Authors: Susan Lynn Solomon
He glanced over his shoulder at my broken window. “Good thing we came out when we did.” He showed me what he held. “It’s called a Molotov cocktail.”
I was shaking so hard I felt my teeth rattle. “You see now? You see?” I howled. “I was right. Whoever killed Jimmy wants to shut me up!”
Before I knew it happened, he had me wrapped in his arms. This time I didn’t pull away.
“Hush,” he crooned. “Hush, it’ll be okay.”
“It won’t!” I bawled. “My home…what am I gonna do?” I grabbed the cat from him, snuggled her against my chest. “Elvira might have been killed.”
Even as I said it, I realized how strange that sounded. For the past three months I’d wanted the cat out of my house. Now she’d been in danger, and I feared for her the way a mother would fear for her child. Why did I? I would have to figure it out later.
As if she already knew the answer, Elvira rubbed her head on my chest and mewed. I think she understood she was now, and would always be, my family.
Roger held me away, and looked between us, first at me, then at the cat. His smile warmed me.
When he at last released me, he said, “You’ll stay at my place today.”
I shook my head.
“Listen to me. Whoever made this firebomb didn’t do a very good job—probably didn’t use enough accelerant, so it fizzled out before it caused much damage. But he might try again, and this time do it right.”
“What if we’re being watched?” I said. “He might already have another—what did you call it?—a Molotov cocktail?”
Roger again examined our street. “No one’s watching.”
I swung my head in the direction of the winding road set beyond the sea of white. I scanned the trees lining the other side of the road. Even though the branches were bare of leaves, someone could still hide among those trees.
“Please, do this for me,” he said. “I’ll worry less if I know you’re safe in my house.”
When I at last nodded, he guided me back inside.
Once I was settled under a blanket on Roger’s couch, with Elvira curled up next to me and the television tuned to a classic movie channel, he said, “There’s food in the fridge. Take whatever you want. I’ll be home around seven, and we can call out for dinner.”
Did he think this was a date? After someone had tried to burn me alive, could he possibly believe I might get hungry?
I lifted the cover, looked down at my pink and red plaid flannel pajamas. Swinging my legs to the floor, I said, “I have no clothes on. I have to go home and—”
“There’ll be time for that.” His face lit with what I would describe in my stories as a leering grin, he added, “Right now, you look fine to me.”
What a strong face he had. How much he cared about me showed in the way his jaw muscles twitched. Forgetting for a brief moment the danger I was in, I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
“That’s better,” he said.
I pointed at what was left of the bottle someone had filled with oil or gasoline or something, and tossed through my window. “What are you gonna do with that?” I asked. My mind flashed to what would have happened had the bomb worked and I was in my house. I shivered.
He snatched the bottle from the table. “Glad you reminded me,” he said. “I wanna find out if there are any fingerprints on this. Also want to have forensics find out what kind of accelerant the guy used, what kind of wick. Learn that, we can check and maybe find out who bought the stuff.”
“You won’t learn anything from the bottle.” If I were writing a story about what was happening, my villain would surely be careful not to leave such obvious evidence behind.
“Never can tell,” Roger said. “In my experience,
people under stress make all kinds of mistakes. If they didn’t, I’d be out of work.”
He was trying to lighten my mood, I knew. I forced a smile for him. “Then I hope you find something. I’d sure like to be able to get dressed sometime this year.”
“Why? You look kind of nice this way.”
I felt myself blush. Seemed as though I’d done that quite a lot lately. Standing in the center of his living room, I pointed to his front door. “Go!” I said.
He laughed. Before he opened the door, he turned back. Still smiling, he said, “Watch out for her, Elvira.”
As if to say,
Of course I will,
the cat mewed.
In Need of Snapdragon
lay on Roger’s couch, dozing on and off through one movie, then a second. To this day, I have no idea what they were. Each time I woke, the couch seemed to be shaking. That happened a few times before I realized it wasn’t the couch, it was me.
I curled into a fetal position with the blanket up to my eyes. “I’m just cold,” I murmured to Elvira.
The snort she made said she didn’t believe me.
I don’t mind frightening characters I invent past the point of endurance—such tension is why my stories sell. In real life, I don’t do scared very well. Maybe I put my fictional friends in harrowing situations, because I get to feel brave when they pull themselves together and come back fighting. The author of my characters’ exploits has none of their courage. Though I put up a brave and independent front, the truth is I don’t even do minor frights well. When Kevin decided he’d rather have a ditzy blond secretary than me, I grew so frightened about the unknown future—not to mention the failure my friends would see me as—I took to my bed and sobbed for days. The kind of peril a killer might yet put me in was far worse. I shivered at the thought of such danger while I lay bundled up on Roger’s couch all afternoon: a bullet in the back when I parked in a lot behind a restaurant. Poison gas filling my room, or a pillow held over my face while I slept.
Gonna armor-plate my house,
, bolt the doors, never come out again. Never sleep again.
At some point—it might have been around four o’clock because the opening credits of a third movie had begun to scroll on the TV screen—Elvira apparently got fed up with my inertia. She jumped from the couch, grabbed the edge of the blanket with her teeth, and began to back away. What was with her? I thought only dogs do such things.
“Hey, stop it, cat!” I hollered.
She sat on her haunches, and gave me a pink-eyed glare.
“I don’t want to get up,” I said.
“Don’t tell me I have to do something. It wasn’t you that could’ve been killed.”
Her tongue flashed across her cat-lips.
I heaved a sigh. “All right, you also could have. But what do you want me to do about it?”
She leaped onto my chest, and stared down at me.
“Uh-uh. Roger said we have to stay put,” I told her. “Do you have a death-wish?”
She ran her tongue across
“I’m not gonna,” I said. “The last spell you talked me into trying put us in this mess.”
She screwed her head under my chin.
“And what if the next one doesn’t work any better?” I said.
Now she twisted her head on my mouth.
I sat up, spitting out white fur.
“You’re gonna get us killed,” I groaned as I rose from my comfortable nest. “You know that, don’t you?”
I swear it, Elvira shrugged.
Again in my boots and coat, with the large white pain-the-ass wrapped in my arms, I left the safety of Roger’s home.
I unlocked my front door, turned the knob. As the door
opened, I stood frozen on the threshold. Yes, the temperature still dipped down near single digits. That
wasn’t why. Were those footsteps I heard in my house?
I bent my neck so I could see Elvira. “Someone’s in there,” I whispered.
She squirmed free of my arms, landed squarely on all fours, and nudged the door open with her head. Before I could blink, she shot inside.
“Elvira!” I yelled.
I didn’t stop to think I might have alerted someone who now hid in a closet, ready to pounce. Only fate, which brought me out of Roger’s house in time to smell smoke, had saved my cat from a fiery end. If whoever tried to sauté me was inside, he might catch her. Slit her throat. Maybe flush her down the toilet.
This wasn’t a rational thought, I admit. When fear crawls into your brain, it swells until there’s no room for rationality.
I flung the door wide open, and rushed in.
When I rounded the corner to the living room, I saw her perched on my desk chair. She was trying to open the top drawer.
“What are you doing?” I shouted.
Her neck elongated as she peered at me. Her eyes seemed to ask,
What if Sarah’s book had been burned up?
I plopped down on the floor, laughing. I couldn’t help myself and couldn’t stop. Fear is step one on the road to blind panic, hysteria is step two. Bent over, holding my stomach, I thought,
I have to remember this reaction so I can write about it.
As I said, I wasn’t being rational.
Elvira jumped from the chair and snuggled on my lap. She wanted to comfort me—I could think of no other explanation. For ten, fifteen minutes, I sat, legs curled under me, stroking her fur. Then she squiggled away. When she reached my wingback chair, she looked back at me.
Enough of this nonsense, we’ve got work to do
, she seemed to say.
She was right. Though, as I looked around at what had been done to my house, I knew her idea of work wasn’t the same as mine. First, my window had to be repaired or I’d never warm up.
One nice thing about having spent my life in a small city is I knew so many people on a first name basis. I’d grown up with most of them. I pulled the
from a kitchen cabinet, and punched a number into the phone.
“Hey, Fred, it’s been a while,” I said when he answered.
Fred Silbert is a glazier. I’d gone to high school with him. Though I’d turned him down when he asked me to our senior prom, we remained friends over the years.
“Hey, yourself,” he responded. “Haven’t seen you in a few months, what’re you up to?”
I wasn’t about to tell him. The down-side of where I live is how quickly rumors spread. If word got around I claimed to be a witch, even a novice one—I didn’t want to think about the jokes I’d have to put up with.
“Been writing, mostly,” I said. “You know how lost I get when I’m in the middle of a story.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen you disappear inside your head. By the way, I just finished reading your last book of short stories. And, hey, I’m still waiting for you to autograph it for me like you promised.”
Had I promised? With all I’d been through in the past three months, such small things had fled my memory.
“I need a big favor, Freddy,” I said, drawing out the words in my most seductive tone.
“Anything for you, doll.”
“My front window just got broken,” I told him. “Some kids heaved a rock through it.”
I heard him
. “Damn delinquents,” he said. “Don’t know what’s gotten into ’em these days.”
With a laugh which wasn’t one—my mind was still too rattled to really laugh—I said, “Are they any different than we were?”
His laugh was real. “Got me there.”
Did I ever. Our senior class voted Fred most likely to wind up in the Attica prison. If I’m to be quite truthful, most folks figured I’d wind up there, too (I didn’t learn until much later they don’t send women to Attica).
“So, my window?” I asked.
“Tomorrow morning too late?”
“Not if you won’t mind hauling my frozen body to the mortuary. It’s so cold in my house, I’m turning blue.
Really, Freddy, it’s colder than the butcher’s freezer. Remember the day we got locked in Goldschmidt’s freezer?”
He was quiet a minute, remembering, I supposed, the time we swiped a pair of jeans from Brubaker’s Clothing, and took off on the run with old man Brubaker after us. We sneaked in the back of the butcher shop and hid in the freezer. We were almost frozen sides of beef when Mr. Goldschmidt found us there.
“Hey, bring the book,” I said, “I’ll sign it. I’ll even write something nice about you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, heard that before.” His words gave way to another laugh. “Be there in fifteen minutes. Have dinner with me after?”
Good old Fred, he never gave up.
“Another time,” I said. “I still have to clean the mess those kids left me with.”
When the window had been repaired, I vacuumed broken glass from the carpet and from the chairs near the window. When I reached the corner, I nearly broke into tears. My beautiful Lalique sculpture—the ballet dancer I’d bought to commemorate my first royalty check—had been knocked from the table I kept it on. The figurine’s legs were now stumps. Her toes were still attached to the china pedestal. Of everything that day, this affected me most. You see, the tiny statue symbolized how far I’d come, how much I’d accomplished, since Kevin left me. My eyes overflowing, I carried the ballerina to the kitchen, and gently placed her in the wastebasket. Then, still in my rubber boots and coat, on my knees I scrubbed at the burned spots in the carpet.