By: Karen Hecht Springer

© 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Prologue

Marcy guessed by the slivered beams of light falling through the cracked yellowed window that it was approaching dusk.

Guessing was her private game. It was the one piece of dignity and control she had left. George had everything else already.

It hadn’t taken long to do. Four months ago — judging by the dim light of the sun and the settling cold that signaled the onset of winter — she’d met George at The Zoo, a joint at the corner of Second and Third where hookah and hookers mixed freely. Strangers became intimate friends between puffs shared around the ripped red vinyl half-moon booths. Old friends became enemies after a few pints and a moment of clarity.

Spandex-and-leather-clad, they blended into the pulsations, musical or otherwise, and the reminder that humans are actually still animals became readily apparent as the evening wore on. Most nights you were going to get drunk anyway. As the saying goes, misery loves company.

Blink-and-you-might-miss-it Pinkerton, with its three traffic lights, was continually in the news. Shadowy figures seen on grainy surveillance cameras always seemed to tie back it; the media hounds were a constant fixture; but once a connection was made, and frenzy descended upon the town yet again, everyone would seem to forget in record time.

Life stayed in the present in Pinkerton, where the past was reserved for folklore and the future was just a murky musing discussed over a less-than-sober night. It was easier that way.

Then “the next” would happen. Whispers of the Zookeepers crept up yet again. People said the Zookeepers were an extension of the Mob. Or members of the Illuminati. Or engineers of the New World Order. Or shape-shifting lizards. Or, to those who dared not dream, they were nonexistent bullshit.

And hazy memories would be jogged, and “they” would remember…something. Until they didn’t.

Staring out the cracked window, Marcy was no longer a nonbeliever.

Marcy both wished George would come with food and wished he wouldn’t. She was starving — the already-stale red rice and beans she last ate was from yesterday, or was it the day before…? — but she didn’t feel like paying tonight.

Afterward, she’d clean off in the tiny basin of water he left her, then try to sleep, shivering, on the wide-planked oak floor while listening to the occasional raw howling of a tortured wild soul.

You’re next…you’re next…you’re next, it seemed to wail.

Suddenly she smiled as she finished scratching another notch in the plank in the far right corner.

You’re wrong, she replied to the silence.

Award-winning professional resume writer. Corporate communications guru. Poet. Short story dabbler. The fickleness of human nature delights and perplexes me…