We decided to share an early glimpse of “Riding the Black Horse” for Coffin Hop. The story is a bit long, so it will be serialized over 4 posts on even numbered days: 10/24, 10/26, 10/28, and 10/30. I hope you’ll come back and read each episode.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Coffin Hop without a devilish contest. This year we’re giving away a signed copy of Seeds of Love and Anguish and a signed copy of our first book, Bones of the Woods. You can enter the contest three ways:
Each thing you do will add your name once to the devil’s derby. Yes, that’s John E. Miller appearing as the devil and he will be the one to draw the winner’s name.
And now it’s time to take a ride with me….
Riding the Black Horse
by Rachelle Reese
Aimee ran one item and then another across the scanner, punching in codes when necessary. When she was finished, she looked up at the customer with her obligatory smile. It faded right away when she saw her husband’s eyes, not red and weary as they had been two years ago when she’d watched him led away in an orange jumpsuit, but smiling as they’d been the day he’d asked her to the Homecoming dance eight years before.
“Heh, good lookin’,” he said. “Miss me?”
“Justin.” Her voice cracked, barely a whisper. “When did you get out?”
“About two hours ago. I went by the old house, but someone else lives there now.”
“I had to move out.” She noticed the line growing behind him and hit the total button. “$19.37.”
He handed her a twenty dollar bill. “What time do you get off?”
She put the change in his hand. “I’ve got another forty-five minutes, but I’m busy tonight.”
Justin’s index finger stroked her bare ring finger. “You’re not cheatin’ on me, are you?”
“Go on, Justin,” she whispered. “I’m working.”
“I’ll be by to pick you up in forty-five minutes.” He gave her a wink. “It’s been a long four years and I’ve missed you.”
Joanne took the boiling pot of potatoes off the stove and held the lid against the pan as she tipped it over the sink to let the steaming water drain away. The steam rose up against her bare arm and brightened her pale skin to watermelon pink, but she didn’t care. She was having her girls over for dinner tonight. It would be a full house – all three girls home for dinner for the first time in a month. Sarah was bringing little Ashley too. She poured the potatoes into the metal mixing bowl, splashed in milk and butter, and turned on the beaters.
“Mom!” she heard a cry. “Could you turn those beaters off? My head is pounding.”
She turned off the mixer and turned to see her youngest daughter standing with her hand massaging her temples. “What’s wrong, Brit? Migraine again?”
“Well, go take some Tylenol and lie down. Sarah and Aimee will be here soon.”
Brit brightened. “Aimee’s coming?”
“Of course she is. Why would she miss Colby’s birthday party?”
“Where is my little birthday boy?”
“I asked Frank to keep him occupied while we got the party ready. My guess is he’s at Mickey D’s jumping in the balls.”
Brit scowled at the purple cake. “Barney?”
“Colby likes Barney.”
“Colby does not like Barney. He thinks Barney’s for babies.” Brit rolled her eyes. “He’s into the Turtles now and Thomas the Tank.”
Joanne shrugged. “Well, it’s too late to bake a new cake made. He’ll have to make do with Barney.”
“At least it’s just us and not his friends at Head Start. He’d never here the end of it.”
“And how would you know so much about it, Smarty Pants?”
“You made me a Barney cake when I was four and took it into Head Start.”
“I miss those days when they’d let the parent bring food in. Now every kid’s got an allergy and they worry about parents putting drugs in the cake.”
Britt shook her head. “You’re missing the point, Mom. The point is that four is too old for Barney.”
“I thought you were going to lie down.” Joanne motioned to the pile of vegetables on the table. “If your head’s feeling well enough to argue about cartoon cakes, you might as well make yourself useful and make a salad.”
“Whatever.” Britt lumbered down the hall to her room. “Let me know when Aimee and Sarah get here.”
Joanne looked at the back of Britt’s head for a moment and wondered if it was only girls made such obstinate teenagers. Aimee had been challenging, but a good student. It wasn’t until she married that Justin that the trouble started. Sarah had never been much for school, but she ended up making something of herself anyway. It was hard to tell which way Britt would go. Britt was…well, Britt. After the door closed, she immersed herself in the task of making the salad, letting the happy flood back in her heart. They would have a fine time tonight. Colby would love his presents and most of all, he’d like playing with Ashley. They’d eat and watch movies and pop some popcorn when it got late, just like they’d done when the girls were young.
Aimee’s relief swung in the door fifteen minutes late. “It’s about time you got here, Courtney.”
Courtney looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. Aimee recognized the pallor. She’d seen it on her own face often enough. “I’m sorry. It’s just there was a candy bowl at the party last night. I took something yellow and it really knocked me out.”
“That shit’s bad,” Aimee shook her head. “You need to stop it before you get into big trouble like I did.”
Courtney shrugged. “It’s nothin’ big. Just pain pills and Ritalin and crap. If the doctors prescribe it, it can’t be that bad. Besides we limit ourselves. No more than two pieces of candy. One if you’re driving.”
“Do your own thing, but don’t be late next time.”
“What made you so cranky?”
“It’s Colby’s birthday. Mom’s having a party and she invited me. You know I barely get to see him.’
“Well, go on then. I’ll count your drawer down.”
Aimee shook her head. “Not the way your head’s spinning. I’ll count it down myself.” She opened the drawer and counted the cash, making notes in the ledger. When she was done, she counted again, just to make sure. She couldn’t afford a miscount. She was so close to getting unsupervised visits with Colby. It had taken a lot of work to get this far and she wasn’t going to get a setback just to make it to his party on time.
By the time she left, it was thirty minutes past her normal sign-off time. She reached into her purse for her cell phone to call and let her mother know she’d be late. The cell phone wasn’t there. Damn. I must have left it on the counter. She decided to go straight to her parents’ house instead of stopping by home to change. She got in her car and turned the key. Nothing. Not even the ignition light. She tried again. I know I put gas in the car on the way to work. Maybe someone siphoned it. No problem. I’ll just go buy a gas can in the station across the street.
She opened the door and climbed out of the car. As she turned, she bumped right into something. An arm. She saw her name tattooed across the wing of a dragon. A muscle flexed beneath it, giving the dragon an appearance of strength it had lacked in all the years she’d seen it.”
“It still looks good, doesn’t it?” Justin said. “You look good too.”
“Justin, I told you I had plans tonight. It’s Colby’s birthday.”
“All the more reason for you to talk to me. He’s my son too, you know.”
Aimee felt the warmth of Justin’s body near hers. He was wearing her favorite cologne – the one he wore so long ago when sex meant more to him than drugs. “You’re clean?” she asked.
“Prison will do that to you.” He drew her in close. “It makes you really miss things, you know?”
Aimee let her head rest against his chest and felt the strength she hadn’t felt since not long after high school. Justin had been a football star and a member of the wrestling team. “I can’t take you with me. I can barely see him myself.”
Justin ran his hand across her hair like he had so many times before. “We’ll change that, Aimee. We’ll get back everything.”
Aimee nodded. “Right now I need to get some gas for the car. Some idiot syphoned mine off and the car won’t start.”
“Want me to take a look?”
“It’s gotta be gas. I had it at the mechanic’s just last week for a tune up.”
“What happens when you try to start it?”
“No ignition light?”
“You’re not out of gas, Snugglepuss,” he used the pet name he had had used in the beginning. “Battery’s dead.”
“Oh no. Are you sure?”
“Sure as shootin’s fastest.”
“Damn it. How am I supposed to get to Colby’s party?”
“Let me see if Tyler’ll give you a jump.”
“Sure is. Sitting right over there in his truck. How’d you think I got here, walked?” He called out and motioned to the man in the blue Ford F10. “Hey Tyler, Aimee needs a jump.”
The truck up pulled up beside Aimee’s car and Tyler climbed out. She hadn’t seen Tyler in over a year and she was shocked at how thin he looked next to Justin. Aimee sat in the driver’s seat while the two men worked under the hood. When Justin held his thumb up, she tried to start the car. Nothing.
Justin came over to the window. “She’s dead. Tyler said he’d give you a ride to your parent’s house. I’ll go pick up a battery if you’ve got some cash and bring the car to you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
Justin leaned in and kissed her. “I want to do it. I’ve missed us. I’ve missed everything.”
Aimee nodded and got out of the car. She followed Justin to Tyler’s blue truck. Justin held the door for her and motioned for her to sit between them, as he had so many times before the drugs and while they’d all been using. Tyler was Justin’s best friend and had been since grade school. She climbed into the truck and Justin got in next to her.
He pulled out onto the highway and they drove into the setting sun, the two old friends chattering away about the years they’d missed, Aimee between them letting their words wash over her, thinking about how excited Colby would be about the Ninja Turtle doll she’d bought him, and feeling the familiar warmth of Justin’s body, strong the way it had been in the early years. Maybe he was right and they could have everything. Maybe the nightmare was over.
Nothing like a cliff-hanger. Come back on Sunday to continue the story. For now, continue along the Coffin Hop. There are some great writers out there with stories to share and giveaways. One of those stories is Dust Bowl by K. F. Kirwin.