An excerpt from Robert E. Waters’ story “A Bluebird from Aspen” appearing in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, funding now on Kickstarter.

Saya laughed. Her voice carried through a maze of junk: piles upon piles of newspapers and boxes, dusty books and old empty shelves lining the walls of the living room. The couch that Saya had thrown her purse onto was bare, save for an embroidered throw of green. It was old and the pattern on it was Native American. A hawk flew above a field of flowers, red and golden. It was a pleasant tableau, but something about it, the way the light from the dusty overhang picked up the red stitching… it seemed like blood trickling from the bird’s talons. And the face of the “thing” gazing up at the sky was human—in shape anyway—but big, very big. Broad and muscular in the shoulders, but hairy like a beast, a giant. Chimalis shivered, turned, and dared take a few steps into the cluttered living room. “Where is your phone?”

A cabinet was opened, a rustle of pots and pans. Water was turned on and began filling a teapot. “In the hallway, sweetie. Right above Benny’s litter box.”

Oh, great! That’s all she needed, to stand above a cat toilet and dial a number. She’d have to hold her breath. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. Chimalis shook her head and went to find the phone.

It was easy to find. The house was small. The light from the kitchen fell into the short hallway that led to the back of the house. Chimalis found the phone in the shadow of that light, and as Saya said, there sat the litter box. And there sat Benny. Chimalis found the light switch on the wall and flicked it.

Benny was a beautiful cat, and not so old and mangy as Saya had said. A standard orange tabby, sitting there, trying to take a shit, she supposed, in the box. Chimalis paused, waiting to see if the cat would finish. She smiled, made kissing sounds to try to soothe the cat. Benny was having none of it. He arched his back and hissed.

She waited, then whispered, “Don’t fuck with me, cat. You don’t know who you are dealing with.”

“Whadya say?” Saya asked from the kitchen.

“Oh, nothing, nothing. Gonna make my call now.”

She mouthed the word Move! to get Benny to scoot. He hissed again and bolted into one of the back rooms with a spray of cat litter like car wheels spinning in dirt.

Chimalis stepped over the litter box and picked up the phone. She pressed it to her ear. A dial tone. Thank God! She reached into her purse to get her wallet. Her Triple-A card was in there somewhere. That was the first number to dial, and then her husband, and then…

She glanced up at the wall above the phone. There, covered in newspaper clippings, was a corkboard. Some of the clippings were yellow with thumbtacks showing rust around their edges. Some clippings were so old that they had faded beyond legibility. Chimalis winced and tried to read the ones that were newer.

Molly Pierce was a student from the University of Colorado that had disappeared three years ago. Her abandoned car was found on Route 24. No signs of struggle.

A trucker named Jamal Gruber disappeared five years ago. His abandoned truck was found not that far from where Chimalis was standing now. No sign of struggle.

The Harris family was en route to Denver when their Ford Taurus skidded off an icy Route 24 and struck a tree. Police and EMT were dispatched to the scene, but by the time they got there, everyone was gone, including little Jennifer Harris who had left her plushy white unicorn behind, presumably thinking she’d come back. Again, no signs of struggle.

And just three weeks ago, Milo Mathers, a retired coal miner from Colorado Springs apparently blew a tire while heading to Denver to visit family. His car was found, abandoned, battery nearly dead from the hazard lights.

Esther Rosewood… Jerimiah Childes… Conner Colwith…

On and on and on, decades of names and mishaps. Decades of missing persons and abandoned vehicles. All, Chimalis surmised, within five miles from where she stood.

Robert Waters 2020

For the past twenty-five years, Robert E. Waters has served in the gaming industry, first as a Managing Editor at The Avalon Hill Game Company, and then as a producer, designer, and writer for several computer game studios. Robert has been publishing fiction professionally since 2003, with his first sale to Weird Tales, “The Assassin’s Retirement Party.” Since then, he has sold over 75 stories to various online and print magazines and anthologies, including the online magazine The Grantville Gazette, which publishes stories set in Baen Book’s best-selling alternate history Ring of Fire series.

Over the years, Robert has contributed to many E-Spec Books anthologies, including their wildly popular Military SF series, Defending the Future. His latest is a collection of his DEVIL DANCERS mil-SF stories, which is now available on Amazon.

Robert currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife Beth, their son Jason, and their two kittens Snow and Ash.

Check out his website.


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