Sunday, May 22, 2016

'Luk Thep' an online novel, Chapter 12

Previous: Chapter 11


Jane spent the rest of her Sunday alone, which, on balance, was fine with her. Sunday was her day for decompressing. The day was a short interval of rest between whatever she had going on during the weekend, and the chaotic start of the workweek.

It was around three o’clock in the afternoon when Jane decided to take a nap—a rare luxury, given her lifestyle and packed schedule. She reclined on the sofa in her living room, her mind a jumble: David, work, Thailand, and the doll. The damn doll.

Why had they allowed themselves to fight over a stupid doll? That was almost as inexplicable as the dreams and the weird coincidences.

Just before she drifted off she heard a faint voice from the spare room. She was in that twilight state between waking and sleeping. When she woke from her nap about an hour later and fuzzily recalled the utterance, she would doubt that she had heard anything at all. It had to be her imagination playing tricks on her. She had been thinking too much of late about the doll, about the nightmares that she and David had experienced.

The single word, faint and in young girl’s voice had been: Mommy.

The next day, Monday, Jane found herself distracted at the office. David had neither texted nor called her since leaving her condo the previous morning. That wasn't like him. They weren’t a clingy couple who called each other a half-dozen times per day (they were both way too busy for that kind of excess); but a day rarely passed without two or three text exchanges.

Then she remembered his presentation, his departmental meeting. Perhaps there was a problem with one of David’s assignments, a problem that fully consumed his time and attention. She couldn't be sure. By mutual agreement, they rarely talked about their jobs, except in broad outlines. (They both agreed that they spent more than enough time at work, and thinking about work. They didn't need to bring all that stress and conflict home, and into their relationship.)

That night, at home, she started to push the speed dial button for his number and stopped herself. No, she wasn't going to become the girlfriend who was desperate for attention and reaffirmation. Experience had taught her that was a good way to become someone’s ex-girlfriend.

There was no harm in sending a text, though:

“I hope you’re okay.”

An hour later, a text came back:

“Okay. How are you?”

She was more stung by his perfunctory reply than she would have been by a failure to respond at all. He had offered no explanation for his long silence; he had not even acknowledged his silence, in fact.

Was this David’s way of trying to ease out of the relationship?

They had preserved their bond (even without sex!) throughout his extended trip to Germany. They had no real issues. There were no arguments about either side trying to push the other into an early commitment, no notable jealousies on either side.

Everything between them had seemed to be perfect, until…

Until the doll became involved. David had been distracted by it before he had known of its existence. (Somehow!) Then his mood totally changed the first time he saw it.

Jane tallied up all of the losses she had endured since ‘Lawan’ had come into her life: Dusty, and now (probably!) David. A boyfriend and a cat.

What was next? Was she going to be diagnosed with cancer? Her parents were in good in health, but they were both well into their sixties…

Stop it! This was exactly the type of superstitious thinking that had so annoyed David—that had somewhat inexplicably set him off.

For what it was worth, she still didn't accept the notion that the doll atop the bookcase in her spare bedroom was haunted by the ghost of the adolescent girl she had seen in her nightmare. The dream girl was probably, as David had suggested, a cultural meme that had somehow been worked into her subconscious mind and recycled there. Jane didn't believe in ‘angel dolls’, or ‘spirit dolls’. The basic premise of the luk thep, to use a nontechnical term, was a load of hooey.

Jane was, however, open to the idea of “bad vibes”, as vaporous and new agey as that sounded.

The doll wasn't haunted—it probably wasn't haunted. But it might contain negative energy. There were places and objects like that in the world, right? And consider the suggestibility of people and circumstances when exposed to practices like séances and voodoo. Negative energy could be physical or psychological, or perhaps some combination of the two. Negative energy was a concept that could be accommodated to the belief system of a finance major or an engineer.

And it was safe to say, at this belated juncture, that the doll Khajee had named ‘Lawan’ possessed some kind of negative energy. Or else the energy possessed the doll. (Either way, it amounted to the same thing.)

That night Jane slept easily, having at last arrived at a decision. This would be her last night sleeping under the same roof with the doll. Forget about eBay—she was going to take action first thing in the morning, before she left for work.

A little after 6:30 a.m., Jane walked into the spare bedroom with an empty, 20-gallon black garbage bag.

She was reminded of a ritual she had often endured with Dusty, before the cat had disappeared. When it was time for a visit to the vet, she would place Dusty in a cat carrier. The carrier was an oblong plastic container with a handle. (A longtime cat owner, Jane knew better than to let a cat roam free in her car while she was driving. A cat—unlike most dogs—would not sit still in the passenger seat.)

Like all cats, Dusty had hated any variety of spatial restraint. After several trips in the cat carrier, it seemed to Jane that Dusty had learned to recognize the carrier when she brought it out of storage. The cat appeared to actively avoid her when she removed the carrier from the closet. So Jane had learned to be furtive.

She wondered, now, crazily, if the doll atop the bookcase—or whatever bad vibes might inhabit it—had any grasp of the purpose of the black bag.

“Too late, Lawan,” Jane said, lifting the doll from the spot it had occupied for several months now. “I’ve come to serve your eviction notice. You’re no longer welcome here.”

Having placed the doll in the bag, Jane exited her condo. She double-checked the lock. (She had made a habit of double-checking the door since Dusty’s disappearance.) She carried her attaché case in one hand, and the garbage bag in the other. It was that time of morning when many of the building’s residents were leaving for work, and she passed several of her neighbors on the way downstairs, then out back to the dumpster. None of them made any remarks about the black garbage bag in her hand. At a superficial glance, there was nothing strange about what she was doing. All of the residences disposed of their garbage in the dumpster.

Standing before the dumpster, Jane set her attaché case on the ground. She grabbed the neck of the bag, and gave it a little swing for momentum. Then she heaved the bag over the side of the dumpster.

It was done. Jane heard, but did not see, the bag containing Lawan plop down amid other garbage bags and loose debris. Today was garbage pick-up day, as chance would have it. The Rumpke truck would be here within a few hours. By the time Jane arrived home from work tonight, Lawan would already be in an incinerator or a landfill.

A robin landed on the pavement not far away. In the suburbs near the city, the robins were bold: they knew that humans posed no threat. Was this the first robin she had seen this season? She believed so. Jane was willing to take the bird as an omen—a good omen.

According to the online weather forecast, today the mercury would climb into the upper seventies. It really did feel like spring out here. Early summer, even.

Jane thought of David. He had been a bit of a jerk, and she was annoyed at his apparently deliberate silence since Sunday. However, he might have been legitimately spooked. She would call him this evening and tell him that the doll was gone. He might interpret that as a victory, a concession on her part. Oh well. Jane had observed long ago that it was always a bad idea to view a relationship as a tennis match, where you kept track of every point won and lost. The bottom line was that the doll had somehow been toxic; but the line below that was that the doll was now gone, and gone forever.

The dumpster was in an enclosed area behind the building. She would have to reenter the building and proceed to the far end of one of the first-floor hallways to reach the resident parking lot. As Jane turned way from the dumpster she felt buoyant, filled with certainty that an important obstacle (if only a psychological one) had been overcome. She and David would make amends. The two of them would have a good summer together.

To be continued…Check back soon for Chapter 13!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

'Blood Flats' FREE on Amazon Kindle: May 19th, 20th, 21st

Lee McCabe is an ex-marine who has been blamed for a narcotics-related double homicide that he didn't commit. description:

“Meth, murder, and the mafia---a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.” 

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.*** 

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way. 

***Charged with murder and marked for death*** 

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime. 

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation *** 

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence. 

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead. 

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra. 

***A journey toward death or redemption*** 

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence. 

The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice? 

Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own. 

Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both? 

***A battle in Blood Flats*** 

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Luk Thep, an online novel: Chapter 11

Previous: Chapter 10


There were no more bad dreams that night—and no more bad dreams for many subsequent nights. Jane, swept up in the very corporeal reality of David, and various pressures at work, had no time or energy for speculations about unearthly matters.

When she thought about the doll at all (which was not often) she became convinced that the entire thing must have been her imagination, after all.

True, there had been some eerie feelings, some bad dreams, and some unlikely juxtapositions of events. But David had since spent numerous nights in her bed, and he had never again been troubled by nightmares of the hideous little girl.

She noticed that David had also gradually lost interest in her spare bedroom. Jane sometimes recalled how, on that first night after his return from Germany, he had looked toward the spare room, as if expecting someone to emerge from its darkened doorway. This peculiarity, too, diminished with time.

David had never entered the spare bedroom. There was no explicit prohibition on him doing so. Rather, the spare bedroom was isolated from the rest of the unit, and there had never been a reason for him to enter.

Then one Sunday morning he awoke beside her and asked, “What do you keep in that spare bedroom, at the end of the hall?”

Still half asleep, she asked, “Why?”

She didn't ask him if he had had a dream about the spare bedroom. There was something odd, however, about his asking about it so abruptly, immediately upon waking.

He shrugged. “No reason. I’ve just never been in there. Curious, I guess.”

“I keep the corpses of my last two boyfriends in there,” she said. She didn't know where that comment had come from; it was totally out of character for her. “Hey, I as only kidding,” she added quickly, when she saw him flinch. “There are no secrets in there. Feel free to check it out while I’m making coffee. Knock yourself out.”

Somewhat to Jane’s relief, David didn't immediately head for the spare room. Instead he took a leisurely shower while she made coffee. The two of them sat at her kitchen table and sipped coffee, talking about other matters. He seemed to have forgotten his earlier question.

Then, standing up from the kitchen table, he said, “I suppose I’ll complete the tour of your condo now.” They both knew that he had been coming here, spending the night here, for several months. “I mean the spare bedroom.”

She knew exactly what he meant.

“Like I said, David, be my guest. Knock yourself out. You can go have a look around while I rinse out the cups.”

“Don’t you want me to help you?”

“I can handle it. I think you’d better go look in the spare bedroom. It’s obviously been on your mind. So go to it.”

She half expected to hear him scream from the spare room. That would follow the pattern that had thus far been established: David’s intermittent but stubborn fascination with a room he had never entered, his earlier nightmare that had been reminiscent of her own, but which left just enough room for reasonable doubt.

Jane was drying the coffee cups; and sufficient time had passed that David would surely have seen Lawan. More to the point, he should have satisfied his curiosity by now.

She gave him the better part of five minutes. She returned the cups to the little wooden coffee cup tree near the sink. She started to call out to him—perhaps a semi-sarcastic remark about him making an inspection or carrying out an investigation. (For there was, indeed, something about this whole tangent that smacked of an interrogation.) Finally she dropped the dishtowel on the counter, and joined him in the spare room.

David was standing before the bookcase. Although the bookcase contained numerous volumes and various knickknacks, there was no doubt about the object that held him transfixed.

“What is this thing?” he asked, as if he had found a crack pipe or some other incriminating item in her spare room. “It’s—it’s downright creepy.”

“It’s called a luk thep.”

He turned to her. His ordinarily pleasant expression had been supplanted by a mixture of fear and disgust—and something that Jane would have described as annoyance.

“A what?”

“A luk thep. A Thai spirit doll, or angel doll.” She recounted the story of her meeting with Khajee, and her subsequent receipt of the doll through the company’s mail system.

“Well, I have to tell you, Jane, I think it’s pretty fucking bizarre. I don’t like it one bit. Do you like it?”

Jane was taken aback. To begin with, she had never heard David swear. And who did he think he was, swearing at her—albeit indirectly—as he questioned her about the contents of her own home?

Nevertheless, she determined to maintain her cool. It was clear that the luk thep had upset David. She remembered her reaction to the doll when she had first seen it, sitting quietly in the chair in the corner of Khajee’s office.

"A lot of Thai women have them, apparently," Jane said. "Khajee, my colleague in Thailand, was certainly fond of this little doll before she gave it to me."

"I don't see how anyone could be fond of something like this," he replied bluntly. She thought she saw him shudder, recoil.

"I get some strange things from my overseas business contacts. Cultural norms vary."

"Jane, I just got back from an extended assignment in Germany. I know that cultural norms vary."

She didn't like his tone, once again. He was, however, just as educated and well traveled as she was, and she had just implied that he didn't understand about cultural differences, however inadvertently.

"Well, yes. But Thailand is especially different. I've found Asia to be more 'foreign' than Europe."

"You still haven't told me: Do you like this thing?"

“It’s unusual,” she hedged. “It isn’t the sort of thing that I’d want in the center of my home, necessarily. But my colleague gave it to me, she originally paid a lot of money for it, and I don’t want to throw it away, either.”

I sound exactly like Martin, Jane thought.

“Well, if you need to keep it locked away here in this room, why don’t you simply get rid of it?”

David’s demeanor, the emphasis in his voice, did not match the situation at all, Jane thought. Unless there was something that he wasn't telling her.

Had David had a dream about the doll? Had he, in one of his nightmares, foreseen the presence of the doll in here?

“David,” she began, “did you have some kind of a premonition about this doll? What I’m asking is—did you dream about it, or did you otherwise know that it would be here?”

“Of course not!” David fairly snapped. Then, perhaps realizing that he had spoken too harshly, he resumed in a more measured voice. “I’m only saying, Jane, if the doll creeps you out, then why not get rid of it? That’s all I’m saying.”

But that wasn't all David was saying. And why should he particularly care, one way or the other?

Jane decided to jump out on that limb with David, the one she had been contemplating for some time now.

“The reason I’m asking,” Jane said, “is because I’ve had some eerie premonitions about that doll. I had a bad feeling about it the first time I laid eyes on it. I also had a bad dream that night in Thailand. My dream was a bit like the nightmare you had here—during our first night together.”

While he looked at her expressionlessly, she told him all about the dream Lawan, the adolescent girl who had murdered her siblings before their avenging father dispatched her as well. She told him how Khajee’s doll had made an appearance in that dream, as well as her ultimate (admittedly crazy!) suspicion: That the doll had somehow been fused with the spirit of the long-ago girl named Lawan.

David’s reaction simultaneously shocked, dismayed, and wounded her. “Jane,” he said, “that sounds to me, if you don’t mind my saying so, like a bunch of superstitious nonsense. Look at the two of us: I’m an engineer with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. You have an MBA. We both have responsible jobs. We’re both well into adulthood, early middle age, you might say, and we’re standing here talking about haunted dolls. One of us is, anyway.”

His last little barb had been unnecessary and condescending. Did David think that having spent a number of nights in her bed, he was now free to talk down to her, to cast her as a simpleton in order to make himself feel superior?

Clearly David had been more unnerved by the doll, by his dream, than he was letting on. Like her, though, his entire life was based on a certain model of rationality. Also like her, he was fearful of the cascading effect that a single significant crack in the foundation might bring.

The difference was that whereas she was (belatedly, perhaps) willing to talk about the matter, he was clamming up, focused more than anything on protecting his ego, his self-image as the consummately rational male. And if he had to belittle her in order to accomplish this, so be it.

“Really?” she asked. “Well, I seem to remember an early middle-aged engineer with a master’s degree crying out in my bed in the middle of the night, terrified of what he had seen in his sleep.”

He recoiled; and she could see that now she was the one who had wounded him. Well, it served him right, given the way he had wounded her.

They were now, she sensed, on the verge of a serious argument, possibly of the relationship-ending kind.

“Jane,” he said quietly, “I had a bad dream, you had a bad dream. That doesn't mean that we had the same dream, or that our dreams were in any way connected.”

“We both dreamed about a young Asian girl,” Jane cut in.

“What if we had both dreamed about an alligator? Or a bear? Or the boogeyman? Would you still see a connection? Think about it for a moment, Jane: In the last fifteen years or so there have been all those Japanese horror films. We’ve both seen them. Some of them have female ghosts.”

“It seems to me like you’re stretching the facts to suit the explanation you prefer.”

“So what are you saying, then? Are you saying that it’s less of a stretch to suggest that a ghost—an evil spirit—caused us to have the same dream? Is that less of a stretch than saying that the same cultural elements might have been recycled by our individual subconscious minds in a similar way? Let’s be logical, here.”

“Oh, so now you’re Spock, is that it?”

It was a childish rejoinder, she knew. She had to laugh then, and he laughed with her. But she still wasn't pleased with his imperious attitude. Her observation—that something had scared him, perhaps seriously—didn't make him any less of a condescending jerk at the moment.

“What this is really about, Jane, is you keeping an item that obviously upsets you.”

That upsets this rationally minded engineer, too…David didn't say this, but he might as well have.

“Listen,” he said. “I don't want us to fight about this. Thank you for having me here last night, and thank you for the wonderful coffee.” He grinned, and she gave him a small, I’ll-meet-you-halfway smile.

“I’m scheduled to give a presentation at our Monday morning departmental meeting tomorrow, and I have to go into the office this afternoon to prepare. Why don’t we talk about this later, if we need to? And for what its worth, I may have overreacted just a bit.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Well, consider this an apology.”

He leaned forward and embraced her, then kissed her briefly. She noticed that he looked at Lawan as he did so. She could not help thinking: Does he expect the doll to intervene? Does he expect the doll to be jealous of what we have?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Luk Thep, an online novel, Chapter 10

Previous: Chapter 9


It was Saturday night, the weekend following her cat’s disappearance, and there was still no word regarding Dusty. No one had responded to her fliers. The cat had not wandered sheepishly back to her front door, sensing (in that way that cats often sense things) that he had made his master worry.

Resigning herself to an unhappy outcome, Jane had also done an exhaustive search for a body. Cats, she knew, like humans, did occasionally die suddenly. It was possible that Dusty had crawled behind a piece of furniture, or into a seldom-used corner of the unit, and simply expired. If not discovered promptly, the presence of Dusty’s carcass would make an already distressing situation much, much worse.

So she had searched every square foot of her condo unit. She examined every enclosed space and confined area that the cat could possibly have maneuvered himself into. No Dusty.

Jane was still disconsolate. Tomorrow, though, she would dispose of Dusty’s bowls and his bed. Sooner or later, every pet owner learns to cope with bereavement. Jane had lost cats before—both to confirmed death and unexplained disappearance. That came with the territory of being a cat-lover.

She was happy that David had returned from Germany the previous day, and he would pick her up within the hour. Dinner and a movie. A cliché, yes, but a nice cliché.

Jane had offered to meet his flight at the Detroit Metropolitan airport. “Thanks,” David had replied via email, “but you don’t want to see me after a long flight. Trust me.” Below that, he had typed a few lines about them going out tonight. “If your dance card for the evening isn’t already full,” he had teased.

Now, waiting for him to arrive, Jane smiled at the memory. Then she allowed her thoughts to drift back a bit further still, to the party where she had first met David Haley.

This was the party that she had not wanted to attend, but which she allowed herself to be dragged to (not quite kicking and screaming, but almost) for the sake a female friend. Her friend had shamed her, first pleading her own case (“Don’t make me go alone!), then pleading Jane’s (“You spend all of your time on that damned job; you really need to get out more.”)

As is often the case when fielding unwanted requests from close friends, in the end it became easier for Jane to simply go along, rather than continue to make an argument for not doing so.

She knew practically no one at the party. There were some men in her attendance. But Jane was at that middling age when all men seemed to be either too old for her or too young—or else married.

Then she saw a tall man with light brown hair and an impressive profile on the other side of the room. He was well dressed but not ostentatiously so. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. Later she would discover that he was thirty-six.

He’s married, gay, or studying for the priesthood, Jane had told herself. But when she (involuntarily) glanced back at him a minute later, she noticed that he had been looking at her.

When she turned back, he was threading his way through the crowd, almost certainly with her as his object. She made eye contact with him, gave him a tentative smile. He did not turn away. So, he was a self-confident one, then.

As he drew closer, she finally saw how good-looking he was. Good looks in a man could be a blessing or a curse. (This was another secret that Jane had not known in her teens and twenties, but which she knew now.) Men who were very good-looking were sometimes arrogant. They often strayed, having too many options. The trick was to find a guy who was attractive to you, but not too attractive to everyone else. An elusive balance, to be sure.

Her fears about the tall, handsome stranger were vanquished as soon as he held out his hand and introduced himself. Jane could see that he was actually quite nervous about approaching her, and he probably didn't approach unknown women at parties as a matter of course.

“My name’s David,” he said. She took his hand and they briefly shook. They only touched palms, really. His skin was warm and rough.

“I’m not very good at this,” he said, laying all his cards out on the table. “But something told me that I should come over here and say hello to you.” Then he asked, “So, how am I doing?”

That last remark was a bit lame, but endearingly so. “You’re doing fine,” she told him, “I’m Jane.”

That was the last awkward moment that ever passed between them. They both clearly wanted this to work, and so neither side tried to put the other on trial, or make the other feel ill at ease. He asked her how she came to be at the party; and it turned out that they both knew Jane’s friend through a professional connection.

David also worked in the automotive industry—which was no great coincidence in the Detroit area, where nearly everyone either works in the automotive industry, or works in a field dependent on the automotive industry. David told her that he was a mechanical engineer.

Within a few minutes, he asked for her phone number, and she gave it up immediately. (She would have asked for his if he hadn’t asked for hers.) They went on four dates, finding free evenings between business trips and long hours in the office. They both had demanding jobs.

Then, just as a real relationship was starting to develop, he had been sent to Germany. But now he was back. Finally.

The doorbell rang, interrupting Jane’s thoughts. David.

She opened the door and he embraced her. After a long kiss, he took a step back.

“I hope I haven’t gained any weight, subsisting on all that heavy German food for weeks,” he said.

She laughed. He looked tall, slim, and fit as ever.

“I think you dodged the bullet,” she said. “How about a drink before we go? I bought some new wine the other day that you’ve got to try.”

Not long into their courtship, they had discovered that they were both connoisseurs of Michigan wines—one of Michigan’s lesser-known products. There were actually more than a hundred commercial wineries in Michigan, a factoid that David had told her on their second date.

“Maybe just a glass, if you’re going to twist my arm.”

David stepped inside her condo and he flinched, as if struck in the back.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, not seriously worried, but mildly taken aback.

David recovered himself, took a deep breath, and looked around the main living space of Jane’s unit. “Nothing, I just—”

“What?” she asked again.

“Jet lag,” he replied. “Only jet lag.”

She couldn't help thinking that he was lying, that there was something he wasn't telling her. But with David, it was probably nothing particularly sinister. He might have eaten something aboard the plane that didn't agree with him. David, she was quite certain, would be harboring no really dark secrets.

“Okay,” she said, deciding to let the matter go. “Now, for the wine.”

“Yes, the wine,” he said with a warm smile.

They sat together on the sofa, each of them sipping a glass of the deep red liquid. Then their eyes met. As if by prior arrangement, they set their glasses on the coffee table.

David leaned over and kissed her, more hungrily than he had at the front door. His hand moved up her leg.

She had already decided that she was going to sleep with him tonight. It was time, wasn't it? She even considered asking him if he wanted to skip dinner and head directly for her bedroom.

And then David abruptly stopped.

“What?” Jane asked.

“I thought I heard something,” he said. Though he held her hand, he was practically ignoring her now. He was looking down the far hallway, in the direction of the spare room.

“I didn't hear anything,” Jane said. “Except for two thirtysomethings making out like teenagers.”

She had expected this to elicit a smile from David, and for him to return to kissing her. But he continued to stare toward the hallway and the spare room.

“What did you hear?” she asked, seeing that he was not going to let the matter drop.

“It was—never mind. Like I said, I must be suffering from jet lag. Say—you had a cat, didn't you?”

She briefly told him about Dusty’s disappearance, omitting the part about the doll, and the doll more or less driving her cat out of the room that now seemed to interest him so much.

She wasn't going to show him the doll if she could avoid doing so. She wanted to forget the doll’s existence. In fact, she had decided that it was time to put Lawan up for sale on eBay. Khajee would never know. Neither would Martin.

“That’s strange,” David said, referring to Jane’s account of the open front door, and the missing cat. “Very strange.” He looked back in the direction of the spare room, as if he expected someone to emerge from the room at any second.

“Would you like to kiss me some more,” she asked him, “or should we go to dinner now?”

He turned back to her and laughed. “I could kiss you all night. But we really should be going.”

David recovered from his jet lag—or seemed to recover—during dinner. He gallantly took her to see a romantic comedy film that she knew neither he, nor most men, would have had a sincere interest in watching if unaccompanied by a woman. They held hands during the film.

When they returned to her condo, she invited him in. She was dismayed to catch him glancing in the direction of the spare room yet again. David had not even seen the damn doll, she thought. Then she wondered: Why do I necessarily think it has anything to do with the doll?

Jane reminded herself that she held an undergraduate degree in finance, an MBA, and a high-level position at a major corporation. She had allowed a few juxtaposed feelings and unusual coincidences to skew her feelings for weeks now, ever since that night in Thailand. She was still genuinely sorry for Dusty’s disappearance. But the reality was: her cat’s unexplained departure could have nothing to do with the doll in her spare bedroom, even if the thing was legitimately creepy to look at.

It was time to be more proactive, to take matters into hand, so to speak. She approached David and wrapped her arms around him, not waiting for him to make the first move. He responded to her kisses, and she felt his entire body respond.

“Do you want to spend the night here tonight?” she asked.

Inexplicably distracted by the spare room or not, David wasted no time in answering.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Definitely.”

Afterward, lying with her head upon his chest, she decided that it had been worth the wait. Everything seemed to be working out. They hadn’t drifted apart while he was on his overseas assignment, and he hadn’t dumped her for a fräulein.

“That was wonderful,” he said, sighing aloud and nestling closer to her.

“Yeah,” she said. “It was.”

That was their last interaction—or the last that she could remember—before she heard David scream.

He didn't fully scream, actually, but he came pretty close to screaming. Jane had been in that intermediate stage between waking and sleeping herself, lodged in a pleasant half-dream, enjoying his warmth and the solidity of his male form beside her, when his entire body jerked and he cried out.

“Get away from me!”

David sat up in bed abruptly. Jane, who had never been a light sleeper anyway, was instantly awake, too.

“What’s wrong?” She propped herself up on her elbow, genuinely alarmed. Her first thought was: He’s having a heart attack, or some kind of seizure.

But if David was having a seizure, it didn't prevent him from leaping out of bed, heedless of his nakedness, and turning on the lamp at his side of the bed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked again. She got out of bed, quickly threw on her robe, and walked over to him. She put her hands on his face, trying to dislodge him from his stupor.

“She’s horrible!” David said. He allowed her to guide him back to bed, where they could talk and he could regain his composure. She saw that the skin of his arms and legs had broken out in gooseflesh. His body was visibly trembling.

“Who? David, what are you talking about? You—you had a dream, didn't you?”

Jane’s first thought now was that she had made a mistake tonight. How well did she really know David Haley?

But the truth is, Jane thought to herself, that you already have some idea of what he saw. Do you really need him to tell you what he dreamt about?

“I dreamt about this horrible little girl,” David said. “I don’t know who she was—but she was in Asia somewhere, I think. Anyway, she looked Vietnamese or maybe Cambodian. I was in this small room with her, a hut or something.”

Now Jane was the one who felt chilled. How much more proof did she need?

“What was the girl doing?” Jane prompted. If David described the murders of the young siblings, well, that would be proof positive.

David shook his head. “Nothing really. It wasn't so much what she did, but her look of total, absolute malevolence and hostility. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“Well, we’ve all had bad dreams.” She decided not to tell David about her own dream, at least not yet. David’s dream had had similar characteristics; but there was still a margin of doubt—of a reasonable doubt.

Jane knew the truth: The truth was that she didn't want to believe that the doll in her spare bedroom was haunted, or possessed—or whatever—by some unseen, unknowable force. Once she accepted that, she feared, the rest of her assumptions might unravel. How could you believe such a thing, after all, and then go on with life as usual?

David laughed. “You must regret having me here tonight. You must be thinking that I’m a real head case.”

“I think you had a bad dream,” she said. “We all have bad dreams. She touched his hand under the covers. And I’m glad that you’re here tonight.”

Jane looked at the clock on her side of the bed. It was 3:06 a.m.

“Now,” she said. “Let’s turn out the light. We still have a good five hours of sleep ahead of us. And hopefully neither one of us will have any more bad dreams.”

Next: Chapter 11

Sunday, May 15, 2016

12 Hours of Halloween, the YouTube reading: Episode #2

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In this episode, we begin the story...

"A funny thing about flashbacks: they come unbidden, and at the most unexpected times.
One moment I was standing in Walmart, and the next moment I was not: I was a twelve-year-old boy again, crouching beside the outer wall of a darkened house in a long-ago suburb, hoping that the shrubbery to my right and my left had adequately concealed my presence. A malevolent creature was intent on taking my head. He—or it—had an entire sack full of them.  
That particular flashback is always especially vivid. When it overtakes me, I can feel not only the pervasive, all-consuming fear of those eternal minutes, but also the little details of my surroundings: the cold, damp ground beneath me, the scratchy feel of the barren shrubbery of late October. 
 This is one reason why I still believe that it really did happen—even after all these years. A delusion wouldn't include so many little details...."