What follows is an excerpt from the twelfth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.
Who’s a Good Boy?
A gunshot shattered the quiet. Sharon jerked her head toward the sound, almost dropping the two large food bags she was carrying to the dog pens. Three more shots fired off in quick succession. A hunter trying to hit the broadside of a barn, she thought. I just hope it’s not MY barn.
Another single gunshot rang out, louder than the others.
“That was too close,” she muttered. Two boarding dogs were yapping loudly, a beagle and a cocker spaniel, agitated by the sudden noise. They were her only boarders now that the summer season was winding down; they would be gone in a couple days.
Autumn would soon be upon her, with only her jewelry sales to get her through until spring. She had worked every evening during the hot summer months fashioning the homemade silver pieces, and she would have to travel every weekend to the different shows throughout the northeast to make her profit. Long hours. At certain shows, she could strike it big and sell most of her pieces. Other events were simply a waste of time. It was always a crapshoot.
Another gunshot, this time even closer. Sharon hurried to the barn for cover, just in case the person holding the gun ended up stupidly firing in the direction of her farm. She unbarred the big door and ducked inside. The pens were through the door on the left. Both dogs swung their heads to look at her when she joined them, dropping the bags of dog food. She kept these two in the pens closest to the door for convenience sake. The chain link pens had simple flip-up latches. She closed the door behind her and went to the first pen.
“Hiya, Roscoe! You hungry today?” The beagle grinned at her happily, yapping quickly and bouncing into the air. Sharon poured some food into the metal bowl and grabbed the water hose. Once she filled the water dish, she repeated the process with Binks, the cocker spaniel. Binks was not so active or joyful, moving slowly and silently to her dish to eat. She clearly missed her people.
Sharon spent a few minutes playing tug with Roscoe, and sat down beside Binks, stroking her fur and talking to her low and sweetly, assuring her that her people would be back tomorrow.
When both dogs seemed to settle down, she shut the pen doors. Roscoe had fallen silent, looking at her with soulful eyes. Binks had already curled up on her blanket and lay her head on her haunches. From the barn doorway, she spotted someone crossing the dirt driveway.
“You seen a dog run by here?” the man called out. He wore camo head to toe, right down to his camo cap and camo-colored boots. He held some sort of rifle.
Sharon shook her head. “Nope. You realize you’re on my property, don’t you?”
The man ignored her question, scanning the yard carefully. His dark eyes darted around. Absently, he scratched his chin with his shoulder. Sharon heard his beard brush against the stiff fabric.
“I said, you realize you’re on my property, right?”
“You the chick that sells jewelry, eh? I heard about you in town.”
Sharon ground her teeth. “Yes. I’m the chick who sells jewelry. And I would appreciate it if you’d get off my property and take that fucking gun with you. You are trespassing.”
The man glared at Sharon. “You got some mouth on you.”
“I also got a phone. To call the Sheriff if need be. Now leave.”
The man ignored her. “I was tracking a coyote or something. Killed a goat and a couple of my sheep. Over the hill at my place. I saw the fucker slink into the woods. I grabbed my gun and followed. Think I winged ‘em.”
Sharon stared steadily at the man. Finally, he lowered his rifle, pointing it to the ground.
“Look,” she said, approaching the man slowly. “I appreciate that something was killing your animals, but I’ve seen nothing, and you’ve been trespassing and shooting up my land. Please leave.”
The man tucked the rifle under his arm and stuck out his hand. “Ben. Withers.”
Sharon felt her face clench tight from reining in her anger. The last thing she needed was to get into a shouting match with a local redneck. Reluctantly, she took his hand, shook it once, let it drop.
“And you are…” he started.
“Shit, you don’t look Eye-talian. You look Swedish or something.”
“Weirdly enough I took my husband’s name when I married him.”
“Ah. I guess that explains it. Is your husband…” he looked around.
“Dead.” Sharon said it with a finality that she hoped would end the conversation.
“Listen, I’ve got chores to do, so I’ve got to get at them.”
“Okay, okay. I’m going. But like I said, I think I wounded the coyote. Just be careful when you are outside for a while. Pain can make an animal dangerous. Carry a handgun if you have one.”
“I don’t. Please leave.”
“All right. Have a nice day,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice. The man turned and crossed back across the yard and went into the woods, scanning the trees all the way. He finally disappeared into the shadows.
As she watched Withers leave, she relaxed and exhaled. This was the reason she lived this far outside of Rock Creek. She hated to mingle with assholes.
12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c
Kindle edition $2.99