The Horror Zine
Kip Hanson

The February Selected Story is by Kip Hanson

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Kip Hanson

by Kip Hanson

The sign over the cash register read 15 Items or Less. Warren stuffed Mrs. Kennedy’s boxes of Smack Ramen, cherry Jell-O, and licorice whips into the sack, counting each one. At twenty-nine, he opened his mouth to tell the old bat to get in the other lane.

Janelle shushed him as she ran the cash register. Then she smiled sweetly at Ms. Kennedy and said, “That’ll be $25.19.”

The old bat dragged a wrinkled twenty, five ones, and nineteen pennies from her change purse. Janelle scooped the money off the counter, winking at Warren. He started to smile, but then the boss suddenly showed up.

Dave tapped Janelle on the shoulder. “I need you in my office. Close up.” He scowled at Warren. “Lane Five. Get going, old man.”

Sighing, Warren clocked out at 9:45. His back ached and he was cold. He was too old to be a grocery store bagger, also assigned to the famous “other duties as required.” He had mopped the produce section, cleaned the toilets, and restocked the dairy case. He could no longer make a fist, and he struggled with his jacket as he walked to the loading dock.

He looked over his shoulder to see Dave lifting one edge of the blinds covering the window of his small office, staring out at Warren as he passed. Janelle’s head was a dark shadow behind the glass. He lifted his hand like a claw and waved but Dave turned away. The blinds dropped with what was probably a muffled clatter, even though Warren couldn’t hear it through the glass.

The parking lot was empty but for Dave’s Subaru and Janelle’s old Town and Country, parked nose to nose. On the far side of the street, the eaves of the darkened buildings butted up against the sky. A crescent of frigid moon crept over the horizon. Around the corner, the Chippewa Falls Bank and Trust sign read nine degrees. Last year the bank sent a man in a tow truck to Warren’s house during the night. The bank man had jimmied the lock on the garage door and took away his late model Buick. Now Warren had to walk to his job at the supermarket. The bank, like Dave, had an agenda.

Mary wouldn’t mind if he grabbed a quick one, so he stepped inside Irv’s Tavern, ordered a double bourbon, and listened to Irv bitch about the Packer’s lousy season. He finished his drink and threw a five on the counter.

His left leg had gone numb from the barstool and he stumbled, skinning his knee on the doorjamb. Laughter followed him as he limped across the street to the playground where Katie had played as a child. Beyond that was the spot on the shore of Lake Wissota, where they’d picnicked so many years before when they were still a family.

On nights like this, he missed that old Buick. If he had that car now, he’d crank up the heater and hold his hands before the blower until he ran out of gas. He could never get warm these days. Four blocks down, he let himself in the front door of his house. His jacket went on the peg, as it had for the past forty-three years. He went to the basement and sat with Mary a while, and told her about his day. Outside, it started to snow.

As he seemed to do so often lately, he slept poorly that night. The bourbon soured his stomach and the neighbor’s German shepherd barked until two. He dreamed of the Winter Offensive. The Chinese and North Koreans poured down the hills into Seoul, black ants against the white frozen earth. Bombs fell, the snow turned red, and the Chinese artillery rained down on Warren and the young men of the Eighth Army. Many ran. The rest covered their ears against the trumpets and the gongs, the tintinnabulation of attack bells. In the distance, Commander Kilpatrick howled.

The next afternoon, he was kneeling in Aisle 3, stocking shelves with cans of carrots and creamed corn, when Eric arrived from the work program at McDonnell High School. He was late, as usual. Warren was thinking about how his daughter Katie had attended the same school thirty years ago. She’d been in the tenth grade Honors program when she entered the hospital.

Eric sauntered down the aisle, grinning widely. “Hey Pops, how’s it going?”

Warren ignored him. He climbed to his feet and his knees popped like miniature shotguns. Dragging the cardboard boxes, he started towards the storeroom. Eric followed, mimicking the old man’s shuffling walk.

As he loaded the empties into the trash compactor, Eric grabbed his shoulder. The teenager’s breath reeked of cigarettes and tired Juicy Fruit. “I got a question, Pops. I saw you buying cat food the other day, but Lizzy said a car squashed your cat last year. So who’s the cat food for, Pops? Please tell me you’re not eating Fancy Feast! Are you, Pops?” He slapped Warren on the cheek and walked off, braying laughter.


Warren sat at the kitchen table, a half-eaten TV dinner pushed off to the side. He poured himself two fingers of Knob Creek. Outside, the snow mounded on the rusted swing set. Katie would have been thirty-eight today. He laid his head on his arms and wept, berating himself for his weakness. He kissed Mary goodnight and went to bed.

In his dream, Warren watched helplessly as Kilpatrick tried to rally the men. The platoon had scattered at the sound of the bells coming over the hill. Machine gun fire cut Staff Sergeant McDonald in half, while PFC Harrison, with his orange hair and crooked grin, took three rounds in the chest and fell against the door of their field tent. Warren held the boy in his arms while his life leaked away and the war swarmed around them. His final breath gurgled like a coffeepot.
And when his alarm clock went off, dragging him out of the war zone, he got ready to walk to work, thinking that it would be just another day of drudgery.

But this particular day took a different path. Warren was stocking dry goods the next afternoon when he heard voices. He cringed, thinking at first it was the cries of the platoon, but when he stepped into the break room, he found it was only Dave and Janelle engaged in an argument.

“You pushed me too far,” Dave was saying. “You know how I get.”

“You can’t keep beating me up; that’s not the answer,” said Janelle. “You promised you’d get a divorce.”

“Okay, fine, but I need some time. Don’t be such a—” Dave stopped as Warren walked past. Janelle’s eyes were red, and there was a bruise on her cheek. She rushed past him to the women’s restroom. 

Warren raised his hand to stop her. “Janelle, what happened to your—” but she only shook her head and continued past.

Dave said, “What are you looking at, Warren? Get out of this break room and get back to work.” He slammed his office door shut.

Eric came in for his fifteen, clapping Warren on the shoulder. “How they hanging, Pops?”

Warren didn’t answer.

That night he woke from another dream of the Winter Offensive. Moonlight streamed through the blinds. In the bedroom corner shadows lurked, and men dead forty years whispered from the closet. PFC Harrison was back, with his toothy grin, and three holes in his chest.

Warren moaned. “Go away, Jimmy.” He clutched at his skull, begging the voices to stop. When he could bear it no longer, he slipped on his bathrobe and walked to the door, giving the closet a wide berth.

Kilpatrick called to him from down the stairs. “We’re waiting, Warren. Come back to us. Come back to the platoon.”

He went down to the basement, where Mary slept. He took her cold hand. “I don’t know what to do.” He told her about Eric’s laughter, the bruise on Janelle’s face, and how Dave was using her. He told her that Janelle looked how their daughter would look today, had she lived.

He hugged his sleeping wife to his chest and wept. “I’m so tired, Mary. And cold. I can’t get warm. Kilpatrick—every night he’s there, waiting for me. What should I do, Mary?”

Sometime later, Mary told him.


It was Saturday, and Warren endured Eric’s smirks and jibes from noon until closing time. At 9:30, Dave locked the front door, then motioned for Eric to stand by Warren. “The stockroom’s a mess,” he said. “I want it cleaned up. Mop it out, straighten the shelves, and get rid of the empty boxes.”

“Dave, I can’t stay. Mary is alone and—”

“I don’t want to hear it, Warren. Get it done. And I want you guys clocked out by eleven, no excuses. Now, I’m leaving, and Janelle’s clocking out too.”

At 10:30, he took a break to get some aspirin from his locker. His back was killing him. Eric had been quiet all day, organizing the shelves and disposing of the trash while Warren mopped the floor. He opened his locker to find a box of disposable diapers sitting atop his rucksack.

Eric stood in the doorway, laughter in his eyes. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

As Warren leaned down to rinse the mop, Eric cuffed him in the back of his head.

“Don’t.” His hands shook. “Don’t do that. You’re not Kilpatrick.”

Eric cuffed him again. “What the hell are you talking about, Pops? You’re a crazy old coot, you know that?”

With a roar, Warren swung the mop. Its metal frame sliced the boy’s forehead open. Blood poured into Eric’s eyes, and he lurched into Warren, driving him against the freezer door. Eric ripped the mop handle from Warren’s hands, and he clubbed the old man over the head. The handle broke on the third swing and fell to the floor with a hollow clatter.

Eric picked up the ragged stub and jabbed it into Warren’s rib cage, knocking him to the ground. He tried to straddle the old man, but Warren kneed him hard in the groin. Eric collapsed to the concrete and was still.

Warren rolled him over. The broken mop handle protruded from the boy’s chest. His face was screwed up in a buck-toothed grimace, like that of the Chinese soldier who’d shot PFC Harrison.

Warren moaned. “No! It wasn’t my fault. Not this time.”

He covered the body with cardboard, but changed his mind and dragged the corpse to the trash compactor instead. He wrestled it over the edge and tumbled it in, then pushed the start button, grimacing at the awful crunching from within. He retrieved his rucksack from the breakroom, shut off the lights, and locked the door behind him.

He walked home and said goodbye to Mary. Then he grabbed his 9mm, and stuffed it into his jacket pocket.

He went back outside.

Janelle’s apartment was seven blocks away. Dave’s car sat in the driveway. The rear passenger door was unlocked. Warren lay down in the backseat to wait. Inside the apartment, a light burned in the hallway. Shadows from the TV set played on the glass. Warren removed the 9mm pistol from his pocket and waited. 


The next morning he didn’t go to work. He stood in front of Janelle’s apartment. A Chippewa Falls police cruiser sat parked outside. Warren waited outside, his breath condensing into small clouds. He was turning to go back home when two police officers stepped onto the porch and crunched through the snow to go back to their cruiser. After they pulled away, Warren knocked on the apartment door.   

Janelle opened the door, her eyes widening in surprise. She’d been crying. “Warren? What are you—?”

“Can I come in for a minute?” He glanced over his shoulder. “Please, Janelle. I’m cold.”

She let him inside.

He gestured at the street. “Why were the police here?”

Janelle’s two children were watching TV in the next room. “Something terrible has happened,” she whispered. “The police said that Dave is missing. His wife…he never came home from work last night. And they found Eric in the garbage compactor at the store. He’s dead.” She gasped. “The police think Dave did something, that he was involved somehow.” She covered her face with her hands. “Oh, how can this be happening?”

He touched her face, the auburn strands hanging down across the nape of her neck. Like his daughter’s hair. “I’m sure it will be okay; you’re safe now, Katie. Dave can’t hurt you ever again.”

“Warren, what do you mean? Do you know something about this?” Her eyes widened. “You called me Katie.”

“I’m sorry.” He turned around and said over his shoulder, “I didn’t mean to. It’s just, you look so much like my little girl sometimes, my Katie. I get mixed up, that’s all.”

The phone rang. It sounded like a fire alarm. A small voice called from the other room. “Mom, it’s Lizzy.” Janelle went to answer, leaving him by the door.

He eavesdropped. “I know that,” came her whispered voice. “The police just left. Yes. Warren’s here. Why?” When she returned, her face was ashen. “Oh, Warren. What have you done?”

He looked at the floor. Bells that only he could hear rang in the distance, disorienting him. His head ached.  

“Warren, answer me. What did you do?” She gripped his shoulders, shaking him violently. His hat tumbled from his head. 

“It was Kilpatrick,” he mumbled. “I didn’t—”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“He was hurting you. They were all hurting you. I had to stop them.”

“Warren, how could you do this? I loved Dave. I’m pregnant, Warren. He was going to leave his wife and take care of me. He was going to take care of all of us. And you killed him. How could you do it? You killed my baby’s father. You stupid, stupid old man, how could you do it?” She collapsed to the floor in tears.

Janelle’s children stood in the doorway. The youngest was a girl of perhaps four. She looked like her mother. The other was a boy, seven or eight years old.

“Mommy, Mommy!” The little girl ran to her mother. Her sobs echoed in the small room.

Warren pulled the 9mm from his pocket. The boy fled, shrieking. Warren heard him screaming into a cell phone.

He set the gun on the floor next to Janelle like an offering.

She shook her head. “No, I won’t shoot you. Go away.”

Warren stepped into the cold and went home. A police car waited in the driveway. He slipped in through the side door, removed his boots and placed them on the Rubbermaid drip pan, then hung his jacket on the peg. On his way upstairs to change, the doorbell rang.

He ran his fingers along the pictures lining the wall. There was Mary blowing out the candles on her 50th birthday cake. There was Katie with a fishing line, a large-mouth bass swinging from its end. She smiled as if she had the rest of her life in front of her.

Warren took his dress uniform from the closet. He dressed quickly. As he stepped into the landing, the doorbell rang again, then knocking. He walked to the kitchen and descended the wooden stairs in the dark, locking the basement door behind him.

Inside, he flicked on the light. Rows of Mason jars lined the concrete walls, dusty reminders of a lost past. Board games and boxes of retired Barbie dolls filled rows of wooden shelves.

Below them, a green lawn chair sat next to the Kenmore chest freezer. Warren lifted the door of the freezer and looked down at his sleeping wife. From upstairs came pounding, then breaking glass.

He took a deep breath, then crawled into the freezer with Mary. He kissed her on the cheek and shut the door. Warren closed his eyes against the dark and thought about Katie, playing on the shore of Lake Wissota.

Kip Hanson lives in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where he chronicles the life of an exiled Nordic Warrior King at

You can find his stories and flash fiction at Foundling Review, Bartleby Snopes, Monkey Bicycle, Absinthe Revival, and a few other places. He’s been published in several anthologies, and was nominated for a Pushcart in 2011. He didn’t win, but keeps trying anyway, which is all any writer can do.

When not telling lies, he makes a few bucks on the side cobbling together boring articles for technical magazines (don’t tell the IRS). He writes to keep the flying monkeys away.