Home Delivery

Reading Time: 10 minutes


The sun hung low in the sky, almost touching the horizon’s edge. In the waning light, shadows crept from their daytime hiding places. Nick sat on the curb near the start of the cul-de-sac, morosely smoking a cigarette and contemplating the nearby house. It must have been impressive in its heyday, he thought; too bad that was back in the horse and buggy days. Now it looked like crap, and the surrounding neighborhood didn’t look much better. Trailer parks and low-income housing sprouted like mushrooms throughout the area. He finished the cigarette, flicked the butt at a nearby stray cat, and wondered again why he was still hanging with Billy. Juvie was long ago, and Billy was still as crazy and as much of a screw-up as he had been then. Nick pulled out his phone to check the time and saw that Billy was almost an hour late. Typical. He decided to give him ten more minutes before saying the hell with it and going home.

Nick was 24 years old and 5’10”, the average height for a white male in the United States. Almost everything about Nick was average. Everything except giving a shit. That was definitely below average. Nick skated through life, doing the bare minimum he could get away with and cutting corners whenever possible. And some serious corner-cutting was in store for tonight. Billy had talked him into some half-ass home invasion scheme. The little voice in his head had told him to say no, but he needed some quick cash.

(Image by Marie Ginga via Adobe Firefly)

A car turned down the street. Nick glanced up and saw Billy behind the wheel. “Fricken about time,” he thought. He got up slowly, grimacing with pain. He was still sore from the beatdown Sergio’s boys had laid on him the other day. Half the streetlights were broken. The intact ones flickered on with a crackle and hiss as he walked to the car. Billy had the rear door open and was digging around in the back.

“You’re late, man,” Nick said to his back. Billy was 6’2” and rail thin. Even back in juvie, he had been so skinny that he was always in danger of vanishing if he turned sidewise. Lately, his dabbling with meth had left him looking like a walking stick figure.

“Had to wait for my old man to pass out before I could take his car,” Billy pulled out a Domino’s shirt and delivery bag, souvenirs from his recent two-day attempt at gainful employment. “Shit, what happened to you?”

“Whaddya think happened?” Nick’s face was bruised and mottled, and one eye was partially swollen shut. “Sergio’s boys reminded me to pay for those ounces he fronted me.”

“Shitty way of running a business. It’s not your fault you were ripped off.”

“Yeah, I’ll make sure to give him a one-star Yelp review. What’re we doing here, Billy? This is serious. I got ‘til Monday to pay up. After that, Sergio is taking a finger every day I’m late.”

“Got it covered. The old man who lives here has lots of cash just for the takin’.”

“And you know this how? The place is a dump.”

“See that Benz in the driveway? My dad worked as a mechanic at the dealership. Dude came in last year and traded in his old car—paid the difference in cash. 58k and he pulls out a wad of money and starts counting it out right there on the desk. Fuckin’ A, man, 58k! He’s probably, whaddya call it, a miser. Bet he’s got his life savings stuffed in a mattress. Want cash? It’s this or sticking up about twenty convenience stores between now and Monday.” There was a jitteriness about him that set off warning bells for Nick.

“You high, Billy?”

“Took a line or two to take the edge off. Don’t worry. I’m good for this.”

The little voice in Nick’s head was shouting, banging on a drum, and doing whatever it could to get his attention. It wanted him to walk away. Nick glanced down at his right hand, counted five fingers, and nodded yes.

“We’re in and out, Billy. And you gotta keep it together. He doesn’t get hurt.”

“Won’t lay a hand on him.” Billy pulled the Domino’s shirt on. It hung like a tent on his bony frame. “Dad and I used to live in that crappy trailer park down the block. I’d see the old guy here and there. Always paying cash for stuff. His name is Stefan. Got this funny accent, East European or some shit like that. He’s some sort of aristocat.”



“It’s aristocrat, not cat.”

“Whatever. Dude must’ve come over from the old country with trunks full of money. Got this from my old man, too.” Billy held up a revolver and stuck it in his waistband.

“Whoa. No one said anything about a gun.”

“Relax. It’s just for scares.”

The house was an old Victorian. It slumped tiredly at the end of the cul-de-sac like an elderly man bowed and bent under the weight of his years. The remaining cul-de-sac was vacant lots overgrown with weeds and filled with trash and the occasional used condom. A lone oak tree stood guard in the front yard, and a newish Benz was in the driveway next to it. Nick took his position behind some overgrown bushes while Billy approached the door and rang the buzzer. There was a long pause, and then the curtains on the window next to the door moved slightly.

“What do you want?” a vaguely accented voice asked behind the curtains.


“I didn’t order pizza.”

“Damn. Must’ve got the address wrong.” Billy juggled the delivery bag while he dug in his pocket for his cell phone. He held it up. “Look, my cell is dead. Can I come in and use your phone? If I don’t get this pizza delivered on time, I gotta pay for it.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Come on, man, don’t be this way. Do a guy a solid. Just need to make a quick phone call. Please.”

There was a long pause and then the sounds of locks unbolting. The door swung open. Billy grinned, dropped the delivery bag, and rushed through the door. After Nick looked around for any onlookers, he followed Billy in. Stefan was tall and thin, with long grey hair swept back and loosely tied at the back of his head. A thick mustache was at the base of an aquiline nose. He wore a black suit and a cravat. Billy had the gun out and forced him back to a large, ornate sofa. The room was drenched in shadows. Nick turned on a small lamp sitting on an end table.

“What do you want? What is this?” Stefan sat slowly down. His tone was more imperious than fearful.

“What do we want? Just some of the money you got.” Billy put his foot up on the coffee table, the gun casually propped on his knee.

“Money? I have no money.”

“I know that’s a lie, man. Know you paid cash for that Benz in the driveway. So where’s your stash?” Billy leaned forward and tapped the gun barrel on Stefan’s forehead.

“I don’t like you.”

“Hear that? He doesn’t like me.” Billy glanced at Nick and then suddenly pistol-whipped the old man. When he raised his hand to strike him again, Nick grabbed it.

“Enough! Told you he doesn’t get hurt.”

“Just making sure I have his attention.”

“You OK?” Nick knelt next to Stefan.

“You should choose better companions.” Stefan pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at the blood oozing from his forehead. “This one will be the death of you.”

“Look, if you got money in here, just tell me where it is. I don’t want to tear your house apart looking for it,” Nick said. “I won’t even take all of it. Just what I need.”

“Know you paid over 50K in cash for that car in your driveway.” Billy was pacing back and forth. “Don’t cry poor.”

“The car. The car. Always back to the car.” Stefan glared up at Billy. Nick started and stared at the old man. For a moment, it was almost as if his eyes glowed. Nick shook his head. It must have been a trick of the light. “There was a painting on that far wall. Something beautiful by an artist you would never have heard of. I sold it to buy the car. This house was once full of beautiful things. Almost all of them are gone now. All sold.”

‘Keep him here while I search the house.” Nick stood up. As he walked past, he grabbed Billy’s forearm and squeezed. “He doesn’t get hurt. Understood?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Billy jerked his arm away.

The downstairs rooms were sparsely furnished, but what furniture they had was ornate and old-looking. Nick had an uncle who owned an antique shop, and he had no doubt his uncle would salivate over some of this stuff. Here and there, the wallpaper was less faded in spots, showing where some painting or wall hanging had once been. Nick looked through drawers and pulled up throw rugs to see if some floor safe was hidden under them. There was nothing.

The stairs creaked as he walked up them to the second floor. The landing was dense with darkness, and Nick fumbled along the wall until he found a light switch. A recessed ceiling light was halfway down the hall, and the low-wattage bulb cast a dim light. The upstairs hallway was draped in cobwebs, and a thick coating of dust lay on the floor. Walking down the hallway was like a stroll through a gigantic snow globe as stirred-up dust particles swirled around him. The upstairs bedrooms were all unused and empty.  A tree limb had broken a window in one of the bedrooms, and the wooden floor was stained and warped with water damage. It looked like no one had been upstairs in several years. As Nick returned down the stairs, he thought, “Where the hell does he sleep?”

“Find anything?” Billy was sitting in an armchair across from the couch. He was a hot mess of tweaks and jitters. Both legs were jiggling up and down, and he was tapping the base of the gun grip on the arm of the chair. Obviously, he had done another line or two while Nick was upstairs.

“There’s nothing up there.” Nick slowly pressed down on the hand holding the gun until the tapping stopped.

“Look under the mattresses?”

“No, I didn’t look under the mattresses. Know why? There’s no fucking mattresses. Only thing up there is dust and cobwebs. He has nothing. Get that through your head, Billy.”

“I know he has money hidden somewhere. I could make him tell us where it is.”

“I said no.”

“There is no money.” Stefan was staring at the spot where the painting had hung, “Once there was—wealth beyond your wildest dreams. My garments were made of the finest silk, and I wore rings of gold and diamonds on each of my fingers. I ate my meals off fine china with sterling silver cutlery. My home was filled with sculptures and paintings. But those days were the flowers of my past. Now, all I have is this, the nettles of my present.” His vague wave encompassed the room and Billy and Nick.

“I remember you from when I was little, man—driving those fancy cars and wearing those expensive suits. I remember that gold money clip you’d pull out. Thinking you were better than the rest of us.” Billy said.

“It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is that you think I’m better. That’s why you’re so angry.” As Stefan said this, Billy started to rise out of his chair, and Nick pushed him back down.

“Keep it together.” Nick kept his hand on Billy’s chest. “We should leave right now, but I’ll waste more time and search the basement just to prove you’re full of shit.”

Nick stared down at Billy. He realized he had let himself get sucked into his craziness, and with that realization came anger. Nick could picture Billy as a kid, living in some tiny, roach-infested trailer with his drunk-ass dad, dreaming up stories about the old man down the street. The Count with the trunks full of money. When they got done here, he was going to do two things: block Billy’s phone # and buy a bus ticket out of town. The uncle with the antique shop wouldn’t be happy when Nick turned up on his doorstep, but he wouldn’t turn away his baby sister’s only child.

A naked bulb hung over the landing to the stairs, and Nick reached up and pulled the chain. Nothing. The bulb was burned out. From behind him, light spilled weakly through the doorway and dripped down the upper reaches of the stairs. Below that, the dank basement was like an ebony ocean, fathoms deep and waiting to drag him under. He pulled out his cell phone, and its flashlight cleaved the darkness as he descended the stairs. A faint smell of decay grew stronger with every step. He cursed silently as he thought of the old horror movie cliché where some dumb ass got his ticket punched doing something like this.

He held out his phone at the base of the stairs and slowly panned the light over everything. The basement was unfinished, with dirt floors and exposed fieldstone walls. The windows along the edge of the ceiling had been painted over. There were a few bags stacked to the right of the stairs. Nick knelt and shined the light on them. They were quick lime, and a shovel was thrust into the ground next to them. He could also faintly see an oblong shape on a raised platform about thirty feet away. Other than that, the basement was empty.

Nearby, the dirt floor was dimpled with odd depressions. They were six feet long, a couple of feet wide, and spaced out every few feet. There were dozens of them stretching all along the floor until they finally disappeared into the seething darkness beyond the reach of the phone’s light. Nick leaned his phone against the bottom stair, grabbed the shovel, and poked at the nearest depression. He started shoveling in earnest, and after a dozen shovelfuls of dirt, a stench of death and decay became noticeable. A scream from upstairs stopped him.

“Fucking Billy,” he muttered as he started up the stairs.

He stopped halfway up. A figure had appeared at the top of the stairs. It was Stefan. In the light from the doorway, his eyes glowed like those of some nocturnal predator. Something the size of a bowling ball dangled from his right hand. When Nick realized what it was, he tasted bile in his mouth.

“I had a castle back then.” Stefan slowly walked down the stairs. Nick, never taking his eyes off him, backed away. “Five thousand serfs worked my lands, and they knew their place.”

“What are you?” Nick half whispered.

“Someone like your friend here,” Stefan raised Billy’s severed head. “Someone like this would have been impaled on a spike in my castle’s garden. I would have taken my meals there and listened to his delicious screams of agony. I had enough wealth for several lifetimes but not enough for forever. Not even enough for six hundred years.”

Nick backed up until he bumped into the coffin on the raised platform. He now knew where Stefan slept. His phone was still at the base of the stairs, and the darkness was like some living thing that pulled him into its clammy embrace. A feeling of warmth spread through Nick’s groin. He had pissed himself.

“The cars are an extravagance, but they’re useful lures for street hustlers and prostitutes. The promise of money is so irresistible to them.” Stefan tilted his head back, and his jaw opened wider and wider and wider. Impossibly wide. He dangled Billy’s head over his open mouth and let the blood drip. When he was done, he dropped the severed head and smiled. His upper canines were long and sharp. “I was about to go out to dine when you showed up. This is so much more convenient.”


When he heard the sound again, Darrell had just gotten done tying off and was tapping his arm, looking for a vein that wasn’t collapsed. It sounded like a scream. Probably just a bird or some cat in heat. He found a vein and slowly slid the needle in. Sighing, he leaned back against the fence and let the waves of euphoria wash over him. He was broke, and that was the last of his stash. The old man with the Benz might be a good mark. Bet he had lots of pawnable stuff in that mausoleum he lived in, but that was tomorrow’s problem. Right now, he would enjoy the ride and worry about money later.


This story previously appeared in Black Petals Magazine, Issue #106, Winter 2023.
Edited by Marie Ginga

Writing in the third person always makes the author feel like he's writing his obituary, but here goes: a lover of alt-rock, Akira Kurosawa movies, and craft beer, the author lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids. His beautiful wife definitely could do better, but, luckily for him, she hasn't caught on to that fact yet. Rage Against the Machine, the Black Keys, and the Warlocks are in heavy rotation on Spotify for writing inspiration.