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By R.W. Clinger

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.

Copyright 2017 R.W. Clinger

ISBN 9781634863889

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

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All rights reserved.

WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

To Kenito Padilla.

* * * *


By R.W. Clinger

Someone was in the vegetable garden again, leaving the gate open. Pissed, Baylord “Bay” Woods guessed it was Henry Ni from next door, the Japanese-American who liked to cook. Ni admitted to taking tomatoes and other fresh vegetables out of Bay’s garden during the summertime evenings. Truth told, Bay had given the man permission to come and go as he pleased, unable to eat all the produce himself. What Bay didn’t like was how the man left the vegetable garden’s hip-high, wrought-iron gate open, granting access for a lavish breakfast/lunch/dinner buffet to deer, rabbits, and other Walt Disney furries of the wild.

Two gardens decorated the yard by Lake Erie, one vegetable and one floral. Both were in full bloom for the end of June and its warm season: beautiful and flamboyant with rich colors, and alluring to one’s nose. Both were approximately fifty square feet in size, nicely tended, and stunning. The vegetable garden showcased growing squash, greenish-red tomatoes, baby eggplants, an assortment of hot and mild peppers, and zucchini. To the far left sat the second garden, all floral, which presented a bountiful view of growing sunflowers, a butterfly bush, Lady’s Thumb, Glossy Abelia, crape myrtle, and white clover, among other floral treats for one’s eyes and nose. Most visitors to Bay’s acre by the lake called it spectacular and cottagesque. Others adored the fruit trees—apple, pear, and peach—scattered here and there.

Holding three freshly picked tomatoes in a round, handleless wicker basket in his right hand, Bay exited the garden. He closed the wrought-iron gate behind him and made his way up the sloped backyard to his saltbox-shaped house. The evening offered an eye-warming purple horizon over the choppy lake and a luxurious wind along the nape of his neck that reminded him of a man’s subtle kiss or tongue-touch. He heard noisy but soothing crickets, a cicada in the distant woods to the left of the property, and a neighboring owl, which was up early for a night of extreme and graphic hunting for field mice and other small prey.

The saltbox sported character, with its dark blue shutters, light blue trim, and cedar siding painted bright white. Small, with two bedrooms and one bathroom, the abode felt perfect for a single dweller. Bay had lived there for the last fifteen years, unwed, happy, and content. The smaller bedroom of the two on the second floor housed his office. Two windows overlooked a view of the gardens and lake, offering morning sunshine and evening wind that sometimes languidly swept down from Canada. There, comfortable in his office, he had worked for Niagara Publishers, formatting cookbooks on a computer for the last dozen years, making a comfortable living at thirty-nine, happy.

The first floor of the small house presented a living room, kitchen, and tiny dining room. To the right of the house sat a gravel driveway where his midnight blue Nissan Quest sat. A white picket fence, golf course-short grass, and cobblestone walkway enchantingly decorated the front yard, mostly always unused except for the playful squirrels or family of chipmunks.

* * * *

After placing the wicker basket on his kitchen counter, Bay stepped through the rear door to a cement, shaded patio. He headed to the right, over the short grass, and to the thicket of Pennsylvania trees that separated the two properties by Lake Erie. Among the oaks, maples, and birches, he smelled the sweet and soothing aromas of summertime. Bay made his way through the plot of trees and crossed his property line, trespassing on Henry Ni’s land.

Henry’s iced-purple Spark sat in his asphalt drive, telling Bay the dry-cleaning chain owner was home. Recently widowed at the age of fifty-seven, Ni had spent more time at home than in his dry cleaners; not that Bay blamed him because of the man’s horrible loss and hardship after loving his wife for the last three decades.

Ni had an in-ground swimming pool, fire pit on a circle of cobblestones, and Adirondack chairs. He and his wife, Cha, had lived in their storybook-perfect Tudor for the last thirty years where they raised three little Nis. The little Nis were now big Nis, two of which lived in New York City and were quite successful. The third and youngest little Ni, Ha Ni, had her own place, an engineering husband, and two children in downtown Erie. Ha managed an independent bookstore called Page-Flippers, which sold mostly over-priced paperbacks of all genres.

Bay walked up to Ni’s back door, a transparent screen in a green aluminum frame. He tapped on the metal frame three times, and Henry Ni appeared a few seconds later in a pair of cutoff shorts and a white T-shirt that said in bold and blue lettering Be Nice to Me, I’m Having a Bad Day.

Ni stood at five-two, plump, and had short gray hair. The neighbor tilted his head upwards and stared at Bay’s six-one frame, studying Bay’s thick head of blond hair, blue eyes, thinly sloped nose, and perfectly pink complexion.

“You need brandy again?” Ni asked.

“Not this time,” Bay said, remembering an afternoon some two months before when he was trying to attempt his hand at creating butter, brandy, and cinnamon tarts.

He’d asked Ni for a cup of brandy instead of driving the two miles into downtown Channing and purchasing a bottle of brandy at Spirits, a local liquor emporium.

“What you need?” Ni asked, checking Bay out from head to toe, studying him as if he were a giant invading his territory.

Bay knew Ni was a straightforward neighbor without drama and didn’t want to cause the man any problems. Politely, he said, “I saw that my garden gate was left open this morning. Did you, by any chance, fetch some vegetables again?”

Ni shook his head. “No vegetables. No fetching. I always close when done getting vegetables.” Ni nodded. “Keep nice with you. Good neighbors. No problems.”

“Yes,” Bay agreed. “We are good neighbors.”

“You…you using my pool,” Ni said, pointing a finger at Bay, poking it in his direction.

Bay shook his head. “I’m not using your pool.”

“Towels wet in morning when I get up. Footprints your size on cement around pool. You definitely using pool. You swim at night why I sleep.”

Persistent, Bay continued to shake his head. “Mr. Ni, I haven’t been using your pool.”

“You only person around. Good neighbor. No problems. But you use my pool. It okay. You just need to bring your own towel. No use mine. No more wet towels. No more.”

Bay thought it best to nod and agree with the man, although he hadn’t used the man’s pool in over a year, let alone one of his swimming towels that hung over lawn chairs next to the pool.

“Yes. Sure. No problem.” He left Ni’s property in confusion, just as quickly as he arrived, scratching the side of his head in a state of wonderment.

If Ni wasn’t in my garden, and I wasn’t in his pool, who was?

* * * *

June 28

Bay sat at his computer, working. The windows in his office were open, and a tender, lakeside wind blew inside, caressing his forehead and cheeks. He smelled lilies for some strange reason, but none were planted on the property. The sun had just started to set, and blistering red, orange, and purple hues covered the horizon, creating a picture-perfect postcard, painting, or photograph to hang on one of the office’s walls.

Fireflies fluttered outside his office window, flashing on and off, on and off, on and off. Although their presence wasn’t peculiar, it did seem odd that a single firefly flew particularly close to one of the window’s screens. It hung there, loitering about and peering inside, just as Bay himself would sometimes peer outside the screen.

Bay knew next to nothing about fireflies, but loved them nonetheless. As a boy, trapped along the lake at his grandparents’ A-frame, he and his younger sister, Tess, would attempt to catch the flying beetles, sometimes innocently keeping them in jars overnight and releasing them in the morning. Fireflies were simply known as lightning bugs from the Lampyridae family and produced “cold light” in their abdominal areas to attract mates or to detract predators. Bay also knew synchronized lighting by the insects acted as social interaction.

Taking a break from his work of compiling a vegetarian cookbook called Carrots Love Beets by Macy Anne Snipple, he decided to turn off his flat-screen monitor and the office’s single light that sat on his maple desk. Then he stood, walked to the window, and opened the screen, sliding it upwards.

“Come in, buddy. Take a look around,” he whispered to the firefly, which still blinked on and off, on and off, on and off outside the window.

The firefly hung in midair for a few seconds as if it were investigating the new passageway and space. Taking heed, it eventually fluttered inside.

Bay watched it zoom left to right, looping around. It continued to flash on and off a number of times. He felt one of its wings brush the tip of his nose, a cheek, and he watched its shadow spin away, heading towards his desk. The firefly danced over a few pages of notes on the desk and returned to Bay’s face. In flight, it hung just a few inches away from his stare.

“You’re a busy body, aren’t you, little guy?” he whispered to the insect. He held up a hand and extended a finger.

The lightning bug landed on his index finger. Its mass blinked bright yellow-green with a hint of gold: on and off, on and off, on and off.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you like me a little.”

On and off. On and off. On and off.

“Well, you’re welcome to come and visit me anytime you want. Just so you know. I’m a friendly guy, and you seem friendly. So, I guess that makes us friends.”

On and off. On an off. On and off.

“You’re beautiful. I like your illumination.”

The firefly blinked a few more times, took off from his finger, and flew to the window. Its tiny underside flashed one more time before it exited the office, as if it were saying goodbye and to have a nice night.

* * * *

17 Darr Street

Downtown Channing

Sam Needle’s studio loft had a gritty paint smell that wafted about its interior. Its gray walls and brick pillars reminded Bay of a warehouse as opposed to a place to rest one’s artistic head. The open-plan, five-thousand-square-foot room included a bathroom area concealed by a tri-fold divider made of what looked like faux sheets of mint-colored fiberglass.

“They’re stunning, Sam.” Bay stared at his best friend’s new collection of oil-painted insects on canvas, knowing it had taken Sam over four months to produce. There were fifteen paintings in the loft: mostly fireflies, three butterflies, a Monarch caterpillar, and two ladybugs.

Sam Needle beamed at the set of frameless artworks, proud. “The series is called Fireflies. There’s a total of forty pieces. The others are already down at Stanton Gallery. You are coming to the show, right?”

“Wouldn’t think of missing it,” Bay answered, staring at a beautiful painting of three fireflies in the foreground of an Erie, Pennsylvania, evening along the lake. If he didn’t know any better, Bay would have guessed the background was a spitting image of his own backyard because it looked exactly like his two gardens and shoreline.

“You’d best not,” Sam said, glowing. “I’ve worked my ass off on this series every day and night and need your support. My agent, Basely, said this could land me in New York City.”

According to Sam, Rita Basely had the reputation for being an artist herself and knew how to take the average Joe like Sam Needle and turn him into a New York City art star and success. Basely gave Sam’s work less than four months to create him as a superstar. She also predicted Sam would be internationally known within the next year, all because of Fireflies.

Sam Needle deserved the success story. Bay met him at a party during their sophomore year at Pranton University twenty years ago. They had gotten drunk together and flirted.

Sam had told Bay, “I usually sleep with hot guys like you, but I’d rather paint you.”

Bay had agreed. Two nights later, he’d sat bare-chested on a barrel, swinging his legs to the left and right as Sam painted him in colorful oils. It was the first of many paintings, of course, throughout the years of their relationship. Such pieces were titled Bay Sulking, Young Man Smiling, Friend #7, and many others. Bay knew he had had always been one of Sam’s joys to paint, an inspiration in the artist’s world.

Not once had they slept together. Bay always thought Sam had a strong crush on him, or had helplessly been in love with him. Of course, they got drunk together numerous times in the last twenty years, and they ended up in the same bed. But they had never undressed each other, kissed, or made love. Rather, they had always been the best of friends, even now. Platonic. Always. The way things were probably meant to be between them, no doubt.

Of course, Sam was nice to look at. No longer young and cute, rather handsome now at thirty-eight: brown wavy hair and cinnamon-colored eyes, standing at five-eleven with no fat on his body. He had tiny wrinkles around the corners of his mouth that made him look distinguished and smart. His shoulders were broad, and his torso tapered down to a narrow waist at his center. Sam took care of his body, minus his smoking and social drinking. Anyone in their right mind would have been lucky to date and bed the man, excluding Bay, of course, since he only thought of Sam as a friend.

“The show’s in a few weeks, right?” Bay asked, admiring one of the canvases with a large firefly next to what looked like a wrought-iron railing.

“August twentieth. A Sunday evening. Mark it on your calendar.”

“I’ll be there,” Bay promised. He hugged his friend and congratulated him on his current art show and successes.

* * * *

A few of Bay’s clothes were missing from his closet. He wouldn’t have noticed such a fact had he not been looking for the only pair of Lucky Brand jeans he owned. After perusing the basement near the washer and dryer, and scavenging through his closet, he realized the jeans were gone, as well as two black T-shirts with V-necks. After searching for almost an hour for the three pieces of clothing, he decided to have a strong drink: vodka and ginger ale over ice. He carried the drink outside, into the evening, and found himself in the floral garden, sitting in one of two wrought-iron chairs.

The evening took his breath away. Warm wind blew in and off the lake and caressed his forehead and cheeks; crickets created a soothing and melodic orchestra that sounded uplifting; fireflies, in abundance, designed a magical lightshow, flashing in sporadic beauty. He sat there for the longest time, enjoying the evening and what he called its refined beauty. As the thick and soothing flower scents wrapped around his body, the fireflies joined him in the garden, dancing. One in particular rested on his cheek, perhaps kissing him, and stayed there for quite some time. It eventually flew away and joined its friends.

As he slowly, and deliberately, fell into the warm twilight of a portrait consisting of dark blues, vibrant pinks, and sleepy purples, he saw headlights through the narrow woods that separated Ni’s house from his own. The headlights were round and small. An engine purred as Ni’s Spark pulled into its drive and stopped. The headlights went out, Bay listened to a car door open, close, and then silence.

When he finished his drink, he decided to call his evening time in the garden over. He carried the glass out of the sweet-smelling garden and up through the yard. During his travels, he noticed that one firefly stayed at his side, near his left shoulder. It bounced as he walked, perhaps escorting him to the house. Then, once the insect and Bay were at the sliding glass door of the kitchen, the firefly flew inside the house and landed on the refrigerator next to a Kodak print of Sam and Bay in Atlantic City. Sam had won over eighteen thousand dollars on a penny slot that weekend, three years ago. The money went to art supplies and rent for his loft.

In the firefly’s green-yellow flashing, the picture showed Sam holding a wad of cash in his right hand, kissing Bay’s cheek. Bay looked somewhat awkward and uncomfortable next to his friend: eyes partially closed, head down, unsmiling. Bay recalled the New Jersey afternoon as if it had just happened: a weekend of fun before they drove to New York City and visited Sam’s agent, Rita Basely. Sam and Bay had consumed too much alcohol. A stranger had taken the picture minutes before Sam vomited in a trashcan next to a slot machine called Xolanda’s Treasure.

The day, one of many with Sam, could never be forgotten. Fun, exciting, and lucky surfaced in Bay’s mind as he studied the picture.

“A good time,” he whispered out loud. “One of the best, little lightning bug. If you were human and joined us that day, you would agree with me.”

The firefly flashed on, off, on, and off as if replying to Bay’s comment, communicating. How strange. Likable.

* * * *

Later that evening, while reading a chapter of Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, Bay heard footsteps downstairs in the kitchen. He looked up from page 183 and stared at the bedroom’s door. Footsteps, no less than five, crossed the kitchen’s oak boards. Shuffling somewhat. Faint sounds. He stared at the door for several seconds, convinced his mind played mysterious games with him, and continued his enjoyable read, slumberous inside the folds of his cozy bed.

The questionable noise happened again approximately seven minutes later. On page 197 of Fridlund’s work, Bay looked up, closed the book, set it aside, and jumped out of bed. He rushed out of the bedroom, into the narrow hallway, and stopped at the top of the fifteen stairs that led to the first floor.

“Who’s there?” he called down the flight of steps. “Tell me who you are.”

No one answered. Of course not. What burglar, interloper, or intruder would have the brazen gall to reply?

“Tell me who you are?” he called down the stairs. His pulse raced within his ears, and the flesh on the back of his hands turned clammy. Lying, he yelled sternly, “I have a gun. I’ll use it if I have to.”

No one replied. No movement. Nothing except for a firefly—probably the same one that entered the house after his moments in the garden. It slowly flew up the stairwell and into the upper rooms of the house. The firefly flashed on, off, on, and off as it fluttered along the edge of his left earlobe, distracting Bay.

Having forgotten the burglar, interloper, or intruder downstairs, he whispered to the insect, “You shouldn’t spend the night in here. We need to get you back to your buddies.”

The lightening bug brushed its wings against one of his cheeks, flashing.

“You’re so friendly, little guy.”

Bay turned from the stairwell and walked into his bedroom, no longer questioning, or concerned about, the footsteps in the kitchen. He chalked it up to his overactive imagination.

Once inside his bedroom, he walked up to one of the two windows overlooking the playful lake, sleeping gardens, and firefly-illuminated night. He opened the window’s semi-transparent screen, carefully pulling it upwards with both hands.

“Time to leave. Be with your friends. Maybe we’ll see each other tomorrow.”

As if the firefly listened, it flew out the window, into the night.

Bay didn’t hear anymore footsteps in the kitchen that night, not while reading or sleeping. The house next to the lake became quiet, settled. Night welcomed soothing dreams.

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