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  • TC Parker

Lost Things & Forgotten Places: Season 1, Episode 1

Updated: Aug 27

Content warnings here

Remember: none of this ever happened.

The house was big and tasteless: a Greek Revival monstrosity in a Stepford neighborhood just north of Indianapolis, its octagonal columns drowning in a sea of artificially green grass and frosting-pink peonies. It screamed money, six-figure bonuses and well-stuffed 401(k)s, but the security was pitiful, so meager Lauren felt a pang of pity for the man inside. There were no cameras; no gates, electronic or otherwise; not even a guard dog drooling in its kennel, though she’d had the foresight to slide three strips of gabapentin-seasoned jerky into the pocket of her jeans before she’d set out for the suburbs. There were streetlights, scoring grotesquely elongated shadows into the lawn and sidewalk, but no-one to see them. No child’s laughter or raised adult voices carrying on the darkening air; no electroluminescent screen-glow radiating out from the half-closed blinds of living rooms or dens. If other people lived here, on this pallid stretch of avenue, then they were asleep already, every one. Asleep, or dead and rotting in their beds.

She went in around the back, picking the single lock on the back door as quickly as the owner might have turned a key, and slipped inside, her sneakers - white, generic, bought just that morning from a dollar store in Cincinnati - silent on the hardwood and her breaths coming so slow and so shallow you’d be forgiven for surmising that she’d ceased to breathe at all.

She’d find him on the couch downstairs, the wife had told her. That was how he slept now; stretched out like a corpse in a casket, the laugh track of a sitcom singing out in the background and his laptop open but faded to black, the specter of whichever sweepstakes poker site he’d last visited still haunting his browser. She briefly considered, as she stalked the hallway, how much he’d lost that evening, and how he planned to pay for those losses: there were nothing left in their savings account, the wife had said, and their joint account - as well as the clandestine current account he’d created for himself online and thought she didn’t know about - had been drained dry. He’d taken out personal loans and extra credit cards to cover the debts as he racked them up - the wife had presented her with the evidence, although Lauren hadn’t asked to see it - but even these were at their limit, the cards maxed out and the loans accumulating interest at a barely legal rate. Maybe, Lauren thought, he’d finally succeeded in persuading some bank, somewhere to issue a card in the wife’s name, after all.

Was it any wonder she wanted him gone? Lauren sure as hell would, in the other woman’s shoes. She wouldn’t blink before she pulled the trigger.

Her mind drifted, at that, from the state of the wife’s marriage to the weapon strapped to her own lower leg, and she reached down - all the way down the length of herself and, as if performing a complicated hamstring stretch, drew the pistol from its holster with both hands. It was a ghost gun, boxy as a Glock, assembled - as per the wife’s instructions - specifically for this job, and this job alone. Lauren, truth be told, would have preferred a knife, a Bowie or a tantō or a well-oiled Gerber Mark II. But the wife had been adamant about what she wanted, about the way in which she intended the scene to play out for its eventual audience, and no argument from Lauren on the efficacy of blade versus firearm would persuade her otherwise.

After all, she’d said, back at Lauren’s office in the City, contempt and and simmering rage curling her lip and flaring her nostrils, this isn’t a hunting accident or a bar fight we’re talking about, is it? It’s a robbery. A home invasion gone awry. And what kind of robber takes a knife with them to ransack a house?

The wife would be in Baltimore now, with her sister - the trip planned months in advance, for the sake of verisimilitude. Would have been there for five days already; not scheduled to be back for at least another three. Leaving the husband alone with his computer, and probably her credit card, playing hand after hand of Texas Hold ‘Em until exhaustion took him over.

Such terribly unfortunate timing.

Gun sandwiched between her leather-gloved palms and one finger on the trigger, with barely a pause to revisit the floorplan she’d memorized and the position of the furniture within it, Lauren edged further down the hallway toward the living room. She could hear the television now; the low hum of alien voices, muted laughter, a sudden change in tone and pitch that marked temporary the shift from scheduled broadcast to diabetes-drug commercial slots and special messages from televangelists. Proof, if she’d needed it, that someone was home.

Where the hall met the living room’s doorframe, she pressed her back to the wall, gun raised. The door was ajar, just a crack; a thin blue light leaked out from under it, staining the floorboards the purple of a healing bruise. He’d be directly opposite the doorway, on the couch, his neck - the wife had assured Lauren - angled upward to the ceiling as he slept and his feet dangling over the couch’s cushioned arm. One shot to head was all she’d need, quick and clean, though she planned to take others, to put three or four more bullets in his chest and throat. This was a robbery, after all; it couldn’t be an execution.

She spun on her heel, kicked the door wide open with the ball of her foot and stepped through, gun levelled at the couch and the cocoon of blankets it enveloped.

Saw what was under them, and almost dropped the gun.

It was him, the husband - he and the living room configured exactly as the wife had said they’d be, all the way down to the blank laptop screen on the coffee table and the pair of feet splayed out over the edge of the couch. And certainly, he was asleep - asleep, or unconscious. But not under threat of torture would Lauren have recognized the face staring out at the room from below the heaped assembly of fleece throws and floral comforters, its black-ringed eyes mercifully closed, as the man in the wedding albums and family photographs she’d studied, had she not been expecting to find him there.

His skin was… green: pale and bloodless, the olive-and-pink of his cheeks and chin and forehead turned the color of mint ice-cream in the glare of the television. He was bald, entirely bald from crown to temple, every follicle of the thick brown hair she’d seen in the photos gone from his scalp - and collected, now, in oily radiation-sickness clumps around his blanket-wrapped shoulders. His mouth was a puckered void, the jaw hanging soft and slack and the teeth it was missing, to her horror, stuck loosely to his withered lips and gathered like a choker at his collarbone.

Below the blanket, his chest rose and fell, weakly; he was alive, despite the damning evidence of his appearance, though she couldn’t imagine anyone surviving long that way. Whatever had befallen him since the wife had left, whatever had brought him to his present state, he reminded her of nothing and no-one she’d seen before in the flesh. Instead, she thought of images seared into the camera lenses of wartime photographers: the screaming, burning almost-perished of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Trang Bàng and Halabja.

Keeping the gun trained on him - on the doughy, bulbous flesh of that too-smooth head - she moved closer. When there was less than the span of a body between them, the smell of him hit her: raw meat and fermenting fruit, draining pus and sulfur. She gagged; pressed her lips together to keep the taste at bay.

Alive or not, he was rotting.

She shifted the gun to her left hand and pulled her right hand to her own face, to protect her nose and mouth. It was a likely a futile gesture, she realized, even as she performed it; if what she was seeing was the result of something airborne, something bacterial that had first attacked him through his lungs, then she’d already have inhaled it. It would be in her now, right this second: carving pathogenic pathways through her trachea, flooding her blood and her lymphatic system with disease. But the impulse to stave it off was irresistible, regardless; as instinctive as making the sign of the cross at the foot of an altar.

And three feet away from her, the blankets continued to rise and fall, rise and fall with every fetid breath that broken face let free.

She pulled the neckline of her t-shirt - black, unbranded, purchased along with the sneakers and the Hoosiers cap that covered her hair - up and over the lower half of her own face in a loose approximation of a surgical mask, and cocked the pistol. He might not be pretty, she reasoned, and odds were good he was halfway out of this world already - but she’d taken the wife’s money, watched the payment land, and however unnecessary Lauren’s part in the cessation of their marriage might now be, it was a part she nonetheless felt obligated to fulfil. She had standards, after all. She’d built her business on them.

She squeezed the trigger, aiming not for his brain stem as she’d originally intended but for the center mass below the blankets - too disgusted at the prospect of what fluids might seep and trickle from the organ under that sickly skull to want to risk a headshot. The pistol discharged as quietly as she’d hoped it would, the report too low to wake any neighbors there might be, and the bullet bridged the gap between them, breaching the nest of throws and comforters and entering his midsection with a warm, wet pop; a straw piercing the rind of an overripe mango.

His eyes flew open, and and a gurgling sound came loose from his throat - the accompanying twitch and shudder dislodging a half-dozen uprooted teeth from his lower lip and sending them skittering like bugs onto the carpeted floor. The eyes too had a greenish hue, she saw: a septic, ulcerated tinge that made her wonder if whatever sickness had immobilized him had blinded him, too.

She pulled the trigger again: two, three, four times more, peppering his chest and stomach with slugs, all the while steeling herself for the headshot. Finally she took it, spattering the couch and the wallpaper behind it with dark blood and more fragments of bone than she might have anticipated, and he was still.

Generally she stuck around a spell, right after - if for no other reason than to be sure the job was done. Kept watch over the body; made certain nothing moved when it ought not to be moving.

Not tonight, though.

One set of thumb and fingers still clasped to her nose and mouth, she tucked the gun into her waistband and backed out of the room, gaze locked on the dead thing in the reddening blankets. Out in the hallway, she took a left, passing the kitchen and the study until she hit the stairs; went up, no longer bothering to muffle her footsteps, and onto the master bedroom and its walk-in closet. The jewelry chest was hidden where the wife had left it, behind the hanging rod that held six or seven of the husband’s more expensive suit jackets; as easily as she’d picked the back door lock, Lauren prised it open, unfastened the drawers and crammed as many of the earrings, chains and pendants as would fit into the belly bag strapped tight to the skin below her t-shirt. There was a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of gold and silver in that chest, the wife had said, before briefing Lauren on exactly where to bury it, when the contract was fulfilled; that it had stayed in the chest, despite the husband’s predilections, was testament less to his moral fiber than to his absent-mindedness, his tendency to forget - distracted as he’d been by straight flushes and full houses - that the jewelry was there at all.

There was nothing else of real value on the first floor, but she helped herself to a few bits and pieces, for appearances’ sake: a men’s watch from the bedside table, a fountain pen from the writing bureau, an analog camera from the dresser. Then she was gone: down the stairs and through the back door, across the yard and back into the Toyota she’d picked up used in Cleveland and planned to abandon before she hit the parking lot at Fort Wayne International.

She took the I-60 to the airport; bought a ticket at the desk and hopped an early flight to Vegas, then another from Harry Reid to LAX; caught a cab from there to the Venice boardwalk and walked fifteen minutes more to her apartment by the beach, where she showered until her hair and nails were free of the smell of decay.

The possibility of contamination, putrefaction, disintegration; of the husband’s infection defiling her as it had defiled him… it troubled her. But managing worry, compartmentalizing anxiety - these were necessary attributes, in her line of work. All she could do, she told herself, was stay vigilant; watch out for any changes to her body, any symptoms, and make a judgement call thereafter, should any present themselves. Her doctor was good, her internist better; should she require more specialist attention, she would find it.

And so, soon enough, she slept.

Several weeks would pass before she’d realize how fortunate she’d been, in catching that first flight out of Fort Wayne. Not 24 hours after her plane left the runway, the airport - along with South Bend, Evansville and Indianapolis International - closed to all traffic, outbound and inbound. McCarran followed suit a week later - as, eventually, did LAX.

Not one of them would reopen. And though Lauren herself would stay healthy, every aircraft grounded on the tarmac - from Delaware County to Santa Barbara - would also, after a time, begin to rot.





#SerialisedFiction #serializedfiction #serializedstory #serializedhorror #freenovel


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