The Sins of Orville Sand
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by Phil Locascio
Category: Horror/Mystery/Crime Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Honorable Mention
Description: Orville Sand is on a mission, a deadly assignment he is bound to carry out. Throughout the Midwest, wherever he goes, people die in mysterious accidents. He carries with him a great red book containing the names of the unfortunates with whom he must rendevous. Where his shadow passes, tragedy will befall some unsuspecting innocent. Perhaps a child will drown, or a wall will collapse unexpectedly on a pedestrian, or a woman will tumble down a flight of stairs. Only one man, Gerald Mizzaro, knows the truth. As a child, his life crosses innocently with Orville Sand's while the man rents a room from Gerald's widowed mother. The fatherless boy and the older man forge a bond based on the emotional void they both feel. But when death visits the neighborhood during Sand's short stay, Gerald suspects his involvement. As he grows older, a coincidental second encounter with Sand provides Gerald with the irrefutable truth he can not ignore. Now Gerald must act to stop the man he both cares for and abhors. He must put away all the frivolous concerns a college student dwells upon and face a grave responsibility only he can assume. And when Sand discovers Gerald's attempts to stop him, he is forced to deal with the young man or meet a fate more unspeakable than the death he himself suffered decades before.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2006 As a short story in the YEAR?S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR, Sixteenth Annual Editon
eBookwise Release Date: May 2006
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [429 KB]
Reading time: 305-428 min.
July 14, 1953
Frank Turner watched through the windshield as the pimple-faced boy in the service uniform reached across the glass and rubbed diligently at the smudge caused by an unfortunate wasp. The day dripped heat and humidity and Frank wanted to get home and park himself on his front stoop in the shade with a cold bottle of beer. The run-in he had with Ken Forester, his boss, earlier in the day was still burning a hole in his stomach.
Didn't I warn him? Frank thought. Didn't I warn the stupid son-of-a-buck? "Look here Ken. Ya' see this belt. The edges are too worn. It's gonna slip one of these times and when it does, the sucker's gonna clog the whole damn conveyer system."
Ken had just nodded and walked away. Why? Because shipments for the week were already dreadfully behind, that's why.
What a pisser, Frank thought. The four-eyed fool had no business being day shift supervisor in the first place. Everyone knew that the only reason he got the job was because he was nephew to the old man. Frank realized his mistake though. That damn report! Failing to list the fault on the examination sheets.
"Ya' see we're instituting a new policy folks. To keep the machinery in tip-top working order, every third day it's up to the belt supervisor to document any perceived problems on the line that he might come across. Hopefully, the breakdowns we suffered in the past months won't happen again. Can't afford those delays ya' know."
"Yeah well, I didn't record the problem cause I pointed it out to you in person Forester, ya' screwball," Frank muttered under his breath.
Sure enough that afternoon while Frank ate his lunch, sure enough, the belt slipped off the roller, got pulled on a fold into the guts of the machine, and clogged it to a dead stop. It took two hours to retread the belt, but that did no good because the fraying was so bad that every time that part of the belt hit the roller, the damn thing would just slip again. For the rest of the day, the boxes had to be physically carried out to the loading dock and hand-packed on a truck. The delay backed up the shipment to Omaha until the next day. Delayed shipments meant pissed off customers. Frank really didn't give a hoot, but when the old man took him aside and suggested to him that maybe these things wouldn't occur if the monitoring sheets got filled out appropriately, his blood went to boiling. Especially while Ken stood there nodding in agreement to every word the old man spouted.
When Frank told the old man that he had pointed out the problem earlier in the week, Ken made it seem as if he had only mentioned it in passing. Now had he put it on the sheet, had he documented it appropriately, had he followed the new regulations, WELLLLLL ... then Ken would have corrected it lickety-split. You betcha'!
The little ball-busting piece of garbage!
Frank started fuming all over again.
"That'll be $3.72, sir," the pimple-faced boy said. His nameplate gleamed in the dying rays of the sun. Otto. He looked like an Otto all right, Frank thought: all squinty-faced, thick glasses, and heavy, over-bearing shoulders.
Frank gave the kid a five and waited for his change.
"Oil's just fine," Otto said with a prim and proper smile. His polite courteousness made Frank think that it was the kid's first day on the job. "Here's your change then. Thank you for your business and have a good day."
"Yeah, you too," Frank mumbled.
Frank pulled out of the service station, setting off the ding-ding of the bell as his tires rolled over the black rubber hose. He waited for traffic to clear and then pulled out into the right hand lane of Calsberg Avenue.
The vision of Kenny Forester nodding his head in back of the old man like some dog in the circus formed in Frank's mind. The little creep. Seven years on the job and he had to take that kind of shit from some mealy-mouth, hanger-on like Kenny! Why before that little son-of-a-bitch had even finished high school, Frank thought, he had seen friends of his get their brains blown out on the Marshall Islands and Okinawa. Good friends of his: Nelson Reed, Lou Lavorret, and Danny Desmond. Soldiers that Kenny Forester wasn't fit to carry their boots. Some nights Frank still startled himself awake in a cold sweat seeing the vision of that cave opening again, the one the Japs had booby-trapped with wire. The one that got Lenny Skinner not two minutes after he and Frank had shared the dead end of a Lucky.
A green Ford pulled out directly in front of Frank and chugged down the street below the speed limit. Frank wanted to pass him, but the guy in the other lane had not pulled forward enough to give him space. Up ahead workmen milled about as they struggled to repair the abutment to a railroad overpass. Because of the machinery and men, the lane closed down to one on each side. The green Ford allowed the car beside it to pass in front but when Frank went to go do the same, the vehicle swung abruptly into the lane keeping Frank's Chevy behind him.
The Ford chugged slowly ahead making no effort whatsoever to reach the speed limit. One of the workmen ahead saw the gap in the traffic and took the opportunity to come out into the road and stop the Ford and Frank's Chevy behind it. A crane needed to transport a loa of ralroad ties across the road to the other side of the tracks where a group of workmen waited. Frank pulled to a stop behind the Ford. In the car in front of him, outlined by the sunshine on the asphalt, sat a man wearing a white straw, wide-brimmed skimmer with a dark band above the brim. Grayish-brown hairs peeked out from below the hat. The man stared straight ahead at the workmen and waited for them to finish.
Frank let out a long sigh and reached for the radio dial. He pressed the buttons until he found a country station. Hank Williams's raspy voice was crooning "Your Cheatin' Heart." Inside the cab, the heat and humidity clawed at the collar of Frank's white shirt so badly that he removed his necktie and threw it down on the seat next to him. Off to the right, several of the workmen stood around a huge, burly man operating a jackhammer, breaking up an area of concrete that needed to be expanded further out to accommodate the restructuring of the overpass.
The big man tucked the grip of the jackhammer up under his gut each time he ran it. His huge belly fluttered and bobbed in place as the pounding went on. Billows of cement dust came puffing out from where the metal head of the drill punched the concrete causing dust to cake on the fat man's boots and baggy green pants. Sweat, dirt, and dust spotted and stained his formerly white shirt. A large piece of concrete broke free. A workman wielding a shovel pulled the piece out of the way and lifted it into a dumpster that sat off to the left. One of the men leaned over to one of the others and yelled something in his ear. They started laughing.
The noise from the jackhammer began to unnerve Frank. The man operating it was no more than twelve feet away from the passenger side of his car. Frank thought to close the passenger side window to ease the racket on his ears, but the prospect of the loss of a cross breeze made it the worse of two evils.
Frank reached up, rubbed his forehead, and closed his eyes for a moment trying to relax. The combination of his juiced-up anger, the heat, and the noise strained the tiny bit of patience he had left. When he opened his eyes, he noticed a curious thing. The wiry man in the car in front of him raised his right hand and made a swirling motion with it, splaying his fingers out wide in a sort of hocus-pocus type move a magician might make just before the girl disappears from the box.
Frank looked in front of the vehicle thinking that the man was motioning to someone in front of him, but there was no one there except the workman standing in the roadway signaling to his coworker in the crane where to move the load of railroad ties. Perhaps he's trying to get the attention of the men next to him? Frank considered. No, that wasn't it either.
Suddenly, the man in the roadway yelled up at the crane operator. The urgency of his tone indicated that something was wrong. The flat of ties was now dangling from the end of the crane suspended by cables directly over the lane where Frank would have to pass whenever they finally let them go. The crane operator yelled back to the man in the road something as he worked the controls. Either the crane was stuck in gear or the cable had become snagged in some way. Another man climbed up onto the crane to where the driver was seated and tried to help him discover the problem. In Frank's right ear, the incessant clatter of the jack head butting into the concrete continued on relentlessly. The pounding in his head took up chorus with the pounding of the hammer. His patience fizzled. Finally, mercifully, the fat man stopped. He took out a red handkerchief and wiped his forehead and the side of his face. The absence of the jack's pounding made it seem as if the whole world had gone still even though the voices of the workmen yelling back one to the other still continued.
"Won't come out of gear," the driver yelled to the man in the roadway. The man, realizing the huge load was hanging just over his head, moved forward a bit and shaded his eyes as he stared up at the driver. Now a second man climbed up to where the driver was seated and pointed to the floor.
"What the hell..." Frank stammered. "Hey, what's the hold up man?" he called out to a worker next to the jack operator.
The man made no move. He obviously had not heard Frank.
Realizing now that Frank was calling him, the man came closer to Frank's car.
"What's the problem?" Frank asked.
The man shuffled over and glared back up at the men at the cockpit. "The winch is stuck, I think," he replied.
"Well ... can we go while they mess with it?"
"...Ahhhh ... Leo can these guys go?" he yelled at a man leaning over a shovel. Leo shrugged. The man turned back to Frank. "...Ahhh you better wait a second. Let me..." The worker walked over to the man who had been guiding the crane operator and spoke to him as he turned and pointed back at Frank's car. Meanwhile, the fat man with the jackhammer started in again. The thundering sound of the metal chopping into the concrete overwhelmed the scene. Frank's anger spiked. The sweat along his collar line dripped down his shirt.
"What the hell ... !"
The men worked a while more up in the cockpit of the crane while the traffic remained halted. Occasionally someone behind the line, streaming back about twenty cars now, honked. Finally, realizing that the delay was going to be longer than anticipated, the worker who had been guiding the crane moved out into the road a bit and motioned for the first driver, the man in the Ford ahead of Frank, to come around to the right and pass. The route he indicated was just to the right of where the load of ties was hanging over the road.
But the driver did not move his Ford.
Hank Williams's song ended and now Patti Page was drooling "How much is that doggie in the window..." The song irritated Frank. "...this shit..." he muttered as he pushed one of the buttons to get a different channel. The Mills Brothers came on harmonizing to "Glow Worm."
"Damn niggers," he scowled and flicked the radio off.
The Ford still had not moved.
Again the workman signaled to the driver for him to pass, circling with his arms to show where he could go, but the guy in the driver's seat just stared up at him. Frank beeped his horn lightly thinking the guy just wasn't paying attention.
The Ford remained motionless.
Is he afraid that stuff is going to fall on him? Frank wondered. But where the man signaled for him to go was just off the side of it. There was no danger. Frank beeped his horn again. The woman in the car behind Frank beeped also and motioned with her arm through the window.
She honked again.
"All right lady! I hear ya'!"
The Ford moved forward about three feet and stopped. Frank beeped again. The man peeked up at Frank in his rearview mirror. It was the first time Frank had actually gotten any kind of a look at the man's features. His eyes, thin slits through his glasses, lurked underneath the heavy shadow his hat lined across his cheeks. The look communicated something, like concern or worry, or was it like ... ?
Frank honked again and signaled with his hand. The eyes peered back at him again, staring intensely. The Ford inched a few feet more. Now Frank had enough room to go around the guy, but the path his car would have to take would force him directly under the load of railroad ties.
Others in line began honking.
The workman in the road put his hands on his hips wondering why the man in the Ford wouldn't move his car. He moved closer to the Ford and stood sideways motioning with his arms for the man to go around him.
The Ford inched another couple of feet and stopped. The woman behind Frank honked again.
"Hell with this...!" Frank exclaimed. He rammed his car into gear and slowly turned the front end to make sure he got around the Ford without hitting the bumper. A foot to spare. He pulled forward turning the wheel back so that now his passenger window was even with the driver's window on the Ford, and his car was parallel.
Frank looked over at the man. The stranger wore a dark, stern expression. Frank had been all set to give the guy hell for holding everybody up, but the man's look stopped him cold in his tracks. Was that a sneer? A thin face, a long, hooked nose that curled out from under the wide brim of the hat. Long wrinkle lines curved in toward his mouth from the sides of his cheeks. The skin was pasty white. The man's squinting eyes, partially hidden by the shadow, glared with a hint of ... what was it? Frank thought: gloom, a smug glumness, a touch of anxiety or foreboding?
The stranger raised his right hand to his mouth and held it there.
"...Why don't ... you can go now you know," Frank said with only a hint of the impatience he felt. The man said nothing. Just a fixed stare. For a moment a frightful thought ran a scurrilous little route through Frank's mind. He held pause for just a split second more. Then reality washed back over the scene.
"Oh hell," Frank muttered as he hit the gas and moved forward. The stranger closed his eyes tightly when Frank's car lurched ahead. A sharp crack split the air and then a whistling twang as Frank's car drove underneath the weight. One of the men shouted. The cable snapped and ripped from out of the cylinder that it wound around dropping the load directly on the top of Frank's car. It flattened the automobile like a pancake. Several of the workmen jumped away as the instantaneous, subconscious response of self-preservation took control. Once their actions were controlled by conscious reasoning, a few of them rushed toward the vehicle to see what they could do.
But there was nothing anyone could do.
The workmen scurried around the demolished car trying to find some way to help the man buried undernieth. Several of the other workmen, realizing that nothing could be done, put their hands over their faces and retreated in a stupor. Yelling, screaming ... Someone shouting to call an ambulance.
Meanwhile, the man in the Ford released his foot from the brake and slowly led his car through the maze of panicked men. He wanted to make sure he didn't hit any of the men hustling about. There was no need for that. When he got past the accident scene and the lane before him was all clear, he gently accelerated and drove off down the road.