Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Rental House, Old Idaho Penententiary Road, Boise, Idaho

   I was standing in my kitchen, unpacking boxes when I heard someone call my name, “Charlotte.” It was faint but I heard it plainly and I whirled around trying to determine the direction of the voice. It was a child’s voice, a young girl, I was sure of it but…whose child could it be and how did she know my name?
   I’d only moved into the house a month ago and lucky to find it. It was perfect for me though bigger than I’d been looking for. Three stories, with the third a large attic that was sealed off by a locked door. The realtor didn’t have a key and was vague about the attic, surprising but I guess not unheard of. I hadn’t found an attic key in my search through the house, though I wasn’t too surprised by that either. It was an old house and had been unoccupied for a number of years, since its elderly owner had entered a nursing home. Vague talk of a psychotic breakdown.
   The house was in lovely shape in spite of its neglected years and I took to its large open rooms and many windows that looked out on an expansive, once-cared for gardens, now all gone to weeds and decay. Someday they would look different, but for now I was focused on getting settled and unpacked. My dogs were outside, it was quiet in the kitchen and I was unpacking a large box of mismatched Tupperware, intent on throwing most of it away, when I heard someone call again.
   “Come find me, Charlotte”
   There was no mistaking it. The voice was definitely a young girl’s voice and she was most certainly calling me, which was strange and weird because I’d yet to meet my neighbors. Actually, there were no nearby neighbors and I knew absolutely no one in Boise, so the chances of anyone knowing my name were slim.
   I reluctantly abandoned the box filled with colorful plastic bowls and hesitantly walked to the kitchen’s doorway. Though I didn’t know exactly where the voice had come from, I did know it was coming from inside the house. Until that moment, the voice’s presence inside the house hadn’t registered with me. That realization sent a shiver down my spine, and I slowed my steps even further. Who was there?
   That night I was awakened by a presence in my bedroom. I sat up with the covers drawn to my chin. In the light of the moon, I could see a young girl at the side of my bed, wearing a simple white dress, her hair parted in the middle and touching her slight shoulders.
   She put her finger to her lips. I was not afraid of the slender girl in her early teens, but my heart was pounding. “Who are you”? I asked. “What are you doing here?”
   “My name is Alice and I want you to help me. I cannot go home. Please, help me.”
   I sat up and Alice told me she used to live in this house. Five years ago a man had come to fix the leak in the cellar. Alice’s mother, a nurse, had been called back to the hospital. Alice took the plumber to the cellar. “He hurt me.” Alice said. “I don’t want to talk about it, but he killed me. I am buried in the garden, but I need to find peace and go home.”
   My first reaction was this was a weird prank. But no one came forward and Alice leaned toward me. “What can I do?” I asked. ‘You want me to go to the police?”
   Alice shook her head, telling me it was too late for the police. Redemption was the answer, and then she could move on. Alice asked me to bring her assailant back to the house and she would forgive him. Revenge would not help her.
   For the next week, Alice often visited me after midnight. Sometimes she just sat there until I fell asleep. Other times we talked, but she would never detail what her assailant had done to her. And I did not want to know.
   Finally, I relented. I agreed to Alice’s request that I go to Buster’s Sports Bar on a Thursday night and meet Andy Borden, her tormentor. The first night I went after the Thursday evening football game started and I saw him, an older man with thinning hair, fit looking, perhaps a former athlete. I made a point of going to the bar on Thursday nights and eventually we began to chat. He told me he was a hydraulic engineer and semi-retired. I explained to Andy about my problem faucet in the basement and he offered to take a look.
   Andy followed me to the house and we went in, hesitating in the hall, as Andy looked about. He rubbed his hand over his face. “I have a sense of deju vu.” Andy said. “I have been here before, but I cannot place it.”
   My blood went cold and I clutched my bag, which had small revolver in it. Andy explained he’d had a stroke three years ago. His movement was okay, but the memory of his time before the stroke was scant.
   We stood at the head of the cellar stairs and Andy looked at me. “Yes, I was here. There was a young girl. She took my hand and led me into the basement. I…”
   Before Andy could finish his story, there was the shriek of a banshee, a flash of a wraith and Andy was pushed violently in his back, throwing him headfirst down the steps. He landed at the bottom, his head turned grotesquely. Andy was dead.
   What happened to redemption?


   Three weeks have passed since Alice’s last visit. Three weeks since Andy Borden had “tripped” and fallen to his death down the basement steps. There was no link between me and Andy. I had no obvious motive to do Andy any harm, so Andy’s death was recorded as an unfortunate household accident. During the investigation I had gotten to know the young detective on the case. As a courtesy to me, he had looked back to find the missing girl case at my house. Oddly, there was no report of a missing girl, no Amber Report, nothing untoward at my address on Old Idaho Penitentiary Road. The detective did tell me the neighbors avoided the house. A wag talked of a demon, which the detective assured me was nonsense.
   But I wondered. Had I been manipulated?
   Tonight I awakened to find Alice once again at my bedside. Her eyes were hard and glittered red in the dim light.
   “There is someone else.” Alice said.

Contributor, Cindy Baker

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Jinxed Gas Station and Camel Shop, Quartzsite, Arizona

    Harvey was part of the advanced 1st Marine Unit landing on Wake Island. He was wounded and airlifted to Oahu Army Hospital in serious but stable condition. Harvey was assigned a young nurse from Minnesota, known as Dixie.
   Dixie took an immediate liking to Harvey and sat with him as much as she was allowed. He recovered and was sent back to the Pacific theatre. They agreed to meet on Dec 24th, 1947 in Chinatown, San Francisco when the war was over.
   They met and knew it was a romance that had survived the War. Harvey's dream was to own his own gas station, so he applied for a GI loan to start his business. Harvey and Dixie headed out of California to find the perfect location, discovering a vacant site just east of the Colorado River at Quartzsite Arizona. He built the station and adjacent store with hope. As cross-country travel was booming, he and Dixie prospered.
   They soon had a liter of three who were helping out at the station and the small store next door. On one of those thunderous stormy desert nights a heavy front hit them with full force. Near midnight, a hard knock was heard at their front door and Harvey went to see who could be out in the storm. There was a tall stranger at the door, thoroughly soaked. He had run out of gas about five miles back and asked for help with a can of gas and a ride back to his auto.
   Harvey loaned him a coat and together they went out to the station, filled a can, loaded it into the 54 Hudson and Dixie heard the loud V-8 pull away. Harvey did not return that night and in the morning, the State Police found her husband lying in a culvert about 15 miles from home, Harvey's skull was crushed; he was shoeless and missing his watch and wallet. The local sheriff  and deputies worked on the case for over two years, but there was no trace of the Hudson or the stranger.
   Dixie and the kids could not run the businesses alone and finally they gave up and moved back to Minnesota to live with her mother. The gas station never reopened; no one stepped forward to revive the gas station and store. During an Army maneuver in 1964, a squad of army techs from Fort Huachuca used the store to test communication equipment. Oddly, the equipment malfunctioned and the soldiers left the store as they found it.
   Today the little gas station and store sit empty, a reminder of another time.

Contributor, Gary Pederson

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Irascible Woman Elimination, Warm Springs, Boise, Idaho

   Max Bennett, Agent 3320 of the newly formed Control Group 7, took a corner table in the Turret Coffee Shop. He opened his hard-copy file and looked at his client, a 62-year old, slender, gray-haired lady, who had been designated for immediate elimination.
   He sat back, noticing that a few customers in the shop were nervously eying him. His black boots, gray pants and brown tunic with the chocolate Sam Brown belt made him stand out, a mistake. Yet he loved the getup.
   Max stared back and they nervously looked away. A couple paid and left. He returned to Ellen Bruno's file, studying her misdeeds. She had recently gotten into a fight with an older gentleman in a supermarket because she left her shopping cart in the checkout aisle. He had complained and she had shoved the cart violently into the man's stomach, knocking the old gent to the ground. The Bruno file went on and on; the woman had a colic personality, was quick tempered and, as she was tall and sturdy, a danger. The Control Group Committee was correct; sooner or later Ms Bruno would kill or impair a law-abiding citizen. The Control Group's brief was to eliminate discretely such miscreants.
   Max smiled grimly and patted his vaporizer, secure in the holster at his waist. He studied the file, memorizing the details. This was Max's first solo elimination; it had to go by the book, no missteps.
   His thoughts were interrupted as the young waitress sat down with a small cup of coffee. “I’m off duty. I hope you don't mind if I join you."
   Max closed the file. She was attractive, with a devastating smile and large brown eyes. She introduced herself as Annie Bly. "Actually, I do mind. I have business tonight." He answered.
   The girl leaned forward. "You're a Control Group Agent, aren't you? I can tell from your outfit."
   Max winced.
   "I applied to be a CG Agent, but they turned me down. I flunked the first phase, the psychological test. They said I have an underlying mean streak. I might get out of hand."
   As much as Max wanted to be alone, he felt an attraction to the bright-eyed girl and let her linger.
   "I think you are on a mission. Let me tag along, please."
   Max was stunned and shook his head. "Impossible, out of the question."
   She leaned across the table and gave Max a beguiling smile. "I'd do anything to go along."
   The girl implored Max, who felt he was in a spider's web, that she had a hook in him. He was helpless to get away from her. Against his better judgment, he agreed, telling Annie to meet him at Ms. Bruno's address.
   Later that evening, they met and together went to the small bungalow on 3725 Warm Springs Avenue and rang the bell. Immediately there was the furious high-pitched barking of a small dog. A woman's voice called:
“Shush, Mr. Pickles, we have guests."
   The door opened and Max bowed politely, "Ms Bruno?"
   The woman hesitated, then nodded, but was distracted by the furious little, yapping terrier jumping up and down. She turned and wagged a finger at the dog, and ordered him to sit down, which we did his paws in front, his little head wagging back and forth.
   As she soothed Mr. Pickles, a light bulb suddenly went on in her head and she spun around to face Max and the pretty young girl at his side.
   "I know who you are. Is this a sick joke? Don't you know me? I am on the Committee for God's sake." And she wagged her finger at Max.
   It was the finger wagging that unnerved Max. He stepped back, went to his holster and vaporized the angry woman. As she vanished, the dog leaped up and started his nerve-wracking yap. Max vaporized Mr. Pickles.
   Annie was dumbstruck. She had heard a hum, then a flash of light, a bluish mist, and then the old woman and the little dog were gone, disappeared.
   Max ushered Annie into the house. They went into the living room and Max pushed her into a chair while he sat on a couch and put his file and electronic tablet on the coffee table. He quickly opened the tablet and started ticking off his interview questions.
   "Shouldn't you have done that before...?" Annie asked, accusingly.
   Max ignored Annie as he furiously went through the myriad forms he was supposed to complete before the elimination. He paused, as his earphone buzzed.
   "Agent 3320, where are you?"
   “At 3725 Warm Springs."
    "And our client?" The voice asked.
   "Eliminated, Sir. By the Book"
   There was a long silence.
   "Sir?” Max inquired.
   "3320, there has been an error. Dispatch transposed the house number. It is not 3725. Actually, it is 3752. The intended client for elimination was Ms. Bruno. Instead you have eliminated Ms. Bruneau, a member of our CG Advisory Committee."
   Max's blood ran cold. Control told him to execute a "cleanup" per the manual annex. They would take care of the details. Then the earphone went dead.
   Annie leaned forward. “What? You look like you have seen a ghost."
   "Wrong address. We’re in the wrong house."
   Annie sat back as her agile brain processed the enormity of what she had just seen and heard. Realizing she could be implicated, Annie leaped from her chair. "You idiot! What a screw up! You even eliminated that poor little dog!"
   Max stared at his critic. Without thinking, he vaporized Annie.


   The official report is that Ms Bruneau, a member of the CG Advisory Committee, has taken a sabbatical and is on a year-long trip touring Europe and Asia. Her little bungalow on Warm Springs sits unattended. The Turret Coffee Shop waitress, Anne Bly, is reported as missing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Sapphire Coffee Shop, Ketchum, Idaho

   Cannon and Nicky walked to the nearby Sapphire Coffee Shop and found a corner table, ordering large coffees. A pert Latina was attending the shop and went back to her cell phone after serving them.There was  a middle-aged couple huddled at a small table whispering.
   Nicky and Cannon sipped their coffees and Nicky explained she had come to Ketchum for a season of skiing at Sun Valley. She was from Florida, had just finished college at Gainsville and was contemplating law school, but wanted a year off There was also a broken romance, but Nicky's voice trailed off and she left it at that.
   "What about you? Some kind of jock?"
   Cannon laughed and explained that he had played football at Vanderbilt, done quite well to start. Then in his sophomore year during the second game against Ol Miss he was popped hard by an Ol Miss safety. His knee went out. Season over; career finished.
   Nicky nodded. "And now you do what?"
   "Telecoms business, I'm the Western Region Representative and I scout for tower sites. I had hoped for a career in the pros, but here I am with my cell phone and GPS."
   Nicky smiled.
   "At least I was knocked out by a star; the guy who ruined my knee was Deshone Jefferson, now a pro bowl guy. He plays with the Cleveland Browns."
   Nicky slapped her forehead. "The Browns! We are die-hard Browns fans. My family came from Cleveland. Can any team be more hapless this year? They are 0 and 4 and well on their way to a 0-16 season.
  Cannon laughed. "I'm happy Deshone is playing for such a loser."
  Nicky shook her head. "The Browns need some magic. I mean voodoo magic!"
  And that was when the idea struck Cannon. He sat back in his chair as a plan popped into his head.
   "What?" Nicky asked, noticing his sudden change of expression.
   "You gave me an idea, but I need to sleep on it."
   "The Browns?" Nicky asked.
    At that moment, the entrance door flew open; a cold wind blew through the store and a shrill voice trilled: "This is the greatest day of your lives. I regret it's also the last day of your lives." And the man cackled.
   Nicky grabbed Cannon's arm. "Oh God, it is Billy Winn!"
   Cannon looked at the threatening figure who had burst through the doorway. Billy Winn was medium height and pudgy, with a round face and a scruffy beard, thinning hair, wild blue eyes. His "Gators" ball cap was skewed to the side and in his right hand, he waved a small automatic, which he pointed at Nicky.
   "And darling, the first bullet has your name on it." Billy Winn said to Nicky, cocking the gun.
   Nicky shrank back and Cannon sat very still, his mind racing. His instinct told him Billy Winn was Florida money, not hick, but dangerous money.
   Billy Winn looked at the Latina who was staring at the cellphone on the counter, and he shook the gun at her. Then Billy glanced at the middle-aged couple, who were clutching hands and trying to shrink into the wall. No problem there.
   Billy waved the gun around, then pointed it back at Nicky. "Look at my fiance. She is in town a week and already bedding the local stud." Billy lamented.
   Billy steadied the gun and raised his hand, inching closer to Nicky. He shook his head, tears welled in his eyes. "I'm not sharing my love, so..."
   Cannon put out his hands and motioned with his right hand. Billy Winn froze, his mouth open, the gun pointed at Nicky. The Latina was caught leaning toward her cell phone; the loving couple were pressed into the plaster, as if hoping to come out on the other side.
   Cannon quickly got up and went to Billy Winn, taking the gun and putting it in his pocket, then patting Billy to be sure he did not have a second gun. He then returned to the table with Nicky. Cannon motioned with his left hand and the scene came alive.
   Billy was sputtering," now."
   But Billy seemed to have lost his train of thought; he pointed his empty hand at Nicky's head and flexed his trigger finger. Nothing happened. No gun. Billy's eyes went wide as he saw the gun had disappeared. He stood there sputtering, his mouth working. He looked down on the floor, behind him for his gun, then under the nearby table. He searched his pockets to no avail.
    The Latina was clutching her cellphone, the moonstruck couple stared
    Billy backed toward the door, his pasty face was terrified. "You're all demons!" He raged, then turned and raced out of the door and without looking ran across Fourth Street as a Lincoln Navigator full of partying Boise State fans came around the  corner and broadsided Billy, sending him flying 30 feet down to the corner of Fourth and Main.
    The Latina talked excitedly on her phone; the spooning couple got up and slipped away into the night. Cannon and Nicky walked through the crowd to the corner crash scene. Billy Winn was sprawled lifeless on Main Street. The police were preoccupied with the drunks in the Navigator. Cannon and Nicky agreed tacitly to walk on by.
    "I'll  see you home." Cannon offered. " You and Billy Winn?"
    Nicky shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it. A foolish love gone wrong."
    She directed Cannon to the other side of Main, not far from the base of Bald Mountain where she rented an apartment in "The Pink House", a lovely old Victorian painted a mellow pink with rust trim.
   They stood at Nicky's private entrance. Nicky gave Cannon her card..."in case you want to rent something. I am the one to see."
   Cannon put her card in his pocket. "Before Billy barged in on us, you gave me an idea. If it works out, you will definitely read about it."
   Nicky cocked her head.
   "Not yet, the idea needs work." Cannon said.
   Nicky reached up and kissed Cannon on the cheek. "Thanks," Nicky said, "I'm vague on what happened back there, but you or something saved me a lot of grief."
   Cannon nodded as Nicky disappeared inside her apartment. He walked back to Main to find his SUV which was parked on a side street. He paused to cross the street, glancing at the Sun Valley Courtesy Bus in front of him, which was a handsome 1930s style bus painted forest green with wood paneling. A woman was looking out at him from one of the bus windows. Cannon gasped. She had raven hair, high cheekbones, a wide mouth, and glittering green eyes. It was Mary Jane Taylor.
   Mary Jane was the keeper of the little girl Radika. And it was Radika who had bloodied Cannon at the little schoolhouse on the prairie, tasting his blood and infecting him, passing to him his strange new power. Mary Jane gave Cannon a sly smile from the bus window, then raised her right hand as if in greeting.
   Cannon suddenly felt his limbs grow heavy, rooted to the sidewalk. Then the bus pulled away and Mary Jane looked back at him, raising her left hand in a dainty wave. Cannon felt his body relax and his feeling returned. He felt a chill run down his spine as the bus roared down Main and turned on Warm Springs Road.
   Was Mary Jane following him? If so, what did Mary Jane want?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Wells Fargo ATM Scam, Sun Valley, Idaho

   Cannon Raspberry was infected with a virulent virus, passed to him by the alien girl, Radika. Bad news. But with the virus came a strange, as yet mystifying power, which he was curious to know more about.
   Cannon planned a small personal experiment of his new power at an ATM on lonely 4th Street in Ketchum, Idaho. It was Saturday night and the Boise State Broncos were playing. Of course, 99% of the locals were glued to their TVs to watch the game. The tourists were few as it was between the summer and the winter seasons.
   Cannon sat on a bench a few feet from a Wells Fargo ATM. A gaggle of four boisterous young men went to the ATM and withdrew some cash. This was not the group to hit. Finally, an older, refined gentleman came to the ATM. He looked to be in his mid-sixties, slender and nicely dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, and a tan, suede jacket with outside pockets and fancy leather elbow patches.
   Cannon watched as the modern day cowboy inserted his bank card and tapped the keys, leaning forward to gaze at the small display. After a few taps, he nodded his head and the ATM began to whir, spitting the twenty's into the dispenser. Once the customer started to lean forward to take his stash of twenty dollar bills, Cannon rose and splayed both his hands toward the stranger at the ATM. With his right hand Cannon made a half circle motion and the ATM scene froze. The man at the ATM was caught leaning forward, his hand almost to the dispenser to take his money.
   Cannon looked quickly around, but 4th Street was empty. He rose and went swiftly to the ATM and grabbed the stack of twenty dollar bills; there were fifteen, three hundred dollars. Cannon felt a sudden twinge to pocket the money and saunter off. But he shrugged it away and slipped the money in the customer's right outside pocket, then Cannon hurried back to this bench, where he again displayed his palms, this time making a half circle motion with his left hand.
   Instantly, the scene at the ATM was back to normal and the old gentleman was standing in front of the ATM, but his money was gone! The customer started mumbling and shaking his head; he bent forward and banged on the ATM, then noticed the receipt and his card in their respective slots. He looked at the receipt and said: "What the hell?" Then he took his credit card and put it in his outside jacket pocket.
   At that moment the man found his cash. Cannon was watching out of the corner of his eye. The old guy was totally nonplussed and looked over at Cannon. " Hey," he called in an agitated voice, "did you see something here?"
   Cannon walked over and smiled reassuringly, shaking his head. " Just you here at the ATM. Why, is there a problem?"
   The older man narrowed his eyes and looked up and down the street, but 4th Street was empty. His look softened and he asked Cannon in a sheepish voice: "How long have I been standing here?"
   "Not long, a few minutes." Cannon responded.
   The gentleman patted his jacket pocket. "That's a relief." Then he turned and walked quickly toward Main Street.
   Cannon watched him turn the corner and disappear from view. He smiled, that went well. And no serious damage done, he hoped.
   "That was odd, wasn't it?"
   Cannon started and turned to see a perky looking blond, cocking her head and smiling at him.
   "I was across the street, just got off  work from the rental agency. That old guy...something happened while he was the the ATM. I saw it."
   Cannon's heart fluttered. "I was right here on the bench. I didn't see anything. What did you see?"
   She  wiped her hair from forehead, then swept her hair back, tucking a strand behind her ear. "I'm not sure. I came out and saw you sitting on the bench and the guy at the ATM, then I seemed to pause for a few seconds. Next thing I know that guy is muttering and banging on the the ATM. Then you went over and he seemed okay and took off.  By the way, I am Nicky Durrance."
    Cannon smiled at the girl, but his mind was whirling. "I'm Cannon Raspberry, just here for a few days. And I think the old gent is just fine."
    Nicky returned Cannon's smile. Something strange had happened when she came out of the office, she seemed suspended for a few seconds. But the reason she had crossed the street was Cannon. He was at least 6'4", lean, athletic and dressed in jeans with a grape colored shirt. His features were fine and he had wavy blond hair. It was his eyes that intrigued Nicky. She had imagined blue, but Cannon's eyes were dark, an odd dark brown.
   Cannon felt Nicky's attraction to him and suggested they have a coffee. Nicky eagerly accepted and they headed off to a nearby coffee shop. He needed to know what, if anything, Nicky has seen of his little experiment.
   What did Nicky know?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Robbery at Karl's Yellow Discount, Picabo, Idaho

    Cannon Raspberry had no sooner entered Karl's Discount then he found himself in the middle of a robbery. There were three of them, wearing gory Halloween masks, shouting and waving their shotguns. People were dropping to the floor, putting their hands behind their heads.
   The gunman directly in front of Cannon was pumping his gun and starting to spin. Instead of dropping to the floor like all the others, Cannon inexplicably turned his hands out in a biblical fashion and made a half circle with his right hand.
   With that half-circle hand gesture, Cannon's world changed forever. Karl's Discount darkened, as if someone had turned down the lights. Everyone in the store was frozen, or moving in very slow motion. The gunman in front of Cannon was struggling to turn and point his shotgun at Cannon's chest.
   What had been the shrill commands of the gunmen, ordering the customers on the floor and the cashiers to empty the registers, was now a muddle of belabored voices, totally unintelligible, as if speaking in foreign tongues.
   Cannon grabbed a display bottle of Ste. Chapelle Claret and smashed it over the nearest's gunman's head. The shotgun flew out of the robber's hands and Cannon immediately seized the shotgun and pointed it at the other two thieves. They had seen what happened and were muttering, their eyes flashing, but they also had the same difficulty in turning on Cannon. It was if the two were in a thick quagmire, unable to move swiftly, or speak coherently.
   Without hesitation, Cannon aimed at the closest gunman and shot him in the legs, then he shot the third gunman, again in the legs. He watched in fascination, as the two gunmen fell in slow motion, as if something were slowly lowering them to the floor.
   The scene was beyond belief, the customers on the floor were writhing, some crying, it all sounded like the Tower of Babel, incoherent mutterings. Cannon's mind was spinning, he wanted no part of this. Everyone seemed paralyzed except him.
   Cannon took his handkerchief and wiped the shotgun he had used, then he dropped it next to the unconscious gunman. He raced out of the store. The minute he cleared the store, all sounds returned to normal: calls for help, screams, utter chaos. He looked back and saw customers jumping to their feet. Security men pounced on the downed gunmen.
   He did not hesitate, but ran counter clockwise around the big box, running away from his car. He circled to the back of Karl's and took off his blue cotton shirt, his ball cap, sunglasses and dumped them in a dumpster.
   Cannon walked quickly and pulled his charcoal t-shirt out of his pants. As he completed the circle, he heard the sirens and watched as two police cars screeched to a stop in front of Karl's. Fortunately, there was now a crowd of people in front of the store gawking, others were racing away away from the store.
   He quickly mixed with the crowd and slowly made his way to his parked SUV. Cannon got in, started the engine and headed away from the crime scene. He drove evenly at the speed limit to Ketchum and his room at the Sun Valley Inn. He parked in the garage, then went to his room and out on his small balcony with a bottle of wine and a glass. Time to think.
   He immediately thought back to last week's eerie events. He had started the week with a side trip to Silver City, a once booming Idaho mining town. After his visit to Silver City, he had taken the back roads over to Jordan Valley, Oregon. He had gotten lost and ended up at a curious, and isolated one-room school house. Much to his surprise, a young, attractive woman had popped out of the old building, introducing herself as Mary Jane Taylor. She had pleasantly given him instructions that would take him back to the I-84 and Boise where he was staying the night.
   Unfortunately, Cannon caught sight of the children. He gaped incredulously at the myriad, tiny children, actually no more than 12 to 30 inches tall,. Mary Jane had then paralyzed Cannon by making a half circle with her right hand. She said he could not leave and one girl, Radika, led Cannon into the school room.
   Mary Jane explained they were an expedition with a plan. They came from another place far away. As Mary Jane talked, Cannon became aware that Radika was chewing on his hand and licking the dripping blood from his fingers. Thanks to a sudden thunderstorm, he had managed to escape as Mary Jane had herded her tiny charges to the storm cellar.
   Cannon still couldn't believe what had happened, but for the fresh scars on his left hand. He sipped his wine and stared at the Sawtooth Mountains. When Radika chewed his fingers and licked his dripping blood what if she, either on purpose or unintenionally, had passed Cannon an alien virus, perhaps her DNA through her saliva?
   He thought about the robbery at Karl's, pondered and what had happened inside the discount store when he splayed out his palms and motioned with his right hand; the place became a swamp for everyone inside. His hand motion was was akin to Mary Jane's when she had paralyzed him. Had Radika given him the power?
   If so, what next?