Paper Cuts, a short story excerpt

The following is an excerpt from a short story called Paper Cuts that I wrote several years ago and appeared in the anthology,  Courting Morpheus that was published by Belfire Press.

     The sleek ebony Jaguar X-type seemed out of place as it made its way down the winding gravel road past cornfields and murky bogs.

    Armando Valencia frowned at the uncooperative navigation system as he maneuvered the vehicle.  Beside him, Joey Bruno focused on stuffing his face with a plethora of greasy fast food.

     “So,” Joey said between mouthfuls of a double cheeseburger, “Tell me again why we’re goin’ to this New Purgatory?”

     “New Bedlam, it’s called New Bedlam.  I don’t even know what road we’re on.  GPS is all jacked up so I hope we took the right exit off the highway.  Going down unmarked roads never leads to anything good.”

“Right, New Bedlam.  Damn, I can’t remember nothin’ lately.  Probably cause I ain’t been sleepin’ much, not since Doyen gave us this job a couple days ago.”

Armando smirked at his partner, “Maybe it’s your diet.”

“Bah, don’t give me that shit, you ain’t been sleepin’ either.  You look like a damn raccoon with them dark rings under your eyes.”

Armando shrugged, “We’ve gone through three time zones to get here so that’ll mess you up.  I’m sure it’ll get better once we get home.”

“Sure, whatever.  So, what’s the deal with this hick town, again?”

“Doyen sent us out here to take care of some business for him, that’s what. That sick bastard Howard Phillips lives out here, remember?”

     “Oh yeah, that screwball artist.  I know he was a little piss ant, but what business does Doyen got with him?”

      “He commissioned Howard to do an oil painting of his old lady, but the artiste did some whacked stuff our boss didn’t like too much.”

     “How come?”

     “Not sure, it was in the fireplace before I had a chance to see it.  However, I do recall Doyen yelling something about how it was depraved and sacrilegious.  His old lady was crying her damn head off, too.”

     While grabbing a handful of fries the chubby hit man said, “So, we’re goin’ to teach him a lesson?”

     A sadistic grin spread across Armando’s boyish face, “Yeah, you know our boss doesn’t take insults lightly and this painting was a mighty big one.”

     Up ahead they could see the glimmering lights of a small town.  As they drove they spotted a rustic wooden sign that appeared to have been used as target practice in the past.  Despite its condition they could see that it said in faded lettering, “Welcome To New Bedlam, A Town With A Personality Of Its Own.”

     The fact that Main Street was nothing more then a two lane brick road amused the two men who were accustom to large cities.  Most of the shops that lined Main Street were already closed for the day, and only a few pedestrians were out.  As they continued down Main Street they spotted numerous cars parked along the curb.  It surprised them when they realized that every vehicle they’d seen dated back to the 1960s.

     “Damn,” Joey said, “I thought we were goin’ to the backcountry, not back in time.”

     Armando slowed the car down to a crawl as they approached the intersection of Main Street and Welston Avenue.  Near the corner was a small brownstone building that had a bookstore called The Good Word, on the ground floor and apartments on the upper level.  In the window of the store was a small neon sign that declared, “Gorumet Cafe and Fresh Bakery”.

“Well at least they have a café here.  I need something to eat, because I can’t stomach that greasy stuff you seem to thrive on,” Armando said.

After parking the car, the two men entered the bookstore.  The interior was filled with overstuffed shelves.  The musty smell of old paper combined with fresh ground coffee created a cozy atmosphere.

Standing behind the coffee bar was a homely towheaded woman.  A simple tag on her white oxford shirt read, “Hello, My Name Is Abagail.”  Although she looked at them and smiled, her eyes seemed focused on something miles away.

“Ah, you’re here,” she said in a melodic tone.

Armando raised an eyebrow, “Excuse me? Do we know you?”

The Abigail’s lips twitched for a moment, “What would you like?  My sister will be closing the kitchen shortly.”

Armando was puzzled by the woman, but dismissed it quickly and said, “Just give me an apple scone and a double skinny iced Chi latte.”

“Make it two scones,” Joey quickly added.

The woman nodded and walked sluggishly to the espresso machine behind her.   A moment later a nearly identical towheaded woman approached the coffee bar.  She wore the same outfit and her name tag read,  “Hello, My Name Is Emilee”.  She gave the men a blank stare, and then slowly walked into the labyrinth of bookshelves.

  “This whole town is full of inbred freaks,” Joey whispered, “Small towns, small minds, and small gene pools.”

Armando rolled his eyes, and elbowed his partner in the ribs to shut him up as the woman behind the bar finally completed their order.

“We’ll be seeing you,” Abigail said.

“Nah, we’re just passin’ thru, girlie,” Joey said.

After they paid her they headed for the front door.  On the way out they spotted a wall full of plaques which declared the business as being “The Best Bakery In New Bedlam” for the past several decades.

“What a surprise, it’s probably their only bakery in this dump,” Joey said.


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