In Rides the Devil -- Short Stories

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Empty Nest

Linda McEwen puffed away on her cigarette as Harold, her husband, stepped into Eddies’ Thunderbird Convertible. Harold, though, didn’t look up, didn’t wave, nor had they been on talking terms when he left that morning. He ate the breakfast she made for him. Took his lunch without kissing her goodbye and left the house just as Eddie headed up the driveway.

Eddie, Harold’s friend and business partner of a local car mechanics shop, took a long look up at her. Her hand touched the window as he got back into his car, and they sped away. Turning from the window, the drapes closed behind her as she placed the cigarette she was holding between her lips and quickly puffed a smoke. She looked over the daunting task that was before her. She was in her little boy’s bedroom. It was in such disarray that she sighed tiredly from all of the work ahead of her. On the soft lime green shag carpet, she’d meticulously packed all of Devin’s personal belongings so they could go to charity. After which, she snuffed out the cigarette on the crystal ashtray that sat on her beloved son’s dresser table. Linda looked on her teary face in the dresser mirror as she exhaled smoke from her mouth. It made her look as if she appeared from out of a fog, like a ship adrift at sea without a harbor in sight.

She tiredly walked over the mess. Her fingers lightly brushing over the crayon drawings her son made on the wall before he went missing. Sure Harold had griped about it, but it wasn’t as if a bit of paint wouldn’t get rid of it when it came to move.

It also wasn’t as bad as the fist-sized hole in the wall Harold had made in the chip rock in the hallway. After she was trying to tell him why she permitted Devin to walk unattended to kindergarten on his own, that had happened. Harold screamed at her, called her lazy, careless, and many other terrible things that he could never take back. To her, it was another facet of his hostile behavior towards her. It all began to surface just after their marriage six months later, while she carried Devin to term. In remorse, she sat on her son’s bed, imagining that he would run into the room with a drawing he made for her. That he’d take her by the hand, and off they’d go into the living room to watch cartoons together. Linda brought her legs up and curled up on his little bed. Tears trailed down her puffy cheeks onto a pillow that smelled of her son. She stayed there until her eyes grew heavy and closed. Though she tried to sleep in her own bed, she found far more solace staying in her son’s room, away from her husband’s cold embrace and arrogant demeanor.

For many long and fretful months, the search for her missing son Devin Jacob McEwen continued. Days became weeks, which grew into months of questioning whether their little boy was dead or (hopefully) still alive. Communities in the area graciously allowed messaged postings of her missing son on street lights, in post office bulletins, and on laundromat cork boards. Even the local community newspapers had asked the public to provide any information of Devin’s whereabouts. When Linda once saw Devin’s picture on a local news channel, she broke down uncontrollably. Just as she had when she heard his name mentioned on a radio broadcast at a local confectionery. Investigators that came to ask more questions about her missing boy only put a strain on her marriage. It took damn near two years before every lead became dead-ends. None of the investigators had found a sign of foul play, or evidence of a crime, a body, or even a single witness. That was when the grief-stricken McEwen family decided to bring closure to their son’s disappearance.

The house was full of people paying their respects. Linda was on medication at the time of the gathering. Relatives, friends, and community members from all over came to the house with food, drinks, wreaths, and flowers to pay homage to their son’s loss. Without checking with her, Harold has requested that a Catholic Priest do the funeral service. Linda was never obliged to partake in the religious practices and ceremonial traditions like her husband did. Although she was born and baptized United, she didn’t think as devoted as Harold was towards religious services and funeral ceremonies. So Linda kept silent and to herself. Looking over, her child’s casket, feeling as empty as it was of a body. That was until Eddie walked into the living room to look around. She perked up as he nodded and then approached her. Together they walked into Devin’s room, where they could talk in private. Eddie apologized for his awkwardness while Linda nodded at him and tried not to smile when other guests passed by. Linda bowed her head, glanced slowly up at Eddie, and started to blush. He was tall and lanky in an awkward way, but he also was attentive and casually polite in his manner.

Eddie politely nodded to another friend of the family as they left Eddie and Linda alone to talk. “You gonna be okay?”

“Despite everything that has happened, I can’t imagine it getting any worse.” She was really trying not to smile, but it took so much effort. Linda was at her own son’s funeral, so she had to stop acting like some fawning schoolgirl whenever she was near Eddie.

“I guess now it’s your turn to do your part in this.”

Linda leaned in, “what do you mean? I don’t-”

Eddie waited and listened if anyone else was in earshot to overhear the conversation. “Come now, don’t pretend that you didn’t expect this?” He gestured around, “when we were together, you said you never wanted to be married with children. That you’re not even happy when he’s around.”

Linda squirmed awkwardly. “But he’s still my husband, and he was the father of my child. I just can’t go back on my vows.”

“Why not, He certainly has?” Eddie licked his lips like a hungry wolf. “He doesn’t always stay late at the shop to work.” Eddie touched the small of her back. “Linda, darling, He doesn’t respect or love you, so why not just end this charade?”

Linda wished she had something to say in Harold’s defense, but nothing came to mind.

“When we were together, you said that wished that you never had Devin. That after your marriage and pregnancy, Harold changed into a miserable bastard. Those words you said to me.”

“So what do you mean by doing my part?”

Eddie moved in closer and more intimate, “I took care of the one little thing that kept you from ever leaving your husband. Now, it’s only fair that you keep your promise.”

Linda went as white as a bleached sheet, “w-what little thing did you take care of?”

“So we could be together. I did what I had to do so you could love me.”

“Eddie,” she blanched, “what did you do?”

“I did what you asked of me. I-” he began to say what thing he had done for her when there was a creak on the floor. They both turned to see Harold at the door.

“Eddie, welcome to my son’s wake.” Harold was already half-wasted, and it appeared as if he had been crying. Something he would never admit to, never in a million years. “Linda, get your arse out here, woman. Come and visit with the other guests and my family.” He went to leave but remembered something and reappeared at the door. “And bring those photo books we have with our son in them, pronto.”

Linda nodded and waited until her husband staggered back down the hall. She glanced over to Eddie and realized what he had done for her.

In her attempt to escape her husband’s abuse, she had just fallen into the arms of a monster even more terrible than her husband treated her, one so obsessively loyal that he’d killed her son so she could be free. She didn’t ask, nor expect Eddie to do such a horrendous thing. Now that she knew, she had to reconsider the situation carefully.

Linda wordlessly stood up to leave. Eddie grabbed for her hand and held it to his face. “It was for you, all for you. Please, don’t hate me. I-I love you. I need you. He doesn’t. Many times at work, he has wished aloud that if you didn’t get pregnant with his child that he wouldn’t’ve had to marry you. Surely you see my beloved that even he doesn’t deserve to live.”

“But he’s your friend.” You work together. How can you expect me to do this?”

“Because if you don’t kill him, he will do something terrible to you! I know that he will.”

“How do you know this?”

Eddie bit his lip, “there is an insurance policy he took. He said his name and yours is there. If he dies before you-”

“I see…”

She could not believe her ears, pulled her hand out of his, and went to leave. She could take no more. She felt dizzy, and her son’s bedroom felt like it was closing in on her. She had to escape. Linda’s stomach churned as she stumbled towards the bathroom. There she locked the door and stepped into the tub, pulled the shower curtain closed, and wept.

It’s been six months since the funeral. Linda stands at the living room window looking out on a lawn in desperate need of a trim and a de-weeding. For a long time since her child went missing, she’d rarely ventured out, stayed close to the phone in the kitchen, waiting for a call to say that they found her son and he was coming back home—never once made a call or welcomed calls from anyone but news of her son. Everything else had little interest for her. She just stopped everything in her life. She ate very little but got lots of medicated rest. The house was in shambles, but Harold either didn’t care or never bothered to notice. They both slept and ate in separate rooms and never really talked. It was no surprise that Linda had felt abandoned or ever so alone. After learning Eddies’ personal involvement in her son’s abduction, she dreamt of her son with Eddies’ car pulling up beside him for many nights. In one particular recurring dream, she’d be hurrying down a street, calling out, but by the time she got to where Eddie and her son were—both had dispersed like smoke.

She’d wake in a cold sweat, saying her son’s name.

One day when she awoke in her son’s bed, Harold stood looking apathetically at her from the open bedroom door. He looked ready for work, with a lunch box by his side. Under his arm was a tan envelope that he wordlessly took out and dropped at the foot of the bed.

“It’s for the best.” He turned away and walked down the hall humming a pleasing little tune. Linda shoot up and looked at the tan envelope as she heard him close the front door and locked it behind him. She could listen to him heading down the creaky front porch, down the wooded stairs, and towards Eddie’s car. She could tell that it was his by the sound of its engine.

She snatched up the envelope, hurried over to the bedroom window, and took a peek outside. There stood Eddie waving up at her as if everything was fine. Meanwhile, Harold kept his back to her as he got into the convertible.

After they left, she opened the large tan envelope and looked over the divorce papers. Without missing a beat, she quickly got dressed and knew that not just her marriage was on the line, but that even if she turned Eddie over to the police, what proof did she have? After all, didn’t they have an affair? That alone, she risked being an accomplice to her own son’s disappearance. It could be the electric chair for both of them.

She sat before a stack of dirty dishes and pots piled in the sink and across the entire countertop at the dining table. Puffing away on her fourth cigarette, Linda mulled over what to do. The legal papers of her divorce were out, and all she had to do was sign them. The phone on the wall beside her rang, causing her to stand, but she hesitated in answering it.

It could be someone you want to talk to, the voice in her head spoke up. She sighed and reached out to bring the receiver to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hey,” said the male voice. Behind Eddie came the sound of passing traffic, which meant he was out using a payphone to call her. “So I heard that he gave you the papers today, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said numbly as she closed her eyes to the conflict she felt in her head and in her heart.

“You should come over then.”

“I-I don’t know,” Linda stammered out. “I don’t know where you even live-”

“No stupid,” he snorted, “to the shop. It’ll be fun. Just you, me, and Harold. I promise we’ll make it a gay old time of it.”

Linda cradled the phone handle in both of her hands. Her knuckles went white. In for a penny, in for a pound, she felt panic welling up her throat, and her mouth went dry. It was hard to swallow. She began to tremble.

“You still there?”

“Yeah,” she looked around the room. Suddenly everything felt like it was closing in around her. The very thought of leaving the confines of the house became terrifying to her. “I’ve never left the house that far before.”

“Silly girl, just take one of those calming pills you’ve got in your little purse, and I’ll give you the directions.”

She imagined him smiling, being coy with her. It was clear that he had a plan, but he didn’t seem the type to tell her directly. He wanted so badly to show her.

“Tell you what,” He charged direction on her. “You come at dusk, after shop hours. I’ll be sure to keep Harold busy here. Can you come later then? Like I said before, I promise it’ll be a blast.”

“Alright then,” She gave in. “I’ll come down.”

“Good girl,” he cooled.

Linda came by bus dressed in her church clothes. The only nice thing she had ever owned second from her wedding gown. She only had enough change to get there but nothing left to return home. She appeared at the open chain link fence gate with her tattered purse and a grease-stained brown paper bag, like a good wife bringing her beloved husband a warm meal while he labored away the evening at the shop. She hesitated at the shop garage entrance and looked around at all of the vehicles in need of repair.

“He’s not here,” Eddie came out from behind a car he was working on. He whipped the grime from his hand and gave her a welcoming smile. “He’s at the Hamburger Restaurant just down the road. He won’t be long.”

“Oh,” she held up her brown paper bag. “I guess baking these was just a waste of time.”

“Now hold a second,” Eddie approached her. “Don’t be so hasty to throw that out; I never did get to try any of your cooking before.”

“I used to have a knack at baking.” Linda nodded to the bag. “Learned it from my Momma, ’for I got married.” She handed him the bag.

“I think that was thoughtful of you to do for despite-”

“That he’s divorcing me?” Linda shrugged. “It doesn’t matter now. He had every right to leave me for my infidelity.”

“Well, don’t be so harsh on yourself for it.” He dipped his hand into the paper bag for a sample. “It’s not like he was faithful either.” He looked over what she had brought. “Are these chocolate chip cookies?” He savored a bite and chewed thoughtfully.

“What do you mean he wasn’t faithful?”

Eddie ate another cookie, “he’s at the hamburger shop right now taking our order.” He looked over to Linda, “how long does it usually take to get burgers? He’s been gone now for at least an hour for a shop just a block away.” He licked his lips, “you want some pop?” He gestured to the pop machine in the corner. “My treat…” Eddie fished in his pockets for change as he headed towards it. “I need to clean my pallet.” He smiled at her, “I see that it’s been a while since you’ve baked.”

“I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I improvised. Was it really that bad?”

“Nah, I’ve had worse,” Eddie popped off the bottle cap and took a long swig of pop, then burped.

“So you know who my husband is sleeping with?”

Eddie nodded, “Oh, I know plenty what he’s been up to.” He came up to her and was just about to grab her by the shoulders. He looked annoyed when she stepped back.

She meekly smiled up at him and walked around him into the shop. “This is the only nice thing I own, and your hands are filthy.”

“Well, they do say in the bible, keeping your heart clean, but your hands dirty.” He twiddled his fingers in front of her face and added. “My hands may be filthy honey, but for a damn good reason.”

“Oh?” She walked around him, “they are, are they?”

“Yeah,” he snorted, “which is why I did what I had to—for you.”

“What did you do, exactly?” Linda crossed her arms, “I want to know what you did to my boy.”

Eddie shrugged, “It doesn’t matter, does it? What’s done is done. Now you’re just this close to being free of Harold too. Just imagine what could be for each other.”

Linda nodded to herself. She heard Eddies’ car rolling up into the lot and knew by the engine’s sound that her husband was returning with the hamburgers.

“Did he help you?” She gestured over her shoulder, “does he know what you did?”

“No,” Eddie shook his head and shifted awkwardly. He started to blink as if suddenly exhausted. “Don’t be so stupid…why would I-” He looked confused and disorientated.

“Linda?” Came a voice behind her, “what the fuck are you doing here? I’m trying to work, for fuck’s sake. Go your ass back home.”

“Go home to whom, Harold?” She went into her purse and pulled out the bulldog revolver he had kept in their bedroom closet. “I have no son thanks to this prick, and now I have no husband.”

“Now wait-” Eddie tried to reach for Linda. Instead, the pop bottle slipped from his fingers just as he hit the cement floor unconscious.

“Eddie!” Harold quickly placed the food he bought down on the foldout table they ate from. He ran past his future ex-wife to see if Eddie was sick or something.

“Harold,” she looked down on him as he tried to revive Eddie. “Harold!” She screamed down at him for the very first time.

Harold looked up briefly and then took and double-look before putting up his hands. “W-what the fuck is going on here? Is he dead? Did you poison him?”

“I mixed my tranquilizers in the cookies he pigged out on.” She smiled cruelly down on her husband. “Now get him off the floor, put him over there by the corner.”

“But honey,” Harold became suddenly polite, “He’s bigger and heavier than me, I can’t just lift him up by myself.”

“Then drag him over there-,” she pointed in an area they could be more private, away from the window and all exits. “And then I want you to go close the gate, or I swear I’ll shoot you in the back.” Harold nodded and dragged Eddie away. Then, he ran out to close the shop gate before heading back to Linda.

“Very good,” she motioned at him with his revolver. “Now go stand beside him.”

“The fuck I will until you tell me what the fuck are you’re doing threatening me with my own gun?”

“It doesn’t matter Harold because it’s over between us.” She pulled back the trigger with her thumb until it clicked.

Harold closed his eyes tight and flinched. “What‘s wrong with you? All I wanted was a divorce.”

“So this is the thanks I get for being your wife and having your child? I knew you were fooling around on me. I thought Eddie would be a perfect payback. Only, you don’t care about how I felt or how I can go on without my son. But Eddie-” Linda said softly. “Dear Eddie went too far, and I’m afraid he’ll be just as worse as you were.” Linda tilted her head, “All my life I had bad people made bad choices for me, and now I must do what must be done so that I can be free of these abusive relationships.”

“Why?” Harold looked confused, “what does Eddie have to do with-?” he broke off and then looked up at her, “have you been fucking him?”

“Yes, and because of that, he decided to kill our son, so I would be with him! And now that you are planning to leave me anyway, I must kill you too.”

“But why?”

“I looked over your insurance policy before coming here, and I don’t get a penny if you die if the divorce went through. Moreover, dear old Eddie here he must pay for killing our boy. He says that he did it so we could be together, yet I refuse to let him live after what he did to my son. So I figure, why risk being implicated when I can be a widow living in Florida?”

“You dirty, cheating—” Harold began to say as Linda pistol-whipped him upside the head. “Zip it!”

“Where did you put your smokes?” she gestured to the pockets of his overalls. “Give them to me and your lighter too.” She spotted quickly areas in the shop where a blaze could start and she gave him a wicked smile.

- The End -

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