Read The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories Online

Authors: Aaron Polson

Tags: #collection, #dark fantasy, #fantasy, #ghost story, #horror, #monsters, #nightmare, #short story, #terror, #zombies

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories

THE bottom feeders and other stories

by

AARON POLSON

SMASHWORDS EDITION

* * * * *

PUBLISHED BY:

AARON POLSON on Smashwords

The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories

Copyright © 2010 by Aaron Polson

All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used
without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

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* * * * *

The bottom feeders and other stories

1: Everything in its Place

The mail boxes were labeled wrong. That was
the first hint that Lucey should have canceled her reservation at
El Hotel de la Trampa. She wasn’t too fond of other aspects of the
lobby, either: cheap candy in gaudy foil wrappers sat in a glass
fish bowl on the counter, the strange man on the sofa who kept
looking at her…


Can I help
you?”

Lucey’s attention shifted to the clerk.


Oh. Sorry…I was,” Lucey
forced a smiled, “I need to check in.”

The man opened the guest book and pushed a
pen across the counter. “Reservation?”


Yes. Harrison. Lucey
Harrison.”

He turned to the mailboxes,
but looked over his shoulder. “What is it you do,
Señora
?”


Oh...I’m not married. Why
do you…” Lucey’s eyebrows knit together. “Well, I work with
books.”

The clerk’s brown eyes burned into hers. “A
teacher?” His hand slid into one of the boxes, fishing for the
key.


No. A librarian. Only an
assistant, really.”

His hand stopped, crept out of the box, and
plunged into another labeled with a ‘G’. “Si.” He moved to the
counter and dropped a heavy brass-colored key. “Your room. Second
floor.” With a nod to her bags, he asked, “Would you like some
help?”

Lucey took the key and shook her head. Her
peripheral vision caught the face of the man on the lobby sofa. Was
he watching her?


Señorita
?”


No, I’m fine. Second
floor?”

The clerk smiled, showing a mouth of teeth
mismatched and yellow.

Maybe next time I won’t
travel on the cheap
, she
thought.

Lucey avoided the elevator and took the
stairs. As she opened the door to the second floor hallway, a
shadow moved at the end of the hall, perhaps someone entering their
room. Goosebumps crawled up her arms. She read the key, simply
labeled G, and felt the grooves of the embossed letter.

The first door on the right was labeled ‘H’;
on the left she found the letter ‘A’. She walked further, dragging
her suitcase across the worn carpet. Room designations descended on
the left in alphabetically order, but ‘G’ came directly after ‘E’.
Lucey felt the blood in her face.


Disorder and chaos. Not
very helpful at all,” she mumbled.

Her key slid into the lock, but would not
open the door.


Wait a second…”

The door was clearly labeled with a ‘G’—a
brass letter screwed to the center of the door. She touched it, and
then tried the key again. Nothing.

Lucey shook her head at the
thought of asking the clerk for help. The door was scratched around
the brass letter.
Maybe a
prank
, she thought. From the left side of
the hall, Lucey counted seven doors. She was at the
sixth.

With a soft click, the key
slid into the lock of the seventh door. Lucey turned the knob, and
pushed inside. The air was cool and clean. She worried about moldy
smells or the lingering odor of tobacco after seeing the state of
the lobby, but all seemed in order.
Good
.

Her folding screwdriver set—the miniature
kit for repairing eyeglasses—was in the front pouch of her
suitcase. Lucey Harrison wanted rest, but she also needed her room
letter set right. It wouldn’t do to have some stranger try to enter
in the night. Whoever played the prank could not be allowed to let
chaos seep in to a logical world.

Worse than the books at
work
, she thought. She slipped her key in
one pocket, and began unscrewing her letter ‘G’. Only three letters
were out of place overall, and she fixed them. It was quick work
really, as only one screw held each letter in place. Quick work and
proper order.

Her job done, Lucey tried her own
door—‘G’—again. The key would not work. She glanced down the hall
and counted again. Seven. The key still would not work.

But my bag is
inside
, she thought. Lucey Harrison’s
stomach began to knot, a prickly, unpleasant feeling.

She hurried down the stairs
to the lobby—
something I should have done
immediately
, she self-chastised. The first
sign of things gone wrong sat in the fish bowl on the counter.
Instead of the brightly wrapped candies, the bowl was now teeming
with small snails—too many, really, for such a small container. Her
eyes swept the rest of the room, noting the now-alphabetized mail
boxes behind the counter, the artificial palm tree where once stood
a display of vacation brochures. The old man still sat with his
paper, but now the sofa was a deep burgundy.


May I help
you?”

The clerk was wrong, too. He smiled, and his
teeth were too white. Perfect. His once-brown eyes had lost all
color, and now reflected her startled image in their grey irises.
Lucey looked at the key in her hand, but staggered a few steps
away.


You…you’re
not…”

Lucey jumped as a hand patted her on the
shoulder.


Come with me,” the man
with a newspaper said.

The clerk’s grey eyes sent a frost into
Lucey’s chest. She allowed the newspaper man to pull her aside,
close to the main entrance.


Is this a joke?” She
asked, her voice shaking.


I wish.” The man smiled;
not a warm smile, but one of knowing. “How’d they get
you?”

Lucey frowned.


Can I see your key?” the
man asked.

She hesitated, but held it out.


Oh. Second floor.” He
pushed a hand into his pocket and produced his own key. “Me, it was
numbers. See.” His hand opened to reveal a silver key with the
number five.

Lucey’s hands began to tremble. “I—I don’t
understand…where am I?”


I don’t know, really. But
wherever it is you want to be…well, you can’t get there from
here.”

Lucey blinked. “I’ll fix things. I’ll change
the doors again.” She backed toward the stairs.


Good luck.” The man
crossed his arms. “I’ll be waiting in the lobby.”

2: In Hollow Fields

Rolling fields of golden wheat and green
pasture swallowed a silver Honda as it sped along a stretch of
snaking asphalt. The driver leaned forward and shrugged his
shoulders, trying to stay awake after three hours in the car. He
rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and tightened his grip on
the wheel with the other. His passenger, eyes flitting from the
asphalt ahead to the side mirror as if measuring the length of
road, shifted in her seat.


How far will we be from a
hospital?”

Zach leaned back. “Don’t worry, Court. I
think there’s a hospital in Springdale—about fifteen miles
away.”

Courtney’s shoulders dropped. She rested
both hands on the top of her bulging belly. “I’m just not really
comfortable, you know.” She tilted her brown eyes out the window,
watching acres of Kansas prairie melt in an amber blur. “I’m seven
months along, Zach. Seven months. I don’t really want some redneck
doctor delivering our baby.”


Everything will be fine.
If all goes well, we’ll be out of this little shit-hole in a couple
of days. A week at most.” He smiled and patted her leg. “This could
be it, Court. The goldmine. The old bastard had his fortune wrapped
up in the farm. The land has to be worth thousands. Hundreds of
thousands.”

The car crested another hill and sped into
the valley below. The town of Broughton’s Hollow lay in front of
them, a loose arrangement of graying houses and broken streets, a
dying carcass of a village, left to fester in remembrance of an era
when family farms, railroads, and general stores ruled the American
Midwest. No fewer than four church steeples rose from valley.

Courtney shivered. “Well, at least we won’t
be short on Jesus.”

Zach offered a meek chuckle, but neither
spoke again as Zach steered the Civic through the dilapidated main
street and out the other side, toward his grandfather’s farm.

Courtney stayed in the car. Zach promised a
brief introduction to the lawyer and real estate agent, and then
they’d be off to Springdale for the night. She picked at her
fingernails while the three men stood and talked on the lawn in
front of the family farm house, discussing, she hoped, the sum Zach
could earn from a sale of the land his father left upon his death.
Zach Galen was the last of the family line, his own parents dead
from cancer and heart disease, and the farm with all its
surrounding fields were now his.

Zach glanced over at the
car, and Courtney waved with a return smile. He carried himself
with ease, an amateur musician trying to make his way in Kansas
City. Once they met, introduced by mutual friends after a show in a
smoky club, she lost herself to the easy wave in his hair and the
thick dimples that pulled back at the edges of his mouth when he
smiled. At least he
looked
like a rock star.

The other two men appeared
grey, maybe an effect of the pale sky. Since leaving the city, the
world had looked less colorful, but Courtney couldn’t quite
understand. The country air was supposed to be cleaner.
Fresh air, clean living, right?
She turned around and scanned the empty field
behind the car.
Clean living.

Zach approached the car and tapped on the
window. She lowered it.


I think we’re going to
stay here tonight,” he said.

She opened her mouth, paused, and said, “I
didn’t think the Hollow had any hotels.”

Zach smiled. “No, Court. We’re going to stay
here, at the farm.” Zach glanced behind him. “Mr. Olson, the
realtor thinks it would be a good idea, you know. Make it look like
I cared about being part of the town.” He knelt so he could look at
Courtney face to face. “It’s only one night, babe. Besides,
Springdale isn’t much bigger. Just the one motel with twenty
rooms.”

She nodded. “Just the one night.”


C’mon, I want to introduce
you.” Zach opened her door and led her from the car.

As far as Courtney was concerned, the men
were bad clones of one another. Grant Olson, identified as such by
the name badge he wore, emblazoned by the red and gold logo of
Valley Realty, was slightly taller than the lawyer. Both were clad
in the same sort of tan-grey suit, the color of which changed in
shadow or direct sunlight.


Gentlemen, this is my
girlfriend, Courtney Bauman.”

Courtney winced at the mention of her as
“girlfriend” although no more formal descriptor existed. She
thought the men bristled a bit too, both glancing down at her
stomach when Zach said the word. “Hello,” she offered.


Grant Olson, but you
probably already know that.” He tapped his name badge with pale,
waxen fingers.


Please to meet you,
Miss
Bauman.” The other
man reached out his hand, his fingers painted with the same strange
translucence as Olson’s. “My name is Joe Weedeman. Mr. Galen’s
lawyer.” He blinked. “The deceased Mr. Galen, that is. Zach’s
grandfather.”

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