Danny let go of his mother’s hand and broke into a brief sidewalk sprint, as five-year-olds will do. He returned smiles from shopkeepers who opened their doors to start the business day, and then planted the soles of his red, low-cut Converse All Stars near a florist’s outdoor display. There, amid the fresh-cut tulips and daffodils, spun a pinwheel. Its red and white, maple leaf-patterned sail gleamed in the sunlight that filtered through leafy alders along the curb. He fell into a light trance as it turned in the warm spring breeze, until his mother caught up and set a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned to face her with a pleading look.

She crouched at his side. “That’s a nice one, but it might be for decoration.”

A young florist pushed her bottom against the inside of the door as she stepped out with two flower-filled aluminum buckets, and then flicked the stopper down with the pointed toe of a yellow slingback flat. The opening notes of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” played over the store radio as she arranged the buckets on the shop’s terraced display. She smiled when her eyes met Danny’s. “Good morning, sir.”

“Hi,” replied Danny.

The florist looked at his mother. “Can I help?”

“Is the pinwheel for sale?”

“Not really. I ordered a few because Canada Day’s coming up, but he can have it.” She reached for its stem while his mother rose from her crouch and unsnapped her clutch purse to pull out a pair of loonies.

“Will two cover it?”

The florist crouched in front of Danny, and then smiled again as she held out the pinwheel for him to take. “It’s free, since you’re so handsome,” she said before she blew its sail into a quick spin.

Welcome to your life

There’s no turning back

Even while we sleep…

“Well, we know where to buy flowers from now on, don’t we? What do you say to the nice lady, Danny?”

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.” The florist stood up.

“We’re on our way to the bank, on the corner,” said Danny’s mother. “Would you mind wrapping a half-dozen of those lilies for me? We won’t be more than ten minutes.”

“‘My pleasure.” The florist smiled once more and then turned for the door.

“Thank you, again. Come on, Danny.”

Help me make the most of

Freedom and of pleasure

Nothing ever lasts forever…

Danny ran ahead again, eyes on the pinwheel’s spinning sail. He stopped at the corner, turned around, and then ran back toward his mother, who took his hand as they neared the bank. She held it’s door open for him, and then cried out as a hard, downward yank on her ponytail pulled her to the floor.

Her masked assailant tilted her head to view the .38 calibre revolver he now aimed at her face. Terrified, she glanced at Danny, who had run toward the tellers’ counter to maintain the pinwheel’s spin. “I’d suggest you call your kid back here before he gets killed.” She opened her mouth, but found herself unable to speak.

“Hey! Whose kid is this?” came a shout from the counter. Danny stopped and looked up at the bandit, who had pointed his pistol at one of the tellers, and then noticed several customers sprawled on the floor.

“I got his mother here!” yelled his partner. He jerked her head back and looked into her eyes. “Call him over.”

“D-Danny! Come here right now!” Her son looked across the room to find her in the thug’s grip. “Now, Danny!” He ran toward her. The lookout man shoved his mother aside and grabbed him by the upper arm. “No!” she screamed, and immediately found herself staring at the gun barrel’s end again.

“Come on, come on, come on, dammit!” the impatient stickup man pressed. “No dye packs. Just fill the bag with what’s in your till and the two next to yours.” The teller calmly obeyed his commands as a police siren sounded in the distance.

The lookout pulled Danny toward the window and peered down the street. “Cops are close, man. Let’s go!”

His partner retrieved the stuffed bag from the teller, zipped it shut, and then bolted toward the door to exit first. “Mom!” cried Danny, whose feet left the floor as the lookout wrapped an arm around his chest and lifted him. He kicked at his abductor’s shins with the backs of his heels, and then bit down hard on his arm as his mother scrambled to her feet and pounced like tiger.

The bullet found her neck. Blood spurted from the wound until she collapsed to the floor. The panicked lookout man dropped Danny before he raced out the door.

“Mom?” Danny shook as he crawled toward her on all fours, amid the whimpers of those who still cowered face down on the floor. He kneeled at her side, and caught sight of her shredded throat. “Mom?”

His pinwheel, which had come to rest across one of her ankles, dripped blood as it spun to a slow stop in the closing door’s draft.


This is an excerpt from Jay Black’s new novel Blood Poppy. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.