I Ate A Beetle And It Sang In My Belly

The cage door rattled and creaked then fell open, exposing a clear path to freedom.  Meeka poked her tiny black nose out of her bed and sniffed the air,

meeka

Meeka

vaguely interested in the goings on.  The water bottle clattered free of its restraint and vanished into the air, returning moments later, full and fresh smelling, a faint bite of chlorine rising from the droplets that gathered on the shelf beneath the nozzle.  Deciding she smelled nothing of interest Meeka withdrew again into her sleeping bag and resumed her curled position of warmth, content to let the sun fall down without her opinion.

“Hey!”  The cage walls rumbled as a large body clawed its way through the open door.  The steep, plastic ramps trembled beneath the weight of the intruder.  “Hey!  Come play!  Hey you!  You in the bag!  Come out!”  Meeka curled tighter into her ball and grumbled.

“Go away.”

“Hey.  Are you awake?”  A big white head with beady red eyes bumped against the brown cloth sack hanging from the top of the cage by four clips.  Very slightly the bag swayed.  Meeka hissed shortly and began to chatter.

“RUDE!  Leave me be.  I do not want you here.  Get out!”  Her voice, though muffled by the fabric was still very high and on the ears.  The intruder halted in surprise.

everette

Everette

“I am not rude, I am Everette.  I am daddy’s boy.”  A rustle followed by nails scrabbling along hard plastic resounded from a second cage cornered to Meeka’s.  A high, falsetto humpf judged his words.

“You are adopted.”  Everette’s head swung around to confront Honey, a mid-sized, sable ferret with deep greying over her muzzle.

“I am daddy’s boy,” he repeated firmly.  Honey dead-eyed him.

“Exactly.  Adopted.”

“Honey, you’re mean.  Why are you mean?”  While easily the largest of the trio, Everette was undisputably the youngest.  Honey humpfed again and dooked away, unconcerned.  There was no doubt of her position as matriarch.  She was here before either of them had arrived.  Everette watched her go, whiskers twitching then poked again at Meeka’s sleeping bag.  “Come play!”

“GET OUT!”  Meeka struggled free of her bag and glowered at him.  “Do you know nothing?  Intruder!”  Everette leaped backward in surprise and his back legs slipped off the ledge.  In reflex he splayed his front paws, long, curling nails gouging for a grip on the plastic.  For two seconds he hung there, his whole length stretched out, back feet peddling the air, muzzle strained forward.  Meeka trailed her hairless, opossum-like tail under his nose as she skittered past his face and down the ramp.  “Just fall,” she stated as she rounded the lower ledge and headed down the last ramp.  Everette’s feet were barely a ferret’s head off the floor.  Meeka stopped and nipped his toe, giggling.  Alarm shot through Everette and he lost his grip completely, dropping heavily to the bottom of the cage, his back end flattening Meeka beneath him while his breath dooked out of him.  He laughed with delight.

“Get off!  Bully!  Get off me!”  Meeka squirmed and thrashed, nipping repeatedly at him, especially his thickly furred tail.  Everette pushed away from her with his back legs and shot out the open door of the cage.

“Come on!  Come out!”  Dook, dook, dook.  “Meeka, come play!”  He stopped to watch the small silvermit make her way slowing out of the cage, her bare tail trailing behind.  Everette dooked forward and back, front feet pounding the cream colored carpet in excitement.  “What happened to your tail?  Where is your fur?  See my tail?  I have lots of fur.”  He whirled around so that his fluffy tail puffed through the air.  “Even Honey’s tail isn’t as big as mine.”  Dook, dook, dook.  Dooking sounded from the distant hallway and Honey’s humpf reached his ears.

honey

Honey

“Disdain!”

“Mean Honey.”  Everette dooked along behind Meeka, nearly landing on her in his eagerness.

“Go away.  Bully!  Leave me be!”  Meeka raced along the baseboard, trying to leave the prattling boy behind.

“Where did you come from?” Everette raced after the silvermit.  “Meeka?  How did you get here?”  Humpf!  Honey strolled into the room from the hallway.

“She came from a porch.”  Her voice dripped judgement.  Meeka halted in mid dook and swung her head toward the sable.

“What do you know about the Porch?  You are nothing.  The Porch doesn’t want you.”  Everette’s eyes widened in surprise at this statement while Honey continued toward her cage.

“Adopted.”  Pausing at her cage door she gave the albino a stern look.  “Leave her be.  She smells funny.”

You smell funny!”  Meeka pounded her front feet on the carpet in anger, her muzzle quivering at the sable.  “I am Porchly!”  Honey clambered through her cage door and up the first ramp to her water bottle, chittering crankily to herself.

“You are not porchly, you are crazy.”

“WHAT!?”  Meeka dooked violently toward Honey’s cage.  “What did you say?”

“I said go away!”  Honey shot back down the ramp and filled her cage door, her fur standing out on all sides.  “Nuisance!”   Everette flattened himself to the carpet and tried to be invisible.  Meeka glowered at the sable.

“I don’t like you.”

“Good.”  Honey held her position in the doorway.  Meeka stared at her for another second or two then turned away, muttering.

“I am Porchly.  The Porch told me things.  I was visited by a Beetle.  It sang to me.  I ate it.  It sang in my belly.”  Honey humpfed.  Everette peeled himself from the carpet and crept toward Meeka.

“You ate a beetle?”

(I will draw the curtain on this scene now as it was continuously repeated every time the trio was freed for playtime.  Over time they did manage to form a grudging tolerance of each other but it was never a true friendship.  Honey passed away first, several months ago after reaching a level of discomfort with her adrenal disorder that left no doubt that her quality of life was greatly diminished.  She was my wife’s special pet and will always be missed.  Meeka was called back to her Porch a mere two weeks ago at the ripe old age of eight.  Her time on the porch was not nearly the blessing I have fictionalized it into.  She was sorely mistreated before we took her and spent a horrible four to five days outside, in a small carrier on a porch with very little food and even less water.  She never fully regained her health from that event and her emotional state wasn’t anywhere near what a healthy animal could have had.  She passed painlessly under the anesthetic.  I am still dropping shameless tears over her.  Meeka’s time on that porch and the oddness that we came to know as ‘her’ was the root of the name for this blog.  It is only right that I acknowledge her passing here.

Everette is alive and well, dooking about the house as if he owns it all.  He is Daddy’s Boy.)

The Last Public Bathroom Ever

The State Fair is always a huge event and the annual turnout this years was record breaking.  My husband and I usually go on opening day and get our fill of fried foods, sticky sweet treats and, of course, beer.  All the usual beers are present and accounted for along with a generous amount of micro brews.  After shoving down my third pile of fried cheese curds and washing it down with a fourth micro brew (see the priority there?) I was belatedly alerted to the distress calls of my bladder.  To be honest I had actually been ignoring it a bit which I knew was going to be a bad idea since all the restrooms were a bit of a walk and would be lined with other women who had been doing exactly what I was doing.  With a completely unnecessary request for my husband to ‘hold my seat’ I grabbed my purse and headed for nearest bathroom.

With a full bladder a short, one minute dash up the midway can feel like a twenty minute hike through rough terrain.  By the time I reached the door I was feeling the strain in serious way.  Stepping inside I entered a line of six other women and pressed my thighs together.  I felt I could manage the wait.  Six people wasn’t a lot.  This particular bathroom was one of the smaller ones on the grounds, only twelve stalls with matching sinks on the opposite walls along with the required paper towel dispensers, feminine hygiene dispenser and a condom dispenser.  A plastic changing table was mounted on the wall I was leaning against for emotional bladder support.  The whole room was accessible through a walk-in doorway, no actual door.  While I waited, listening to the toilets flush, someone unrolling a lot of toilet paper, and the automatic sinks turn on and off I amused myself by wondering which had come first, the changing table or the condom dispenser?  My money was on the changing table.  The dispenser was more banged up but I felt it looked more like an unrelated afterthought.  Too bad.

The ladies ahead of me moved quietly along, each one watching for the next open stall as their turn came.  Soon I was next and I was really excited about it.  Poised for take off I gave a little bounce on the balls of my feet, testing the springiness.  No one had entered behind me but you could never be too careful when your bladder was at stake, and mine had definitely been pushed to its limit.  I knew I would be racing the clock.  In my mind I was already going through the motions, making certain I would be able to get things unbuttoned and unzipped and smoothly shoved out of the way in a timely manner.  When the next stall opened I was ready to go.  

I heard a metal bolt slap backward and saw the door begin to open.  My feet moved of their own accord and my hand reached to grab the door before the lady exiting was fully out.  She looked at me with a flash of surprise.  I smiled apologetically and dashed inside, driving the locking bolt into place as if I was chambering a live round and flung my purse on the hook.  Everything went as planned.  The button opened, the zipper came down and I dropped onto the seat with a sigh of relief.  As my bladder heartily celebrated its release my skin told another tale.  The seat was wet.

I’ve never understood how women could pee on a toilet seat.  I’ve seen the proof of this more times than I can count.  Had I not been so pressed for speed (and under the influence of four micro brews) I would normally have surveyed the area before throwing my bare bottom onto it.

Feeling things tapering off I reached for the toilet paper, the giant, silver dome fastened to the brown, metal dividing wall.  It was empty.  I leaned forward and pawed awkwardly up as far as I could go and found nothing, not even a spent cardboard core.  What had the lady before me used?  She could have warned me!  I probably would have just shrugged considering how desperate I had been at that moment but it would have been nice to know I needed a backup plan.  Somewhere to my left I could hear the toilet paper unroller still going at it.  Rolling my eyes at the irony I eyed my purse hanging on the hook and wondered if I had any take-out napkins stashed in there?  As I’m a bit short in the arms I had to lift myself from the seat to snag the bag, an act accompanied by a sound similar to what you hear when you peel masking tape from a wall.  Despite being something of a hoarder my purse was a barren wasteland for paper.  It was time to call for assistance.

“Hello?  Can someone help me?”  The instant I spoke a lady with a high, jilted voice began to sing off key and very loud.  To my ears my own voice sounded small and breathy, as if I were just sitting here talking to myself.  I tried again.  “I’m out of toilet paper.  Can somebody help me out?”  The toilet paper unroller continued in her task, an unrelenting sound that was beginning to feel personal.

I sat frozen on my throne, a tumble of thoughts jostling around in my mind.  What if I was the only person in here now?  What if I wasn’t?  What if I was suddenly the butt of a big, silent joke that everyone was in on?  How many women were standing out there with their hands pressed over their mouths to stifle their shared laughter?

Seemingly in response to my plea a shadow filled the frame of my stall door.  I waited expectantly  for a hand filled with toilet paper to come under the door.  After a few seconds I looked up wondering why nothing was happening.  To my surprise I found an eyeball staring at me through the crack.  I stared back for a second, mortified then angry.

“What are you doing!”  The eye didn’t waver.  “Get out of here!”  The woman didn’t budge, just kept on staring at me.  I thought about standing up and yanking open the door to confront her but I would have to let her watch me put myself together without ever wiping before I would have the pleasure of yelling into her face.  That idea seemed more demeaning than the end result would justify and probably wouldn’t be very satisfying.  Still, it was an option.  I settled for more glowering and extended my middle finger.  “Quit staring at me, freak!”  I heard a low chuckle and felt my hair rise.  It was really low.  Was that a man?  The eyeball vanished and the light came back.  I felt somewhat relieved for a few seconds.  I was still in a drip-dry state but at least I was alone.  Another shadow crossed the light.

The stall beside me became loudly occupied by a woman breathing heavily, grunting and muttering to herself.  The door slammed against the divider as she entered then banged shut.  Her large, faux leather handbag hit the floor a split second before she shot the bolt.  Every move she made was accompanied by a sound I could identify.  Against my will my brain became filled with images of what was happening beside me.  Just as I was getting up the courage to ask her for toilet paper she spoke.

“Oh lord!  I knew I shouldn’t have eaten all that Mexican food.  Those tamales never agree with me.”  This statement was delivered with several huffs and grunts followed by an explosive bowl clanger.  I leaned away from the wall and rethought leaving in a natural state.  I could always tell my husband what happened and he would understand my need to get home immediately and shower.  As if reinforcing this idea the woman groaned deeply and let loose with another bomb.  In seconds I would be overcome with the gaseous overflow.

“Jesus!  This is gonna tear me apart.”  Boom!

I stopped hoping and starting zipping.  My nostrils reared back, trying to close themselves off from what was coming but it was too late.  The smell crawled over me like napalm and I gagged.  I grabbed for the bolt on the door and jammed it back just as the eye returned to the crack.  I saw it a split second before shoving the door open and felt a small thrill of victory in the act.  I knew it was going to hit the mark.

With a thunk the door struck the woman’s forehead at the same time another depth charge was released next door.  I barrelled through the door clutching my purse like a football.  The woman was older than I had expected and definitely not a man.  I paused long enough to give her a withering look and a piece of advice.

“Why don’t you check on the lady in the next stall?  She seems far more interesting.”  Holding one hand over her face the woman flipped me the bird with her other.  I responded with a grimacing smile.  Giving the sinks a regretful glance, they wouldn’t help anyway, I bolted for the door.

Casino of Light – 2

(Casino of Light stories are becoming something of a pet project of mine.  I may eventually turn them into a novella but for now they can live here.)

Smooth black hair, slicked back and apparently impervious to the smoke of the blackjack pit gleamed thickly in the direct glare of the tiny spot lights shining down. Adding to the distraction was the fact that the royal blue shirt of the new dealer’s uniform actually looked good on him. He looked lean and fit, like he worked out every day and didn’t eat anything heavier than fish. It didn’t hurt that despite his shiny newness he looked like he had been dealing cards for years already. The sense of self-assurance coming off him was astounding. Tasting jealousy on the back of his tongue Shane watched from the corner of his eye as he dealt his own game. That guy is about two days into his job, he thought, and had the grace of a cheetah. Judgmental of his own movements by comparison he made a point to smooth out his card placement and to make his payouts clean and precise, not letting the chips click together any louder than necessary and setting them politely beside the winning wagers. On his other side he could hear Geoff table-slamming with his cards and thunking chips down like they were rocks. Geoff wouldn’t know how deal a clean game if you moved his hands for him. Shane focused himself and picked up his pace, sweeping his hand across the layout, palm up to open the new hand. His forehead was spotted with small beads of perspiration from the spot lights. Those things really heated a table up when there were players present.

“Envy is a strong motivator, I see.” The greasy voice appeared in Shane’s mind like a dirty smear. He didn’t twitch even a hair to show he was listening. “Keep humping rookie. That girl will move into a suit before you will but, you might get there yet.” Jonathan laughed softly, just over Shane’s left shoulder. The laugh was creepy enough to give him the feeling that Ol’ Shiny Suit might actually have a body in his basement. Then he realized what he had just heard and stopped dead.

“Girl?” The timbre of his voice cracked in surprise and he turned his head a fraction, catching sight of Jonathan’s ridiculous poofy blonde hair. All this guy needed was red lipstick and a bulbous nose and his clown costume would be complete.

“Yup.” Jonathan flashed a crocodile grin. “That’s a lady my friend. And she is slaying hearts left and right back of house.” A friendly elbow in the arm. “You have some serious competition pretty boy.” Shane got a hold of himself and gave Jonathan what he hoped was a casual shrug.

“Bets are closed,” he said and dealt out the cards.

On break Shane grabbed his tablet from his backpack hung on the coat rack and headed for the third floor break room, intending to bury himself in his current read for a few minutes. The sounds around him faded to a muffle as he swiped his finger across the tablet and touched the book icon. The fluorescent light from above, much brighter than the carefully controlled lighting on the main floor, gleamed against the tablet’s face, creating an annoying bright spot that he found himself staring at instead of through. Shifting around he looked for a position that moved the light off the tablet so he could read. Once he found the sweet spot he stretched his legs and moved to prop one foot on the seat of the chair opposite him. His foot found emptiness. Looking up in surprise he found Charles  smirking at him from the other side of  the table, his pale face lit up with enjoyment and holding the chair just out of reach. Shane gave him an impressed grin.

“What’s up Chuck?” The greeting never failed to amuse Shane though he knew it bugged the crap out of Charles. Chuck smiled blandly and sat down.

“There’s a new class sign up sheet posted for dice. Are you going to try to get in it?” Charles delivered this information with very little vocal inflection though his pale eyebrows moved up and down with excessive animation. Wondering for the millionth time if Charles might actually be tone deaf Shane raised an interested eye at him.

“Will you sign up with me?” Charles went very still, his greenish brown eyes becoming a bit unfocused. Shane recognized this as Charles’s basic bug instincts kicking in, the whole don’t move and no one will see me routine.  “Come on Chuck, you have great math skills. Dice would be a breeze for you.” Charles shrugged thin shoulders that wardrobe couldn’t seem to fit properly. His shirts were always too small in the neck, his top button held closed with an extender because his shoulders were abnormally small and narrow. “We’ve talked about doing this together so many times.” Charles focused and gave him a slow, feline blink. Shane chuckled. “I know you want to.”

“Yes.”

“What was that?”” Shane leaned dramatically forward and cupped a hand around his ear. “I didn’t catch it.” 

“I said yes.” The volume was a little higher but not much.  A large woman with goddess braids and wearing a teal shirt that marked her as belonging to the Slot Department began a slow clap as she passed.

“Congratulations!” she gushed obnoxiously.  “He said yes.”  Shane shot her an exaggerated look of happiness that he let slip into a serial-killer-clown grin.  The woman’s look of nosey humor winked out like a lamp and she kept moving.  He gave Charles a sly wink.

“Great!  Let’s go get our names on that list before it fills up.” Shane closed the tablet’s app and toggled it into blackness before standing up. “Ready?” Charles nodded and tugged nervously at his short ponytail. “Relax,” Shane said. “Don’t eat your hair.” Charles snorted.

“I don’t eat my hair.”

“Not yet.” Shane lead the way toward the elevator to the first floor. “But once you get into that class there’s no telling.”

The first floor break room was packed. Careful to not step on any of the legs sprawled out around the tables and couches Shane moved toward the cork board and found the sign up sheet. Grabbing a pen from the nearest table he scribbled his name on the first open line then turned to hand Charles the pen. His friend was standing frozen, face slack, eyes fixed in place. Shane drew back a bit in surprise and waved a hand across Charles’s face.

“Earth to Chuck.” Charles blinked a little and his eyes slowly focused to follow Shane’s hand. Shane looked around, wondering what had so alarmingly captivated his friend. It was only a seconds before he spotted her.  Sitting cross legged on the sagging leather couch was the new dealer, staring down at her phone and paying zero attention to them. Taking advantage of the opportunity to indulge his curiosity Shane looked for a sign that she was actually a she. He couldn’t see her throat from this angle so judging by the absence of an Adam’s Apple wouldn’t work. The cheekbones were sharp and the forehead was high, fully exposed by the nicely oiled, swept back hair that was cut short and shaved on the neck and sides. The build was all wrong for a woman, squared and broad shouldered, tapering downward in a slight vee. He couldn’t see any actual signs of breasts. Could she be trans?  To his horror she picked that moment to look up and see him staring at her.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” Her voice was deep and smooth but carried a slight lilt. Shane felt his face get very hot. Charles looked down at the floor and turned to solid stone.

“Sorry,” Shane stammered. “You’re new?”

“Second day,” she stated and smiled at him with perfect teeth.  Letting go of her phone she extended her hand. “I’m Camila.”  Shane stepped forward to shake it and glanced at her throat. There was a slight curve where the Adam’s Apple was but not overly pronounced like his own.  Her hand was very warm and long fingered, her grip quite firm.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Shane.” Almost as an afterthought he hitched a thumb behind him. “That’s Charles.” Camila tilted her head to look past him and smiled at Chuck.

“Nice to meet you both.” To his credit Charles managed a bobble-head impression. Good boy, Shane thought encouragingly. Looking amused Camila pointed her chin at Charles.

“I believe you were going to write your name on that paper?” So she had been paying attention.  Shane looked at the round clock on the wall as she spoke. It was 11:15 pm.

“Holy crap Chuck! Get a move on. We have to go.” He pressed the pen into Charles’s hand. “Come on buddy, sign it.” Charles closed his fingers around the pen and very stiffly turned to write his name directly below Shane’s, his signature shaky but legible.

“Done!” he croaked a bit too loudly. Shane did a slight double-take at him.

“Great, let’s go.”

“I’m at the other end.” Charles said loudly.  ” I’ll see you later.” He practically ran out of the room, his miniature pony tail poking straight out behind him. Camila chuckled and stood up, slipping her phone into the green canvas bag at her feet and shoving the whole thing back against the wall.

“He’s in a serious hurry. Is his table very far away?”

“Huh?” Aware that his jaw had swung slightly open Shane forced it shut and pulled his eyes away from Charles’s shrinking figure. “Oh, no. Not any farther than ours.” Feeling like he had just missed something he lead the way out the door onto the main floor.

 

(More Casino of Light here)

Dancer’s Ghosts

Apprehension slithered down Dave’s spine when Dancer shuffled through the main entrance of the Gallery.  He watched the middle-aged Walker execute the odd, box-step-rave-moves that had earned him his street name while his dark, sunken eyes peered closely at each photo he passed, bending his painfully slender frame up and down to view all of them, not just the ones at eye-level.  Dancer’s thick, well worn, brown canvas jacket whispered against itself as he moved and for a second Dave was thankful that it wasn’t one of those thin, slicker types that skritched loudly from just breathing.  Dancer’s head was encased in what looked like at least three knitted hats, a brown one on top covered what looked like a red one over the top of a very thin looking hunter orange hat with a stiff, short bill.  Dave  had a match to the orange one tossed in the trunk of his Honda.  Pretty much everyone who lived this far north had one of those hats.  When he had broke down and bought his from the Quick-Stop gas station by the highway he had laughed about it all the way home because it had felt like he was conforming.  Right that minute though he wrestled a little with having common ground with the worn out man who was dancing his way through his photo shop in eighty degree heat dressed for winter weather.

This was not the first time one of the Walkers had entered The Gallery.  Normally they just stepped inside and tried to chat with him for a few minutes, trying to cool off from the summer heat or warm up from the winter chill.  Dave didn’t begrudge them the comfort.  In a big city these Walkers would be living under viaducts and in alleys or homeless shelters.  Here they had roofs over their heads, a few dollars in their pockets and the freedom to walk back and forth through town as much as they wanted without being harassed by law enforcement.  Trying to remain calm Dave forced himself to stay seated and just watch as Dancer inspected every last photograph.

The man hadn’t looked at him yet or made any sort of greeting or gesture to indicate acknowledgement of Dave’s presence, he just danced slowly along the walls, his hands flowing in fairly graceful movements around his chest and waist as if he were free dancing with glow sticks laced through his fingers.  As he travelled closer to the register Dave became aware of the oily sheen on Dancer’s face, the slept-on look of his week’s worth of whiskers, and the general smell of neglect that hovered around him.  In an uncharacteristic moment of self-consciousness he looked down at his own clothing, faded jeans on their third day and a black t-shirt with the red logo of his favorite OHL team cracking away into antiquity on the front, and wondered how he smelled?  A glance at his reflection in the nearest photo confirmed what he knew, his brown hair was a bit spiky and he needed a shave.  He raised a hand to scratch nervously at his neck stubble.

All dancing stopped as Dancer abruptly focused on a photograph.  Moving to a mere inch away from the frame he breathed slowly onto the photo, his breath clouding against the glass in small puffs.  Dave tightened his jaw as Dancer raised a hand rose and pointed a grubby finger directly at the photo, almost touching it but not quite.

“You shouldn’t photograph ghosts.”

Dave blinked dumbly for a second.  If he had to guess he would have estimated Dancer to be in his late fifties at least.  The man was darkened and lined from near constant exposure to the elements.  That his voice was so clear and, well, young sounding, was a genuine surprise.

“They don’t like it.”

Every photograph on the wall was a piece of Dave’s life.  He had taken them all, sometimes hiking for miles with his equipment to reach a specific spot in weather didn’t always cooperate.  The photo shivering beneath Dancer’s finger was a light house about an hour and a half drive north from here.  It was pretty famous in it’s own right as all ships entering or leaving Lake Superior had to pass it.  Dancer stood frozen, all his attention focused on the photograph.

“I’m sorry?”  Dave had intended this to be a question.  Whatever Dancer was implying had passed right over his head.  He had never been a true believer of ghost stories and campfire tales.

“You should be.”  The hovering finger began to swirl slowly at first then faster as it built momentum, sending tremors back through the slim arm which then joined the movement.  In less than a minute Dancer was back in full motion, box-stepping his way toward the door.  “Ghosts have a right to privacy.”  He shuffled out the door and moved north along the sidewalk.

Goosebumps erupted over Dave’s arms and neck.  He stood still for several moments trying to make sense of Dancer’s words.  This area was full of stories about ghosts and he knew the lighthouse had a history.  Quite frankly he could understand how those stories got started, especially when the fog rolled in on stormy nights.  The photograph though?  A shiver ran through him as he stepped from behind the register and moved toward it, telling himself he was just checking for fingerprints on the glass.  He may have actually believed himself had he bothered to bring long a rag.