Smiling, she lowered the phone. He started telling her about his last game winning home run when her expression faded.
Theo tensed. He didn’t want to blow his shot.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from wavering.
She motioned with her eyes.
“Your loser friends are gracing us with their presence.”
Theo’s best friend Icky, dressed in a toga and black sandals, approached them with his arms slung around Europe and Cassandra, both waitresses at the Greek restaurant Icky cooked at. Theo didn’t consider the girls anything more than casual associates. To the extent of his understanding, Europe—the object of Icky’s infatuation—had good pot, and Cassandra would drive anyone anywhere as long as the ride included a buzz.
Theo looked at his date and hoped his friends wouldn’t kill his chances with her. Seeing her topless had been his obsession since a pool party the summer before eighth grade. Removing the wet polka dotted top she wore that day a million times in his mind never lost its masturbatory power. Making his fantasy become reality would take charisma, so he relaxed and waved at the newcomers with cool indifference.
“Ciao,” he said.
“What’s up, guys?” Icky’s bloodshot eyes were as narrow as the waning moon overhead.
“Nice shoes,” said Ariadne.
“They’re my mom’s,” Icky said. “I wanted brown, but these ugly things were all she had.”
Ariadne smirked. “I’d say they’re a little big for you. They look like clown shoes.”
“You’re not going to the party?” Icky asked, ignoring her jab and directing the question to Theo. “Everyone’s going.”
“We are after we go through,” Theo said. “This line is taking forever though.”
“Screw it,” Europe said. Dressed as a nun, she played with a silver rosary dangling from a chain on her neck. “We just walked through, and it’s the same thing every year. Ten minutes of winding dark halls and cotton spider webs slapping your face before a fat man in a stupid rubber mask chases you out the back door with a neutered chainsaw. So lame.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t worth the ten bucks, even if the money is feeding starving kids,” Icky said. “Save your cash and come with us. We’ve got something way scarier lined up for tonight.”
“I’m still not sure it’s a good idea,” Cassandra said, adjusting the top of her black corset. Dressed like a cyber goth club kid, multicolored glow sticks dangled from the zippers and belt on her baggy black pants matched her glowing bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. She scratched her short, spiky black hair with hot pink tips from her eyes before crossing her arms.
Theo wasn’t sure why Icky wanted Europe so bad—Cassandra’s green gaze and hourglass figure made her the prettier of the two. Other than a hint of social awkwardness and her taste for illegal intoxicants, Cassandra was a catch.
“Chicken,” Icky said, clucking.
“Well, what is it?” Ariadne asked. “Going to sit around with your fingers in a bowl of peeled grapes and tell each other stories about vanishing hitchhikers and perverts with hooks for hands attacking Lovers’ Lane?”
“No,” Icky said. “Something way better. We’re driving to Hamilton Heights and looking for the Bullman.”
“The Bullman?” Theo asked conscious of his date’s aggravation. The tale stemmed from a dark page in her family’s history, so he tried downplaying it. “There’s no such thing.”
Everyone knew the town’s most famous urban legend.
Before Ariadne was born, her parents’ first child came into the world stillborn. Refusing any public response or funeral, the prominent family ignored the tragedy, and, as will often happen when scandal rubs elbows with the rich, their terse reaction prompted immediate gossip.
Stories claiming that the child survived began circulating the community. The myth grew, taking on an insidious nature.
The most common account had Ariadne’s mom falling in love and fornicating with their prize winning snow-white bull, resulting in the birth of a ferocious monster. Fearing disgrace, Judge Hamilton ordered the creature destroyed. Their doctor, taken by the genetic anomaly and unable to terminate the atrocity, gave the creature to hobos living in scattered shacks dotting the dense woods outside of town so he could study it in secret.
According to rumors, the creature matured and now lurked the forest near Cretan Road and Hamilton Heights, a sprawling park on the lake bordering the state’s thick wilderness. Campers and hikers would return from the forest with stories of a hairy, malformed creature stealing food and gear from their campsites before scurrying off into the brush. Once in a while, someone would vanish in the woods, and parents told their kids that the Bullman roamed the neighborhood streets after sunset, stealing and devouring misbehaving children.
No one ever managed to photograph the thing.
No footprints emerged in the rich, dark soil or red clay hills surrounding Hamilton Heights.
Despite a lack of hard evidence, the stories lingered on the public tongue, whispers spoken around crackling campfires and in tight alleyways.
The Hamilton family did not appreciate the yarn and ignored the accounts, debunking them whenever the newspaper reported sightings or ran spotlights for their Halloween editions.
Of all the embarrassing things that could go wrong on a first date with Ariadne Hamilton, Theo couldn’t think of anything worse than Icky seeking out her fabled brother.
“I think it’s childish,” Ariadne said, crossing her arms. “First of all, the park is closed, and second, my father owns all that land. Even if you did manage climbing over the fence and get inside, he’d press charges if he caught you trespassing.”
Icky’s hands disappeared behind the folds of his toga. After simulating masturbation and groaning, he pulled out a large set of keys and jingled them in her face.
Living and creating in New Orleans, Louisiana, Anthony S. Buoni haunts the swamps and bayous along the Gulf of Mexico, writing, editing, producing, and lecturing about his craft. A practicing pagan, he’s responsible for the BETWEEN THERE anthologies, his screenplay-novel, CONVERSION PARTY, and his new collection of short stories, OSSUARY TALES. Recently, he’s co-edited and co-produced several exciting anthologies alongside Alisha Costanzo with their independent imprint, Transmundane Press: DISTORTED, UNDERWATER, AFTER THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER, ON FIRE, TRANSCENDENT, and IN THE AIR.
In the past, he has produced the underground zine MEOW and the illustrated horror rag OUTRÉ from Meow Press, and his work has appeared in WATERFRONT LIVING, NORTH FLORIDA NOIR, and SMALL HAPPY. Currently, he’s writing a New Orleans monster novel as well as putting the final edits on novels featuring ghosts, zombies, and a café between life and death filled with secrets and philosophy.
When not writing, Anthony poses as a Bourbon Street bartender, underground musician, and DJ, drawing down the moon with new wave, trance, and melancholy tunes. Other interests include film, gardening, comic books, and playing video games with his son, Fallon.