IN THE WEE HOURS


By John M. Floyd



Joe Higby stomped into the ice cream shop, leaned his axe against the wall, and plopped down on a seat at the counter.

"Strawberry milkshake," he said. "Large."

The lady behind the counter — her nametag said PEGGY — grinned at him. "Comin' up."

He sat there a moment, thinking. Finally he said, "Maybe you can help me. I'm looking for a guy named —"

"Wolfe," Peggy said. "Right?"

"How'd you know?"

"I've been expecting you." Instead of explaining that, she nodded at the front window. "He just left."

Joe turned to look. Outside was a footpath leading up into the misty hills. He didn't remember seeing it before he came in.

In fact he couldn't remember much of anything from before he came in. Strange.

"I'll catch up to him later. You recall what he was wearing?"

"Hmm. Khaki pants, I think, and a red coat."

"What kind of coat?"

"It had a hood in the back. The kind you see folks wear when they're hiking, or riding a bike," she said. "Looked a bit small for him."

"He say where he was going?"

Peggy finished mixing the shake and plunked it down on the countertop. "To Mrs. Higby's place. That'll be fifty cents."

Joe blinked. "Martha Higby? My grandmother?"

"That's what he told me." She took his two quarters and put them in the register.

"Let me get this straight," Joe said. "Mr. Wolfe, in a little red riding hood, is on his way to Grandma's house?"

"That's right."

He shook his head. "I must be dreaming."

She smiled, her eyes twinkling. And something about her face...

Suddenly he understood. "You mean —"

Peggy just kept grinning.

"You mean you're not real? This actually is a dream!?"

"Think about it," she said. "Where else would you only pay half a dollar for a jumbo milkshake?"

"Good point." He was still stunned. "But...what do I do now?"

"What do you think?"

His head spinning, he took a gulp of his shake. Dream or not, it tasted wonderful. "I guess I go up the hill to find Mr. Wolfe. After all" — he glanced down at his plaid shirt and workboots — "I appear to be the woodsman."

"And what'll you do then?"

"Keep him from eating Grandma, I suppose."

"Joe, your grandma lives in Florida," she said.

That was true. Her house here had been empty for years. "Well, what if he comes back here and eats us?"

Peggy looked thoughtful. "That's a whole different storyline, but hey, this is your dream, not mine."

"By the way," he said, "this is a great shake."

"Thanks. The chocolate sundaes are even better. Dollar and a quarter, for the deluxe."

"Level with me, Peggy — what would you do, in my place?"

She sighed. "Well, whatever it is, I'd do it fast."

"What do you mean?"

She leaned forward, folded her arms on the counter, and stared him in the eye. "I may only be a figment of your imagination, Joe, but I know your habits. For one thing, you watch TV till two a.m., then you get up at six to go to work. Right?"

"Right. So?"

"So your dreams don't last long."

He sat up straight. "That's true. I shouldn't waste my limited time running all over hill and dale."

"I agree."

"Actually, I could wake up any minute now."

"My thoughts exactly."

Joe was quiet for a long moment. He swiveled back and forth on his stool, his empty milkshake cup in his hand. He studied the room, the axe propped against the wall, the view through the window. Finally he turned again to face Peggy.

"Make up your mind?" she asked.

"Yep."

"What's the verdict?"

He pointed to the menu on the wall behind her. "Chocolate sundae," he said. "Deluxe."


JOHN M. FLOYD's short stories and features have appeared in more than 200 different publications, including The Strand Magazine, Woman's World, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he won a 2007 Derringer Award and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. John is also the author of three books: Rainbow's End (2006), Midnight (2008), and Clockwork (2010).

His story "Mythic Heights" was published on omdb! in March, 2012.


Copyright 2012 John M. Floyd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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