Shadowridge Press titles in detail...

Tracy L. Carbone
THE COLLECTION AND OTHER DARK TALES 
Trade paperback / 6 x 9 / 242 pages / New edition publication date / March 2017
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The Collection and Other Dark Tales is an eclectic mix of horrific and uplifting tales of the human condition in all its frailty. You will not find gritty, violent horror or torture chambers here. Nor will you find spin-offs of the traditional werewolves, vampires or zombies. What you will find are stories that will bore deep into your heart and mind with psychological twists; where long dead loved ones come back to haunt...and to save. You'll find a grisly apartment building with unholy tenants, sociopathic children, jealous mothers - both living and dead, the truth about snow angels, and lost love that reaches out beyond the grave. Predators and prey all vie to tell their stories in these pages. This compilation of 18 cautionary tales tells of humanity in all its beauty and ugliness. And there is no greater horror than that.

 

The Stories- Rent Control / The Folks / The Attic / Stoneman / The Jacuzzi / Pretty Pig Let Me In / The Truth About Snow Angels / One Minute / The Scent of Lilacs / The Relocation of Susan / Waste Not, Want Not / It's Always Now / Obligation / The Agreement / The Tattooed Woman  / An Old Man And His Dog / The Collection / The Elephant Graveyard 

HERE'S A PREVIEW FROM THE COLLECTION AND OTHER DARK TALES

WASTE NOT WANT NOT

I was on the train talking to a friend when he told me about his father-in-law and how cheap the man was. It got me wondering how stingy that man could really be, to what lengths he would go to save money. 

 

Gladys is a glutton. Ralph watched out the window as her meaty arms banged on the door of his trailer. Her hefty rump roast cast a giant shadow on the ground.

“You let me in or I’ll call someone,” she yelled. Bang, bang, bang! She had a warble to her voice like a Thanksgiving turkey.

He opened the door and let her in. She was shiny with sweat and in the dim light looked like she was slathered in pancake batter.

“Lordy, what is that smell?” She sniffed him and flinched. “You are one stinky old man.”

“You just come here to tell me the usual, Gladys?”

She rolled her eyes and plopped her fat polyester bottom down. “Can I get a cup of coffee?”

 “I suppose.” Ralph pulled an unfinished mug of coffee from the fridge. Gladys hadn’t drunk it all two weeks ago and he wasn’t about to be wasteful and make her a fresh cup. He popped it in the microwave.

Just like last time, she looked at it funny and didn’t drink it.

He sat across from her at the table.

“So what can I do for you?”

“The other residents are worried about you,” she said. Sweat beaded on her chubby cheeks. You know, they have services, people who can come in. To help, you know. Help you clean up the place.”

“Don’t need no help. I’m retired and got nothing but time on my hands. The house is plenty clean.”

“Well, maybe you’re sick. The state would pay for it, if you got a nurse.”

“I ain’t sick.”

“Well, it’s so dark in here. Maybe that’s the problem.”

“Keeps the sun out, keeps the heat out. Can’t afford to put the AC on so I keep it dark. My son forced that damn thing on me and I ain’t turned it on once.”

“Well if you can’t afford the electricity I’m sure the state could—”

“I ain’t taking no charity from the state. Nothing wrong with my place. Or my life.”

“You’re awfully skinny. Every time I see you, there’s less and less of you. Are you eating? If you need food, the state, well, you know.”

“The state, the state the state! Enough already, Gladys! I’m fine.”

She looked back and forth and whispered. “But dear, it’s smelly in here. You need to clean it up for the neighbors, or, well, we’re going to have to call someone. It’s making us all sick.”

He didn’t answer her, just stared. She left without even drinking a sip of her coffee cup. What a waste. “Damn woman always asks for coffee and doesn’t drink it.” He shrugged and put it in the fridge. One of these days she would, just a matter of time.

He didn’t smell. She was wrong. They all were. Just because he didn’t fill up the tub with water—too many gallons just for him to soak—didn’t mean he didn’t bathe.

He used a bowl of warm tap water and soap and got plenty clean enough. He sniffed his armpit. No smell.

He walked over to the hamper and the dirty bathroom rags. They smelled for sure. He wiped his privates with those instead of bathroom tissue because every cent counted. Maybe Gladys and some of the others had money to throw around for luxuries like bathwater and toilet paper but Ralph didn’t. He had emergency provisions his wife left him, but emergency meant emergency. He refused to tap into that store unless he absolutely had to. Diane wouldn’t have approved.

He needed to wash the bathroom rags but first he put the cream away.  He carried the container to the sink and topped it off with water. Six months with the same container of cream. Who else could say that?  Not Gladys, that’s for damn sure. His wife Diane, bless her soul, would be proud of him.  She had been frugal too, which is how they could afford this trailer. Their kids though, boy did they waste. Didn’t know the value of a dollar. Their youngest, who just turned sixty and visited last year just before Diane died, drank a whole glass of Coke in one sitting. Twelve ounces! Ralph scratched his head just thinking of it.

Ralph put the bathroom rags in a pail and walked outside to use the community faucet. No sense using his own water. He filled the pail and went back into his house. As he hand washed the towels, with just a drop of the same bottle of dish soap he’d had for three years, his stomach growled.  He hadn’t eaten yet today and he was reaching the point when he knew he couldn’t put it off any longer.

Once he scrubbed the towels and hung them in the shower to dry he went to the second bedroom where he kept the big freezer. It had been on the blink the last few days and everything in there was warming up and was covered in dewdrops, but it was still good.  So long as he kept the sun off it, it would be fine.  He took out his leftover dinner from last night and set it on the table. This was his fourth meal from the frozen dinner he bought the other day. 

The package said it was one serving but he proved them wrong, didn’t he?  It was good for four meals if he was careful. 

He’d been extra hungry lately though and knew he’d have to buy more food soon. His check wasn’t due for another week and he was out of cash. He received just enough to pay the trailer rent, insurance and utilities. He was getting a little nervous wondering how he was going to manage to live a whole week without tapping into the provisions. Well, for now he’d just eat the last of the regular food he had. 

Ralph poured a shot glass full of Coke and sipped it slowly, just enough to wet his lips.  Gladys dropped off a two-liter bottle of Coke a few months ago.  It was good.  So sweet, like a mouthful of sunshine.  It had been flat for a long time, but it was still tasty. He took a bite of the turkey pie, savoring the taste.  Gladys had told him over and over again that he could just call the state like she did and get food stamps and some more money to help him out.  But he was no beggar. He got social security, which he had earned working fifty years as a butcher in Sam’s Meats off Glowry Road. But he wasn’t going to take a handout.  He had his emergency provisions after all, if need be. 

He heard a buzz, which pulled him from the euphoria of eating. The flies were everywhere today. Not sure why. He had swatted two this morning already and put them in the fly jar. It was so full now it looked like a jar of raisins on the counter.  He’d never starve because the fly jar provided more emergency rations.  But boy would he like some steak. For fifty years he and Diane had meat every night. He brought home the best cuts of pork and beef and chicken. His mouth watered just thinking of it.  Diane had been gone a year now and since she died he’d never allowed himself a single piece of meat. Too expensive. He had meat in the freezer but that was for emergencies.

This was no emergency but two bites of turkey pie left in the container hadn’t sated him.  And to know there wouldn’t be more food but flies from the jar for a week made him dizzy. 

He needed to eat.  Going without baths was one thing but food . . . Maybe just once he could tap into the provisions. Just one little piece. Just to cure this hankering once and for all. Then he’d go right back to being frugal.

He rubbed his bony dry hands together and headed for the knife drawer. He pulled out the cleaver then turned on the oven to 325 degrees.  He smiled and hotfooted it down the hall to the freezer. He felt bad. What would Diane say? She’d say save the meat for emergencies. But he was so hungry. He’d caught his reflection in the mirror just this morning and realized he looked like a cadaver. No wonder Gladys and the other trailer people were worried. Sorry Diane, but I need to get some flesh on these old bones or I’ll be joining you in death.

Unlike some old people who died out of sheer heartbreak when their spouses passed, Ralph had been a little relieved. He loved Diane but enjoyed the quiet.  And he wanted to enjoy it a little longer before he died.  If that meant using the emergency provisions, well so be it.

He lifted up the freezer lid and took a whiff of the chest of meat. The fact it wasn’t frozen anymore just made the smell that much stronger, that much harder to resist. Some people might call it rancid, but Ralph called it irresistible.  Just needed some ketchup and vinegar to soften the flavor was all.

As he looked down at the dead huddled figure of Diane, folded just so to fit in the freezer, he smiled.  Still beautiful in her own way. And dammit he was hungry and she’d be just as beautiful without that forearm.  He promised her as he cut her open, to eat every last bite he took.

“Waste not, want not, my dear.”