Harraford Sterdeven realized he was dead. He’d known where things were headed, had known with a sure and advancing inner certainty somewhere this side of a week before the final announcing knock came on his door. The knock (reverberating like the gong of a weighty cathedral bell) sounded loudly early that morning. Three solid booms. Then all fell silent. He couldn’t recall any pain, but perhaps pain was a living sensation and he was past that; past the understanding of it, the knowledge of sensation or memory there of. He sat upright, eyes fixed and clocked open, staring at the TV. CNN was on and Jake Tapper was giving the daily rundown of assorted mayhem and political lunacy. Harraford found it strange that in this state he couldn’t feel anything or remember any human functions, but for whatever reason he could still watch TV. He couldn’t hear it, though. Who knew? He wondered if he’d soiled himself on his way out…not that he’d smell it. The sense of smell was gone along with the rest. Thankfully. It could be some time before he was found. He supposed that if he had loaded his drawers it would be left to whoever found him to deal with. Most likely the coroner’s attendants. The cleanup crew. He’d be hosed down and bundled, dripping, onto stainless steel so the attending coroner could solve the final mystery of what carried him low, as they say. That opened an uncomfortable train of thought. Funny how thoughts kept rolling while everything else was disabled. Like an engine uncoupled from its transmission. What will become of me? he wondered. Where will I go?

He wasn’t a religious man. He had a problem with hypocrisy, especially these days, and the unflinching zealotry of the combined faiths seeing their beliefs to be all knowing and preordained. Not everyone could be right. There was the carrot and the stick thing. On the one hand, if you lead what one particular faith ascribed as a righteous life, you got slingshotted straight to heaven when you died. This would be the carrot. On the other hand, if you acted up, as in being human with the full deck of earthly desires and didn’t atone properly at the end of the trail, you’d be cast screeching into the blazing depths of hell where horned demons farted flames and poked your soft spots with red-hot pikes. So no, Harraford wasn’t sold on religion. Still, the thought nagged. Something would happen. Something had to, eventually. This opened a dark maw of possibilities. Scenes floated past in snatches, each terrible in its own right. He’d be found, at some point. Taken by ambulance most likely to the hospital where the legal formality of cause of death had to be listed. He suspected a heart attack, the one he’d sensed approaching for the past week. Then, with no family or close friends to speak of, his wife long gone, no final arrangements having been made previously, it was likely he’d be cremated…then what? His ashes cast to the four winds somewhere? Would he still be realizing all this? He doubted the county would kick up for an urn and even so, where would it be placed? Also, money was a thing. He had none, so any arrangements made would be sparse to none. It was expensive to die these days. More scenes floated past. The interior of the crematorium oven, the gas jets, the flames. Even though he seemed to be beyond feelings, pain, etc., the thought of blasting flames reducing his body to ash was ghastly. He had to calm his…what? Mind, consciousness, to get some semblance of a grip. He would backtrack logically to occupy himself with thoughts of the previous week and beyond, if for nothing better than to uncoil this dread for a time.

***

Rose Talbot drew deep on the last of her unfiltered Camel and flicked the remains out her open window. Route 17 swam along in dull gray splendor. She could drive this route blindfolded; every dip turn curve and rut was welded into her fabric. Her route. Route 17 to Route 32. Twelve miles, 20 mailboxes. Twelve miles stitched together by run-down ranch houses, trailers with trash strewn yards (more than one with a dangerous dog held at bay by an oversized rusting chain), and a cluster of what she thought of as trailer-shacks. Trailers that had weather-worn particleboard outbuildings added on. The last stop on her route featured a dilapidated farmhouse with an attached ramshackle barn. The barn roof had partly collapsed, and looking at it gave the impression of a tortured face squinting its right eye. Rose chuckled. Harraford Sterdeven, she thought. Who would collapse first, him or his barn? She slowed, fished in her plastic tote for what little mail Harraford might have, and crawled to a halt. A Central Maine Power bill and a state disability check. One to feed the other, she thought. Rose opened the mailbox and popped them into the shadowed innards. She noticed there were a couple of unclaimed envelopes nestled in there. Today was Monday, so these had lain in there since she’d last delivered the previous Friday. Lazy, she thought, studying the state of house and barn. Time to cart him off to Grave’s Edge. (The local elder care facility was called Waters Edge, but Rose tittered at her pet name for it.) He probably hasn’t paid the taxes on this shit hole for a decade. Let the town take it and flatten it. She slapped the mailbox door closed and idled on her way.

***

Harraford noticed the first scatter of flies early that morning. Just a few, perhaps half a dozen. Tiny twinkling dots that danced around the TV’s continuing coverage. One fly honed in on his face (now becoming lax and clay-like) and lit on his open right eye. How rude, he thought, studying the mat of thorny hairs that pelted its legs. The fly crawled along, tentatively, perhaps expecting a hand to bat it away at any moment, but no hand came. In fact no movement of any kind, not even the blink of an eye. Safe ground, thought the fly. Fertile. Tasty. Hate coursed through Harraford as the looming thing trotted along his cornea. Biting rage that held the hissing tang of vinegar. He channeled this at the fly, willed a pointed stream of brute venom at it. He was held captive for flies to do with as they pleased and this was beyond anything that had eclipsed the previous day. Then…then came a point when he became aware of something else. Something new. A sensation. It was impossible to describe because it wasn’t a physical feeling. It was as if a cloud of sorts took on a pointed shape and then became aimed. Through his anger a sort of force swam past his fixed gaze and caused the crawling fly to buzz away. Or at least so he thought. Off it flew. The force continued on and Harraford saw it caused a barely perceptible ripple in a corner curtain. The force acted as a subtle breeze. What’s this, he wondered. Did I…direct it? He supposed there could be use for such a thing, but for what escaped him at the moment. He tried to direct the force again with no luck. CNN continued the day’s news cycle and he remained motionless with his thoughts caged. Wading through snatches of the recent past had been for not. Nothing in particular stuck out. All had been usual, just the regular monotony of daily routine. One pant leg at a time, one foot in front of the other. Whatever had brought on this…this what? Supernatural state, he supposed you’d call it, was beyond him. Old black and white horror movies fanned through his head with lines like “a still echoing dirge of empty spaces. A stark forest of blackened limbs and spidery branches that clawed at a bleak sky. A terrifying personal mystery.” Thinking along these lines, and unable to reign these images and spooky movie dialogues in, something nudged deep down inside over whatever was driving all this. A tiny worm began to bore its way, spiraling slowly, to the surface of his thoughts with what he supposed might be an answer. It came like the wind, a wash of tide. Wasn’t it obvious? Energy of some sort, and still running around in this…shell. This Harraford suit? Ghost. I’m a ghost. A ghost tethered to a body. My body.

***
Comfort Pelsot’s mongrel dog was in the middle of the road. It was batting at the remains of a dead raccoon. Rose laid on the horn. Fucking thing. She’d be doing it a favor if she floorboarded the old Caprice and flattened it. But there’d be a mess, and if Comfort happened to see her do it from her trailer window, there’d be hell to pay. Comfort was one snake-mean skank. Rose gave the horn another meaty pelt, and the dog raised its head in her direction. You pick your battles, it thought. That’s a car and I’m a dog, who’s apt to win? It sauntered to the roadside and Rose blew past. Not so much junk mail and political flyers now that the election was in the rearview. That was a sea of turds she was well shed of. Raped a forest for flyers and pamphlets, and for what? Let them soak in it. The familiar line of trailers came into view. Sally Pickering didn’t have squat today, nor did Albert Tilton. “Speaking of rapists,” she hissed, while passing his mailbox. That left Harraford. She fished through her tote. Cable bill, that was it. Full boat cable, likely, and that house coming apart like a kite in a cyclone. She stopped, opened the flap and tossed the bill inside. He still hadn’t picked up his mail. There it sat, mounting. Sick maybe, she mused, then slapped the flap shut and motored on…but as she did a little something began to peck away.

***

At the same time that Rose trundled past his front yard, Harraford sat moldering with his nagging thoughts. They circled as a dog chases its tail. At what point might he be discovered? Visitors weren’t likely. He couldn’t recall the last time anyone had dropped by for the mere hell of it. Most of his friends were dead, and the few remaining he had casual regard for were more in the category of the odd wave when he passed them on the road. He was on automatic delivery by the local heating oil supplier and he’d paid ahead, so nobody there would give him the slightest thought. His mind painted scenes of familiar faces and he wondered if any of his dead friends had gone through similar situations as his, or his wife for that matter? She had died two years prior and had been buried at the Whispering Pines cemetery. Harraford didn’t like the thought of her tucked in a coffin while still in this strange active mental state, or whatever the hell it is. This image brought a swell of grief, all the more miserable because he’d plugged her in the coffin; paid out nigh on four grand for it. Her family had set the plot she was buried in aside years ago. At one time they’d talked about buying a ‘his and hers’ joint plot, but that plan had drifted away with the day-to-day shuffle and had never been revisited. And then the morning came when he woke to find her dead beside him. Was her mental motor still running like his? God, he hoped not. And how long was this…this ‘ongoing’ supposed to last? No, it’s the oven at Ballard Crematorium for him, where he hoped in earnest that this horrible state he found himself in would be burned into oblivion.

* * *

Days rolled by and Rose delivered. She liked that phrase.

* * *

Harraford had been practicing. He barely realized he was doing it, just a little something that tickled, but he kept at it. He’d found he was able to channel ‘the breeze’ (which is how he’d come to think of it) into a sort of pointed force. This had come about by accident, through increasing bouts of rage ramping up as he stewed over his plight. The second time it had happened (after the initial fly incident) had happened two nights ago. His thoughts had tumbled from free-range rolling monotony into a dark path of frustration and self-pity. At length they had roiled into a near tantrum of anger. His eyes (still fixed in the same direction, now dim and glazed) spied a coffee cup sitting near the edge of the old RCA console TV. A birthday gift from his wife some years ago, with “horny hubby” written on the side. For whatever reason this chafed him and he zeroed in on it. Raving profanity in his head, he launched a bolt of rage at it and POW; the cup was sent flying to the floor, breaking the handle off. Well, well, well, he chuckled inwardly, surprised and amused. He fetched at the strings that caused this little action. Anger…rage. Given his situation these feelings were close at hand. He summoned up an image. The neighbor’s mongrel dog peppering his yard with turds, half submerged now in snow and ice because he couldn’t shoo the thing away. How he’d like to clout its lumbering flanks with his Louisville Slugger, or heat its haunches with a double barrel charge of birdshot. At this, rage swam and the force sprang out, fanning the room in four directions. A glass shattered on the nearby coffee table, magazines and old newspapers fluttered and took flight in shredded tatters. The hands on the wall clock whirled in a dizzying blur. This was wonderful! He later found he could levitate small objects.

* * *

Rose was hungover. She’d been tossing them back the night before with her husband and his friends from the lumber mill ‘til the wee hours. Her head thrummed with a dull ache that refused to relent and the previous night’s vodka sloshed around her belly with every dip and sway of the road. She’d seen it coming. She’d heard the bell. There was a point that came every time you were in the jolly midst of getting liquored up where a little bell chimed in your head that offered advice. Either “last call, go home” or “gallop on and piss all.” She’d pissed all. She fired a Camel and barked a haze of smoke toward the inch or so of open driver’s window. It was bitch cold and spitting snow, the gray sky looming low with storm clouds. A few crows, or maybe ravens (they were big suckers) swooped around the corners of things in the distance. She saw Comfort’s mongrel dog planked in the middle of her gravel driveway, stalk still, and staring in the direction of her rapist neighbor’s trailer and past that to Harraford’s setup. The dog looked more like a lawn ornament than its usual panting nuisance that at times gave chase as she muddled along her route. Weird, she thought. No mail whatsoever for Comfort or her rapist neighbor, but there were a handful of things for Harraford. A couple of junk mail flyers from area car dealerships (again, the thought of clear cutting a forest for nada), something from Meals on Wheels (yet more free-loading; fucking parasites), and last but not least, (and this brought a chuckle), a tax assessment bill staring up through its clear plastic window in glorious pink! Rose hissed, “You can’t fight THE MAN, mister!” She pulled to a stop at Harraford’s mailbox, cranked down her window and plucked open the little door. As she was popping in the mail she heard a distinct and mournful sound come from behind. It echoed along the still morning and caused her hand to freeze halfway between box and car. It was Comfort’s mongrel dog. It was baying.

* * *

CNN droned on. Left wing riots, right wing riots. A mass shooting in Texas, twelve dead along with the shooter. Ted Cruz spewed something about the only way to prevent such horror is to arm the public. Ted reminded Harraford for all the world of Grandpa Munster, and his remarks caused him to remember an old episode of All In The Family where the topic of hijackings was featured. “What you gotta do,” bawled Archie Bunker, “is arm your passengers.” Harraford of course couldn’t hear any of this diatribe, but he followed the crawl along the lower part of the screen. The room was in chaos. The coffee table had been upended, every picture on the walls had been scattered to the four corners, frames splintered, glass shattered. He’d managed to overturn both the couch and a heavy armchair and tear open the fabric on each, which sent stuffing billowing in wooly geysers to the ceiling. The blade from a standing fan had been torn free and laced through the room like a whirring saw blade to slam into the wall ‘til half submerged. He’d continued to practice his strange new skill until it was now practically second nature. All he needed to do was fix on something that enraged him, aim the thought at an object, and zowie! Less destructive was a kind of clutching or grasping power he’d found he was capable of. He was able to levitate objects and move them around, and with this he’d decided that not only was he a sort of ghost, but he was a poltergeist as well. At dawn on the sixth day (since he’d woken up dead) he decided to have a peek at himself and survey the damage thus far. Judging by the amount of flies, growing in numbers by the day, it couldn’t be pretty. The flies though, they kept their distance. It was as if he was cloaked in a kind of force field when it came to them. His wife kept an antique hand mirror with a silver handle in the hall bathroom. He thought about it, pictured it, then coaxed it to hover his way through the hall and stop a foot or so from his face. What he saw was both better and worse than what he imagined. His facial muscles had relaxed and slackened, giving way to gravity, and gave the impression of flesh sliding slightly downward. He had the waxy corpse hue of parchment and all the tiny spidery veins could be seen as if looking through a still surface of water. His eyes had begun to ride deep in their sockets and were now no more than milky orbs. How the hell could he still see through them? Who knew? What few wisps of hair he had before all this looked dry and brittle. More like straw than hair. And last but not least, his mouth. It was pulled down in an unnatural sort of frown so that only the few lower teeth he had left shown in dull twinkles. That was the state of things. He went back to CNN.

* * *

Rose was troubled…though maybe troubled was too strong a word for it. It was a vague sort of feeling she couldn’t quite put a finger on, distant, muffled somehow, one she’d had a time or two before in the past. Something. Something just below the surface of things that nagged. There was no reason for this, all was right with her chunk of the world, or so it seemed. She’d gotten up per usual and shambled to the kitchen, poured her first pail of coffee and leaned by the sink, gazing out at the day through the kitchen window. It had snowed a couple of inches, nothing major. Her Chevy Caprice was dusted with fresh powder and she watched it already melting away under dazzling winter sunshine. She sighed, glancing at the breakfast dishes left unwashed on the counter. Her husband was an early riser and rarely, if ever, cleaned up after himself before heading off to work. That was all right. He was good-hearted, and hell on wheels in the sack back in the day when such things sparked brush to flames. (He referred to their bed as “the work bench.”) Rose smiled. What was this feeling though, this . . . unease? Where had it come from? Over the course of her years she’d had the odd nudge of female intuition, a sort of precursor or heads-up of something about to happen. A dull sort of low buzz inside that wouldn’t quit. She remembered it had happened three years ago, just a few days before the Tilton kids had been killed in a terrible car accident on Johnston Road. They, along with a packed carload of friends, had been drunk and flying at high speed when Horace Tilton had drifted into the gravel shoulder, lost control, and flipped their father’s old Chrysler end for end, coming to a mangled wreck in the road’s center. Both Tilton boys dead at the scene, with the other passengers ferried to the Maine Medical Center for extended ICU stays. At the time Rose had known something was on its way to happening. She didn’t know the ‘what’ of it, or the ‘when’ of it, but she was certain of the ‘it’ of it. This wasn’t really like that. It was more like someone, or something, calling her name. It was low but it was there, rhythmically. And it was creepy. Her Zippo and pack of Camels lay close at hand and she fished one out, noticing a little tremble in her hand.

* * *

Harraford gazed past what remained of the TV (he’d sent it cartwheeling around the room in a crazed dance the previous night that had snapped off the legs, vaporized the screen, and churned half the solid maple to sawdust. All this after he’d been seized by a tantrum) and stared out the window that faced the road at the end of his driveway. He’d ripped away the curtains that hindered his view and sent them looping like old time movie ghosts. They zoomed around, chasing each other in a World War I-style dogfight. Anything to break up the monotony, which was truly wearing on him now as things rolled on and he sank deeper into the folds of his Lazy Boy recliner. Here at least he could watch the living world parade by, which was far better than CNN droning on, repeating the same daily events in quarter hour segments. The road was life, predictable in ways, unpredictable in others. Interesting. There was a sense of the living world that still pulsed. It pulsed, unlike him. He watched a crow glide past. A gray squirrel raced up an oak tree. Life. There was jealousy there. It simmered, bubbled. He realized he was becoming an angry ghost, and who could blame him? Trapped in a shell, hollow, empty, enraged. He thought pain might be the better alternative. To feel himself slowly rot away. Cave in, expel gas, ooze into the sodden chair cushions. A sensation of any kind. But of course there was nothing. Nothing…except ‘the breeze’ he controlled and the jealousy and rage that harnessed it. A car slowed in front. It was Rose delivering the day’s mail. Here was something, he thought.

* * *

Harraford didn’t have any mail (she’d checked her tote) but she stopped anyway. She had no clue why, she just felt she, well, should. She opened the mailbox and saw the previous week’s worth of letters, junk mail, etc. untouched and piled where she’d left them. The still morning seemed to dim a shade as she looked. Hackles stirred at the nape of her neck. There was something not right here, she thought, glancing out at the house and barn. The feeling she’d been having lately ramped up a notch. The unease. What should I do? The post office had rules about such things, and there was also her own common sense. She couldn’t recall the official protocol (she’d been delivering mail for damn near twenty years and had never found a reason to check what the official steps were for such a quandary) but common sense told her that if a person who normally trudged out and grabbed his mail daily let a week or better pass by without doing so, he was likely in some kind of Dutch as her grandmother would’ve put it. She squinted and stared harder around the yard, then narrowed her gaze and fixed on the front door. No tracks. There was an inch or so of snow blanketing the lawn and walkway. No tracks and no sign anything had been shoveled. Sick, she imagined, he’s sick. Maybe the ‘Rona? Do I want to trot up to that door, knock and see? She took in the house and barn. It was fairly dark and overcast that morning, but no sign of a light on anywhere inside. For that matter, the windows were pitch black with a couple of missing panes. Must run through some oil, she thought, heating that ark. More than a few clapboards had come off the place, and there was that slanting where the house joined the barn that gave the impression of some geezer having had a stroke. “No,” she sighed audibly, “I’m not going up there, no way in hell.” The thing to do, she reasoned, was to call one of the neighbors and ask if they’d seen him out and about; maybe they could check on him. She doubted any of them would. You had the rapist and a couple welfare witches, and they’d be more likely to rob the place for prescription drugs and set him on fire than check on his wellbeing. There was the Sheriff’s office, she could call them. That seemed like the better option. She turned her attention back to the open mailbox, meaning to slap the door shut, when everything gathered inside took flight and sailed through her open window, flitting around her head in a funnel cloud.

* * *

Harraford watched the mailbox from his vantage point and saw the contents spat into Rose’s open window. He saw the expression on her face (it was priceless) and howled gales of delighted laughter from inside his shackled skull. How do you like that, he hissed from his penned chamber. He scolded himself for not remembering to raise the little flag beforehand for outgoing mail, and this brought more hooting. He’d known an opportunity would present itself soon enough to stretch his legs (so to speak) and test the range of his powers. He’d carried out a test run on the neighbor’s mongrel earlier that morning. Hellish as his situation was, there were new treats that brought unexpected wonders daily. He’d pictured the dog in his thoughts and had called it. There had been some resistance, but soon enough it had appeared at the end of his driveway as if being dragged by an invisible leash. It moaned and bayed, shivered and quaked and tried its best to bolt back in the direction of home, but Harraford seized it by ‘the breeze’ and held it. Then he levitated it. Mercy was lost to him at this point. In life he would’ve never done such a thing. He’d been a caring person and he and his wife had loved an assortment of dogs over their years. Now though, now things had changed. All was resentment, and rage was his focus. I’d like to see anyone strapped to this chair, he thought, and see how their mood went. Why, it would drive a knobby cob up a saint’s britches. He held the dog a few feet off of the ground at first, then raised it ‘til it equaled the treetops of the junk pines that followed the road, and began to fly it around as if it were a drone. The animal howled and clawed at the thin air, looping and darting around the high branches. Its wails sounded like a fire engine. After a time Harraford brought it safely back to earth and released all force. Go home, he thought, and bite someone for me. The dog’s eyes walled in their sockets and it tore back toward its home as if chased by flames. It seemed a small inkling of pity remained in him. Back to the present, Rose sat stupefied, her meaty face stretched to an impossible cartoon. Her eyes spun in circles following the cascade of swirling mail. Harraford whooped, imagining a Three Stooges skit, and sent the letters slapping at her cheeks. She screamed then, the sound echoing. Rave, he thought, screech, wail, and bellow. I’m a spook, a haint, a specter, and I’m driving this morning!

* * *

“Dear God!” screamed Rose. “The world’s come apart, I’ve lost my mind!”  Envelopes slapped her cheeks in a dizzying blur. The open pack of Camels on the console fired cigarettes like an RPG, joining the spinning cloud. Two found her nose and plugged into her nostrils. “Help me!” she barked, and shot the Camels free like torpedoes. She ground around in her seat, bucking and batting at the mail. The rearview mirror began to spin, slowly at first then picking up speed. The big tote on the passenger seat still held a scatter of mail and all that flapped free to join the mix. Soon the car’s interior became a howling blizzard of paper along with any and all scattered trash on the floorboards. Rose screamed again at the top of her lungs. Harraford watched with glee, imagining the sound as her mouth yawned to an impossible oval. The ‘breeze’ pulsed from him with the force of an uncoupled fire hydrant. He grew giddy with it, and soon the battered Lazy Boy recliner that held him began to first twitch, then hover off of the floor. The interior of the room joined the whirling chorus and soon everything not nailed down rose and spun. Out! I want out, he screeched inside his penned noggin, and the volume pelted the walls of his skull. The chair that held him now spun alongside everything else in the room as a tremendous sonic boom blasted out half the wall that housed the window and its casing.

* * *

Rose sat nailed to her seat, gape jawed and pleading to whatever God might listen. She wailed and rained blows in every direction, striking the dash and cracking it. Reason was nearing a breaking point. The crazed maelstrom howled on inside the Caprice and there came a time when she realized from somewhere in her tangled, terror stricken mind, that the car had somehow left the ground. The radio popped on by itself and blared heavy metal music at top volume. “I have to get out,” she wheezed, panting now from the strain on her vocal chords. “Have to get out of the car.” She gawked to her left through the chaos and tore at the door handle. Locked. The adjustable bench seat grew a mind of its own and began to ride forward on its track, pinning her to the steering wheel, and then wrenching her back in spastic lurches. The seatbelt tightened and bit into her midriff as if it were a coiled python. “Breathe,” she squeaked, “Can’t breathe.” It loosened then tightened, loosened, tightened. The seat shot forward then back. The car swayed on an invisible cushion a few feet off of the ground and the engine began to thunder as the gas pedal pinned itself to the floor mat. The muffler tore free and shot through the open air as if fired from a cannon. Through all of this, the most shocking thing was what she glanced through the passenger window with her eyes walled to the size of pie plates. Harraford Sterdeven was floating three feet off of the ground in an old recliner through a huge blasted hole in the side of his house. He looked like a mannequin or a wax dummy—and he was gliding her way.

* * *

She thought of Lester (her husband), of her mother, of Jesus, as Harraford advanced. The chair he rode in dipped slightly to the right and left, bobbed, then righted itself as if he was still in the early stages of learning to pilot it. On he came, straight at her. She noticed a large stain in the crotch of his frayed khaki work pants and thought, pissed himself. He’s pissed himself. His face was unflinching, a statue’s face, gray and fixed with the eyes shadowed in deep sockets, but she knew for solid certain their gaze was focused on her. Then, a dozen or so feet from the passenger door the chair stopped dead and simply hovered. The storm inside the car interior ceased and everything fell to the floor. The engine remained pinned wide open though, with a deafening roar that bathed the morning with blasting volume, the howl of it enough to strip bark from the trees. Suddenly the driver’s side door unlocked and sprang open as Rose’s seatbelt uncoupled and she was flung out, sailing from a height of six feet or better to the frozen shoulder of the road. She tumbled and rolled and at last landed in a heap staring in shocked wonder at the undercarriage of the floating Caprice. Her hair stood on end in the style of a beehive and she fetched for a scream, but none came. She’d later find a cloud of snow white that spiraled from roots to tips. Flames began to leap from the car’s broken exhaust, trailing ten feet as if from a comet. Doors flew open and neighbors spilled into yards. Comfort Pelsot’s dog ran in the opposite direction as if scorched. It left behind echoing wails. The neighbors gaped, jaws dropped, mouths sprang open. Harraford’s chair rose. It rose higher and higher still, ‘til it crested the treetops (much as Comfort’s mongrel had earlier that day) and began a zigzagging pattern between the tall limbs. Round and round it banked, dipped, then soared. At one point it flew so high it was no more than a pinprick to those frozen on the ground watching it. Then it fell to earth; a guided dart that fixed on the scatter of people following its antics. “The hell?!” cried Comfort. Speech had left the others. Harraford buzzed the audience, looping so low as to clout the rapist neighbor with a chair leg. He went down. Then he set his sights on Comfort and hovered at a meandering pace that edged in her direction. She set to running. She wore slippers designed as basset hounds and in seconds she’d run out of them, now barefoot in full flight over the frozen tar. Harraford notched up his speed, swooped low, and scooped her into his lap. Up they flew, racing a cloud of crows that fled the trees. (Harraford thought such a flock of crows was called a “murder.” Hilarious.) Comfort’s scream was past anything human. It was more like a horn. Harraford gained speed, sending her deeper into his lap. It was a devil’s bargain, the part of her brain that knew only instinct snatched at. Grip like a vice to Harraford’s bony arms that were stitched to the chair, or fall to certain death. She gripped, horn blaring from her open mouth. They fell to earth and glided toward the roaring Caprice. Harraford circled the car once, then stopped abruptly slightly above the blasting flames that billowed from the exhaust, and dipped the chair forward. Comfort spilled out and landed on the road, flames brushing her satin pajama flanks and bringing a yip of pain. She ran in the direction of her trailer as if engulfed. All the while (and in truth the whole scene lasted only a couple of minutes) Rose sat at the roadside, shaking, and struck dumb with disbelief. Harraford floated idly in her direction and lowered the chair to eye level. He stopped at the point where they were face to face, then dipped the chair forward and back in a familiar gesture. Rose thought, he’s bowing…bowing to me. Then he turned and drifted back to the car. He circled once, tore away the driver’s side door, then shot forward and rammed the opening, separating himself from the chair and spilling into the car’s front seat. He righted himself behind the wheel. The car began to rise. It rose and slanted vertically, hood skyward. After a hundred feet or so it leveled off, then reversed itself so that the nose faced earth. It dropped like a stone, flames still roiling from the exhaust in blazing runners. It banked slightly to the left and came to a thundering crash when it struck the dilapidated farmhouse dead center. A monstrous explosion followed that sent flaming debris scattering to the four winds. Rose was knocked back and sent flailing. She came to rest twenty feet from where she started and covered her head from the raining remnants. In time, perhaps ten minutes or so, when some grasp of the unbelievable slipped into a train of semi-normal thought, she sat upright and cradled her legs to her chest. She stared at the farmhouse, now fully engulfed and blazing merrily. And thought. He’s cremated.

The End

 

Copyright 2021 by Glenn Chadbourne. Posted here with permission from Glenn Chadbourne.