SCREAMING IN THE NIGHT

In January, 2021 I wrote a story with an unresolved ending called “On the Way”. It was one of several which I recorded and submitted to the BBC Radio show called Upload. When my story was broadcast on the air, the program host William Wright commented that he hoped some day I would write a follow-up. That comment stayed with me and fourteen months later I decided to do just that. That story was called “When the Fog Rolls In.” Recently I thought it would be interesting to combine the two stories by creating a new beginning and ending and tweaking sections within the body of the stories. Since then, I had the opportunity to enter a fiction writing contest; the call was for a 1,000 – 3,000 word mystery story. I decided to submit my reconstructed story. The word counter on my Microsoft Office page said the story was 2,654 words – not too shabby. I don’t enter many contests but every time I do I’m shocked by the number of writers who also submit stories. My stuff better be damn good if it stands a chance of winning against 400+ entries. Well, my story did not win but that’s okay; I tried my best and had fun creating this compilation. I am not deterred. The winning story was a masterpiece and deserved to come in 1st place so kudos to the author. Here is my story; I hope you enjoy ‘Screaming in the Night’.

I can see it now! I can see it! Got to get it!!”

David Stapleton screamed in his sleep. He flailed about on his bed, entangled in a mass of sweaty sheets and blankets. David slowly started to come out of his stupor, stuck in a surreal and frightening dimension between sleep and wakefulness. His eyelids felt stuck together and his mouth was parched. His body was stiff and leaden, his breathing heavy, his heart beating rapidly. David wasn’t sure of his surroundings; was this real or was he reliving his worst nightmare?

Gradually David became more aware. Yes, it was as he feared – the uncontrollable, unstoppable dream, his nightly companion. He sat up in bed and reached for a cigarette. Flipping open his old, beat up lighter, he lit a Marlboro and inhaled deeply. He sat in silence, smoking and thinking, his thoughts spinning like a Vegas roulette wheel. Each night he crawled into bed exhausted, desperately in need of sleep yet terrified that the dream would come again.

David glanced at his alarm clock; 4:17 AM – ridiculously early but he knew he would not be falling back to sleep. He slipped on his sweatpants and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. While the coffee brewed, David stared into the oh so familiar fog. He lit another cigarette and thought about that night four years ago.

Four Years Earlier:

David drove home that dark and foggy night barely able to see the road ahead of him. An electrical storm that evening wreaked havoc with the streetlights on Route 718 causing them to flash at indiscriminate intervals. Even though his was the only car on the dimly lit road, the strobe effect from the lights was haphazard and dangerously distracting. There were shadows looming everywhere; David never saw the cyclist cross his path.

The impact was powerful yet made only a quiet thud like the subtle reload of a gun’s magazine. The visual impression, however, was appalling. The tableau switched to slow motion; David watched in horror as a mangled body performed a ‘danse macabre’ across the hood of his car while musical passages from “O Fortuna” screamed in his head. The cyclist soared through the air like an acrobat and landed in a twisted heap 20 feet or so away.

David sat motionless in his car; no other living creature was anywhere in sight. “What to do? What to do?” raced through his mind. He’d never had a car accident, not even a parking ticket. Now he had run someone down – an innocent cyclist. Was it a man or a woman? Surely this person would be missed by family and friends, perhaps his or her parents or – God forbid – their children. What a terrible fate, a horrible accident. Yes, David had a few drinks after work, just a few; the alcohol had to be out of his system by now. But wait; the cyclist wore no reflective clothing, not even a warning light on the bike’s handlebars or wheels. Out cycling in the night, alone; wasn’t that tempting fate? Maybe they got what they deserved.

Slowly David opened the door and looked around; the deafening silence was pounding in his brain, the absence of people other-worldly. With measured steps he approached the crumpled body. A gentle push of his booted foot confirmed what he already suspected: the cyclist was dead. A battered helmet sat near the edge of the road; the bright orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of the bicycle manufacturer in Austria stared at David accusingly. The longer he looked at the emblem the more he realized he had two choices: he could report the accident to the police and face the consequences or he could clean up this mess and get on with his life.

As he walked back to his car David knew what he had to do. A look at the front end showed very little damage, a small inconvenience he could deal with later. More pressing matters prevailed; first he had to extricate the bicycle from under his car. David sat in the driver’s seat, shifted the car into reverse and gently backed up. After a couple of seconds he could feel the car and the bicycle disengage.

The bike was a wreck but there wasn’t much debris on the road. Retrieving his leather jacket, David wrapped it around the top tube bar of the bike and carried it back to the dead cyclist. Taking a few steps away from the road he realized it would be easy to throw the bike over the edge, making it look like the cyclist had swerved off the road – if the body was ever found at all. He gave the bike a hefty toss and it disappeared into the woods below. With his foot David then rolled the cyclist’s body and helmet down the hill.

David walked back to his car and broke off a low hanging branch from a tree which he used to sweep the road clear of any pieces of glass or metal. Getting back into the car, he turned on the radio and cranked up the volume; his adrenaline was pumping.

Ok” David murmured to himself. “It’s all gonna be ok. Just one last thing. Got to take care of that little dent in the hood of my car.” David kept driving until he reached a busy gas station. As he drove up to a pump, he intentionally smashed into a metal barrier; witnesses could attest to the fender bender.

David’s decision to flee the scene was fueled by fear and self-preservation. Now as he drove home he felt much more relaxed and confident. He reached for his jacket but it wasn’t there. His face went pale and he broke out in a cold sweat. Closing his eyes he could clearly see his jacket wrapped around the bicycle, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods.

Four Years Later:

Tom Delaney sat alone at his favorite bar sipping his third bourbon. Life had quickly gone down the shitter a few months ago when he bet big time on a “sure thing” that didn’t pan out. That was one of Tom’s biggest faults; he was always looking for the quick fix, the money angle, whether legit or not. Now here he was, a 38-year-old washed up ex PI with a huge chip on his shoulder, a failed marriage and no money.

When the bartender announced closing time, Tom begrudgingly slid off his stool and made his way to his car. He took Route 718 toward his parent’s cabin which they left to him in their will. With no other known relatives, Tom was totally alone trying to get his life back on track. So far he wasn’t having much luck.

The weather was changing and when the fog rolls in, driving on 718 gets hairy.

He wasn’t on the road very long when he found himself in pea soup conditions. Suddenly a deer appeared out of nowhere and Tom swerved, coming to a screeching stop. After a brief standoff, the deer gracefully bounded down the steep edge and disappeared into the thick woods.

Shaken, Tom settled himself in his car. The glow of the headlights picked up the reflection a shiny object in the thicket below. Being a curious type, Tom drove his car closer to the edge and grabbed a flashlight from the backseat. Gingerly he made his way down the side of the bluff landing on a heavily overgrown outcropping about 15 feet below. He walked around for a few minutes before his foot came in contact with an unknown object; whatever it was rolled a couple of feet away. Tom walked over and crouched down for a better look; the item turned out to be a battered helmet with the weather-beaten orange and black ‘KTM’ emblem of a bicycle manufacturer.

Disappointed that his find wasn’t something valuable, Tom stood up to leave. He took a few steps and heard a strange ‘crunch’ under his Doc Martens. Shining his flashlight on his boot, Tom couldn’t believe what was buried under the leaves and debris.

“Holy shit! A human skeleton!” Tom immediately remembered the helmet. “Poor guy must have ridden his bicycle off the road. Wonder where the bike is?” Tom panned the area with his flashlight. He was about to give up when something caught his eye. “Well, well, what have we here?” Tom moved some leaves out of the way and discovered a fanny pack which he took, clipping it onto a loop on his jeans. Maybe he’d get lucky and find some money in the bag.

Deciding to investigate a little more, Tom eventually came across the bicycle caught up in a large bush. It was a mangled mess, certainly of no value to him; nearby was a moldy leather jacket. Tom snagged the jacket and went through the pockets; nothing. Noticing a zippered inner compartment, he found an iPhone inside. Slipping the phone into his rear pocket, Tom slowly pulled himself up the cliff to his car and drove off. He left the scene with that uneasy, suspicious feeling he’d get while working on a case. Old habits die hard.

Once home, Tom reached into his rear pocket and retrieved the phone he found in the leather jacket. He emptied the contents of the fanny pack onto the kitchen counter: assorted crap, a wallet and an iPhone. “Hmm. Two phones. Why would one person need two iPhones? Maybe two people were there that night. What the hell happened? Was this the scene of an accident or a crime?” Tom’s PI sixth sense was working overtime now.

Both phones were wet. Drying them off, Tom placed the phones and SIM cards into two separate Ziploc bags filled with silica gel packets he had stockpiled. They’d have to dry out a day or two. Next he went through the wallet: $47 which he immediately pocketed, an expired debit card and a driver’s license. The license was issued to Joseph Barnes, 312 Ogden Terrace, Sparta, NJ. – a 90-minute drive from Tom’s cabin.

Tom broke out his own iPhone and Googled ‘Joseph Barnes, Sparta, NJ’; it took a little while as he scrolled down then BINGO! There it was – a missing person flyer dated January 2018. Last known location was Bethlehem, PA – a few miles from the cabin. There was a phone number to call. A picture of Joseph Barnes on a bike holding a KTM helmet smiled at Tom; the same face was on the driver’s license.

While the phones dried out, Tom spent most of the following day at Wind Creek Casino in Bethlehem playing the penny slots with Joseph Barnes’ $47. He was on a roll and left the casino with $100 in his pocket. Tom couldn’t wait any longer and anxiously drove home to see if he could get the iPhones up and running.

He took the phones out of the bags, inserted the SIM cards and turned them on; both phones started up. To Tom’s amazement, neither phone needed a passcode. Checking ‘Settings’ on both phones, he found what he suspected all along: one phone belonged to Joseph Barnes and the other belonged to someone named David Stapleton from Allentown, PA.

David, David, David. Why were you on Route 718 that night and what did you do to Joseph Barnes?” he thought. Tom realized that after four years David Stapleton could be anywhere with a different identity, job and phone number but there was only one way to find out. After his win at the casino, he was feeling lucky. This could be the big break he was waiting for.

Slipping the two phones into his pockets, Tom drove to his favorite bar. On the corner was an old phone booth with a pay telephone – the untraceable kind. Tom opened David’s iPhone; there were two different phone numbers for him. Tom hesitated for a minute thinking about his days as a PI.

Instinct took over, suggesting he ignore the first number on David’s phone and go for the second one. Tom reasoned that the first number was likely David’s cell number; there was a chance the second number was for a business or a house for David – anything that might provide a clue. It was worth a shot. After all, Tom wasn’t looking to talk to David just yet; all he wanted was a lead.

Tom dropped two quarters into the public phone slot and dialed the second number on David’s cell. The call was answered on the third ring. “Hi. This is David at Stapleton Plumbing and Heating in Allentown. We’re closed now but will reopen at 8 AM. Please call back then.”

Pay dirt! Tom Delaney may be down but he wasn’t out! He’d head back to the cabin and Google Stapleton Plumbing and Heating for an address. But first a little celebration – some pleasant company at the bar with his old friend Jim Beam.

Sipping his drink, Tom could practically smell the shakedown money he’d be raking in. As he drove home from the bar, the ubiquitous late-night fog rolled in. Tom was momentarily blinded by a pair of oncoming headlights and swerved right to avoid a collision. He turned the steering wheel sharply and his car plowed through bushes, bounced off trees, rolled over itself down the steep hill and crash-landed upside down in a ravine at the bottom of the cliff before it burst into flames.

Poor Tom. Just when things were starting to look up. Karma’s a bitch.

A few hours later David Stapleton once again found himself in the clutches of his bedtime companion – the ever-present nightmare. He woke up drenched in sweat and bolted straight out of bed, his heart racing. He felt nauseous and dizzy. Staggering into the bathroom, he grasped the edge of the sink staring at his sweat-soaked face in the mirror.

How could you have been so callous leaving that cyclist? How have you been living with yourself the past four years?” This wasn’t living, he realized, knowing every day would end with the same hellish nightmare.

David stood in the bathroom and closed his eyes; he could clearly see his leather jacket wrapped around the bicycle he threw over the cliff four years ago, his phone still in the pocket, as it made its final descent into the woods – the same dream that left him screaming in the night, every night, for the past four years. “I can see it now!” he sobbed. “I can see it.”

Overcome with fear, exhaustion and remorse, David walked out the back door of his apartment above the plumbing business. Barefoot and shirtless, he was unfazed by the cold and dense fog rolling in. Blindly he went down the damp rickety steps and walked deeper in the woods behind his apartment – unseeing, uncaring.

Suddenly David felt a searing pain in his chest. Gasping for air, he clutched his arm and fell to his knees, rolling down the wet, moss-covered precipice in the woods. Ten seconds later, David Stapleton was sprawled out in the shrouded morass 30 feet below, dead from a massive heart attack.

Was it a heart attack that killed David Stapleton or overwhelming guilt? No one will ever know for sure. David never knew that with Tom’s death he was completely in the clear of any crime; the only evidence – the phone that tied him to that horrible accident – was now in the jacket pocket of Tom Delaney’s incinerated body.

Tom and David – both dead on the same night a few miles apart – one hunting and the other haunted.

Oh, the irony.

NAR © 2022

15 thoughts on “SCREAMING IN THE NIGHT”

    1. With all the wonderful comments I’ve been getting, I feel like a winner! It was a challenging write and I’m glad I took a chance entering it in the contest. There are a lot of REALLY GREAT writers out there! Luv ya, Cindy G!! Thanks for the pat on the back! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, KK. I loved the story, too. It took a long time to piece everything together without leaving gaping holes. I wanted to make both men as believable as possible but I was beginning to question if I had done a good enough job. Thank you for validating me and my work. Sometimes ideas pop into our head seemingly out of nowhere; that’s serendipitous. Other times we sweat bullets getting the words on paper; that’s diligence. Both are good but the latter is infinitely more rewarding. Thank you for reminding me not to question my worth. 🌟

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  1. Well, that was quite the tale. In the opening scenes I felt very sad. Just recently, there really was a case of a hit and run where the offender returned with another person to dispose of the body. They left an arm behind – yes, really! Obviously, they were eventually tracked down.

    It is a good story, and there are a few places it could be tightened. Are you eligible to enter it in other short story competitions? If so, perhaps read through again, looking for words that slow the pace (ubiquitous, for example). Maybe try moving in a little closer, still in the third person, but more immediate. e.g. “Blindly he went down the damp rickety steps and walked deeper in the woods behind his apartment – unseeing, uncaring.” could be something like “He stumbled down the rickety steps, slick with damp, and into the woods behind his apartment. He couldn’t see where he was going. And he didn’t care.”
    Your story of course! Just suggestions.

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    1. Oh, I’m sure there are a zillion places where this story could be “tightened”. If I handed it to a publisher I’d probably get laughed out of the office. The truth is I’m an amateur just having fun writing stories as best as I can. Contests be damned! My goal is not to win contests, get a book deal, make money or become famous; I just want to write and hopefully entertain people. To that end, I believe this is a top-notch story and I succeeded in my goals. Hey, if it was good enough for BBC Radio, it’s good enough for me! Suggestions duly noted; as you pointed out – it is my story. However, in the future, if I should decide to enter another contest, I’ll try to remember to run my story by you first!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nancy, I am not a professional editor, and would never want to convey that I know better than the next person how to write a good story. Mostly, people don’t understand my short stories – so you are way ahead of me. You go girl!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so thankful that I woke up in the middle of the night and found this gem of a story. Awesomeness. Just awesomeness! Great character building. Wonderful plot. So, the biker had a reflective helmet all along? Perfect. I quit smoking over a year ago, but I wanted one when I read your description. Well played. And, you should have won that contest!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, it’s funny that I find myself in the same boat. My husband was snoring like a steamroller last night so I crawled into another room to sleep but no such luck. I flipped open my Mac and saw your comment which blew me away. Sorry about your disturbed sleep but grateful my story hit the spot for you; as a former smoker, your cigarette euphemism was not lost on me lol! Yeah, I worked hard on the story and I think it’s damn good BUT the other guy’s work was flawless. Still I’m no less proud of the job I did. Thanks for confirming that for me. Hope you got back to sleep; I don’t think it’s in the cards for me. 🌟

      Liked by 1 person

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