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When The Street Lights Flicker_ Mark D

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When The Street Lights Flicker is about a religiously motivated serial killer targeting “sinful” teenagers in small town America. With an inept police force our vigilante protagonist has to take parts of this investigation into his own hands, but who better to tell their story than the dead themselves? Supernatural elements are lightly peppered through this murder mystery adding a fresh take on this timeless genre. When The Street Lights Flicker has something for readers of all preferences; for example, it brings the humor and high school drama of Mean Girls and combines it with the gruesome violence of American Psycho.

Mystery / Thriller
Mark DeCastro
Age Rating:


Cornelius fingered the white fabric of his straight jacket. The straps weren’t tied today. Today was a good day. He was sitting at the edge of the dock, his uncovered toes just barely grazing the surface of the water. They touched the water in a way, that to him, caused small ripples, but to the fish below caused world shaking disturbances. It felt good to be the aggressor for once; goddamnit, his therapists were right. He had been diagnosed with every complex in the DSM-V, but he wasn’t born bad. Some families have bad apples, others have bad trees. It seemed like Chris was given a new complex on with every familial interaction. Like the Chanukah, he was given an eating disorder along with his gelt. His family tried everything to condition him into line. Big, random, deposits in his bank account or freshly changed locks on his house with a handwritten note from his mother.

“Do better,” Chris muttered.

Cornelius was Chris no matter how much his parents protested.

“Nicknames are not distinguished, Cornelius.”

“Your actions have consequences.”

“You represent the family, it would serve you well to remember that. Above all, it is your job to ensure the continued legacy of your family.” Chris stomped at his reflection in the water. No matter how much he splashed the water always returned to show his reflection. Waves fold over each other, crashing and rising again. They follow this pattern from one shore until they collapse onto another shore, a cycle that continues in perpetuity unless you’re the wave that hits that other shore.


Sarah sat under the old oak tree observing Chris. Her straight jacket was tied. Today was not a good day. She saw him fuss about at the edge of the dock. She saw a calm therapist walk over. They were always so goddamn calm. Their uniforms were a bright, annoying, shade of white. Everything about the facility was that same shade of bleached to perfection white as if it were designed to be a white stable for black sheep. The therapists were all female with perfect posture and hair pulled back tight enough to elongate their severe cheekbones.

“I wonder if the therapists are required to get plastic surgery?”

“Don’t be insane Sarah.”

“You’ve always had a penchant for irony Jamie.”

“What can I say? Maybe I was a playwright in a past life.”

Jamie wasn’t wearing a straight jacket. Every day was a good day.

Under Old Oakie, they had a view of the sprawling facility. The lake to their left, the facility in its gothic grandeur up the hill and the electric fence buzzing behind them. What was beyond the fence you ask? Hardly anyone could remember. It was easier to forget the life they all used to live. The expensive fabrics, the small-town celebrity status, the preferred treatment. In here they were all the same. Not because they were collectively crazy, the things they did (and huge payouts to the facility) got them here. Too many DUI’s, teen pregnancy, drug addictions, a preference for underage sexual partners, online shopping habits, swearing at church. When you boiled it down they all had the same story. Rich people from distinguished families doing not so distinguished things. This place was the preverbal rug that covered the mountain of scandal in every American living room.

Sarah had been here long enough to know that there was no coming out from under the rug. By now her social media accounts had been deleted and her trust fund friends would have all gone about pretending she was never born. Her wing of the mansion had probably been transformed into an indoor-outdoor living area. Her mother always said, “we must invite the public in but keep them at a distance.” She would explain her charitable donations by saying “I believe it is my duty to open doors for those less fortunate, but no one said I couldn’t wear Chanel gloves while doing so!” Her book club would laugh their high pitched nasal laughs. They always laughed at her jokes— her monthly bank statement was single-handedly responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon. If she leaned back against Old Oakie on a sunny day she could pretend to be in the Amazon, but then she’d really be crazy. Sarah used the last five minutes of outdoor therapy to fully observe her surroundings. As far as insane asylums go, this one was pretty posh.


The therapist had left Chris’ side but her eyes were still very much on him. The bell rang. It was time to go in. Chris stood with his own eyes on himself, well the reflection of himself. His reflection was disturbed by a small, motionless, lump of fur.

“How fitting.”

Chris looked closer at the beaver and saw it had black, charred skin, “Poor thing. What burned you little fella?” The beaver didn’t answer him, the dead never talk.

Chris resigned himself to walk back to the facility. Maybe insane asylum was a stretch but to the judicial courts and more importantly to the court of public opinion this is what the Cedar Creek Asylum for the Criminally Insane was. It didn’t matter that the fifteen actual psychopaths were housed in a completely separate facility “nestled” into the thick forest on the other side of the lake. No one knew that these former socialites were essentially stuck in a regulated five-star resort. They even had a sweat lodge because apparently sweating is good for you; Chris had always heard that sweating caused acne. He trudged up the quiet hill and thought there were worse places to be stuck. His internet usage was monitored and the porn was crap, but at least he had running water and electricity. Electricity? Could that be what burned the beaver? Chris had thought that the hill was quiet because everyone else was already inside but now he realized it was something else. He listened harder and couldn’t hear a thing, not even a faint buzzing. The fence was out. What should he do? What could he do? If he left where would he go? If he went home his parents would send him right back. If he told someone it would be a wasted opportunity. Then a dark thought crashed into his brain like the event that landed him here. It was a satisfying one word thought. Revenge.

He remembered painting a creek near the edge of the compound during art therapy, maybe the beaver chewed through the fence and flowed into the lake? It was the absolute longest of shots but it was a shot he had to take. Chris diverted from the path and began a straight march to the brush. They were given a slight grace period with the curfew, but even that had its limitations.


“Where is he going.”

“I dunno but I don’t want to be late.”

“Come on Jamie live a little. Let’s follow him.”

“No, what if we get caught?”

“What if we get caught? What will they do? Restrict our sauna time?” Sarah put her hand on Jamie’s in a way that brought much needed color to his cheeks. He looked younger and almost attractive.

Jamie looked at her hand on his then back up to the facility. He knew his face was blushing and only hoped the blood didn’t flow elsewhere.


They followed in pursuit of Chris, who they both thought of as a friend until recently. He walked with a definitive purpose.


Chris felt eyes on him the whole duration of his walk but as long as no one tried to stop him he didn’t care.

The creek was exactly how he remembered it but the fence was nowhere in sight. He followed the water for about fifteen feet before reaching a clearing. The fence that had held him captive from afar for so long was now in front of him. The fence that represented everything he hated about his family and this town. The fence that now had a small hole in it. Jackpot. It wasn’t large enough to squeeze through but it was located just far enough in between the posts to have some give. Chris dug through the loose dirt with his soft, uncalloused, hands and managed to squeeze and scrap his way to the other side. Freedom.

“Oh my god, he left!” Sarah said.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Well, we have to go after him!”

“What? No we don’t!”

“Come on, let’s go.” Sarah dragged Jamie through the opening in the fence. As Jamie was face down in the dirt he realized it wasn’t his family he was afraid of.


Chris did not have a plan; he had an emotion. If he was caught? Oh well. The air somehow tasted sweeter on the other side of the fence, as if he was standing beside a cotton candy machine. With every passing second he became more aware of reality, making random turns, speeding up and slowing down all to ensure no one was following him. His goal, his end destination, became increasingly apparent.

He crested a hill and saw a large shack. Large enough to house a small plane, maybe it used to be part of a lumber yard? Back in the day, Cedar Creek made it’s money off two things: lumber and fur. Those industries quickly dried up but not before the descendants of the original settlers, or the founding families as they’re now known, made a savvy buisness deal. From 1836 to 1840 Cedar Creek was the largest supplier of wood for the pencil industry. The sixteen families with the most land banded together to sell off half of the land they owned to the Dixon Ticonderoga Company, amounting to 166 acres, in exchange for a one cent royalty per pencil sold in perpetuity. The families made their initial fortune off these royalties (and still split the money to this day) but they also made various individual investments in oil, steel, and most recently technology. With the Johnsons fortune crippled after a class action lawsuit against big pharma the richest family had to be the Louis family. They were early investors in Google, Facebook and Uber. Family history and superstar status bound them to Cedar Creek but Chris was free to do as he pleased, as long as it pleased his family.

He hated that mill because it was an enduring symbol of his family history and the money that bought his very expensive cage. He spat. Chris wanted so badly to burn it to the ground but the start of an engine caught broke his tirade. He noticed a school bus for the first time as it sputtered away from the shack. Chris followed it in hopes of finding a main road.


“Where the hell is he?”

“I don’t know Sarah. Can we go back now?”

“Do you know the way back?”

“No, I thought you did?”

“How would I miraculously memorize the path? My name isn’t Gretel.”

“Gretel didn’t memorize anything she dropped bread crumbs.”

“Not whatever! Was this your plan the entire time? To use Chris as excuse to escape?”

“No. My plan was to follow him and to see what his plan was, but clearly that didn’t work ou—” Jamie dragged her to the ground just before a yellow school bus rolled down the dirt road. When the bus was out of earshot they peeked through the foliage and saw Chris slinking along the path on the opposite side of the road. Bingo.


Chris made it to the main road and couldn’t believe his luck. He knew this area, in fact, one day he would own this area. Well, if he wasn’t already cut out of the will. Chris took the well worn path to his left. Laughter from his childhood echoed in the present. He had to remind himself that everything had changed since then. He walked a quarter mile, navigating the familiar backroad with confidence, before reaching his own backyard. He grabbed a log from the ground and stomped forward. Sarah and Jamie were now within arms reach of Chris. The same boy they used to be friends with, the same boy who at eight years old was taught how to shoot clay pigeons. He was an excellent shot, but not as good as his father.


The three of them fell to the ground dead. Chris’ father stood on his large mahogany porch, smoking gun still in hand.


Inside the police station was the Sheriff’s office, inside that office was a desk with a locked drawer. Inside that was an envelope with thirty thousand dollars cash. Ten thousand per body. Money talks, but the dead don’t. That envelope was thin compared to the dozens beneath it.

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