Cozy up by the fire for

a short read. Feeling 

adventurous,

try When in Doubt, Kill; something a little more  scary for the season, jump to Through the Rearview.

when-in-doubt-kill-cover-1-1

When in Doubt, Kill

By Chance Nix

Emilio Cain, a bustling playboy, had but three loves: one for the drink, another for the women, and the biggest for hacking major companies for ransom. Lying out by the pool of his penthouse apartment, he wore only a red house robe and a pair of boxers, and in between his legs bobbed the head of a lovely brunette, who he didn’t concern himself with. His facial features were illuminated by a computer screen, on which his eyes roamed back and forth. His hands sped across the keyboard.

 

Emilio slammed his index finger down on the enter key and moved the small bedside table away. He ran his hands through the woman’s long silky hair. Her eyes rose to meet him, and she smiled, never ceasing in her activity. He fisted a handful of hair at the back of her head and forced her skull down into his lap at the moment of finishing. She gasped for a moment, but then relaxed, allowing him to finish.

 

The brunette stood up, wiping her mouth as he tucked himself into his boxers. His lips mouthed something inaudible, then he blew her a kiss. Smiling, she started toward the balcony door. He slapped her bare ass with the back of his hand, making her jump. A laugh escaped her, and she rubbed at her bottom, screened only by a pair of pink bikini thongs. Giggling, she disappeared into the apartment, where several  others had gathered for drinks and drugs at the expense of their host who had returned to his laptop.

 

Time went still and he felt his surroundings whirl around him. For a moment he thought he saw a small flash of light on top of a building far away, but he heard nothing. Reaching for his throat, he desperately hoped to find a hand there he could remove. Only then did a sharp, burning pain reverberate through him. A small hole pumped a warm flow of blood over his hands and down his chest.

 

God this hurts, why can’t I breathe? He asked himself. A cold feeling started at his feet and worked its way up his body. The night air was hot; he knew he shouldn’t be feeling this cold. He wanted to wrap himself in his house robe, but he couldn’t remove his hands from his neck. Sitting straight up, his knee rattled the small bedside table. Eyes wide with panic, the people in his home were so wrapped up in their partying, they didn’t notice he was in trouble.

 

Emilio tried to stand, but there was no feeling in his legs. He collapsed backward into the poolside recliner. Blood gushed out between his fingers. His mouth opened and closed, mimicking the motion of a dying fish on dry land.

 

Nine hundred meters away, Sean released the trigger of his Winchester .308, and lifted his eye from the optic scope. He didn’t wait to see if Emilio would die. He knew he would. This was not personal, so he didn’t need to watch the man suffer. Emilio Cane wasn’t an enemy or someone who had brought him harm or pain. Emilio was a number; thirty-five thousand.

 

It was the amount Sean could expect to find in his bank account in the morning. The hit was worth seventy thousand dollars, but half the money went to the company who kept Sean’s men, The Good Guys, in business. Sean checked his watch. It would take him thirty seconds to leave the rooftop. In that time, Emilio would be dead.

 

He promptly unscrewed the nut holding the twenty-inch barrel to the sniper rifle, throwing it first over the edge of the building, before pulling the barrel free from the receiver. He dropped it, along with the silencer, over the side. Sean couldn’t hear the splash from this high up but knew all three pieces would sink below the river’s surface.

 

He shoved the buttstock down a ventilation shoot. Someone might hear a bang from within the building, but no one would investigate. He then slid free the bipod, dumping it in a trash can on the tenth floor. Once he reached the third floor, he ditched the scope. He pulled the bolt from the rifle and chunked the lower receiver into a dumpster in the alley, walking out clean as he adjusted his suit.

 

At last, he kicked the bolt down a sewage drain, before climbing behind the wheel of his Aqua Blue 1967 SS Camaro. This car came with many features, but the one he liked the most was the tall blonde sitting patiently in the passenger seat. Domino Demetri smiled at him, and he returned it.

 

“You kept me waiting,” she said with a touch of Scandinavian to her accent.

 

“Sorry love, but the view would take anyone’s breath away.” Sean scanned himself in the mirror. His heart rate was at the optimal level; his pupils were the perfect diameter. He fixed his red tie and straightened his collar.

 

“I’m sure it will,” she said. Her eyes glanced down as he adjusted his wrist watch. “You are the only man I know who still wears a watch. Why not just use a phone like everyone else?”

 

“I like the watch. I had it made especially for me. Shall we go?” he asked, casting an eye over her attire. He approved whole-heartily and wanted nothing more than to remove her blue dress.

 

Sean sped away from the resort, stopping only for a moment to allow several police cars to pass with their lights flashing and their sirens screaming. A small grin came to the corner of his mouth. Domino watched the cars going by like a child watching a parade.

 

“I wonder what happened,” she said.

 

“Who knows? Hope it’s not too bad.” But Sean knew where they were heading, and he knew how bad it was. The only thing was he didn’t care. Sean was thirty-five thousand dollars richer and ready for a good night. The dead didn’t trouble him. He had given up those demons a long time ago, on a far-off battlefield in Iraq, and his only concern was Domino.

 

They pulled up to a large luxurious hotel, Count Dantes. The walls were covered in bright lights, causing the night to fade into a faux day. Sean parked the Camaro in the parking lot across the street from the hotel and walked around to let Domino out. He took her hand as she stepped out of the car, fearing the high heels would buckle under her weight.

 

“Why not use valet?” She asked.

 

“Because the parking lot is right here. We don’t have to walk far,” Sean said. He closed the passenger door behind her, and the two started through the parking lot filling with cars. The party was in the main ball, and all the richest men and women in the hotel would be there. Sean hoped it would impress the six-foot-tall Domino. He paused before stepping out into the street.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked with real concern on her face. Standing next to the Hotel Dantes, with windows boarded up and pieces of walls crumbling down, lingered a dark, retired building. Sean wondered why someone hadn’t destroyed the building. He felt a tugging at his side and looked down to find a well-manicured hand in his. He smiled at Domino, and the two hurried across the street toward the funneling crowd of people heading toward the same party.

 

Sean and Domino stepped out of the elevator on the twelfth floor. Beaming with beautiful decorations and glamorous people, the ballroom stretched across from the elevator, and Sean stopped before going in. The last time he had been in such a magnificent place was in Iraq when he visited Saddam Hussain’s palace. Men strolled about the ballroom with beautiful women clinging to their arms, and Sean and Domino snickered, wondering who had brought their wives, who brought their girlfriend, and which one brought a hooker. He ordered a glass of Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey for himself with three ice cubes and champagne for Domino.

 

Domino took the tall glass from the waiter and eyed the party. Sean sipped from his whiskey and watched only Domino. He didn’t care about all the businessmen and politicians. He cared only about her. Her beauty was stunning, overshadowing all the other women, and the hours seemed to fly by when she was at his side. Sean followed Domino out onto the balcony, where they were alone. It was how he preferred it.

 

Domino leaned against the cement railing, and Sean moved up behind her, wrapping himself around her bare arms. Domino leaned back and kissed him. Sean was happy.

 

“What do we do after this?” she asked.

 

“We can go back to the hotel.” She rolled her eyes at his seductive smile.

 

“No, now that your job is finished, where do we go from here?”

 

“Wherever we want. I have already informed my employer that tonight was to be the last job assignment for me. I am retired. So, we can go wherever we want, as long as you go with me, I don’t care,” Sean said. Domino turned around and hugged him, planting a large kiss upon his lips. His hands glided over her shoulders and down her arms, warm and welcoming. She leaned in and kissed him hard; her tongue danced past his lips, entangling with his own.

 

“Maybe we can go somewhere cold? Somewhere where they have skiing. I miss skiing.” Domino said.

 

“Then we’ll go skiing.” He returned to her lips. There was a clearing of a throat that spoiled their kiss, and they looked back to the door leading into the party. A waiter in a white coat stood with a silver tray, and upon the tray was a small piece of paper.

 

“For the Gentleman,” said the waiter. Domino looked at Sean who mimicked her look of confusion. Domino retrieved the piece of paper off the tray, and the waiter disappeared. She read it and handed it over to Sean. Sean glanced over the writing before crumbling the paper.

 

“Who is that from?” Domino asked.

 

“I guess I will find out. Someone wants to meet me at the bar.”

 

“Well, while you do that, I think I will go find the little girl’s room,” Domino said. The two shared one more embrace, then walked back into the party hand in hand. Sean didn’t want to release her. She was too beautiful, and he feared if she walked away from him, someone else might steal her away. At last, he freed his hand from hers, and the two parted.

 

Sean cut through the dance floor, side stepping couples, and stood at the counter of the bar. He ordered another Tullamore D.E.W. whiskey with three ice cubes. The bartender mistakenly placed a fourth ice cube in the glass. Sean didn’t wait for him to turn around before retrieving the extra cube of ice and tossing it into the sink behind the bar. Too many ice cubes watered down the whiskey, not enough caused it not to chill properly, and so for Sean, three ice cubes wasn’t only the perfect amount, it was the only amount.

 

There came a clicking which ticked at his ears, and he turned to find a man sitting at the bar, tapping a small silver ring against a glass half full of bourbon. The man was looking at Sean, but Sean didn’t recognize the man.

 

“Can I help you fella?” Sean asked.

 

“No, no.” The man shook his head and sipped from his glass. “I don’t have no business with you, Sean Bloch.”

 

The man was now smiling. Sean was not. He wanted to punch the man, but there were too many people in the party, and he didn’t like to draw attention to himself.

 

“How do you know my name?” Sean asked. The man drank his bourbon and asked for a second one. Sean looked for Domino, expecting to see her emerge from around the corner. Two women appeared, but neither were Domino.

 

“Come, have a conversation with me,” said the short, round man. Two more men stepped up to the bar. Each wore the same identical ring.

 

“Nice rings. Glad they recognize your marriage in this country,” Sean said and downed his whiskey in one hard gulp. The liquor burned going down, but the hate inside him overpowered the urge to grimace. One of the large men smirked. Sean looked back at the restroom hallway and was glad not to see Domino. “Let’s do this somewhere else.”

 

Sean followed one of the large men through a door leading into a stairway as the other two trailed behind. He knew what was going to happen; the three men were here to kill him, plain and simple. Sean had been in the business of death since he was eighteen years old and could sense when it was going to happen. He was ready to die. He had been for all his adult life, but this didn’t mean he was going to die easily.

 

If these men wanted to kill Sean Bloch, they would have to work for it, and he was sure to make them work for it. Sean kicked the brute of a man in front of him who tumbled down the stairs. Before the others could react, he punched the short man in the nose, who stumbled back into the large man. Sean bound down the stairs.

 

A quick kick to the ribs dropped the blond hair giant to the bottom of the stairs. Sean vaulted over him, turned the railing, and quickly shuffled down more steps. He knew the men wouldn’t risk firing their guns if they had any.

 

“Sean.” Her voice echoed, followed by a scream, stopping him. He had the chance to get out, but they would hurt her, and he couldn’t allow that. Sean had made it a rule never to have anything that could make him vulnerable. Now he was breaking his rules for her, but he would break all the rules for her. She had seen him leave with the three men. Sean kicked himself, now she was in danger.

 

The three men gathered at the top of the stairway. The little man had Domino by the hair and held a knife to her throat. She was crying, wincing in pain each time he pulled at her hair. Sean held his wrists out to be bound, and the two larger men descended the steps. The Brute with the bruised ribs flashed a grin of yellow teeth moments before knocking the sense out of Sean with a pistol. Her screams faded along with his consciousness.

 

Time and worry seemed adrift until a punch snapped his head back and returned him to reality. His vision was blurry, and a lump developed rapidly on his chin. Sean Bloch pulled at the restraints tying him securely to a chair. Another blow brought blood from his lip, trickling down his chin, but Sean only smiled. The hulking brute cracked his knuckles and circled the bounded man.

 

“How’s the ribs?” Sean asked. The brute laughed and punched him again. “That good?”

 

The back of the man’s hand raked across Sean’s face, whipping his head to the side. A small laceration opened at the corner of Sean’s eye.

 

“If you are going to kill me, get on with it. Your smell is more assaulting than your punches,” Sean said. There was a touch of laughter behind his words and the brute slugged him again. Sean rotated his stiffening jaw as he noticed the name tag on the brute’s mechanic shirt. “Your name’s Bruce?”

 

The towering man nodded his head.

 

“Great, I’m getting punched by a guy named Bruce. You gotta be kidding me.”

 

Sean struggled against the ropes binding him, and Bruce laughed at these failed attempts. A distant scream brought forth only by the throat of a female put an end to Sean’s humor, causing him to fervently study the dank room.

 

The scream had come from the door in front of him. Bruce was amused as if he was on the inside of a joke. Sean gritted his teeth and struggled, but Bruce dropped his fist into Sean’s chest, making him choke for air. His eyes burned with repulsion for the man standing between him that door. The screams from the other room reached a deafening pitch. Sean feared it was Domino’s screams.

 

She was stunning, and any harm to her would be a crime against nature. Sean could imagine what was happening and he didn’t like the pictures racing through his mind. The next punch didn’t faze him. The woman’s scream went as loud as it could and then tapered off. Bruce’s smile didn’t fade; it only widened from ear to ear as her screams turned to silence.

 

“Not laughing now, Misfit,” Bruce spoke with a deep Russian accent, confirming Sean’s suspicions of the man.

 

“How do you know my call name?”

 

“Big bad mercenary. You don’t know shit,” the Russian spat on him. “I thought you American Marines were tougher than this.”

 

“Just wait.” Bruce hit Sean in the stomach, buckling him over into the fetal position. Sean cleared his throat and relaxed his breathing. “You know me but who are you?”

 

“The man who will kill you.” Bruce snarled, pulling a straight razor which glimmered in the dull light above. Sean eased back in his chair as the razor inched toward his neck. A trickle of sweat rolled down his cheek, caressing over his eye, and stopping at an upturned grin. Bruce, startled and surprised, had no time to react. The dangerous man, who was bound to a chair and at his mercy, now was free and coming at him.

 

There was a snippet of pain. Bruce stumbled as Sean shook the ropes from his wrists. A small, one-inch blade concealed in his wristwatch freed the ropes from around his legs. Something warm touched Bruce’s chest; the small inch blade opened a deep laceration across his throat. Sean eased from the chair. Bruce swallowed like a sea creature, but no air entered, and a kick to the knee forced him to the ground. A stabbing to the temple ended his life.

 

Sean stepped over him and pressed a button on his wristwatch. The small blade zipped back inside. Using much grit, he pushed open the battleship-like door. A wave of heat washed over him, forcing him to turn away. Allowing the heat to subside, Sean entered the identical room where a man dressed in black rushed at him from the shadows with a double-edged knife. Sean pivoted, caught the man’s outstretched arm, and tossed him to the floor. He knocked the knife away and yanked at the man’s throat, keeping a tight grip.

 

The darkly dressed man clawed unsuccessfully at the tight hold around his neck. With a sweeping leg, Sean knocked him off his feet and bashed his head against the hard floor until he fell unconscious. Shadows concealed the abandoned room, and he forced his eyes to adjust until he saw her there. The fight left him.

 

Domino’s smoldering flesh unhinged him. Gray ashy chains bound her hands to the ceiling, and her head draped forward. Someone had cut off her clothes, leaving small lacerations at various spots on her body. He sank to his knees in front of the woman he loved. Tears swelled in his eyes, blurring his vision, and he couldn’t catch his breath.

 

The flesh around her wrists and ankles were charred black. In several sections, her skin peeled away or turned the reddish color of the muscle. Sean touched her and retracted his hand as if something snapped at his finger. She was hot to the touch and at her feet rested a blow torch.

 

He unleashed a terrifying war cry, snatched the man’s head with hatred pulsating through his hands, and slammed it against the floor. The man’s eyes opened. He was groggy but knew who towered over him. He tried to pull at the hands which clinched his hair, but Sean slammed his head back into the concrete once more.

 

Sean’s hot breath stung at his eyes as a roar assaulted his face. There came a blinding light; the last thing he saw as the blow torch took his sight. The man screamed while his face melted. He continued to scream until a quick pushing of one hand and a pulling of the other snapped his neck. The room sat in silence aside from Sean’s breathing.

 

He didn’t know where to go or what to do until a buzzing from within the man’s pocket showed him the way. Sean fished out a cell phone. A red alarm flashed on the touch screen, reading, ‘Time is up, get out.’

 

Below this was a countdown clock with three minutes left. Sean wanted to free Domino, take her body with him, but there was no time. He felt sorry for her, wishing she had never met him. He wanted to be with her, was ready to give up his lifestyle for her, and now she was dead because of him, because of his lifestyle.

 

Two minutes and thirty seconds left. Sean wanted to kiss her, but her lips were seared away. He ran for a door on the opposite side of the room. The killing of the two men was pleasant to Sean, but he was now blood drunk and wanted more. The door was metal and at first, wouldn’t budge. With extra force from his shoulder, the door moaned, then slid open, scratching at the floor beneath.

 

The cold night air was refreshing, and the waves crashing against the rocks below echoed up the side of the ten story building. His head spun looking over the side at the startling height. Sean pushed away from the ledge, running to the other side of the roof to find only the street below. The nearby lights from the Hotel Dantes allowed Sean to see the men running out into the street. Most of the men were unrecognizable to him, but the short man from the bar was among them, as well as the other large brute from the stairwell. The sight of these two enraged him, but it was a third man who sank his heart with betrayal.

 

Sean had recruited him into The Good Guys, helped train him in the ways of being a mercenary, and even risked his life for the man he nicknamed Pyro. A former Navy Seal demolitionist, the man was deadly with explosions and fire. Sean couldn’t understand why a man he had freed from the trappings of civilian life would betray him. Why did he kill Domino, she wasn’t a part of their world? Sean wanted a rifle to snipe off each man as they headed for their cars.

 

The men ran across the street toward the parking lot. The first-floor windows exploded outwards, shaking the building beneath. The destruction plastered an air of enthusiasm among the thugs. The second level blew out as the clock ticked down. There was no time to forge a plan, and with each passing second, Pyro was slipping from his clutches.

 

A cliff on one side of the building and the street on the other.

 

Ten seconds, nine seconds, eight seconds.

 

Sean ran across the roof. He had only one chance to survive.

 

Seven seconds, six seconds, five seconds.

 

Sean leaped through the air. His hatred of heights did little to stop his self-survival instinct. The entire building erupted with a shockwave as he reached for the fire escape of the Hotel Dantes. The heat nipped at his back and for a moment, he feared he wouldn’t reach the railing.

 

Sean cleared it, slamming against the brick wall as pieces of the dark rubble peppered him from behind. He tried to shield himself from the debris, and as the heat intensified, he hurried down the first few steps of the metal fire escape. The structure moaned, and a secondary explosion shook the framework.

 

The escaping men climbed into different colored Mustangs as the building burned. Sean cleared the ninth, eighth, and seventh-floor stairs. The structure groaned, and the bolts tore from the mortar. A flame leaped out at Sean, and he dove to the side to avoid it. There was a jolt, a pitch forward, and a momentary feeling of weightlessness before the force of gravity pulled at him. He clenched the metal railing, slightly hot from the heat, as the sixth and seventh-floor fire escape broke free from the wall, swinging outwards over the vast space between the buildings.

 

Sean’s eyes widened as the ground sucked away from him. Fear froze his arms, and he clung to the railing as tight as he could. He didn’t want to move. The seventh-floor portion of the fire escape released into the burning building, but it wouldn’t hold for long. Sean glanced at the parking lot. Pyro was riding in the passenger seat of a red Mustang. His blond hair flapped in the wind. Small rhythmic flames danced in waves, reflecting off the center of his irises.

 

He was smiling at the destruction of the building, at the artwork done by his hands. The cars slowly pulled away from the scene of the crime as the fire escape pulled free from the wall. Sean swung himself over to the fifth landing. The structure above him roared as it came off the wall and crashed into itself.

 

The fire escape shook and cried, chasing after him. With each flight of stairs he threw himself down, the fire escape followed. The heat from above intensified and before the third floor could crumble, Sean leapt over the second-floor railing. His stomach crawled into his throat as he sank helplessly for a single story until his hands smacked the warm metal of the first-floor railing.

 

Sean released his hold and dropped to the ground below. His years of training was as natural to him as breathing, and as his feet hit the hard concrete below, his knees buckled. He dropped down and touched the ground in order not to break his legs from the impact.

 

Sean emerged out of the alley as the fire escape smashed behind him. People from the Hotel Dantes ran out to see the old abandon building burning to the ground. The fire department had arrived and were spraying water on the flames. Sean walked through the commotion of the gathering crowd and into the parking lot.

 

He located his custom-built Camaro SS and slid behind the wheel. Under the dashboard, he pulled out a Colt 1911 .45 caliber pistol from a built-in holster and ensured there was a round in the chamber. The Camaro thundered as he spun out, heading in the direction of the Mustangs. Once he was beyond the firefighters, the crowd, and most importantly the cops, he pressed firmly on the gas, digging the tires into the street, and propelling down the road.

 

He revved up behind the first Mustang, an off green color, only recognizing one of the three men inside. Sean eased up next to the driver’s side door and spotted the tiny man from the bar behind the wheel. The tiny man unwittingly nodded at Sean, then shook when two shots rang out from within Sean’s Camaro. The pistol’s flash blinded the tiny driver before the bullet struck him in the head. His body slumped, leaving his two passengers helpless as the car soared over a cliff to a watery grave below.

 

At the sound of gunfire, Pyro glimpsed the green car plummeting over the side and laughed.

 

“Step on it,” he said to the driver of the red Mustang. They pulled away, leaving behind their comrades in the blue Mustang. As Sean tried to pass it, the blue Mustang swerved into his car, scratching the paint and tearing into its body. Sean’s car weaved onto the shoulder, but he managed to hold tight to the wheel. The passenger in the backseat readied an Israeli submachine gun Uzi. The Camaro had bulletproof windows, but his passenger window was down, so thinking fast, Sean hit the brakes before the Uzi came to life.

 

Bullets struck the front of the Camaro, and Sean eased back behind the blue Mustang. The driver shouted and screamed as the back passenger shot through their rear window. Glass and bullets raced at Sean, but not even the .45 caliber bullets could penetrate the windshield of the Camaro.

 

Sean pressed a button on the control panel under his radio and a panel on the hood separated as a mini-gun rose from within. He flipped the top of the gear shift to reveal a red button and lined up the front of his car with the rear of the blue mustang. There was no sight post for Sean to aim with, but he didn’t need it at this close of range. He pressed the red button with his thumb, and the mini-gun roared into action. The men in the blue car mouthed their regrets before their car crumbled and ripped apart by 7.62 x 51 caliber rounds. Unexpectedly, the blue Mustang exploded, and he swerved hard to avoid the wreckage.

 

Pieces of metal bounced off his hood, but once the smoke cleared, Sean saw the Red Mustang had gained a sizeable lead. He dropped the hammer, and the Camaro thundered down the road. Other cars hurried to get out of his way. The red Mustang turned off on a side road trying to lose him, but Sean spun the wheel, making the turn in time. Gravel kicked up as he skid across the shoulder of the road and tried to remain focused. A troubling thought invaded his mind, What if Pyro calls ahead and tells whoever he’s working for that he’s still alive?

 

No, a small voice registered with him. Pyro is too prideful to make that call. He would want to circle back around and finish the job himself.

 

The red Mustang turned right, and Sean followed a hundred yards behind. The Mustang headed for town, cutting up alleys, and speeding past pedestrians. Sean came within ten yards before pressing down on the red button again.

 

The mini-gun flinched but failed to fire. A piece of the blue Mustang jammed into the mini-gun, causing it to malfunction. Sean flipped the switch on the control panel, and the mini-gun returned to its hiding place. He stuck his .45 out the window and fired at the Mustang. Rounds bounced off the rear, and Pyro extended his middle finger out the passenger side.

 

The driver brought the Mustang up on the sidewalk, not caring to avoid the people sitting out at restaurants or walking from store to store. They dove out of the way, but the side mirror of the Mustang caught one man in the arm, spinning him around, and slamming him to the ground. Sean followed the car down an alley and narrowly missed a couple trying to run across the street. They came out onto the freeway and Sean managed to strike the Mustang’s bumper twice.

 

Sean edged up, but the Mustang’s driver kept veering over, preventing him from pulling past. Sean shot at the car again, but the bullets couldn’t penetrate. Pyro nervously flicked the lid of a zippo lighter, open then close, open then close, as he tapped his shoes on the floorboard.

 

“Go faster,” He screamed at the driver.

 

“I’m trying, I’m trying,” The man replied. Pyro snarled at the man in disgust and then shot him in the side of the head. The sound was earsplitting, but Pyro didn’t bother himself with the noise. He pushed the man out the door and slid behind the steering wheel. Sean didn’t avoid the tumbling man. As the Camaro hit the man like a speed bump, the accumulation of guts and blood caused the tires to spin out.

 

He cranked the wheel, saving the car from the edge of the cliff. Dust blinded him and the Mustang disappeared. Sean wrenched the steering wheel back the other way and kept the car under his control. He hurdled down the freeway, trying to catch up, and as he came over a hill, he spotted the Mustang turning down a road leading into the forest. Pyro eyed the reflection in his rearview mirror and sighed heavily at the presence of Sean.

 

The impact was jolting, the Mustang skirted across the side of the road, trying to correct itself. It launched into the air, toppled over and rolled several yards before gliding head first into a tree. The Camaro screeched to a stop, and Sean ejected the used clip from his 1911 pistol and inserted a fresh one. He scrambled out around the car, keeping an eye on the upside-down Mustang.

 

A bullet whizzed by his ear. Sean couldn’t see Pyro, but the muzzle flash came from the backside of the Mustang. The bulletproof windows had been busted out from the accident, and the strong repugnant odor of gasoline wafted in the air. Sean returned fire but knew he wasn’t aiming at Pyro, only the vicinity of his old comrade.

 

An object flew at Sean, and at once he knew it was Pyro’s gun. He had run out of bullets. Footsteps trampled across broken twinges and leaves, heading deeper into the woods. A light appeared in the distance and Sean fired at it. With one bullet, there came a loud wail, and more twigs breaking.

 

Sean dodged through trees, rushing along, coming across a broken cellphone, and realized Pyro was getting desperate. A branch came out of nowhere, striking Sean in the chest, and he fell hard. His pistol flew off into the darkness, and Pyro ran past, heading back to the road. Sean climbed to his feet and checked for his gun. He couldn’t see it and had no time to look for it.

 

Pyro headed for the Camaro with Sean tight on his tail. Click… click… click. Pyro’s lighter opened and closed nervously as he made his way through the dark woods. He was rounding the wreckage as Sean tackled him, and the two men slammed into the overturned mustang. Pyro wheeled around with an elbow, catching Sean in the shoulder.

 

The two exchange punches until Pyro returned with an up-thrust of his knee into Sean’s mid-section, dropping him to the ground.

 

“Damn, you just don’t die, do you?” Pyro said, kicking Sean in the head. Despite the world spinning around him, Sean could still make out the annoying high pitch rodent like squeal of Pyro’s laughter. “Oh, didn’t see that coming, did you?”

 

Sean rolled over; he hurt bad but knew he wasn’t out of the fight. His hand settled painfully on shards of glass, which allowed the sting of gasoline to penetrate the tiny slices. Another kick came to his midsection, and he doubled over. Pyro danced around him, kicking him at will, until Sean blocked a kick to the face and jerked Pyro off his feet.

 

Pyro’s lighter, his security blanket, flew from his hand and in that moment, Sean ceased to matter. He folded to the ground hard, patting insistently through the glass to find his lighter. Sean bounced to his feet as Pyro scurried across the pavement. Sean brought his heel down onto the ankle of Pyro, there was a snap, followed by a cry of pain.

 

Pyro kicked at Sean, but Sean jumped away from the outstretched leg. Pyro desperately reached for his lighter but was stopped by Sean stepping on his wrist. His face twisted around as Sean’s knee pressed hard into the side of his neck. The lacerations on his skin burned and there was nothing he could do to avoid sucking in gas fumes.

 

“Why did you do this?” Sean demanded, speckles of spit flinging down on Pyro’s face.

 

“Orders man, orders.”

 

“Whose orders?” Sean pressed firmer into Pyro’s neck.

 

“Jekyll’s.” The word harsly escaped over blood-stained teeth, sending Sean into a rage as he drove his fist into Pyro’s cheek.

 

“Bullshit.” Sean couldn’t allow himself to hear the name. “Who gave the order?”

 

“It was Jekyll, man. He gave the order. He needed you snuffed out.”

 

“Lawrence is my best friend. We served in Fallujah together. He would never do this.”

 

“It was a debt to settle for the organization.”

 

“What organization? What are you talking about?”

 

“Your too stupid, you don’t see things right in front of you.” Pyro held up his hand where a small silver ring decorated his pinky finger, and in the center, was a tiny blue skull with ruby eyes. “What organization?”

 

Sean brought up Pyro’s arm and slammed it down on his knee, breaking it in half. Pyro didn’t scream out. He flinched, but this was the only reaction Sean would get out of him. Sean released Pyro, and climbed to his feet.

 

“We will kill you, Misfit.”

 

“The name is Sean Bloch. And don’t worry, old friend. Where you are going, you won’t be lonely for long.” Sean walked away from Pyro allowing him to reach for his lighter, only to find it gone. The scratching of the flint wheel which sparked the wick was a familiar sound to Pyro’s ears, like that of a baby’s cry to its mother. “Do you smell gas?”

 

Sean tossed the lighter behind him. Pyro moaned as the flames engulfed him, but when the heat sucked the oxygen from his lungs, he made no sound at all. The fire, his old trusted friend, the tool of his occupation, the thing he once believed to be the master of, licked at his flesh until he was no more.

 

Sean brushed himself off before climbing into the Camaro and sped down the freeway, returning to his old life, gunning for his old friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

clear glass with dew small

Through the Rearview

By Chance Nix

 

The face looking back at Norma Jean DeSalvo appeared foreign to her. The rear view mirror was slightly tilted, causing an unnerving feeling deep within her. Decrepit crow’s feet clawed their way out from the sides of her eyes, red veins streaked across the whites of her eyeballs, and a pair of bags weighed down the surrounding skin. An alarming revelation was made clear to her.

 

Those are my mother’s eyes, Norma thought.

 

She stretched back the skin, in hopes of smoothing out the wrinkles, but upon release, the aged looked flooded her face like a nightmare. A thickening sadness settled in the bowels of her stomach. It was in this moment she accepted her twenties were long gone and fifty was fast approaching.

 

Where has my life gone? She wondered.

 

Norma leaned forward and glanced up at the sky through the front windshield of her blue 1957 Bel-air. The orange haze of the sun was completing its descent, trailed by a fiery sky, and perpetual darkness. Norma flicked the silver headlight switch, illuminating the concrete wall of the parking garage. As she reversed, the row of cars behind her crept eerily closer.

 

Norma slammed on the brakes. Lowering her head and closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath to settle herself. Her hand automatically traced her neckline until she found the small silver crucifix hanging from a thin silver chain. The Lord’s Prayer flowed from her lips without any conscious help from Norma.

 

“Our father, who art in Heaven…”

 

Stop this Norma. Doctor Loomis wouldn’t like you doing this to yourself. The cars were not approaching you. You were reversing towards them.

 

Norma pried open her eyes and looked around for the British voice interrupting her prayer. She exhaled, fighting back the urge to shake all over. Her eyes locked on the eyes in the rear view mirror and she spoke clear and firm.

 

“Norma, the voices do not control the situation. If you want to pray to help you, go ahead. The voices are not real.” She spoke the words but they were not hers. Norma simply repeated what Doctor Loomis had told her several times during their sessions. Keeping her attention on the cars behind her, Norma spun the wheel and finished backing out.

 

Despite the fact the top floor was full of cars, a strange and uneasy feeling of abandonment and loneliness overwhelmed her. Dark shadows stretched along the hot pavement, racing towards the classic Chevy that once belonged to Norma’s father.

 

Thoughts of her father came flooding in. Norma, you don’t know how hot Texas can get until you go without air-conditioning in your car, he would say. The memory of his voice was steady and comforting, bringing a smile to her face. She switched the air-conditioning to high. It took a moment but eventually freezing air flowed from two small vents below the radio, sending a cold yet pleasant chill down her back. Shifting into drive, the massive metal car eased forward.

 

An object, green and rusty, moved into her path. Norma slammed on the brakes, bringing the enormous car to a sudden halt. The weight of the Bel Air gave Norma the sense the car wanted to flip over. The restraints clutched at Norma’s body and then she slammed back against the seat. The rusty green car backed out as if Norma had not been moving at all.

 

How can you not see me coming your way? Norma thought. The car was old and beaten up. Norma couldn’t look away from the sharp tail fins sticking out the back like fangs from a vampire’s mouth. Norma knew the car without having to search her brain for it – 1959 El Camino. It was an ugly car and came to a stop, creating an awkward situation of who should go and who should stay.

 

Irritation scratched at her flesh. She needed to get out of the parking garage before her anxiety went into overdrive. The sunlight beaming off the chrome bumper of the El Camino blinded Norma, causing her to roll her eyes, and she sped off around the atrocity of a vehicle. A large green sign pointed the way to the exit. She came to the end of the row, gently applied her brakes…

 

The El Camino appeared in her rearview mirror, approaching fast. Why are they following me? Norma wondered.

 

Don’t be so daft, Norma. He is probably leaving the doctor’s office too. This is the way to the exit.

 

Norma took a breath. The voice was right. There was nothing to be paranoid about. Norma turned and drove past another row of cars. She then preceded to the first of the three toll booths. Norma paid the lady at the booth without looking at her. The fear of human interaction nipped at Norma and she figured if she didn’t look, her mind would seize up with terror.

 

The gate arm rose, allowing Norma to pull out onto the street.

 

The green El Camino pulled up to the third of the three booths. Norma tried to see who was sitting behind the wheel of the ugly car, but the toll booth blocked her vision. Norma shrugged, shaking the eerie feeling from her spine, and drove.

 

The road wound to the left before straightening back out. After a quarter of a mile, Norma came to a stop sign. She checked both directions ensuring they were clear from oncoming traffic. The El Camino took shape from around the curve and its headlights stared at Norma like the eyes of a large serpent.

 

Norma spun the wheel to the right and applied too much pressure to the gas pedal, causing the tires to skid across the pavement. Dad would be upset, she told herself.

 

He would be more worried about you going crazy just from leaving a parking garage. Stop it, Norma.

 

The small side road came to a T-intersection connecting to the southbound service road of highway 22. Norma pulled onto the service road, crossing all four lanes without looking to see if they were clear. She settled into the far left lane, intending to make the U-turn under the highway. The El Camino rolled up to the T-intersection and lurched out onto the service road.

 

A lot of people head this way, Norma. It’s nothing to be crazed over. Besides, it’s a service road to the main highway.

 

Norma turned sharply under the bridge; the car slid under its own weight around the curve. The sunlight blinked off her car as if a light switch had been turned off, casting the Bel Air into the shade of the overpass. She hooked onto the northbound service road and pressed firmly on the accelerator. The Bel Air gained speed. Signs blurred as she zoomed past.

 

I’m sure the El Camino will go south anyways. I highly doubt it will come north.

 

Go south, go south! Go away; go away, Oh God, please. Norma pleaded with whatever God was listening. An upside down red triangle appeared on the left side of the road, warning her to yield to the ramp. The El Camino flew around the corner from under the overpass and darted in her direction.

 

Why so fast, why so fast? Why are you coming after me?

 

Norma, stop it! They are just heading north. No one is following you.

 

Norma flipped her left indicator on. She kept her eyes on the headlights of the El Camino as she swerved over to the on-ramp. Norma ignored the horn blast coming from the car she had cut off. The on-ramp ascended and then descended abruptly, dropping Norma off onto the fast moving highway.

 

The lane to her immediate left was clear and she eased over into it, trying to calm down. A Black SUV to her front pulled away allowing her to speed and keep pace with the flow of traffic. No green El Camino came over the on-ramp.

 

“I will just get lost in the sea of traffic. If he is following me, he won’t find me in the dark, among all these cars.” Norma said.

 

Sighing heavily, Norma ran her hand through her blonde hair and dragged it down her face as if wiping away the anxiety and fear. She pulled a cigarette and a lighter out of her purse. The smoke filled her lungs. For a moment, all her worries were far behind. The El Camino came off the ramp and merged into traffic with ease. Norma’s heart sank in her chest and she nearly choked on the smoke.

 

She cranked the window handle, lowering the glass only a crack. The smoke funneled through the opening. A seventy miles-an-hour sign hurtled by without her noticing. Norma flicked her ashes out the window. She pressed down on her left indicator and cut over into the next lane. She couldn’t stop with one lane but continued until she was all the way over. Several horns honked at her but Norma paid them no attention.

 

Of the four lanes on the highway, the El Camino stayed in the second right lane for a mile. Norma’s grip tightened on the steering wheel as the lights from the El Camino drifted over into the next left lane.

 

No, stay away from me. Norma shouted but only in her head.

 

Norma, get a grip or they are going to lock you back up. What would daddy say?

 

Shut up, they are following me and daddy is dead.

 

A red minivan moved too slowly in front of her. She bounced over into the next right lane, sped up, and then cut back over in front of the red minivan. The El Camino darted around one car after the other, moving closer and closer to Norma. A large green sign approached overhead – George Washington Presidential Turnpike 1 ¾ mile.

 

Norma tossed the burning cigarette out the opening in the window. The cherry exploded as it hit the pavement, breaking apart like a hundred small fairies dancing about the night. She sat up straight behind the steering wheel. The El Camino moved back and forth, left and right, to the point Norma was unsure if the driver was continuing to follow her.

 

George Washington Presidential Turnpike – West and East – Next Exit.

 

Norma toggled her indicator up; unaware it was in the down position the entire time, agitating drivers behind her. She needed to go east; east was home.

 

No way is he going east. There is just no way he is going east. If you go east, then you are surely following me.

 

Shut up.

 

The El Camino bounced across two lanes of traffic and fell in line to go east. The ugly car was separated from her by two vehicles. The bridge for the turnpike elevated into a hard ninety-degree turn heading east. Norma read the green sign above her. Two arrows pointed in opposite directions: Turnpike tollway stay to the left, last free exit for Mars stay to the right.

 

Norma typically took the turnpike home. It was faster but this time, Norma stayed to the right. Like a bullet, she shot down the off-ramp and onto the service road. A little red sports car behind her kept to the left but the yellow Prius followed her down the ramp.

 

Stay to the left, stay on the highway. Norma pleaded to non-existent ears.

 

The ugly green El Camino followed the Prius down the ramp. Norma’s breathing shortened. She jerked the wheel over to the far right lane. A honk came from the darkness. A black Ford ranger skidded across the pavement, tires locked up, trying to avoid slamming into the Bel Air. Norma’s eyes never wavered from the El Camino.

 

Oh God Please…

 

Sure, he’ll help you. Norma, you only call out to him when you are in trouble. Just like calling for daddy.

 

Oh please, shut up.

 

Her eyes narrowed into a squint. Norma fought through the glittering sunlight and tried to get a better look at who was driving the ugly car. The sun was gone and the blinding lights of the other vehicles played tricks on her eyes. For a moment, she saw two people in the car, the next she saw only one.

 

Our precious Norma, you really are going crazy again.

 

“I swear if you don’t shut up, I’m going to tell Doctor Loomis about you again and he’ll increase my pills to shut you out.” Norma said.

 

Why Norma, I’m your only friend. Besides, I’m the sane one here. You are as crazy as a loon; as mad as a hatter.

 

The light turned red at Mars street. Norma came to a stop. She was at the head of the lane. No cars waited in front of her. She knew when the light changed she could finally get some distance from her pursuer. The black Ford and yellow Prius occupied the road between her and the green El Camino.

 

The moon relieved the sun and hung full in front of her. The light turned green. Norma didn’t bother to check for crossing traffic. She shot out into the intersection and sped down the service road.

 

The black Ford ranger turned off at Mars street but the Prius and the El Camino followed her. The light at Basilone turned green. Norma continued through it, passing two more cars as she resumed battling her suspicions. The El Camino moved around the yellow Prius.

 

Norma jerked the wheel and sped over into the turn only lane for Chesty Drive. Red Light. She locked up the brakes and came to a squealing stop. Norma didn’t bother seeing if the El Camino had pulled up behind her. The headlights in her rearview mirror blinded her. She knew they belonged to the ugly green car.

 

Okay, now I’m starting to worry. Maybe this guy is following you.

 

Who is driving that car? Norma asked herself. She tried her hardest to see through the El Camino’s windshield but her eyes persisted with their tricks. With the dim glow of the street lights, Norma caught only the silhouette of the driver, at times making out rather confusing facial features. One moment, she thought she saw an old man; skin sagging from his face, lips stretched back in permanent horror. Another time she thought it was a young man, dressed in a suit, with a thin goatee emulating the devil from old black and white movies.

 

Was there a woman driving? This is truly odd, Norma.

 

Yes, Norma thought, she had seen a woman at one point driving the El Camino. Then her fear heightened at the sight of her own father, long since dead, sitting behind the wheel of the El Camino. Tears rushed to her eyes. Whatever face manifested, they all appeared sinister and always with an evil grin, mocking and terrifying her. Norma rhythmically tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, anxiously waiting for the light to change. The shadow of the driver steadily mocked the tapping of his hand in time with hers.

 

“Is he doing that to be funny?” Norma asked. The blurry driver appeared young with a ball cap on backward and what could only be a leather jacket.

 

Norma, there’s more crazy about you than I even knew.

 

The veins in her neck pulsated causing a pounding in her ears. Now the driver looked to be a man with a wolf’s head. The El Camino inched closer to her bumper. Get off of me, what do you want from me? Norma wanted to scream but her lips never parted.

 

Green light. Norma rocketed into the turn. The Chevy wanted to tip but Norma kept it under control. Coming straight, Norma slammed on the gas. The El Camino mimicked her movements then flashed his headlights at her.

 

Sure, want me to stop. No way. Who’s the loony now? Norma thought.

 

Stop talking to yourself and drive. This might be one of those gang member things. This car should be able to outrun that old crappy El Camino.

 

A speed limit sign with a big four and zero painted in black did nothing to slow her increasing speed. She was easily doing fifty as she passed it. The last street light on Chesty Drive faded away. She turned on her high beams to see the road better. Two pairs of headlights followed behind but she knew the one closing in on her was the El Camino.

 

How can you go that fast? It must have a souped-up engine.

 

Stop crying and drive.

 

The road curved to the left, came back to the right, and then headed straight. Houses, which anchored both sides of the road, resided in seclusion except for a few lone porch lights. The Bel Air took the curves hard and fast. The weight shifted back and forth, rocking Norma in her seat.

 

The El Camino raced behind her, pulsing its lights, and honking its horn. Go away, go away, GO AWAY.

 

Yes, go away. Please go away and leave her alone.

 

The road bent hard to the right, then opened up to a round-about. Norma didn’t see any headlights but was unsure if she would have stopped if she did. Norma trailed along, gaining speed as she followed each curve in the road. Chesty Drive veered to the left, intersecting with a dirt road named King Street. Norma turned right, failing to yield at the stop sign.

 

The El Camino slowed, now stalking Norma; lights flashed, time quicken, a horn blared. Dirt kicked up behind the Bel Air and for a moment, Norma could only see headlights penetrating the brown fog. The El Camino burst through the dirty mist, dust swirled around the car, and the lights behind the El Camino cast it into obscurity, barreling down on Norma.

 

The road rose and fell every few feet. Dips in the pavement caused Norma to boomerang from one side of the street to the other. Rocks cracked under her tires, bouncing up, and raking against the undercarriage of her car.

 

The El Camino wasn’t letting up. Houses faded from her view. Trees loomed like towering soldiers on one side of the road. To the other side of Norma was a vast sea of twilight, hiding several acres of wheat field. Another intersection. She rotated around the corner, launching onto a hard-top road.

 

Her hands fumbled over the steering wheel, spinning it one way and then back the other to straighten out the car. The front driver side tire blew. Norma over-corrected the turn, lost control and catapulted off the hard-top road. The Matheson Drive street sign shimmered in the red stream of her tail lights as a car approached the intersection.

 

The shoulder of the road disappeared into an eight-foot embankment before joining the tall wheat grass of the field. The force of the impact blew the back and passenger windows out. Norma jolted around inside the car, striking her forehead on the steering wheel. Her head shot backward and lodged between the frame post and the headrest. She couldn’t move it. Her eyes spun and she felt the world fading to black.

 

Don’t fall asleep. Don’t go out or you’re dead.

 

Norma heeded the warning. She fought to keep herself awake as the Bel Air came to a rest among the wheat. A pair of headlights idled on the road above as another pair kept driving forward.

 

Why don’t you follow me off the road, chicken?

 

Norma wanted to laugh but couldn’t find the strength. The slamming of a car door exacerbated her hyperventilation. Feet slid across dirt and gravel. Her heart pounded at an alarming rate, giving Norma worries of a stroke or heart attack. The devil was finally approaching her and she was as dead as could be.

 

Get to your phone. Call the police.

 

Through the rear view, she could see her purse resting in the back seat. She tried to move again but couldn’t. The purse was out of her reach. A face appeared in the rear view, terrifying Norma. It was the devil, it was the evil man, it was her father, and it was the old haggard man. She tried to shake her head to clear her vision but it would not move.

 

“Are you alright?” A pleasant voice both startled and calmed her. It sounded as if it was coming from a pubescent boy, changing with growth from high to deep. In the rearview mirror, she could make out the silhouette of a person but no actual features. The person looked back up to the road and then back into the car. “Do you have a phone?”

 

Norma tried to shake the grogginess from her head which was still restrained. The attempt at moving brought pain to her temples resulting in a pounding headache. Norma’s foot rested on the brake and when she pressed on it, the area to the rear of her vehicle was washed in red. The figures facial features were above the range of the red light but a feeling of relief settled upon her shoulders. She didn’t know what kind of car was on the road but one thing she did know, it wasn’t the El Camino.

 

“I don’t know where it went and I can’t move. Please help.”

 

“It’s okay. I’m here.” The figure in the dark said, climbing onto the back of the car. The car rocked under the person’s weight. Norma hissed at the pain. “I’m sorry.”

 

See Norma, not everyone is out to get you. Some are actually good people who want to help others in need.

 

The pain went away quickly and Norma sighed. For the first time since leaving the parking garage of the hospital, Norma felt safe. The world eased off her shoulders.

 

“You were driving kind of crazy back there. I saw you on the highway. Are you okay?”

 

“I was being followed. I was in fear for my life. Can you…” Her chest hurt and the words struggled to exit Norma’s mouth. “…call for help?”

 

“I don’t have a phone but let me find yours.” The person said climbing through the broken back window. Norma tried to look down at her body but she couldn’t. It hurt, hurt bad, but she didn’t know if she was bleeding or if anything was broken. The terror inside her raced up to the surface.

 

What if I am hurt more badly than I feel? Norma questioned herself.

 

“You know you were driving terribly back there, cutting in and out of traffic. There were a couple of times you nearly caused a wreck on the road.”

 

“I know, I’m sorry. I was just scared.”

 

“I can’t believe someone would drive like that.” The person said, rooting around the back of her car for her cell phone. Norma thought she heard a small laugh, a chuckle escape the figure in the back seat. She grew impatient, wishing the person would pull her out of the car already. “In this massive car, you know you would have seriously hurt someone if you got into a wreck and I doubt you would have even felt it.”

 

Geez, this guy is rude.

 

“I mean, you could have killed someone.” The person said. “But you are okay, right?”

 

“Yes, and I’m sorry. I was just…”

 

“I know, scared.” Through the rearview, she saw a glint of light reflecting off something. Norma smiled, realizing the person had found the cell phone and was going to call for help. “Not as scared as you are going to be. I hate reckless drivers.”

 

 

The glint was not from a cell phone but the jagged shard of glass that only a moment later was thrust into her jugular, ending her fears forever.