Authors: Randy Chandler
—David T. Wilbanks, co-author of the
A Comet Press Book
Comet Press Electronic Edition
Daemon of the Dark Wood
copyright © 2012
by Randy Chandler
All Rights Reserved.
Cover painting copyright © 2012 by Daniele Serra
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and
situations are the product of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means,
including photocopying, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without the written
permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Trade Paperback ISBN 13: 978-1-936964-46-8
Visit Comet Press on the web at: www.cometpress.us
Table of Contents
For the Stimson girls
and the women they became
The last thing her lover said to her was “Watch out for the deer,” but those words of warning vanished in the lingering afterglow of their lovemaking, and by the time she turned onto the road to Widow’s Ridge, Judy Lynn Bowen’s thoughts were on their upcoming wedding. In three weeks she would become Mrs. Joshua Lee Jordan, and her life would change from the roots up.
“Judy Lynn Jordan,” she said aloud, and not for the first time. The name was a perfect fit for her, and she took it as a sign that their marriage would be nothing short of conjugal bliss.
The evening shadows deepened to dusk, and Judy Lynn switched on her headlights. The winding blacktop took her up the forested mountain, her home in Widow’s Ridge a welcoming destination at the end of a busy day. With one hand on the wheel, she dug her pack of Virginia Slims out of her purse, shook one out and placed it between her lips. She punched in the dash lighter and waited for it to pop out with its coils hot enough to fire her cigarette. She inhaled deeply, savoring the rich smoke and wondering if she could keep her promise to Josh that she would quit smoking whenever they decided it was time to make a baby. She exhaled, confident that she could kick the habit when the time came.
The creature came out of the dark trees and bounded into the hazy shafts of her headlights. Before her foot reached the brake pedal, the deer slammed into the front end of her car and a smothering blackness hit her full in the face, smashing her cigarette, momentarily disorienting her. The air bag was already deflated before she realized it had deployed from the steering wheel, and the car lurched to a stop in a shallow roadside ditch on the left side of the road.
The engine died. She stared in dazed wonder at the blood-tinted spiderwebbed fissures in the windshield and at the single beam of the remaining headlight that illuminated the ditch and the trees beyond the shoulder of the road. She touched her fingers to her face, relieved to find no blood of her own
. I’m all right. Just a little twist of pain in my neck.
. Where was the poor creature? After the impact with the front-end, it must have bounced off the windshield and fallen to the road. It became imperative to find the deer and see how badly it was hurt. Judy Lynn opened the car door and tried to get out, but something held her fast.
The seatbelt, stupid.
She pushed the release button and the seatbelt retracted, grudgingly letting her go. She stepped carefully from the car and into the ditch. She moved quickly around the rear of the car to the road, her eyes searching the dusk for the injured animal.
“Oh God,” she said when her eyes found the dark shape stretched out in the center of the road. She took a step toward it, then halted when she remembered the flashlight in the Honda’s glove box; she spun on her heels and went back for the Mag-Lite. Leaning across the front seat, she thought to turn off the remaining headlight and turn on the hazard lights.
She congratulated herself for such clarity of thought so soon after the shock of collision, and then steeled herself for an assessment of the deer’s injuries, dreading what she would probably be forced to do. She took a deep breath, clicked on the flashlight and walked quickly toward the four-legged casualty in the middle of the two-lane blacktop.
The doe was alive but grievously injured. The bone of the right foreleg protruded obscenely through blood-matted fur, and blood bubbled from the snout and leaked from the corner of its mouth. The doe’s brown eyes were big with fear, or so they appeared to Judy Lynn when she shined the flashlight at them. The animal tried to lift its head from the road, then convulsed, hind legs thrashing as if trying to run to the safety of the surrounding woods. “God, I’m so sorry,” she said, sobbing. The animal convulsed again, harder this time. Judy Lynn wished she had a gun so she could end the doe’s suffering.
A tire iron. I could hit it in the head with a tire iron and put it out of its misery.
Without giving herself time for second thoughts, she hurried back to the Honda, popped the trunk and dug out the tire iron. With the flashlight in one hand and the tire iron in the other, she stood over the dying deer and told herself she
to do it. She had to put an end to the creature’s suffering.
It was the only humane option she had.
She set the flashlight down on the road with its beam aimed at the doe’s head, then gripped the cool iron in both hands. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, raising the instrument of cold mercy high over her right shoulder.
She was still frozen in that position when the headlights from an approaching vehicle bathed her backside in harsh light, her long shadow stretching out in front of her like some creature of nightmare. As the pickup rumbled to a stop behind her, she lowered the tire iron and turned toward the truck.
“Damn, Judy Lynn,” said the driver, “you aim to change a flat on that critter?”
Billy Ray Threadgill jumped out of his mud-spattered pickup and squatted beside the fallen deer. “She’s a goner. You okay?”
“You got a gun in your truck?” she asked him.
A smile twisted up the corners of his droopy blond mustache. “Does a possum shit in the woods? Hell yes, I got a gun.”
“Get it,” she said, staring into the animal’s eyes. “Hurry.”
He went to his pickup and came back with a pistol dangling from his hand. “
Vaya con dios
, Bambi,” he said, then raised the gun and shot the doe in the head. The animal twitched once, then was still.
Judy Lynn sighed heavily with relief—and regret. Billy Ray stuck the pistol in the waist of his jeans, grabbed the hind legs of the deer and dragged it to the rear of his Ford F-150. “Help me get her into the truck,” he said. “Lotta good meat on this here roadkill.”
She didn’t want to touch the dead creature, but neither did she want to leave it to rot on the roadside, so she bent to the task, and a minute later the doe was in the bed of the truck, and Billy Ray was wiping his bloody hands on his faded jeans. “I’ll bring you some of the meat after I get her dressed.”
“No thanks,” she said with a shudder.
He turned his attention to her damaged Civic. Using her flashlight, he examined the front end of the vehicle. “Damn lucky you ain’t hurt bad,” he told her. “Little car like this going up against a deer …” He shook his head. “Ain’t drivable. Come on, I’ll take you to Grubb’s and he can send his wrecker.”
“I’ll use my cell phone,” she said. “It’ll be quicker.”
“Want me to take you home?” His face was bronzed from his construction work under the Georgia sun, and in the flashing red haze of the Honda’s hazard lights his smile became a sinister leer.
“No. I should stay with my car.”
Billy Ray shrugged. “Suit yourself. Ain’t like nobody’s gonna steal it.”
“Thanks for your help, Billy Ray.”
“Any time, darlin’.” He climbed into his pickup, gunned the engine and drove off, waggling his fingers in farewell.
Judy Lynn sat behind the wheel of the Civic and used her cell phone to call Grubb’s Service Station in Dogwood. Jerry Grubb answered and said he’d send his son out with the wrecker. She thanked him, hit the END button, lit a much needed cigarette, and settled deeper into the bucket seat to wait for the wrecker. She turned on the car radio for company but turned it off when all she could find amid the shrill static was a radio preacher ranting about the End Times of the New Millennium.
She would’ve called Josh to tell him what happened—that in spite of his warning she had hit a deer—but she knew he was having his customary pre-prayer meeting supper with his folks and that Reverend Jordan always took the phone off the hook before the family sat down for the blessing and a big meal of greasy vegetables and overcooked meat. She smoked her cigarette and listened to the steady chorus of insects, embellished by the occasional cry of a night bird and the
of an owl.
She didn’t like being alone on this road at night, stuck in a ditch and cut off from civilization. Unnerved, she opened her phone and stared at the little illuminated window. She considered calling her mother to tell her what had happened, but then she remembered that this was her mother’s bridge night at Sally Jensen’s and she didn’t know Sally’s number.
, she remembered. She should call the police to report the accident for insurance purposes. Without an accident report on file, the insurance company probably wouldn’t pay.