Another Casserole

Written by: Kyle Coffman

Sarah Johnson enters her kitchen carrying a glass casserole dish full of pasta. This is the third casserole she has received just today. She opens the refrigerator and tries to find room for it against four other casseroles that have been sitting on a shelf for the last day. She maneuvers a few condiment jars and slides the casserole dish in. She briefly wonders what this one will taste like.

      She is in her late twenties and wears all black today, a black dress, with black pantyhose to match her black high heels. She walks to the kitchen table where four chairs sit. She slides one chair out and takes a seat. Sighing, she removes her high heels and brings her right foot to her lap. She begins to rub the arch of her foot. A feeling of comfort splashes across her face as she does this. She wonders what will happen now.

      She glances around the kitchen to see all her dishes have been cleaned and put away. Last night several people came over and brought dinners. They also stayed with Sarah to eat with her, but unfortunately she did not want to eat. She hasn’t had much of an appetite since it happened.

      Her eyes land on the white refrigerator with double doors. Many magnets keep photos still, photos of her two twin children, Ashley and Ryan. These photos range from when they were brand new babies to just last week at the park when they celebrated their 2nd birthday. That was a great day; she remembers. The weather was perfect and both Ashley and Ryan were in great moods. Raising a child is tough enough during the terrible two’s, but raising two of them, that’s a different story. She smirks at this thought, but the smirk quickly fades when she realizes the incident that changed her whole life.

      It was a routine stop. A tail light was out, or something like that, she was told. No one ever suspected this person, driving this vehicle with the taillight out, would be on any drugs. No one ever thought this person would have a loaded gun sitting beside him on the passenger’s seat. And certainly no one ever thought this routine stop would end in such violence. But yet it did.

      She rises from the chair after she finishes massaging both feet. She walks towards the refrigerator and stops at another picture. This one features one-year-olds Ashley and Ryan standing on top of a sandcastle they helped their daddy build at the beach. Behind them is their daddy, Robert Johnson, 30 years old and as handsome as the day she met him in college. He is smiling with great pride at their castle. In the picture he has piercing blue eyes that Ashley and Ryan were blessed enough to have too. A single tear rolls down Sarah’s left cheek as she takes her finger and rubs it against the image of her husband. Her eyes swell as she tries to hold back more tears. She has cried enough over the past few days. She kisses Robert’s face on the picture, for he will no longer be coming home. She knows this because she just buried her husband two hours ago.

      Sarah walks to the bathroom that is located just off of the kitchen. The bathroom has pink and black tiles throughout that match the pink bathtub. When she and Robert bought this home a couple years ago, modernizing the bathroom from the 1950’s to today was going to be their first renovation project. That idea quickly shattered when one month after moving in she found out she was pregnant. Then not too much later found out they would be having twins.

      She stands in front of the mirror surveying herself. Her blonde hair is pulled back into a tight bun just the way Robert liked it. He always reminded her that when her hair was pulled back it really showed off her beautiful round face. She wanted to make sure his wishes were granted today at his funeral. Her mascara needs to be reapplied, presumably from crying over the course of the morning. She tried to be strong at the funeral, for her two children, but they didn’t go. She felt they are too young to understand what death is and what it is about. Plus, a friend of the family volunteered to sit for them for the day.

      She was told it all happened so fast and no one had any time to think. She still recalls hearing the doorbell ring and greeting the two officers that informed her of her husband’s death. They told her no one had time to contemplate their actions, rather full instinct kicked in for everyone involved. The routine stop that ended in the fatal shootings of a police officer and the assailant was over in a matter of seconds leaving two men dead; the man in uniform shot in the forehead and the assailant shot four times in the chest by the officer’s partner. The partner, Jason Sanders, was left with the ringing in his ear from the eruption of the gun when he realized his partner was killed instantly. Jason had been on the force for two years and this was the first time he had to fire his weapon. He immediately radioed for medical assistance and back up, but regrettably there was no need for either. Both men were dead and no longer a threat to one another.

      The doorbell chimes snapping Sarah out of her daydream. She inspects herself in the mirror once more, takes a deep breath, and leaves the bathroom. As she approaches the front door she stops and stares at it for a moment. She can hear soft chatter coming from the other side. She begins to touch the door handle, but hesitates. To her right is the living room where she imagines Robert sitting in his armchair, sipping on a beer, and watching the football game when they first moved in. That was their tradition on most Sundays. A small smile splashes on her face as she sees Robert in the chair roaring for his favorite team. He stops, then turns to her and returns the smile. As reality sets in, he suddenly fades away and disappears. Robert is gone.

      She opens the front door to find a woman standing on the other side with a little boy around the age of four. This woman is around the same age as Sarah and has curly brown hair. She is wearing a black dress and the boy is wearing a black suit with a gray tie. They both look very sad and have been crying.

      “May I help you?” Sarah asks. Her voice cracks as she speaks. She hasn’t spoken much today.

      The woman nods and her eyes slide to the little boy. “This is Tyler, my son.”

      Sarah blinks still confused as to who these people are standing at her front door. Were they at the funeral? Were they friends of Robert’s? Tyler’s big brown eyes stay on Sarah’s eyes the entire time.

      “I’m Bethany,” the woman says. “I couldn’t bring myself to attend your husband’s funeral today, but I thought it would be respectful to meet you and let you know that it’s not your fault.”

      Sarah’s forehead crunches with confusion. What is this lady talking about? Who is Bethany and why does she feel the need to tell me that it’s not my fault? These thoughts immediately hammer Sarah’s brain until the realization of who Bethany is dawns on her. Bethany is the wife of the other man that was killed. Tyler is the son of Bethany and the other man.

      Sarah swallows hard as the shame begins to fill her face. Tears swell in her eyes. “Words cannot express to you how terribly sorry I am for your loss,” Sarah chokes out. Bethany gulps and nods, her eyes swelling too.

      “We must go,” Bethany whispers.  Mustering up the strength to pull Tyler close to her, Bethany quickly turns and walks down the sidewalk away from Sarah’s house. Sarah just stares as they leave, alone now, without a husband and without a father for her beloved twins.

      As Sarah watches them go, she desperately wishes her fantasies of Robert were true, and that it was he who was the hero that day. She enjoyed imagining Robert as the police officer who died in the line of duty trying to keep the citizens of their city safe. But this was not the reality of that tragic day, and Bethany’s presence has just reminded Sarah who Robert really was. Robert was the man that was pulled over. Robert was the man that pointed the loaded gun at Bethany’s husband, a police officer of 5 years, and killed him. Robert was the alcoholic that suffered from anxiety and depression. Robert was her soldier who returned from the war last year, broken.

      Sarah takes a deep breath and pulls her dress down a bit. She’s expecting more members of the church to come by to offer their sympathy and quiet judgments about her husband and the mistakes he had made. She knows the attention from the church is all because of her two darling children, Ashley and Ryan. She knows if she and Robert had never had kids she’d probably be forgotten about right now because of the sins of her late husband. She closes her front door and waits for the doorbell to chime again, this time with another casserole. 

I GO BY TONY

Written by: Kyle Coffman

When the cravings come on, they come on hard, unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. They literally make me want to rip my insides out. It’s painful and all too consuming. There’s a way to prevent them from coming on so unbearable though. I know this, but I have a hard time committing to it. I simply have to eat more meals. That’s it. Easy, right? Nope, not for me. Not ever since I decided to only target bad people. You know the people who deserve it? The criminals on the street or people I know who are causing harm to other people like child molesters, sex traffickers, you know people like that.
            My name is Anthony Marino, but I go by Tony. I’ve been going by Tony since the 1980’s. I am technically 122 years old, but my body has been frozen as a 26 year old man. I have short black hair that I’m stuck with because ever since I was turned, my hair cannot grow anymore. Same goes with my facial hair. I had just shaved the day I was turned so my clean-cut face is what I am stuck with for all eternity. A clean-cut face that makes me look even younger, like an 18 year old boy. I’m not complaining though, the ladies love the younger look. I am 5’11” and weigh 170 pounds. I cannot gain or lose weight, which some people would consider a blessing. It’s not. None of this is a blessing. In fact, it’s a curse. The whole thing is one damn curse. You see I’m a vampire, a vampire from Brooklyn living in Los Angeles.
            I didn’t start out in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I used to work for my father in a shoe store he owned. Life was tough for my family and during the nine-teens we struggled every day. Our luck changed when the 1920’s hit and the roaring 20’s was introduced. Ever heard of being in the wrong place and the wrong time? That’s what happened to me on a cold winter night in 1921. I was walking home from the shoe store around 11:00p.m. when a police officer stopped me. He wanted to know where I had been the last two hours because a woman was killed in an alley near us. Her throat ripped open, something he said no man could have ever done. He wanted to know if I had seen a wild animal or something. In the city? This guy must be off his rocker I thought. Seconds later his throat was slashed so fast blood splattered on my face. Then this man appeared behind him, but he didn’t look like a man. Purple veins ran throughout his face and the longest, sharpest teeth I had ever seen plunged into the officer’s slashed throat ripping out flesh to get access to blood. Within two minutes all the color from the officer’s face vanished and he was as white as a ghost. The officer fell to his knees, then face first onto the cold cement. This man, or creature, whatever it was, then stared at me. His evil red eyes stayed locked on mine. In instances like this you would think your first impulse is to bolt, but I couldn’t. He had my knees locked in place and he lunged forward and dug those sharp fangs into my neck. But he didn’t drain me dry like the officer. Maybe he was full, but he let me go. After about 30 seconds of drinking my blood, he placed his gritty, cold hands on my face, long finger nails sliding down, cutting into my checks and whispered, “You will be one of us.” Or something like that. I never saw him again, but the next three days were hell. Everything changed. I could no longer stay awake during the day, I instinctively woke up at night, and had a need for blood.
            The cravings were uncontrollable for the first five years. I didn’t discriminate on whom I fed on. I couldn’t. It was a natural need for substance for me. I had to drink blood. When you’re a brand new vampire, for the first ten years or so, you have to feed off about 30 pints of blood a night. The average human body holds 10 pints of blood, so that’s about three people a night just to survive. After the first five years, I got better. I could sustain off 20 pints of blood, but I didn’t want to kill anybody anymore. At first, I couldn’t help it, I had to survive. I mean ,it’s no different than a human bashing the skull of a cow to send it to the slaughterhouse only to consume later as filet minion. That cow didn’t do anything to that human; that cow is just part of the circle of life. In the 1980’s I changed how I killed. I decided to only drink the blood of those who deserved to die. I mean, I’m not God, but since I’m cursed with this illness from Hell I might as well clean up the trash in the world, you know? We can go outside during daylight too, we just choose not to. We’re very pale since we are technically dead and there isn’t any blood running through our veins to give us color. We’re cold too. Our skin feels as cold and clammy as a cool waterbed. This is why we choose to be children of the night. People don’t notice our pale skin without the sun, so we can hunt better.
            Last night I picked a great target. That’s what I call them, targets. The ones that I have selected to rid from this earth because they contribute vile evil. This guy’s name is Pinky. That’s what they call him on the streets. He’s a pimp that turns five girls a night onto customers he deems necessary. These customer’s aren’t innocent either, or just looking for some warm body for the night; They’re into some twisted stuff. Pinky forces these girls to be his hookers or he’ll kill them. I know this because I witnessed him killing one of his girls last night for refusing to get in the car with four large men, who had nothing but bad intentions for the girl. Without hesitation, or even emotion, I saw Pinky put a bullet in her head. I would have got him last night, but I had already fed off two drive by shooters who shot up a house in East L.A. I was full for the night, but not tonight. Pinky is mine tonight.
            Later in the night I walk in the shadows of the street waiting for the perfect moment to snatch Pinky. He’s been my unknowing prey for the past hour. He enters a narrow alley surrounded by empty boxes and trash. He’s not alone. He has some girl, barely eighteen, by the nape of her neck. It looks like he’s going to make her do something, but I stop him. I appear behind his shoulder and tap him on the back. He turns to me revealing his leathery face and nearly rotten teeth, this courtesy of meth use.
            “What do you want?” He says to me holding onto a gun I see nestled between his belt and jeans.
            I look down at the girl. She’s younger than I thought. Her eyes are blood shot from lack of sleep and her hair has been bleach dyed to the point it looks fried. She looks at me with pleading eyes. “Get out of here,” I command her.
            Pinky is about to draw his gun at my command to the girl, but within a second I have his hand in mine and I squeeze breaking all his fingers. It’s quite effortless for me to do this, being a vampire and all.
            Pinkly howls in pain and the girl scrams. I feel the purple veins beginning to bulge around my eyes and my fangs drop from my mouth. Strangely, Pinky doesn’t look as frightened as my prey usually does at this point, the revelation of a vampire before him.
            “Why are you doing this?” He asks me as I push him against the brick wall.
            “Because it is your time. You think you have the authority to take womens’ lives? Well, I have the authority to take yours.”
            I lean in, fangs protruding and I am just about to take a bite when he says, “I own these streets, not you.”
            I can’t help but to laugh. Is this guy kidding me right now? Here I stand over him, clearly a vampire with great supernatural strength, and he’s seriously giving me attitude? I can snap his neck as easily as a sumo wrestler snapping a toothpick, but now I want to have some fun with this prick.
            “Okay, tough guy,” I tell him. “Run.”
            “What?” He says to me confused.
            “Run, let’s see what you got. You say you own the streets, then own them. Run. Let’s see how far you get before I catch you.”
            He slowly pushes me forward and I allow it. Then in an instance he takes off down the alley. I grin as he races off because within four seconds I will dart to him, at my supernatural speed, and stand before him and then I’ll suck him dry.
            I was wrong. I caught up with him in 3 seconds and now I stand before him. His eyes dance inside his skull in disbelief as I rip open his neck and suck his blood. The blood tastes bad, like a metallic taste in tap water. He’s done drugs tonight and they’re in his system now and it’s making his blood taste like lead. Shit. Whatever he’s on, now I’m going to be on for the next 12 hours. I hate drinking the blood out of a drug addict because it’s not pure. It’s poisoned. It’s disgusting. But I have to drain him dry because he’s my only target for the night and I have to feed. As it stands, I’ll be fighting the awful hunger cravings later because I need at least 10 more pints of blood for the night, but he is my only target for tonight and I will not kill someone innocent. Whatever high he is on will soon be visiting me. After I drain him, I need to find shelter because I’ll be too high later to find it.
            The next night I wake up with a hangover. That was a horrible high Pinky gave me, but at least the world is down one less criminal. Tonight I’ll have to find more targets. Because of the cravings I’m already having I’ll have to drink at least 30 pints of blood tonight, that’s three people. That shouldn’t be too hard to find though. I hear there’s a drug cartel meeting later at Long Beach Harbor. A drug cartel whose leaders enslave their drug traffickers and then murder them when they’re done with them. This will be fun because all the cartel lords will be there. It’s certainly going to make for a great night. My stomach is already growling in eager anticipation. 

Prequel to hell's road

written by: kyle coffman

IT HAPPENS 

 

July 18, 1975 - Rural Southern Illinois

        Officer Burke steps out of his green and white police vehicle that is parked on the side of County Road 141 in Corral County, Illinois. He’s a tall man in his late thirties with dark hair. He takes one last drag from his cigarette and flicks it on the side of the road. It’s a very hot day and the cigarette ignites a patch of dry brown grass. He stomps on it until it’s flattened, smashing the fire and smothering the flame.

            He takes a deep breath and removes his police cap to wipe the sweat from his forehead.
            He joins Sheriff Rhodes, whose police vehicle is also parked on the side of the road. Sheriff Rhodes is staring at something on the ground right off the road in a ditch beneath two trees. In disgust, Officer Burke’s face falls.
            “Ever see anything like this before?” Sheriff Rhodes asks in his Midwest accent.
            Officer Burke shakes his head with an unfortunate glare.
            Sheriff Rhodes in his mid 60’s and appears to be ready to retire and after seeing today’s scene, now more than ever.
            Lying on the side of the road is the dismembered body of what appears to have been a woman in her 20’s. She wears a white dress stained with dried blood and dirt. The two law enforcement officers look down to see her body, head missing.
            The sun beats down on the body and Sheriff Rhodes holds a soiled brown handkerchief to his mouth and nose in hopes of covering the stench. 
            “She’s been dead for at least a week.” He says.
            “What ya thinkin?” Officer Burke asks looking away from the body.
            Sheriff Rhodes looks around. Fields of farmland as far as the eye can see surround them.
            “The body was dumped here.” He responds. “Not seen anything like this before either.”
            “Serial killer?” Officer Burke asks pulling out another cigarette from a pack in his right shirt pocket not daring to look at the dead body again.
            Unconvinced of Officer Burke’s question, Sheriff Rhodes shakes his head. “Nah, not quite yet. First body and hopefully the only body.” He says.
            “Then what?” Officer Burke lights his cigarette and takes a very long drag.
            “May be a pissed off husband. Or she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He says.
            “Who reported it?” Officer Burke asks.
            “Old man Stanton said he was driving to Maisy’s farm when he saw something on the side of the road resting near these trees. Once he got close to it that’s when he realized it’s a dead body.”
            “Resting?” Officer Burke takes another drag of his cigarette. Then, “Stan is on his way.” He informs Sheriff Rhodes. Stan is Corral County’s only Coroner. Corral County is located in Southern Illinois and is made up of a lot of small towns and hundreds of miles of farmlands. Mainly corn and bean fields, but murders are not something that occur in Corral County, IL… Ever.
            When Stan finally arrives, with his old beaten up Corral County van, he vomits three times after seeing the body. He’s a slender man in his late forties and a nightly “drink the entire bottle of whiskey” player. The first retch was from last night’s whiskey, the second was from his toast he had for breakfast to soak up last night’s whiskey, and his third, well that was most likely the remaining whiskey.
            Sheriff Rhodes pats Stan on the back as Stan leans on his truck for support. His wooziness was not from last night’s adventures with the bottle, but for the grotesque sight of the headless dead woman.
            Another two officers arrive on the scene and begin to place yellow police tape around the trees where the body still lies.
            “No need to bother with that boys.” Sheriff Rhodes says. “Old man Stanton already made his run this morning on this road. No one else’s coming out here except a tractor or two maybe this month to work the fields.”
            The other two officers stop as Officer Burke helps Stan pull out a black body bag and a stretcher from the back of his truck.
            After another hour in the hot sun, and several photographs taken, the body is now ready to be transported.
            Stan, who has now pulled himself together, leans down to move the body. He slaps on his latex gloves and motions for assistance.
            Officer Burke and Sheriff Rhodes eye one of the other officers and one man joins in and pulls on a pair of latex gloves to help.
            When they lean down to lift the body a piece of the woman’s dress moves revealing something on her sternum.
            “What in the hell?” Stan asks as Sheriff Rhodes and Officer Burke lean down.
            Right below the woman’s cleavage line appears to be a wound on her skin. Officer Burke removes a pen from his right shirt pocket, next to his cigarette pack, and uses it to pull down the dress and reveals a line carved into her skin.
            All the men eye each other in bewilderment. Then Stan pulls out a small pocket knife and cuts her dress down revealing her entire stomach.
            Their faces turn a pale green as they all grab a handkerchief from their pockets and cover their mouths. Stan and Officer Burke gag into their handkerchiefs.
            A twelve inch upside down cross has been carved deep into the woman’s abdomen.
            “What kind of satanic bull…” Sheriff Rhodes says standing up.
            “Is that an upside-down cross above her…” Officer Burke begins, but can’t seem to finish his sentence without gagging once again.
            “Who would do such a thing?” Stan asks looking up at the men.
            Sheriff Rhodes gazes into the fields of farmland searching for something, for someone perhaps. Anything, but all he can see are the undisturbed farm lands.
            “Call the rest of the boys out here.” Sheriff Rhodes commands Officer Burke. “We gotta find this head!”
            What these five men do not realize is they are not alone on this country road. In the fields several people are closing in on the five officers studying the dead body in the ditch. These people are wearing worn clothes and are carrying tools of some sort. Some carry pitchforks and small axes while others carry sickles and shovels. Are they farm tools or weapons?
            As the people are steps away from the officers, they hold the farm tools high in the air and charge at the officers!
            The people attack the five men! Horrifying screams suddenly erupt as the sounds of the weapons slam into the officers’ flesh and bodies.

            The events that happened on the afternoon of July 18, 1975 in Corral County, Illinois would haunt the rural County for decades to come.  The grizzly murders of the officers would not go unexplained though.  Through a careful investigation, several arrests, and a trial that rocked the state of Illinois in 1976, the headless woman and the officers’ lives would be avenged.

 

AFTER IT HAPPENED


            It wasn’t until the next night that the officers’ mangled bodies were discovered.  The bodies were no longer on County Road 141, but found in several abandoned barns and old condemned farmhouses surrounding the farmlands.  On the evening of the officers’ murders Deputy Carlson, a young man in his mid-twenties, was dispatched to the scene where the headless woman lay.  After no communication between Sheriff Rhodes for several hours, dispatcher Nancy Conner, a plump woman in her 50’s, dispatched Deputy Carlson to check out the scene.  Upon arriving he found Sheriff Rhoades, Officer Burke, and Stan’s vehicles, but they were nowhere in sight.  He nearly tripped over the headless woman, whose body still lay in the ditch.  As he scanned his eyes around the scene he noticed fresh blood stained the brown grass, and it was a lot of blood.  He slowly stepped backward towards his patrol car to radio Nancy to send help.
            The next day, at first light, an investigative team was assembled.  The remaining Corral County officers, with the assistance of the State Police, searched the farmlands for the officers and opened an official case for the headless woman.  After an exhausting eight-hour search one by one the missing officers were found within one mile of her body.  The details of their mangled bodies were never released to the press.
            Inside the abandoned barns and farm homes, where the bodies were found, was evidence of squatters in the buildings.  Though no squatters were physically found, old blankets, ragged clothing, and empty food wrappers covered the floors.  What sent chills down the investigative teams’ spines were demonic carvings and drawings on the walls.  Some of the drawings were even painted in blood, from what could only be assumed was the murdered officers’ blood.  It was clear to the investigative team that there was a group of people, within the last 24 hours, who occupied these buildings and created these demonic images on the walls.  Pictures of the images would later be leaked to the press showing upside down crosses, a devil with horns and goat feet, stick men being thrown into a fire by the devil’s tail, and more disturbing pictures to follow.
            Several wax candle stubs were scattered about indicating that a séance of some sort occurred recently.  Most likely, the night before and with the mangled bodies involved, they could only assume some sort of satanic ritual.  What they believed they had on their hands was a traveling satanic cult.  Now the question remained, where were they?

WHY IT HAPPENED

            They called themselves The Hellers and they were the group of people that savagely murdered the officers and the headless woman.  They were apprehended two counties east of Corral County three days after the officers’ murders.  A farmer had called the local sheriff to report a group of people clad in bloody clothing hiding in his barn. There were a total of 13 members, including their leader, Albert Shaw.  Shaw was in his early thirties and called the remaining 12 members his disciples.  There were eight men and four women and their ages ranged between 19-26 years old.
            During their trials, the Hellers were once compared to the Manson family, but these comparisons were quickly diminished by the local press as the Hellers were very aware of what they were doing and drugs didn’t play any roles in their murders.  They considered the murders as sacrifices to their god, Lucifer.
            The Hellers didn’t start out violent initially.  Shaw formed the group in 1970 to protest the Vietnam War and promote peace in America.  Despite their protests against the violent war, they weren’t being taken seriously by the local media and elected officials so they started to lash out. 
            Shaw, who spent a brief time in Vietnam himself, but was wounded, quickly began to despise everyone who spoke of the war.  He claims the horrendous violence he witnessed changed his life forever.  When questioned about his faith his response was, “No God would allow such mayhem so I turn to another faith.”  That faith would lead him to becoming the leader of a violent satanic cult.
            Recruiting his disciples was easy, according to Shaw.  Most of them were runaways and hitchhikers who followed his teachings and believed in him and his teachings.
            The trials lasted six months and put Corral County on the media’s map nationwide.  The trial ended in numerous convictions for each member, but Shaw packing most of the convictions.  All members were sentenced to be executed.
            The road the officers’ were murdered at is now referred to as Hell’s Road, nicknamed by local teenagers who have passed down the stories from generation to generation of the grizzly violence that occurred on that hot summer day.  It has been rumored that on Friday the 13th and Halloween night traveling satanic cults occupy the road to conduct their own versions of seances.

            The identity of the headless woman was never discovered and it remains a mystery to the present day.  Some believe that she herself was a member of the Hellers, while others debate that she must have been an unreported runaway.  Some urban legends claim to see her headless body wandering the fields of farmland and night.​

3rd Place Winner 2015 Los Angeles City College Writing Contest

© 2020 by Kyle Coffman. All Rights Reserved.