Read Boo Online

Authors: Rene Gutteridge

Boo (6 page)

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So Wolfe kept walking, pondering the mystery of all that had taken place a few mornings back. How thankful he was to know the reverend and to feel accepted. As he swept his tangled hair out of his eyes, he almost smiled at the idea of what everyone must be thinking. For years, thirteen to be exact, he’d stayed a recluse in his house on the hill, pretending to be oblivious to what was happening down below in the town. He didn’t want to know. But he knew.

He’d always been comfortable being by himself, but as he realized just recently, he’d so secluded himself that he’d actually become lonely. Really lonely. And the fulfillment that came with writing successful horror novels had ended long ago. These days, he just followed the formula that worked, all the while wondering if there was something more to life.

Now he’d found it.

This morning, he vowed to put an end to his loneliness. He passed by the town’s pet shop, which he noticed had a sale on vampire bats. Then his mind shifted to Ainsley.

He’d found comfort over the years in just watching her. He loved to watch her. She was kind and warm to people. She made direct eye contact when she spoke. She grinned at everyone, even the ones who didn’t grin back. She was a breath of fresh air in a world that didn’t have time for people. And she was everything he’d always wanted to be.

Now maybe he had a chance at being that.

A plump woman careened into his thoughts, and before he knew it, he’d knocked her over, or she him, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he was lying face-up on the sidewalk, with a leather purse over his face.

Before he could think to remove it, he found himself blinking up at a bright and chubby face. His head was pounding a little from hitting the sidewalk, but he managed a small smile in return, the first pleasant exchange he’d had all morning. Then a firm grasp took his hand, and he was up on his feet, staring at a woman who almost matched his height.

She grinned from one rotund cheek to the other, blinking abnormally fast with her hands clasped together, her heavy leather purse hanging from one of her arms. “Oh my! I am ever so sorry. I never do watch where I’m going.” She laughed and shook her head.

“No, it’s my fault,” Wolfe offered, even though he didn’t even know what happened. “I was in deep thought and not paying attention.”

One mittened hand suddenly hit her chest, right at her heart, and at first by the stunned expression on her face, Wolfe thought she was having a heart attack. But then he realized it was just astonishment.

“I hate to be a bother,” she said, staring at him as if he were a pile of gold, “but … well … can I have your autograph? I’ve read all your books.
They scare the tittle out of me, to tell you the truth, and I’ve never wanted to bother you before because I know you must get a million—no, probably a billion—people asking you for your John Hancock, but since I near killed you here in the middle of Main Street, maybe I should just ask you now?”

Wolfe chuckled. “Sure. Do you have a pen?”

The woman frowned. “Oh dear. No. I don’t have a pen. But I do have a nice tube of Streetcar Red lipstick and a napkin. Will that do?”

Wolfe swallowed. He guessed it would have to. “Okay.”

She grinned again. “Oh, good. Then it’ll look like blood.”


She fished into her purse and came out with the tube. “Here.” She handed him a folded napkin too and Wolfe tried to figure out how he was going to sign his name with a tube of lipstick. He decided just to go for it. After all, the woman was so intent.

“There you go,” he said, handing it back to her.

“Thank you! Thank you! I’m such a big fan. This is so exciting.” She held the napkin delicately. Then she looked back up at him, her eyes filled with a deep sincerity. “The name’s Melb. Not with an
, like Melba. Just Melb. Melb Cornforth. But if you accidentally call me Melba, it’s okay because I’m used to it. It’s so stinkin’ confusing I don’t blame you. Melb’s a stupid family name, on my father’s side, and for the sake of tradition they gave it to me. Shoot, I probably shoulda just gone by Melba and made my whole life easier. I swear sometimes I think I’m gonna go insane just trying to explain the whole thing.” She sighed and tried to smile. Wolfe thought she was one of the most peculiar people he’d ever met. “Maybe I am insane and just don’t know it. The thing is, I’m concerned about the rumor.”

Wolfe blinked, trying to follow the woman’s rambling. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s just a rumor, isn’t it?” She clasped the handles of her purse and held it awkwardly against her chest. “I’m your biggest fan.”

Wolfe shook his head, trying to be gracious and kind to the one person who seemed to be taking an interest in him. But she kept shifting
topics, and he had not the slightest idea what she was talking about. “I’m sorry, I just—”

She was pulling something out of her purse, and the next thing Wolfe knew, her hand was in his face holding a small business card up for him to see. “See? I’ve been a proud member since 1992.”

Wolfe squinted to see what the card said. T
. M
[with the
scratched out] C
, P
1992. He smiled at her and said, “Oh. How nice.”

“Yes, so you can imagine how concerned I am about the rumor.” She took a couple of steps backward, as if something about him startled her. “I’m not one to gossip, you should know. I don’t listen to all that nonsense. When I go to get my hair fixed, I’m going to get my hair fixed. Not for any other reason, if you catch my drift. Listen, I’m all for going to church. I go to church every single Sunday, have since I was born. In fact, my mama took me to church when I was only two days old, and back then that was a no-no because of all the disease and such. But church is important, and I have nothin’ against it.”

Wolfe scratched his head. Did this have something to do with what had happened at the church? He bit his lip, trying to decide what to say. But he didn’t have a chance to say anything, because Melb kept talking. “It’s just that so many of us read your books. And so many of us
on those books. I’ve already got a copy of
Black Cats
. You see what I mean? It’s important. It would be life-altering if something were to happen and you stopped writing.” Her eyes were suddenly fierce with emotion.

Wolfe began to piece things together. Somehow she knew about his new faith. He tried to reassure her with a smile. “Melb, you must understand. I have no plans to stop writing.”

“Oh! Thank heavens!”

“I just plan on writing different things.”

Melb’s face dropped as if a weight were pulling her skin down. “Different?”

“Sure. I’ve always appreciated literature, and I hope to write a few
classics of my own.” He grinned at the thought of it, but Melb was not grinning back.

“Classic literature? Are you out of your mind? You can’t write classic literature!”

“Well, I’m sure it’ll take some practice, but I hope to accomplish—”

“I can’t sit in bed at night under my covers with a hot cup of tea and read some historical coming-of-age story. I need
I need
I need
She lost her breath, and the color drained from her face. Both fists sat on her large hips—her purse now swinging—and she seemed to be snarling ever so slightly. “Do you hear me, mister? It’s not fair. It’s simply not fair to reel me in like some helpless fish, only to slice me open with the news you plan to get righteous!”

Wolfe must have had a shocked look on his face, because Melb’s expression suddenly seemed softer, and she patted him on the arm. “You’re just brilliant the way you create those characters. They draw me in, you know? I can relate to them. I feel their pain.” Her eyes grew distant as she ruminated. “And I don’t know how you do it, Mr. Boone, but you write those female characters of yours like no one I’ve seen. It’s almost like you’re inside the female head or something.” She smiled at him. “Sometimes, I swear it’s like I know them. Like they’re familiar to me, almost as if you’re writing about someone I know.”

Wolfe cleared his throat, and in the cool of the morning he suddenly felt very warm. “Well, Melb, it was nice to meet you. I must get going now.”

Melb blinked but nodded graciously. “I understand. I’m sorry to have kept you here so long. Listen to me, rambling on like some lunatic out of one of your books.” She placed a mitten on his forearm. “Just promise me, Mr. Boone, that you’ll keep writing those horror novels. Promise me.”

Wolfe looked down at her, tried to smile, and could say nothing more than “Have a nice day.” He moved past her and kept walking down the sidewalk, never looking back, though he could feel her staring at him. He couldn’t promise her that. In fact, he could almost promise
just the opposite. He’d spent years dabbling in the dark side. Now he felt completely drawn to the light.

Missy Peeple’s cane tapped the concrete as she stood in a darkened corner of the street, a cubbyhole perfect for hiding and waiting. The chill in the early morning air seemed to reach down her throat and squeeze the oxygen out of her lungs, but she wouldn’t be deterred. Not by that grumpy Old Man Winter. Nosiree. Besides, he couldn’t hold a candle to Missy. Though she had two layers of mittens on, her hands felt like ice cubes. Her nose dripped in perfect unison to the tapping of her cane, which she amused herself with momentarily, but then she grew bored with it.

“Where is that woman?” she spat.

Just then a large shadow extended itself past the small nook she stood in, and Missy recognized it immediately.

“Hello?” a voice called.

“In here!” Missy Peeple reached out, just as Melb came into view, and pulled her into the nook.

Stumbling in, Melb was breathing hard and holding her chest. “My goodness! You scared me half to Hades, Miss Peeple. You shouldn’t just reach out and grab someone like that!”

“If you wouldn’t read all those horror novels, you wouldn’t be so paranoid all the time,” she scolded. She wiped her nose with her mitten and narrowed her eyes at Melb. “So what did you find out?”

Melb shook her head. “It’s true, I’m afraid. I didn’t really get a straight answer from him, but from all indications he doesn’t plan to continue what he’s doing.”

Missy Peeple growled from deep within her throat, and Melb took an astonished step back. “I felt a little bad about this, Miss Peeple,” she said after a moment. “I don’t much like to deceive people, even though I was quite curious myself. Still, I wasn’t completely honest with the man
about why I was asking him all those questions.” She leaned against the wall opposite Miss Peeple. “He’s quite a handsome fellow, I have to say. And has good manners, too. He’s not at all scary like I thought he’d be. From that picture on the back of his books, you’d think the poor fellow was mean as snot. But I guess you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” She chuckled, and then her smile faded as she glanced up at Miss Peeple. “Anyway, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I’ve tried other horror novelists, but they just don’t seem to have the depth and insight that Boo has.”

Missy finally grew tired of hearing Melb speak, and so she said, “Melb, you really must try those romance novels.”

Melb’s eyes widened. “Romance novels?”

“Why yes. The heaving bosoms. The hairless-chested men. Oh, the romance. Blah blah blah. You might be surprised how truly scary they can be.”

“Oh?” Melb chewed on the end of one of her chubby fingers. “Well, I have to admit, my favorite part of Boo’s novels are the romances, even though usually one or both die in the end, but still …” Her eyes grew blissfully distant at the thought.

“They’re quite addicting you know. Now, hurry along. We can’t be caught hovering in the shadows. People will start talking, and the last thing I need is to be the center of the town’s gossip.” She smiled tensely at Melb. “Good work.”

“Oh, uh … thank you.” Melb started to leave and then turned back and said, “Miss Peeple, what do you plan to do with this information? I mean, you’re not going to, um …”

“It’s out of sincere concern,” Miss Peeple said to Melb. “And what I plan to do with the information is save this little town from complete and utter devastation.”

Melb’s eyes were wide as she nodded. “Oh, of course.”

“But,” Missy warned, “you mustn’t tell a soul about this. Do you understand?” She leaned forward. “Most people abuse information they have, Melb. They gossip, pass it around like a platter of cheese. Information is important, but it must remain in the right hands.”

Melb smiled and patted Miss Peeple on the arm. “Well, it’s good to know that it’s in the right hands then.” She clutched her purse and stepped back onto the sidewalk. “Have a good day.”

Missy nodded and said, “See you at church, dear.”


a little lipstick, just enough to give herself some color. She thought about mascara but decided against it. Lipstick. Mascara. Blush. No reason to give anyone a chance to speculate. The little town was nice but fickle. Besides, her daddy always told her she had a natural beauty, and all the makeup just covered it up.

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