First Thrills

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New York Times bestselling author Lee Child and the International Thriller Writers, Inc. present a collection of remarkable stories in First Thrills. From small-town crime stories to sweeping global conspiracies, this is a cross section of today’s firstthrillshottest thriller-writing talent. This original collection is now split into four e-book volumes, packed with murder, mystery, and mayhem!

FREE! Read INVISIBLE, Short Story from FIRST THRILLS:

INVISIBLE

Sean Michael Bailey

INVISIBLE ain’t easy, man. Takes years of practice, years of trying, failing and all the pain comes with being caught.

Took me six years of hiding from Momma, hearing her call me so sweet, that boiling water sloshing out the pot onto the floor while she looked for me all over the house. Her carrying the hot pot, or those things she stuck in me. Learned a lot in them two thousand days. First, I just hid. Ha. Can’t hide from Momma. Can’t run, can’t hide.

Only thing that works is invisible.

Daddy did it. Went out for that peppy pizza, left it on the front porch and just vanished. She never did find him. But that wasn’t invisible. That was cheating. He just ran away. He had a car.

Nobody taught me. Learned invisible by myself. I would sneak off to a closet or slide under the bed, trying to hide, pretending I wasn’t there, all the time secretly praying Momma would put down the pot, drop the fireplace shovel and just hug me.

That don’t work. I was still me, hiding, scared of Momma. That ain’t invisible. She could see into my mind, find me every time. Burn me, hit me. Hurt me.

I found out I couldn’t wait `til momma started heating the water and singing her hymns. I had to work at it all the time, planning, concentrating, watching. Had to learn not to be me, to become a thing with no thoughts. A couch, laundry in the cellar, dust in the cedar closet. Dust don’t want to be found by nobody, laundry don’t want to be hugged. Still not invisible, but when I did that, it took Momma longer to find me, so it was, like progress, you know? Then I figured how to plan, make it seem like I couldn’t be in the house. Leave open the door, a window. Make her think I could not be where I was. Had to find the right spot at the right time, too. Made it harder for her but that made her madder. Still wasn’t invisible.

Not `til I stopped being dust and became Momma.

She would open up that sink cabinet, look right down at me in a ball and not see me. I wasn’t there. I was her, not seeing me. Looking at only a can of Ajax and a bucket and some moldy junk. No boy.

That did it.

Invisible.

Later, I was so happy I done it. If I did my work right, thought it all out, made the house like I was gone, found the right spot to go and be Momma, singing about God, boiling water, looking for that dirty, sinful boy, she never found me. Later, when Momma was gone, I had to learn how to be invisible to other people in other places. It was hard but that was my new job and I was, like the doctors say, motivated.

Now, I got it down to about three months, give or take.

First, I told the doctors about it but their eyes got all scared. They wrote it down but didn’t believe me. Thought I was crazy as Momma. I showed them good. I watched, planned every day, watching from the prison yard at the homes beyond the concertina wire fences. People coming and going from the homes outside. Men, women, kids. Cars, trucks. Dogs, cats. Worked out, waited `til it was cold. Daylight Savings Time Monday night. Wore lots of clothes layers, long sleeves. Taped myself all over, under my sweats, under my orange jumpsuit, like a mummy, so there would be no blood, no good scent for the dogs to follow. Guards stayed inside for the first time `cause it was cold, dark, cloudy. I did my runs to and from the fence, until my smoker went off behind the fire extinguisher. By the time they looked back in the yard, I was gone, flying up the fence, the blades ripping my layers, then up the second fence, like in the Olympics, over and out.

They found my clothes next to the big road, everything but the pizza. Right next to the big sign warning not to pick up hitchhikers because it was a correctional institution. Looked like I stripped, got into a car and I was gone. Never thought I would run in the opposite direction, take a dip in the icy water of a pool in one of the back yards and then run the water off. Anyway, just a prison escape, looks like.

But I was invisible.

Deputies and cops came into the house where I was invisible but I was in the right spot at the right time with the right people, who couldn’t see me.

I was now Harold. He said his name was Harold. He let the cops in and they searched. One of them even looked where I was but didn’t see me. Invisible, like I told you. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t curled up under the living room couch. I was Harold, sitting on top of the couch.

Harold listened as the guys with the shotguns and M-16’s told him about the inmate escapee. Did he see or hear anything unusual in the last thirty minutes? We told them no, nothing, just the siren from the jail and all the lights and helicopters and dogs. We went out into the back yard to see them. Who escaped, we asked them?

A bad guy, a real mutt from Down South, they told us. Serial killer. Crazy as a shithouse rat. Hard case, boiled his own mother, killed maybe fifteen people all over the country. Real escape artist. Desperate. Consider him armed and dangerous. They asked us about any strangers in the area recently, any other residents or weapons in the household.

We told them we saw no one suspicious recently, we lived alone, told them about the legal, licensed shotgun in the bedroom closet upstairs. Then we talked all racist, how those minority people were all trash, not even human, those people. How all those scum lowlifes should get the death penalty.

The cops were uncomfortable. They cut us off, told us this guy wasn’t black or Latino. He was white.

We just said oh.

They gave us a description of the fugitive, a name. Showed us a picture. We didn’t recognize me. We said we had never seen the guy but if we did, we’d blow his ass away. Better not come around here.

The deputies said that was a bad idea. Told us to just keep our doors locked. If we saw anything, call 911 right away. We offered them coffee and booze, for the cold, but they said they had to continue their search, even though the skel probably got into a waiting car out on the highway and was long gone. There was a big alert out, roadblocks.

We felt safe with all the cops in the house. When they left, it was good to see them still driving around the neighborhood on patrol. Past midnight, they moved on, looking for the guy somewhere else. The clock on the mantle clicked gently after we shut off the TV news. We checked all the doors again, to make sure they were locked, and went upstairs to the bathroom.

That’s when I stopped being invisible, quietly crawled out from under Harold’s couch, and softly mounted the stairs. I knew Harold would go to the bedroom closet and get his shotgun soon, to have it by the bed while he slept. When he opened the closet door I would be inside. I wouldn’t be invisible then. I’d let him see me.

Then we would be one.

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