Denial. I mentally searched for some way to save my novel. Maybe if I removed this or that plot point, I might be able to make the rest of it work. No, I can’t do that. If I remove that plot thread then the whole thing comes crashing down. I needed to resuscitate life back into my novel but I couldn’t find anyway to do it without taking a sledgehammer to at least one of my key plots, forcing me into massive rewrites.

I bashed my head against my desk. Wailed, groaned. Gnashed my teeth. “I’m losing it,” I thought. “Dear God in heaven, I’m losing my novel!”

And then, I can’t say precisely when, everything was clear.

I had written a bad novel.

The fact was right there in front of me and it no longer seemed so damning. I not only accepted the fact; I welcomed it.

I had written a bad novel and there was only one option left for me: to start over from scratch. Abandon the old plot and begin anew.

Stephen King in his excellent and aptly titled book On Writing referred to a theme in his other book Misery as being about the “redemptive power of writing.” Only today do I realize what he meant by that.

I have pulled the life support on my 120,000 word clunker. I have let it die a quiet death in the darkest corner of my hard drive. Alone and forgotten.

Then, yesterday, I did the hardest and most liberating thing I have ever done in my life. I clicked on my Open Office icon, selected from the menu NEW DOCUMENT, and I titled it “Chapter 1”.

It’s been two days since my realization. Two days and I have two new chapters written for my next, upcoming novel Avalon Knights. I killed my darling and I feel like a new man. Invigorated. Inspired.

Ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t spend almost a year of my life failing to write a novel. I spent almost a year learning how not to write a novel and I’m the better off for it.

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Short Story: Halloween Hunt

Halloween Hunt

by: R.A. Clapper

“Man, you are so boring,” Mel says, looking at his friend with disappointment. “I mean, who the fuck spends Halloween at home? Alone, even!”

“Me, apparently,” Nick replies, sinking into the soft cushion and torn leather of the passenger seat. He rests his forehead against the window, watching the line of suburban houses and orange/red trees roll by. Decorations are set up in front of every house, fake graves and carved pumpkins sitting on porches and stoops.

Another beautiful fall in central Illinois.

Mel scoffs at the answer and turns his old, beat up station wagon down another road. They come to a stop behind a bright yellow school bus as it off-loads a portion of it’s cargo of elementary students. The kids rush off the bus and run to their homes, dying to get into their costumes and to go trick-or-treating once the sun starts to set.

Nick watches them and admires their enthusiasm. He wishes he could feel the same way with the high school far behind him now and his home so close. But at seventeen, Halloween has lost a lot of the magic it once had for him.

Mel just sits and waits, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and still shaking his head.

“This is because of Mandy isn’t it?” Mel says.

Nick just keeps staring out the window.

“Jesus Christ, dude. That was like, what… two months ago?”

“Three,” Nick mutters, “but who’s counting?”

“You are! Just like how you’re still sulking over your break up. Move the fuck on already.” His fingers beat against the wheel a little faster. “Could say the same for this fat-ass bus in front of me, too.”

“I’m not sulking.”

“Oh yeah?”


“Then what do you call sitting at home, in the dark, every time you have an opportunity to go out and have some fun?”

“It’s called me, enjoying not being in a jail cell.” The bus’s red, flashing stop sign is retracted back and it pulls forward. Nick points up the road. “Go.”

Mel floors the gas pedal, pulls ahead of the bus, and speeds down the road. It’s been their ritual, ever since Mel got his belovedly decaying station wagon, that Mel would pick Nick up and he’d drive them both to school and back again. Nick’s house is only a few blocks away actually but Mel thinks that, if he gets stuck behind that bus one more time, he’ll loose it and risk plowing through the kids.

“Look,” Mel says, “I’m sorry if I touched a nerve about the whole Amanda thing. But at least think about it, will ya. No one our age should spend a night like this in-doors and sober. At least that’s what I think.”

“Thanks, man. But I think I’ll pass. Maybe another time.”

Mel’s shoulders sag, defeated. “If you say so.”

Mel pulls the station wagon into the driveway of Nick’s place. Nick gets out and shuts the door behind him, he’s halfway to his front door when he hears Mel shout from out of his rolled-down window. “I’ve got my phone on me all night. You ever change your mind, give me a call. Okay?”

Nick holds a non-commital hand up as he reaches the front door of his house. He doesn’t look back as he steps inside and shuts the door.

Mel watches Nick disappear into his house. He really wanted Nick to come with tonight, not just to get Nick out of the house but so they could spend some time together against like the old days. Sure, the people Mel’s going out tonight with are some of the few people he’s still on speaking terms but he’s always thought of Nick as the only person he could truly call a friend.

He shakes his head one last time. Then he puts the car into reverse and turns around so he can back out of the driveway. “Suit yourself, man,” he mutters in the empty car.


The sun dips beneath the horizon, casting the world into darkness but Roland Fisk keeps counting the wad of bills inside the darkened interior of his Jeep without missing a beat. He smiles, the green glow of his radio clock glinting off his yellow teeth and making them look even worse.

Roland, like most other drug dealers he knows, loves Halloween. Plenty of parties, high demand from buyers willing to pay whatever it takes to keep the night going. From high schoolers looking to experiment by dropping their first hit of ecstasy to old users across the county looking for harder thrills. He had it all and tonight the money was rolling out like a landslide.

He finishes counting the wad of cash and reaches under one of the back seats of his car. He pulls out a black trash bag and tosses the money inside where it joins a chaotic pile of bills that have been slowly growing all night from a puddle of cash into a sea. The wad he had been holding was just from the party he’d just left, the rest in the bag had been his total profits for now and the night showed no signs of slowing down.

He stashes the trash bag back under the seat and starts up his car. He starts driving towards the next party he’s scheduled to visit. He stays under the speed limit but he doubts the cops will give him any trouble tonight. They’ll probably have their hands full with kids TP’ing houses and other petty shit like that.

Besides, this is Constance County. There is only one city and the rest of the map was miles of small towns, suburban neighborhoods, and empty forests or farmland. So long as he stayed away from the city of Camlan and stuck with the smaller communities like Avalon and Macbeth, then he’d avoid cops who knew what to look for in a drug dealer.

No, he doubts the cops’ll give him trouble. And if anyone else tries to give him trouble tonight then he’s got a nice little surprise waiting for them tucked into the waistband of his pants.

Tonight, he thinks, is going to be a good night.


It’s sometime between eight o’clock and ten now, Mel’s not really sure which. He’s stopped keeping track of time, too caught up in the night. Besides, even if he wanted to what time it was he’d probably forget it a second later from all the alcohol in his system.

He sits in the bed of a truck with five other guys. Two are in the truck’s cabin, the other three are in the flat bed with him. He kills a can of Keystone Light and then crumples up the can when he’s done, tossing it over the side. That was the last of the beers they had on hand but Mel doesn’t care, it was cheap shit anyway. He might as well have been drinking dirty bath water with a drop of booze mixed in for kicks. But he still misses it though now that it’s gone. Even if it was shit, drinking it at least gave him something to do.

Relax, he thinks to himself, they’ll have plenty more to drink at the next place we crash.

That’s what they’d been doing for the past few hours. They’d been hopping all over town, crashing parties and drinking up as much free beer as they could before someone finally threw them out.

In-between destinations, they found other ways to have fun. Two of the guys he was with (two he didn’t know and didn’t want to know) were dressed up in costumes and would sometimes tell the others to stop the truck so they could get out, hide, and then jump out and scare any of the little kids who came by. Those two got a big kick out of it but it just made Mel want to kick them out of the flatbed while the truck was still moving.

Another guy (Frank, Mel’s sometimes acquaintance and pot connection) kept himself amused with a Louiseville slugger. He’d wait until the truck was moving at a good clip and then, when they were about to pass a mailbox, he’d swing and send the square of tin flying.

Mel had his own thing. Anytime they’d crash a party he’d look to see if there was a bowl of candy or anything like that to be found, then he’d grab a handful of sweets and stuff into into a plastic bag he kept inside the inner pocket of his jacket. He didn’t know why but he really liked the idea of having the candy on hand. Maybe it was because he never had much of a chance to trick-or-treat when he was younger. Maybe he just wants to have some treats by his side come the next morning and he’d have to wrestle with a monster of a hangover.

Either way, now he just sits there, watching and laughing with the others while wondering when he can get his hands on another beer or maybe something stronger. Speaking of which, now that the last of the cheap beers was gone Mel was starting to feel antsy. He bangs his fist on the roof of the cabin and leans in close to the rolled down driver’s side window to talk with the driver.

“Where are we headed next?” He asks.

“Rolling Hills,” the driver shouts to him over the wind. “Lauren Eclair’s having one of her famous get-togethers.”

Mel is impressed. He’s never been to a party in one of the upscale neighborhoods and the idea of crashing some rich bitch’s party (especially Lauren Eclair’s party) brings a smile to his face. He hates those stuck-up snobs with a passion and he has his reasons although he never talks about it with anyone except for Nick and they were both in the same boat on that subject.

Mel sits back down in the flatbed with a big grin on his face.


Roland couldn’t say that he actually liked dealing with any of his buyers (since most of them were junkies who were universally unreliable and untrustworthy) but he could at least enjoy himself whenever he was doing business with Lauren Eclair.

She is younger than him, still in high school, and she reminds him of all the bitches who’d never even look his way when he was still stuck there. But she doesn’t act like it, just like how she doesn’t act like a junkie; probably because, deep down, she’s neither of those things. When it comes to drugs, at least, she’s a stone cold business woman and the two of them could at least connect on that level.

He stands in the study of the big ass mansion she lives in. Of course, her folks aren’t home. Being rich her mother and father are often gone on business and whenever that happens Lauren always arranges parties that had quickly become major events to anyone in the know.

He takes out several bags of different product from his pockets and lays them out on top of the mahogany desk. Each bag arranged by type, quality, and cost.

“Here’s your bud, as ordered,” he says, pushing a bag of weed her way.

She takes the bag and holds onto it with little interest. There’s not a lot of weed in the bag and, while still going to squeeze a profit from it, pot heads didn’t frequent the same circles that Lauren did.

Roland pushes another bag her way, it’s full of blue pills. “Quality Ex from the best night clubs in Chicago.”

Lauren takes this bag with a gleam in her eye and holds it more carefully than the pot bag. This ones the real money maker and it’ll sell like candy with the crowd she has downstairs.

“And finally,” he says with pride, “the piece de resistance.” Of course, he butchers the french into an anglicized mess.

He pushes forward another bag, this one filled with white powder. Cocaine.

Lauren picks the bag up and examines it. “How’d you get this?” she asks with a smile of approval. “This kind of party favor is hard to come by in this part of the world.”

Party favors, that’s what she liked to call them.

“Yeah,” Roland says, “there ain’t a lot of connections for this type of product, especially these days.” He stares at Lauren silently for a few seconds. When he first met her, with her designer clothes and gleaming, ebony skin he just wanted to bang her. But after getting to know and deal with her for this long he’d come to think of her as almost someone who understood him, or at least, the world he lived in.

Finally, he made up his mind to ask her what he’d been thinking. “Have you heard the news lately?”

She shakes her head. “Does it concern me?”

“It might,” he continues, voice grave. “Word is that there’s player on the scene. Some guy out of Avalon they say. He’s already got all the meth cookers under his heel, now he’s trying to get the other pipelines under his control. Man’s supposed to be ruthless. Give it a few weeks and those bags your holding are going to be harder and harder to find.”

Lauren looks at him, face blank but eyes calculating the prospect of profits and losses. “So what you’re saying is that I should be worried.”

“Well, I didn’t say that. I mean, I know a guy and if this ghost story is true then I might be the only way anyone around these parts, you especially, can get their hands on quality shit like what you’re holding right now.”

Lauren smiles without mirth. “So, what? You told me that little ghost story as a way of saying you’re going to hike up your prices, Rollie?”

“C’mon, Laurie,” he says, holding out his arms, “it’s Halloween, the night for ghost stories! That and if, assuming there was any change to prices, I didn’t want it taking you by surprise.”

“Of course,” Lauren says dryly.

“But,” Roland adds, voice suddenly becoming very solemn, “if there ever was a ghost story I’d be afraid of… it’d be this one.”

A new king was rising in the county, that much he was certain of, and the idea scared the shit out of Roland; more than he’d like to admit. But he took solace in the mountain of money he was earning tonight. He had a friend that would protect him from this new king but protection like that doesn’t come cheap in this game, even with someone you call friend.

“Well,” Lauren says, waving towards the door of the study, “if you’re that disturbed, help yourself to a drink downstairs.”

“Money first.” Roland holds out a waiting hand.

“Of course.” Lauren reaches into her pocket and produces a fat roll of bills bound up neatly with a rubber band.

Roland takes the bill roll and doesn’t bother counting it. He knows that Lauren wouldn’t try to screw him over.

“So,” he says, pocketing the money in his jacket until he can get it to the black bag under his back seat. “How much more do you plan on reselling all that for? Double? Triple?”

Lauren looks at him, smirking. “Unlike you, Rollie. I don’t betray trade secrets.”

He smiles back at her, heads for the door. “Whatever you say. Now, I’m going to take you up on that drink.”


Nick reclines on a worn couch in his living room. A stack of horror movies and plastic bowl full of candy sitting on the coffee table in front of him. He’s been planning a horror flick marathon all month but he doesn’t feel like he’s having as much fun as he’d hoped as he watches another group of dumbass teens get slaughtered by a maniac. The candy isn’t technically for him (it’s for any trick-or-treaters that stop by) but he partakes of chocolatey goodness every now and then all the same.

He thinks back to what Mel said back in his wagon, how he was only staying inside because he was still pining for Amanda. He tells himself that that’s bullshit but he finds himself thinking about her all the same. When that happens, he focuses on a new batch of teens on his TV screen running off into the forest to bang and get murdered.

It doesn’t make him feel any better.

The doorbell rings and he pauses the movie, getting up and grabbing the bowl of candy as he heads to the front door. He hands some treats to another squad of costumed children and then returns to his couch. He’s stuck with trick-or-treater duty this year just like plenty of other years before it. His mother works way too late at the hospital most nights but tonight will be even worse. Plenty of drunken idiots who find themselves in the ER after fucking themselves up after a stupid dare. A cliché horror movie just for her.

Nick takes out his phone, considers calling Mel. But then he thinks against it and puts itback in his pocket. It’s way too late in the night for Mel to drop whatever it is he’s doing and come pick him up and he tries to convince himself that he’s having fun here on his couch watching the same movie play over and over again.

Still, he wonders how Mel’s doing right now.


Mel stands next to the keg in the foyer of the Eclair mansion. He was impressed by the scale and size of the place when he first got there but, ever since he found the keg, he hasn’t moved. He’s halfway through his third cup now and he’s hoping that the next drink is the one that’ll finally let him enjoy himself.

He finishes the cup of beer off and starts refilling again. No such luck so far.

That’s when someone bumps into him from behind, causing him to splash beer all over the front of his shirt. Mel spins around in a fury, splashing the last few drops of his beer all over whoever bumped into him.

“Watch where your fucking going!” he shouts.

Roland Fisk stands there, spots of sweet smelling beer now on his shirt and jacket. He growls, “You must not know who you’re talking to.”

“Sure I do,” Mel says. “I’m talking to the guy who dressed up for Halloween as a walking, talking cunt.”

Roland reaches down and lifts up the bottom of his shirt enough to show off the glinting steel of the pistol in the waistband of his pants.

“Oh, that’s cute,” Mel says after a cursory glimpse of the gun. “Does your sister know you have her gun or did she give it as a gift?”

Frank comes to Mel’s side, an arm around him and trying to put himself between Mel and Roland. “C’mon, Mel,” he says with a nervous smile. “Let it go, will ya?”

“No, fuck this guy,” Mel says and loud enough to turn several heads to look in his direction. “Bumps into me, spills my drink, and not even an apology? Motherfucker things he’s better than everyone else…”

“Not better than everyone,” Roland snarls. “Just better than you.”

“Say that again, asshole.” Mel strains against his sometimes-friend’s grip, trying to get up in Roland’s face. “I fucking dare you to say that again.”

Roland doesn’t say anything. He just smiles at the display. The kid reminds him of a monkey in a zoo struggling against the metal bars.

Frank looks less enthusiastic. “Don’t you know who this guy is, Mel? This is Roland Fisk.”

“Do I look like I give a fuck,” Mel replies. “Hey, Rolls-royce! How about you and I step the fuck outside. You can even bring your limp-dick pea shooter with you. I don’t give a fuck.”

“Go ahead, kill each other,” another voice says from the stairs. Both Roland and Mel look up and see Lauren standing on the stairs, overlooking the foyer. “But if you’re going to do it, do it outside. I don’t pay my maids to clean up bloodstains.”

“Come on, Mel,” Frankie continues to insist. “Let’s get out of here. This party is boring anyway and I know a good place over in Macbeth. Come on.”

Slowly, the two of them inch towards the front door. Frank looks relieved while Mel continues to stare daggers Roland.

Roland just keeps on smiling and turns his back to him.

“Fucking asshole,” Mel mutters as he walks across the expansive front lawn with Frankie close behind. He can see the truck and the other guys at the end of a long line of cars parked on the Eclair property’s long driveway that seamlessly connected to a private road.

“Forget it, Mel,” Frankie insists, not for the first time since leaving the mansion.

But Mel won’t forget it, he can’t. Rage burns inside him, a familiar flame that’s been keeping him warm ever since childhood. He can’t let it go, he won’t. It’s not in his nature. He comes to a stop and look up and down the long line of parked cars. “Which one is his?” he asks.

“Mel…” is all Frank can say before Mel cuts him off.

“Which one?” He shouts, right up in Frank’s face.

Frank backs off, holding his hands up defensively. He’s afraid of Mel turning his famous anger on him so he points to a black Jeep.

Mel walks over to it, looks it over and peeks inside. His mind is flooded not just with lingering anger but with all the beers of the night. Not enough alcohol in his system to keep him from forming a plan but just enough to convince him that what he’s doing is a good idea and to not care about the consequences.

He considers keying slurs into the side or pelting it with pennies but that would take too long. He keeps his faced pressed against the glass of one of the windows, searching for something inside to steal. Then he sees it, a black bag just barely sticking out from underneath one of the backseats. Could be nothing, could be garbage that this asshole had forgotten to throw out. But it could be something valuable, too. And, even if it isn’t, at least it gives him an excuse to break something.

He steps away from the Jeep, looks around. Parallel lines of rocks run along either side of the driveway. Most are small, only just bigger than pebbles. But he finds one near by that’s just the right size for what he has in mind. He heaves it up, nearly dropping it in his half-drunkedness but he manages to stay upright while holding the small boulder.

Frank wants to stop Mel somehow but it’s already too late. Mel get a running start, comes to a sudden stop, and lets momentum take care of the rest as he pushes the rock forward. The mini-boulder sails through the air and then through one of the Jeep’s windows. Glass shatters and a screeching, beeping, honking sound goes off as the anti-theft alarm is triggered. But that doesn’t scare Mel off, he knows he’ll be gone before Roland shows up if he moves fast enough.

He reaches past the broken glass of where the window used to be and undoes the lock. He opens the door, reaches in, and snatches up the black plastic bag. Without even checking what’s inside (but whatever it is, he thinks, it sure is heavy!) he runs to the truck with Frank close on his heels.

The two jump into the flatbed of the truck. Mel hammers a fist on the roof of the cabin. “Go! Go!”

The truck takes off so fast that the teens in the bed in back are almost thrown off but they hold on tight and get used to the shifting sensation as the flatbed speeds away down the private road.

Roland runs outside the second he hears the car alarm go off. He doesn’t think it’s actually his car being messed with. The sound is actually completely new to him, no one’s been stupid enough to try and mess with his car. But once his Jeep is in view he quickly puts two and two together as his insides grow cold.

The smashed in window. The open back door. The truck speeding off and that kid. He can barely make out the kid’s face in the moonlight but he still recognizes him and, more than that, he recognizes the heavy black bag in the kid’s grip.

He springs to the Jeep, throws himself into the driver’s seat and brings the engine roaring to life. He pulls the car around so it’s facing the right way, going off road and tearing up part of Lauren’s lawn in the process but he doesn’t care. He puts the car in drive and floors the accelerator.

Only two thoughts are on his mind. First, get the money back. Second, kill that kid.


The truck Mel’s in doesn’t get on the highway. They blew past the speed limit 20 MPH ago and if any highway patrolman cared to look he’d pull them over for the crowd piled in the back bed alone, never mind the speed limit or the alcohol on their breaths. Instead, they take the back roads on their way to the tiny farming town of Macbeth. All the best parties for the kids who aren’t on anyone’s guest list always take place in Macbeth. Plenty of unpatrolled streets and wide open fields where no one bothers you or gives a shit about loud music.

Mel’s thoughts are so focused on the next party to crash that he almost forgets about the black bag he stole until a wandering thought brings him back to his prize. He looks down and opens the bag up, expecting trash.

It’s hard to see in the darkness. On roads like these there aren’t street lights for miles and the only source of illumination is the moon that constantly disappears and reappears between the gaps in the passing lines of trees.

He blinks in disbelief at what he sees, then a smile comes to his lips as realizes what he’s seeing is real.

Cash. A huge pile of cash!

He quickly closes the bag up and looks around. No one’s looking his way and he quickly stuffs the bag inside of his jacket. Between the money and the candy he’s been steadily stealing it feels crowded in there and it leaves him looking bloated. He can only hope that the other guys are too drunk to notice.

But his joy doesn’t last long as he looks back and notices a pair of head lights down the road. At first he thought it was just coincidence but as he pressed the bag of money against his chest he knew that wasn’t true.

Then the gunshots ring out.

Little plumes of light from the car trailing far behind the truck, as if the driver was flicking a flashlight on and off. Then sharp cracks, like fireworks going off somewhere, and whizzing as the first few bullets sail past the truck and miss. But then a few hit against the metal chassis with a dull thunk, making the truck jump and sway. The guy behind the wheel panics, not fully realizing that he’s being shot at but instead thinking that maybe a tire’s blown out or they ran something over.

The trunk slows its speed and then comes to a stop along the road’s shoulder suddenly enough to send Mel flying out of the bed. Everyone else was holding on tight but not Mel, everything was happening to fast and he was still hugging his jacket close to his chest. He hits the ground hard, rolling from the momentum so he’s face-down in the mud and wet grass.

He’s dazed, half-conscious as he struggles to his knees. The others in the truck are shouting at each other, trying to figure out what happened. Someone’s asking if a tire blew while another shouts back that that’s not the problem. It’s only when a bullet punches the back window that they realize someone’s shooting at them. The driver hits the gas, one of the truck’s rear tires spins with no traction, sending mud flying for a few seconds before it shoots forward back onto the road.

Mel shouts at them to come back but they’re already too far away to hear him. They probably don’t even notice that he’s not in the back with them anymore. He gets to his feet and futilely tries to catch up with the truck but they’re already far away, just a pair of fading blood red lights in the darkness. He comes to a stop and looks behind him. The other car is closer now, close enough for him to make it out as the same Jeep from back at Lauren’s estate.

And the Jeep’s close enough to see him too. He knows because the headlights of the Jeep change trajectory, no longer lined up with the road but instead aimed straight at him.

Mel has no choice. Out here, this far from Rolling Hills and Macbeth, there’s nowhere to run to. For miles in every direction, as far as the teen can see, there is nothing but forest. But at least in that forest he knows the Jeep can’t follow him, yet alone turn him into road kill. He runs into the woods, hears the Jeep come to a screaching halt and a car opening somewhere behind him.

He keeps running, zig-zagging around trees and hoping a bullet doesn’t find its way into his back. He keeps running until he comes to an exhausted stop, propped up against the trunk of a fat pine tree. He’s breathing hard and looks around him. He doesn’t see whoever’s chasing him but he doesn’t see anything else either.

Hell, he can’t even remember which way he came from he’s so turned around from all the zig-zagging he did. Did he come from the right or maybe it was the left? He can’t tell, he can’t remember. His head feels too light and the world seems to be spinning.

What the fuck am I going to do now? He wonders. Then the obvious answer comes to him. He takes out his phone.


“Part five, huh?” Nick says to himself as he reclines on his couch. One arm behind his head as a pillow while his free hand holds up the DVD box for the next movie in his marathon. “The Final Chapter, my ass.”

His phone rings. He drops the box and picks up his phone, checking the caller ID. It’s Mel’s number. He hits the answer button, presses the phone to his ear.

“I swear to God, Mel,” he says, “if this is another drunk call…”

“I need your help, Nick,” Mel says, his voice ragged. “I’m not drunk. I mean, I am… a little. I’ve fucked up bad and I don’t know where I am and this crazy fucking guy is trying to kill me…”

“Whoa, whoa,” Nick says, shooting up into a sitting position. “Slow down, man. Take a breath and explain. Where are you? What happened?”

A pause on the other end as Mel composes himself. When he speaks again, he’s less rambling but sounds no less terrified. He explains the whole thing to Nick, starting at Lauren’s place and then ending it with his run into the woods. He even tells him about the bag of money he stole.

Nick feels tempted to write the whole call off as a prank. But the fear in Mel’s voice sounds too real and too many bits and pieces of information click together in his brain like pieces in an unfinished puzzle.

“I tried calling the others,” Mel continues, “but the fuckers aren’t answering their phones. Don’t think they even noticed when I went overboard or maybe they just don’t care. Come on, Nick. I really need your help on this.”

“How much money did you say, again?” Nick asks.

“I don’t know,” Mel replies. “I didn’t count it. But by the looks, a couple grand. Maybe more.”

“And this guy, what was his name?”

“Roland something. Fisk, I think. Why, do you know him?”

“No. I mean, I’ve heard about him but nothing concrete. Where are you?”

“I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I got all turned around when I ran from that guy. We were leaving Lauren’s place to head for Macbeth. I think we were on Shirland Road.”

“Okay, your car is still at your place. Right, Mel?”


“Okay,” Nick says, rising from the couch and heading for the door. “I’ll get your car and drive over there to pick you up. Call me if you find another road or a landmark or something to help me find you.”

“Sure, no problem… and, Nick?”


“Hurry. I think that guys still looking for me and I don’t think he ran out of bullets.”

Nick locks up his house and runs from his place to Mel’s, a small condo towards the other side of the small town. The front door is unlocked but that doesn’t surprise Nick. Mel’s uncle should be home by now but Nick doesn’t bother telling him about what happened. When Nick walks in, Mel’s uncle Walt is passed out at the kitchen table with a half-eaten microwavable dinner one side of him and a half-empty bottle of scotch on the other.

He doesn’t stir as Nick grabs the keys to Mel’s car and disappears out the front door again.

Nick gets into the station wagon but once the engine’s roared to life he doesn’t head straight for Shirland Road. Instead, he heads to another part of the neighborhood, one that he’s always struggled to avoid.

Roland Fisk is a familiar name to Nick for all the wrong reasons. He’s heard the rumors. Roland’s some high school drop out who couldn’t find work so he turned to an easier form of employment. Of course, Nick never thought any of it was true and even if it was it never concerned him until now. But now that he knows for sure that Roland is a dealer, and one hellbent on killing Nick’s best friend, there was only one place he could go to to resolve this under the table without bloodshed or bringing the police in.

He parks in front of the last house on Hoover Street. The McCall house. Nick gets out of the car, walks up to the front door of the house, and knocks until someone answers. A kid younger than him, maybe 15-years old, opens the door. Skinny and with glasses, he looks out of place in the house full of older kids, college-aged and above.

“Hey, Robbie,” Nick says. “I need to talk to Marco.”

Robbie at first happy to see Nick, then looks disappointed at Nick’s request but nods in understanding. The door closes and when it reopens, a man in his mid-twenties steps out. Powerfully built, face uneven with pock-marks and faint scars from countless brawls, and cold, dismissive eyes look down on him.

Marco McCall. Ex-lunch room bully turned supposedly honest citizen and maybe a little more. It’s the little more part that Nick needs to talk with about right now.

“Who are you?” Marco asks.

“My name is Nick Carver. We’ve met before but you probably don’t remember me.”

“Well, don’t feel bad about that. I meet plenty of people not worth remembering. Now, what the fuck do you want? The only reason I’m listening to you right now is because Robbie vouches for you.”

“I need your help.”

“You came to the wrong place. You want help, call the police.”

“I can’t go the police. Look, I have a problem and you’re the only way I can resolve it without making a long term enemy.”

Marco folds his arms over his chest. Uninterested but still listening just for the hell of it. “Enemy of who?”

“Roland Fisk.”

Marco’s eyes flicker in sudden interest. Nick can tell that the name’s familiar to him.

“A friend of mine pissed Roland off and now he’s trying to kill him,” Nick continues. “He stole some money on accident…”

“On accident?” Marco repeats with an amused laugh.

“Yeah, on accident. Anyway, he’s on the run from Fisk who wants to kill him. I could just go and pick him up but I know Fisk will still keep looking for him and if I go to the police they’ll maybe throw him behind bars for a few years but once he gets out he’ll still try to kill my friend.”

“So why come to me.”

“You’ve got a reputation.”

“What do you want me to do. Kill the guy?”

“What? No!”

“Relax. It was just a joke.”

“Look, I hear that you’re a guy who knows a lot of people who know what’s what. People like Fisk.”

That amused smile doesn’t leave Marco’s lips. “Is that what you heard?”

“Yeah. Look, I’m not asking a lot. I’m going to talk to my friend and I’ll make sure Fisk’s money gets back to him but I want guarantees that he won’t continue any kind of vendetta. Just arrange a sit down between him and me and maybe we can walk away hating each other but not wanting each other dead.”

“How diplomatic of you. Not sure if it’ll work, though. How much did your friend accidentally steal?”

“A couple grand, I don’t know. Will you help me get in touch with this guy, maybe set something up?”

Marco thinks it over. “Usually I don’t do shit like this for free,” he says. “But it’s Halloween and I’m feeling charitable. Sure, I’ll see if I can’t get in touch with ol’ Rollie. But it’ll take some time.”


“Because maybe we’re not as close as you think, Carver. It is Carver, right? But relax, just a few phone calls and I’ll be able to talk him down and keep him from doing anything rash to your friend.”

“Thanks,” Nick says, rushing back to the station wagon. “Your brother Robbie has my phone number. Call me there!”

He gets in the car, pulls out of the driveway, and drives off to save his friend.

Marco watches the station wagon head down his road. Calmly but without wasting time he steps back inside and borrows the phone of his younger brother (quicker than asking for it, he thinks, and, besides, he’s not using it) and then pulls aside his second brother, David.

David is bigger than him but younger by a year. He’s dressed as Jason Voorhees at this party and is big enough to fit the part. He lifts up his mask to reveal a smile underneath.

“Get in the car,” Marco says. “We’re on the clock.”

The smile disappears from his face. “No kidding?”

Marco doesn’t answer him, he’s already headed for the front door. But he does say to David over his shoulder: “Bring a spare mask.”

The two get into their car, a gray Cadillac, and drive down Hoover street.

Nick drives along Shirland Road. He pays careful attention to the street, looking for any signs that he might be where Mel and the truck he was in went separate ways. With only the headlights for illumination he worries that maybe he’s missing something, maybe that he’s already passed what he’s looking for and just hasn’t noticed.

Worse yet, he’s starting to think he’s being followed.

He glances in the rear-view mirror, not for the first time since leaving Avalon. The landscape behind him is dark and the road disappears behind the rolling curve of a hill. If anyone was following him, he’d have seen their headlights from a mile away. But that thought doesn’t relieve his sense of mounting paranoia. Maybe whoever is following him has their lights off and are driving slowly and carefully, taking their time as they follow Nick’s taillights. Sometimes he thinks he sees moonlight glinting off metal or a shadow moving in a way that doesn’t seem natural.

He focuses back on the road and then slams on the breaks. He violently lurches forward from the momentum but once he’s regained his composure he stares at what made him stop in the first place. Black tire marks on the gray pavement of the road, fresh and still smelling of burnt rubber. There’s also an irregularly shaped hole in the dirt beside the road where a tire had spun against slick muck. Just like what Mel told him.

He looks around but sees no sign of Mel. He must not have found his way back from inside the forest. He also doesn’t see any sign of the Jeep that was stalking Mel either. Nick’s not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

He takes out his phone, flips it open. There’s barely any signal out here but if Mel called him before, hopefully it’ll work for Nick. He punches in Mel’s number and hits the call button. He exhales in relief when Mel answers.

“I’m on Shirland Road,” Nick says, “and I think I’ve found where that truck you talked about went off the road. Where are you? Do you see any landmarks?”

“Yeah,” Mel replies, his voice far away and crackling from the poor reception. “I’m by a river. There’s a dirt trail but I don’t know where it goes or if a car can even drive on it.”

“Stay where you are,” Nick says. “I have a pretty good idea where you’re talking about. I think I can get there. Just don’t move.”

Nick hangs up the phone and drives again. He watches the road for any point where it might break off and drives slowly so he doesn’t have to slam on the breaks again. He also keeps looking in the rear-view mirror now and again but doesn’t see anything in the darkness. Finally, he sees a dirt road diverge from the concrete at a sharp angle. It’s too narrow and uneven to drive across so he pulls the station wagon over onto the shoulder of the road and kills the engine.

He gets out of the car, locking the doors behind himself, and then looks at the path he has to walk down. The dirt road disappears into forest and foilage that is too thick for the moon to shine through, leaving a wide open maw of complete and utter darkness. Nick swallows hard, hopes that this path is the right one, and then steps onto the dirt.

As he keeps walking his eyes gradually adjust to the dark and after fifteen minutes the path leaves the wood and runs parallel to a small but fierce river. Nick considers shouting Mel’s name out but if Roland is still looking for him and anywhere close by then that’s the worst thing he could do. Instead, he just keeps walking. His eyes dart along the path, searching for any sign of his friend.

“Hey,” he hears a weak voice croak. Nick doesn’t know where the sound comes from, he barely even heard it. He looks around more frantically and then he sees what at first looked like a sapling near the river waving in the wind but now that he looks at it closely, he sees that it’s a hand.

Mel slowly rises from his hiding spot by the water and Nick rushes to meet him.

“Thank God!” Nick whispers. “You’re still be alive.”

“Yeah,” Mel says, voice quiet and breath escaping in puffs of steam. “Barely.”

Mel looks pale in the moonlight and what parts of his skin aren’t shining from a deathly pallor is covered in mud and gunk. His eyes also have an unfocused quality, like he’s sleepwalking through a bad dream and desperate to wake up.

“Where’s my car?” Mel asks.

Nick jerks his head backwards. “It’s back there a ways. Maybe a twenty minute walk.”

“Alright.” Mel takes a few steps forward down the path. “Let’s go.”

Nick holds out a hand to stop him. Mel run right into him and bounces off, teetering like he might fall over at any minute. Nick isn’t surprised that he’s still that hammered. “Hold up,” Nick says. “Where’s the money?”

Mel’s shoulders sag. “Do we have to talk about this now?”

Nick looks at him like he’s crazy. “You call me up and drag me out of my place, scared half to death because someone wants to kill you, all because you stole a drug dealer’s stash in a petulant rage and by accident. Yes, we’re talking about this now.”

“I just wanted to fuck with the guy a little,” Mel replies petulantly. “You know, get back at him. I didn’t know he’d try to off me for it.”

Nick holds out a waiting hand. “Let me see it.”

“We’re wasting time…”

“Let me see it!”

Mel huffs in exasperation. He takes a black bag out from inside of his jacket and hands it to Nick.

Nick opens the bag up, looks in, and then looks back at Mel. “This is a bag full of candy bars.”

“Oh, shit.” Mel takes the bag back. “Wrong bag.”

“I swear to God…” Nick mutters.

Mel puts the bag of candy back inside of his jacket and fishes out another black bag, the right one this time. He tosses it to Nick and he snatches it out of the air.

Nick opens the bag up and his jaw hangs open at what he sees. The bag is full of a random assortment of high value bills but by the sheer volume he guesses that there must be at least ten thousand dollars in that bag.

“My lucky day, huh?” Mel says, grinning. “Want to split it?”

Nick looks back at him. Now he’s not staring at him like he’s crazy, he’s staring at Mel like he’s brain dead.

“You know,” Mel continues, “as repayment for picking me up when I needed it.”

“No!” Nick half-shouts.

“Alright, fine.” Mel reaches to take the bag back. “More for me.”

Nick pulls the bag out of his reach. “No. No one is getting this money. We’re giving it back.”


“What we’re going to do is wait until this Fisk guy is thinking straight and then we sit down with him, give every last dollar of this money back, and walk away hoping he’s willing to let it all slide.”

“Oh, come on…”

“In fact, you should’ve dropped this the moment you were thrown from that truck. Maybe then this guy would’ve just picked it up and not decided to go all man-hunter on your ass.”

“I didn’t have time to think about that and I’m not exactly in the right mindset to be making those kinds of decisions anyway. Besides…”

“Besides, what?”

Mel shrugs. “I mean, it is a lot of money.”

Nick keeps staring at him in disbelief. “How did you survive this long?”

Mel opens his mouth but before he can even think of a smart-ass reply a twig snaps from somewhere in the woods.

The two of them turn their heads like frightened rabbits. They stay silent, listening for another sound. Listening for a sign that what they heard wasn’t a coincidence and that someone else is in the woods.

Another snap, this time closer.

The two of them dive towards the river, where Mel was hiding before Nick found him. The ground is slick and curves down into the rushing waters of the river in a steep slope. The two of them slide and Nick almost goes into the water. He’s so close to it that the roar of the running water is all Nick can hear, even as he tries to focus on whoever is out there, following and watching.

He lays there on the slick grass, staring at the looming tree-line. Three minutes pass but it feels like forever to him. Then he sees something but he’s not sure what. The remaining leaves on the trees block most of the moonlight but he can still make something out in between the tree trunks.

A tall figure, built like a Mack truck. Dressed in dark clothing and wearing a faded gray mask, maybe an old hockey mask. The figure is clutching something in his hands, it looks like a deer rifle.

The figure stands there. It looks up and down the river, searching for something. A far-away voice calls to it from somewhere deeper into the forest. The figure looks over it’s shoulder, takes one last glance at the path and the river, then it disappears back into the forest.

“Good,” Nick says, barely hearing his own voice over the river. “I think he’s gone. Let’s get out of here…”

Nick looks over to his side, expecting to see Mel pressed against the sloped ground just like he is.

Mel isn’t there.

Nick looks around in growing panic. Then he sees something down the river. A splashing mass of flailing arms and limbs.

“Oh shit.”

When Mel dived to the familiar cover of the river bank he went to fast, slipped against the slick mud and grass like it was an all natural slip-and-slide, and found himself in the river. Now he struggles to keep his head up as the fast running torrent knocks him around like a rag doll. He kicks out with his arms and legs, trying to swim in any direction and hoping it’ll take him to safety.

Finally he washes against a muddy shore. If he looks around he’ll notice it’s on the opposite bank of where he fell in but he doesn’t notice. He’s too busy throwing up the putrid river water that made its way down his throat.

After heaving up the last remaining contents of his stomach, he whispers to himself, “God in heaven, I’m never drinking again.”

Then he looks up and sees Roland Fisk standing in front of him with a gun in his hand.

“I’ve been looking for you,” Roland says, pointing the pistol at Mel.

“Yeah,” Mel sputters. “I kinda figured.”

“Gimme the bag.”

Mel shakes his head. “I don’t have it.”

Roland slams the butt of his pistol against the side of Mel’s head, knocking him against the slick ground again. Roland reaches into Mel’s jacket, pulling the black plastic that he saw jutting out ever since the kid swam ashore. He pulls the bag out, hurriedly opens it, and then lets it fall from limp fingers.

Candy in soaking wet wrappers spills out onto the ground.

He presses the gun against the side of Mel’s head.

“Where’s the money?” he shouts. “Tell me!”

“My friend has it,” Mel groans out, “and he’s on the other side of the river.”

Roland looks up stream of the river and sees the outline of someone about the same age as the kid he’s currently got at gun point standing on the other side. He can’t make out the other kid’s face but he does notice that the other kid is holding a black bag.

His black bag.

“I’ve got your friend!” he shouts out across the river.

“And I’ve got your money!” Nick shouts back at him. “Give me my friend back and I’ll give you what you want. Call it even?”

“Not even,” Roland mutter to himself. “Not even close, you miserable little prick. Not after all you two’ve put me through.”

“Get out of here, Nick!” Mel manages to shout.

Roland drives his foot into Mel’s side, shutting him up. Then he turns back to the kid on the other shore. “There’s a bridge up ahead, off Shirland Road. We’ll meet there. We’ll talk!”

And then you’ll die, Roland thinks. Along with your friend.


The bridge is old and wooden, creaking from years of decay and of little use except for adventurous joggers and bikers who like to explore the back roads and forgotten trails of the county. It’s big enough to squeeze a car but only one at a time and despite its age it only quietly creaks as Roland parks his Jeep at one end of the bridge, the front two tires on the ancient planks and the rear tires planted firmly on the concrete road.

He needs this money. He knows that without it he’ll have to scrape together whatever cash he’s got saved up for a bus ride as far away from here as possible. Things are getting bad in this county and they’ll only get worse for him if word ever gets out that he lost all of his Halloween earnings from some dumbass kid who thought he could get away with it.

If he doesn’t deal with this kid and his friend the right way, it’ll be blood in the water. That’s what Roland tells himself as he binds Mel’s hands together behind his back with zipties and drops him in front of the Jeep like a sack of potatoes. It’s what he tells himself as he loads a fresh clip into his pistol.

It’s just the nature of the game and if Roland wants to stay a player then these two kids have to go. It’s as simple as that.

So he stands there, in front of his car with his prisoner kneeling beside him. He waits for the other kid to show up and while he waits he takes the moist bag of candy out and sets it down on top of his car’s hood. He takes out a wet candy bar and rips the the tip of the wrapper off and takes a bite, expecting that the wrapper kept the candy dry but still getting a mouthful of chocolate-flavored river water.

He spits the bite of candy over the edge into the river and dumps the bag along with it. He watches the contents spill out and individual bars float along the current. They remind him of dead bodies.


Perched against a tree on a sloping hillside overlooking the bridge, a large man in a hockey mask stares down the scope of a hunting rifle. He has Roland in his crosshairs, he could pull the trigger if he wanted to and put an end to a rival right here and now.

But a second man, smaller than the first but no less powerfully built, puts his hand on the muzzle and forces the larger man to lower the rifle.

“Not yet,” the smaller masked man says. “Wait until the money’s in play. I’m going to try and get closer.”

“He’s going to kill them both,” the larger man says, sounding genuinely worried despite not knowing the two teens currently in danger personally.

But the smaller man doesn’t listen, doesn’t care. He’s already halfway down the hill, moving with more stealth and grace than the larger man could hope to have.

The larger man turns his attention back to Roland, staring down the scope again.


Nick pulls the station wagon up in front of the bridge and puts it in park. The headlights shining on Roland, standing in front of the car with a gun in his hand, and Mel whose hands are bound behind his back. Roland’s free hand is gripping Mel’s shoulder, keeping him from running off. A gray strip of duct tape is slapped over Mel’s lips but this far out in the middle of nowhere it seems almost redundant to Nick.

Nick open the car door and gets out but doesn’t close it. If Roland tries to take a shot at him Nick’s prepared to dive into the car for safety. But, at this range, Nick doubts even a novice at firearms could miss. He gulps hard, counts the distance in steps between himself and Roland. The only thing he can do now is play this whole thing out and hope it ends his way.

“I got what you want,” Nick says. “Let my friend go.”

“Fuck you,” Roland replies. “Gimme whats mine and then you can have your shit-heel friend back.”

Mel mumbles but his duct tape gag makes it all gibberish.

“If I give you the money,” Nick says, “what’s to stop you from killing him and me right here and now?”

“Well, you could always choose to not give it to me. In that case, I kill your friend right now, you run away, I track you down and kill you later, then I take my money anyway. This isn’t a fucking negotiation, kid. Gimme what’s mine, it’s your only hope of both of you leaving here alive.”

Mel gives another muffled shout. He’s screaming at Nick with his eyes.

“Shut up!” Roland lets go of Mel’s shoulder and punches him, knocking him over.

Nick takes three quick steps forward. One hand gripping the bag of money and the other held up as he shouts, “Stop!”

Roland turns his attention back to Nick, pointing his gun at him. “Last time I’ll tell you, kid. Gimme what’s mine!”

“Okay, okay. Just chill, alright? Here…”

Nick takes a few more steps closer.

Almost there.

“That’s close enough,” Roland says. “Throw it to me.”

Nick stops in his tracks.

Not close enough. Just a little more.

“Are you sure?” Nick asks. “What if money flies out?”

“It’s my job to give a fuck about that bag, kid. Not yours. Now throw it already!”

Nick nods reluctantly and tosses the bag the short but still too long distance between him and Roland. Then he stuffs his hands into his pockets.

Roland catches it with his free hand and keeps his gun trained on Nick as he opens the bag and looks inside.

Nick inches closer.

Almost there. Just a few more…

Roland looks back up, he’s not going to waste time counting the money and it looks like it’s all there. He doesn’t notice that Nick has gotten any closer. He lowers his gun and turns his back on Nick, dropping the bag of money on top of the Jeep where the candy once sat earlier.

Nick takes the opportunity. He takes the last three steps and takes his hands out of his pockets.

Roland turns around, about to raise his gun. “You have no idea how much trouble you’ve caused…”

When Roland turns enough for Nick to see his face he lets his right hand fly. Flinging a handful of dollar bills he stole from the bag earlier right into Roland’s face.

Roland throws his hands up defensively, surprised and confused by the unexpected move.

That moment of hesitation is the opening Nick needs as he charges straight into Roland’s chest, driving him back. Mel only narrowly rolls away in time before Roland’s back hits the the grill of his own car. Nick tries to grab the gun from Roland’s hands but the element of surprise is gone now and Roland is fighting back and holding onto the gun as hard as he can.

Nick knows he needs to pry the gun loose. If he doesn’t then he and his best friend are as good as dead.

Mel watches the struggle from the sidelines, feeling helpless. He knows Nick isn’t the best fighter around, that’s why he spends so much time avoiding fights in the first place. If Roland can regain control of his gun then it’s all over.

Mel wants to get up and fight, to lend a hand or do something. But with his hands bound behind his back and his head still feeling light from the night he’s spent drinking, he’s left uncoordinated and incapable of rising to his own feet. He feels like a turtle turned onto its shell.

If he could get his his hands in front of him he could push himself up. He tries to bring his bound hands down, running along the surface of his thighs and then his calves so he knows how close he is to his feet.

He lifts his feet up. Now he just has to slip his wrists under his feet and his hands will be in front of him again. He tries to do it but he just can’t. It feels like every muscle in his body has a mind of its own and the longer he keeps his feet up the more unsteady he feels.

I’m a fuck up, he thinks to himself. I’m a fuck up and I admit it. The only thing I’ve ever done is make life miserable for others. But that doesn’t matter now. Just get this one thing right, dumbass. Get this one fucking thing right!

Mel tries again and this time his wrists slip past his feet.

He feels elated but doesn’t take the time to enjoy it. He rolls over onto his hands and knees, looks up.

Roland’s thrown Nick off, pushing Nick up against the wooden handrailing on the other side of the bridge. Roland points his gun at Nick.

Mel shoots forward like a sprinter at a starting line. In less than half-a-second he’s covered the distance between where he was and where he should be. He lowers his shoulder and tackles Roland with enough force to knock him off his feet.

The gun goes off but the bullet only hits empty air. The recoil and Mel’s surprise attack sends it flying from Roland’s grip.

Roland flies forward, hits the handrailing at an awkward angle. He tumbles over the railing, falls down, and hits the icy water below with a hard splash.

Mel peels the duct tape from his lips. He and Nick look at each other for a second but don’t waist time savoring their victory. They both pile into the parked station wagon. Mel in the passenger’s seat and Nick behind the wheel.

They drive away from that bridge as fast as they can.


Roland eventually pulls himself out of the river. Sputtering water, blood, and half-hearted curses. He wants to feel enraged but right now he feels too beaten up to feel angry about anything. He had hit one of his legs on a sunken rock back in the river bed earlier so he limps his way back to the bridge. He wonders if the money’s still there or if the kids stole it again.

Maybe they were at least kind enough to leave his gun behind so he can blow his own head off after how this night has gone.

He makes it back to the bridge and limps faster when he sees his car. The bag is still there and joy bursts inside his chest when he sees that all the money is still inside. Sure some of the cash that one kid threw in his face still lay scattered across the floorboards of the bridge but if he takes a little time to pick it all up then there’s no harm done.

His gun is still lying right where he dropped it. He kneels down on his good leg to pick it up.

Got my money, still got my gun, he thinks. Maybe thing’s will work out after all and I can get my protection from…

He stands back up when he grabs his gun and that’s when he sees the masked man standing behind the Jeep.

The man is tall and thin but strongly muscled underneath his clothes. He’s wearing a hockey mask and his hands are folded behind his back.

“Hello, Rollie,” a familiar voice says. “Tonight just really isn’t your night.”

He knows that voice.

Marco McCall.

Roland panic, raises his gun.

A gunshot screams but not from his gun or the masked man. It comes from a hill overlooking the bridge.

Roland feels like he’s been punched hard in the chest by an invisible fist and is knocked onto his back. His gun goes skidding from his grip, teeters on the edge of the bridge beneath a handrailing. He groans in pain, spits up blood.

The floorboards creak as the masked man walks around the Jeep and creeps closer to Roland. Roland tries desperately to grab his gun but it’s just outside his reach. Then a boot comes down on top of his gun, crushing Roland’s last hope of survival.

A gloved hand reaches down, picks up Roland’s pistol.

Roland looks down his own gun barrel.

“You should’ve gotten out when you had the chance, Rollie.” The man pulls the hammer back. “You should’ve bowed to your king.”

One last shot rings out. Roland Fisk is out of the game.

By the time David McCall inexpertly makes his way down the hill and rejoins his brother, Marco is done counting the cash Roland’s bag.

“Put that idiot in the trunk of his car,” Marco orders. “Then push it off to the side somewhere where no one will notice. I’ll call someone up and have them dump it.”

“Why not just dump him in the river?” David asks.

“Because I say so, now do it.” Marco steps aside, takes off his mask, and fishes his little brother’s cell phone out of his pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“I have to make a phone call. Wrap up a loose end.” He finds Nick Carver’s name on his little brother’s very short list of contacts and hits the call button.

Bright kid, he thinks. Preferred an under the table solution to just blindly bringing in the law. Went to someone who knew better than he did when he found himself in unfamiliar waters. He knows a thing or two. That kid just might have a future. He smiles. Of course, he asked the wrong person for help. But, hey… nobody’s perfect.

“Yeah,” a voice answers on the other end. A voice that sounds like it just got done running a marathon.

“Hello, Carver. I got a hold of Roland’s number. I’ll see if I can’t talk him down from doing whatever it is he might plan on doing to your friend.”

“He also plans on doing to me, too. He just tried to kill me. He’ll probably…”

“Calm down, Carver. Roland’s more reasonable than you give him credit. Do you still have his money?”

“No. He’s got it back now.”

“Well, there you go. Listen, I’ll talk with him and see if we can’t work something out. Get him to put tonight behind him so we can all move on to bigger and better things.”

“You think you can do that?”

“Oh yeah. Me and Rollie go back a long ways.” Marco turns and watches as his brother loads Roland’s corpse into the back of the Jeep. “I wouldn’t worry about Roland Fisk anymore if I were you.”


It’s well after midnight, somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow. Mel and Nick sit on the couch in Nick’s house, watching a horror movie without really paying attention. The first thing Mel did when he was back in friendly territory was getting his restrains off with a pair of scissors from Nick’s kitchen. Then he jumped in the shower and washed the stink of that river off of himself. When he got out he borrowed some of Nick’s clothes.

Now the two sit in silence and stare at the TV. Nick has the half-empty bowl of trick-or-treater candy in his lap and he pops another bite-sized piece of candy into his mouth. Neither has said a word to the other since leaving that bridge and, now that the adrenaline’s worn off, both are too exhausted to think of anything.

That is, until Mel says, “I’m sorry for putting you through that.”

Nick grunts. “Sorry you had to go through that.”

“Yeah. Next time I’ll look before I leap, I guess.”

“No you won’t. If you did that then you wouldn’t be you.”

Mel looks down at his feet.

“I guess,” Nick adds, “I’ll have to go with you next time. You know, to keep you out of trouble.”

Mel looks up and sees that Nick is smiling lopsidedly at him.

The two share an uneasy laugh.

“I don’t know,” Mel says. “Maybe I should take a page out of your book. A quiet night at home. Did you enjoy it? Before I fucked everything up, I mean.”

“Nope. Did you enjoy your night? I mean, before you fucked everything up.”

Mel shakes his head. “Nah.”

“Oh, wait. I almost forgot.” Nick fishes into this pant’s pocket, pulls out a dollar bill. He holds it out to Mel. “When I grabbed that handful of money to throw in Fisk’s face back there, I didn’t pull out all of them. This is the only one I didn’t throw. Do you want it?”

Mel takes it from Nick’s hand and examines it.

It’s a single, probably the only one in the whole bag.

Mel rises from the couch and walks over to the living room’s fireplace. He takes out his lighter, ignites a corner of the dirty money, and then throws it into the fireplace. Then, calmly, he walks back to the couch and sits down.

“Let’s watch something else, I’ve seen this one already. And quit bogarting the candy and give me a taste, will ya?”

Nick hands him a candy bar and Mel takes a bite. He enjoys the taste.

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Mission Statement

My name is R.A. Clapper and this is my first ever blog, Genreless.

Through this blog I hope to introduce myself to the reading public at large while providing everyone samples of my work, behind the scenes insights to my writing, promote my upcoming book Avalon’s Lost, and just generally get to know new people.

A little about me: I’m a student at Portland State University, studying English, and I work at the student-run newspaper The Vanguard.

Here’s to hoping for a long and fruitful relationship between myself and all of you who choose to read my work.

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