Here’s a sneak peak from my short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at www.neconebooks.com.
In my short story “On the Rocks,” Rick has had it with his girlfriend Jill. Things were great for a while, but now she’s pregnant, he’s about to go off to college, and he doesn’t want a baby to ruin his future. He’s thinking some pretty sinister thoughts about her, including killing her. It would solve all his problems. Of course, in real life, he’d never physically harm anyone, especially someone close to him. But the thoughts are there, in his mind, but that’s okay, because he has lots of thoughts he doesn’t act upon. Right?
Then, one day, on the beach, on the rocks, something happens and suddenly Jill is dead—.
Here’s a preview of “On the Rocks”:
ON THE ROCKS
By Michael Arruda
The waves smashed the jagged rocks with a vengeance, and Rick found himself imagining the waves were his hands, and he was cracking Jill’s head wide open on the rocks.
But the second he saw this image, he felt sick.
He was no killer.
He hated stepping on bugs even.
Yet the fact remained he wanted to rid himself of her. Badly.
He had even said the words to her earlier. Said them aloud. “I could kill you!”
He hadn’t meant it. Not in the literal sense. It was just one of those things people said all the time. “I could kill you!” That sort of thing.
Yet the very thought of inflicting pain on Jill made him sick. He just wanted to be rid of her, that’s all.
He was very confused. He also felt terribly guilty.
So he leaned across the beach blanket and kissed Jill on the forehead.
She pulled away.
“I’m not in the mood for kissing.”
Rick huffed and looked down at the sand. He raised his right hand to his mouth and nibbled on his thumbnail.
There was no one else on the beach with them. Most kids their age were swimming at Horseneck Beach. Very few came to these small Padanaram beaches which were full of rocks and were more suited for amateur fishermen. Besides, most were private. The public areas were few and far between, and you had to know where they were. Rick knew because his buddy Shawn lived here the past three summers with his father and had showed Rick the best places to hang out.
“Why did this have to happen?” Rick asked.
“Will you stop saying that?” Jill said. She and Rick sat side by side on one large beach towel. The sun had gone in behind a cloud, and both of them felt a shiver. “It did happen. Now we have to deal with it.”
“I don’t want to deal with it.”
“You think I do? I’m the one with the baby inside me!” Jill said.
“Can’t you— you know, have a—.”
“No! I’m not having an abortion!”
Rick chewed his thumbnail off. He nibbled on it between his front teeth.
“Are you going to help me or not?” Jill asked.
Rick spit the severed nail into the rocky sand. “I want to, you know that. But I’m supposed to be going to college in two weeks.”
“Yeah, but you were supposed to—.” His voice trailed off.
“Supposed to what? Say it,” Jill said, but Rick wouldn’t say it. He contorted his face into a grimace. “I was supposed to put my diaphragm in? Is that what you were going to say?”
“Just forget it, alright?” Rick said softly.
“I was drunk, remember? I didn’t see you reaching for any condoms! It’s just like you to put this on me! You’re an ass sometimes!”
“I’m two weeks away from college. It’s my ticket out of here,” Rick said. “I know it’s yours, too.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Can’t you see that if we have this baby, we’ll never have this chance again? Never!”
“Well, it’s a little late for you to be thinking about that now! You should have thought of that before! I’m not killing this baby!”
“Then raise him alone, okay? Because I don’t want any part of it! I’m going to college, damn it! I’m getting out of here!” Rick said. His voice was mean.
“Fine! I’ll raise him alone! You prick!”
“Well, you are! You’re willing to let me ruin my life while you go off to Notre Dame and have fun.”
“Well what do you want me to do?”
“I told you! I want you to help me.”
Rick shook his head. “Marry you, right? Raise a family, right? And where am I supposed to work, McDonalds?”
“I don’t know, Rick. I just thought you’d help me. Why do I have to bear this alone?”
“Because you choose to, that’s why! You can get rid of that baby like it’s nothing!”
“But it’s not nothing! It’s a baby!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
“You’re a jerk. You’re a jerk!” Jill shouted. She got up and walked away, onto the large rocks which jutted out towards the ocean.
Again, he thought about how he wanted to pick up one of those rocks and smash Jill over the head with it.
He just wanted her to disappear. But why did his feelings have to be filled with so much anger and violence, he wondered? He loved Jill, so why would he want to hurt her?
Because she never shut up, that’s why, he answered. Never in all his life had he known anyone who talked as much as Jill and who got on his case as much as Jill. Not even his own mother was that bad.
He didn’t really want to hurt her. He just wanted to be rid of her and their little problem. He couldn’t think of any other way to be rid of her completely. If she were dead, that was the ticket, because he was never going to say “Okay, let’s raise this child together. Let me put off college for a while. I’ll find a job, we’ll live together, and we’ll make this work.” He just wasn’t going to say it, and he knew she wasn’t going to let him go. Oh, she said she’d raise the kid on her own, but he knew she wouldn’t. She’d tell everyone they knew that he was the father, that he had abandoned her. He’d be hated by all their friends. But worst of all, once his parents found out, there’d be hell to pay. They’d kill him. Not literally, of course, but they would certainly make his life miserable. Guilt trips, lectures, and no more money.
Even if Jill said nothing, they’d put two and two together, and they’d know. That’s why he wanted Jill to have an abortion. His parents couldn’t find out. If Jill could just disappear, that would solve everything.
She stood on the rocks which jutted out towards the ocean. One little push—.
“Stop it!” Rick scolded himself.
He was a coward, and he knew it. He knew he was wrong to abandon Jill. He knew she was right. She deserved better.
“Okay. Just stay in the real world,” he thought. “Killing is for the movies. You can’t do it. You don’t want to do it. Maybe it’s time you grew up. Tell her that. Go up there and tell her you’re not going to go to college after all. That you are going to stay and help her raise the kid. Tell her.”
A part of him wanted to tell her this, but the very thought of the kind of life he’d be leading if he stayed made him sick to his stomach.
“You’re thinking too much,” he said.
So he stopped thinking. For a second. Before he wondered what it would be like if he came clean yet still went to college? Could that be done? Would his parents be supportive enough to support Jill and the kid financially while he studied for his degree? He knew Jill wouldn’t go for it. She would want him there with her.
But it was a start, wasn’t it? If he could tell Jill today, right now, that he’d own up to his responsibility, that he’d stop asking her to have an abortion, wouldn’t that be something? Couldn’t they compromise? Couldn’t they still go to college even with a child? Surely there were more answers out there. Suddenly he felt inspired and optimistic.
He jumped to his feet and made his way towards the rocks. Jill was standing smack in the middle of them, and on both sides of her the ocean bucked and roared.
“Jill!” He called. “I have something to tell you!”
She turned around, her arms folded in front of her chest. “What?”
He was close enough to touch her now. “There’s something I want to say to you.”
It was a whisper, soft, barely audible, but they both heard it.
Rick looked around them on all sides.
“Did you just hear that?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she answered, and she looked frightened.
“That was weird,” Rick said.
There was no one around. The two rocky beaches on both sides of them were empty. Behind them was the road, and they didn’t see any cars anywhere, other than Rick’s Honda, which was still parked on the dirt shoulder in between the winding country road and the partially hidden beach. Ahead of them, nothing but ocean.
“You think someone’s pulling our chain?” Jill asked.
“Dunno,” Rick answered.
“Help— me,” came the voice again, more deliberate this time.
Again, Rick and Jill looked around, scouring both sides of the rocks, and again they saw nothing but empty beach. A group of crying sea gulls flew overhead.
“Maybe they’ve learned how to talk,” Jill said.
Rick shook his head. “No. Not unless they’ve learned how to throw their voices. The voice we heard didn’t come from up there.”
“No, it didn’t, did it?” Jill said.
“No. It came from—.”
Jill pointed to the ground. “Down there.”
They looked down at their feet. The rocks on which they stood had plenty of gaps between them, some large enough for them to stick their legs into thigh deep.
Rick dropped to his belly and peered into one of these cracks. He acted so fast he didn’t even think about what he might see.
So when he saw the man’s face staring up at him, he screamed.
The face looked dead, with pale flesh and lifeless bloodshot eyes. It spoke again, and this time Rick saw its lips move.
“Help me. Please,” the face said.
“What is it?” Jill asked.
“There’s someone down there,” Rick said.
“Under the rocks?”
Rick nodded. “Look.”
“I don’t want to! Is there really someone down there?”
“Oh my God!” Jill screamed. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to help him,” Rick said. He peered back into the gap. “We’re going to help you, okay?”
“No,” the man said. “Too late.” He said something else too, something Rick didn’t quite make out. Rick thought it sounded like “run.” But that couldn’t have been it, Rick thought. Why would he say something like that?
Rick grabbed onto one of the large rocks in between him and the man. It was really heavy. He tugged but it wasn’t moving, not one inch. It was like lifting a safe. He knew because his cousins Jon and Randy had one in their basement. The three of them together couldn’t lift it off the ground.
Rick tried again. He wrapped his hands around the edges of the rock and pulled. Grunted, groaned, heaved, and his right hand slipped, sliding along a jagged corner that sliced his palm. He cried out and pulled his hand back, shaking it, trying to ward off the sting. A bright white scratch ran the entire length of his palm, a scratch that quickly turned red.
“Damn!” He cried.
“Are you okay?” Jill asked.
“No. It’s deep!” Rick pressed his left thumb tightly over the wound, but he couldn’t stop the flow of blood.
“What are we going to do?” Jill asked.
“Shawn lives five minutes from here. We can go to his house and call 911,” Rick answered. “You’ll have to drive.”
“I can’t drive a stick!”
Rick rolled his eyes. “I’ll drive with one hand then.” He got back down on his knees and leaned towards the man underneath the rocks. “A friend of mine lives real close. We’re going to go to his house and call 911. Hang in there, okay?”
The man screamed.
It was an incredibly loud scream, high-pitched, the way Rick’s little brother Russ sounded when he fell off his bike and split his head open when he was 7. It was almost a squeal.
It knocked Rick back onto his butt, and he felt his lips curl into a grimace. Jill let out a shriek and jumped backwards.
The man squealed again, and this second cry was worse, worse than anything Rick had ever heard. It was full of pain, and Rick knew that whatever was happening to this man it had to be bad. No one sounded like that unless they were being dismembered or gutted or— Rick covered his mouth with his hands, and he could taste his own blood.
And then just like that the man’s screaming stopped. Cut short as if he were gagged. Jill continued to sob, and Rick remained sitting, too frightened to move.
Until the stink came up.
Like rotten eggs. He cried out and keeled over on his side.
“That smell! Christ!”
On his hands and knees coughing, Rick couldn’t expunge the odor from his being fast enough. Jill started coughing too.
Over their coughing Rick became aware of another sound, a flip flop flip flop, like a fish flailing on a boat deck. He looked up to see large tentacles, four of them, each longer than he and Jill were tall, reaching out from the cracks underneath the rocks, in effect surrounding them. Before he could do anything, one of the dark green almost black tentacles whipped towards them and snagged Jill by the ankle. She screamed.
Rick reached for her but suddenly she wasn’t there. The tentacle had yanked her feet out from under her. She crashed face first on the rocks with a nauseating thud, and then the thing dragged her backwards away from Rick.
By the time Rick had jumped to his feet, a mere two seconds, a second tentacle had wrapped itself around Jill. She wasn’t fighting back. While the tentacles squeezed and pulled her this way and that, she lay limp, as if already dead.
. Rick scrambled towards her. He grabbed the tentacle wrapped around her waist. It was cold, freezing, and although shiny was not slimy in the least but hard and thick like leather. He grabbed it and pulled it, trying with all his might to wrench it from Jill’s body.
She opened her eyes. A moment later she realized.
“Oh Jesus!” Rick cried, still tugging on the tentacle and having about as much success as if he were pulling a tree out of the ground. “Hold on, Jill! I’m trying! I’m trying!”
He felt something grab his ankle and looked down to see a tentacle wrapping itself around his foot.
“Get off me!” he shouted, kicking at the serpent-like appendage.
Another one shot at his face, as if it were going to grab him by the throat. He let go of the limb around Jill and jumped backwards. He lost his balance and fell off the rocks, landing hard on the rocky sand below.
He heard Jill shriek, and he clenched his eyes shut and screamed, begging for the horror to go away. He opened his eyes and jumped to his feet and ran for the rocks. He leapt to the top of the rock wall without using his hands, and he landed on his feet.
Jill had been pulled down into one of the cracks. From the waist down her body was hidden.
She was still conscious. Her eyes met Rick’s, and she screamed, “Oh Rick! Please help me! Help me!”
Rick tried to run to her, but the tentacles were everywhere. There were at least eight of them now. If he got any closer, he’d be grabbed, too. It would be suicide.
A large thick one the width of a python wrapped itself around Jill’s throat and began to constrict. Her face went red as she gagged for air.
Tears poured down both their faces.
“Jill! I can’t get to you!”
Her mouth was wide, in disbelief that she was going to die. And then it was over. Her eyes rolled, her tongue hung low beneath her lips, and the huge thick limb around her throat let go just as whatever was holding her legs pulled her down below, and just like that, she wasn’t there anymore.
“Jill!” Rick shrieked.
The remaining tentacles swung and swooped, blindly reaching for more prey, until, as if satisfied with their recent prize, they retreated into their holes, like snakes slithering into the ground.
Then all was quiet.
Other than the sounds of Rick’s sobs and a buoy bell clanging from somewhere off in the ocean.
The fist slammed the table, and Rick jumped.
“What did you do to your girlfriend?” Detective Orin asked. It was the fifth time he had asked the question.
“I told you,” Rick said, swallowing, a dry lump caught in his throat, exhausted, looking up at the detective with swollen, crying eyes. “I didn’t do anything to her.”
Rick sat on a tiny wooden chair behind a tiny wooden table in the police interrogation room. Orin stood over him and leaned into his face.
“Bullshit! We read all about it in your diary, Rick, how you wanted to get rid of her, how you wanted to kill her! You even wrote down some of the ways you could do it, like throwing her off a cliff into the ocean. How about that!”
“No, that’s not what happened.”
“Look, I know how things are,” the gray haired detective said, taking on a friendlier tone. “I’m a guy. I was a teenager once. No teenage guy wants his girl to get pregnant. Yeah, that was in your diary, too. I mean, you have your whole life ahead of you, right? She didn’t want to have an abortion, and that was going to ruin your life, so you killed her, didn’t you, Rick?”
“No. I didn’t kill her! I told you, it was the squid thing!”
“The squid thing. Yeah, right. Maybe I should give fucking Ray Harryhausen a call to see if one of his creatures has come to life. You know who Ray Harryhausen is?”
“He used to make movies with lots of giant monsters in them. Real fun but not very real. Just like your story, Rick. It’s not very real.”
“Look, if I was going to make up a story, would I make up something this stupid?” Rick asked.
“Had a guy once who told me his wife thought she was Supergirl and that’s how she ended up in bits and pieces on the park lawn. She jumped out of the twin engine plane on her own because she thought she could fly,” Orin said. He sat on the edge of the wooden table. “I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, Rick. You hear a lot of things, some of them even stupid.”
Rick sniffled. “I’m the guy who called the police. If I killed Jill, why would I do that?”
“No one’s calling you a serial killer, Rick. Sometimes people just snap and in the heat of the moment do things they regret later. Believe me, many guilty people call the police.”
“I’m not guilty! I—I want a lawyer!”
“If you’re not guilty, what do you need a lawyer for?” Orin asked.
“Because I’m entitled to one. I don’t want to talk to you anymore unless I have a lawyer! Or my parents!”
“I dunno, Rick,” Orin said. He stood again. “Asking for a lawyer. You sure sound like someone who’s guilty. But that’s okay. We can play it that way if you want. It’s just that, once you get a lawyer, then I can’t help you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you tell me the truth now, that you lost control of your emotions, and you let your anger get the better of you, in short, you admit to killing Jill, the judge will go easy on you. You call a lawyer, he’s going to advise you not to cooperate, and then the judge isn’t going to go so easy. I’m going to prove you murdered her, Rick. I’m giving you the chance now to cooperate and get a lighter sentence.”
“I didn’t kill her, damn it!”
“Diaries don’t lie, Rick! It’s right there in black and white, in your own handwriting!”
“Yes! I wrote it, okay? I write lots of things in my diary! It’s a diary, for Christ’s sake!”
“Watch your mouth!”
“I wrote I was a secret agent too, but I’m not! It doesn’t mean anything!”
“It means a whole lot to me, Rick. It tells me you wanted that girl dead!”
“Yes, I did but—.
“What did you do with the body, Rick?
“Nothing! I didn’t do anything with it! I didn’t kill Jill!”
Orin shoved his face into Rick’s.
“Her blood is all over those rocks! It’s on your clothes!”
“I didn’t kill her!”
“Yes you did! And I’m going to prove it! I’m going to find her body or a piece of her clothing or maybe a broken fingernail, but goddamn it, I’m going to find something, and then you’re going to be sorry you didn’t confess right here and now, you snot nosed little bastard!”
To read the rest of this story, check out FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR at www.neconebooks.com. My short story collection features 15 short stories, 7 reprints and 8 original stories, plus a wraparound story that ties everything together.