Author Archives: Shawn Coots

About Shawn Coots

Web Designer & Writer. Read my blog at http://shawncoots.com

Hillview Boulevard

hillview1

My name is Paul Reynam and I am a pervert. But unlike most other perverts, I’ve found a way to make my addiction my paycheck. You see, I’m the man hiding in your bushes with a Nikon, documenting your dirty little moments. People do such nasty things when no one is supposed to be watching.

Rich, obsessive types pay me for the bird’s-eye-view, although it’s not always sex acts and nudity they’re seeking. Sometimes clients have specific targets or requests. Usually it’s the ex-girlfriend, or the estranged father figure that they want to spy on. Voyeurism knows no bounds. Or price tags. I enjoy the job best when there’s no particular assignment, and I get to just snap random people who may or may not sell. The thrill is at its strongest when I’m on edge, waiting to be caught, heart racing while the shutter clicks.

I got my start with this seedy scheme when I met Roland. A day or two after I was fired from a photo lab for stealing prints, he showed up on my front door with an offer to become my mentor and agent. He introduced me to the right people, gave me the lists, purchased some equipment, and then sent me on my merry way. Now I get to move from place to place, seeing what I can see without being seen.

For the last two weeks, my latest place has been a small apartment on Hillview Boulevard. It’s in the middle of a typical suburb, filled with pregnant teenagers and alcoholic fathers. A real shady scene, where middle-class intersects with white trash.

Tonight, I’m on top of a detached garage. This provides a view of a teenaged blonde with an acne riddled face. I suspect she’s an exhibitionist because she rarely closes her blinds. I’ve shot her for three days straight, with limp results. She’s a bit rough, but Roland will find someone who’s into it.
After two hours I’ve taken three or four decent shots of her changing clothes. This job is often boring so my mind wonders, and I notice a new development across the street. There sits a Uhaul truck that wasn’t around earlier. New residents mean no curtains, and easy-access lurking. Goodbye, desperate, lonely youth; it’s time to go welcome the new neighbors!

There’s no coverage from the back yard, so I slink behind some shrubs that flank the house across the street. My back is exposed, but it’s dark. These hicks are too drunk to look out of their windows and find me.

I’ve been watching for about twenty minutes, when finally I spot movement on the second floor. Light fills the room, and my blood starts pumping. The lens begins to capture the best thing to happen to this neighborhood in decades. She stands tall and slender, with dark hair and pale skin. The way she glides across the room evokes a sophistication far beyond this slum. Why is she here?

She’s a worthy target, so she deserves a name. I’ll call her Angela. Dear, dark Angela, on the wrong side of town, tell me about it, sweetheart. You’re my only obsession. I decide that tomorrow I will glean every angle into her house, and choose my hidden locations. See you soon, darling.
Roland gives me the side-eye after looking over last night’s work. He’s debating if it’s worth it to stay in the shit-hole any longer. I have to convince him otherwise if I want get inside Angela’s head.

“This girl is one zit away from her head exploding, she won’t fetch much. And I’m really not sure what you see in the brunette. You picked this area clean weeks ago.”
“Just look at her, Roland. Tell me you aren’t dying to see more.”
“See what? That lanky twig isn’t the least bit exotic. Greener pastures, Paul, that’s what we need.”
“I’m not ready yet. Just give me three more days with her. Then you can spin the globe, and I’ll land wherever.”
“Well I hope it’s time well spent. Otherwise I’m not paying you.”
“You’ll have fresh prints tomorrow.”

I’m out the door before he has time to reconsider. Roland doesn’t understand the mystique. That’s why he stays inside the office with all the money, and I’m out in the trenches with the camera. Ultimately, he knows his place in the scheme of things, so I head out to do what I do best.

By mid-afternoon, I’ve jogged both sides of her street, twice. With locations chosen, I have five hours ’til darkness. These nerves are giving me fits. I get tweaked before every shoot, but this time I’m positively shaking. I down two Heineken to shave the edge off. A shaky camera is a blurry photo. I peer out through my blinds at the empty street. It’ll be a good night for hunting. I turn the lights off and sink into the couch, draining another bottle. When the light leaves the shades I pick up my camera. Let’s get to know each other a little better, Angela.

Two hours go by, wasted, without a sign of anyone inside. The Uhaul is gone and there are no cars in the driveway. But I’m a patient man, Angela. I’ll wait for you.

So I wait. And continue to wait, until dawn eventually arrives. She’s teasing me. I gather my equipment and look over the area before leaving. No one is watching, so I hit the street. As I pass Angela’s house, the porch light flickers on. It’s too late to turn back, so I walk with a steady pace, never looking over my shoulder. There are no footsteps, but I know I’m being followed. Did she see me?

I shut and lock the door, stumbling toward the shades. Parting the blinds, I hope to find Angela, but there is no one there. It’s just nerves, I suppose. The night was a waste. Roland will be pissed. I take a long drink from a warm beer, sinking back into the couch.

I’m awoken by a loud, rhythmic knocking at the door. Roland doesn’t make house calls, so it’s most likely trouble. Have I been found out? From the peephole I find an interesting surprise: Angela herself. Before the debate in my head over what to do subsides, I’ve opened the door. Why did I do that? She stands before me, silent, nearly terrifying in a diminutive way.

“Paul Reynam, right?”
“I am, yes, but I don’t believe we’ve met? I noticed you were moving in down the street.”
“I’m sure you did notice, you’ve been lurking about.”
“Excuse me?”
“I have a request and you’d do well to follow it.”
“That sounds serious. You haven’t even told me your name.”
“And I don’t plan to. If you want someone’s photo, you should ask for it, not steal it.”
“Whatever you’re going on about, you’ve obviously got the wrong idea…”
“There will be consequences if you try it again.”
“I’m not much on threats this early in the morning. It’s not very neighborly of you.”
“I don’t make threats and I’m not technically your neighbor. Goodbye, Mr. Reynam.”
“…”

I slam the door like an insolent child, the only act of defiance I can muster. She quickly disappears from the peephole, and I only want more. Was that her clever way of flirting with me?

I’ve been made, that much is certain, but I’m not done with her yet. I’ll keep a safe distance tonight. I just need the telephoto lens.

I call Roland to pick up the lens. He’s curious about specifics, so I tell him I’m shooting from a tree to get a better view. I thought it best not to mention my surprise visit. I don’t need him to panic and pull me out of here before I get what I need from Angela. And I do need it. I’ve never wanted to photograph anyone more than I do her, especially now that she’s practically dared me to try.

And so, from the safety of my car, I spot a nice, densely covered tree just one street over. The vantage point is dead-on for a second-story view. I’d like to see her spot me from that far off.

The sun is down and everything is in place. Through the viewfinder I see every detail of her room. She’s unpacked now, and her decor tells me a little about her. So far she’s remained out of sight, but she’ll come around. I know she wants to be watched.

Even though the tree provides good cover, I still find myself looking at the ground out of paranoia. After a few hours, frustration sets in. My legs are cramping in this awkward position. The light downstairs shuts off and I feel a second wind. She glides to the open window, posting up and surveying the street. I know she’s looking for me. How thoughtful. You can’t see me here, can you Angela?

But then her gaze stops, right in my direction. She’s staring directly at this tree. It’s not possible for her to see me, but I know she does, somehow. She disappears for a moment, returning with what looks like a mirror. I zoom all the way. In the mirror, I see my face, staring back at me. Suddenly, I can’t move. I want nothing more than to jump from this tree and run to another town empty-handed. I can’t look away as I see something impossible. The me in the mirror walks right out of the reflection, taking position at Angela’s side. She leans in and whispers something in his/my ear. He walks off, leaving Angela to turn her attention my way. The mirror and my reflection are gone. It’s like she’s watching a television program.

I can feel my legs beneath me again, just as I fall off of my perch. I see Angela’s door opening, my reflection reappearing behind it. The ankle feels sprained, but instinct propels me forward. I can’t explain what that is, or what Angela is truly capable of, but for once in my life, I don’t need answers. I have no desire to figure her out. I run as best as I can, but my reflection is gaining ground. It’s not even running. Each look backward brings it closer, until I am to scared to look again. I feel its hand on my shoulder as my eyes close.

There’s a flash of light and I come to on the hood of a Ford Taurus. My whole body feels shattered. I see confused glances behind the windshield. “What the hell was he thinking?” I hear a man scream. A look of scorn falls over the passenger’s face and it becomes clear that she knows exactly who I am. My reputation precedes me.

“That’s the asshole Joanne saw hiding behind her garage last week, taking pictures.”
“I’ve seen him walking all over the place with that camera bag.”
“That piece of shit, her daughter’s only 15.”

The man gets out and surveys the damage to his car, not paying me any mind. When his attention does shift my way, I see nothing but disgust and hatred. Big, meaty hands grab at my bloody shirt, pulling me upward and into his eye line.

“I’m more worried about my car than I am you, so if you can walk out of here, then I’d suggest you get to it.”

I don’t protest in the slightest as he tosses me aside. Long after the Ford drives off, I try to stand on what’s left of my legs. Each step to the apartment door is hellish. I think about how that lady looked at me. I’ve seen that exact same look, I don’t know how many times in my life, but it’s never fazed me in the slightest.

In the apartment I crawl up the stairs to the bathroom. I wash off the blood without looking at the mirror, afraid of what I’ll see. I can feel that cold hand still on my shoulder. I know that the reflection is waiting in this mirror, too. I also know that Angela only showed me what was always there.

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The Last Bachelor In Space

The Last Bachelor in Space

The following is the first chapter of a short story I wrote for the Louisville Paper. You can download the entire book for free on iTunes and for a dollar on your Kindle.

I had heard the phrase, “Not if you were the last man on Earth” at least a dozen times in my 27 years. I thought maybe if I went into space, I’d never have to hear it again. But I guess I was wrong. Shit luck, if there ever was such a thing, that’s what I’ve got. Dan Drake, at your service. I was supposed to fly the Vanguard Mark II solo, but the Elan Corps saw fit to send Suzette Connors along for the ride. Believe you me, I’m not too happy with the decision. Especially since she just modified the phrase to “Not if you were the last man in SPACE, Dan Drake.”

Even with “Fly Me to the Moon” blasting in my helmet, I can still hear Suzette’s shrill voice over the comm. Sorry Frank, we’ll go to the moon later. I switch it off and stare at my reflection in Suzette’s helmet. Her words are buzzing but I’m lost in the static. I don’t know that I can suffer through eight months of this routine. Constant second guessing and backseat flying seems to be her life’s work. She’s good at it, too. Suzette is the kind of gal I left Earth just to avoid. It’s not that she’s hard on the eyes, but she reminds me of those lab rats you see on TV specials, always running through a maze. Sweet, annoying Suzette and I, traversing the cold, empty star fields together. Maybe I’ll get lucky and we’ll crash into a black hole. My luck, even that wouldn’t shut her up.

The Expansion Initiative of ’77 launched three manned ships, each for different trajectories into uncharted space. I was chosen over several other candidates, mostly likely for my lack of attachments or family. I had just the temperament needed to be locked into deep space solitude for the long stretch. What they didn’t tell me was that each person would be assigned a partner. This mission feels more like a social experiment than an exploration of new frontiers. But we’re here now, barreling toward the unknown, that shrill voice of hers continually buzzing.

Tomorrow we land on an as-of-yet unnamed planet. Suzette will have no less than three designations for it before our boots hit the surface. Alright, Frankie, sing my mind out of here.

As we enter the unknown planet’s atmosphere, Suzette pipes down for a second, taking in the sight of her for the first time. I log all the necessary data to the computer and turn to Suzette, signaling her to extend the landing gear. As predicted, she has the planet named before we even touch down.

“The atmosphere casts a cerulean hue over the southern hemisphere. It reminds me of the oceans charted on Batrox. They probably share similar compositions. I’ll list it as Matrox, since it’s likely a distant cousin of the original. Sound good, Dan?”

“…”

“They may as well have sent me into space by myself, for all the help you are.”

“I should be so lucky. But then who would you talk to?”

Suzette flashes me a smile that’s full of clenched teeth. She’s beginning to realize I’m not the dashing mystery man she was pining for. My ability to fake simple human interaction is waning. If I’m extremely lucky, we’ll settle into an understanding of comfortable silences. Otherwise, we’ll both get nasty. She continues her needling as I nod along indifferently. I hush her complaints, trying to remember that when this hatch opens, I’ll be the first man to step foot on this planet. It’s a pretty crazy idea to wrap your head around.

The first phase of our mission consists of planting sensors along a perimeter around the ship, which takes about an hour. Once the grid is operational, we expand outward, collecting rock samples and charting geographical data. This type of work is extremely dull, so I pass the time by looking for a satellite that supposedly crashed here over twenty years ago. I seriously doubt that we’d ever find it, but it keeps my mind off of particle dust.

Suzette points toward a ridge to the northwest, the perfect spot for a wider view of the landscape. Blue dust clouds spark around my boots as I trudge along. Gravity here is nearly double what it is on Earth, but our fancy space suits are rigged to compensate for it. Despite the expensive technology, each step feels heavier and slower than the last. A haze envelops my brain, followed by shaky hands and a sweaty brow. My stomach twists into knots.

Suzette must be feeling it too, having fallen behind a few paces. We keep pushing forward to the ship. I get that “we’re being watched” feeling, but by what? It’s reasonable to assume there could be life here, even if we found nothing on the scanners. Before settling on an answer, the ground makes a sudden, violent shift, leaving me breathless on the flat of my back. I’m momentarily distracted by green clouds floating in the sky above. That sight is quickly obscured by a foul bastard of a creature, who now holds Suzette’s neck in a death grip. If Suzette is alarmed, she’s hiding it well. She reaches out to me as the creature points a crude looking  weapon at her head. I shake off the cobwebs, slowly rising to my feet. My 2028 pistol is unholstered and level with what I’d assume is the creature’s eyes. I hone my sights on a kill shot, finger on the trigger. Before I can pull, I’m assaulted by a voice screaming in my skull. The creature is pushing his way into my brain, and somehow I can make sense of his language. From what I can make of the one-way conversation, the alien is demanding that I drop the gun and come along quietly. Suzette and I are to be studied, if he has his way. I think for a moment about what cards I have to play.

There’s only one clear choice: I pull the trigger, blasting Suzette right in the midsection. Her eyes flare with horror as her body goes limp in the alien’s arms. His gun lowers for just a moment, but mine stays steady. I stare at the creature, waiting for him to make a move.

That alien just stands there, stunned. I don’t need telepathy to know that he wasn’t expecting me to shoot my own partner. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I shoot him, too.

The 2028 burns a hole right through what I would assume is his shoulder. It’s enough to drop the ugly bastard, and then I’m on him, pressing the warm barrel against his head.

More telepathic screams erupt in my skull, but I’m not easing off. His eyes widen, taking in the cold glare behind my visor.

“You drew on your own kind? I don’t understand…”

“What are you going on about?”

“Your satellite! It contained a wealth of information on your race. Music, historical records, films – many examples of your culture were contained within.”

“So you watched a few home movies and thought you could roll over on us?”

“The data was a bore to sift through. Your music was unlistenable, your minds small. We didn’t want your primitive race on our planet.”

If there’s one thing I don’t tolerate, it’s condescension. The 2028’s barrel collides with his skull. When the alien comes to, he’ll know just who the true predator of the galaxy is.

There’s a bit of information we conveniently leave out of those satellites. Mankind treads wherever it wants, smashing whatever gets in our way. If there is solid ground, we’ll plant our flags in it.

I scoop up a limp Suzette and make our way back to the Vanguard. We have all the data we need and I have no interest in finding a satellite. No sense in pressing our luck with the locals.

Twenty-three minutes later the planet Matron is shrinking into the rearview, while Suzette finally wakes up in the sickbay bed.

“You shot me…”

“Obviously.”

“I knew you were socially bankrupt, but I didn’t think you’d also be cruel.”

“Would you have rather been stunned by me, or shot dead by that alien? Or I could’ve left you to be their science experiment, poked and prodded at for as long as you could hold out.”

“I’ll settle for neither!”

“Do you know why they picked me for this job, Suzette?”

“Because you’re a cold-blooded asshole?”

“Yes. Exactly. If I was even the slightest bit emotional in that situation, I would’ve hesitated. Then what kind of mess would we be in?”

“If you’re expecting a thank you, don’t hold your breath.”

Suzette sat fuming, for a long while. I enjoyed the quiet time. She was hard headed and stubborn, but she knew that I did the right thing. After the anger had faded, she leaned her head on my shoulder, drawing her arm around mine.

Maybe I won’t be the last bachelor in space after all.

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Stepping Over Graves

Stepping Over Graves

It actually was one of those dark and stormy nights – the rain beat against the windshield with a methodical rhythm. The sound subdued Harrison’s overwhelmed brain, lulling him into a deeply relaxed state. Just as his mind had begun to wade through a catalog of daydreams, a crash of thunder returned him to the here-and-now. Harrison opened the briefcase with unsteady hands, retrieving a manilla folder from inside. He parted the file to find a case synopsis for one Selina Rubanov, aged 72, recently widowed. After confirming the address from the file, Harrison reached into his left pocket, feeling for the device. With his hand coiled around the cool metal surface, he found his center. After a moment of calm, he opened the car door to an onslaught of heavy rain.

After ringing the bell and knocking loudly for what seem liked eons, Harrison combed desperately against the wet hair that covered his eyes as Rubanov opened the door. “Hello Selina, might I come in?” he asked, as patiently as he could manage.

“Of course, get out of that rain before you catch cold!” Rubanov demanded, in that sweet, but firm tone universally preferred by grandmothers. “What you young folks have against umbrellas, I’ll never understand,” she continued.

Harrison responded with a shrug, then followed Rubanov to the living room where they had met two weeks prior. As Harrison settled on the plastic-covered couch, the old woman asked if he’d like a cup of hot tea. Considering his damp attire, he nodded yes. Her absence allowed him one last review of the case file.

Rubanov’s case specifics met all of Harrison’s usual requirements. The subject of inquiry – Joseph Rubanov, was Selina’s husband of 48 years before passing away four months ago. In recent weeks, Selina bore witness to flashing images of her dead husband, appearing about the house at random. Fearful that Joseph’s spirit may not be at peace, Selina became distraught, unable to sleep, unable to grieve, let alone move forward with her life. With the gracious help of a few church friends, Selina came into possession of Harrison’s business card. The tagline atop the card read: Paranormal Counseling & Removal.

Harrison recalled the first meeting with Rubanov – three hours of explaining he was not so much a “ghost-buster” as he was a psychiatrist. The cornerstone of Harrison’s service was a form of grief counseling. With a masters in clinical psychology and a basic understanding of most religions, Harrison possessed an invaluable set of skills. He used this knowledge to ease the pain of those who, like Rubanov, were haunted by the people they’d loved and lost.

Mrs. Rubanov reappeared with two cups of tea in hand, interrupting Harrison’s recollection. He reached for the cup, noting his client’s shaking hands. His heart sank slightly as he curled his fingers around the mug, worried she wouldn’t have the courage for what came next.

Harrison could feel the blood returning to his icy fingers. “What type of tea is this? It packs quite a kick,” he inquired between long sips.

“Oh, I bet it does. I poured two shots of Pappy Van Winkle in there,” She laughed deviously. “I suppose you’re not much of a bourbon drinker, eh?”

“Not so much, but maybe I should rethink that.” Harrison sat his cup on the table, then leaned forward, reaching for Mrs. Rubanov’s hand. He waited for her eyes to meet his before asking, “Selina, are you absolutely certain you’re ready to let go?”

With her free hand she drained the remainder of her cup, then glanced over at the photo of her husband on the end table. She released his hand to remove her glasses, wiping away the quickly forming tears. Harrison neither moved nor looked away. He had to be sure.

Her eyes leveled with his. She took his hand and said steadily, “I’m ready. Do what you have to do, Harrison.”

“The procedure won’t take long. Are you sure you want to be here for this?”

“I’m too old to go out in that damned rain, so just be quick about it,” she replied, once more in that abrasive tone Harrison had come to appreciate.

Harrison made his way up the creaking staircase toward the bedroom, stopping just short of the door. He retrieved the device from his pocket, studying it in his hands. The thing had never been properly named, as Harrison felt that honor should’ve been his father’s. At the press of a button the machine hummed to life. He inhaled sharply, extended the antenna and opened the bedroom door.

The room was pitch black, save for the faint green glow of the device. Harrison kneeled down in the center of the room and made himself comfortable, not knowing how long it may take for Joseph to appear. Just as he began to feel at ease, a sudden wave of nausea crashed over him. The room started spinning out of control as Harrison imagined a meaty hand tightening around his neck. Before he could regain balance, Joseph appeared, radiating a cold blue light against the empty walls. Harrison tried silencing the alarms in his head – tried to focus on the ghost and what needed to be done.

He began counting down from 100 to slow his breathing and compose himself. Joseph’s ghost walked about the room, pacing the floor in staggered frames. It was an unnerving sight for the uninitiated, but Harrison was far more familiar with this scene than most. This was not the spirit of a dead man. Ghosts, as defined by pop culture and campfire stories, were fabricated fiction, loosely based on scientific fact. This Rubanov ghost was not a ghastly specter doomed to terrorize the living. Instead, the flickering images were merely the remainder of Joseph’s electrons, stuck in a time-loop, replaying themselves until the batteries ran out. Harrison’s father had uncovered those secrets decades earlier.

Finally, Harrison felt able to stand. He moved toward the flashing image of the deceased Rubanov and raised the device to chest level, slowly inching closer, just as he had done on exactly fifty-six other occasions. In this instance, however, something unexpected occurred. As Harrison approached, Rubanov’s image turned to face him, looking directly into his eyes. The young man froze in his tracks long enough to hear a low rumble of crackling static – it was as if Rubanov was speaking directly to him. Although it sounded backwards somehow, Harrison thought he heard the words, “Join us.”

The phrase kept repeating, each “Join us” ringing louder than the one before. Harrison frantically sliced the antenna through Rubanov’s image, throwing sparks with each strike. Unfortunately, this did nothing to slow the advancing phantom. For the first time since starting this business, Harrison’s device had failed him. Had his father’s theories been wrong, or was this something altogether different? As Harrison realized he didn’t have an answer, the ghost of Rubanov closed around him, and then there was nothing.

—-

JOIN US! The words had echoed through Harrison’s dormant brain until he shuddered back to life. He awoke under the fluorescent lights of a hospital room, unaware how long he’d been there. His body seemed weightless, empty even. There was no fear, worry or concern weighing on his mind – nothing whatsoever. A nurse hovering within his personal space appeared startled when Harrison’s eyes began to blink. When she regained her composure, she mumbled something about a doctor being on his way. Unable to wait, Harrison drifted away again.

When the fog finally cleared, he noticed a slender blonde in the far corner of the room. She approached his bedside, but Harrison didn’t recognize her in the slightest.

“Where did your long sleep take you, Harrison?” she abruptly questioned.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand. Do I know you?” he replied evenly.

“No, you don’t. You were asleep for nearly a year. Do you remember anything after the incident? Do you remember the incident itself?”

Harrison tried rising from the bed, but his muscles protested. The stranger laid her hand against his chest. “Easy,” she said, “it’ll be a while before you are mobile again.”

“A year?” he weakly repeated. She nodded in confirmation. Harrison had no emotional response to losing a year of his life, though he knew he should. It was as if this was happening to someone else. Perhaps he was someone – or something – else now. And although he wasn’t necessarily curious, he asked, “Mrs. Rubanov, do you know who she is?”

“I do. She was my grandmother.” She paused for a moment, removing her hand from his chest. “Grandma passed away shortly after your experiment went awry. No one had much hope you would ever wake up.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother, she was a good woman.” Harrison tried once more to rise, successfully this time. He regarded the granddaughter, her face suddenly filled with wonder.

“Now I see,” she whispered. “Not all of you came back, did it?”

Harrison was having trouble forming a response. Waiting on a punchline that would never appear, he just sat there with his mouth half open, hoping she would elaborate.

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