By Leslie Lindsay

Ellis Stoddard is a 15 year old kid when he hears the rump-thump-thump of his neighbor’s Caddy rolling down thestreet in the middle of the night. Two days later, he’s dead. Ellis becomes obsessed with the family, and particularly the daughter whom he’s known since he was five. What unfolds is a tale caught between doing the right thing and letting our curiousities get the best of us. Read chapter 1 excerpt below:

CHAPTER 1

St. Louis, 1985

I watch Mallory Zucchero through my bedroom window. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. She’s a fox. But she doesn’t know it. That’s what makes her even more attractive.

I’m Ellis. Plain. Tall. Simple. Ellis. Even the name is bland. Ellis. It’s like the name has been chopped off, truncated. I could’ve been an Elliot. Or an Eric if mom had wanted to go with the ‘E’ sound. Eric definitely would have been cooler sounding than Ellis.

But Mallory Zucchero is a perfect blend of sweet and sassy. In fact, her last name means sugar. Her mom’s family is Irish and her dad’s is Italian. They came from Chicago. But I am skipping ahead.

Yesterday, her dad died.

More specifically: he was murdered.

Let me backtrack a day. At 2:30 in the morning, I am awakened by the sound of flat tires. Rump-thump-thump. The window was cracked, the early spring air a nice reprieve from the cold winter months. I rubbed the crust from my eyes and scrutinized the alarm clock. Big red digits stared back.

Rump-thump-thump.

Must be my older brother out with friends, sneaking in. But no, it was a Tuesday. He might be a senior, but there’s no way he’d be out till 2:30 in the morning on a school night. Even Dan wasn’t that dumb.

The sound came again. This time, I flung the blanket off and scooted out of bed. I lifted the window and rattled the screen out of place so I can poke my head through. The streetlights buzzed, a dance of bugs congregated. I twisted to the right—nothing but the gentle sway of tall oaks, a dark house. To the left, Mr. Zucchero’s Caddy comes rolling past on four flat tires.

Rolling is really not the best description. How can four flats roll? They thumped and flapped and sounded awful. I winced and felt sorry for poor Mr. Zucchero. It was awfully late and I knew how much he liked that car.

[chapter continues…]

Chapter 40

Jo Ellen

January 20th 1989

Doubt is a difficult entity. You can’t see it but you can feel it lurking under your skin, bubbling at the gut. It is worse than any kind of infestation. Sure, you can have rodents or termites, or a spider problem, ones you can call for help and a white cargo van will appear at your doorstep—the Orkin man or whomever—and poof—gone. But doubt, it creeps in quietly and tenaciously and through the tiniest of cracks, and once inside, it can never be fully extricated.

Mallory played the part of a sulky Freshman home from college well. She bit off comebacks and insults left and right, she barricaded herself in her room for hours, she refused church during Advent and stomped through the house as if she has better places to be. And then, on Christmas Day, after the gifts have been torn open, the Add-a-Bead necklace from Famous-Barr draped around her neck, and the last of the broccoli cheddar casserole consumed, she refused to speak to me. Still, she was sugary sweet to her sister and brother, and the boy next door. When I close my eyes, when I try to remember, there’s a piece of doubt that wears on my shoulder, slithering alongside my arm, and skittering into my very soul. I reach for a fresh pack of Carlton’s in the cabinet above the stove. I was going to give it up; a new year’s resolution.

Doubt and guilt. Me and Mallory.

My daughter was up to something. Or, perhaps it was just normal college angst. Maybe it’s that feeling of being a young woman who has been away feels displaced in her own home. Ironically, this is the way I feel about Tony, even now.

When we first moved to the Dutch Colonial on Bayberry, I walked the empty halls of the house on our final inspection with the Real Estate agent, Mallory’s pudgy fist wrapped in my slightly swollen fingers—I was due with Amy two months later—and Tony scampered along like a child, poking his head into the various bedrooms. The house was nice, sure—the best we could afford at the time. But still, I remember glancing a long, stringy web threaded around a ceiling fixture and feeling a tremor of fear. The Real Estate agent noticed this and tsked, stating the house was owned by the relocation company, the previous owners transferred to Ohio or Iowa or somewhere. “We’ll get an exterminator over here before y’all move in,” she smiled then, “My treat.”

I figured it would come out of her commission, not a real treat. Whatever. It didn’t matter, as long as I didn’t have to foot the bill. I remember patting my stomach then, blooming with baby and just wanting us all to be safe from any kind of pests.

Doubt and guilt, they are both cut from the same cloth. I take a drag from the cigarette, lighting up the room bathed in gray.”

[Thanks for reading! If you like it–wonderful. Please remember that is this an original work of fiction and not to be taken as your own. Comments always appreciated. House image retrieved from http://renewal-by-andersen-new-jersey.com/category/replacement-windows/ on 2.6.15]

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