Free preview: Second Chances, a short story for Halloween

Every Wednesday, I offer a free preview of a current project. The excerpt below is taken from Second Chances, a short story I am writing for Halloween. I am pleased with this project and I believe it represents a leap forward in the quality of my writing.

When the peddler jostled Brian, inflaming his broken arm, Brian wanted to hit him so hard that his rotting teeth skittered across the pavement. It was the man’s face which stopped him. Bloodshot eyes bulged beneath droopy lids, scant strands of colorless hair clung to his scalp. His thin smile was predatory. Brian would probably go to jail for decking this geezer. He stepped away, wincing.

The man snagged Brian’s good arm with a withered claw.

“Wanna buy some souls?” His breath misted in the cold.

“Let me go,” Brian growled, trying to escape the codger and rejoin the throng of downtown Chicago’s pedestrian traffic. The peddler clung fast, his eyes hungry.

“Listen, brother.” The man sounded like James Earl Jones, though he looked more like Steve Buscemi. The effect was jarring. “I know you’re hurting. I can help.”

Passersby had begun to give the duo a wider berth; they wanted no part of this strange exchange. Nor did Brian.

“I’m not buying anything,” he snapped. “I don’t even have enough for rent. So shove off.” And he did shove a little, breaking free.

“First few are free.”

“I don’t want your drugs.” Particularly not if they make you look prematurely corpse-like, Brian added silently. Most drugs did, and the man was obviously mentally ill.

The peddler laughed. “No drugs, friend. I said souls. You hurt yourself, lost your job, can’t afford rent.” He looked Brian in the eye. “You’ve lost hope.”

Brian took a step back, disturbed. “Are you stalking me, psycho?”

“I can help you set everything right.”

“Seek help.”

“Has your lady friend left you yet?”

“Fat chance,” Brian said, and believed it. Ashley was the one good thing going for him. She had a steady job. It didn’t pay much, but she could help Brian through this rough patch. More important than money, her support was like a soothing balm. Without her, Brian suspected he’d be as crazy as this kook.

“When she does leave, come find me. I can make everything better.” And he winked.

Brian backed away, not wanting to turn his back to the crackpot. After a few yards, he turned. Not fleeing. Just walking briskly. It was cold, after all. November wind in Chicago bit harder than a starving mongrel.

If he saw the old dealer snooping around his apartment, Brian would call the police. As if he needed something else thing to worry about.

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