Andrew J Brandt
AN EXCERPT FROM IN THE FOG
GRANT | 9:10AM
THE LITTLE BOY in the backseat talked to himself and played with two action figures in his hands as Grant drove across town to his sister-in-law’s house on Lynn Drive. The home, a little white cottage in the older part of town, was Catherine’s inheritance when her mother—Christine’s stepmother—passed away after a lengthy bout with lung cancer. And even if Catherine had spruced the place up, repainting the interior and laying new floors, every time he stepped in that house, Grant swore he could still smell the ghost of Virginia Slims past.
“Daddy,” the little boy said, and Grant looked at him through the rearview mirror, “I wanna listen to music.”
“The radio’s not working, buddy,” Grant said. He turned the dial, both FM and AM, only to find static on the bands, which he honestly glad for. He didn’t know how much noise he could stand with the hangover thumping in his temples. “There must be something wrong with the tower downtown,” he said.
“What’s a tower?” the little boy asked.
“It’s what sends the tv and radio signals, buddy,” he said.
While driving with one hand, Grant reached for his cellphone and dialed his wife’s phone number, only getting her voicemail. When he tried Catherine’s number, he got the same. A few rings, and then Catherine’s vibrant, energetic voice, “Hey it’s Catherine, you know what to do.” Beep.
His wife and her sister were polar opposites. Where Christine was ever the housewife and homemaker, Catherine was a wild child, a bohemian woman who regularly wore flowing skirts and talked about chakras and zen. She had once backpacked all across western Europe—Christine couldn’t be bothered to take a weekend camping trip. Even at their wedding, Catherine insisted on wearing a crown of flowers in her hair, the purple and yellow tulips matching the color scheme of the rest of the wedding party. Christine was the woman you married; Catherine was the woman you played with.
Grant dialed his wife again, and again, the call just going to voicemail each time. He hoped the women were ignoring him on purpose, teaching him a lesson. As he drove, he thought about all the words he wanted to say; he’d stop going out so often with the guys, he’d dial it back, it was a mistake. I’m sorry.
His head still pounded from the lack of sleep and the hangover. How long had he been on Craig’s couch? He couldn’t even tell you what time he’d gone to sleep. He remembered the bar, then going back to Craig’s place. He remembered a few games of pool. Had he told them he was going home? Wait, didn’t he say he was going home after the bar? So why did he end up at Craig’s? He blinked a couple of times as he tried to put the pieces of the evening together in his head. He found it hard to concentrate due to the dull ache in his temples, radiating to his forehead and behind his eye sockets.
Grant turned onto Lynn Drive and pulled up in front of Catherine’s house. Her car, a little blue Honda Accord with a “Coexist” bumper sticker on the back windshield, occupied the single car width driveway. For a moment, he felt relieved, but then remembered that his wife’s car was also still at home, and she was nowhere to be found.
He turned off the ignition and pulled his son out of his car seat and they walked up to the front door. Standing on the front porch, he rang the doorbell. After a few seconds of no answer, he rang it again and knocked on the door, only to be greeted with the same silence.
He leaned over the shrubs that grew beneath the window beside the front porch and peered inside, seeing nothing but darkness, the house looking vacant and empty.
“Is mommy here?” the boy asked, standing at his feet.
“I don’t know, buddy. I don’t see anyone inside,” Grant said.
Not knowing what else to do, Grant put his hand on the doorknob and gave it a turn. Surprisingly, it opened up for him and he pushed it to look inside the living room. “Catherine?” he called out. “Christine? Y’all here?”
He stepped inside, his son with him. “Go sit on the couch, Ben,” he told the boy, which he did, taking a seat on the old floral print couch, his feet dangling just over the edge of the cushion.
Grant walked into the kitchen which adjoined the living room, flipping on the light switch. Everything was in place, but no sign of the women. Did Catherine not come home after last night either? Even if she and his wife had been here this morning, they didn’t leave much evidence. “Catherine?” he called out again, a little louder this time. “Are you here?”
The hallway that led off the living room to the two bedrooms and the lone bathroom was dark and he flipped on the light switch. He crept slowly toward Catherine’s room, the door slightly ajar. He opened it and saw her lying on the bed. Catherine’s body, completely naked, draped across the mattress, her head contorted to a weird and unnatural angle, facing him.
He gasped in horror. The woman was blue, her eyes bulging from the sockets. Her hair, matted in sweat and vomit, surrounded her face which was frozen in a horrific dead stare. A deep red bruise ran the circumference of her neck. Her panties were around her ankles, a red-streaked yellow stain of urine and blood leaked out between her legs.
Grant immediately felt the bile gurgle up his esophagus and he vomited on the floor, the yellow liquid smelling of acid and beer.
Instantly sobered, images from the previous night came flooding back in his brain. Images from the bar. Of Catherine. Of her slender figure in a pair of tight jeans rubbing against his body while some hip-hop thump played on the jukebox. A smoky haze of alcohol and cigarettes and lust all flooded back at once and he doubled over again, yellow vomit splashing on his shoes.
“Daddy?” the boy’s voice called out, bringing Grant back from nearly passing out. Grant turned around and saw the little boy walking toward him in the hallway.
“Get back!” he yelled at the boy. Grant looked once again at his sister-in-law, her lifeless body on the bed, just to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. Wiping his mouth clean with his forearm, he picked his son up and, holding the boy into his chest, ran the length of the hallway and toward the front door.
“Where’s Aunt Catherine?” little Benjamin asked as they ran out the door. Grant pulled it shut harder than he wanted, the thing slamming behind him, echoing in the quiet morning.
“Aunt Catherine is sick,” he said.
Once at the car, Grant opened the rear door and put his son in the car seat. He fumbled with the seatbelt clasp, his hands trembling. Finally, he got the mechanism to clasp and he shut the door. The little boy, not understanding what was happening, said, “Daddy? Is Aunt Catherine going to be okay?”
“I hope so buddy, but we need to go find mommy,” he said as he fell into the driver’s seat, his breath fast and chest heaving.
He knew he needed to calm himself down for the boy’s sake. “Everything’s okay, Ben,” Grant said, more to himself than to his son. He looked at the boy through the reflection in the rear-view mirror then mashed the button to start the ignition, the lights and gauges in the Lexus coming to life. Grant pulled the shifter and tore out of Lynn Drive, his back tires squealing on the pavement.
IN THE FOG, the latest thriller from Amazon bestselling author Andrew J Brandt is available for preorder now.
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