Chocolate-Covered Eyes, by Lori R. Lopez
Description: Lori R. Lopez will tingle your spine while tickling your funny bone in six peculiar tales from two of her story collections: OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES and THE MACABRE.
Can the living and the undead co-exist in peace? A zombie defender must question his principles when a hunter becomes infected by the zombie plague and threatens the boy’s mother in “Heartbeat”.
Would the tormented pet of a psycho, after witnessing countless abominations, begin to exhibit disturbing behavior? Find out in “Unleashed”.
“Beyond The Stump” is the dark harrowing tale of a young woman who must assume her mother’s role of Gatekeeper.
“Nuance” unfolds the humorously poignant Cinderfella tale of a spooky carnival and a misfit who discovers the truth behind his sorry circumstances.
“Bedeviled” reveals a trail of madness featuring a parasitic ear sprite that causes folks to go berserk and the likable loons who try to halt his wacky head trip.
In “Macabre”, a young woman confronts her darkest fears in the specter of a decrepit windmill possessed by The Night Frights.
This horror sampler is prefaced by the titular poem “Chocolate-Covered Eyes”. Beware of strangers offering candy . . .
There are monsters in the universe. One rests entombed beneath my mother’s roses. Others lurk amid my buried memories and darkest dreams. But their bodies lie beyond the stump.
I cannot comprehend what changed a harmless normal man into a beast. Perhaps insanity courses through his genes. And mine. Or was it too many problems during a broad span of years, adding up until exceeding my father’s limit?
Poverty imposes a tremendous encumbrance on a family, a ton of anxiety.
Pa snapped, a twig under pressure. I fear the same madness could sever my lucid filament and claim my logic. Or might already have.
The worst is being unaware.
I do know his rampage transformed Ma from meek to valiant. Whether the trait of protector huddles dormant in all mothers, I couldn’t guess; mine became as unfamiliar as my father.
Danger signs flickered, neon tremors of irrationality. Like a humid climate, there were subtle indications of havoc, but Mother and I neglected to see the storm’s progression. We could not forecast the cumulative upheaval that began before reaching our property.
It was a day so still, clustered leaves of nearby wrinkled groping elders seemed frozen upon a canvas or Kodak paper in anticipatory suspense. The evergreen fingers of my best and solitary companion extended nary aquiver, and my shallow pulse throbbed with expectation. The sheriff’s visit caused an atmosphere of uncertainty. I listened to the conversation, his inflection of doubt. I heard everything. Chilled to the marrow, I waited as the sheriff departed.
My parents argued. Jeanne insisted Pa rest. He’d been acting peculiar and must be sick. Clayton stumbled below my perch, a hulk of animosity, and bellowed that it stinking better stop.
“What,” my mother asked from the house, “are you talking about?”
“The questions! The inquisition! Your prying and spying!” he shouted.
Father’s fury diminished. He sagged to the ground and leaned against the trunk.
Crouched above, silent, hidden, I refused to inhale a sweet forest aroma enveloping me. Instinct cautioned this was no casual mundane matter, that something entirely uncommon would transpire.
“Clay? Are you all right?” Ma hounded him by the tree. She couldn’t help herself, couldn’t prevent the inevitable, so convinced his fit had a tangible root. Jeanne stretched a hand to feel his perspiring brow.
I stiffened. “No.” A frightened whisper.
Pa lashed at her, viciously slapped the hand away. “Quit questioning me!” Legs hugged to his chest, features plowed and furrowed, he rocked emitting pathetic whimpers.
“What’s wrong?” Mystified, offended, she tried to touch his shoulder.
“Don’t,” I murmured.
Savagely Father punched her face. She crumpled to a pile of rags. A sob escaped my lips. Horror clutched my heart as the demon’s lunatic bottomless wells discovered me.
“Come down here, Sam.” A calm enough request.
I gripped the rough resolute bole of my stable sentry.
A taut grimace. “I won’t hurt you.”
Squatting mutely in the boughs, I prayed the lower branches would break or grow limp and not support his weight.
Pa clambered into the pine. Timber cracked. Clayton grunted as he fell. Jeanne hove to dusty knees.
“Careful.” My voice was soft. I felt afraid for her, a defenseless victim in his range of violence. But I couldn’t yell. I was barely ten, a kitten up a tree. Vocal chords and emotions went numb. I sat stupefied, catatonic, dizzy with confusion.
My father had muscles that once labored to feed us, a temper which formerly raged and vented against the outside world. How did it happen Pa could suddenly roar at us like the tailgate of a truck shifted in reverse?
I had no answer then. Much older, I understand what Mother always noted: “You live on the edge, you walk a thin line.”
Between starvation and survival. Illness and health. Insanity and reason.
We cannot pre-select the situation we are born to, the life we will lead. My parents had no choice. They were following an unmapped route. Things could have been different. One chain of events connects to another. Precisely plotted directions can swerve, go north or south, from west to east.
The societies Man builds are at the core as basic and cruel, as inhuman as Nature.
Some declare that everyone is equal yet oppress the people, deprive their most important right, freedom. Or divide them into unequal groups.
Some grant charity to the needy who can qualify through a difficult process. The many who can’t are often the ones needing assistance the most.
Our case was less extreme. We had a house. Father could work. But he couldn’t stay employed.
Clayton Emmett was just plain unlucky.
A decent serious guy who didn’t drink, sooner or later bosses or coworkers pushed him too far, treated him unfair, and he lost his cool. That wasn’t his fault. I blame circumstance. Every frustration, every injustice collected, fermented, destroyed character, damaged moral fiber, and mutated my father to an unrecognizable beast.
Welfare rejected us, demanding Clay sit through a series of therapy sessions while applying for work. He said he wasn’t angry unless someone gave him an excuse. The ample-hipped paper shuffler bit her lip and blushed, then prodded Mother to find a job despite homeschooling me.
The snooty uncivil servant bureaucratically determined my handicap did not impede public-school attendance. And in these modern times, women such as Ma (married to a loser) could obtain careers. “You don’t need to be a social burden,” goaded the saccharine-smiled queen of pseudo-sincerity, jealously hoarding government funds for “the more deserving”.
Heavy cosmetics and a haughty attitude probably masked a poor self-image. I felt sorry for the lady for thinking gobs of makeup would hide a deficiency of charm and surplus bulk. From trenchant personal experience, I wished Miss Rowena Congeniality could realize how blessed she was to have physical flaws within her control.
Vehement noncompliance earned Jeanne the comment of Uncooperative. Where would I go? she howled on her child’s behalf. Back to the mercy of kids calling me names, imitating my limp, beating me up?
I’ve been a cripple since my humble origin. The right leg, shorter than the left, lopsided me — but in the pine I was perfectly level. Seated on its branches, I didn’t limp or cant.
The irony is that now I have no legs. The wretched eclipsent affliction plaguing me as a child has ceased to be a concern.
Father’s mettle kettle reached boiling point when he hit a dead end along the avenue of closed doors.
No one wanted to hire a jack-of-all-trades who could furnish no references. Gaining the repute of belligerent made it nigh as impossible as for an ex-con to receive a recommendation:
The best burglar I’ve ever had.
An excellent bank robber.
He was always on time for his crimes.
Clayton could be described as honest and reliable. Instead he was labeled a powder keg by previous employers. It was an issue of perspective, a platinum platitude, fortune-cookie gospel that one instant of aggression superseded a thousand days of joy.
“We can’t go on like this,” Mother announced, etching an invisible boundary. “There’s no food, no money. Today is Sam’s birthday. I can’t even bake a cake! Tomorrow I’ll check if the restaurant or tavern needs a waitress.”
“Are you saying I can’t support this family?” hollered Pa.
The kitchen table crashed, spilling emptiness.
“We need to eat,” Ma argued. “Do you have a better plan?”
It was the question that broke my father’s proverbial hump and propelled him on a killing spree.
Contrary to what newspaper accounts depicted, the rampage was not premeditated, an elaborate scheme. He had no plan. I found out from the sheriff Clayton drove to a highway and hypothetically reclined across the pavement, his truck positioned beside the road.
As benevolent motorists leaned over him, Pa choked them and stole their money. How much planning did that require?
My father ditched their vehicles in the woods then elicited further victims, behaving on drastic impulse. If a couple or family stopped, he pretended to be intoxicated. (This Impromptu Theory remains unverified since the killer was never taken into custody, and no eyewitnesses ever risked involvement.)
A stranger disguised as Father came home bringing sacks of groceries. The night of the murders we feasted.
Clay told Ma he did a few odd jobs in town. He informed her the diner and pub were not seeking help. Jeanne hugged him, accepted his artifice, but Pa didn’t seem himself. He wouldn’t speak to me and avoided my eyes.
It’s tough to admit someone you love and respect is capable of foul deeds. I still can’t believe my father was a serial killer, The Highwayman. Journalists predicted he would strike again, attack a trail of regions. They guessed wrong. At one location, on a single date, he throttled twenty motorists and vanished.
A deputy showed up that evening. “Routine investigation,” the uniformed man assured. “We have to comb the area, talk to residents, search for witnesses.”
Pa panicked. He drove behind the cop and must’ve honked, implying he remembered an important tip. The policeman never drew his revolver. Gray duct tape was wound around his nose and mouth, a merciless execution. Wrists handcuffed, he was crammed in the squad car headfirst, his stockinged unshod feet bizarrely elevated.
“We figured it for a drifter,” the sheriff reported the next morning, scuffing turf and needles below my roost. “Now I’m thinking it’s someone local. Given your reputation, your employment history, I’d like you to make a statement, provide an alibi. We need to narrow the list of suspects.”
A net was closing in. Pa’s desperation increased. Restraint slipped. Rancor bubbled. And we were in his path.
From the tree I watched a day-dreamt nightmare devour what was sacred, secure, precious — but could do nothing to avert the consequences.
Mother staggered to her feet, brave and defiant. She had gone down a gentle housewife and risen a female gladiator, wearing the pink welt on her jaw like war paint. “Don’t touch my baby!”
The monster swiped at her, missing. Clayton lurched after as she rushed to the house. He caught her arm, pulled Jeanne about and slapped her.
“No,” I sobbed.
“I killed them,” divulged Pa in a hollow bitter tone, “for you and Sam. The folks that deputy mentioned. I killed him too. The destruction keeps spreading. A sea of questions.”
“Why are you doing this? Are you crazy?” His uncustomarily querisome quarrelous wife hoisted her fists. He was stronger. Knuckles bashed her cheek. Ma sank to the ground. I worried she was dead.
Father climbed the tree grinning, eyes intense, hypnotic, paralyzing me like a snake. This time the branches did not succumb. I was trapped.
Revived by adrenaline, Mother dashed into the house. She hastily emerged loading a shotgun.
Assuming her husband’s obligation, volatile as a mama bear guarding her cub, my maternal savior rammed a pair of cartridges forth then decisively shut the barrels and aimed. “Leave her alone!”
Flesh tingled, a premonition of undeniable doom. Clayton hesitated. Smirking, Pa grasped my ankle. I screamed. He wrenched me loose. The shotgun blasted.
Chocolate-Covered Eyes, by Lori R. Lopez