Posts Tagged ‘Alternate Pop Culture History’

Part Eleven: What If?

July 23rd, 1991. Wisconsin

Robert Bloch’s high school class always had reunions at odd years. In fact, the thirty-ninth reunion of the class of 1934 was the very first one they ever had. Back then the Cold War was in full swing, so maybe they didn’t want to chance waiting til forty. This summer was their fifty-seventh reunion. Bloch wondered if there was a special name for such an odd number, like how fifty years is the golden anniversary and sixty five is the sapphire.

Driving through the plains of Wisconsin, he laughed to himself as he thought back to the reunion a few nights ago. One of his classmates, who really shouldn’t still be wearing those low cut blouses, leaned over her dinner plate while eying his watch and asked “What have you been doing since you got out of school?” He delighted her with an impromptu story that he ran a garbage truck company. As a matter of fact, he was the top garbage service in three counties. “Trash, manure, medical waste, we haul it all!” he said with a jovial wave of his fist. She wasn’t eyeing up that nice watch of his anymore.

Later at the bar one of his friends looked that old classmate over and said “I don’t know about you Bloch. If you played your cards right you could have had her in the shower tonight screaming bloody murder!”

“I don’t think my wife would approve!” Robert laughed.

“Who knows?” His mischievous friend said. “Maybe she would have watched!” Robert missed the humor of his classmates, but he also missed his wife. Elly wasn’t up for another trip to the great state of Wisconsin. It was probably for the best though. He learned that night one of his friends who couldn’t make the reunion was living in one of those little towns in the northern part of the state. He managed to get a hold of him, and via a rental car went out to see him for a few days.

Now that visit was finished and he was heading back south. Eventually he would turn east and fly back home via Milwaukee. Speeding down the highway he noticed the road sign, ninety miles to Plainfield. Something about that name sounded familiar, Plainfield, but he couldn’t remember. Not long after, he saw another sign, now sixty miles away. About a mile later he finally remembered, that big guy back at that horror convention, and his story about the psycho house. As he drove by the empty fields he tried to remember the details. 

Less than an hour later Plainfield was ahead of him, and on a whim he decided to get off the highway. Coming into the one horse town, he stopped in at a general store to get a drink. He couldn’t resist a peek at the magazine rack. Long gone were the magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories that writers like himself and old HPL got their breaks in. At least they still had a few comic books. A young man next to him was thumbing through a magazine about professional wrestling. Robert never knew they even printed such things. He didn’t understand what the appeal was, grown men in tights pretending to fight each other. As he looked over the shoulder of the young man, he spied a report about a wrestling event from Japan. A color photograph portrayed a grappler wearing a mask of a deformed face while holding a chainsaw over his head. The caption read this was a new wrestler named Saw-Man. Saw-Man? he thought to himself. Wasn’t that a character from a horror movie?

Either way, Robert grabbed some stationary and a soda and got in line to check out. In front of him were a much older couple who placed a few items on the counter, but the clerk charged them nothing. He’d heard of a senior citizen discount but this was ridiculous! As Robert paid for his own items he watched the happy couple walk out of the store. Maybe they used to be the owners or something. As he looked at them, he thought to himself that he hoped he and Elly made it that long.

Robert then walked outside and looked down the street. There was a hotel nearby, he didn’t imagine many people staying here.

“Elly it’s me.” Robert said as the phone picked up.

“Hi honey, how was your visit?” He heard his wife’s sweet voice over the phone.

“It was great, really fun. Listen I decided to stay out here a few extra days.”

“Oh ok, where are you now?”

“I’m in a little town called Plainfield.”

“Plainfield, never heard of it. Who do you know there?”

“Actually no one,” Robert answered, “which is the reason I called. I need you to get something for me.”

“Ok.”

He hated the thought of subjecting her to this madness, but he had no other recourse. “In my desk,” he went on to explain, “I think in one of the right hand drawers there’s a stack of papers from that convention I went to last Halloween, see if you can grab it for me.”

“Sure.”

“There should be a folder with just a few papers in it.” He explained. “There’s stuff written down in there about Painfield.”

After a few minutes her voice came back on the line. “Ok I got it.”

“Great, there’s just a few papers in there, I want you to read whatever it says, and I’m going to copy it down.“

“Ok,” he could hear the papers rustling. He took a deep breath as he remembered what she was about to discover. “Plainfield Wisconsin, October 1957, Sally Kohler,” Robert wrote it all down. “Oh my god,” she exclaimed as she continued reading. “Is this true?” 

He almost regretted calling her now “Well I don’t know honey, I’m going to try to find out.” Then, feeling the need to soldier on, he said “Just keep reading it please.”

She finished the last remaining notes before adding, “Honey please be careful.”

“I will Eleanor, thank you. I’ll be home in a few days, love you”

It wasn’t that late in the day. Robert managed to find the library, and the old lady helped him find the microfiche of the local newspapers. Given the Plainfield Sun only came out once a week, it didn’t take long for Robert to scan through years worth of papers. Not much going on of course. There was the occasional hunting accident or hunter disappearing. News about Evelyn Hartley made its way all the way out here. He remembered that case, poor young girl; disappeared while babysitting. It was the biggest manhunt in state history and it didn’t turn up a thing.

Locally there was not much else of note. Looked like two times back in the 50’s there was a fire at the same property, an old farmhouse on the edge of town. Also in the early 50’s there was a woman who ran a bar not far from here that came up missing. Blood and a bullet cartridge were found in the bar. This seemed to be the most serious occurrence in this area he could find. After decades of scant local news whizzed by he started to feel stupid. What did he think he would find? There was no rash of local disappearances, not even a little nugget that could inspire a good yarn.

Soon nightfall came, and Robert didn’t have many options in terms of entertainment. He imagined he’d write a letter to his young fan tonight, or at least started a new piece of fiction, but there was nothing to write home about. Maybe he should have known better. Lacking in options, he found himself at a local tavern that evening. A few people eyeballed him as he came in. He thought to himself he might have been the first out of town person to come into this tavern since, maybe ever. Looking around at the mostly older crowd, he would have bet the same people had probably been coming here for years. 

On the TV screen the Brewers had an away game with the Kansas City Royals. He couldn’t remember the last time he even watched a ball game. Way back in his youth, what felt like a thousand years ago now, there was a special father’s and son’s day exhibition game. Robert couldn’t remember who it was against, but he remembered it was hot. As he put down a few dollars for his beer at the bar he remembered the then outrageous price of a dime for a ballpark soda. That day, during the seventh inning stretch, big league player Hack Wilson tossed an autographed ball directly at him. The ball flew perfectly through the air. He reached his hand up to grab it, looking for his first moment of athletic glory, and the ball slipped through his fingers. He watched the white sphere stitched in red fall deep down into the abyss below the open bleacher seats. He never knew if he had disapointed his father. He did just get his first pair of glasses, so at least he had that for an excuse. But what if? 

Sitting at the bar with his drink in his hand, he couldn’t help ask himself this question, a question probably faced by all in their twilight years. What if? What if, by chance he was able to catch that ball? What if he then leapt into the more extroverted world of sports, and what if he never dove into that most introverted world of books? What if he hit home runs or scored touchdowns instead of spinning strange yarns of the Elder Gods and dead Whitechapel murderers? It was too late for such questions now, Robert did not regret his path in life. He did what he loved, but as he saw his reflection in the mirror at the back of the bar, he mulled over how his work never hit the nerve of the American consciousness. While he certainly had a successful career as a novelist, and even wrote a handful of screenplays and television episodes, he never had that one piece of work that captured the public’s imagination the way Stephen King had, or the way his old friend and mentor H. P. Lovecraft had, or, as he watched the ball player on TV hit a homerun to a cheering crowd, the way athletes had. Too bad it was hit by Todd Benzinger of the Royals.

Long lost in thought, he didn’t even notice later when the game ended, a game he’d stopped watching so long ago. The tavern was now filled with the tune of the local news station, whose Breaking News logo emblazoned the screen. The news caster then appeared, he seemed more serious than usual, his voice in fact was almost shaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we come to you tonight with extremely disturbing news from right here in our area.” The Wisconsin anchorman said. “We warn you, the following segment may be too disturbing for some viewers. Milwaukee police have arrested thirty-one year old Jeffrey Dhamer, after finding an adult male fleeing Dhamrer’s apartment with one wrist handcuffed. Police arrested Dhamer in his home, after which they found a scene of pure terror.” After taking a visibly deep breath, the anchor man continued. “Police found seventy four polaroid photos of corpses at various stages of dismemberment, which were all taken in his home. Dhamer’s apartment was filled with actual human remains, including two entire human skeletons, seven human skulls, a pair of human hands, an entire human torso, two human hearts, and a bag of other human organs.”

As the report went on, and footage from the killer’s home was shown, Bloch looked around to see all eyes were on the screen. At this moment, nobody ordered, nobody drank, solids and stripes remained still on the pool table, the bar-keep even turned the jukebox off. Bloch couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow he knew this horrific news hit the people of this tiny town with an extra sting.

Finally, an old man at the bar broke the silence. “Well you know who that sounded like….” 

Part Seven: The Master of Horror

October 26th, 1990. Hallow-Con, New York City

Victoria, like most everyone else at the convention, was excited to meet Tom Savini, the master of gory special effects. Savini did effects work for such classics as Dawn of the Dead, Maniac, The Burning, Creepshow, and Friday the 13th, hence the long line at the Friday the 13th booth for his autograph. While waiting with Dan she rolled her eyes as George bragged about the all the times he’d already met him.

Strategically adjacent to Savini was the booth for the current Friday the 13th TV series. Dan and Victoria were happy to meet Chris Wiggins, Eliaz Zarou, and Steve Monarque while moving along in line. Talking to the cast of the series, they got to look at a few props from the show, which was about cursed items from a pawn shop and had nothing to do with the films. Dan took Victoria’s picture while she tried on the cursed apron, which was worn in an episode by a distraught camp cook whose son drowned in a lake. George picked up a hockey mask laying among the props, and Victoria remembered another episode where a guy got ahold of that mask, which turned him into an unkillable psychopath. Victoria and Dan both agreed that would have made a good movie.

The mask fit perfectly over George’s face, and through the eyeholes he could see across the aisle to the Nightmare on Elm street booth. Its star, Kane Hodder, who played Freddy Krueger, was present signing autographs. As usual, unable to contain his excitement, George screamed “Kane Hodder!” Kane laughed as he looked across the aisle to see this big man wearing a hockey mask waving at him. Kane waved back and smiled politely as he continued signing autographs for his fans.

Victoria and her fiance were both glowing as they finally reached the end of the line. “Hey big guy!” Tom seemed to recognize George from past conventions and happily shook his hand. Victoria was afraid George would yap with him forever, but fortunately he did not, and her and Dan were next.

“I’m so thrilled to meet you!” Victoria blushed. Tom graciously shook her hand as a rush of excitement went through her. She flashed back to all those times as a young teenager, watching horror movies on her dirty couch, never even daring to dream that someday she would be here before him. To Victoria and her fiance, this moment was like what meeting Michael Jordan or Joe Montana would be to the people outside these convention walls. The couple were absolutely thrilled to talk with Tom, who could not have been more friendly.

To George, meeting Savini may have become old hat, but he was still excited due to what was standing right next to the horror effects master. There it was, decked out in full costume straight out of the movies, what was considered to be Tom’s greatest creation. It was massive, lumbering, evil. While her fiance made small talk with Tom, Victoria noticed George looking over the creature the way most men would look over her. His eyes went up and down the monstrous body, appreciating every little detail, from the fangs and claws down to the last little bloody scar. There before him, stood the Jersey Devil of the Friday the 13th series. 

Naturally Dan and Victoria admired the beast as well. “I always wanted to ask you this.” Dan said nervously.  “Is it true you there was a different story in mind for the first Friday the 13th film?”

“Well I didn’t write the script, but most of the people on the crew were big fans of Halloween.” The master explained while pointing to Dan’s Halloween shirt. “From what I remember, the original story was going to have a human killer.” Looking at Victoria he added “If I recall they were even thinking of a female villain. Thing was, Halloween wasn’t a huge hit, so the financiers were a little gun shy.” 

“Really!” Dan wondered aloud. “I thought Halloween was awesome!”

“Sure, I mean the people that come to shows like this love it,” Tom said, “but remember it wasn’t really a successful movie. Some of it was great, but they needed a better lead actress.”

“I loved that red head!” George motioned with his hands. “She had that nice big rack!”

“Uh, yeah,” Tom nervously laughed. “She couldn’t act though, they needed someone to play Laurie Strode with some vulnerability. Michael Myers was such a great villain, and Donald Pleasence was pitch perfect as Dr. Gavin, If they’d just cast a good lead that could have put the movie over the top.” George continued admiring the creature while Victoria and Dan nodded in understanding.

“Anyway, Sean Cunningham got a new group of investors for the film,” Tom went on to explain, “and these new investors pushed for a monster. There hadn’t been a good monster movie in a while, and we thought, hell since we’re filming in New Jersey anyway, why not make it the Jersey Devil?”

“Too bad about not having a female killer.” Victoria thought out loud. “We don’t get too many of those, aside from Carrie I guess.”

“And Mary Lou from the Prom Night Sequels.” Dan added.

“That’s why I love you dear.” Victoria’s eyes twinkled at her fellow horror nerd.

“It’s probably all for the best though.” George said, pointing to the Devil. ”That thing is awesome. So who is under the mask? Is it C. J. Graham or Dan Bradley?”

“That’s the one and only Tim Mirkovich, straight from Part Eight!” Savini revealed.

“Oh sweet, straight from Part Eight. I wasn’t sure if you were going to be here!’ George said excitedly.

Then the young couple got their pictures taken with both Tom and the Devil. George also got his Friday the 13th Part 8: The Devil Takes Manhattan poster autographed. “This is the best Friday ever!” George said. “I loved that chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, and that scene where the Devil dives off the Statue of Liberty was so cool!”

“Thank you.” Tom said. “Those were really hard scenes to shoot, we’re sure glad you appreciate them.“

“So what’s the next movie going to be about?” Victoria asked.

“Well we don’t know where else to take him.” Tom started thinking on his feet. “We did Jersey, we did New York, maybe next the Devil should go back to hell. haha.”

“That would rule!” George said, his eyes still on the beast. More fans were gathered around to meet Savini, so the trio and Tom made their final greetings. Walking away with the autographs and pictures, Victoria could have gone home right then and there and would have been happy.

October 26th, 1990. Bethlehem Pennsylvania

The Second Street Tavern was filled with music as Henry watched her daughter take a shot. He’d long dispatched Phil from the pool table, who was now on stage jamming with Steve. Henry was growing to like the local music scene. He liked it more when an attractive red head walked in with a guitar slung around her back. He gave her a quick smile as he heard her daughter say “Shit!” after the sound of the cue ball hitting the side of the pool table for a scratch. “Your shot dad.” 

He remembered his daughter being a better player than this as he looked over the table. She’d missed an easy corner shot that set him up to knock one of his own in the side pocket.  Looking at her while he set up his shot, she seemed annoyed.

“What’s wrong hon?” He asked while easily making the shot.

“I don’t know, I’m still upset George didn’t come out.”

“You’re here, that’s what counts.” he said while eying up his next shot.

“But it’s our family. I guess I just expected him to be here, you know, because this was the night.”

“Well, he probably doesn’t remember her too much.” He said as he sank another ball. “Do you remember her?”

“Yeah a little. I remember going to see her in the hospital, and I remember when she stayed with us for a while. She would let me watch cartoons when you wanted me to do my homework.”

“Yeah,” Henry laughed while looking over his next shot, “she was a free spirit. Our parents were really tough on both of us, and she just had it in her so much to rebel.“ He went on to reveal, “Sometimes mom and I knew she was letting you watch movies or sneaking you treats. We let her go, figured she should have some fun with you while she could.”

“Were things really that bad for her?”

Sinking another solid Henry said “She was in and out of trouble as long as I could remember.” He looked over at the bar sign indicating the date bartenders referred to when checking ages. “Once she was gone, I mean it was devastating, but nobody was really surprised.” He then looked at the table to set up his final shot. “None of this is on George though, he’s got to go his own way.”

“When’s the last time you even talked to him?” Helen asked.

Eyeing up his final shot, about to win another game he said “I don’t know, it’s been a while.”

Part Five: The Blackest Eyes

October 11th, 1974. Madison Wisconsin

Even though he’d lived here his whole life, George never stopped being amazed at how you can see off into forever. His eyes watched the nothingness outside his dad’s car window. He’d long finished his stack of Spiderman comics, but his older sister still had her nose buried in a book. Nothingness soon became something as they approached the two story brick building, in front of which was a sign that read Mendota Mental Health Care Institute. He couldn’t understand why his daddy would bring him to a place like this. He’d rather go to the Outagamie County Fair where that guy did the show with the trick mice. So he asked, “Why are we here daddy?”

“To see our Aunt, stupid!” his sister Helen scowled.

“I’m not stupid!” George fired back, angry at his sister’s insult, and because his mother didn’t intervene. In fact, her reflection in the rear view revealed she even cracked a smile.

“Then why are you reading those stupid comics?” Helen retorted.

“You’re both gonna be stupid when I leave you on the side of the road.” their father said in frustration. “Now knock it off!”

The two tykes piped down and soon they got out of the car. Summer was gone but it wasn’t too cold out yet. His mom dressed him in shorts that day, and he could feel the comfortable autumn breeze on his legs as the four entered the lobby of the hospital. 

“May I help you?” asked the Dr. in the lobby. George assumed he was a Dr. because of his white coat. He couldn’t make out the name on his name tag, it looked something like Strege.

“Yes.” his father said as George now looked up at the two adults. “We’re here to visit my sister, Sally Kohler.” His father seemed like a giant to George’s young eyes. He wondered if he would ever get to be big like him.

The young boy was a little confused as he expected to be going into a hospital room and find Aunt Sally lying in bed, like how they visited grandpa before he died. Instead he found himself in what looked like a big living room and playroom filled with people playing board games, table tennis, and watching TV. “Maybe I should get sick so I could get to play in a place like this,” he thought to himself. He didn’t dare say such a thing out loud, as he was sure his father would spank him. 

The people here didn’t seem sick either. They were moving about of their own strength and conversing with each other. He did notice some of them talked funny, and one of them had a bit of drool coming out his mouth. Looney Tunes was playing on the TV hanging high on the wall, so naturally George wandered over toward it. Approaching a nearby couch, he saw the back of a man’s head, whom George assumed was watching the show. Coming around the couch, he laughed at the cartoon, but when George looked to his left he noticed the man didn’t laugh. In fact, he wasn’t even watching the TV, he was looking at the wall. When George looked closer it seemed the man wasn’t even looking at the wall, but that he was looking past the wall, as if he were watching and waiting for some secret signal that only he would receive.

Then George noticed the man’s eyes, they were the blackest eyes he’d ever seen. His family didn’t go to Church, but he had a friend in school who always talked about the Devil, and who sometimes teased George, saying he had the devil’s eyes. George almost peed himself when the black eyes finally moved, now locking onto him as if he’d just done something very naughty.

George jumped as he felt a hand in his shoulder. He couldn’t scream as he felt the warm embrace, his mouth partly covered with hair and a fleshy cheek. ”George it’s so good to see you. Thank you so much for coming!.”  He finally realized it was Aunt Sally. He hugged her back tightly as she kissed the top of his head and led him to a table where his parents and sister were sitting.

The family spent the afternoon playing Connect Four and various board games together while they all caught up. Sally was happy to hear both her niece and nephew were doing well in school, and that George was doing great in sports. Soon enough, he again got distracted by the television as a Spiderman cartoon came on TV. 

“Stop staring at that!” His father scolded. “We can watch TV at home.”

“It’s ok.” Aunt Sally assured. “Do you like Spiderman?”

“Yeah I love Spiderman! He’s my favorite!” Little George then planted his feet on the seat of his chair and imitated his favorite arachnid hero shooting webs. “Thwap thwap!” he sounded before jumping off the seat and onto the ground. “Did you know his Aunt May almost married Dr. Octopus this year?”

“Oh really!” Sally said. Young George had no awareness of his Aunt’s ignorance of current Spiderman comics, so he prattled on. “Yeah, and he had a new villain called the Punisher, but he’s not really a villain, but he has a skull on his chest! I like him more than Ghost Rider though. He’s too scary!”

Sally smiled as she watched his nephew play as though he were swinging through the skyscrapers of the Big Apple. George’s young mind dreamed of being in New York for real someday, while back in reality his dad scolded “Knock it off this isn’t a playground!” It was too late though, he was off in his own universe as he leapt back onto the seat, then off again. Little Spidey leapt once more onto the chair, but this time its wobbly leg gave out and it sent him tumbling to the hard floor where he scraped his knee. His father panicked when he saw the blood. “Oh my god are you alright!” he said, rushing to his side. 

“He’s fine.” his mom said dismissively. George knew his mom was a nurse and figured she was probably used to seeing a lot of blood. No way was he gonna cry, but he was a little mad when he saw his bratty sister laughing at him. 

At least his Aunt wasn’t laughing. In fact, she looked a little scared. “Oh no.” she cried, still sitting in her chair. “Oh no!” George stood up and brushed himself off. He thought nothing of it when he looked down and saw a piece of skin hanging off his knee, but for his Aunt, it was too late. “No no no, oh no!” Now George was scared as he saw his Aunt shaking her head back and forth, tears streamed down her cheeks as she screamed “Gotta get away, GOTTA GET AWAY!!!!” 

“Watch him!” His father ordered his mother as he rushed to his sister’s side. “Sally are you alright!?!” Two orderlies in white uniforms approached behind her as she babbled “The bodies, the bodies, there’s bodies everywhere!!!” 

“I’m sorry,” the Dr. they met in the lobby came and said. “I’m afraid she’s going to have to come with us.” 

George’s mom looked at her watch while his dad said “It’s ok I understand.” George was now fighting back tears himself. Some superhero he was.

“NO! NO! You gotta believe me!” she pleaded as the pair of orderlies took Sally by the arms and led her away. She didn’t struggle as the doctor pulled out a long syringe, but she continued pleading, “You gotta believe me! There were bodies everywhere, they were everywhere!” 

“I’m sorry dad.” little George fell into his father’s arms, his tears dampening his father’s shirt.

“It’s ok son.” George felt his father holding him tight. “It’s not your fault.” His sister also came over to give him a hug, but George felt guilty inside for triggering such a horrible fear in poor Sally.

That was the last time George ever saw his Aunt, and it was the first time he remembered being really scared.

This is a story I wrote about the Ed Gein case. It is not written to glorify the awful things he did. It is written partly to explore the concept of popular culture alternate history. Lots of fiction is written about what if wars and elections turned out differently, here I will apply that concept to popular movies, television, etc. Enjoy

Part One: Hunting Season

October 26th, 1957. Plainfield Wisconsin

Deer season was coming, and Worden’s Hardware Store was packed, at least as packed as a store could get in a town of 700. Irene recognized most of the men she saw in the aisles who, along with her husband Lester, were stocking up on ammunition and other supplies. A few even bought brand new firearms for the new season. Deer were plentiful in the area, and Irene knew that soon on scores of properties across town, carcasses of dead deer would be hung up, skinned and gutted.

Irene’s daughter would not be hunting. Her little one was looking through the comic books. Irene watched her daughter’s tiny hands happily pick out issues of Millie the Model and Archie for mom to buy. She heard the store’s door open behind her and could see her daughter smile as she tugged on her arm. “Look mommy,” she said as the small man entered the store. Both mother and daughter happily recognized the babysitter that had often been to their home.

“Well hello Ed!” Irene warmly greeted. “How are you today?”

“I’m good, I’m good.” The man said, tipping his baseball cap to her as he walked by. “Will you be making those Christmas cookies again this year?’ 

“It’s not Christmas without them!” Irene laughed as she said “You must really like them, we haven’t even survived Halloween yet!.”

“They are pretty great.” Ed said, his light voice raised slightly in enthusiasm. He then looked down at the little girl. He smiled at her with his lopsided grin and asked “And how is this tiny rugrat?” The young girl giggled as she looked up at her babysitter. Ed was a short man, but to her he must have seemed like a giant. He made a gesture with his hands and teased “Got your nose.” She laughed again as she put her little hands over her nose. He then waved his hands to the side of her head and said “Got your ears!” 

She laughed again, and then covered her ears before retaliating, waving her own hand at his stubbled face and boasted “Got your eyeball!”

“Oh no, how am I gonna read now!” Ed mimicked being blind, closing his eyes causing the fleshy growth above his left eyelid to slightly flatten. Irene laughed along with her daughter as somehow he made his way to the magazine rack. Miraculously, he was still able to pick out the new issues of what everyone knew to be his favorite magazines; Inside Crime, Startling Detective, and Man of Action.

“Are you a Man of Action Ed?” Irene heard the voice of her husband behind her. She then felt his hand in hers, as, not waiting for Ed to answer, he said to her, “Let’s get some Halloween candy and then get out of here.”

Ed didn’t answer anyway, he just looked back at Lester, facing him with his meek posture. Irene tugged back on her daughter’s arm and politely said “Well it was nice seeing you Ed. Have a happy Halloween.”

Ed’s head nodded, “Thank you, thank you you too.” He stared blankly at them as Irene while she and her family resumed their shopping. 

Usually there wasn’t a line at Worden’s, but it was getting to be that busy time of year. Irene saw Ed ahead of them in line waiting to check out. He looked antsy, anxious to get to the register. She didn’t blame him, as she wanted to be on her way before her daughter asked her to buy more stuff.

Eventually the line moved along and she felt more relaxed. She noticed Ed appeared more still as well, his head fixed ahead, not fidgety as he is known for being. Now they were close enough that they could see Bernice, the owner of the store. She was now in her late 50s, and was known as a hard working honest woman. She reminded Irene of Ed’s mother, and mused to herself how those in town who remembered Augusta Gein probably would have agreed, except that Bernice was a lot friendlier.

Augusta was long for this world now. Irene felt a little sorry for Ed, which was why she delivered Christmas cookies to him last year. Once again the holiday season was right around the corner, and she wondered how he would be spending it. She then realized she never thanked him for helping her husband with some odds and ends around the house.

“Ed?” He looked startled as she put her hand on his shoulder, but then appeared to relax once he saw Irene’s familiar face. “Ed, I was saying thank you again for fixing the door. It doesn’t squeak at all anymore.”

“Oh, your welcome.” His eyes shifted between her and her husband as he said. “It’s no trouble at all.”

“Next.” A familiar voice sounded. Ed looked to see her standing before him. It was his turn now.

“Hello Ed!” the shop owner greeted as Ed put his items on the counter.

“Hello, hello Bernice.” He said as she rang the items up. “How, how are you today?”

“Well business is booming so I’m good!” she laughed.

“It sure, it sure is busy today.” Ed awkwardly said. Irene blushed behind him as she wondered if he’d planned to open with that line. She wondered, perhaps she distracted him and threw him off his game plan.

“Yes, it sure is.” Bernice answered.  “Are you all ready for deer season?”

“Well I don’t hunt actually,” Looking at the store’s gun rack he added, “but I was wondering about your rifles.”

Bernice turned around to look. “What about them?”

“Well, my Marlin rifle only fires .22 shorts. I was thinking about trading it in for one that could also use long and long rifles.”

Pointing to a particular gun on the store rack, Bernice explained “Well this one should do the trick. It’s my favorite rifle actually, pretty handy.”

“Ok,” Ed nodded, he glanced back at the line behind him, his hands fluttered as if he was nervous and he said “I’ll take a look at it some other time then.”

The two then finished their transaction. Ed reached across the counter to hand his money over. His rough skin brushed against her soft hands as she took his cash saying “Well it will be here waiting. You have a good day now Ed.”

Bernice then looked past him to Irene and her husband, who approached and put their items on the counter. “See you Ed.” Irene said, but she noticed Ed kept his gaze on Bernice, as if he were desperately trying to think of something else to say.  

“Have a, have a good day Bernice.” was all he could do. He at least said her name. 

Once Ed shuffled out the door Lester joked; “Looks like Eddie’s in love.”

Bernice blushed as Irene retorted “Oh don’t tease. Ed’s a nice man, he’s just a little simple.”

Bernice leaned forward. “You know,” she said in a hush, but not too low of a hush, “ last week he asked me to ‘try out the floor’ at the roller skating rink in Hancock.”

“Get out!” Irene said, aghast.

“I didn’t know old Casper Milquetoast could roller skate!” Lester kidded, comparing the local simpleton to a character from the Timid Soul comic strip.

“Well I sure can’t, at least that’s what I told him!” Bernice revealed as the trio burst into laughter.

“Can you move it along up there please?” An impatient customer yelled from the back.

“Alright Ronald, hold your horses.” Bernice barked back. The young couple then paid for their goods and got out of the line. 

“Oh poor Ed.” Irene thought to herself.  “Odd little fellow. Completely harmless though. One day he’ll be gone and people may not even remember him.”

The wind always howled out here as Sally sped down highway 51. She fumbled through the radio stations in her dad’s car, but couldn’t find anything worth listening to. She recognized Moonlight Swim by Anthony Perkins, but immediately turned the dial killing the sappy love song. Her dad loved that music, but to her nothing was worth a damn out here. She recalled from her school days local author Hamlin Garland, who described the great dead heart of Wisconsin as a panorama of delight. Kodak country others called it. Why did she have to be born in such a Godforsaken place? Soon it wouldn’t matter. She figured in a few days she’d be in San Francisco, where she’d be around buildings, around people, around sky-scrapers, and the ocean, instead of being around these massive red barns and silos like silver bullets that dotted the faded pink soil. 

After a while she could see that off to her right, way off in the distance, the sun was setting below the horizon, dimming the lights in this expansive sky. Darkness enclosed in on her, and eventually she could only see by the headlights of the automobile. Her foot slammed the petal while her eyes relentlessly scanned the road ahead. There was little chance of an accident with another vehicle, but there was the odd chance of a stray cow or horse in the road.

This gave her mind time to wander. She wondered how long her stupid parents would even notice the car was missing. They went to bed early tonight, but her annoying little brother was probably still up. Hopefully he didn’t notice and rat her out. If she was lucky, she’d be out of the state before they even knew she was missing. Then there’d be no chance they’d catch her. She’d be long gone, and would be spending her time hanging out with Kerouac and Ginsberg, writing poetry and performing music.

Her path ahead was clear as day, but it would be an interior issue that slowed her down. The engine sputtered and her velocity waned. “Shit!” she thought to herself. She left in such a hurry she didn’t bother to check the gas. Her car sputtered to the side of the road and now she was in trouble. For all she knew nothing was around for miles. Once she shut the car off the air was almost pitch black, save a sliver of moonlight that shined down from the dead empty sky. Looking out over the surrounding trees her eyes faintly made out a blocky like shape not too far ahead. It might be a house. If she was lucky, someone had a farm out here and could help her. If the home was abandoned, she could at least spend the night there and figure her next step in the morning light. 

It wouldn’t be much of a story if Sally didn’t encounter something horrifying now would it? Come back tomorrow to find out what it was!