What follows is an excerpt from the seventh story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.
Ryan Not Ryan
“God, I wish this heat would break.” Jill was two days overdue. She felt huge and uncomfortable sitting wide-kneed in the lawn chair.
The back screen door opened and Danny came out onto the deck with her lemonade. The bug zapper buzzed as another mosquito died in a flash.
She took the sweating glass pressed it against her face before taking a sip. Danny sat down next to his wife, clinking the ice in his drink and scraping the aluminum chair on the deck.
“Supposed to probably this weekend,” Danny said, taking a long gulp of lemonade.
Dusk had come slowly, the sun inching its way behind the trees to the west, stretching the shadows, making them appear to be reaching straight out to envelope Jill. The sky had darkened enough for stars to begin winking on. She sipped her drink and shivered—a pleasant shiver—from the ice cold sour-sweetness washing past her lips.
Fireflies flashed around the back yard. The yard was surrounded by woods, and at this time of the evening, looked like a patchwork of blackness surrounding the property. Overhead Jill heard a bat flutter by, destination unknown.
“So it’s decided,” Danny said.
“Of course. Weeks ago,” said Jill, feeling a little defensive.
“You want our son to be named Ryan? Really?”
“There’s nothing wrong with the name.”
“I suppose it’s better than other names. Just seems like he’d be more of a Paul or Robert. Ryan just seems, I don’t know,” Danny said, trailing off.
“I didn’t say that. I just like the strong, old-fashioned names. Like Jake, or Bill.”
“Ryan is my father’s name,” Jill said, feeling her hackles raise.
“Oh, I know that.”
“And we are naming Ryan’s middle name after your Dad. I’m not complaining about the name Jesse.”
Danny fell silent. Crickets peeped loudly. Jill felt a dribble of sweat slide down her neck to between her breasts. Using the flat of her hand she pressed the fabric of her dress to blot it.
“Okay,” Danny said with finality, “Ryan it is.”
“Good. Besides, why wait until the last minute? We know it’s a boy. We’ve known for weeks.”
“Okay, okay, I get it.”
Jill’s ears caught a sound. “Shh.”
Danny looked over at her. The darkness had become so complete that Jill could barely see the quizzical look that had spread over his face. “What?”
“Shh.” Jill waved at him to not say anything. Finally she asked, “You hear that?”
Danny seemed to pause a beat, then said, “I don’t hear anything.”
Danny cocked his head, listening. “I don’t hear anything. No cars, no nothing.”
Danny fell silent, then said, “Yeah. I do hear that.”
“What are they saying?”
He paused, straining to hear. “I can’t tell.”
Jill listened intently, setting the half-full glass of lemonade on the plastic table between them. “Someone in the woods? Maybe a party?”
“I don’t smell smoke from a campfire.”
“Teenagers having a drinking party?”
“Doesn’t sound like that kind of conversation.”
Jill listened to the voices. They seemed close, yet the words were unintelligible. The voices sounded like they were all speaking at once, just out of clear earshot in the distance. In the eighteen months since they had bought the house and land they had never heard anything in the woods like these voices.
“Should we worry?”
Danny paused, then shook his head. “Nah. Maybe the breeze is carrying sound over the mountain or something.”
As Jill listened, the voices became louder, but still the words were unrecognizable. A chill washed down her spine. Something just didn’t seem right. There didn’t seem to be anything threatening in the voices and mumbled words; it sounded more like pleading.
“Let’s go inside.” Jill struggled to stand.
“The house is still like an oven.”
“We need another air conditioner.” The old air conditioner had given out with a dying clatter the night before.
“I know! I know! I already told you. Building supply ran out. They’re supposed to get more in tomorrow.”
“I’m going inside anyway,” Jill muttered.
“Okay,” Danny said, stood and followed her, retrieving her unfinished drink.
As Jill’s hand touched the sliding door, she heard the voices abruptly stop. All sound stopped, an overwhelming, suffocating silence that brought even the crickets to stop their rasping. It seemed to envelop every molecule of humid air.
Then, clear and unmistakable, a baby’s cry cut through the still air. Only the baby’s wail. Nothing else.
Jill inhaled a startled gasp. Danny stopped, looked toward the inky shadow of forest.
“That’s a baby,” he said, concerned. He took a step toward the sound.
Jill felt fear well up inside of her. “Danny, no.” She reached for his arm. “No. Come inside.”
The baby suddenly stopped bawling. Crickets began to chirp again.
“Let’s just lock the doors,” Jill said, trying to fight against the panic within her.
12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c
Kindle edition $2.99