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Authors: Guardian

Tags: #Horror, #General, #Fiction, #Psychological, #Divorced Women, #Action & Adventure, #Romance, #Suspense, #Idaho

John Saul (10 page)

BOOK: John Saul
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“Oh, God,” Andrea whispered, her voice barely audible. “Who is it?”

Michael said nothing, for something about the dark figure made his blood run cold. The idea of trying to frighten Joey Wilkenson evaporating from his mind, he tightened his grip on Andrea’s arm and began backing slowly toward the corner of the house.

A breeze came up, blowing down from the mountains, and a moment later one of the horses whinnied loudly in the barn, and then they heard the sound of hooves striking out against the wooden walls of one of the stalls.

“Let’s get out of here,” Michael whispered. Pulling Andrea along beside him, he ran toward the mouth of the driveway, no longer Worried about being seen from the house, but only wanting to keep the house itself between him and the ominous figure that had come out of the woods. He’d only gone a few steps when Andrea jerked her arm loose from his grip and sped past him, her feet pounding on the ground as she, too, raced toward the driveway.

It wasn’t until they were almost back to their own house that they finally slowed down, both of them gasping for breath. At last, with home in sight, Michael dropped to the ground, struggling to control his breathing, now frightened that his own parents might hear them. Andrea crouched beside him, and for a few minutes neither of them said anything.

Finally, Andrea, unable to stand the silence any longer, spoke. “Who was it?” she whispered, her voice ragged from the exhaustion of running for almost a full mile. “Was it Bill Sikes?”

Michael shook his head. “He was a lot taller than Sikes,” he said. “He was huge.”

“D-Did he see us?” Andrea wailed.

Michael glanced nervously into the woods behind him, listening for any sounds that might betray the man’s presenee.
“I-I don’t think so,” he stammered. “At least, if he did, he couldn’t have recognized us.”

Now Andrea’s eyes flickered nervously around. “Wh-What if he followed us?”

Michael struggled to swallow the lump of fear that had risen in his throat. “He didn’t,” he told his sister, sounding a lot more confident than he felt. But as he thought about it, he realized that she was right.

If whoever had been out there in the night, prowling in the woods, had wanted to follow them, he could have.

And he could have caught them, too.

Michael’s skin began tingling, as if some unseen being were watching him. As the chill spread through his body, the last of his nerve deserted him. “Come on,” he whispered, his voice cracking with fear. “Let’s get in the house.”

They darted across the pasture, scrambling through the window they’d left open and dropping onto the floor of Andrea’s room. Instantly, Michael pulled the window closed and locked it. For several long seconds the two of them sat still on the floor, listening for any unfamiliar sound from outside.

But now that they were safely back in the house, everything beyond the familiar walls of Andrea’s room seemed normal once more. After a few minutes, Michael left his sister and slipped back to his own room.

Outside, the shadowy form that had soundlessly followed them through the woods turned away, merging back into the darkness of the night so quickly that anyone who watched might have been uncertain that it was there at all.

But it
was
there—prowling the Sugarloaf Valley tonight just as it had every night for years.

Prowling.

Watching.

And waiting.

Alan Carpenter gazed out the kitchen window the next morning, his eyes bleary from lack of sleep, the cramping of his muscles from yesterday’s long flight barely eased by the night in bed.

He wasn’t sure he’d gotten any sleep at all. Part of his restlessness, he knew, had resulted from the fight he’d had with MaryAnne just before they’d gone to bed. All evening, he’d done his best not to confront her about the shirt he’d found in her closet, or ask her any questions about Bob—whose last name he didn’t even know. Instead, he’d tried to listen patiently while she explained the terms of the Wilkensons’ will, refusing to give in to the cold fury that had built inside him as he came to the realization that whatever amount of money they had left to Joey’s guardian—and he assumed it must be a lot, though MaryAnne hadn’t told him how much—had all been left to his wife alone.

What the hell was that all about? They’d known damned well MaryAnne was married to him and was the father of her kids. Didn’t they think he was good enough to raise Joey, too? Apparently not. Still, he’d kept his peace, determined not to let anything spoil his reconciliation with MaryAnne. He’d even gone as far as apologizing for their fight just before she’d left New Jersey, although he knew deep down that it had been MaryAnne’s fault far more than his own.

But when they finally went upstairs, she’d shown him to a room down the hall from her own!

“What’s this all about?” he’d demanded. “Aren’t we sleeping together anymore?”

MaryAnne had actually had the nerve to look puzzled. “Alan, we haven’t been sleeping together for a year, except for night before last.”

“Then what the hell did you ask me out here for?” Alan exploded, his voice rising. “I thought—”

“Will you keep your voice down?” MaryAnne rasped, her jaw clenching. “For God’s sake, Alan, we don’t need to let the kids hear us fight every time we see each other, do we?”

“It’s not
my
fault,” Alan shot back. “I’m your husband, for Christ’s sake! I have a right—”

“That’s enough,” MaryAnne snapped. “Being my husband might have given you some privileges, but it never gave you any rights. And the
privileges
ended the day you walked out on me, so don’t think you can just jump into
my bed any time you want. And don’t bother to argue anymore, because I’m going to bed! If I’m going to get through Audrey’s and Ted’s funeral tomorrow, I have to get some sleep.” Before her words had quite sunk in, she’d hurried down the hall, slipped into her room, and locked the door behind her.

And Alan, his fury growing every minute, had gone into the small guest room she’d relegated him to, and tried to get some sleep. The problem was that aside from his raging anger, the whole place gave him the creeps.

The night was filled with noises he couldn’t identify, and he missed the familiar rumble of traffic right outside his window. He’d finally closed the window, certain that if he didn’t, a bat, or a raccoon, or some other wild animal, would come in and attack him while he slept. So he’d lain awake all night, wondering why he’d come out here at all.

Now, in the bright sunlight of morning, he felt no better. The kids were already out of the house, following Joey to the barn to help him feed the horses.

Horses, for Christ’s sake! What did a couple of kids from Canaan, New Jersey, need to know about horses?

And MaryAnne was washing the breakfast dishes, putting things away just as if she’d lived here for years. “Don’t get too comfortable,” he said, his voice betraying his foul mood. “We’re only going to be here another day. We go to the funeral this afternoon, and tomorrow morning we go back to New Jersey.”

MaryAnne stopped working at the sink and turned to face him. “Oh?” she asked. “When did you make up your mind about that?”

Alan fought to keep his anger under control. “I didn’t mean it quite the way it sounded,” he began.

“Somehow, I think you meant it exactly the way it sounded,” MaryAnne replied, her voice cool.

With an effort, Alan ignored both her comment and its tone. “I just meant that we can’t stay out here past the funeral. I’ve already used up my vacation time this year. If I take extra time, I’ll get docked.”

MaryAnne shrugged. “I just don’t see how that’s going to be possible,” she said. “I talked to Charley Hawkins this
morning before you came down. There’s going to be a mountain of paperwork involved in settling the estate. And even if we decide to close the ranch—”

“We?” Alan broke in. “We being who? You haven’t said a word to me about the ranch!”

“I mean Charley and I.” MaryAnne sighed, finally dropping into the chair opposite Alan. “Look, Alan, there’s something I’ve been thinking about that we have to discuss.”

Alan’s brows rose in a cynical arch. “Oh, really? So now who’s been making plans without talking to anyone else?”

“I’m talking to you now,” MaryAnne replied evenly. “And I haven’t made up my mind about anything. But since you’re talking about going home, this seems like the right time.” She waited for a response from her husband. When there was none, she went on. “It seems as if it might be a good idea for me to stay out here with the kids for a while. You could move back into our house, which would save us a lot of money, and—”

“Money?” Alan repeated. “From what you said last night, I gather money isn’t going to be a problem at all anymore.”

MaryAnne spread her hands in a helpless gesture. “I didn’t mean it that way. And I certainly have no idea how long it’s going to take for the estate to get settled.”

Alan’s eyes rolled in disbelief. “Right. But I’ll bet good old Charley can advance you whatever you need, can’t he?” Seeing MaryAnne’s eyes narrow with anger, he veered off in another direction. “Anyway, what about the kids? School starts next week, doesn’t it?”

“I wish it did. But in case you didn’t know, it doesn’t. There’s a strike on in Canaan, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be settled for at least a couple of weeks. So it just seems to me that it makes sense for the kids to stay here with me. They haven’t had a real vacation in years—”

Alan stood up abruptly. “You don’t want to discuss a damned thing, do you? You’ve already made up your mind. Well, that’s just fine!” Reaching across the kitchen counter, he picked up the phone, jabbed a series of digits into the keypad, then drummed impatiently on the countertop as he
waited for the information operator to respond. As MaryAnne listened in silence, he made two more phone calls, then left the kitchen without another word.

By the time his shaving gear was cleared out of the bathroom and his dirty underwear was haphazardly tossed back into his suitcase, Sugarloaf’s lone taxi—a maroon van with nothing more than a magnetic sign stuck to a door to advertise its purpose—was just coming up the drive. MaryAnne came out of the kitchen as Alan hurried down the stairs, catching up to him at the front door.

“You’re really going to walk out without even saying good-bye to the kids?” she demanded.

Alan’s eyes fixed coldly on her. “I didn’t say good-bye to them last time, either, so I guess they should be used to it by now.” He strode across the front porch and down to the driveway, tossed his suitcase in the back of the van, then climbed into the passenger seat.

“Boise,” he said. “The airport.”

 CHAPTER 6 

M
aryAnne was just about to start getting ready for the funeral when a police car pulled up in front of the house. A uniformed officer strode up to the front porch and rapped loudly on the door. “MaryAnne Carpenter?” he asked as she uncertainly opened the door a few inches. She nodded, and the officer smiled at her. “I’m Rick Martin. I think you met my wife a couple of days ago. Gillie Martin?”

The instinctive nervousness she’d felt at seeing him evaporated. MaryAnne pulled the door open wide. “Of course. Won’t you come in? I think I still have some coffee in the pot.”

“No thanks,” Martin replied. “Actually, I’m here on business.” As MaryAnne’s expression faltered, he quickly reassured her. “Nothing to do with the ranch this time. At least I hope not.”

She smiled uncertainly. “Then I’m not sure how I can help you. I don’t think I’ve been away from the place since I got here.”

“I was just wondering if anyone here might have seen something last night. Or heard something. There was an attack up at the campground.”

“The campground?” MaryAnne said. “I’m afraid I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on that cup of coffee after all,” Martin told her. As they started toward the kitchen, he began explaining what had happened. “It’s Coyote Creek Campground. It’s up the mountains to the south, maybe a mile from here. It’s not on the ranch, but it adjoins the property, and there’s no fence.” He chuckled softly. “Ted said the hikers wandering down here were getting worse
than the yellow jackets. Anyway, one of the campsites got torn up last night.”

MaryAnne, the coffeepot in her hand, looked up at the deputy. “My God! Was anybody hurt?”

Martin shook his head. “No one was there. The folks who were camped in the site had gone down to Sun Valley for the day, and decided to spend the night. They didn’t discover what had happened until this morning.”

“But what
did
happen?” MaryAnne asked as she set a steaming mug in front of the deputy, who had settled himself onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

The back door opened then, and Joey Wilkenson, followed by Logan and Alison Carpenter, came inside, Storm wriggling past them to sniff curiously at the policeman.

“These are my children, Alison and Logan, and of course you know Joey. This is Deputy Martin.”

Though both Alison and Logan said hello to Rick Martin, Joey Wilkenson said nothing, and suddenly Charley Hawkins’s words came back into MaryAnne’s mind.
Don’t be surprised if someone comes to talk to Joey, that’s all
. The nervousness she’d instinctively felt at the deputy’s appearance a few minutes before flooded back, and as she listened to what Rick Martin was saying, she could not keep herself from glancing at Joey every few moments, searching his face for some sign of how he was reacting. Had something really happened at the campground, or was Rick Martin actually here only to talk to Joey?

“I’m not sure what happened,” the deputy began. “I got called up there about an hour ago, and I still can’t figure it all out.”

The campground at Coyote Creek consisted of only ten sites spread over five acres. The creek babbled through the center of the grounds, and while every one of the sites faced the water, not one of them was visible from any of the others. Until this morning, neither Rick Martin, Tony Moleno, nor any of the rangers who patrolled the area had ever experienced any trouble up there.

No complaints of drunken parties involving college kids on a weekend bender. No motorcycles disturbing the quiet
of the summer nights. Not even any problems with fires left untended, or campsites left filled with litter.

BOOK: John Saul
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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