Authors: Ed Gorman,Daniel Ransom
Five years after her husband had left her—this was back in the good days following WWII—Minerva Greer had bought herself a Greyhound ticket and traveled all the way from Cleveland, where she had been working as a domestic in the home of a very wealthy surgeon, and gone to Mardi Gras. She had never before or since seen such a spectacle. The Baptist part of her said that most of what she saw was sinful and should not be allowed to happen. But the lonely part of her, the husband-left part of her, let herself be swept up in the events. One of those events was meeting the white soldier and spending the better part of three days in his hotel room. She knew it was not love in any form, just lovemaking; but after five years without a man, she had been unable to help herself. Now, at sixty-three, all she had of the soldier, of any man, was the blue silk robe he’d bought for her, the robe Minerva wore whenever she was depressed.
The animal wails emanating from downstairs had caused her to put on the blue silk robe and try to block out her awareness of the sounds. She had been awake for uncountable hours, lying on the bed down the hall from her friend and employer, Ruth Foster. The house had been quiet for at least four hours now. Maybe she could finally fall asleep....
On those nights when the noises from downstairs came, she could never sleep. Though she was not sure what the noises were—though she had certain suspicions—she was affected by them in ways that left her edgy for days. They affected Ruth no less.
The taste of too much tea from the previous evening still in her mouth, Minerva decided to get up and go down the hall to brush her teeth.
It was while she walked along the hallway, peering down the staircase, that she got the idea.
She kept walking, dismissing the notion as stupid, perhaps even dangerous.
In the bathroom, she relieved herself, closing the lid to cut down on the flushing noise, splashed water on her dark, handsome face, and brushed her teeth.
On the way back to her bedroom, she again peered over the edge of the staircase.
This time, almost as if she were being summoned by some other power, she descended the broad steps into the gloom at the base of the staircase.
The familiar sound of the ticking clock was reassuring.
Otherwise the place was so dark it was totally unfamiliar to her.
It seemed to her that on those nights that the noise came, it came from near the pantry, up from the basement....
Ruth always explained it as a cat or dog trapped in the cellar ... finally getting itself out....
Now that her eyes were growing accustomed to the shadows, Minerva felt silly about being afraid. She had been a part of this house for nearly thirty years. She knew her way around it as well as her blind aunt knew her way around her own house.
Minerva, curious about the animal noise even though there was no evidence of it now, went into the formal dining room on her way toward the pantry at the rear of the house. Moonlight fell across the long dining table, making the wax sparkle with silver colors.
She was ten feet from the pantry door when it happened. She scarcely had time to scream.
Ruth was not certain what had awakened her. Some sound.
She lay in that half-state of wakefulness, listening to the venerable noises made by the venerable mansion.
Friendly, familiar noises.
But what had awakened her?
After a time she fell asleep again.
“It’s all right,” Donna Reeves said.
“Sure it is,” Vince Reeves said. He rolled over and angrily snatched a cigarette from the pack on the nightstand.
Donna was a thirty-five-year-old woman given to plumpness and occasional migraines. She was a housewife, even if her house happened to be a large trailer in Van Dyke’s Trailer City, and not at all displeased that she didn’t have to punch a time clock. Vince, her dark-haired, chunky and usually inexhaustibly horny husband, made just enough on his salary as Sheriff Wayman’s deputy that Donna could stay home. The only thing wrong with their marriage—other than the two children they’d lost to miscarriages—was the slight sex problem Vince had been having the past few weeks. Tonight, for instance, he’d rolled on and almost as quickly rolled off. The term in the sex manual she’d bought at the drugstore the other day was premature ejaculation. Here was Vince, who usually wore her out, who usually plundered her until she swore she wouldn’t want sex again for
here was Vince getting it over in mere seconds.
Which didn’t bother Donna much, but it sure bothered hubby-poo. He had started averting his eyes, and sitting out in the squad car before coming in, as if he had some dread disease, and avoiding her sexually in every way possible. In the middle of the night tonight, he’d apparently decided to give it another shot. He’d awakened her and played briefly with her breasts, then mounted and entered her. She had just started to get a little wet when she’d heard him curse and felt him roll off with enough force that he’d hurt her.
Now he lay beside her, his whole body as tense as if it were made of stone, the point of his Merit bright in the blackness of their bedroom.
“Maybe something’s bothering you,” she said, remembering what the sex manual had to say about stress as a big factor in sexual performance.
He didn’t so much as grunt a response to her suggestion.
“It’s all right.”
“No, no it isn’t.”
“It’ll be just like it was. Soon.”
“You bet, missus.”
She hated that, when he called her missus. He said that to some of the fancy-schmancy women in Burton, whenever he had to issue a traffic ticket or something.
She hated that.
“You’ve been upset ever since you drove out to the cabin that night.”
Then she knew what was bothering him. His hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.
“What’d I tell ya?”
“Vince, c‘mon, you’re hurtin’ me!”
But he was yelling, crazed, all his frustration and shame—as well as a night’s supply of Coors—being spat in her face via warm, terrible-smelling breath.
“You tell anybody about what I overheard, Donna, and we’re fuckin’ dead people. You understand me? We’re fuckin’ dead people!”
In what seemed less than seconds he had put on his pants and shirt and slammed out of the trailer. His own car, the Firebird, roared to life. He was gone in a scream of rubber. She knew where he would go. Out on the highway to roar through the darkness, the radio blasting country western, a quart of Coors between his legs.
Miserably, she reviewed the past few weeks of their lives.
Ever since he had heard ...
Ever since ...
She shuddered, and began weeping.
She could imagine how he felt about himself, an honest, hardworking man who was afraid to push the truth any further than he already had for fear of losing his job ... and maybe his life.
The first traces of dawn streaked the sky, giving the mansion a regal look against the salmon-pink and yellow clouds packed with dark patches promising rain.
From somewhere in the house the animal mewling came occasionally, a combination of pleading and satisfaction.
A tomcat raised its sizable head up once to see if it could identify the sound. But no luck.
It tucked its head back into the rest of its body and went to sleep.
There were times he wished the night would never end, that the world would never be light again, when he could live with his pleasures and his lusts. He wanted to escape into the forest and live with the animals there, the dumb, sweet animals who never smirked at you or threatened you in any way. He had dominance over them the way he had dominance over the girl now.
There were so many things he wanted to do
Now that she was safely taken care of, he walked the night through the woods, considering what he would do next. He liked to walk the woods
He could imagine the pandemonium back
near the motel
He had watched one of those scenes
police caught up in the frenzy of the
Hidden from view, he had smiled about it all, felt superior. Felt, indeed, almost godlike.
He jerked to a stop. They had made him a “gift” of the girl—
Behind him in the forest he heard the noises of intruders.
He jumped behind a massive oak and sought the shape of his enemy.
There were two of them.
The beam of a flashlight arced through the canopy of branches and leaves.
Heavy shoes tramped through soft earth.
He stayed behind the tree, panting from exhaustion and—
The terror, the panic was back again.
Sometimes it thrilled him—it was like taking some kind of drug to almost get caught—but other times it paralyzed him.
He lay behind the tree in the soft earth with the smell of flowers and water and ferns sharp in his nostrils.
He wanted to be one of the animals. Darting in and out of the darkness. Hiding in places no human had ever been.
From somewhere within his chest—involuntarily, as if he were demon-possessed—a kind of whimper escaped.
The sound of it froze him.
Had the men with the flashlight heard it?
They came closer.
He heard them talking. They sounded angry.
He pushed himself even flatter against the earth. His heart hammering. His legs trembling.
The closer they got, the more he thought of the girl. Distracting himself from his fear with thoughts of her.
He had had only moments to get a good glimpse of her body. But she was a beauty. No doubt about that.
The shape of her in her jeans—the young, firm hips—the swell of her tender breasts—excited him now as he lay there with the men only feet away
Abruptly, he forgot his images of the girl.
A dog started to bay.
Once again the beam of the flashlight caught trees—like silver fire—behind him.
He started to crawl from behind the tree but then froze as the flashlight beam dropped lower.
The dogs. He could almost see their canine teeth. Feel their hunger.
They were hunting him down.
Icy terror spread through his bones.
One of the men swore. The voice was ugly in the darkness.
Dogs and men pulled away. Heading east. Back toward the town.
Taking their silver fire and their harsh voices with them.
He lay there convulsing. His relief was almost like an orgasm.
A smile more like a snarl peeled back his lips, and a giddy, effeminate sound came up from his chest.
They had been so close, but then all of a sudden—mysteriously—
But it was not mysterious, after all, not when he thought about it.
Why, close as the dogs were, they’d done such an about-face and—
No, not mysterious at all.
And he should have thought about that instead of getting so scared.
Thought that they weren’t about to let anybody—
Well, he was taken care of, that was all that mattered.
He picked himself up from the ground.
Listened to the night.
Was that screaming, ever so faint on the dark tides swirling around him?
Faint screaming from the bottom of the vortex where the girl waited to be taken?
The smile touched his lips again.
The tiny, eerie sound of his laughter.
His eyes were animal-bright in the gloom as he moved toward where the girl waited.
Toward the feel and pain of her, toward the sumptuousness and helplessness of her—
He moved through the forest, the excitement powerful in his imagination now—