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Danny Carpenter needed to get away.
Little more than twenty-one-years-old, with scruffy features, dirty brown hair that hung in his eyes, and a thin, compact body camouflaged in several layers of mismatched and loose fitting clothing, Danny was a product of the streets, his once-handsome face marred by a hard and misspent life on the East Side.
After dropping out of high school and having a big blow out with Nana Loraine, the grandmother who raised him since he was about six, he left home to make it on his own. Sleeping beneath bridges and on friends’ couches, he earned a living causing trouble and selling dime bags on street corners. All in all, Danny was just another cog in the gritty machine of dilapidated downtown Greensboro.
But right now, Greensboro was the last place Danny wanted to be.
He needed to blow off some steam and figure out what he was going to do. He thought to leave town for good this time, maybe even make his way in the City. Nobody would look for him. He could just disappear and get a new life far, far away from this stupid town and all its responsibilities.
Like raising babies. Babies he didn’t want.
And Tabitha. Always clinging to him, wanting him to do everything for her. He never signed on for that. He thought that he might love Tabitha, but this family stuff, with commitment and kids, was too much. He was still a young guy. He had too many things to figure out—too much living to do—to give up his life for her.
And those babies. It always came back to those stupid babies.
He drove his Monte Carlo faster into the night, jamming out to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” fighting hard to grip the curvy roads that led deep into the North Woods and onward toward Greensboro Park Lake, toward the old highway and the turn-off to the new interstate that had damned Greensboro to obscurity and opened up the path to the City. Toward freedom.
Not many folks went in the direction of the North Woods these days. After the police found Lindsey McCormick’s car in the lake, most parents stopped taking their children there to swim. Even though Lindsey’s body was never recovered, everyone whispered that it was buried beneath the muddy water, and Greensboro Park Lake could not be separated from her tragic death in people’s minds.
Plus, there were the creepy stories. All the fish died and the grass all yellowed and withered away around the water. The trees closest to the blackened muck were hollowed out by rot, and some even said they saw the lake eat a bird or two.
Yeah. Eat a bird or two.
Folks said old Greensboro Park Lake was cursed. Only Danny didn’t believe in that garbage. Nana Loraine was a superstitious sort, always babbling about evil spirits and angels and the like. What a bunch of nonsense, Danny thought. It was all urban legends and ghost tales. The North Woods and Greensboro Park Lake were still the fastest way out of town, and no talk of a bird-eating body of devil water was going to keep him from the path to escape.
He drove faster, taking another drink. It was his fifth beer since getting into his fight with Tabitha, and he struggled against the alcohol and his anger to keep on the road. Out here, traffic was rare and deputies weren’t too common, either, so he had the whole road to himself to dodge pink elephants.
He sped on, indifferent to the risk of losing his own life. So what if he died? Seemed better than having to be a father or a husband. He wasn’t ready for those things. Didn’t want those things. He and Tabitha could barely get along and stay together, let alone raise a family.
It wasn’t the life for him, just like it wasn’t the life for his old man.
He drank the bottle empty then tossed it out the open window. After spiraling through the air, the bottle crashed to the pavement and shattered with a pop on impact. Satisfied, Danny hung his head out the window and crowed wildly, the wind whipping around his face. He felt liberated. Like nothing could touch him. He had tried to leave Greensboro before, but he always came crawling back when he started missing Tabitha.
But this time, he was going to get out for good.
He was still riding on his high as he brought his head back into the car, but his laughter trailed off when he saw a strange sight in the distance.
Slamming on his brakes, he stopped just inches shy of plowing into an unusual roadblock. Parked sideways in the middle of the street rested a car, apparently abandoned. The driver’s side door hung open and the headlights shone brightly into the void.
Danny frowned at the holdup, shut off his engine, and got out of the Monte. “Hey! Get out of the road!”
He moved closer to the car, lighting a cigarette and preparing to brawl with the idiot who was standing in his way. However, his anger became confusion when he observed that the car was empty.
“What in the . . .” Craning his head in both directions, he called out, “Hey!”
No response. With his eyes he followed the headlight trail into the tall, unkempt weeds that led to Greensboro Park Lake. Figuring the idiot was out there somewhere and in need of a good whuppin’, Danny balled up his fists and left the road behind. Trudging through knee-high grass and wildflowers, he waded his way to the yellowed edge of the lake. Ghost stories aside, he was still reluctant to go traipsing any closer to the water just in case it were poisonous.
Cupping his hands to his mouth, he shifted the cigarette clenched in his teeth and called out into the darkened ruins of the North Woods. “Yo! Anybody out there?”
Again, no response.
His vision impaired by the night and alcohol, he struggled as he ventured closer to the lake. “Hey! Moron! Get your car outta the road before I move it for ya!”
Before trekking too far into the dark, he met a shadow, the shape of a man. With his back turned to Danny, the man was kneeling beside the thick, murky waters of the lake, his head inclined over the surface of the sludge.
As Danny watched, something like a slick, black arm reached out of the waters and fixed itself to the man’s face.
Whoa. I think I had one too many beers.
Danny was startled at first, yet his irritation soon overwhelmed his initial shock. “Yo, moron! You deaf? I said move your car!”
The man did not move nor speak as the slimy arm slowly retracted from his face and returned to the lake.
He only stood.
Danny came closer, reaching out a hand to tap the man on the shoulder. Firmly rapping, ready to pick a fight, Danny said, “Hey, stupid. I’m only gonna tell you one more time. Move. Your. Car.”
Finally the man in the darkness turned around and Danny caught full sight of him. It was Ray McCormick. A relieved smirk rose to Danny’s face when he recognized the man as the local crazy who put those stupid MISSING posters all over town, but as he surveyed him more closely, his face fell. Something in Ray’s hand gleamed in the moonlight.
It was an axe.
Terrified, Danny opened his mouth to scream.
Copyright 2011 Greg Mitchell