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Paper Soldier
About the Author: Al Onia is a full-time writer living in Calgary, Canada. His debut novel Javenny was released by Bundoran Press in August 2014. His second novel, Transient City, was released by Bundoran in April, 2016 and the sequel, Rogue Town, launched in 2017. The Sixth Helix will release in 2019. His short fiction has appeared in Ares, Perihelion SF, On Spec, The Speculative Edge, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Spinetingler, Marion Zimmer Bradley and the anthologies Visions VI: Galaxies, AB Negative, and others.

Sun Meadows Mobile Home Estates was as innocuous camouflage as any, Kent reflected as he wheeled his bicycle through the stuccoed gate pillars. Clichéd idyllic names for such parks often belied the actuality of barely liveable double-wides occupied by barely sociable tenants. Sun Meadows’ citizens were hard-working, responsible people who took pride in their micro-community.

Kent’s façade allowed him to be the park’s benign uncle, willing to watch out for signs of trouble, whether trouble came in the form of toxic weed invasion, unleashed pets, children playing in the road or helping out with minor construction projects. His neighbors liked him and Marian. He had established the perfect disguise. Six years living under the radar had perfected his outer mask but not dulled his wariness. His twice-weekly rides to the post office were part of the routine. He enjoyed the routine and no camouflaged bait letter was going to upset his adopted life.

He waved to Johnny Baxter as the trucker started his cab. The deep-throated diesel rumble vibrated the ground as Kent stepped from his bike.

“Morning, Kent,” Johnny greeted. He jumped to the ground “Sorry I came in late last night. I-95 was a shit-show and I was hours behind checking in to the terminal.”

“I never heard you come in. You must have coasted past my place.” Kent chained his bike. He trusted everyone but once in a while, kids from adjoining districts would wander through, looking for easy pickings.

“Marian didn’t wake? I know she’s a lighter sleeper than you.”

“Her hearing’s much better, that’s for sure. Wouldn’t have mattered last night. She left yesterday morning for her sister’s on the coast.” Kent peeled off his backless gloves and stuffed them in his belt. “You, uh, see anyone out and about when you came in?” He knelt, tying a shoe which didn’t need it but added to the casualness of his question.

“I was seeing double of everything, but no, didn’t see a soul.” The engine idled down a notch. Johnny grabbed the side rail and swung up into his cab. “I’ll be gone for a day or two, keep an eye on mom, she forgets to lock up when she goes out sometimes.”

Johnny’s mother Ida was the oldest resident. She and her late husband were original park members and had led the fundraising to install the outdoor swimming pool in the center of the park. She spent most summer days under an umbrella on the lawn beside the pool doing crosswords, reading and listening to baseball games.

“Don’t worry, my eyes never shut. Unless they’re closed.”

Johnny laughed, waved and swung onto the main road out of the park.

Kent watched the cab turn onto Walnut Street and heard Johnny shift up through the gears toward the freeway entrance a half mile away. He chucked the bills he’d retrieved from the post office inside his back door, exchanged his ball cap for a cowboy hat and set off on his pre-lunch stroll around the park.

He shuffled along, befitting his elderly persona but his eyes burned from under the brim of his hat, searching, probing for anything out of sorts. Instinct and the seemingly innocuous junk-mail offering cash for seniors in return for forwarding catalogs warned Kent a foray was underway, whether he was the target or not, he wouldn’t relax until it played out.

Kent kept his abilities in tune with his walk-arounds. Each day he looked at his home through new eyes. Why this? Why that? Why not? It wasn’t always a matter of looking for the out-of-place piece. Today, he slowed in front of Greenspan’s mobile, across the road and two homes down from his. In the case of the newest tenants in the park, Kent judged the place too right. Over correct. True, The Meadows was kept nice by the concerted effort and commitment of its members but the Greenspans notched it up to the point of extravagance. A plethora of gnomes, statuettes, elevated flower boxes, a small windmill, a gaily-painted ladder with small planters on each step and more hose junctions than Kent could count at a glance. The bent over forms of Elias and Constance Greenspan presented themselves to Kent’s vision.

A series of cardboard boxes and Styrofoam packing molds were stacked neatly outside the garden gazebo in front of the freshly scrubbed mobile. As Kent neared, he saw a trench half a foot wide and a foot deep running from the confluence of the hose connectors to the kneeling couple.

“Whatcha working on now, Elias? Morning Connie.” He squatted beside them.

This story appears in our APR2019 Issue
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