Monday, March 31, 2014

Ocean- Part 5

     Chief Grady sat in the Coroner’s Office, on the off-chance he might manage to steal a few moments of the busy man’s time. The situation had escalated and he desperately needed a reasonable explanation; so he personally brought over the most recent bodies from the previous night’s seaside disaster.  More mangled remains had been discovered on the beach. This time, Grady was positive that there had been multiple victims. Of the severed and seemingly chewed up body parts, the vast ranges of skin colors, including tattoos and piercings, indicated a large number of victims.
     The phones at the station had been ringing off the hook; concerned parents reporting their teens as missing.  After each call, Deputy Poole sent Grady a text message, apprising him of the situation.  By the time the coroner was available for a meeting, the chief had already counted twelve new Missing Persons reports. 
            “Hey there, Bob.  Thanks for squeezing me in,” Grady said as he extended his hand to the coroner.  “I know you’re busy but I’m really in a bind here. I’ve got to know what the heck is tearing people up on my beach. The story has spread and the whole town is crawling with reporters.  You’ve got to give me something to tell them.  For crying out loud, the new mess I brought to you could have remains from as many as twelve kids.”
            “Well, the consensus here is that it was a shark attack, Chief.  There’s really not another viable alternative.  On the plus side, we were able to confirm the remains from the first attack belonged to Adam Miller and Erin Crayburn.  Your deputy told us the prints lifted from some glasses had been theirs and the DNA matches.  At least you can tell that to the reporters.”
            “Thanks, Bob.  I owe you one.  Now, I guess I’m off to meet up with my own sharks.  They might not have fins but, by God, those reporters can sense blood in the water.  If I’m lucky I’ll get away without being chewed to pieces too.”
            “Good luck with that, Chief,” Bob laughed. 
Chief Grady offered up a half-hearted chuckle as he headed for the door. More than any other part of his job, he hated press conferences, especially when prompted by an influx of dead bodies.  The drive across town was brief. He hadn’t even made it out of his car when a mob of television reporters swarmed him in front of his parking spot. 
            “Ladies and gentlemen, please, follow me inside and I’ll answer all your questions.”
To Chief Grady it was clear which of the reporters were seasoned professionals and which were the “young guns” still trying to make a name for themselves.  The latter couldn’t wait until they’d made it inside. They were hurling questions as they ran along with the pack.  Grady simply shook his head and pressed on until they reached a large conference room.  He took his place at the front of the room and motioned to the chairs for the reporters. 
            “I just came from the Coroner’s Office and they have named the cause of death as a shark attack.”
            “Can you identify the bodies, Chief?” A young reporter called out.
            “Hmm, yes, they did identify the bodies; however, I have not had a chance to notify their families. Once they’ve been notified, I’ll be able to release that information.”
The questions continued until Deputy Poole interrupted them claiming that there was an urgent phone call for the chief.  Seizing his chance, Grady dashed out of the room and headed straight for his office with Poole trailing directly behind him.  Behind closed doors he could breathe again. 
            “Thanks, Poole.  That was perfect timing.  Which line is that call?”
            “There’s no call, Chief. I just figured you needed a way out.”
            “You’re a good man!  I certainly owe you one. Wow, do I hate press conferences.” 
            “Can I ask you something, Chief?  Did the coroner really identify all those bodies?”
            “The first two were identified. As for newest victims, well, Bob’s got his work cut out for him. In the meantime, I’ve got to make a visit to the Crayburns and the Millers. I’d almost rather be holding a press conference…almost.”  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ocean- Part 4

            “Shh, quiet or my mom will hear you.” Tracy Westbrook whispered to the throng of teens waiting for her in the alley.  “And quit shining your flashlight at the windows or I’m gonna get caught.”
She tiptoed out of her house and crept through the yard.  A mere foot away from the alley, the flood lights clicked on and Mrs. Westbrook poked her head out the back door.
            “Tracy Ann!  You get your butt back in this house right now!”
A collective groan rose from the alley as the herd shuffled away.  Tracy’s boyfriend, Kurt, mouthed, “See ya tomorrow at school” before disappearing.  With angry tears brimming in her eyes, Tracy stomped back into the house and slammed the door.
            “I hope you’re happy, Mother.  I’m the only one who won’t be there tonight. You completely humiliated me!”
            “Tracy, I told you before…there was an incident at the beach and it is too dangerous. I made it very clear that you were not allowed to go out tonight but you tried to go anyway. Now you can be humiliated and grounded. Go to your room!”
     The battle raged on for several hours until, finally, drained and cried out; Tracy fell asleep.  The next morning, after hitting the snooze button several times, she stood under the steamy shower and tried to pry her puffy eyes open.  She spent a few extra minutes applying makeup to conceal the damage before storming downstairs to make a cup of coffee.  Just to spite her mother, she poured the entire pot into her travel mug then stomped out to the front porch to wait for Kurt to pick her up.  Ever since they became a couple, he always picked her up for school.  She checked the time and realized he was running later than normal.  She sent Kurt a text asking where he was but did not get an immediate reply.  What if he hooked up with Tiffany Maxwell at the beach party last night, Tracy wondered; that slut has had her eye on him for weeks, now.  As her mind churned out one horrible scenario after another, she grew increasingly anxious.  Her phone call to Kurt went unanswered so she left a frantic message begging him not to dump her for Tiffany or “any of the other skanks” at the beach.  Paranoid and furious, she raced back inside the house to scream at her mother, yet again. 
            “Thanks to you, Mother, now I’m going to be late for school and I probably lost my boyfriend to one of those hoes at the beach last night!” Tracy angrily screamed up the stairs.
            “Tracy, enough of the dramatics….honestly, I am at my limit with you.” Her weary mother replied. “If Kurt thinks so little of you that he would cheat on you, just because you weren’t allowed to go to that party, then you’re better off without him.”
            “That’s such a stupid mom thing to say! Why can’t you just….”
Tracy’s sentence was cut off by the sound of someone pounding loudly on the front door.  Believing it to be Kurt, she raced to the door only to be stunned by an angry tirade.
            “Where is he?  I know you two were together last night so don’t bother with the innocent act, girly.  He is in BIG TROUBLE.  Kurt? Kurt!”  His mom screamed at the top of her lungs.  “Get out here…now!” 
Startled by the screaming, Tracy remained silent.  Mrs. Westbrook raced downstairs to find out who was shouting.  Though she’d never met the woman face-to-face, she recognized Kurt’s mom, who continued to lash out at Tracy, screaming insults and curses.  The haggard woman looked like she’d been partying all night, just like her son, and it was common knowledge that she worked at the Gentlemen’s Club just off the highway. 
            “Excuse me,” Mrs. Westbrook interrupted. “How dare you burst into my home and scream at my daughter!  For your information, Tracy was home last night with me. I would not let her go out with your son…and those other delinquents he calls friends.  Maybe if you spent more time at home with your son instead of swinging from a pole, you’d know where Kurt is but that is not my problem, nor is it Tracy’s.  Now get out before I call the police!”
            “He’s really not here?  Please, do you know where he is? I’m worried sick.”
Kurt’s mother, typically hardened by alcohol and narcotics, broke down into pitiful sobs.  She confessed to working late the previous night but insisted that Kurt had never stayed out all night without calling.   
            “I know what you think… but Kurt really is a good kid,” she bawled.  “He’s not like me.  He wouldn’t just…Look, this morning I saw something on the news about dead bodies found on the beach.  Kurt was at the beach last night.  My boy…my baby boy…”
Wiping away the mascara streaks and tears; she straightened up, smoothed her micro-miniskirt and left without another word. 
     Mrs. Westbrook drove Tracy to school but the news vans and swarms of reporters buzzing around the parking lot told them everything they’d suspected.  There had been more deaths on the beach and, most likely, Kurt was one of them.  Without stopping, Tracy’s mother turned around and drove straight home. 
            “C’mon, baby girl, we’re both playing hooky today.”  

**Please come back Monday, March 31st for the next installment of Ocean**

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ocean- Part 3

     Chief Grady spent hours combing the beach for clues, long after the mangled human remains had been taken away. Scattered footprints all over the sand leading up to and then away from the scene appeared to belong solely to the joggers. Other than jogger tracks, the only evidence he’d discovered on the beach included: blankets, two pairs of sandals, an empty bottle of champagne, a couple of plastic flutes and some rotting food in a picnic basket. If nothing else, Grady hoped to uncover fingerprints on the glasses or perhaps an errant strand of hair on the blankets. 
            “Thank God it’s not the middle of summer,” he muttered under his breath.  “Trying to keep the beach clear during peak season would have been impossible.”
The chief knew it was a cold and calculated thought.  Still, it was easier to be callous than let his mind wander to the repulsive puddle of human goo that had defiled his beach.  As the seagulls cried overhead, a disturbing thought nagged at the back of his mind.  He remembered from Biology class that birds regurgitate food into the mouths of their babies.  His mind made the short jump from birds feeding their helpless babies to owls swallowing their food whole then puking up the bones.  The disaster on the beach resembled an owl’s aftermath more than anything else Grady had ever witnessed.   
            “Damned nature programs,” he muttered. “There’s got to be a logical explanation for that mess on the beach. I’m certain there aren’t mutant owls preying on locals.”
He continued bagging anything and everything he could find on the beach. Even if it wasn’t a clue, he decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
     When Poole finally finished taking statements, he returned to the beach to assist his boss.  He was relieved to see that the beach was free of any human remains.  The tide had come in enough to wash away any lingering scraps leftover after the bulk of it had been removed for the Coroner’s Office.    
            “So, Chief, have you heard anything from the coroner yet?” Poole questioned as the heel of his shoe made deep gouges in the sand. 
            “No, I don’t expect to hear from them any time soon,” Grady replied.  “How did it go with those joggers and their statements?  Did the doctor’s wife give you any more flack?”
            “Well,” Poole stammered.  “She fussed a bit at first but the others put her in line pretty quick.  I guess they didn’t appreciate her acting like her time was more important than everyone else’s.”
            “Yeah,” Grady chuckled.  “I can see how that might, to quote my grandfather, stick in one’s craw.”
            “Oh, it stuck alright!  In the end, she was the last one to give a statement.  Everybody else got to leave before her.”
The chief laughed; his townsfolk had their quirks but, as a whole, they were good people.  Certain allowances had been made for the doctor’s wife because Dr. Lander was such an asset to their community but every once in a while Rosalyn needed to be knocked down a peg to remind her that, despite her own beliefs, she was not a national treasure.
     Finally, when there was nothing left on the beach to tag, Chief Grady and Deputy Poole drove back to the station.  There was still a mountain of paperwork they would need to riffle through before they could call it a night.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ocean- Part 2

            “Grady, and this better be good at,” Police Chief Thomas Grady growled into the phone as he squinted at his alarm clock.  “Six-friggin’-fifteen AM.” 
The lovely Mrs. Grady rolled over, stifling a groan as her husband berated the unfortunate caller for ringing his line at the crack of dawn.  After a few grunts and a couple of uh-huhs, Chief Grady rolled out of bed and shuffled down the hall toward the bathroom.  In record time he’d showered, dressed, and dashed outside to his car, chugging a bottle of Pepto as he went. 
     When he reached the beach, the sun was peeking over the horizon burning off the morning haze.  His newest deputy was down near the water. A collection of joggers had congregated in a semi-circle around Deputy Poole.  Scuttling through the sand, Grady rolled his eyes at the early-risers. 
            “Joggers…I should have known. They’re the bane of my existence; those get-up- at-the-crack-o’dawn and run, even-though-no-one- is-chasing- you, health nuts.  Why can’t they just sleep in like normal people?”
Poole ran up to join his boss and met him halfway down the beach.  The young deputy seemed more nervous than usual so Grady apologized for his less-than-friendly telephone etiquette. 
            “I-I-I didn’t know what else to do, Chief.  I ain’t never seen nothing like this before.” Poole stammered. 
Grady took a deep breath and bit his tongue.  Poole’s horrendous grammar was a point of contention and inside, the chief silently wept for the state of public education.  Before he even had the chance to see what had gotten everyone so worked up, he was under attack.  The barrage of questions levied at his person, at such an ungodly hour, was an all out assault on his senses. 
            “Whoa! One at a time!” He barked. “And, just a thought but…. how about letting me see what you’re all up in arms over before you give me the third degree, okay?”
The small crowd quieted and stepped aside to clear a path for their brave chief of police.  Just having Chief Grady there seemed to soothe Poole’s jagged nerves and that calm carried over into the crowd.  They were certain that the chief would know what to do.  They were wrong.
     Grady swallowed hard, staring at the pile of mangled human flesh and splintered bones.  It looked like something had chewed them up and spit it back out again.  Scavengers of the land and sea had already begun to feast on the remains.  From the looks of it, there was a good chance parts from two different bodies were in the mix but he couldn’t tell for sure. For several minutes, he was speechless; his mind reeling with possibilities.  All around him, a growing unease settled, making the joggers fidget nervously.  Finally regaining his composure, Grady mustered his most official sounding voice. 
“Poole, I need you to call the EMT’s.  We’ve got to get these bodies to County Hospital and contact the Coroner’s office ASAP to get them identified.  Next, we need to get this area cordoned off to keep anyone else from tracking through the crime scene and potentially destroying evidence.”  Grady spoke calmly despite the turmoil churning in his gut.  “Now, if you kind folks would follow Poole down to the station, we need to get reports from each of you. I’m sure you’d rather give your statements in a less grue… er…um…in a more pleasant environment. 
    Poole dialed quickly, relieved that he was being sent to the station to take statements and even happier to get far away the gelatinous muck of human sludge marring an otherwise pristine beach.  The jogger brigade learned very quickly that they had no other choice but to follow the deputy downtown.  Rosalyn Lander; wife of Dr. Mitchell Lander, queen bee of what passed for society’s elite in their quaint community and all-around pain in the rear, balked at the idea of inconveniencing herself to obey the chief’s wishes.       
            “Look, Mrs. Lander,” Chief Grady hissed.  “The way I see it; you’ve got two choices, here.  You can do the right thing and follow Poole down to the station, with these other fine folks.  Or, if you keep giving me a hard time; I swear to God, I will slap some cuffs on you, throw your pampered, liposuctioned ass in the back of a squad car and book you for obstruction of justice.  Oh… one more thing…don’t forget, all arrests are published in the Neighborhood News.  I imagine that would make things a little awkward down at the country club, wouldn’t it?  So, on behalf of all of us who have to work for a living, quit giving us such a hard time just because you think you can.” 
     The crowd stared at Grady; some attempted to conceal amused smirks while others were unable to hide their shock. Poole did a poor job of stifling a chuckle and had to pretend he was coughing.  Rosalyn Lander’s cheeks burned scarlet but she said nothing as she fell in step behind Poole.  With the gawkers out of his way, Chief Grady was able to let his brain process the crime scene.  In his twenty years of wearing a badge, he had never seen anything like the revolting deluge of rotting remains strewn all over the beach.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ocean- Part 1

  It was the perfect evening.  The sky, awash in vibrant reds, oranges and pinks, exemplified the type of sunset that, if one believed the old rhyme, meant a “sailor’s delight”.  It’s my delight too, Adam thought cheerfully, as he spread an oversized blanket over the sand.  By late September, the tourists had long since packed up so weeknights on the beach were peaceful.  He set his picnic basket down, using it and his sandals to keep the blanket from fluttering in the warm breeze.  Instead, the salty sea air played with Erin’s golden tresses and just then, at that very moment, Adam was confident that he was the luckiest man alive.
     He’d been planning the “perfect proposal” for months and it seemed even Mother Nature was on his side. He couldn’t have asked for a more romantic atmosphere. While Erin sprawled on the blanket, Adam set to building a small fire.  Summer help for the beach patrol was gone as well; there would be no trouble from them. Not that they would harass locals anyway, Adam thought to himself.  He and Erin snuggled together, watching the glorious display of colors kaleidoscoping across nature’s immense canvas.
            “That was gorgeous,” Erin gasped breathlessly, as the colors mottled together to form an inky blue backdrop for a galaxy of brilliant stars. 
Adam pointed out constellations. For fun, he made up silly names and created stories to support the new titles he’d ordained.  As always, Erin giggled at his silliness.
            “Hmm, let’s see…what shall we call this one…over here,” he mused. 
            “Which one?”
            “Right here. That cluster that looks like a Princess cut diamond surrounded by baguette and tiny channel set diamonds.” He replied.  As she turned to look at him, baffled by his knowledge of diamonds, he opened his hand to reveal the ring he’d been carefully hiding.  “I think this constellation is called, Will you marry me, Erin Crayburn.”
Erin squealed with excitement before covering his face in kisses. 
            “Is that a yes?” Adam asked.
            “Yes, Oh Adam! Yes!”
He pulled a bottle of Champagne from its cooler sleeve and filled two flutes to toast their new lives together.
            “Here’s to us!” Adam declared, raising his glass. 
Erin held out her hand to admire the new adornment.  In the flickering light from their tiny fire, her diamonds seemed to come alive. Each turn of her hand set off brilliant glints from each faceted edge. 
            “It’s gorgeous, Adam, exactly the one I’ve always dreamed of.”
Her tender kiss grew more passionate.  Though the couple had never been fond of public displays of affection; they knew they were all alone on the beach.  Not another soul in sight, just the soothing sound of waves rolling up to meet the shoreline. 
            “Wait….what was that?”
Raising his head slightly, Adam looked around.  Nothing but empty beaches as far as the eye could see. 
            “Relax, there’s no once here, babe.  Even if there was, there’s no way they can see what we’re doing underneath the blankets.”
            “No, silly, not on the beach.  Out…there….” 
Adam’s eyes followed her hand as she pointed out to sea.  He was just about to insist that she was seeing things when he noticed something too.  Disentangling his limbs from Erin’s, he sat up straight, facing the ocean. 
            “You saw it too, didn’t you?” She gasped. 
            “I think it’s from the flames flickering.  You know, just the light playing tricks on our eyes, Erin.” 
            “Maybe you’re right.  Let’s just walk down to the water’s edge and take a look.  You know, to be sure.”
Not wanting to ruin their romantic evening by arguing, Adam rose and followed her.  The sand underfoot, once dry and powdery, felt damp and squishy under their feet.  Just then a wave rolled in, instantly chilling their bare toes. 
            “See, everything’s ffff….ERRR-RRINNN!” 

Monday, March 10, 2014


     The other day, I had the opportunity to take part in a unique and innovative online storytelling event. One of my Twitter followers had the idea to live tweet a horror-themed story. Each participant built the story by feeding off the tweet prior to their own.  Since you have no idea what they're going to say, you have to be on your toes and think outside the box.  Going into it, I knew it would be fun but I also saw the potential. As a writer, it is an incredible exercise, calling on pure creativity and an almost reckless abandon.  I didn't have time to sit and fiddle with each line because the next guy was chomping at the bit to get their chance. The added challenge is Twitter's imposed 140 character limit that forces embellishers, like myself, to knuckle down and get to the point succinctly. One of the biggest thrills occurred midway through our story.  The line fed to me was cut off mid-sentence so I had to finish their sentence and build on it. Immediately after tweeting my lines, I got a private message from the person ahead of me saying I must be a mind-reader. It was exciting to see virtual strangers converging and our minds syncing as one to create.
     By now, you might be wondering, logistically, how we managed to make it all work out.  I'll admit, it took a little trial and error before the actual event but it wasn't long until we had all the bugs worked out.  So, here's how it works:
          Step 1: Approximately 15-20 minutes prior to the event you'll need to text the creator and say you're going to join and use the hashtag #BeTheStory.  For example, you'll text something like this: @RudeDogPress1 I'm in! #BeTheStory   (In case you haven't figured it out; this event was the brainchild of Dee at @RudeDogPress1)
          Step 2: You'll be assigned your order. Pay close attention so that you'll know who to follow for your turn.
          Step 3: Using the Twitter search option, search #BeTheStory. You'll need to stay on this page so you can follow along!
          Step 4: This is one of the most important steps! When the story starts, we go in order. Always hit reply to the tweet prior to yours but, and this is vital, you must REMOVE the name and replace it with #BeTheStory. For example, if your turn is after me and you hit reply, Twitter will populate the screen with @sg_lee_horror.  You have to remove "@sg_lee_horror", and type #BeTheStory. Otherwise, no one else will be able to see your tweet.
          Step 5: Have Fun! Relax and go with the flow. No judgement. No pressure. Just a great time with a group of people who love storytelling. ***You'll have two consecutive tweets on each turn so that you have enough characters to get something rolling.***

This event is open to EVERYONE so please feel free to join us! I hope to see you there, friends, and remember: #BeTheStory!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Busy Little Bee


 I've been a busy bee lately. In addition to working on my novels, networking, seeking publishers and writing stories for this blog; I've been doing some guest blog articles for my friends at the ZRT (Zombie Response Team)  They believe if you can survive the zombie apocalypse; you can survive ANYTHING!  Here's the link to my first guest blog post.  

I hope you'll check them out. They're a great bunch to know! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pleasant Surprise.

     Just before my exciting conclusion to The Freaks Come Out At Night was posted, I was pleased to learn that my story had garnered some attention from a fellow blogger and horror fan. This is not someone I know personally. We bumped into each other on Twitter and, next thing I know, my blog was featured on his post. So, without any great fanfare, I'd like to share his post with you.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Freaks Come Out At Night- The Conclusion

            “Go! Go! GO!” Mike barked into his radio. “Everyone move! Get inside that tent!”
Sam was forced to sit and listen as Mike dashed from the van and scores of undercover officers swarmed Maven’s tent. Through the earpiece, he heard the pandemonium: shrieks, shouts, and clomping feet, amplified.  He imagined Maven and his cohorts scrambling to get away as Philadelphia’s finest slapped the cuffs on them.  Inside, the scene was far more chaotic. 
            “Breach!” Maven snarled, just after the very first plant in his audience screamed, “Police”. 
In a blink, the unfortunate souls under Maven’s spell reacted to his embedded command. They immediately attacked the undercover officers in their group.  Those responding to Mike’s call received an unpleasant welcome as they stormed inside the tent. With fists and feet, Maven’s puppets lashed out at anyone who tried to get near their commander.  As rapidly as possible, the offenders were snapped into handcuffs but that didn’t keep them from continuing their attack.  They kicked, bit, and even head-butted until, eventually, enough back up arrived to contain the assailants. 
            “He’s on the run,” one of the officers screamed into his radio. 
In the confusion, Maven managed to slip through the curtain.  As he dashed through the fairgrounds, pieces of his costume fluttered to the grass below, to be trampled underfoot.   To cover his jet black hair and help him blend into the crowd, he snatched a baseball cap from a nearby vendor’s table.  Two patrolmen followed on foot, desperate not to let Maven give them the slip.  They had him in their sights; pressing hard to close the gap between themselves and their quarry when Maven did the unthinkable.  Realizing that the law was gaining on him, he launched his body into a crowd of people.  Bodies flew in all directions; an elderly woman fell from her wheelchair and babies toppled from their strollers. A flailing teen on crutches crashed into a hotdog cart; spilling scalding, greasy water, overly processed meat-by-products, condiments and buns, everywhere. The domino effect was in full force, knocking a clown with a massive balloon bouquet down on top of screaming children.  The officers had no choice but to assist the downed civilians. They radioed to their compatriots hoping somebody could intercept Maven in his attempted escape.   
            “Suspect, white male, black hair, dark eyes, approximately five-eleven, weighing one hundred fifty pounds now wearing black denim jeans and a black t-shirt.”
Defying Mike’s orders, Sam sprang from the van, sprinting full speed toward Maven’s suspected route.  With flashing lights and blaring sirens, Philadelphia’s Police Department squad cars wove through traffic, speeding to assist.  Vowing to reinstate his gym membership, Sam ran despite the cramps and his seemingly narrowing windpipe.  Just as he was about to give up, he caught sight of Maven scrambling down the side of an overpass. Newly invigorated, Sam pressed on. Without taking his eyes off his target, Sam pulled his cell phone from his pocket. 
            “Call Mike,” he commanded to the voice dial option.
It took a few repetitions but eventually his phone obliged.  Panting, he told Mike where he was and requested backup.
            “You’re supposed to be in the van!” Mike bellowed, angrily.  “Just what do you think you’re…”
Mike’s rant stopped dead. The distinct sound of gunshots choked the words before they escaped his lips. 
            “Sam?  Sam!  Oh God, please tell me you didn’t shoot him, Sam.”
There was no reply.  Mike’s mind reeled with the implications.  He shouted Sam’s name again but still there was no answer.  Furious, Mike flagged down a squad car and hopped a ride.  He fully expected to see Sam in cuffs and Maven’s dead body outlined in white.  Instead, Maven was nowhere to be found and Sam was strapped to a gurney, blood pouring from the wound in his chest. 
Every word was a struggle to produce.  Sam’s face had paled and he struggled to keep his eyes open.  The EMT placed a comforting hand on Mike’s shoulder and confirmed that they’d already injected Sam with something to ease the pain.
            “Shh, don’t try to talk right now, buddy,” replied Mike as soothingly as possible.  “They’re gonna patch you up and then.…then I’m gonna kick your ass!  What were you thinking?”
            “I’m no doctor but I don’t think screaming at him is gonna help much, Mike,” his partner interrupted. 
Mike regained his composure and was permitted to ride along in the ambulance while the others continued the search for Maven. 
     In an attempt to plea bargain, Maven’s assistants not only spoke the command to release those trapped under their bosses spell, they spilled the beans. They revealed every single detail they could remember, incriminating Maven for everything from murder to extortion, blackmail and fraud. They could not; however, come up with anything to help the police find the man himself. 
     Sam had been fortunate. The bullets had not pierced any major organs or arteries.  Despite his threats, Mike did not kick Sam’s ass after he recovered. Instead, he threw a huge bash the next time Sam and Jenny visited …to celebrate their engagement. 
     The negative press did irreparable damage to Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival.  In wake of the scandal, BT had no choice but to close down and sell off all shares and assets associated with his beloved carnival.  Using his own personal funds, anyone who filed a claim for damages, received compensation. Though he was no longer the owner; the spirit of Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival endured.  All of the titles and equipment was purchased by BT’s original staff.  The name, of course, was changed but BT was hired on as the ring leader. He changed his appearance and went by Big Bill or BB but being a part of the circus was all he’d ever wanted.  His joy was beheld by all, in each and every performance.  Tina made sure to send Sam and Jenny an invitation to the grand opening of their brand new circus: Chancley, Bankes & Deene Family Traveling Circus.  A wonderful time was had by all.
     In spite of a strenuous search and a joint venture with the FBI, Maven was never found.  It was discovered that he had used a fake ID when he applied to Mystic Magill’s Big Top Carnival. Even the rentals on the various PO Boxes where victims had mailed in their cash yielded no results. The original owner of the boxes had all died, possibly even by Maven’s hand, but there was no connection between the box holders.  Eventually, the hunt ended and the manpower reassigned to other, more pressing, cases. 
ONE YEAR LATER: A scraggly man with a shock of platinum blonde hair sprouting from darker roots, stroked his greasy goatee as he absorbed the ambiance of his surroundings.  A fleabag traveling carnival with rusted, deathtrap rides and plywood stands for rigged games sagged under the recent downpour that had tapered to a gloomy drizzle.  He pushed through the unlocked gate, looking for a sign of life. 
            “We’re closed,” a surly man slurred before taking another swig from a lukewarm can of beer. 
            “I’m looking for the owner,” he replied with a commanding tone that didn’t suit his emaciated frame.  “I can assure you, he wants to see me. Tell him, I come bearing an offer to help turn this pigsty into an event to rival Ringling Brothers in their heyday.”
Shrugging, the disinterested guard staggered off in search of his boss.  As he waddled off, the man at the gate smiled. 

“Dance, puppet,” he hissed. “Dance.  Soon, I’ll own you all.”