Orville Sand is on a mission, a deadly assignment he is bound to carry out. Throughout the Midwest, wherever he goes, people die in mysterious accidents. He carries with him a great red book containing the names of the unfortunates with whom he must rendevous. Where his shadow passes, tragedy will befall some unsuspecting innocent. Perhaps a child will drown, or a wall will collapse unexpectedly on a pedestrian, or a woman will tumble down a flight of stairs.
Only one man, Gerald Mizzaro, knows the truth. As a child, his life crosses innocently with Orville Sandís while the man rents a room from Geraldís widowed mother. The fatherless boy and the older man forge a bond based on the emotional void they both feel. But when death visits the neighborhood during Sandís short stay, Gerald suspects his involvement. As he grows older, a coincidental second encounter with Sand provides Gerald with the irrefutable truth he can not ignore.
Now Gerald must act to stop the man he both cares for and abhors. He must put away all the frivolous concerns a college student dwells upon and face a grave responsibility only he can assume. And when Sand discovers Geraldís attempts to stop him, he is forced to deal with the young man or meet a fate more unspeakable than the death he himself suffered decades before.
Devotees of the Horror/Dark Fantasy genre will have no trouble recognizing the name of Phil Locascio. An active member of the Horror Writerís Association, Phil has been writing since 1996. Dozens of his short stories have been published in small press publications, magazines and anthologies both in America and overseas. Several of his tales have received Honorable Mention in THE YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR and recommendations for the Bram Stoker Award for short fiction. A collection of his short stories titled HOWLING HOUNDS was published in Fall 2004 by Sarob Press.
That night there was barely a whisper of a breeze. Geraldís bedroom window faced the back yard and the stairwell up to Mr. Sandís room rose just outside. The boy slept soundly until the creak of footfalls on the staircase woke him. Through the window, Mr. Sandís shadow drifted down the stairs outlined by the dim light. He turned down the gangway toward the front of the house before the chirping of the crickets and the wash of cars on Trask Avenue swallowed his footsteps.
Where would he be going at this time of night? Gerald wondered. Curious, he slipped on a pair of shorts and softly exited out the back door. The air, cooler outside than in his stuffy room, had that night feel to it; not cold, but eerily still and pervasive. Gerald gazed up the stairwell and noticed that Sand had left his big red book lying on the bannister so he went up and took a look. Names and dates covered each page, all written in a beautiful flowing pen. The book lay open to page two where the Wheeler family name and address jumped out at him with a date listed alongside it: tomorrowís date. The line below recorded the name of a Charles Gray of 1441 Kilbourn Avenue, Davenport, Iowa but that date was two weeks into the future.
Gerald went back down the stairs, walked out to the front of the house, and peeked down the street taking note of the humming light from the lamppost in front of the house. Mr. Sand stood on the sidewalk directly across the street from the Wheelers, smoking a cigarette and staring across at their house. In the front yard two ladders leaned up against the siding, and several buckets of paint stood neatly along the side of the house. A dim porch light cast a yellow haze around the front door lighting up the stoop and the encroaching bushes along the walkway. Mr. Wheeler had finished painting half of the front of the house beige, but had not gotten to the other half yet. The house lurked in the darkness, except for a faint glow from a nightlight in an upstairs bedroom.
The tip of Sandís cigarette glowed orange as, like a statue, he stood transfixed staring at the house. Then he dropped the cigarette, stubbed it out on the ground, and started back toward the house. Gerald retreated down the gangway and got back to his room before Sand came lumbering up the back stairs. When he reached the landing, one of the chairs screeched against the wooden boards, the metal creaking as Sand lowered his weight into the seat. He let out a long sigh and mumbled something Gerald couldnít make out before repositioning his chair. Then silence.
Wide awake now, Gerald made his way out the back door and looked up the stairwell. Mr. Sand sat quietly, staring down at the floor boards rubbing his hand against his cheek.
"Mr. Sand ... are you all right?"
"Yes ... yes fine Gerald," he replied as he turned his head and peered down from his perch. Slowly, the boy climbed the stairs not knowing for sure if their guest would mind the intrusion. He still felt badly about the rabbit and wanted to apologize although he wasnít really sure what he would apologize for because the rabbits had been driving his mother nuts all summer.
"I heard you up here and ... well, itís too hot to sleep. So I thought Iíd come up and visit for awhile. If thatís okay?"
"Sure thatís fine. Have a chair." He pulled one of the lawn chairs from the wall and set it up next to him.
The boy sat down and put his feet up against the railing. In the distance a train rumbled down the tracks beyond Watson Road, breaking the stillness. Each car made a clack as it went over a specific portion of rail. Mr. Sand took out one of his Pall Malls and lit it up.
"Iím sorry about the rabbit thisó"
He cut him off quick. "Forget it, Gerald. I overreacted. Iím sorry. Forgive me."
"Well ... but you were right. I had no reason to kill it, not really. I was just being mean." Gerald turned his head and looked out into the purple sky toward the horizon where a bright blue star burned in the night. "Sometimes itís fun to do mean things like that, isnít it?" he said to no one in particular.
"People do a lot of mean things. They think theyíll get away with them, that there will be no repercussions. They donít realize what a serious business it is. How everything comes home to roost. Let me tell you something. For every good thing you do, youíll be rewarded." He turned to me with a look of sadness and remorse. "And for every bad thing you do, youíll have to atone." He shifted back and seemed to tilt his head toward the tracks in the distance listening to the kaclunk, kaclunk, kaclunk of the steel wheels thumping in the night. "Youíll have to atone Gerald, either in this life or the next."
What was it about this man? Gerald thought. There was something lurking beneath that thinning brown hair and high forehead. He seemed both incredibly wise and at the same time so mysterious. Their discussions, his manner, the sudden bouts of seriousness that would overcome him made Gerald think that down deep, way down deep, the man was very sad about something, sad but still in some way resigned to it, braced with just enough courage to face another day and in an odd way it made the boy feel so sorry for him. That unspoken emptiness that seemed to rule his soul, that far off sorrow and loneliness that Gerald could not seem to broach. The boy rarely ever had reason to dwell on anything too bad, but talking to Sand, he became conscious of those things that nobody likes to dwell on: bad luck, accidents, serious things like wakes and funerals, those thoughts that sometimes came in through the bedroom window and kept him company late at night. But also he felt scared in a way he had never experienced. Frightened of those unfair things that happen to nice people, that maybe someday, might happen to him.
"When you go away, Mr. Sand, where will you go?"
"East," he said as he rubbed his chin before slowly turning toward Gerald and resting his gaze on him letting a soft sigh slip from his mouth. The look itself communicated nothing in particular, and yet ... everything.
This is what it must be like, Gerald thought, having a father. They were talking about nothing it seemed and yet talking about everything, sharing in a strange kind of way a parallel thought line, an inherent understanding of each other without necessarily defining it totally in words, gestures or emotions. He had never really mourned his father because he had never known him, keeping instead a hollow void down deep in his heart, a place that made itself known those times when a friend would speak about their father, or when he saw some anonymous dad hugging his child, a place he rarely ever felt the need to visit, except of course, sometimes, in the still of the night.
In Geraldís heart there was a wish that maybe somehow Mr. Sand could stay, but he knew it was a futile bid because Mr. Sand had to move on, he had to go other places following the names in his book.
Gerald looked out over the alley at the streetlight burning at the corner where flies and moths buzzed in erratic, wild orbits. "My dad," he said softly, "itís not fair that I donít have my dad. Itís not fair to my mother. Sheís never hurt a thing in her whole life and yet ..."
"Thereís good and thereís bad, Gerald ... and then thereís the bad that happens to good people."
"And the Wheelers ...?" Gerald asked, not quite knowing what it was he was asking.
Mr. Sand looked at the boy the way Mr. Smith had looked at his wife that morning so long ago, that dull look with the aching grip behind it. He puffed his cheeks slightly and let out a burst of air before turning back toward the night and letting the stillness fold over them. In the furthest reaches of soundís grip, beyond their little haven of homes, past where Watson Road curved north, the night train finally finished with that portion of rough track which had caused all the clattering and the grind of its steel wheels faded into the long, dark distance like the whisper of an angel.