Shelley stopped her car in the small parking lot of the gas station. Pulling her keys out of the ignition, she unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door of her blue Volse Wagon. She stepped casually out of the car, viewing everything through the dark lenses of her cheap sunglasses. The lot was nearly empty. Shrugging to herself, she walked into the gas station.

Inside, the clerk at the counter looked up from her magazine when Shelley walked in. She eyed Shelley for only a moment; Shelley barely had time to smile before the girl looked back down. Embarrassed, Shelley glanced down at the tile floor, thinking back to all the times people had done that upon meeting her. They took a moment's glance before looking away, trying to find something with a more interesting appeal. She couldn't blame them. She had a plain, country-looking kind of face, with brown eyes and mousy brown hair; she supposed that people just assumed she was a plain person. Even her husband, Bill Hall, thought so. "I didn't marry you because I wanted an artsy wife who painted and shit. I married you because you do what I ask, when I ask. Plain and simple." That's what he would say. Him and the rest of the world.

But not Barry.

Barry thought differently.

When she had first met him, he had looked at her and only at her. She had been at Bill's friend's Christmas party, about two years ago. Bill had left her side to go chat (and drink) with some friend and she stoood there, out of place and alone. That was when he approached her.

And, as soon as they began talking, it was like she had found the neglected puzzle piece. And, when he asked if they could meet again, she couldn't refuse. She was drawn to him like she had been to no other man; he excited her, made her look forward to waking up. He thought she was wonderful, more so than his own girlfriend. (In fact, a few weeks later Shelley and Barry met, he broke up with her.) They began seeing more and more of each other. She ate up his love and attention in private, where Bill wouldn't see. They met at restaurants on the far side of town, places where no one knew them.

But not places like this. Not for the life of her could Shelley (Michelle, as called by Bill) figure out why Barry wanted to meet here. But, on the phone at her job he was very insistent on the time and place. He had wanted to meet here at 4 o'clock. The clock on the counter of the store read 3:58. He would arrive at any moment.

Wondering persistently why Barry had wanted to meet here, Shelley hugged her arms and ambled around the store. She looked over the isle of candy where M&M's were spilled on the floor. Scattered, a bit like Barry had been lately.

Shelley fiddled with the hem of her white blouse and smoothed her brown skirt in worry. Barry had been a lot more distant as of a month ago. He seemed tense, as though something was hanging over his head that he couldn't share with her. He canceled their dates and gave bad excuses for his absences. Their time together suddenly felt awkward. And then when he had called her today on the phone— he didn't sound like himself at all.

She glanced down at her watch. The time was 4:01. Oh God, Shelley prayed, please make him come. Pleases show me what's wrong with him.

Just as her prayer was finished, the door chimes sounded. Shelley's face lit with utter joy, and she turned around, ready to greet Barry.

Except it wasn't Barry that walked through the door. Shelley's gaze followed a red-headed, scantily dressed female as she pushed open the glass door and made her way to the refrigerated beer. She was a young woman, about ten years younger than Shelley, which made her about twenty eight or so.

For lack of anything better to do, Shelley continued watching the young woman as she pulled out a six pack of Bud Lite and a bottle of Coke. She walked with them over to the counter, making the clerk come back to life.

Shutting her magazine, the clerk started ringing up the items. Trying to make small talk, she asked, "Going to a party?"

Taking her cue from the girl, Shelley began looking at the different beverages. She grabbed a Coke bottle for herself, hearing the woman reply in a girly voice:—

"No; just a camping trip with my boyfriend. It's this place up in the mountains that he said we should go. Just to kick back and relax, you know? We're going camping tonight and the first day; for the next two days, we'll be in a small resort. Could you hand me a pack of Marlbalo?"

"Sounds nice," said the clerk, turning around and opening the glass case behind her. She brought out a pack, rang that up and said, "That'll be $17.50."

The young red-head pulled out the appropriate sum to the penny and took her receipt from the clerk. She said good bye and then walked out the door.

Interested, Shelley moved out from behind the isle and followed. Where was this place out in the mountains? She moved towards the glass door and looked out. Maybe she and Barry could go sometime—.

Shelley's eyes widened. She put a hand to her heart.

O my god.

The red head that had just walked out the door flounced across the parking lot, right up to a familiar white truck. As Shelley watched, the driver's side of the car opened; a man stepped out, smiling at the approaching woman and kissing her on the cheek as they met. He gave another one of his kind, melting smiles before he took the pack of beer from her and got back in the truck; Shelley watched, stunned as they both got in, laughing, and drove out of the lot.

Shelley swallowed, brain numbly trying to function. She blinked back the tears that had been forming in her eyes and drew in a shallow breath.

That smile. That walk. His face.

Barry.

.o0O()O0o.

As Shelley pulled up to her house, she wiped the remaining tears from her eyes, though she knew that it was no use trying to hide it. She cast a glance in the rearview mirror— and began to cry all over again.

Look at her, how ugly she was. How could she ever think that someone like Barry would love her, that anyone would love her? God, she was such a fool. She should have seen, should have known. Desire to be loved made her look over the faults. Nothing was wrong with Barry; something was wrong with her. And now Barry didn't lover her anymore. He was bored with her. Tired of her. Just like everyone else she had ever met.

Tears stopping, Shelley opened the door of the car and got out. The sun was just beginning to set and hers was a long shadow on the cracked driveway. Tiredly she locked the car and trudged across the yellow lawn up to her front door. Bill wouldn't care if she were crying. He didn't care about anything.

Fumbling in her purse, she took out a key and shoved it into the knob, twisting until the door lock popped. She put the key back in her purse and, ducking her head, opened the door.

The blasting sounds of their cheap television reached her ears; her husband, she saw, was sitting in his favorite chair (which was, consequentially the only chair) a few feet away, back turned to her. He didn't turn around as she came in and shut the door. Shelley got some relief out of that; hopefully she could just retreat to the basement and start the wash. No one would hear her cry over the machine.

Looking to the coffee table beside the door, Shelley reluctantly set her purse down upon it. She eyed the repulsive black gun that was propped up against one of the legs where Bill had left it. Looking at it, she wondered what it would be like to take that gun and shoot that red head— but she immediately screwed her eyes shut, tearing herself away from such thoughts. She barely had the stomach for such a thing.

Trying not to cry, she hugged herself and went towards the hallway, moving behind her husband to get there. She moved quietly, warily, and it seemed that she had not attracted his attention in the slightest. However, she had gotten only half-way across the room when Bill spoke to her from his chair.

"Dumped you, didn'ee? S'bout time."

Shelley stopped, heart pounding, shock hitting her like a tidal wave. He knew? How could he have known?! She turned slowly on the spot until she faced the back of his chair. "What?"

Not turning, Bill continued, "Barry's been in'is house so much that it stink of 'im. I think th' smell's goin' away now." He changed the channels.

Still shocked, Shelley choked out, "How did you know? How?"

At this, Bill stood up, and rapidly at that. He looked straight at her with his angry eyes, having completely forgotten the TV.

"O' c'mon, Michelle. D'you think I'm blind er something'? Think I don't notice things, huh!?" Presperation was clinging to his unshaved bristles. Beer reeked off his breath as he spat, "You an 'im have been fuckin' each other for a good while now, huh? Dudn' he like you no more? Huh?!"

Eyes brimming, Shelley turned away and started walking down the hall again. She tried to concentrate on the door at the end of the hallway, the door leading to the basement, but her vision kept blurring. O' God, help me, she pleaded.

Her husband took a lumbering step towards her. "Hey!" he yelled, "don' you walk away when I'm talkin' to you! Just cuz your lover's gone, that don' give you a right to disrespect me— "

"Oh, stop it Bill," Shelley sobbed. She went to the end of the hallway and grabbed at the basement door. If only I could get down there, please let me go. She heard Bill come up behind her and fear gripped at her, replacing her pain.

"No! You stop it! Tell me, what were you thinking when he loved you? D'ja think it was gonna last forever? Did you think you were the only girl 'ee had? Or did you know that he just wanted ya' fer fucking?"

Shelley banged her hands against the door in frustration. Damn it! She was crying heavily now and she just wanted to be alone. Turning, she blindly pushed past her husband and tottered down the hallway. She went back into the living room, looking around wildly for something that might save her from Bill. Just something to drown out the shouting

"Ever think about why he never s'ggested you divorce me? He didn' want you aroun' that long! Jesus, are you blind?! Guys like Barry are only lookin' to stir up trouble; fuck other people's wives. Well I'm not about to stand fer it! Bout time you learned the truth Michelle!"

Even as she was frantically searching for means of distraction, something in her mind clicked. She faced Bill again; he stood there, belly bulging beneath his filthy shirt, almost smirking behind his drunken rage.

"You made the call." A hollow accusation. "You called me and told me to go to the gas station." She felt her face melt again into one of misery, tears instantly beginning to pool in her eyes. Shelley's breath hitched in her chest and her throat pounded sorely.

"Why?" she choked out. "You never cared before. Why?!" Now she was the one shouting.

"You're my goddam wife, that why! My wife! Not some whore who dates my work mates, thinkin' that I'm too stupid to know bout it!"

Shelley could not practically feel the heat of Bill's rage. She had never seen him this mad before and the way he was acting now scared her, drove away nearly all her hurt. She had almost forgotten the root of the argument at that point, scared as she was. Her face was dry and she couldn't afford to think about anything but the enraged man before her.

Bill, however, wasn't keen on letting her forget so easily.

Face red, he mirthlessly hollered, "Barry wanted you because you weren't well used— and you fell for him! For Chrissake Michelle! Why would he want someone as plain and lowly as you?!"

At those words, Shelley stopped. Suddenly, the buzz of the television seemed overwhelming, clogging her ears and reaching up for her brain. She felt her face tighten. A strange, sickly warmth spread in her gut and her lip trembled as though she would cry again. But this wasn't pain she was feeling. Not sadness even. It was hot and wet and it electrified every nerve in her body. Not sadness.

Slowly, her widened eyes traveled the still room. They went from the buzzing television to its black cord on the carpet; over the moth eaten couch to her purse on the coffee table; from the door knob, down the sleek black barrel of Bill's rifle.

She blinked.

Then, with no rational thought in her mind, she stepped up to the door, grabbed the cocked gun and turned swiftly around, sliding her finger under the trigger; she pointed it at Bill.

The bang that followed was like an electric current sent through the air. It was an ominous pop, and Bill didn't even have time to be afraid before he fell, like a giant, to the green carpeted floor.

Shelley stood there, gun in hand, just staring. She watched a pool of dark red blood begin to collect on Bill's greasy shirt. His eyes were closed, but his mouth was open, trying to throw at her one last insult. But they couldn't move. They would never insult her again.

Knees starting to shake, Shelley lowered the rifle. She looked over Bill's dead body; he looked, for some reason, much more disgusting now that he was dead. In a kind of strange calm, she puzzled over that. She stroked unconsciously the trigger of the rifle as she looked at her husband, rolling her thoughts over in her head. He really did look quite disgusting.

She could think of a few other people she wanted to look like that.

.o0O()O0o.

As she pulled up to the small campsite, Shelley killed her head lights. Best not to wake anyone up; she couldn't afford to waste ammunition on innocent bystanders. Besides, it wouldn't be right.

As she moved closer to the campsite, she heard the far off but unmistakable sound of a rifle being fired in the distance; someone else was out hunting too.

Putting the car in park, Shelley put on her husband's work gloves and took the rifle from the seat beside her. Unlocking the cor and stepping out, she cocked the gun twice and began walking the worn, dirt path that circled around the campsite; she kept her eyes open for the blue and grey tent that she knew was Barry's, having slept under it a few times before. Night was just beginning to fall and though the colors were slowly fading to the same blues, blacks, and greys, Shelley was able to make them out.

And it wasn't long before she spotted Barry's.

His tent was conveniently placed a ways off from the others, decreasing the chance of alarming someone; if they heard the shots, they'd assume it was a hunter and fall back to sleep. And even if they did see her, they would only see a figure moving about in Bill's jacket.

Stepping off the dirt path, she quietly made her way towards the tent. She moved around the fire, which had dwindled into almost nothing by then; the excitement rising in her belly felt as though it had been boiling over that fire.

She was only a few feet away from the tent now. At a yard away her feet stopped; she paused to look at the tent, eyes taking it all in. She could hear the very faint sound of breathing inside and it mingled with the zecatas. Those two sounds were the only ones that filled her ears, along with the thoughts bouncing about in her head.

This was it. This was what she came for.

But what exactly was it that she wanted? Was it revenge? Her mother had always told her that revenge was sinful— but so was lying, and Barry was guilty of that. She stroked the gun with her thumb.

She was also guilty of lying. Therefore, she could not commit this act with a reason like that. Shelley's confidence dwindled a bit. Perhaps she should just go home and forget about it. She might be able to, now that Bill was gone. Without his badgering she could rebuild her life, leave this whole mess behind—

There was a soft groan from inside the tent. Barry's groan.

The sound that escaped her ex-lover's lips seemed to renew Shelley's anger. It ignited, as though she were lighter fluid and that groan was a match. Come to think of it, that would be a convenient was to kill them . . . .

Shelley, stepping closer, position the gun in the crook of her shoulder. No. Not fire. Too dangerous. Besides, she had gotten to like the rifle. It was a lot like her in many ways. It was normal, something you found in many houses nowadays. While fire was flashy and beautiful, this was rather plain, if not rather ugly. What Shelley like most about it was the fact that it was simple. It was so easy to use. Just like her.

Face set in a hard expression, Shelley moved forward, flung open the tent flap, and fired two shots at the sleeping persons inside.

.o0O()O0o.

Coroner Milton covered the body of William Conway back up with the white sheet. Pulling off his latex gloves, he walked over to the large sink, threw his gloves in a trash kag, and began to wash his hands.

His day had been quite eventful. What was it, he wondered, about summer that made everyone want to either die or kill each other? Dabbing some soap on his hands, he plunged them back into the water. There had been five murders today and three suicides; just his luck that he had been given all of them. The last guy that he'd just examined was shot by his wife, but he had been raging and drunk. Defensive homicide. The story was that the guy had been having an affair with another womn; this woman, he found out, was having an affair with another man. So this guy gets drunk and terrorizes his wife, who shoots him with a hunting rifle in self defense.

So he had one very twisted case and another very screwed up world.

But now that his shift was over, he could forget all that. He could already feel the softness of his head hitting a fluffy pillow—

The doors of the morgue burst open and Coroner Milton whirled, splattering water on the counter. He watched in dismay as a police officer pushed two new body-bag encased corpses in and walked over to him with a clip board.

"Another two?" he asked slightly incredulously, taking the4 clip board that was thrust in his face. Taking a pen out of his pocket, he took a look at the names of the people and signed his own name next to where it said "examiner".

"Yeah," the cop replied, "apparently that Conway fella blew away his ex and her man before his wife offed him. Used the same gun his wife did, too."

"You're kidding," Coroner Milton murmured, handing back the signed clipboard.

The cop shook his head. "Nope. Crazy, isn't it?"

The coroner shook his head in wonder, looking over at the two body bags. "Yeah. Crazy."

Checking the signature on the clipboard, the cop stood around for a moment, also looking at the two body bags he'd brought in. Then he shivered slightly, nodded to Coroner Milton and left after saying, "I'll leave ya to it then."

After the police officer left, Coroner Milton sighed dramatically. Then, he went over to the glove dispenser and pulled out a fresh pair. He slipped them on, readjusted his lab coat, hauled the bodies over to the examination table, and began to get to work.

About an hour or so later, Coroner Milton was sitting in a chair, filling out the autopsy report. There was really nothing much to it. Both victims had been shot by a hunting rifle and died at around eight o'clock.

Well, it was now midnight and the coroner was very ready to be home by now.

Coroner Milton sighed. He took his glasses off and rubbed his temples, mulling over in his head the petty tragedies that go awry. God, people. They all seemed to think that a gun and a couple of rounds of bullets solved everything. These last few bodies were all linked in the stupidest way. Guy cheats on his wife with a girl who cheats on him; guy kills girlfriend and girlfriend's lover. Wife shoots guy. Three dead bodies in the morgue and more work for him.

Putting his glasses back on, he flipped through the last three autopsies; he looked over the information and was about to get up and go home for the night — but something caught his eye.

Frowning, the coroner pulled William Conway's report. Name: William Conway. Cause of death: bullet wound to the chest, exiting through the back. Time of death: around 5:00 PM.But—? He shuffled through the paper's again and brought up the girl's report.

Name: not yet identified

Cause of death: bullet wound to head, exiting through the back of the base of the neck.

Time of death: 8:00 PM

Wait a minute. Coroner Milton's mind raced, thinking back to the story that he had heard. Mr. Conway shot these two others— but he died three hours earlier.

Eyes widening, Coroner Milton lunged from the chair and scrambled for the phone. He picked it up and dialed the police station's number; he waited anxiously for an answer, which he received on the second ring.

"Hello, police— "

"Did you let Mrs. Conway leave yet?!"


I wrote this in late July. So sue me if it is not my best.

Also, for those of you who are following Treacherous Beauty, I do plan to update very soon.