short stories

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 7

Three shapes surrounded them as they approached the ice cream truck. In the uncertain light from a distant streetlight and the multicoloured whirl of the ice cream cone on top of the truck, it was hard to make out their faces. All three wore black coveralls with some sort of red symbol on the breast pocket, the same outfit as Doof’s. One of them might have been a girl.

I’m dreaming, thought Will. This is a dream, so don’t worry, just go with the flow.

“Blaze, Pyro, and Ember,” said Doof, pointing to each of them in turn. “This is my friend Will.”

“Another new hand?” said Blaze. He pushed his face close to Will’s, close enough that Will smelled something like hot motor oil and saw a tiny tattoo on the boy’s cheek. Three points joined at the bottom. A trident, same as the symbol on their uniforms.

“N-no! Not me!” Will backed up a couple of steps. “I was just talking to Doof.”

“Doof! That’s not his name. He’s Ash.”

“I got a new name. That’s part of the deal.” Doof was still wearing that goofy grin.

“Okay, Ash, how about we get your friend a treat? What would you like, Will? Popsicle or ice cream cone?” Ember was a girl. She had a trident tattoo as well.

Remember, you’re dreaming. “I’ll have an ice cream, please.”

Ember jumped into the back door of the ice cream truck and appeared in the sales window. “I recommend Cinnamon Glow. It’s one of our starter flavours. You wouldn’t be able to handle Sulphur Surprise, never mind a Brimstone Sundae!” She popped a scoop of bright red ice cream into a black cone. As she handed it to Will, her sleeve pulled up, revealing an iron bracelet that looked too heavy for her wrist.

The ice cream glowed like a live coal, but tasted cold. As Will swallowed, his sinuses filled up with hot cinnamon, like he’d just swallowed a handful of red heart-shaped candies. He shuddered and took another lick. He couldn’t stop.

“Who do you guys work for?” asked Will.

Blaze, Pyro, and Ember looked at each other. “The Boss,” said Blaze.

“The man downstairs,” said Pyro.

“Mr. Phlogisto!” said Ember.

A sharp snap-crack sounded nearby. “Heya, heya, kids! Time to pack up! Nothing doing here.” That buzzing voice again. Blaze, Pyro, and Ember scrambled toward the truck and the figure that stood near it. It was freakishly tall, probably because of the two upward-pointing projections on its head.

“I’ve gotta go, Will.” Doof’s head swivelled back and forth between Will and the ice cream truck’s driver.

Will threw the remains of his ice cream cone on the ground, where it burst into flame and vanished. He turned to Doof.

“Do you know where this ice cream truck comes from?”

Doof nodded.

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not as much as coming home and seeing my dog hung up dead.”

“Well, I guess I won’t be seeing you at school anymore,” said Will.

Doof nodded again, with a smirk.

“Do you get paid? Like a real job?”

“Room and board,” said Doof. “But that’s not all—”

A sharp snap-crack sounded nearby.

“Hey Ash! Time to go. The Boss is getting impatient. ‘Bye, Will!” Will wasn’t sure who said what as the three piled into the truck.

“Okay, I’m coming!” Doof’s voice broke Will’s trance. “Not just room and board,” said Doof, “They grant wishes! I wished for a dog and—” He glanced at the truck, whose engine fired up, shooting flames out both tailpipes. “‘Bye, Will. Maybe I’ll see you again someday.”

Doof held out a hand. As they shook, Will saw a bracelet just like Ember’s on Doof’s wrist. “C’mon Gryph!” Doof ran to the truck and jumped in, the dog hot on his heels. The doors banged shut and the service window slammed down.

The driver stood near the truck. A pair of glowing red eyes focussed on Will. He felt their heat moving around his face, exploring it, memorizing it. The figure lifted a hand and pointed at him. A grin appeared below the eyes. A whip cracked, shooting purple sparks into the air around it.

A dream, it’s only a dream. But something curled around Will’s ankle, hot and stinging. He turned and ran until his chest was about to explode and he tripped and fell.

The truck rolled down the road, leaving Will lying there, quivering, alternately hot and cold. That frenetic music floated back to him, slowly fading into the distance. Lullaby and good night. Did we give you a fright? We’ve got fire and ice. You don’t have to be nice… The music turned into a siren. Now the ice cream truck was an ambulance from hell. Its mission was hurting, not helping. Only those that deserve it.

Will turned and shambled in what he hoped was the right direction. It seemed a lot farther than he remembered. A patrolling policeman spotted him and took him home.

Will’s Mom kept him home from school the next day His head ached and his stomach roiled queasily. When he felt well enough to get up, it was almost supper time. Putting on his socks, he noticed a narrow red line around his left ankle. It tingled when he rubbed it.

His dad was in the living room. The newspaper he was reading descended a few inches when Will came in. “Feeling better, son?”

Will nodded.

“Ready to tell me what you were doing last night?”

Will shrugged. “Not really.”

Will’s dad folded his newspaper and stood. “Answer me properly. You were with that lowlife kid, weren’t you? Harold somebody. Am I right?”

Will stared at a headline. Fire at Shady Grove Trailer Park. One Man Dead.

“Actually, Dad, you’re wrong.”

THE END

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 6

That night, Will dreamed a dog was barking, barking, barking. Then he was awake. His clock said 3:09. What a weird time to be awake. He didn’t have to pee, but he went and did that anyway, to make being awake feel normal. Before getting back into bed, he looked out the window. Just in case.

Faintly illuminated by the light on the street, a dog sat on the front walk. A big dog, really big, wearing a collar that glowed in the dark.

The dog from the ice cream truck.

Will pushed the window open and leaned out. The dog raised its head and looked right at him with eyes that glowed like a flashlight whose battery was almost dead. It had something in its mouth. It dropped the thing onto the pavement, a dark, shapeless object, not very big. Shapeless until the dog nosed and pawed it into a recognizable shape.

A baseball cap. Doof’s ball cap?

“Doof?” Will hung out of his window and looked around. Why would the dog have Doof’s cap? If Doof was nearby, he’d be wearing it. The dog settled down on its haunches again. It was waiting. Waiting for Will. The dog wanted him to go with it.

Will pulled on some clothes and crept down the stairs, just like the night he’d sneaked out to meet Doof and look for the ice cream truck. Except this time he didn’t stop every time a step creaked; he just hoped his parents wouldn’t wake up.

The dog met him halfway between the back door and the driveway. It was carrying Doof’s cap again.

“Do you know where Doof is?” asked Will. The dog’s collar wasn’t spitting sparks this time, but it was glowing a faint orange, same as the fur on the backs of the dog’s legs and its tail. It turned and trotted toward the street, where it stopped as if waiting.

Will followed the dog, who loped purposefully along, heading toward that fringe of downtown where the boys had first had a good look at the ice cream truck. This time, the gas station was closed and dark. No one was around. They crossed the train tracks and headed toward the empty lot where the truck had been that time.

There stood the ice cream truck, with its kaleidoscope of flashing lights. Will stopped and stared at it, but the dog kept going. When it realized Will was no longer close by, it stopped and looked back at him.

The dog turned and shambled toward Will. It thrust its snoot up and shook the baseball cap. Its eyes glowed dark orange, but Will thought they looked sad. Sad and impatient, as though the dog was thinking “How long is this chump going to stand there?”

“Okay,” he said, “I’m coming.”

As they approached the ice cream truck, a figure detached itself from its black shadow and came toward them. The dog lurched into a run toward it. It was Doof. He wore black clothes that looked like some sort of uniform.

“Hey, Will,” said Doof. “You got my message. Good boy, Gryph!” This to the dog, who capered around him. Doof took the ball cap from its mouth, shook it out, and put it on his head.

Doof held a popsicle that glowed like it was red hot, but he put it in his mouth and licked it. He grinned. “Delicious.”

“What… what’s it taste like?” said Will.

“Red hot cherry ice,” said Doof. “Want to try?” He held out the popsicle.

“No. No, I don’t. Did you buy it?”

“Nope. It was free.” Doof gestured toward the ice cream truck, whose lights dappled the trees, the grass, and the pavement with splotches of yellow, orange, and red. Music welled from the truck, low and menacing.

“I thought something bad happened to you,” said Will.

“Something bad, something good.” Doof took another lick of the fiery popsicle. Little drops of molten flame dripped from it, hissing when they hit the grass.

“I even went to your house—I mean, your dad’s house. His house trailer.”

Doof pulled the popsicle from his mouth. “You saw my dad? Talked to him?”

“I thought you might be sick or something.”

“Sick! I would have been, if I’d stayed with that bastard. Maybe even dead. I know places to go. I can look after myself. I have friends.”

“You mean those guys?” Will pointed to a couple of shapes near the ice cream truck.

“Maybe. But this guy for sure.” Doof put his hand on the dog’s head.

“I told your dad you wanted a dog,” Will said. “He started yelling at me to get lost. I ran away. I was scared.”

“He killed my dog,” said Doof, throwing the popsicle stick into the bushes. It burst into a shower of sparks that lasted for a few seconds and winked out one by one. “That night we came out here. Well, he wasn’t really my dog. He just hung around the trailer park, but he was my pal, you know? My dad—that bastard killed him and hung him up behind the trailer. I saw him hanging there when I got home. That was when I decided—”

“Geez, Doof. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Well, things are different now. Now I have my pal here. Name’s Gryphon, Gryph for short. Come and have a popsicle. Or an ice cream. First one’s always free.”

“You sound like you work for… them. Whoever they are.”

Doof grinned. “I sure do. Come on.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 5

Doof wasn’t at school on Monday. Or Tuesday. On Wednesday, Will went to the school’s office to ask if Doof had been reported sick. The lady who usually sat in the office wasn’t there, but Will heard people talking in the Principal’s room, whose door was open.

“I think it’s time we did something about the Duffy boy.” Will’s ears pricked. The Duffy boy, that was Doof. “He’s missed three days already this week and I’m pretty sure I know why.” Will recognized the voice of Ms. Lacy, the school’s guidance counsellor.

A man rumbled an answer. Will couldn’t understand what he said, but he knew it was Mr. Springer, the Principal. “What about the mother?” Mr. Springer must have turned or talked louder, because Will heard this just fine.

“She’s not in the picture,” said Ms. Lacy. “I gather she’s left the home. It’s just Harold and his father. They live at that Shady Grove Trailer Park. Not a great place. I think something bad happened last summer. I think that boy is in trouble.”

“We don’t want to act prematurely,” said Mr. Springer.

“Better to deal with the child welfare people than the police.”

Ms. Lacy appeared in the doorway of the principal’s room. Will ducked behind the counter and out of the office before she could see him. Was Doof in some sort of trouble? Why would Ms. Lacy think they might have to deal with the police?

After school, Will decided to go to Doof’s house and see if he was okay. Maybe he had a bad stomach bug or something, and no mom to look after him. Or maybe he’d gone back to the ice cream truck and the driver had done something to him. The Shady Grove Trailer Park was in the opposite direction from Will’s house, the part of town that Will’s dad called “the local slum.”

The trailer park’s name was the nicest thing about it. The trailers were old and looked like they were sinking into the ground. A few of them had little patches of grass and flowers outside, but most were surrounded by weeds and junk. Will asked an old lady if she knew where Mr. Duffy lived. She stopped sweeping her walk and stared at him.

“What you want with him, kid? He’s kinda mean.”

“Well, actually, I’m looking for Doof, uh, Harold. His son.”

She frowned, clutching the broom. “Haven’t seen him around the last few days. Maybe he run off too. Wouldn’t be surprised.” She frowned. “Tom Duffy’s trailer’s right at the back.” She pointed down the dirt road. “Just go to the end of the road. That’s the right place for him, all right.” She snorted.

Doof’s dad’s trailer made the others look good. It had once been white, but now was a mottled grey. Bags of garbage slouched near the door, the steps were broken, and a rusty barbecue with a missing wheel leaned nearby. A couple of crooked posts held up a dirty sheet of corrugated fiberglass over the entryway.

Will stepped up to the dented door and knocked. Nothing happened. He made himself knock again, louder, and waited, looking around. A wreck of a car peeked out of a thicket of bramble bushes. Behind the car, an old brown blanket hung from the branch of a tree. Something about its shape bothered him, but before he could get a better look, a couple of thumps sounded from inside the trailer, followed by shuffling. The door creaked open.

Mr. Duffy was a big man. His stomach loomed over Will like the moon, a T-shirt cratered with stains and holes. Will waited for him to smile, but he didn’t.

“Who’re you and what do you want?” Mr. Duffy’s voice sounded like it came out of a bowl of thick oatmeal.

“Uh, I’m Will. I’m looking for Doo— Harold.”

“Don’t know where he is. Little bugger should be at school. You too, kid.”

“School’s out for the day. He hasn’t been there all week. That’s why I came. I thought he might be sick or something.”

“‘Or something.’ That kid’s never sick, except in the head. He’s not here.”

“I guess he’s missing then. Don’t you think you’d better call the police?”

“I don’t talk to cops. Don’t you sic the cops on me. Kid’s probably gone to visit grandma. Now get lost!” He started to close the door.

Will felt a kind of sneaky relief. He’d tried. Now he could go home. But Doof had never mentioned a grandma.

“Mr. Duffy, did you know that Doof—I mean Harold—he really wants a dog?” The words popped out of Will’s mouth before he knew it.

“Dog!” Mr. Duffy made a gargling laugh. “No damned dog here. Not any more. I don’t like dogs, I don’t like cops, and I don’t like you either. Get lost before I run you off!” He slammed the door so hard, the posts holding up the fiberglass shuddered and a clump of rotten pine needles fell off it.

Will could go home now. Except he wasn’t done. He had to find Doof. That meant telling the police. Or finding the ice cream truck again.

By the time Will got home, he was tired and looked it. His mom poured him a glass of milk and gave him a couple of cookies. After eating and drinking, he went to his dad’s office and knocked on the door.

“It’s me, Dad. Can I come in?”

“Yes, you may come in, Will.” His dad looked at him over his glasses from behind a big pile of students’ notebooks. “What is it? I’m pretty busy.”

“Doof’s gone missing. He hasn’t been at school since last week. I’m kind of worried about him.”

“Doof?”

“My friend Harold Duffy. He came for supper one day, remember? Doof is his nickname.”

“I don’t approve of nicknames, Will. And I don’t approve of that boy, either. He struck me as a questionable type. I’m not surprised he’s left school. You’d best find some better friends.”

Will shrugged. “Doof’s my friend right now. I want to make sure he’s all right. Do you think I should tell the police that he’s a missing person?”

Will’s dad shook his head. “Waste of time. The police won’t listen to you. The boy’s parents are the ones to report him missing. But I’m sure he’s all right. That type is always all right, as much as they care to be. Don’t waste your time worrying about him. I very much doubt if he’s giving you much thought. Now, please excuse me, young man. I have work to do.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 4

The ice cream truck sat by the side of the road, music cranked low, the ice cream cone on its roof spinning and flashing a kaleidoscope of colours against its dark purple. Up close like this, the cone didn’t look like plastic with a light bulb inside. It glowed all over like it was made out of white-hot rock, with a spiral of dark red lava from top to bottom.

The door slid open and someone jumped out. The driver. There was something spidery about the figure, something not right about its proportions.

“Heya, hey!” it said, in a voice that sounded like an amplified buzz. “Come on, you kids!”

Will’s stomach lurched. Was it talking to them? If Doof hadn’t been there, for sure he would have run away.

But no, the spidery figure was turned away from them. “Get busy!” it buzzed. “I feel customers coming!”

The service window in the side of the ice cream truck clattered open. Red lights showed a menu board and a couple of employees getting ready to sell whatever kind of ice cream and treats the truck had on offer. The employees must have been short; only their heads showed above the counter.

“They’re just kids. Let’s go see what they’ve got.” Doof stood but Will pulled him back.

“Maybe they’re kids, but that other guy isn’t. Didn’t you see him? He’s really weird looking.”

A gang of teenagers jostled down the road and stopped in front of the ice cream truck, yelling orders for Frosty Flamesicle and Sulphur Surprise. Just like the cone on top of the truck, the treats glowed like hot coals. The teenagers waved their popsicles and ice creams, tracing lines of light, laughing and daring each other to eat them. One took a lick and then another.

“Oh man, that smarts! Love it!”

“I’m gonna catch fire, but I can’t stop eating!”

“This one’s wild!”

“Look, I’m a fire-breathing dragon!”

Their exclamations faded away as they moved down the road. “See, it’s okay,” Doof said, jumping up. “Say, have you got any money?”

Will didn’t want to get any closer, but Doof was more than halfway across the street.

“Doof! Wait, come back!” Will’s voice felt as though it was being sucked away. Doof didn’t stop but slowed, his shape blending into the dusk. I’m scared. Will stomped down that thought and ran after Doof.

“Look, there’s a dog!” said Doof. A black form near the truck unfolded into a dog shape and turned its head toward them. A big head on a big dog. Really big.

Dogs loved Doof. He was always making friends with random dogs. But this was no ordinary dog. Dark orange flames floated behind it. Sparks shot from its studded collar.

Doof started toward the dog. “Hey, boy,” he said. “Come here.”

It shambled toward them. Its eyes glowed and little sparks popped out from its fur, like one of those happy birthday sparklers.

Will grabbed for Doof’s arm, but he was too far away. The dog came closer. He didn’t look mean, just weird, with the cloud of little lights around him, like dust.

“Come on, boy!” said Doof. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you.”

Then the spidery guy looked over at them.

“Heya, heya, heya! Dog!” The voice rose to a buzzing screech that hurt Will’s ears. It did something to the dog too. He stopped and whined.

“Heya, heya, heya! Boys!” The tall black figure glided toward Will and Doof. It looked like it was put together from pieces, arms and legs snapped into the body, head bobbling on top. Its movements were both smooth and jerky, like it was worked with strings.

“Heya, heya, heya! We got treats for you!” Its voice twisted like wires, wrapping around Will’s head.

“Doof, let’s get out of here! Let’s go!”

Doof looked back at Will. Will could see he was scared too. “But the dog—”

“Never mind the dog. He’s their dog. Come on!”

The dog lurched toward them, jaws open and dripping fire.

Run!” Will yelled. But Doof just stood there, watching the dog.

Then the guy moved, snapping a whip that shot purple sparks. The dog shambled slowly toward him. Doof finally turned and ran. The dog howled, a sound of empty loneliness that froze Will’s heart.

Three blocks later, Will sneaked a glance over his shoulder. No one there, just a faint glow of departing lights. The ice cream truck was gone. So was the dog.

Neither of them said anything until they were back at the corner of 12th and Maple, where a streetlight shed its cold light on the pavement.

“What is it?” asked Will. “It’s not really an ice cream truck. Who was that… guy? And that dog came after us.”

Doof had been looking at his shoes while Will was talking, but now he jerked his head up. “The dog was trying to get away. I’m going to go back and help him.”

“Whaa—? That’s stupid! He was helping that weird guy. They were trying to catch us.”

“No, he wasn’t. That dog needs help.” Doof sounded a lot older, almost like a grownup. “You’d better go home, Willy. You’ll get in shit for being late.”

“I’ll be in sh— shit for being out at all,” said Will. “Don’t your parents mind you being out late like this?”

“Parent. Just my dad. He doesn’t care much.”

Will thought about Doof’s weird lunches and frequent absences from school, his lack of concern about being late for meals. “Where’s your mom?”

“Gone,” said Doof. “Since last summer.”

“You mean… she died?” Will found himself whispering the last word.

Doof jerked his head up. “No, Willy, she didn’t die. She’s just gone.” He shrugged. “I dunno where.”

“Geez,” Will breathed. He couldn’t think what else to say.

“Okay, now you know. So how about if you go home.”

“But you can’t stay out all night! Come home with me. You can sleep in my room. Mom won’t mind.”

Doof made a sound that wasn’t really a laugh. “Maybe not, but what about your dad?”

Will didn’t say anything.

“Go home, Willy.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 3

Luckily, Will’s dad was a fan of “Early to bed, early to rise,” and packed it in right after the ten o’clock news. His mom didn’t watch the news because it gave her nightmares, but she liked to read in bed. Their light was always off by eleven, though. Another lucky thing was that Will’s room was close to the stairs, so he didn’t have to climb out the window. It was too high to jump and the downspout was too flimsy to be useful. There was no way he could drag his dad’s big ladder from the garage. So it had to be the stairs. He tested them for squeaky spots that evening, while his parents were watching TV. All okay, except for the fourth from the top and the third from the bottom.

Right after his mom kissed him goodnight and left the room, Will changed from his pjs to regular clothes and got under the covers. It felt weird to be wearing jeans and a shirt and sweater in bed, but his dad sometimes checked on him, so everything had to look normal. Then he got scared he’d fall asleep and not wake up until morning. Doof would tease him mercilessly about that. Will could almost hear him singing “Rock-a-bye baby” or some other lullaby.

Finally, the clock beside Will’s bed said 11:30. He was supposed to meet Doof at the corner of 12th and Maple at midnight. Normally it would take fifteen minutes to get there, but this wasn’t normal.

The stairs had developed a lot of fresh squeaks and creaks. Will froze after each one, a story about needing a drink of water ready on his lips. But nothing happened. Going out the back door, he realized he hadn’t thought about getting back inside. He’d have to leave the door unlocked. If a burglar came in and stole something, it would be his fault.

Thinking about what his dad would say if that happened, Will almost changed his mind. But then he thought I don’t care what he says. I’m going. He closed the door softly and crept down the driveway to the street.

Doof wasn’t at 12th and Maple. No one was. Parked cars sat there reflecting the street lights. Will stood on the sidewalk wondering how long he should wait before he gave up. He’d never been out this late before, not even on Halloween. The trees rustled quietly, as though they were telling each other secrets.

“Gotcha!” Hands grabbed Will’s shoulders from behind. He screamed.

“Quiet!” Doof clamped a palm over Will’s mouth.

Will shook him off and pushed him away, nerves jangling. “What did you do that for?”

“Just testing your reflexes, pal.” Doof giggled. “Testing, testing, one, two, three. You ready?”

“Not if you’re going to be a jerk,” said Will.

“Not me! Everything’s cool. Hey, listen!”

Music. A faraway sound, getting closer, the way a siren gets closer and louder. Except this wasn’t a siren. It was the ice cream truck’s tune, frantic and jolly.

“Let’s go!”

They ran down Maple street. The numbers on the cross streets got smaller. As they crossed 1st Street, Will noticed they weren’t on Maple anymore; the street sign said Railway Avenue. He’d never been here before. The houses were much older than in his neighbourhood, and then there were no houses, only business buildings. Ahead, train tracks gleamed silver-blue under the street lights. On the other side of them was a gas station.

The lights on the pumps were off, but a yellow light shone in the garage. A couple of cars were parked outside its open door and a few dark figures stood around. Guys. Strangers. They had bottles in their hands and talked in low voices, punctuated with bursts of laughter.

Will stopped. “Are we going over there? Where are we going, anyway?”

“Don’t be a dummy. We’re going to get us some ice cream. Come on!” Doof set off across the tracks.

“Are those guys waiting for it too?” Will asked.

Doof didn’t get a chance to answer. One of the guys by the gas station saw them and came over. He wasn’t a kid. Not even a high school kid. “What’re you kids doing here?” He didn’t sound friendly.

“What’s it to you?” Doof stuck his chin out.

“This isn’t a good place for kids—”

The ice cream truck’s music sounded really close, but they couldn’t see it.

“It’s over there! Come on!” Doof took off, running hard.

The guy from the gas station noticed Will for the first time. “That kid a friend of yours?”

Will nodded.

“You know what’s making that sound?” Will nodded again.

“Then you better keep him away from it.” The guy turned and went back to the gas station, where the light in the garage suddenly looked warm and friendly.

The music brayed and wheezed, only a couple of blocks away. The tune’s words popped into Will’s head. Lullaby and good night, soon you’ll be sleeping tight. He turned and ran after Doof, just in time to see him go around a corner two blocks away.

Will pelted down the street and around the corner. Doof was still a block ahead of him, and the ice cream truck was coming toward them. It pulled over to the kerb by a vacant lot across the street and stopped. The music faded to a growl.

Will almost ran into Doof, who had stopped by some bushes. He felt suffocated from holding his breath.

Doof stood and panted. “Maybe they’re waiting for us.” “Let’s not get too close to it,” said Will, and for once Doof didn’t argue.

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 2

“Hey, how about if you come home with me for supper?” Will thought he wouldn’t get into as much trouble for being late if he had a friend with him. And his dad had been asking if he’d made any friends yet, so bringing one home would show him.

Doof shifted from one foot to the other, twirling his baseball cap around his finger. “I dunno. Maybe your mom wouldn’t like that.”

“She won’t mind. She always cooks way too much food. Come on.” Will led the way at a brisk trot. They had followed the ice cream truck farther than he’d realized.

Will’s house was warm and full of good smells. Will showed Doof the bathroom so he could wash his hands and went to tell his mom about his guest.

Will’s dad was standing by his chair at the head of the table when the boys came into the dining room. Will carried an extra plate, glass, and cutlery for Doof. “Will, you know it’s disrespectful to be late for supper. This is the second time this week.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. This is my friend Doo—uh, Harold. Harold Duffy.” Will shifted his plate over and put the extras on the table. “This is my Dad.”

Doof and Will’s Dad stared at each other. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Todd.” Doof stuck out a hand, but Will’s dad ignored it.

“That’s Professor Todd,” he said and turned to Will, eyebrows crumpled. “This boy is joining us for the meal? Does your mother know?”

“She says it’s okay.”

Doof was backing up like he was planning to run out the door. Will pulled one of the spare chairs over and put it in place. “You can sit here. It’s okay.”

Will’s dad nodded and they all sat down.

While they ate pot roast, mashed potatoes and broccoli, Will couldn’t help noticing things about Doof that didn’t seem to matter before. His shirt had holes in the elbows and wasn’t too clean. There was a fading bruise on one of his wrists. Without his baseball cap on, you could tell he needed a haircut.

Will’s mom kept a kind of conversation going by asking Doof things like how did he like school and what sports he played and did he have any pets. Doof did okay answering her questions, didn’t even talk with his mouth full, used his napkin properly, ate up everything on his plate, and accepted seconds.

“I have a dog,” said Doof, answering the pet question. “Well, he’s not really my dog, but he’s my pal, you know.”

“It’d be cool to have a dog,” said Will.

Will’s dad cleared his throat. “We’re not getting a dog, Will. I don’t care for dogs. What does your father do, Harold?”

Doof didn’t reply right away. He lowered his glass of milk and looked like he was consulting an inner authority. “Business,” he said finally.

“What kind of business?” asked Will’s dad.

“All kinds,” said Doof. “It depends.”

“Where do you live, Harold?”

For a couple of seconds Will thought he would say, “None of your business,” but instead Doof gave a little one-sided smile and said, “Walnut Hill.”

The best neighbourhood in town, where all the rich people lived. Will was pretty sure Doof was lying, but after that Will’s dad stopped asking questions.

Dessert was apple pie and ice cream. As soon as he was finished, Doof put his folded napkin on his plate. “May I be excused?” he said. “I have to go home now. Thank you for supper, Mrs. Todd. Good night, Professor Todd.” He was out the door before anyone got up to see him out. Will ran after him, but all he saw was the pale blur of Doof’s shirt fading into the dark.

When he got back to the table, his father gave him a look. “That the only friend you managed to make at school? Can’t you do any better?”

“The boy was hungry,” said Will’s Mom. “Did you see how much he ate? I wonder if he’s getting proper meals at home. His table manners were good, though.”

“Do you really live in Walnut Hill?” Will asked Doof at recess the next day.

Doof narrowed his eyes. “What do you think?”

“I think you were lying.”

“Two points for Willy! Yeah, I lied to Professor Todd. So what? Don’t you ever lie to your dad? Or don’t you dare?”

Will shrugged, blushing. “So what kind of business does your dad do?”

“It depends,” said Doof,

“My dad said he figured it was probably funny business.”

Doof’s face turned red. “Your dad thinks he knows everything, doesn’t he?”

“Well, he is a professor.” Will paused. “But he doesn’t know about that ice cream truck.”

Doof threw a rock at a bird sitting on the schoolyard fence. The rock missed. The bird flew away. “Race you back to school.” He took off.

By the time Will caught up, Doof had a grin on his face. “I dare you,” he said.

“Dare me what?”

“Find that ice cream truck. Tonight.”

“After supper? I’m not allowed—”

“‘I’m not allowed! My daddy won’t let me!'” Doof mocked, his voice high and whining. “That’s why I’m daring you. And not just after supper. I’m talking real night time. Midnight. Are you up for it?”

“Midnight! That’s stupid. Nobody’s going to be selling ice cream then.”

“I’ll bet that ice cream truck does,” said Doof. “I’ve heard its music at night. So’ve you.”

“Yeah, but…”

“But nothing! Are you with me or not? ‘Cause I’m going anyway.”

“Tonight?”

“You bet! Big ol’ Friday night.”

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell ~ Part 1

This is a story in seven parts, each about 1,000 words. I’ll post one part a day from now until May 7th.

Music. A happy, merry tune, growing faint with distance and then coming back. Will Todd knew the tune, even though he couldn’t remember its name. The sound of an ice cream truck meant it was summer and everything was all right. They were still living in their old house. Will wouldn’t be going to a new school where he didn’t know anyone. It was summer and he could have ice cream for breakfast.

Then he woke up. Even in a dream he’d never be allowed to have ice cream for breakfast. His mom might say okay, but not his dad.

Leaning out his window, Will thought he could still hear the music floating through the air. He kept listening for it, but most of the time it was just a siren far away or a car stereo beating out a rhythm.

September became October and the rawness of seventh grade at a new school wore off. Late one afternoon Will heard the music again, for real. From far away, maybe four or five blocks, it came, that jolly, happy music. He stood and listened, trying to follow the tune, until moms started calling kids in for supper. Until kids knew they’d get heck if they came home late, to chilling soup and congealing gravy and stern lectures from dads.

“I heard an ice cream truck,” said Will, sitting down to meat loaf and mashed potatoes that had stopped steaming but weren’t cold. “I wanted to get a look at it, so I waited, but it went away.”

“It can’t be an ice cream truck,” Will’s dad said. “Not in October. Not this time of day. You should know better than that, son.”

“You must have heard somebody’s radio,” said his mom. “Now eat your supper.”

“But it was—”

Will’s dad looked up from the book next to his plate, held open with his knife. “You heard your mother. Eat your supper.” He was using his college professor voice. Will shut up.

But he kept the argument going in his head while he chewed meat loaf and green beans. No one played music like that on the radio, the same tune over and over, in the same tinkly, wheezy style. It had to be an ice cream truck, cruising the neighbourhoods in the dying day. But the music he’d heard wasn’t “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “Turkey in the Straw” or “Little Brown Jug.” It was something else, a familiar tune, but with something wrong about it. Will wondered what kind of ice cream the truck sold.

Doof might know. He always knew stuff. Doof was the only kid Will had managed to make friends with. He was the class weirdo, but at least he didn’t look at Will like he was a new kind of bug, the way the other kids did. If Doof was at school next day and felt like talking, Will would ask him if he’d heard the ice cream truck. Some days Doof just wouldn’t talk. When Will asked him why, Doof threatened to rearrange Will’s nose so he wouldn’t go sticking it into other people’s business.

His real name was Harold Duffy, but no one called him Harold except teachers. Doof was short for “Doofus,” and even though that wasn’t exactly a compliment, it was better than “Harold.” Everybody called him Doof, even the nice kids.

Doof was good at getting into trouble. He’d crack jokes in class and talk too loudly. Other days he was grumpy or wild, picking fights for no reason. He usually had an array of bruises, in a range of colours from purple to yellow, green, and brown. Every now and then he’d show up with a black eye.

“Got beat up by some big kids,” he said, when Will asked him where he’d gotten the shiner. “They thought I was trying to move in on their territory.”

“What territory?”

“Never mind. Let’s check out the creek.”

That was another thing about Doof. He knew all the interesting places. The creek with a knotted rope on a tree, where you could swing out over the water like Tarzan. A little house where no one lived that was stuffed full of old tires. Shortcuts to everywhere, through alleys and vacant lots.

Just before he fell asleep that night, Will thought he heard that music, faint and far away. He listened but couldn’t pick up the tune. Out in the hallway, the night light cast its dim glow. Will was glad to see that little light. Then he was asleep.

Doof wasn’t at school the next day, but on his way home, Will saw him standing on a corner looking up at the sky.

“Hey!” said Will, sneaking up behind him.

“Geez, Will! Don’t do that to a guy!”

“Looking for Santa? Too early by a couple months. What’cha doing?”

Doof wound up a punch, but stopped halfway and held up a finger. “Listen!”

A sound floated toward them. Music, coming closer.

“You know what that is?” Doof’s eyes narrowed.

“It’s that ice cream truck!” said Will.

“There it is!” Doof pointed and ran, and Will followed. I’ll be late for supper.

The ice cream truck turned onto the street two blocks ahead of them, braying its incongruously cheerful tune.

“It’s purple!” said Will. “Weird.” All the ice cream trucks he’d ever seen were painted in bright summery colours like pink or yellow. This one was a solid, dark purple, a night colour. On the roof, a lit-up plastic ice cream cone twirled bright red stripes.

“That’s not all that’s weird about it,” said Doof, puffing a bit. “Come on, hurry up!”

But they couldn’t catch it. The ice cream truck was going too fast toward downtown, its taillights glowing an intense red. Will thought he saw orange and purple sparks coming out of the tailpipe. As it went around a corner and out of sight, Will almost remembered the tune, some kind of lullaby, but played so fast it sounded anything but soothing.

“It’s a special ice cream truck,” Doof said, as the two of them stood catching their breaths. “It goes out at night. I’ll bet it’s got special ice cream and maybe other stuff. It’s only for grownups, or kids who don’t go running home to Mommy just ’cause it’s getting dark.” Doof jerked his head, flinging his mop of hair back, and grinned at Will while he put his baseball cap back on.

“My dad says there can’t be an ice cream truck. It’s getting cold, and who wants ice cream at night?”

“Why not? All kinds of things happen at night.” Doof hummed the Jaws theme. “Doo, doo, doo, doo, woo! Boogeyman gonna get ya, Willy!”

Will laughed and punched him on the arm “How do you know so much about that ice cream truck, anyway?”

“I go places you don’t and keep my eyes open while I’m there.” Doof flapped his ball cap at Will.

“Have you had any ice cream from it? What’s it like?”

“Not yet,” said Doof, “but I’m gonna find out.”

The Crux Anthology print cover

“The Crux Anthology” Available Soon!

It feels like way longer ago than January that I saw a post on Rachael Ritchey’s blog announcing the Adventure SciFi and Fantasy Contest and decided to enter. Usually I don’t do contests, but there was something about this one…

I was thrilled when I actually finished my story and sent it in, and even more thrilled when Rachael notified me it was in the top ten. Then in May, I was totally chuffed that my story won Third Prize.

And now, The Crux Anthology is about to be published. Take another look at that gorgeous cover. Then take a look at this…

The Crux Anthology back cover description

And here’s the list of those authors…

thecrux-ebook1.jpg

You may recognize some of these folks as bloggers. Here’s a chance to read a curated selection of their fiction.

Just so you don’t miss any important details, click here to sign up for the Crux-specific newsletter.

The release date is November 26th, but you can pre-order on the 19th. All sales proceeds will go to the charity Compassion International.

 

“The Forever Door” Prologue Bonus

The Crux Anthology is about to eventuate! Here is a tantalizing taste by the energetic and talented Rachael Ritchey. I’ll be posting more about the anthology in the next few weeks.

Rachael Ritchey

This is a special preview prologue to my story “The Forever Door” in The Crux Anthology, a book of adventure science fiction and fantasy short stories by sixteen different authors.

Official Release Date: November 26th, 2018

TheCrux ebook

You can preorder your ebook copy November 19th, 2018

We’ve got our very own The Crux Crew FB Fan Page for you to get updates & news,

but in the meantime, enjoy this prologue to my entry!


History has seen its share of violence and the conquest of man. And now that same history has caught up with talented architect Owen McFadden when his archaeologic-expert sister’s passion for the unimaginable unknown leaves him no choice other than to join her on the quest of the millennium … a dangerous hunt for the forbidden … deep in the cloud forests of Peru.

“The Forever Door”

Prologue

TheForeverDoor.jpg

Owen unhooked the safety harness and stepped back…

View original post 1,078 more words

Book Review: Short Stories : Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats by Jonathan Day

Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats

I was attracted to this book by its cover, which is certainly spiffy. A curlicue dragon and a very strange looking cat face. This collection of ten stories by UK author Jonathan Day features “crimes, cults and curious cats,” as its subtitle proclaims, but it also has a lot of cops. Almost every story includes someone who is a PC, DC, DS, DI or DCI, and often more than one of these ranks is present.

“Cock-a-Doodle-Do!” has a couple of women PCs on the trail of a disruptive mechanical cock (rooster) who experience an encounter with a peculiar cat (probably the one on the cover image).

In “Willow Pattern World” a tatooed detective with unique talents pursues a murderous chemist.

In “Feeding the Monster,” an elderly woman with extreme synesthesia helps her detective nephew investigate a derelict windmill with a sinister history.

“The Impossible Detective” is the best of the batch, in my opinion. A feisty female DS (nicknamed Tweet) on the track of a missing child encounters the ghost of a murdered detective, and reopens a cold and grisly case involving an evil cult.

In “Behold, the Face of God!” two privileged young ladies are introduced to a fossil-hunting cult which has combined science and religion in a most startling way.

“Our Lady of the Herbs” features a woman vicar and a scholar of ancient texts digging into the origins of a quaint village festival, and then struggling with whether to reveal the results of their investigations.

In “The Greening of Toby Jug” a ghost hunter hoping to snare a poltergeist has a fatal encounter with greed and destruction.

In “The Hammer of God” a young DC investigating the murders of three elderly eccentrics begins to wonder about his superior, who is a priest as well as a DI.

“Cosmic Cats” is a short, dream-like tale that I found to be the weakest of the ten.

In “The Cult of the Bast Cat” a young PC tracking down the drug-addicted father of an infant ends up working with a Chief Superintendent to discover the fate of a detective who disappeared while investigating the Cult of the Bast Cat.

The sincere and straightforward tone of these stories cleverly conceals occasional subtle social commentary. Several of the detectives are women and a few are from ethnic minorities. The primary characters are sympathetic and distinct. Dialogue is lively and sometimes quite funny. Every one of these stories is engaging and most are thoroughly satisfying.

Short Stories : Crimes, Cults and Curious Cats is available free on Smashwords.