Short Story
                                                     Outreach
                                                                     By Michael Lizarraga


     The lighting in Lazaro’s Cafe was too low, the a/c too cold, the place smelling of stale cigarettes. A
‘Grade C’ restaurant that reminded Nick of a railroad club car that had somehow run itself off the tracks
and was now awaiting the blows of a wrecking ball.

     Nick O’Neil sat at a corner booth, coffee in hand, sporting a leather jacket over a stylish purple dress
shirt and dark pants, casual but put together. A distinguished man with a no-nonsense face and jutting
chin. A trim yet well chiseled thirty-eight-year-old whose only sign of age, aside from salt-and-peppered
hair and goatee, was the three-layered 'ladder' on his forehead.        

     He held a wallet-size photo of a teenage girl before him, a White-Latina with long jet-black hair, a
darkly featured face, clever eyes, plum-painted lips. The only picture he had of Patty. He lingered on the
photo, melancholy, a song by ‘Imagine Dragons’ playing overhead.

     Nick entered a number on his smartphone, and as he did, he coldly muttered “Keep steppin’” to a
homeless beggar with sores on his face, leashing a dog.

     Nick’s call went straight to voice mail. In a gruff tone, he said into the recording, “****, I just wanna know
how she’s doing.”

     He clicked off vehemently. His fifth VM to his ex-wife today. Worry and anger shrouded him, and he felt
a burning hole growing in his chest, his fist pressed hard against his mouth until his front teeth hurt.

     His cell rang. Without checking the id, he answered, “Sandra...”

     But Sandra was not on the line. Instead, Nick heard static. Crackling, as though entering a bad area.

     Nick checked the screen. ‘Private Number.’ He put the phone back to his ear, listened to the static. The
noise abruptly stopped. Nick clicked off. Stared at the rectangular phone, brows furrowed.

     His attention shifted toward the front as two young African-American men entered. Early twenties, one
a beefy man wearing a cap, the other tall and muscular having on a long thin coat and a nylon beanie. Nick
appraised the tall guy, recognized him. From where, he couldn't remember. He didn't like that.

     The tall man paused, faced Nick in slow motion, his thin eyes squinting.         

     Swiftly, yet subtly, Nick reached for his fifteen-load nine millimeter Beretta at his side, concealed under
his coat, under the table. He unfastened the strap. Prepared himself, right hand on the handle. An
ingrained instinct from his cop days, but mostly because he was presently in an area he had worked
before - where people still knew him.

     Both men locked glances - two alley cats crossing paths. Nick waited for the man to move. Poised,
still, stare intense, face flush. Wyatt Earp at the O.K.

     The man shot Nick a slow lopsided grin. Gave Nick a simple upward nod, saying, “'Sup, playar,” then
joined his friend at a booth.

     Nick eased back a little, tension going out his shoulders. He re-buttoned his holster, gazing at the
young black men. His face contorted into a pucker of disgust. His usual vexing mixture of revulsion,
exasperation, contempt.

     He checked his phone. Nine thirty - an hour till show time. He checked his text messages. Nothing from
Blaster, his teammate.         

     At the bar to his left, a forty-inch panel television hung on the wall like a wide glass framed painting,
playing Sunday's football highlights. Nick walked to the bar, watched a summary of the Broncos handing
the Rams their horns.

     Then something appeared on the panel screen. No more than a subliminal flash of an image, like a
single disturbing frame spliced into an otherwise monotonous strip of film. So fast that his conscious mind
had no time to process it, the football game returning to the screen. He watched Denver's Mike Adams
making an incredible interception, then another ‘flash’ blitzed onto the screen. A two-second flicker of a
face, etched out of darkness, and he was unsure if it was male or female. The game came back on for a
bit, then the dark image returned. This time for a few seconds.

     The face was as purple as a turnip, with long black hair that curtained the sides. The dark-circled eyes
were super wide, as if awash with absolute uncontrollable fear. Nick noticed that the mouth was completely
covered, unsure if it was a sort of dark contraption or some giant hand that wrapped around it.  

     The screen again jumped back to the game, and for a moment, just for a moment, Nick felt a sharp,
piercing pang of primal fear in his chest.

     “What the ****,” Nick whispered loudly.

     He slowly returned to his booth, eying the plasma screen. Wrapping his mind around what he had just
seen.

     A text alert from his smartphone stole his attention. A message from 'Blaster.’

     The fly’s on its way.

     A black gangster from a Blood set, Charon ‘Blaster’ Freeman had been Nick’s informant for years, and
though no longer on the force, Nick still considered Blaster his ‘dawg.’

     So...u gonna smoke Popeye's big bro?

     A fresh fury toward Guapo Sanchez spread through Nick's bones as he read the text. An inner rage he
often referred to as his slow red cloud.

     He stared out the window, into the desolate parking lot. Helicopters chopped through the night sky. The
city noise sounded distant. Nick stared blankly at a passing train, head cluttered with frustration.

     Frustration over that vato gangbanger who threatened his daughter. His baby.

     “Let's do it, big brother,” Nick whispered, teeth gritted, upper lip twitching. He watched a small rat
scurry onto a dumpster, stop, crane a bulging red eye at him, then dart for the glassy pavement. Let's aaall
get some payback tonight.  

     Patty had just come out of her Hip Hop dance class Saturday when the little Toyota truck pulled up
beside her. The driver, a bony young male with a large shaved head coated heavily with tattoos, had a
grim twisted grin. “Horale, mamas,” he hissed at the startled fourteen-year-old, licking chapped lips,
smiling dreamily with the invulnerability of someone extremely high. His face was scary, a sort of Latino
version of ‘young Jason’ from the original Friday the 13th, one eye half closed, his crooked mouth cradling
rotting, nasty teeth, some missing. Then his sunny smile was eclipsed by a dark blood-red moon of a
scowl, paralyzing the young Patty into a black bulge of panic. “Looks like Nick should watch his little girl's
back from now on, don’tcha think, chica?”

     Nick was called by Mid Valley Division soon after his frantic daughter and her hysterical mother had
went to the police, the former Mrs. O'Neil informing them of her (loser) ex-husband's past affiliation with the
department - that his rather ‘delightful’ reputation with society's maggots was the cause for their daughter's
threat.

     Having endured eleven years of Nick, Sandra would have rather enjoyed watching her unfaithful, violent
divorcee getting his eyes sucked from his nose by ‘admirers.’ But her only daughter was now at risk
because of him - and he was going to fix this.

     Nick immediately contacted Robbery Homicide at Metro, simply reminding them of the infamous
‘Sanchez case’ two years ago, in which a twenty four-hour surveillance team was set up for his daughter.

     That same night, Nick received an anonymous call, a deep electronically altered voice.

     “You have a pretty daughter, chavo.”

     ‘Chavo’ stood out in Nick's mind like a cheap suit. Only two people had ever called him that: Abraham
‘Guapo’ Sanchez and Lucas ‘Popeye’ Sanchez, two brothers Nick knew all too well when he was a cop.
Both members of ‘Cleasian 16,’ a Latino gang. He was certain the caller was Guapo, the older brother.

     Nick had capped his younger brother two years ago.

     It was a routine drug bust. Nick, a detective sergeant then with North Division's Gang and Narcotics
Section, had Popeye cornered in his vehicle with no place to go. Popeye floored it, rammed his Monte
Carlo into Nick’s passenger door, T-bone style. Nick instantly rattled off ten shots from his nine millimeter
at the young attacker.

     “Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!”

     The boy was unarmed. Fourteen. Dead.
     
     ‘Mr. Hyde’ Nick was always known as, a classic ‘Nice Guy’ with a rep for turning into something
abominable in seconds when stirred. A vicious animal on a frayed leash. A ‘sly demon’ to those on and off
the streets, even to cop brethren.

     Those who knew Nick, really knew him, were convinced of one thing: the Sanchez shooting was not just
self-defense.    

     In the end, Nick was stripped of his badge. He now co-owned a small private security company, his job
consisting mainly of hiring and firing flaky guards. The final ‘icing’ on his punishment cake, he liked to think
of it as.

     Sipping cold coffee, he stared at Patty's photo.

     Wished to God she’d at least consider weekends with (loser) dad. His wish now for the last four
years.        

     He tucked away Patty's picture. Blinked.

     A heat flare of anger again shot up his back as he pictured that bastard cholo rolling up on his kid. That
slow red cloud thick and palpable.

     Aside from allegations, detectives had nothing on Guapo. But that suited Nick just fine. Just fine. He
had his proof. His plan.

     Hell, let's aaall get payback, big brother; let's aaall get down n' dirtaaay...

     Grabbing his phone, Nick responded to Blaster’s text.

     Just have him there. I'll hang back for yor msg.

     Blaster was a trusted hustler with everyone when it came to his own personal ‘transactions,’ even
amongst the eses. If anyone could slang with a vato like Guapo, offer him the ‘goods,’ lure the nineteen-
year-old cholo alone to Nicks' private lair to be ‘taught some manners,’ it was Blaster. Five G's, and
Blaster was cool.

     So far, everything was as planned. Nick just had to wait.    

     His cell rang. ‘Private Number.’ He clicked 'answer,' phone at his ear.

     There were static noises. Then silence. Nick waited.

     “The **** is this? Guapo?!” He was bleary-eyed and blinking, still in the grip of homicidal rage.  

     A deep moan cut through the silence. A broken, choppy groan, as though someone in pain. A male
someone, Nick guessed, and his face twisted as the moan continued, a steady low pitch wail. Nick's
frustration was overflowing now.

     “Sonofa****, I...”

     The moan grew louder, becoming a howl, as if pain was increased, and Nick discarded the idea that
Guapo Sanchez was on the other end.    

     An outburst of voices suddenly exploded into Nick's ear, as if a huge door opened to a sea of
screaming people fighting to get out of a burning building or rock concert. Thousands, it seemed, like an
unrehearsed chorus in the distance. Voices in pain, pain that echoed. Steady. Rhythmic. Horrible. Sharp
panic speared directly into Nick's chest.

     Nick ended the call, disconnecting the sounds, like shutting off a gush of leaking water.

     He fixated on his phone's default screen saver. A crisp picture at the base of an outside wooden
staircase, looking upward, the wood stairs crookedly ascending a small mountain composed of rocks,
weeds, moss. The sun poised at the top of the staircase, its golden light peaking from behind the cliff, a
sunbeam glinting duskily over this picture-postcard view.

     Then, the screen saver departed for a second as another image subliminally appeared on his phone's
screen. Appeared for a second before the screen saver came back. After a second or two, the image
again flashed onto the screen. A face, a fairly close-up shot, surrounded by darkness. This repeated
several times, back and forth, as though someone flicking a light on and off in a pitch black room, or
lightening flashing sporadically in dead night. When the image flashed a fifth time, it remained a few
additional seconds, allowing Nick a better glimpse.

     The face’s head was hairless, colorless, eyes as bright-blue as a Husky’s, the skin pale and
translucent. Visible beneath the flesh were veins that pulsed with red, together with what Nick was certain
were circulating blood worms and capillary parasites coursing beneath its pellucid flesh. Nick grimaced as
a long, thick worm wiggled its way out of the face’s black hole he guessed was a nose. He grimaced even
more as he realized this slightly bowed face had a faint gleam of smiling condescension, a sheen of razor
sharp, black knife-like teeth exposed.

     The screen saver reappeared. Nick shook his head, hunched his shoulders from a chill he felt from the
ghastly image.

     Networking glitch, he reasoned.

     Though, for an endless moment, Nick sat glued to the booth's back rest, blood throbbing through his
temples, skin feeling like a pin-cushion. He closed his fingers to still a bad tremble. Stared at that screen
saver. Pondered deeply over (whatever the **** that was!) he had just seen; whatever it was he had seen
on the plasma screen a moment ago. He was lost in after-thought, the feeling you get when driving by
something extraordinarily bazaar and wondering if that two second glimpse was indeed what you thought
you saw.

     Like the first image, he was certain this, too, was not something off mainstream media. The closest
thing he could compare them to was that of an extreme HD camera which produced crisp, vivid, life-like
images. Almost as if...     

     “Naw, hommy, Ross would slap the ruby off Garland’s lips,” bellowed one of the young black men from
their booth across the restaurant. “Shoooot....Wiz’s ‘Dorothy’ was from Harlem, son.”

     Nick, glaring up at them from his smartphone, shook his head in annoyance at the pointless ‘dream
match’ banter, murmuring, “They gotta be as high as Snoop.”

     Lighting a cigarette, he continued watching them. Particularly the tall man with the beanie.

     Then, like an unexpected rush of cool breeze slapping against a warm face, Nick remembered the tall
black man. Two years ago, shortly before the Sanchez incident.

     The young man glanced toward Nick, who immediately looked away. Hoped the man had no
recollection of him or that one evening.

     Nick checked his watch. Half an hour.

     He entered the men's room, flipped the light switch, the single bulb glowing like a dim lounge lamp.
Ignoring the room's black musty smell of a week's worth of undisturbed urine and mildew, he splashed his
face with cold water at the sink. Had to clear his head from all the weird happening. As he was about to
leave, he heard sounds from the ceiling.

     Nick glared up at a square vent. Listened to the faint distant murmur of voices, thousands of them,
creating a churning, almost a rushing sound, like coursing fluid. An intense drone, as he had previously
heard on his phone.

     Nick flipped over a trash can below the vent, climbed on it. A fairly tall man, Nick’s head was able to
come within a few inches from the vent, and placing both hands on the ceiling, he peered past the webbed
grills, into the vent, finding complete darkness and stillness. The drone of voices had mysteriously
dissipated; now there was palpable silence. He felt a rush of thick heat, as from an opened incinerator.
Smelled a pungent, godless odor that brought tears to his eyes.

     Suddenly, there was a deep, beastly groan from within the vent that almost passed for a growl, neither
animal nor human, and something...up close...lurked and seethed in the pitch black.
Its eyes appeared within the darkness, just past the vent grills. Glowed laser red, almost blinding, alive with
stupid cunning. Mad eyes that were crazily fierce, following Nick like a reflection as he moved. His hands
remaining on the ceiling, his head propped upward, Nick continued peering past the vent grills, stared with
drugged, horrified fascination, his breath a thin winter-whistle in his throat, where his heart had crawled up
into the middle and froze, solid, deep and dreadful. Merely standing under this being's presence was
paralyzing, Nick's legs weakened by the thing's sounds and smell; he did not want to see it.

     The being slinked hungrily through the pitch black, its breath rank with a stale, earthen coppery stench,
its deep voice like the amalgam of many voices, poured forth as though lubricated by human blood, and
Nick could swear this being was conscientious of everything about him: every beat of his heart, which trip
hammered in his chest; every thought in his head, which throbbed from intense fear. He sensed this being
had an unyielding urge to claw through this insignificant vent grill and swat him, like a starved delirious lion,
and yet Nick could not move. Like being in a dream where your feet are trapped in quicksand.

     Not real not real not real not real not real not real not real not real not real not real...        

     Nick slowly began losing his breath, a result of pure terror, a panic at his very soul. Then he heard a low
soft whisper. Calm. Collective.

     “You might like it.”

     The kind of cool whispers that sooths children during bedtime. But vile. Slithery.

     Just a vent, Nick reasoned in his pulsating head, fighting for sanity. A stinkin’ restroom vent!        

     He heard another voice somewhere else within the vent. A slow guttural groan, as though from deep in
the pit of a person's stomach.  

     “Nickadopolous,” the voice moaned.

     Nick gleamed with a sudden burst of surprise and familiarity. 'Nickadopolous.' It drew something up in
him, from a deep reservoir of feeling. He stared past the grills, past the red eyes, into the still blackness.
The groaning voice grew faint, as if dissipating mist. Then, silence.

     Nick felt himself going slack, everything muddled, dimming.

     He barreled off the trash can, as if drunk, landing onto the damp pee-water floor. Lying on his back, he
glared at the ceiling, at the square vent, non-blinking, non-flinching. Stared at that tomblike blackness
behind the vent, beyond the vent, and though he had been staring through those grills for literally a minute,
it was eternity. Those eyes. Etched into his brain, as when something stays in your head after the light is
switched off.

     Remaining on his back, Nick unleashed a combo of screams and hysterical laughs. He could not
process this shock. Could not deal with it.

     Again, he heard that distinctive, slow guttural groan.

     Nickadopolous.                                        

                                                                                             #

     Nick slouched in the soft leather of his R/T Charger, parked in the restaurant lot. Sports radio played
low, two ESPN hosts discoursing. He stared straight ahead, as if into oblivion, eyes shiny and blank. His
grave face was beaded with sweat and tanned red, as though sunburned, lips and mouth as dry as fresh
sand paper. His clothes were stained with yellow puke, smelling of restroom-floor urine. He trembled, soul
sick, over and over picturing that ‘vent.’ Its sounds. That wicked stench – like something diseased that had
been burned. He pondered the ‘scenes’ from the television screens, his phone. Their positioning, their
perspective, points of view. Almost as if...

     His attention was suddenly arrested by the small square video monitor mounted upon his front mid-
console, a multi-surveillance camera that allowed Nick to view his unsuspecting security guards on each of
their job sites. The monitor, which was soundless and displayed black and white images, was presently
viewing a young guard nodding off at a front desk.

     Then an image flickered and flashed on the screen. Abrupt footage, and it was eventually solely
displayed on the monitor. Soundless, colorless. Reminiscent to a foreign independent movie or a student
film, but not.

     So not.        

     A swarm of ‘bees.’ Hundreds, close up, resembling a sort of dark king-size blanket, or an endless
avalanche of giant ‘live’ coffee beans. There were heads - ‘people’ heads - amongst this swarm, mouths
agape, drooling thick threads of saliva, zombie-like/pupil-less eyes as bulgy and bright white as golf balls,
the blanket of bees outlining the puffy, swollen human faces to where the entire bodies were covered,
including their hair, and this grotesque, crude scene made Nick’s scalp itch as he trembled with iciness.
He gawked even more when he saw a thick hairy tarantula crawl out nonchalantly from one of the people’s
mouths.

     The screen abruptly returned to the sleeping security guard (awakened by a displeased supervisor).

     Nick winced and wailed, a combined shrill of queasiness and insanity, back-handing the monitor
reflexively, knocking it to the floor. “The **** is going on?!” He buried his sweat matted head into his hands,
his gut riding kayak waves.

     The car’s radio frequency was suddenly overtaken by static, the ESPN hosts gradually replaced with
drones of multiple screams and moans. Eerily distant, raspy, bitter, making the fine hairs on the back of
Nick’s neck go up, so prickly that he put his hand there to console them, like soothing a jumpy pet.

     In the midst of the screams, there was that distinct slow groaning voice.

     “Nickadopolous.”

     Again that strange word, sprouting a sense of familiarity in Nick. 'Nickadopolous.'

     Nick clicked off the radio.

     But the slow groaning voice continued, this time from a two-way ‘walkie-talkie’ Motorola radio (used to
contact his field supervisors) seated in a multi-charger on the passenger floor, turned on.  

     “Don’t come here."

     The voice was without static, crisp and clear.

     Nick grabbed the radio, stared at it, hearing “Don’t come here.”

     He gulped loudly, as if swallowing an entire orange, turning off the radio, his eyes flashed with fear.

     Don’t come here playing over and over in his head.

     Unlike his ‘enlightened’ mother, Nick never believed in things...beyond. But from what he’d been
experiencing this evening, from what he had not only seen and heard, but felt, smelled and almost tasted,
he was convinced of one thing: this voice that was trying to warn him was indeed...beyond.

     His cell beeped a text message. He checked it. Blaster.

     On like Kong!

     He sat there, staring silently at a passing train, the horn a deafening roar. Everything slowed in his
mind, minute details popping to life.

     He observed the trains’ blurred series of freight cars like an autistic child. Streaks of red.

     Streaks of rage. Streaks of chaos.

     Resentment. Infidelity.   

     He thought about his own train...and cringed. Brought back to that horrifying restroom vent, much as a
Pavlovian dog brought back to a patterned behavior by the sound of a ringing bell. Brought back to that...
being.  

     C’mon Nick, he told himself. Get off this train...

     Let it go.

     His mother told him this recently, during his last visit with her. His sweet retired mother now confined to
a wheelchair, her back finally giving out from an old injury years ago - a nasty fall down the stairs.

     One of the many injuries she had sustained at the hands of “Mr.” O’Neil, the fall being the worst.
Happened before Nick was born. Took away his unborn brother.

     ‘Let it go’ was what she recently told him, placing her aging wrinkled hands on Nick’s wet cheeks,
saddened, finally sickened by her only son’s lifelong malice toward a father he never knew. "For me” she
sobbed, embracing Nick, allowing him to gaze once more into her scarred, deformed face, hoping to
perhaps dissipate that slow red cloud on his.

     Let it go - too foreign a concept for him. Foreign as a Chinese instruction manual.

     He never understood how she could ever let it go.

     Nick took out his daughter’s picture. Thought about that gang banger’s roll-up on her.

     Come on, Nick - get off this train.

     His lips tightened, eyes squinted, Nick slightly shaking his head. He gazed at the car ceiling, releasing
a slight gasp, as if bench pressing.

     But no matter how terrifying, no matter how sobering the idea of this “one-way” train was, he couldn’t
get off. Guapo Sanchez was not getting a free pass. That piece of **** gang banger.

     I’m not gonna kill ‘em. Just...hurt ‘em. Really, really bad.

     Nick’s face hardened again into a vicious scowl, smoking rage churning inside. Setting Patty’s picture
into his glove compartment, he started his car, the engine a deep and beastly growl.

     Let's all get payback tonight.

     He then heard a noise, from behind his car. The sound of skittering feet. Nick paused a moment, shut
off the engine. Peered around to the rear right passenger side. No one there. No sounds, except singing
crickets.

     Nick’s door was suddenly swung open, the startled man grabbed abrasively by a pair of big, strong
hands.

     “GET OUT THE CAR - NOW!” a voice boomed.

     Nick was yanked from the Charger, thrown to the pavement several feet away like a rag doll.

     Nick gazed up from the ground, finding the young tall black man from the restaurant before him, beside
the car, and staring at the youngster in suspended animation, Nick swallowed painfully when he realized
his Beretta was on the passenger seat.  

     A husky, muscular dude with a line backer’s physique, the young man looked upon Nick with a grim
stony glare, brows arched. This young black man whom Nick first met two years ago, back when Nick was
aptly named ‘Mr. Hyde’...

     Nick and a patrol sergeant had arrested the youngster outside a burger joint, the (then) late teen fitting
an APB description of a drive-by shooter. Nick figured this 'alleged shooter' would likely be released,
maybe even innocent, and so rather than adding paperwork to an already exhausting evening, Nick and
the other officer opted for some fun with what they perceived as a ‘thug’ either way. Slapping on extra tight
cuffs and administering ‘brake tests’ to their unbuckled back seated guest, Nick and the grinning sergeant
topped off their savage sport by dropping their Black 'suspect' off in an all-Latino gang neighborhood,
cuffs left on.   

     Scrambling to his feet, Nick felt a spike of fear, that hole in your gut when you realize something really
awful is about to happen. Everything in slow motion, the man slamming the car door shut, determined at
preventing its driver from re-entering. Whether the man was armed or not, Nick knew he had to put him
down - hard. The ex-SEAL assumed a fighting stance; certainly not Nick’s first altercation.

     But this was different. In some deep part of Nick’s mind, alarm bells went off. Terror as sharp as a gust
of wind filled with razor blades flew through Nick as he again heard that slow groaning voice Don't come
here in his head.

     He stood there, motionless, and all that kept going through his head was, GET OUT OF THIS
PARKING LOT! GET OUT!

     I DON’T WANT TO DIE!

     Still standing beside the car, the young man prepared a lunge toward Nick.

     Then...

     A deafening explosion shook the ground and Nick recoiled, arms up to protect his face, the young
black man throttled onto the ground face first.

     A bright fireball rose over the car, spewing black smoke into the sky. The red flame collapsed on itself
with a soft Whomp. Smoke billowed from the charred skeleton of what was a moment ago Nick’s Charger.

     Nick dropped to one knee and stared, dumbstruck.

     Then he turned to the young man sprawled on his stomach before him, knocked unconscious, the man’
s back and arm on fire, and Nick immediately threw his coat over him, smothering the flames.

     Nick sank solemnly to both knees, expelling heavy breaths.

     Coughing, he gazed upon his rescuer with a kind of baffled idiotic stare, his head buzzing with mixed,
jumbled crazy upside down thoughts.

     Breaking out of his spell, he dialed 9-1-1.

                                                                             #

     Within thirty minutes the crime scene was isolated, cop cars and fire trucks cluttering Lazaro’s parking
lot, along with a gawking bewildered crowd reaching over a hundred.

     Nick stared hypnotically at the wreckage, at his twisted BBQ’d Charger, reflecting on the ‘skittering
feet’ he had heard moments before the explosion. One of Guapo’s boys, no doubt, an explosives expert,
planting his ‘toy’ beneath Nick’s car - before being spotted by the young black man.

     And the rat, Nick reasoned, was none other than trusted loyal Charon “Blaster” Freeman. The
Ferryman.   

     He lit a cigarette, shakily, still in shock, piecing together his theoretical puzzle.

     Guapo Sanchez, you sly twisted ****. Musta known I’d enlist that Blood for help after you harassed my
daughter, didn’t you? Prob'ly matched the five G’s I gave 'em, you sly sonofa****. Blaster woulda been
carne asada on a stick anyway if he followed my plan, aint that right chavo?

     Both you **** thugs setting up Mr. Hyde for the big ‘Ka-Plow.’

     But deep within the crevices of his subconscious mind, Nick knew how it would end. Inadvertently
aware that Guapo’s roll up on Patty was a pawn to have him check mated - in the name of Lucas “Popeye”
Sanchez.

     Nick had known all this, but like a hijacker on a suicide mission, or a drunk driver taking as many with
him as possible, he had been blinded by that slow red cloud.

     His cell phone vibrated from a text message, its third since the explosion. Nick checked the screen,
finding the same message repeated every ten minutes. ‘Unknown Number.'

     Nickadopolus

     That word. Nickadopolous. Again, from...that ‘voice.’ Repeated in his head over the last half hour,
circling his mind like water swirling an ever-emptying drain.

     Nickadopolous.

     He gazed at the frenzied parking lot.

     Then, like an image becoming more and more visible when wiping off a dirty window, Nick’s memory
of this word was suddenly bright and clear, as if it had been here all along, just below the surface.

     A word he first heard when he was four.  

     My nickname, Nick recollected, looking like someone awakened from a trance.

     Instantly, Nick thought about the only person in the world who gave him that name. The only memory he
had of him, rocking, cradling Nick, saying softly, ‘Nickadopolous.’ Months before that man died of a stroke.

     Nick released a short gasp. “It's...him.”

     He didn't want to believe it. He fought it. But he forced himself, conjuring every bit of conviction that his
‘enlightened’ mother had instilled in him as a kid - about things beyond.     

     His vision swam. Tears brimmed. “It's him,” he whispered.

     His phone rang. Private Number.

     Nick motioned to a uniform sergeant, an old pal, signaling that he was going to use his patrol car to sit
in. Nick took the front passenger seat, phone ringing, and taking the cigarette out his mouth, he looked at
it. Then flicked it away. He closed the door, the world and all its noise shut out completely.

     Nick answered. Listened with trepidation.

     Silence.

     “Dad!” Nick shouted.

     The world around Nick faded. For a dark moment, he stared ahead, phone plastered to his moist ear.
The silence felt thick. Nick didn't know whether to be happy, scared, a bit of both.

     “Dad, dammit, I know it's you!”

     Then, the slow moaning voice. “Nickadopolous.”

     “Nickadopolous - yea, that's right. Nickadopolous. Ha!”

     He wiped a tear that had leaked from his eye as he flushed and giggled. “I remember, pop. I
remember. Ha!”

     A brief silence, then the voice again. “Niiiiick.”

     “Yea, pop, yea. I'm here. I'm here pop. I'm here.”

     Nick's heart throbbed in his ears. He floated on a cloud. A dozen thoughts screamed through his head.

     “Niiiiiiiick...”

     Nick wiped his brow, swallowed deeply as he forced a smile, wondering if he should pursue the
conversation further. He blinked. Again.

     And then he asked, “Dad, where...where, are you?”

     A lengthy pause. Silence settled. Then the voice.

     “Don't...come here, Nicky.” The voice sounded dim and ancient. Almost Gothic.

     Nick's face totally flushed with tenseness, and yet he was not surprised at the answer. Everything was
just...confirmed.

     His eyes welled as the screams and shouts of thousands once again overtook the phone, his father,
too, wailing in agony. Nick clicked off.

     His stomach did cartwheels. Chest hit dead center with a sharp arrow of icy terror.

     The car’s police radio broke the silence, staticky at first. Then, a soft cool whisper. “You might just like
it.” Nick again heard the shouts and wails of his father. He sealed his eyes, his mouth stretched horizontally
in grimace, hands clasped tightly over his ears as he refused hearing any more.

     Releasing short breaths, Nick slowly took his hands off his ears, opened his moist eyes, an L.A.P.D.
operator now on the radio reporting a burglary.

     He sat there. Thought about it all. Overwhelmed, clutched his belly, wishing he could reach inside,
somehow massage the sickness roiling at its pit. A chill ran through him with the force of a sledge
hammer, everything tightening, knotting up. He whimpered, like a child, but couldn't help it.

     Strange, how he had always hated him. Always eclipsed by that slow red cloud every time he gazed
upon his mother’s scarred body, her facial gashes. Whenever he watched her limp from that terrible fall
that had taken his un-born brother. Always wished every unimaginable torture on that man. Always glad
that ‘great chasm’ was fixed.

     Glad no more.

     Nick examined his phone’s screen saver, fixated on it with a kind of warm elated glow. Absorbed the
view as a man gazes into the eyes and face of a radiant, unveiled bride. The wood staircase, the
mountain, the peaking sun. Uninterrupted by flickers and flashes.

     He looked out the window, to the remnants of his car. Observed the dying flames. He winced as he
remembered Patty’s photo in the glove compartment; now gone. Together with Sandra’s picture. Together
with everything else. Didn’t matter. Likely, they too were gone. Forever.

     Gone, like his unborn brother.

     Gone.

     And then, as if a trapped boy finding a door out of a dark basement, he gazed across the crowded
parking lot, to the ambulance.

     Observed the injured young black man on the gurney, a ventilation device over his ashy face. Observed
his rescuer, and Nick found himself surrendering to a strong dose of genuine glee and gratitude that
seeped past that dull, hard surface called his face like a drop of iodine spreading slowly throughout a
glass of murky water.  

     Coldness filled the hollows of Nick’s bones. Emotions from nowhere rolled up his chest, first benign,
then ferocious, refusing to wane, and he forced his numb body out of the car. Forced himself across the
parking lot, towards that van, wiping off his upper lip, his eyes glossy and wide as he watched EMT’s carry
the gurney into the back. “Waitaminute,” Nick said as he approached, breathing heavily. “Can I...I just
want...” His words were like peach pits caught in his throat.

     Slamming the back door shut, one of the medics said in a semi-cold way, toothpick sticking out his
mouth, “Gotta get goin’,” and walking to the driver door, told Nick that he may see the young man at the
hospital. That he was going to be alright.

     Nick slowly nodded in surrender, placing one shaky hand on one of the van’s back windows. He would
be at that hospital.  

     He watched as the van drove off. His only hope, his only desire, his only plea now was that this young
man, his...rescuer, had no recollection of that one ---

     “‘Scuse me,” a deep voice said from behind. Nick turned, finding a beefy black man wearing a cap -
the young man’s comrade. He was expressionless, face desolate. “He was gonna give you this earlier
when we was inside.”

     The large man’s solid stare remained fixed on Nick’s face as he handed the ex-cop a small thin
cardboard paper, Nick offering the man a warm solace nod in return. The beefy man immediately walked
away.

     Caught off guard, Nick looked at the piece of paper with a faint gleam of surprise, baffled. An invitation,
to a Sunday gathering. Nick flipped it over. Discovered a handwritten inscription beneath the address:

     All good, Mr. Hyde.  


                                             END
About Michael Lizarraga

Immersed in monster
books before he could
read, Michael Lizarraga is
a Los Angeles-based
horror/fantasy author,
magazine writer and an
old school Gothic
thriller/comic book/kung fu
flicks junkie.

A contributor for Rod
Serling Books and
Famous Monsters of
Filmland, Lizarraga’s work
has appeared in
anthologies Twisted Yarns
(Sirens Call),
Reconstructing The
Monster (Emby Press)
Tales of the Undead -
Suffer Eternal: Vol. III
(Horrified Press) and
Timeless Worlds
(Schlock!), and in
magazines The Literary
Hatchet, Bete Noire, Blood
Moon Rising, Dark Gothic
Resurrected and Drunk
Monkeys.

You can blame Rod
Serling, H.P. Lovecraft and
George A. Romero for his
weirdness.

Find out more about this Latin lunatic
at www.MichaelLizarraga.com. You
may also visit him at
LizarragasBogBlog.BlogSpot.com,
Twitter.com/MichaelOpus13 and
Facebook.com/LizarragasLair
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.