Empire of Salt, by Weston Ochse

Hellraiser

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BIO. Weston Ochse (pronounced 'Oaks) (1965 - Present) lives in Southern Arizona with his wife, and fellow author, Yvonne Navarro, and Great Danes Pester Ghost Palm Eater and Goblin Monster Dog. For entertainment he races tarantula wasps, wrestles rattlesnakes, and bakes in the noonday sun. His work has won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for short fiction. His work has also appeared in anthologies, magazines and professional writing guides. He thinks it's damn cool that he's had stories in comic books.


Weston holds Bachelor's Degrees in American Literature and Chinese Studies from Excelsior College. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from National University. He has been to more than fifty countries and speaks Chinese with questionable authority. Weston is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a purple belt in Ryu Kempo Jujitsu and a green belt in the Hawaiian martial art of Kuai Lua.

Visit him online at www.westonochse.com

 

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The dog was diabolical. Abigail Ogletree had finally managed to pull in her favorite soap opera from a Mexican television station – it was an American soap opera, rebroadcast with Spanish voice-overs and English subtitles – and the dog wanted to steal her attention. God forbid she sit for a few quiet hours and watch the grainy lives of happier people with more interesting lives played out in her all-but-useless television. Trudie, her sassy miniature poodle, just wasn’t having it.

Abigail muted the television and jerked her head towards the kitchen. “Shush!”

The dog stopped barking and Abigail returned her attention to the television. And for the ten thousandth time she cursed her husband, Roger, for dying and leaving her in this backwater cesspool. Her television was ten years past its prime and the cable companies had long ago moved on. She was relegated to using an old antenna that kept shifting in the wind – always, it seemed, at the most inopportune times.

She could just make out a man and a woman through the ever-present snow on the television. The man was Charles Hargrove and had just recovered from a traffic accident. He had amnesia; Abigail counted that it was the third time he’d lost his memory in eleven years. The girl was Genevieve. She was his best friend’s daughter, but was pretending to have been a long time mistress, acting on a crush she’d had on Charles since she was a child.

Abigail couldn’t wait to see what would happen when Charles finally remembered who he was. Would he burn so many bridges he’d never be able to return to a normal life? Would he consummate his relationship with Genevieve, thus destroying his lifelong friendship with his best friend? Would she succeed in trying to convince him that he’d asked her to marry him, and elope to Cabo San Lucas?

Abigail had long ago given up trying to guess what would happen on the show. The story writers were too good and always kept her guessing. She shivered in anticipation, leaning forward to make out what was happening.

Charles and Genevieve were close enough to be kissing, but the distortion of the television made it questionable. She had to pay careful attention to try and discern what they were actually doing. Plus, in addition to the fact that the actors and actresses were always in a blizzard of electric snow, the soap opera had Spanish voice-overs, with English closed captioning amidst the snow which always seemed thickest at the bottom of the screen.

Trudie started to growl, deep throated and low.

Suddenly, on the television, a door opened and a man entered the picture.

Abigail covered her mouth and inhaled deeply. It was Genevieve’s father.

Charles held the girl tighter, not recognizing the man.

Trudie’s growl turned into a bark.

Abigail turned her head towards the sound for a moment, but the snowy soap stars drew her attention back to the television. But whatever had happened, she’d missed. She didn’t speak Spanish, and the text was already past. Now all she saw was a jumble of three figures wrestling in a winter storm.

Damn that dog!

She threw her remote control down on the couch hard enough that it bounced. She pushed herself to a standing position using the arm rest and slid her feet into her slippers.

“What is it, Trudie?” She shook her head and headed towards the barking dog. “Why is it that whenever I sit down to enjoy myself and leave you alone, you find it necessary to –”

The white and gray poodle barked louder now that she was in the kitchen. A man’s hand gripped her hind leg. He’d tried to crawl through the doggy door, but become wedged. At first fear leaped into her chest, but then she remembered the Klosterman Kid, who’d stayed the same four year old he was thirty years ago. More than a little slow, his grandparents kept him out back with a catcher’s mask on his face so he wouldn’t chew anything and boxing gloves on his hands so he couldn’t grab anything. It wouldn’t be the first time he got loose. But it would be the first time he tried to break into her house... or for that matter, try and get her dog.

Abigail grabbed the broom from where it leaned against the wall between the doorjamb and the refrigerator.

“Let her go you –” She refused to use the word “retard,” and instead shouted “– bastard!” She swung the broom, hitting the man in the back of his head.

The dog barked and snarled at the hand that was around her leg. She reached out to bite, but couldn’t bring herself to actually do it.

Abigail switched her grip and began to poke the Klosterman Kid on the side of the neck.

“Get out! Get out! Get out!” she screamed over and over, each time shoving the rounded wooden end into tender flesh.

Trudie broke loose and dodged behind Abigail, and took up barking even louder.

The man’s hands moved to follow, and as it did, Abigail caught a glimpse of the face. It was not the Klosterman Kid. This man, whoever he was, had a much older face, skin wrinkled and gray and green.

A hand grabbed at her foot. She stepped back, but lost her slipper in the process. He pulled it to his mouth and began to chew savagely at the furry purple and orange fabric.

Abigail broke the broom over the man’s head.

He began to hyperventilate, wheezing coming from somewhere deep in his chest.

She reached atop the refrigerator and grabbed a heavy lead crystal bowl that she’d once used for fresh fruit, when there’d been fresh fruit to be had. She brought it down on the man’s head as hard as her brittle old fingers could propel it.

The head made a hollow squishing sound, and blood oozed out of the left ear as the bowl rolled to a stop in front of the stove, none the worse for wear. The dog suddenly stopped barking.

Abigail took a step back.

And was glad she did, for the man lunged forward, hands encircling the spot where her legs had just been. She let out a little scream, terror blossoming inside her.

The creature on the floor, for it was no longer human to her, nor could it be human, gazed at her through unholy yellow eyes. Saliva that reminded her of the frothy green pollution lining the edge of the sea fell from its lips and down its chin.

She lifted the broken broom handle. Its sharp, broken end could easily pierce those eyes. Then it began wheezing louder, the sound coming faster and faster, until the sound filled the trailer. It lunged forward, pulling itself farther into the house.

Abigail lost all sense of courage. She turned and ran to the back of the trailer. Thank god Trudie was close behind because if she hadn’t come, Abigail was doubtful she’d have gone back for her precious poodle.

She hit the door to her bedroom, running as fast as her legs could carry her. It slammed open, then shut. It was on a spring hinge and more substantial than the rest of the trailer. Her Roger – before he’d died, God rest his soul – had spent a small fortune disaster-proofing the bedroom. Not in case of hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or anything like that; Roger’s greatest fear had been illegal aliens surging across the Mexican Border. So he’d built a room lined with metal, a door made of steel, and put enough weapons inside of it to obliterate Kansas.

Just as Abigail snapped the lock into place she heard a wrenching sound followed by an explosion of wood. Then the wheezing came toward the bedroom like a muffled freight train, accompanied by the pounding of the creature’s feet.

It hit the door with a clang and began to beat upon it.

Abigail found a 45 caliber pistol and crawled onto the bed. She clawed for her husband’s pillow which she’d kept in the bed ever since he’d passed and hugged it to her chest. Trudie followed and curled up in her lap. She eyed the door, her tail hugging her belly, too afraid to bark. Abigail was afraid to move.

And she’d stay that way a very long time.

 

(C)  Weston Ochse 2010


© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.