By Rusty Henrichsen

Horror, Thriller

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13 mins


Emmett, or Emmettville as it was originally dubbed, was a quaint little town in central Idaho, home to 6,000 souls, plus or minus, and it was where Kevin and Natalie Hale worked, played, loved, and lived. It wasn’t too far off from Boise and most folks were either the good church going type or drunks. Like so many small towns, it had its perks and it had its drawbacks. The Wal-Mart hadn’t moved in yet, and there was no Freddie’s, so the mom and pop shops still lined the streets, reminiscent of earlier times. Many of them sat vacant these days, but that was just a part of a downturn economy. The only places that thrived during times like these were the bars. People had trouble keeping food on the table, but there was always money to drink, oh yes. They would go into the pubs and complain about being broke in one breath, and then, just put it on my tab, with the next.
It would come back eventually. They say more millionaires are made during an economic downturn than at any other time. Still, it wasn’t always easy to make a living in Emmett, and jobs were scarce. A large biomass processing facility was slated to open in town, which would provide at least one hundred men full-time jobs, not to mention all the temporary jobs in the construction of it. It was just the shot in the arm Emmett needed.
Kevin Hale had won the contract to build it, and that’s when he and Natalie pulled up roots and moved to Emmett. They were both excited to make a fresh start, but mostly just excited to be gainfully employed again. Kevin would be busy as the general contractor at the biomass facility, and Natalie had found a job at a place called, Bolts-Inc. It was mostly secretarial type work, but she was glad to have it and the people there seemed nice enough. That’s what really makes or breaks a job anyhow. You could have the crappiest job in the world, but if you worked with good people, then it just wasn’t so bad and vice versa. She’d had good jobs too, gone bad from working with sour apples. She was hopeful, but time would tell as it always does.
Springtime came early that year, and Kevin’s crew broke ground on the biomass facility in late March. There hadn’t been so much activity in Emmett since the old Boise Cascade plant had closed down years earlier, and people were excited. But come April, the investors pulled the plug on the whole deal. The EPA had become a sore thumb, so they just pulled up stakes and moved the operation to someplace in Montana instead. Kevin still had the job if he wanted to relocate, but they had just signed a one-year lease on a place. He didn’t think they could bear the moving costs again, even if they could afford to break the lease, so Emmett was home for now. Surely Kevin could pick up a few jobs here and there. And Natalie had her job which seemed all right, or at least it did at first. Much like dating, after a few months, the masks fall off.

Chapter One

“Are you fucking stupid? Well, are you? Remind me again what your function is here exactly?” Karen Akers was in fine form this morning, beratements dripping from her tongue in a caustic, unending stream. Natalie began to apologize but then thought better of it. Why add more fuel? Karen had a way of latching onto whatever you threw her and shaking it to death, like a rabid pit bull. Natalie merely nodded her head, a tear streamed down her cheek and she went back to her keyboard. Being treated as sub-human just came with the job and today would be no different. It was only Monday—this week would clearly suck, and hard.
Anna tapped her on the shoulder, “Hey, are you okay, hun? Fuck them.”
A sweet sentiment, but just more words. Anna was a bit of a shallow floozy, well past her prime, but that didn’t stop her from trying to look and act like a twenty-one-year-old. It was actually pretty sad.
“I know, I’m okay,” Natalie lied, as she often did. It was just too hard to talk about it and Anna wouldn’t be the ear she needed anyhow. Besides that, any talk of the present situation would inevitably pry open the tear ducts and make the scene Natalie was unwilling to make. She knew she needed the job. She also knew it was slowly killing her. “Kill me faster,” she mouthed silently.
Chris Powell, the big boss, burst in like an angry storm cloud. He was a short, fat, little man with cheeks so plump they seemed to swallow his small, round glasses. He was a walking heart attack. Natalie was convinced his blood pressure was so high, that if he suffered so much as a paper cut, it would likely spurt across the room.
“Karen! In my office—NOW!” Karen scurried as a rat would being chased by a broom, and the door closed behind her. Natalie and Anna eavesdropped contentedly but kept their heads down and fingers busy clanking away at the keys. Nat sort of enjoyed it when Karen was in trouble, though it usually meant that now Natalie would be in trouble. This was the way of the hierarchy. Chris shits on Karen, Karen shits on Natalie, then Natalie cleans shit up, and Karen takes credit for it. Regardless, she could see Karen through the blinds getting verbally pummeled, and she did like it.
The door to the lion’s den opened again and Karen had lived. Dammit…
“Natalie! We need to talk.”
Outstanding...Natalie followed her to the break room to take her licks. Karen had fucked up a large shipment and as usual, had thrown Nat under the bus. So now, as usual, she had to put on a show for Chris. Wave her flabby arms around and holler and carry on. Normally, Natalie wouldn’t put up with this from some moron she didn’t respect. She wouldn’t work at a place like this. It was a literal bi-polar circus, but when the bubble burst in ‘08, everything changed. Companies no longer fought for employees. They didn’t have to. For every job opening, there were a hundred applicants. Now, the employees of the world fought to get a position with the company, any company. The company didn’t have to fight too hard to keep you either. You knew as well as they did, there’s no quitting a job anymore because if you’re lucky enough to have a job, then you better damn well do everything you can to keep it. Natalie thought that was a pretty poor excuse for treating people like shit, but what could she do? She was stuck. She and Kevin had seen some hard times like everybody else. And these were still hard times, so it meant taking the abuse to keep the job. What she wouldn’t give to get out of this hell hole, out of Emmett. Things were not shaping up at all as she had expected.
She looked out the window and saw trash blowing down the streets, and it was cold—late October. Natalie had decided that Emmett was a depressing little city with no job prospects and she wanted out, but that was life in small towns everywhere lately. Natalie hated it in Emmett, but that’s just where they had landed, chasing a buck. They had been here through two seasons now, and it was two seasons too long in Natalie’s mind, but Kevin—he liked it here somehow. Natalie sometimes thought he only liked it here, because small towns like these were full of drunks; probably made him feel better about himself. Kevin preferred a slower pace, whereas Natalie craved the hustle and bustle of the big city. Big city living was out of the question though on their salaries. Natalie’s job paid pennies and Kevin’s contracting of late consisted of mostly odd jobs and honey-dos. She worried about whether they would even make it through the winter or not.
And thus began another week. The unending string of Mondays through Fridays that overcast her life with barely a reprieve on the weekends.
It was a cool clear morning on the Payette River where Kevin was framing a small cabin. He began his day like any other. Up before the sun, coffee in his thermos and perhaps a twinge of a hangover. Not a big deal really, once you got used to it. Besides, he reasoned, Who wouldn’t drink with my problems? I’ll slow ‘er down a bit once life settles down. He longed for the days of old; the days of plenty, but for now, a liquid solution would have to suffice.
He pulled onto the job site in that rusted, old Chevy that always rattles on a bit after you turn the key off. The kind where you have to keep your foot on the brake for a minute until she finally shudders to sleep.
Kevin slid out of the truck and into his bags for another day of “Framing America,” as he and the boys liked to call it. Appearances suggested Vern and Troy were suffering from the hangover blues as well. Just another Monday.
“Mornin’ boss man,” Troy said. Troy Jenkins was a laborer on the job. A good looking young man, but a little dumb. Vern was his uncle and trying to teach him the trade since his discharge from the service. Troy had picked up a DUI when he was stationed at Fort Lewis, withheld it from his superiors, and been dishonorably discharged.
“Good morning, Troy.”
“Where we startin’ at today?” Vern asked Kevin. Vern Green was an old school carpenter, 52 with a worn face, deep wrinkles, and gray stubble. He was a little jaded, but a fine hand on the job.
“I was thinking we could roll out the cords and tools, then take coffee. Sound good to you guys?”
Vern and Troy were pleased by this suggestion and began rolling out while Kevin pretended to look over the plans and do “boss stuff.”
Forty-five minutes and a few cups of coffee later, the boys got to work, lining and bracing the walls in preparation for framing the roof. There wasn’t a lot to do that day—no trusses until Thursday, and no deck framing materials until tomorrow. They worked their respective hangovers off at a leisurely pace, while the sun gradually warmed the cool autumn air.
Kevin was a little concerned coming up on November and having just this one job to finish. He had a couple more bids out for small jobs, some insurance work, and a little addition, but nothing on the books. Not yet. It could be a rather modest Christmas.
That was the reality of being a contractor today. One job to the next and hand to mouth. In better years, he had been busy, like really busy. He and Natalie had the big house on the hill, the fancy rigs, and all the toys and trimmings one could ever covet. They were also fucking buried in debt—The American Way. When the economy tanked in ‘08, all that went away. Not a fuckin’ thing was paid for and they lost it ALL. Natalie’s success as a realtor—gone. Kevin’s success with a big crew building McMansions in Sandpoint—over.
That was when Kevin’s drinking took on a new urgency. It became a way of life, or a life elixir, whether he wanted it or not. Natalie had certainly noticed, but turned a blind eye in most cases. It was easier not to notice, not to fight. Her family had trained her well in the ways of denial and enabling. Besides, he still went to work every day and he wasn’t a mean drunk or anything...but he was still a drunk, and you don’t confront a drunk on their drinking. Oh, hell no.
“Hey, Hun, how was your day?” Kevin asked, popping his first top—well, the first one at home anyway.
“It was a day,” Natalie groaned.
“I’m sorry, babe. Was Karen on the war path again?”
“No worse than any other day, I suppose.”
Kevin let it go at that and settled into his lazy boy. Natalie barely cared to discuss work anymore. She worried it would bring Kevin down, or that he might think her to be a complainer, so most of the time, she just didn’t. This was fine with Kevin and in some ways, his preference, though he didn’t like to admit it. He just didn’t know what he could do, at least until the economy got strong again, and it wasn’t always easy for Nat to wind down once she got going. He loved his bride, but he also loved some quiet time after work with his cold mistress, Coors Light. You see, she required very little of him, she only gave. Sometimes that’s just what a fella needs. Trouble was, sometimes was turning into all the time. He used to drink a beer or two after work. Then it was a six pack for a while. Nowadays, it was a half rack a night on work nights and all bets were off on the weekends. He felt a little guilty spending so much money on drinking when they had so little to spend, but he wasn’t sure how to cope otherwise, not that he could admit that. Kevin wasn’t really hurting anybody unless he contemplated the health of his liver, which he sometimes did.
“Hey babe, while you’re up, could you grab me another beer?”
Natalie winced, “Of course, love.”
“Thanks, babe, love you.”
“I love you too.”
And so it went on for the rest of the night until Kevin was reasonably tanked, Natalie was reasonably tired, and the Coors Light was all gone.
Natalie got to work at 7:15 and prepped her soul for another blightful day. Karen’s red PT Cruiser with the faux wood paneling and ridiculous vanity plates, “HAWT-1,” was already there. How Karen Akers could justify labeling herself as hawt, was waaaay beyond Natalie. Karen wore a cheap home perm job, red with gray roots, and bright green eye shadow. She wore buckets of foundation trying to cover up her pockmarked, pasty face. It was a fat face too. Sort of like Miss Piggy’s.
She walked past the other cars, through the pothole-riddled parking lot toward the entrance of her discontent. Bolts-Inc. was a well weathered, single story, brick shit hole in the industrial district of Emmett, Idaho. Most of the mortar between the bricks was gone or falling out and the glass in the door was cracked, just as it was the day that Natalie had started. She pushed the door open, holding her breath and squeezing her coffee mug a bit tighter, though she didn’t realize it.
She shivered and swore it was colder inside than out. The leaves were falling off the trees, yet these cheap bastards wouldn’t turn on the heat. The door caught her sharply in the elbow, spilling her coffee when the wind blew it open again, just as it was about to close. The long since broken hydraulic closer was no match for any breeze, save that of a dying man’s last breath perhaps...
“Good morning, Karen,” she said cautiously. You can’t be too careful around a lunatic.
“Oh Gawd, is it that time already?”
“What time is that?” Natalie asked.
“Time for you to be here,” she snarled.
Karen was about the nastiest person Natalie had ever met. Cold, incompetent, mean...She tried not to let it get to her, but Karen had a sharp tongue; finely, finely honed. For whatever reason, Natalie was Karen’s favorite target. Maybe she didn’t like her because Natalie was still young and pretty. Women can be so goddam catty sometimes. Maybe she didn’t like her because she was the newest hire, but for Christ’s sake, she’d been with the company for nearly seven months now. She did her job and she did it well—maybe too well? Perhaps, Karen was afraid Natalie would move up and replace her? Anna had confided once that she was sure glad that Natalie had been hired because Karen was a lot nicer to her now.
Gee, that’s swell.
Whatever the reason, Nat was sick of it but powerless to change it. In this economy, she told herself she was lucky to have a job at all, though some days, a cardboard box in an alley didn’t sound all bad...
She walked past the viper’s desk and to her own, press-board with a dark wood patterned laminate that was chipping away. She sat down in that worn out chair that squeaked with every movement, or when it rolled. It was bound together with duct tape and screws, and it leaned slightly to the right. She just knew that this chair was going to wind up putting her in a chiropractor’s office one of these days. Flickering, overhead fluorescent fixtures cast light on her workspace which made it feel all the more like a sanitarium.
Hallelujah, another fine day in Hell.
Theirs was the office that supported the Northwest division of Bolts-Inc.com, a fastener company, and industrial supply.
“Welcome to Bolts-Inc.com, your One-Stop Industrial Source! With over 350,000 different products offered, our customers save time and money. You’ll find our products are in stock and ready to be shipped, same day when your order is placed before 3 pm PST. From bolts and fasteners of every variety, hand tools, power tools, to safety and shop supplies, we have everything needed for industrial and construction projects! Bolts-Inc.com backs every product we sell with exceptional service from ordering to delivery. We look forward to becoming your One Stop Industrial Source!”
Natalie wrote that blurb, but what she really thought was, “Bolts-Inc.com, a soul-sucking shit-hole run by malevolent bastards.” It had a much nicer ring to it, in her opinion.
“Good morning, Natalie. Good morning, Karen,” Anna chimed, walking in through the door.
Karen merely grunted and Natalie returned the salutation, though she did not feel the good morning in any way, shape or form. In fact, it was another horrible morning. APO reports, P&L, check runs, invoicing, and an ungodly heaping of abuse. Sometimes she wished that the old bat would just keel over. Maybe one of these days...
She would be at the coffee pot, ripping on Natalie for this or that and just generally being a nasty witch. All of a sudden, the Good Lord above, would just strike her dead with a massive heart attack or something, maybe even something worse...Coffee cup drops from her hands and shatters onto the cold concrete, she clutches her soulless chest, with a seized expression on her wretched face, falls hard and smashes her ugly cake hole on the counter and then it’s finally over... Blood pours and most of her teeth lie scattered on the floor...Maybe her foot goes on twitching for a while...The thought put a smile on her face, but she felt a little guilty wearing it.
Anna interrupted Natalie’s bliss and began her customary babblings about shoes, shopping, and her boyfriend or whatever. Natalie had to get out of here. The wicked witch of the Northwest on one side and a bobble headed floozy on the other. “Lord, help me,” went through her mind on a never ending loop most days.
“Natalie! Where is that APO? NOW!”
TPS report anyone?...
“Kill me faster,” Natalie murmured...
Solemn, Natalie walked through the door of their home, a 1930s Bungalow, a few miles outside of Emmett on the Old Black Canyon Highway. The five acres it sat on and the mature trees offered a nice level of privacy. It was a cute little place, with ornate details, lots of built-ins, and beautiful old growth fir floors. It was just a rental, but Natalie loved it as her own. It was always clean and she kept it just-so. The flowers were all dead now, down for their winter naps, but Natalie had a quite a green thumb. During the fair weather months, their quaint little cottage and beautifully landscaped yard could appear on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens. As lovely as it was, financially it was a bit of a stretch at eleven-hundred a month, plus all the utilities. Kevin could be happy living in a single wide out in the weeds, but Natalie liked nice things, so that was that.
Kevin was drinking Coors on the couch when Natalie entered. He was almost afraid to ask, but as was customary, “How was your day, Hun?” Natalie just shook her head, put down her keys and shrugged off her purse. She looked absolutely defeated, like a stray injured dog out in the cold.
“Babe, you gotta get outta there,” Kevin reasoned. “Just quit, we’ll be okay.”
“I’m trying, Kevin, but not until I have another job,” was always her reply.
“Nat,—NO job that pisses on your whole day and sends you to the pillow in tears is worth it, and Bolts-Inc. sure as hell ain’t worth it.”
“Don’t you think I know that, Kevin? I cannot quit until I find another job.”
“I understand that, babe, but c’mon. It ain’t worth it.”
“You don’t understand, Kevin. It’s so easy for you to say, we’ll be okay, but you’ve said that before and we wound up living in a fucking van at the tail end of winter! Or do you not remember? Well, I remember, and I’m not living in a goddam van again, EVER. We are barely getting by. There is no way on God’s green earth I can quit my job, and we will be okay in any way, shape or form! Jesus, you just need to grow up.”
“Fuckin’ whatever, Natalie, I guess this conversation is over.”
“You think?” She rushed to the bedroom in tears, anxiety and panic her companions. Kevin remained on the couch with Miss Coors and she soothed him. He wished Nat could just chill. Have a beer or whatever and chill the fuck out. She was always so stressed and the bigger part of that was that crappy job.
Natalie cried into her pillow, seeing no way out…no-way-out. She could call her parents and ask for money, but even if they gave it, the price was just too high. The lecturing, the I-told-you-so, and the blow to her pride. She couldn’t face that right now. Amy Ward had always forced her daughter to grovel in the past while Dean bellowed his drunken conjectures in the background. No, no thank you very much, not happening. What sick satisfaction did her mother derive from breaking Natalie down anyway? Natalie suspected it was a simple case of shit runs downhill. Of course it does. These days she would rather step aside than be buried in their waste...
It was Kevin’s favorite time of year. The leaves were changing and the hot summer heat had faded, meaning perfect temperatures for working outside. He sat on the tailgate and watched the river lazily flow, enjoying a hot cup and a smoke. Vern and Troy pulled in about five minutes later and hopped out of an old, white Econoline van. They were arguing over last night’s game, Chiefs vs Packers, and Vern threatened Troy with a long walk home after work if he didn’t shut the fuck up about it.
“Fine, whatever,” Troy said, “Either one of you assholes wanna buy a gun?”
Boys love guns, so Kevin and Vern gave Troy their rapt attention…
“It’s my Glock 17, two hundred an’ fifty bucks.”
“Why you selling it?” Kevin asked.
“I just need the money. Hell, I can’t afford to shoot it anyhow…Plus, this way I can be sure I don’t shoot the ex,” Troy chuckled. He was only half kidding. The wife and he had had a pretty nasty split a few years back. It still came up fairly regular in conversation. Kevin didn’t really know all the details, but he knew the important one: Troy hated that fuckin’ bitch.
Kevin couldn’t necessarily afford a pistol right now, and Natalie would be pissed…but that didn’t usually stop him from pulling out his wallet and it didn’t stop him today either. It was a goddam Glock, man! How was he expected to resist such an item at such a price? Maybe he would just keep it under the seat of the pickup for the time being…at least until he could come up with a better back story…
After work, still at the job site, Kevin knocked off a handful of beers so he would have something to shoot at. He liked the weight of the pistol in his hand. It was well balanced and it shot true. He was so delighted in fact, he had to have a few more brews to celebrate. Before he had lost his ass in Sandpoint, he had quite a gun collection. He had AKs, an AR15, pistols of every caliber, hunting rifles, and few old collectibles too. It felt good to shoot again and he wished he could share it with Natalie. She didn’t really like guns though which baffled him to no end. Nothing beats blasting the shit outta stuff and if she would just try it, he knew she would like it.
Natalie sat shivering at her desk. The furnace was broken. It was just 42 degrees in the office. Karen started early, and could have messaged her, but she didn’t. Chris got the memo. He was working from home today. Anna had clearly gotten the memo. She walked in dressed in her expensive snowmobile gear and looked like a commercial for Klim. Anna didn’t even have a snowmobile. She just had a boyfriend once who did.
“Oh my God, Natalie! Aren’t you freezing?” Anna exclaimed.
“Yeah…Pretty much.”
“Well, why didn’t you dress warmer then? Didn’t you get the text from Karen?”
“Oh no…” Anna trailed off, then stood there for a moment twirling her hair. Realizing the conversation was now over, she retreated to her own desk.
Natalie would have run to the hardware store and bought a space heater if it were an option, but the old wiring in the building wouldn’t take it. Anytime they plugged in anything with a draw larger than that of a fan, the fuses blew. So she sat and she suffered, but she tried not to let them see her shiver.
She didn’t get a lot of work done that day but felt oddly satisfied with that fact. They deserved no work from her if they could not even provide heat on a cold day. No heat, no work. She did get a lot of thinking time in though. Her mind wandered from topic to topic, but eventually it settled on one. Was Kevin becoming more like her father? She hoped not.



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