Read A Festival of Murder Online

Authors: Tricia Hendricks

Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alien Invasion

A Festival of Murder

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.

Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015

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DEDICATION

To everyone who ever said, “That’s awesome!” when I told them that I write.

A Festival of Murder

1

 

 

“Do you think the aliens will make
a special appearance this Christmas, Mr. Trilby?”

Nicholas twitched a smile at the
young waitress, Candy, who stood over his table smacking her gum. “If by ‘special’
you mean ‘evil’ then yes, the likelihood is high that they’ll ruin my holiday
and possibly also destroy the Earth.”

“Would be cool if Santa got hit by
a UFO, huh?”

Nicholas eyed her closely, trying
to determine if she was pulling his leg. It was like trying to read the mind of
a kewpie doll. “You have a demented opinion of what’s cool.”

Candy grinned and tapped her order
pad against her hip expectantly. But if she was waiting for Nicholas to cough
up more information about aliens she was in for disappointment. Nicholas might
be an alien abductee, but that didn’t automatically make him a talkative one.
He’d learned his lesson. Oh, how he’d learned.

“So,” he said. “You’re at my table
because . . . ?”

“Too bad Phoebe’s not in today. I’ll
tell her you came by if you want me to.”

Hoping the other tables were far
enough away that no one could hear this conversation, Nicholas said hastily, “That’s
not necessary.”

Candy giggled and fiddled with a
button on her apron that read “Alien-ated Youth.” “You sure you don’t want me
to say anything for you, Mr. Trilby?”

“I have never been more sure of
anything in my life. By the way, did you remember to add extra mushrooms to my
omelet?”

“Oops! Gotta go.”

The omelet would be a disaster, he
knew, just like anything that wasn’t served by Phoebe. She seemed to be the
only competent person working here, not that he would ever say as much.
Feedback like that from him would likely cause drama of truly epic proportions,
and this coming from someone who knew drama.

Shaking his head, Nicholas turned
to gaze out the beveled frosted-glass window toward Main Street. He tried to,
anyway. The glass insisted on showing him his reflection first, perhaps trying
to instill some introspection. Staring back at him was a man in his mid-forties
with the wise brown eyes of an old soul.

What rubbish. He had the eyes of a
man forever looking over his shoulder. Or rather, above his head, because that
was where the real danger lies. Maybe he looked a bit crazed around the eyes
(it might not be a bad idea to begin wearing sunglasses all the time), and
those streaks of gray in his dark hair which had appeared, literally,
overnight, still weren’t doing anything to make him look distinguished in
either a scholarly or dashing way.

Thankfully, attractiveness wasn’t a
factor in how he viewed himself. He didn’t care what he looked like, only that
he didn’t look insane.

He wasn’t sure, however, that he
was completely succeeding.

With a scowl, he focused beyond the
windowpane. The Gingerbear B&B, in whose dining room he sat, perched at the
very top of Main Street. It anchored the entire town of Hightop, although “town”
was a generous term for a neighborhood consisting of a smattering of cabins
tossed at the forest of the Colorado Rockies. Supposedly, there were twenty-two
year-round residents, though only a dozen made regular appearances on Main
Street to assure everyone that they were still alive; odds weren’t so good on
the rest.

When he had first moved here, drawn
to the seclusion and the picturesque lake, he had been all alone. Not including
Nicholas’s own shop, there were now six businesses, mostly those catering to a
very specific tourist demographic.

Looking out, he shivered a bit
despite the well-stoked fireplace. A growing storm had smothered the pines in
snow and was doing its best to erase the other side of the Rockies. Flakes
raced past the window like hoodlums on their way to wreak havoc. The wind
howled louder than the coyotes ever had.

The timing of the storm couldn’t
have been worse for Hightop’s Annual Alien Fest: the town’s biggest and only
annual event, designed for the sole purpose of bringing in fresh tourists and
their money. It was a mash-up of paranoia and excitement, desperation and hope.
Every year Nicholas was its guest of honor. Every year he considered moving to
the desert.

Dispirited by the chilly view, he
ducked his head and stared down unhappily at his paper placemat. It was printed
with a cartoonified version of his—and Hightop’s—history, drawn by what must
have been a sadistic artist. In it, Nicholas’s attempt to build a quiet life
away from the outside world had been warped into a quest to commune with the
aliens that had abducted him. Nicholas picked up the saltshaker and placed it
firmly on top of the caricature of himself which was suspended in a tractor
beam leading to a UFO from which two smiling aliens waved like retirees in a
Winnebago. He nodded with satisfaction at the new version. It was more amusing
without his participation.

“Well, if it isn’t the town hero.”

Nicholas mentally groaned, and then
began an immediate and desperate attempt to disassociate himself from his
current reality.
Artichoke. Beansprouts. Cucumber . . . 

“Oh, lighten up, Mr. Trilby. I’m
only doing my job.”

Rocky Johnson snagged an empty
chair from a nearby table and seated himself at Nicholas’s table. The reporter,
who had arrived in Hightop the previous morning and had been an annoyance ever
since, laid his crossed forearms on the table, giving Nicholas a glimpse of a
sleek Movado watch cradled within thick blond arm hair. Nicholas felt like
challenging the man to tell time on the minimalist device.

“Besides, I don’t need to make up
any copy,” Johnson said. “You gave me plenty of material to work with
yesterday.”

The pulse in Nicholas’s temple
began to throb.
Jackfruit. Kale. Lima beans. Mango
. . . 

“I’m looking forward to writing it,”
Johnson said.

Rutabaga. Star
fruit. Turnip
. . . 

“Might even be optioned for a
movie,” Johnson said. “I’m thinking Adam Sandler in the starring role.”

“Adam—” Nicholas nearly choked on
his tongue. He couldn’t stand Adam Sandler. Taking a deep breath, he attempted
a civil tone. “Did you study your craft at the National Enquirer School of
Creative Journalism, Rocky?”

Johnson was all smiles. “First
names, eh? As a matter of fact I graduated from Northwestern,
Nicholas
.”

“Then why are you writing about
alien encounters? Shouldn’t you be covering politics? Or better yet, giving a
first-hand account of overseas conflict? Preferably in a war zone?”

The reporter’s smile was an oil
slick, spreading slowly across his face. “Hightop is a town which exists
entirely because of you, Nicholas. This is a worthwhile story. It’s an exposé
about deception and group hypnosis. About human frailties like greed,
insecurity, and demagoguery.”

Nicholas raised his eyebrows,
trying to appear impressed, when in truth he had no idea what that last word
meant.

“Your story reminds me a lot of
Urandir Oliveira’s. Striking similarities, in fact.”

“Never heard of him.”
Please let
him not be a mass murderer.

“He leads a UFO sect in Brazil. A
Jim-Jones type of camp. He claimed that in 2002 he’d been abducted from his
bed, the same as you. He even had the burned sheets to prove it. Darndest
thing. Looked just like the burned outline of his body. Only problem was
whenever he showed the sheets to reporters and investigators the scorch marks
were in different places. He couldn’t keep his sheets—or his story—straight.
That’s why he reminds me of you. Kind of convenient that you threw away your
bedding, isn’t it?”

“If an alien had slimed your bed
sheets, I think you would throw them away, too.”

Johnson shook his head. “How do you
sleep at night knowing you allowed these people to build a life around a
fabrication?”

Nicholas said, “No one is holding a
ray gun to their heads.”

But sometimes he wondered. Hightop
wasn’t an easy place to live. Cell phone and Internet reception, if you were
into those things, were dodgy at best. There was no “running out to grab a
quick bite”—you either ate at the Gingerbear or you went into Estes Park, a
thirty-minute one-way drive during good weather, or up to an hour if it had
snowed. The power went out regularly during storms, and coyote tracks had been
found around every home. Someday, Nicholas continually warned himself, the
entire town would be buried beneath an avalanche.

No reasonable person should want to
live there. But dozens of people did, and more were coming this weekend.
Because of him.

“I’ve been doing some research,
Nicholas. Trying to figure things out. I’m giving you the opportunity now to
come clean.”

“If you’re capable of writing an
article about me without my participation, why should I waste my breath?”

Johnson’s sharklike eyes glittered.
“Tell me if I’ve got this right: you realized your life was one failure after
another, and you were tired of being a nobody. So you made up the story about
the abduction and told every newspaper in Colorado. Presto. Instant celebrity.”

Nicholas stared at him, his blood
pressure rising. Someone must have stoked the fire in the hearth again. He
could feel sweat sliding down his rib cage.

“You’re leading these people on,”
Johnson continued. “Why? Am I wrong about the celebrity part? Is your buddy Ben
in on it again? I bet that’s it. What’s the angle this time?”

Despite the warmth of the café,
Nicholas’s blood went cold.

Johnson sat up straighter, seeing
he’d touched a nerve. “That’s right, Nicholas, I know about the game you and
your buddy pulled on those poor folks in Tampa.”

“You know nothing,” Nicholas said,
but he couldn’t quite keep his voice steady.

Everyone had secrets. Of course
they did. Unfortunately, his happened to be the kind that would make people
instantly mistrust him, not that he thought he came off as particularly
reliable to begin with. He was grudgingly willing to broach the subject of
aliens when a sale at his gift shop was at stake; outside of that, though, he’d
just as soon pretend it had never happened. Was he a hypocrite? Certainly. Was
he mercenary? Only when it came to making a living.

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