A novel by new author
Kerry Alan Denney
Kaylee Daley smiled, the secret hers for the moment. Mom and Dad always told her that God meant for us to share the love we have, so why not share the gifts too?
Well, what Mom and Dad – or anyone else but Kaylee for that matter, as far as she knew – didn’t know couldn’t hurt them. Could it?
Besides, ever since Kaylee started sharing her gift, Daley’s Delights Floral and Gardening Specialties had blossomed. They couldn’t stock the shop with inventory fast enough to satisfy their happy customers, and Mom and Dad were cheerfully running themselves ragged trying to.
At least so far, they hadn’t yet attributed their success to their daughter’s special talent. Or so Kaylee thought, because they would be all up in her grill if they made the connection. If her parents figured out what she was doing, then others might also. Others who must not discover her secret.
Last week, after they tallied up their substantial earnings, Mom had said, “I just can’t believe how good God’s been to us this year.”
“Spring is in the air!” Kaylee had twittered, hoping they wouldn’t ask her any tough questions.
It was a Friday afternoon in late May, just before closing time. Kaylee sat at the front counter beside the cash register. She was admiring the floral arrangement she’d specially prepared for Ms. Kennedy when Tom Grainger walked in grinning. He gripped two stuffed plastic bags in his hands.
“Hey, Mr. Grainger!” Kaylee chirped, smiling.
“Hey, sweetheart. You know I told you to call me Pops. Everybody does. No reason you shouldn’t either.”
Pops plopped the bags on the counter and chuckled. “Best dadgum produce I ever growed, honey. And that’s saying something, ’cause I been around a awful long time.”
“Oh.” Kaylee’s smile melted. Oops. She glanced toward the back of the shop, hoping Mom and Dad hadn’t heard the bells hanging from the door jangle when he entered.
“Yep,” Pops said. “All my years, ain’t never seen the like. Still can’t quite believe it. Take a gander at this, young lady.” He pulled a couple of bell peppers out of one bag, and a pair of tomatoes out of the other, grinning and chortling.
“Whaddaya think of them apples?”
“Yessiree, Bob. You betcha. And wait till you taste ’em!”
God please don’t let Mom and Dad come up and see this! Kaylee had to run Pops off quick, and hide the evidence.
“And you oughta see my squash!” Pops pulled one out of the bag, and Kaylee wanted to stuff it, the tomatoes, and peppers back in the bags and tell him she had to close up now. “Look at that. Have you ever… what’s wrong, girl?”
“Umm… nothing. It’s… epic.” Kaylee swallowed a lump in her throat.
Holy crap, if Dad sees this, he’s gonna know, and shit liquid fire. And rake me over the coals…
Unfortunately, Mom and Dad took that precise moment to pop out of the back.
“Tom!” Dad said, smiling. He took off his gloves and offered his hand. “Good to see you. How is every little thing?”
“Hey, Pops,” Mom said, brushing thick strands of her auburn hair back over her ears. “How’s crops?”
“Ken, how are ya? Things couldn’t be better.” Pops shook Dad’s hand firmly, smiling. “Darlene, you’re looking as lovely as ever. And your little girl – well, she’s all growed up now, sweet sixteen and probably breaking every poor young man’s heart in Hawkins County – is the spittin’ image of ya, praise the Lord.”
Mom blushed. “Sweet talker, are you angling for a discount on fertilizer?”
Pops laughed. “No, ma’am. Nothing of the kind, darlin’. But if I was twenty-five years younger and you and I weren’t both already married…” He beamed, showing them his prizes before Kaylee could hide them.
Kaylee avoided her parents’ eyes. How was she going to talk her way out of this one?
Pops proudly displayed his yield. “Y’all ever seen anything like this?”
“Wow.” Dad hefted a tomato in one hand, a pepper in the other. Kaylee felt his gaze burn into her skull. “Amazing.”
“Yeah,” Mom muttered. “Unbelievable.” Her amazement was directed at Kaylee, who felt daggers piercing her.
“Ayuh,” Pops said, nodding. “And just wait till you take a bite of them tomatoes. You won’t even care about the juice dribblin’ down your chin, they’re so tasty.”
“I’ll just bet,” Dad said, glaring at Kaylee. He offered them back to Pops.
“Oh, no! These are for y’all. I can’t pluck ’em off the vines fast enough.”
Kaylee wanted to disappear, but her talent didn’t include that slick trick.
“Well, thank you kindly, Tom,” Dad said. “Guess we’ll be having stuffed bell peppers and fresh sliced tomatoes and sauteed squash-n-onions for dinner tonight, huh? I’m sure Kaylee will be happy to rustle up our grub, too. Won’t you, Kaylee?”
“I guess.” I’m screwed. Thanks, Pops.
“Yeah, and just you wait,” Pops said. “You won’t believe how tasty they are.”
“I don’t doubt it for a second,” Mom said, and hugged Pops. Then she asked him the damning question. “How’d you get ’em to grow like that, hon?”
“Aw, hell, it wasn’t nothin I did. More like your magic fertilizer, I reckon.”
“Yeah, right,” Dad muttered. Kaylee was melting under his glare.
“Nothing magic about our fertilizer, Tom,” Mom twittered – a little nervously, Kaylee thought.
It was stifling in here. Kaylee, Mom, and Dad were sweating. Pops smiled and winked, and hammered the final nail in Kaylee’s coffin.
“Well then, darlin’, it must be Kaylee’s magic touch that did it, ’cause I didn’t do nothin different than what I always done.”
Kaylee grimaced, and Mom and Dad tensed.
Dad snorted. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Magic touch! That’s just silly.” Mom forced a laugh.
“Think what you will, but I’m convinced of it ever since she came over three weeks ago,” Pops said, and winked at Kaylee.
Kaylee closed her eyes. Isn’t it your nap time, Pops? “I don’t know what gave you that crazy idea, Mr. Grainger.”
“Don’t you worry none, sweetie.” Pops touched Kaylee’s arm. “I won’t tell a soul. It’ll be our little secret.”
It was a furnace in here. A cauldron.
The phone rang. Kaylee grabbed it after the first ring, but Dad snatched it out of her hand.
“Well, I’ll get out of your hair now,” Pops said, nodding. “You folks have a nice evening.”
“Thanks again, Pops,” Mom said, waving. Kaylee noticed her hand shook. The other hand was clenched into a tight fist.
Dad nodded at Pops. “Good afternoon, Daley’s Delights.”
Pops finally left, and Mom turned to Kaylee, frowning with her arms crossed.
“How are you, Ms. Campbell?” Dad said. Kaylee heard his voice quaver, and couldn’t look in his eyes any more. Dad never got this angry.
She couldn’t help but notice that he looked frightened too.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m delighted you’re so happy with your rose garden.” Dad grimaced. “Yes, ma’am. It is amazing they’re blooming so fast, and in such dry weather.” He nodded. “Well, I have a feeling it’s going to be an especially green summer.”
Mom sighed, her shoulders slumping. Dad winced.
“No ma’am, we didn’t put anything special in our fertilizer. I reckon you just have one heck of a green thumb.” Dad looked like he was about to cry. “Oh, she did, did she?” He looked first at Mom, then Kaylee. “Well, yes ma’am, Kaylee’s always had a special touch with flowers. Especially roses. Yes, ma’am, you’re very welcome. I’ll be sure and tell her. You have a blessed weekend too, Ms. Campbell.” He set the receiver down softly, and closed his eyes and shook his head. He gripped the edge of the counter, his knuckles turning white, and opened his eyes and glared at Kaylee again.
“Kathryn Leeann Daley!” Mom said, squinting. It was never good when Mom used her full name.
“I didn’t tell ’em anything, Mom! I just… touched their stuff, and whispered to it. They can’t know!”
A tear rolled out of each corner of Mom’s eyes, breaking Kaylee’s heart.
Dad groaned. “Kaylee, how long?”
Kaylee slumped. “Only a couple months, Daddy, but nobody really knows, I swear it.”
“Apparently Tom knows. ‘Magic touch’? And Ms. Campbell? You may as well have painted it on a billboard.”
“Oh, Kaylee,” Mom whispered.
“I’m sorry!” They were tearing out pieces of Kaylee’s soul. She loved them so much, and couldn’t stand to be the cause of their pain. They had done so much to make her happy.
“Kaylee, honey, the letter was very explicit,” Dad said, his voice husky. “It was meant for your protection. And you’re practically advertising your talent to the whole county.”
Kaylee felt tears burn her eyes. “You always said before that my gift was meant to share! Now all of a sudden I’m supposed to—”
“You were supposed to exercise some personal restraint!” Dad huffed. “How much more clear could the letter have been, Kaylee? It said they would stop at nothing if they found out.”
Kaylee pouted. “They? Who are ‘they’ anyway, Dad? How do we know for sure any of it’s even real?”
Dad smacked his palms against the counter. Kaylee had never seen him this angry, or this scared. “The very fact of its existence means it has to be real, Kaylee! Somebody had to know about you to write the letter in the first place. How many times have we gone over this?”
“Every single day for the last three months, ever since that stupid letter came in the mail.” Kaylee couldn’t stop the tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Ken,” Mom whispered, and put her trembling hands on Dad’s arms. “It’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle now, baby.”
Dad sighed, then nodded. “All right. Okay. We have to think this through.” Mom squeezed his arm, and Dad turned to Kaylee. “Okay. If Ms. Campbell knows, or even suspects, then no doubt half the state of Kentucky knows by now, or will by dinnertime.”
“She’s a nice lady, but that woman couldn’t keep her mouth shut about this if her life depended on it,” Mom said.
“Right. Which means we have to assume the worst.” Dad closed his eyes, took a deep breath. “Kaylee, get the bags Pops brought and ride your bike home, and don’t stop for anything. Get dinner started. Your Mom and I’ll close up. We’ll be home in twenty minutes, thirty tops. Then we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do.”
Kaylee grabbed the bags of produce and bolted. She needed to get away from the tension and paranoia, even if only for a short while. She left, silently screaming, It’s not fair, not fair!
“Be careful, honey!” Mom shouted after her. “And lock the doors when you get home, and don’t answer if anybody knocks or calls! We love you!”
“So much,” Dad croaked, but Kaylee barely heard him. She was so out of there.
She stuffed the ridiculously oversized produce in her backpack and jumped on her bike and hurried home, and let the artificial breeze blow the tears off her face. She wasn’t sure if she believed in what the stupid letter said would happen if she publicly revealed her talent, but she glanced from side to side and over her shoulder on the way home as if slavering hellhounds were hot on her tail, ready to rip her to shreds.
When she got home, she put her backpack on the counter. She almost didn’t lock the door in defiance of Mom’s wishes, but a nagging fear that the letter’s warning might be true made her turn and lock it anyway.
“Stupid damn letter! Even though Ms. Motormouth Campbell is the biggest gossip in the southeast, there’s no way anybody could find out about it this quick.”
She washed her hands, and then the bell peppers, squash, and tomatoes, and set them on the countertop. Then she got some ground beef out of the fridge.
No snarling demons with razor-sharp talons leaped out at her.
“Ken, Darlene, you are so way overreacting!”
Kaylee went into the pantry to get the rice and a couple of onions. The boogeyman wasn’t hiding in there, waiting to pounce on her and spirit her away to some hellacious place where they would torture her and try to squeeze her talent out of her for some nefarious agenda.
Kaylee’s nerves were already frayed, and it just made her angrier.
She crouched, opened the cabinet beside the dishwasher, and reached in and pulled out a baking pan and the skillet. No slithering tentacles with poisonous serrated spikes reached out and clamped around her arms.
Kaylee tossed the pan and skillet on the counter, and listened to them clang resoundingly in the empty house. Her brown and orange striped tabby Tigger wandered in, meowing and looking up at her as if complaining about the commotion.
He didn’t transform into a vicious Bengal tiger, didn’t gore her with mighty metamorphosing claws. He rubbed against her legs, and she picked him up and cooed at him and stroked his soft fur.
The phone rang, and Kaylee screeched. Tigger’s claws raked across her forearm and drew bloody furrows as he flew out of her arms. He sprang out of the kitchen with an angry “Mwrowr!”
“Dammit!” Kaylee was angry at herself, not Tigger. She grabbed a washcloth from the kitchen sink and pressed it against her arm and walked over to the kitchen phone as it rang again.
Mom had said not to answer it or the door.
Kaylee sneered, her heart thumping. “God, this is freaking ridiculous!”
She looked at the caller ID display. It read “S. Daniels”. It was probably Robbie. Because Mom and Dad didn’t care for him, Kaylee answered the phone out of defiance.
“What do you want, Robbie?” It was important to pretend like he was annoying her.
“Hey, Kaylee. What’re you doing?”
“Mopping up the blood where my stupid cat just scratched me.” The pity ploy was always good too.
“Ouch. How bad is it?”
“Hurts like hell. Bleeding all over the place. What do you want?”
“Well, I was just wondering—”
Kaylee heard someone yelling in the background over the line. She looked out the window, wondering when Mom and Dad were coming home. “What, Robbie?”
Robbie sighed. “Mom says to ask you if you’ll come over and look at her stupid plants tomorrow morning.” Another shout, and another impatient sigh from Robbie. “She said she’ll pay you. What the hell have you been telling everybody, Kaylee?”
“I haven’t told anybody anything.”
“Yeah? Well, everybody seems to think you’re like some plant fertility goddess all of a sudden, or something. What the hell did you do?”
Damn! Somebody had blabbered. “Is that all you called me for?”
“Well, no. I was wondering if you wanted to go hang out at the lake with me tomorrow after you get off work.”
“Robbie, there is no way my parents are gonna let me go out with you. You know that.” Especially now, because of the stupid letter.
“That’s cool. Carla can pick you up, and you can tell ’em y’all are going to a movie or something, then we can hang out together. They don’t have to know.”
“I don’t know, Robbie. I doubt they’ll even let me come over in the morning before work. They’re all like paranoid all of a sudden.” Kaylee scowled. They especially wouldn’t let her go if they knew what Ms. Daniels wanted. Maybe she would go over there anyway, because all this letter bullshit was starting to piss her off.
She was getting worried too. Her parents should have been home by now, and jumping all in her face for using her damn talent.
“Well…” Robbie said, sounding desperate. “Promise me you’ll at least think about it?”
Teasing boys was sweet. It made the misery she was going through right now a little more bearable. “All right. But that’s all I can promise.”
“Okay. So I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” If they don’t ground me forever when they get home. Or if the boogeyman doesn’t get me first.
They said ’bye and hung up, and Kaylee went into the bathroom and cleaned and patched up her arm. No extraterrestrial lizard monster was in there, waiting to give her an anal probe.
She hurried back into the kitchen and watched out the window while she started dinner. Maybe the shop had some late customers. That had to be all it was. The letter was a prank; some overgrown kids just having a little fun at her expense. If she found out who it was, she’d make them pay, somehow.
Thirty minutes later, dinner was almost ready, Mom and Dad still weren’t home, and it was getting dark outside. Kaylee eyed the phone. They should have at least called her by now.
She dashed toward the phone and snagged it, her hands shaking, suddenly certain that if she didn’t call them right now it would be too late, and a giant ungodly worm would devour them all. She stopped before she punched the speed-dial number.
There was no dial tone. She randomly punched buttons, a scream building up inside her. She’d just spoken to Robbie on it. There had to be a line down somewhere; somebody screwed up and cut into a cable. That’s all it was.
Kaylee screeched and dropped the phone when she heard the sound of a car engine outside.
“Thank God, finally!” She ran to the door, and though Mom had told her don’t answer it for anyone, she twisted the lock, threw the door open, and ran outside.
It wasn’t Mom and Dad, nor was it their car. It was the van from the Presbyterian church. Reverend Thatcher hopped out of the passenger side, a somber look on his face. Darrel Clayton, the owner of the hardware store, slowly stepped out of the driver’s side. He didn’t meet Kaylee’s eyes.
Parasitic aliens gnawed on Kaylee’s insides, trying to eat their way out.
“Where are my Mom and Dad?” Kaylee shouted, and ran toward Reverend Thatcher. His eyes told a terrible tale, and she stopped a few feet from him, her heart about to explode.
“Oh, Kaylee, I’m so sorry,” the Reverend said.
“No!” Kaylee screamed.
Mr. Clayton frowned and stared at the grass and dirt at his feet.
“It was terrible, so horrible,” the Reverend said. “They never stood a chance. The smoke got to them even before the fire—”
“No! They can’t be dead! I was just with them—”
“They’re in God’s loving arms now, Kaylee. I’m so sorry.”
“So hot. So incredibly hot…” Mr. Clayton rasped, talking to the dirt as tears spilled from his eyes. “We tried, but nobody even had a chance to save them. Pfft, and it was gone just like that.”
Kaylee crumpled to her knees, and finally noticed the pall of smoke drifting over the hillside, coming from town. With the light breeze came a whiff of corruption, of finality, and she suddenly realized everything the letter said was true.
She heard the sound of a hammer striking a melon, and Reverend Thatcher lurched forward and smacked face first into the dirt at her feet.
“Holy—” Mr. Clayton started, and Kaylee heard the thwacked melon sound again. Mr. Clayton jerked and fell against the van’s hood. He slid down it and to the ground like a marionette whose strings had been cut, and didn’t move.
Kaylee looked up, trying to see through her tears and a dark viscous fluid that ran down her face. A figure stood behind the van, pointing something. His teeth glimmered in the gloom as he leered at her.
It was the boogeyman.
She spider-crawled backward and scrambled to her feet. The ground seemed to give way beneath her and her licorice-stick legs almost betrayed her as she stumbled toward the house, whimpering.
She looked back over her shoulder when she reached the front door. The boogeyman was grinning at her, and said one word.
Then he laughed and sauntered toward her as if he had more than the weekend to kill and wanted to taste her terror buffet-style.
Kaylee bolted inside and slammed the door shut, her heart hammering holes in her chest. She fumbled the doorknob, her hands slipping on it. The dark fluid on her hands was blood, and something else.
Reverend Thatcher’s brains.
Kaylee finally twisted the lock and turned and staggered toward the hallway, wheezing. She couldn’t draw in enough air.
She heard glass shatter and looked over her shoulder as she ran down the hall. A hand reached through the front door’s broken pane and twisted the lock…
…and Kaylee crashed into a wall of black leather and dark unyielding flesh. A glove clamped over her mouth before she could scream.
“Shh! Kaylee, if you want to live, come with me.”
- - -
Yesteryear is proud to run the first three chapters of Kerry Alan Denney's novel "Soulsnatcher", which is currently looking for a publisher! Keep an eye on this one-- he's going somewhere!
Bio: I've won a short story contest, am a member of Atlanta Writers Club, work closely with two writers' critique circles, and am currently shopping for an agent for my fourth novel Dreamweavers. Check out my website at: http://sites.google.com/site/kerrydenney/
Labels: Kerry Alan Denney