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“He did it, Earle! I didn’t wanna, but he drug me out there. Everybody saw.”


The bleach blond Betty Boop points her finger at me. Her voice shakes with indignation, but there’s a smile from her face. Her teeth aren’t pretty.


“Look, Earle,” I say, “I didn’t mean anything, okay? And I sure didn’t know she was your girl.”


Her mouth drops open in shock so overdone she must have learned it watching daytime soaps.


“Well then why did you drag me out on the dance floor for? Why’d you get all grabby and try to kiss me?”


“I did no such thing,” I say. Unlike the woman, who’s name I don’t even know, I’m not yelling. I’m trying to sound reasonable, but her smile is really bothering me. 


“And you asked me to dance, remember? You never mentioned Earle then, did you?”


Her smile widens, and I realize why it’s bothering me so much: she’s enjoying this.


“You’re a liar,” she says, then turns toward the watching crowd. She points toward three men sitting around a scarred table covered with empty beer bottles.


They’re all grinning too.


“Will Goetz, you saw the whole thing, didn’t you?”


While his partners snicker and elbow each-other Will Goetz heaves a great sigh, then speaks in a voice dripping with regret.


“Y’all were out on the dance floor, and this young buck,” he indicates me with a toss of his bearded chin,” was holding Annie awful close.”


He’s still grinning, just like Annie, and I understand he’s enjoying this as well. They all are, from the shared smiles and nods I see happening about the room, though no one really believes a word of Annie’s story. It’s all a performance, a really bad, over-the-top performance; all for the benefit of one man.


Earle.


“I’m gonna rip your fucking head off.”


The huge man fills the doorway and, coincidentally, blocks my only way out. His tone and expression are a perfect match: Earle, maybe six-foot-five and about three hundred pounds, is completely enraged. He starts forward and I back away, looking about the dim, low-ceilinged room, hoping for someone, anyone to step in and stop this. It’s a futile gesture: I’m surrounded by nothing but grinning faces, and the air reeks of spilled beer, stale cigarette smoke... and anticipation. I guess there’s not a lot to do in Taunbuck, Maine, and I’ve become the evening’s entertainment.


Terrific.

I look back to Earle, who’s coming straight for me, red-faced and clenching fists nearly the size of my head. I raise my hands, hoping to slow down this human avalanche.

“I didn’t know she was your girl. I had no idea, okay? I just came up here to do a little fishing, that’s all. I stopped in here for a beer and wound up dancing with the wrong girl. My mistake, but nothing happened. I swear to God.”


Earle slows, listening. His face is still red, but his expression slides toward confusion. I get the impression Earle may not be that bright. I open my mouth to say something else —  I’m not sure what, I’m really just winging it —  but Annie beats me to it.


“He grabbed my tit!”


Earle’s red face darkens toward the color of a plum, jaw muscles standing out like small, knotted fists. One hand drops to his waist and comes up holding a well-used hunting knife.


“I’m gonna gut you like a fucking fish.”


His jaw is clenched so tight his words are nearly unintelligible. I register the barkeep’s voice shouting ‘Don’t you be killing nobody in my place, Earle Bailey! I’m calling the sheriff!’ at the same time I see Earle’s eyes have gone completely wild, round like a frightened stallion’s.


I turn and take two steps before I hear Earle’s wordless bellow as he starts to run after me, knife probably aimed at my back. I scoop up the barstool I’ve been backing toward and spin toward my pursuer, turning and throwing all in one motion. I get the quick impression the stool is a simple thing made of solid wood: built for durability rather than comfort. The thick seat smashes into Earle’s knee with an audible crack, and the goliath hits the rough planking in a tangle of limbs, his bellow of rage turning into a cry of pain.


For a moment I consider grabbing another stool and braining the downed man, but according to the bartender the sheriff is on the way, and I’m already in motion. I bolt out into the night, the bar’s patrons too stunned by the unexpected turn of events to stop me. There’s a moment of panic when I can’t find my keys, thinking I may have dropped them in the scuffle, but I find them in the other pocket and my truck roars up the road toward the safety of my cabin.


Once inside I do everything by flashlight until I gain enough control of my fingers to light   a lamp, the adrenaline tearing through my body leaving me trembling. I think about the last thirty minutes of my life, and it plays like a bad movie. I laugh at the thought. The laughter goes on far too long for something so unfunny, but I know it’s just the adrenaline working its way out of my system. I’m still chuckling when there’s a sharp knock on at the cabin door.


That must be the sheriff, I think, remembering the barkeep’s shout during the fight. No one else knows I’m up here.


“I’m sorry, sheriff, but I didn’t start — “ I say as I open the door, but that’s as far as I get before I see it’s not the sheriff at all, and I find myself staring down the long barrel of a rifle aimed straight at my face. At the other end of the gun I see Earle Bailey’s hate-filled eyes.


“You shouldn’ta fucked with my Annie,” he says as his finger tightens on the —  


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Author's note:

This month at Friday Frights the theme is "Horror Cliches", and there's a whole list of them to choose from over at the Friday Fright site. I think this week I hit 'attacking the killer but not finishing him off',  'the cabin in the woods', and two that weren't on the list, 'Hillbilly Homicide' and 'the woman picking a fight for her man just because she can'. Is there anything else here that might be called a Horror Cliche, or maybe a trope? 

Please, let me know what you think.

PLEASE leave your thoughts/feedback - both good and bad.
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