Authors: Jack Ketchum
Includes the bonus novella
Wayne was leaping along the shoulder like a crazed ape, like some fucking wide receiver who’s just scored the winning touchdown.
“Jesus Christ! Did you
The woman’s body slumped on its side. Lee smelled urine, shit, and gunpowder. Cars whizzed by. He could feel the warm thrusting breeze of their passing. One seemed to slow and then move on.
“Come on. Get back in the car.” The gun was pointed at him. Then at Carole.
Then back at him again.
“Get into the car!”
They did as he said. There was no way he could get to the Magnum. Wayne was too close. And Wayne was timing it perfectly. He had the rear door open, one foot in, and the .38 trained on Lee’s back through the window until Lee got his own door open. Then he just slid inside. He held both guns now, the Magnum pointed at Lee’s ear and the .38 at Carole.
SOLANGE: When slaves love one another it’s not love. CLAIRE: No, but it’s just as serious.
By and by the judge rose and moved away on some obscure mission and after a while someone asked the ex-priest if it were true that at one time there had been two moons in the sky and the ex-priest eyed the false moon above them and said that it may well have been so. But certainly the wise high God in his dismay at the proliferation of lunacy on this earth must have wetted a thumb and leaned down out of the abyss and pinched it hissing into extinction. And could he find some alter means by which the birds could mend their paths in the darkenss he might have done with this one too.
It was newly summer.
Rule drove 89 North toward Waterbury.
The proof that it was summer was his windshield. Mosquitoes, flies, bees, midges, mayflies, moths—their bodies left a thin white paste across the glass studded with harder parts, with wings and mandibles and antennae, with pollen baskets and compound eyes.
It’s amazing, he thought. You can’t even move in the world without hurting something.
The highway ahead of him was the trajectory of a bullet. Rule was riding in its jacket. Its nose was his windshield.
Hurtling through the living summer air.
Rain again. Rain every day this week. The air in the bedroom so swollen by moisture that his hands felt sticky, his body sticky, the sheets as damp as if he had just made long and passionate love to her when in fact he hadn’t touched her.
“We’ve got to talk,” Lee said. “Carole?”
She shook her head. “Not now.”
He watched her lying there staring up at the ceiling, wrapped tight in the sheet, her bare long arms crossed over her chest. The cats on the floor beside her darting suddenly out of the room, chasing each other, disappearing down the dark paneled hallway and thumping down the stairs, their claws skittering on the highly polished wood. He heard one of them hit a bannister and keep on running. Then a piece of furniture below.
Some other time they’d have laughed listening to them banging around down there, playing.
But like she said: not now.
He saw the tightness in her mouth prematurely aging her, giving him a view of her ten years older.
“We’ve got to talk about it,” Lee said. “You know we do.”
She started to cry. The tears rolled down so suddenly it was as though they’d been waiting in ambush for her.
“There’s got to be some other way,” she said. “I can’t do this.”
“What other way? You tell me. Tell me something we haven’t tried already.”
Her sobs like soft explosions. They shook the bed.
He reached over and held her. He knew that holding her couldn’t count for much. That they had come to a place where none of the familiar gestures seemed to work anymore, not even the most basic, where their pleasures all seemed poisoned and their attempts to touch subverted.
Look what the man has done.
He’d never have thought it possible. That now he had to will himself to feel for her when once it had been so easy.
He held her anyway.
His embrace barely reached her. Barely got through.
Inside her images seethed and wrangled. The man Lee lying next to her wasn’t part of them. They were all images of her and Howard. Howard and her.
Standing together by the sea at Rockport, his promise to protect her made against a vast flat wall of sea and sky.
Then the bed.
bed. Her arms and legs tied to this bed. Howard getting off her saying, don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you, I’m taking off the gag. I’m not going to kill you this time.
Their first Christmas after the wedding.
Close your eyes. Go on. Go ahead. Now open them.
And Beastie just a tiny kitten—so small she fit in the palm of your hand—peering out confused and startled over the bright red rim of the stocking, and Carole knowing that this was permanent, that she was happy.
Howard standing on the lawn at four in the morning. Raving. Then handcuffed, furious inside the squad car. The
policeman Rule with his tiny nub of pencil licking it staring at her bruised swollen face and writing in his pad.
Skiing the Alpine Double at Mt. Haggarty and Carole so unsure of herself, her first time, his consideration of her total, focused.
Knees bent, all right? Use the poles.
She had never felt so secure in all her life.
The sound and feel of a blade drifting over her skin.
Don’t move. Don’t move and I won’t cut you.
Howard passed out drunk. Pissing the bed. And Carole waking, aware of the sudden spreading seeping wetness, changing the sheets first thing in the morning so that when he finished his shower it would seem as though it had never happened and he would not be embarrassed nor would she.
The point of the knife moving down across her belly into her pubic hair.
Maybe I’ll shave you.
The arms around her pulled her tight toward the body that was not Howard’s, that was thinner and smaller than Howard’s and did not smell of bourbon or gin or Ralph Lauren Polo Crest or hot fresh urine.
“I can do it,” Lee said. “You just get him there.”
Her face and neck were wet with tears. Apparently she had stopped crying.
“You trust me, don’t you?” he said.
She looked at him and nodded. When in fact she trusted no one. Not really.
For a moment the silence seemed to beat the air above her with invisible wings, she could feel them drift away from her through the evening damp. A vanishing. A flight of souls.
She had never felt so lonely.
There were times Susan thought, who is this
here beside me?
Now for instance. They were nearly all the way up the gentler face at Smuggler’s Notch, nearly to the pond, their path surrounded by maples, mostly—but you could smell the pine and fir trees perched along the cliffsides. It was a beautiful clear July day—one of the first really good days of the season with all the rain they’d been having. They were together.
And Wayne was scowling. Hardly talking to her.
That damned fence, she thought.
It’s the fence again. You want to bet?
She doubted that there was another soul in Barstow who had one like it. White birch pickets ten feet tall and hung so tightly together around his pitiful angular cheese-wedge half-acre of land that hardly a sliver of light slipped through on a sunny day. You could stand on the lawn at ten in the morning and imagine being eaten by a shadowy row of teeth.
Teeth that were ten feet tall.
All to keep out the neighbor’s dog. According to Wayne.
She’d laughed at first, saying why in the world do you need this? but she had to admit that he’d done a good job on it really. Very meticulous and even admirable in a way. Even if she still could see no reason for it. Even if it did
look like a miniature Fort Apache, almost dwarfing the boxy old GI-bill home he’d inherited from his mom.
The only problem was that the neighborhood kids kept raiding it, tearing the slats off, stealing them while he worked nights. He’d had to replace three or four of them so far. Or was it five?
Wayne suspected the Leigh kids two doors down. But he had no proof. And seemed to spend half his time lately brooding on it.
When here you had this
The path wound around the side of the mountain. It opened up into a clearing. Tough windblown grass growing thick and short and hardscrabble rocky earth. Down the cliff-face through a stand of poplar (
Wayne called it, because it threw no heat) you could see where they’d just come from. It was a ten-minute walk from here—though the straight vertical drop made it seem a whole lot closer.
“Let’s rest a while, okay?” she said.
“Why? We’re almost there.”
“Just for a while.”
It was cool up here now that they’d stopped. Her blouse was soaked in back and she could feel the dampness along the waist of her jeans. The gentle even breeze felt wonderful to her.
“Okay,” he grunted.
Well god, thanks a lot, she thought.
He slipped off the backpack and tossed it down. Never mind that he’d probably just mushed the sandwiches. He sat down on a chunk of granite, kicking absently at the dirt in front of him.
You’d think he’d make some effort, she thought. With him working nights at the Black Locust Tavern and her
working days at Mountain Lodge they hardly even saw one another lately except on weekends—and weekends had been lousy through most of June. Even the Fourth of July had been rainy. Hadn’t he ever heard of—what was it?—
seize the day!
There were times she’d actually considered marrying Wayne if he ever got round to asking. It was still kind of early in their relationship for that but it seemed like a pretty good idea sometimes. She’d be out of Woolcott at least.
She’d think of that. Then she’d consider how
he could get sometimes, what an unreachable pain in the butt he could be.
She didn’t know.
Probably, she thought, he should have sold the house after his mother died and gone elsewhere. The neighbors all seemed to irritate him now. Maybe there were too many memories in that place. Too many familiar faces. Too many kids he’d grown up with who, like him, seemed stuck there.
They’d met in his bar. It was just three days after his mother’s funeral, he told her. She was amazed he was even working.
She remembered later helping him go through the house, the sheer incredible
of things in a life that death had interrupted. The newly washed curtains waiting to be hung. The Social Security check marking her place in the Agatha Christie novel she’d been reading—the book was almost finished. The stuffed lobster wrapped in foil awaiting some special occasion in the freezer.
According to Wayne, her favorite food.
And it seemed so terribly
somehow that this
woman, who she’d never even met, would never get to hang those curtains, never cash her check or finish the novel or get to taste that lobster, that she’d had to let Wayne get on with it alone for a while—while she went out into the yard and had herself a good cry.
It occurred to her that a life was only measured time, really, and that you were the only measure. Like people were all just a bunch of clocks each set to a different time, each fatally winding down. And that seemed to her so sad, so lonely.
to be depressing for him, she thought. Living all alone there. It’s got to be. It’s still only four months now. You don’t just dump twenty-five years of memories overnight.
That’s why he’s still this way, she thought.
That, and maybe the DWI. The poor guy couldn’t even
It was costing him a fortune in cab fare.
She thought, I’ve never seen him cry. Not once.
Well, she wasn’t going to let him get her down. Not today. Not with this beautiful day here. Not with this clean fresh air and the warm sun and gentle breeze.
She knew a way to cheer him up. If only for a little while.
They were all alone up here, nobody around. And it was the perfect day for it too.
A little adventure could go a long, long way.
“Hey Wayne?” she said.
He looked up at her, expressionless.
She smiled at him anyhow.
She pulled the blouse out of her jeans and felt the cool
breeze slide across her belly as she started in on the buttons.
The breeze tickled, made her giggle.
She unzipped the jeans and walked over.
It was the worst it had ever been.
He had her on the ground. Had her naked. He had her legs spread wide and he was sticking it into her and it was hurting her all right, she had her blouse down under her but that wasn’t doing much, he could see by the expression on her face that she was part all excited and part unhappy with all these pebbles and rocks and shit grinding up through the grass into the pale flesh of her ass—so he poked at her harder, let her have his weight each time. He wanted her to hurt, to bleed a little, he wanted her shoulders to bleed and her back to bleed. Wanted her ass to bleed. He wanted…
that would get rid of this tension that started in the muscles of his back, ran up through his neck and roared like a freight train through his brain, that seemed to kick chunks of brain-matter out like gravel through his ears, his nose, his eyes…
It was the
It was always the worst every goddamn time. But this was the
The absolute killer.
The pain didn’t matter.
There were so many things to think of that the pain was only one of them, inconsequential. The breadth of him inside her, the feeling of fullness there, the taste of his sweat on her lips and the dark hair curling wavelike
down his forearms, his lean good looks tensed now and straining and the smell of him and what they talked about sometimes when they talked about his hopes and dreams for the future because he wasn’t much of a bartender, he knew that, he wasn’t that great with people and he wanted to buy his own place—and her dreams too when he would let her speak about them, about kids and family and a house somewhere that was not his mother’s house but somewhere in Barstow not Woolcott, a life with a future. There was plenty to think about.
So she didn’t mind the pain.
Not at first.
She felt his hand clutch her breast and began to ride the pulses happening inside her as the hand traveled slowly to her neck and clenched there, his fingers curling, strong, cutting off her breath a little and then a lot, so that he had her gasping—
and she came
! Came suddenly and so unexpectedly under him that it startled her, his fingers sinking deeper and it was impossible to breathe now,
—and my god what was he
?—terminating her orgasm as instantly as it had hit her and filling her with a sudden strange kind of wonder looking up at him, because the face that was so intent on her was also as distant as a straight-A student dissecting a frog in a lab—and she felt an icy terror.
Death a real, sudden possibility, a comet streaking across her suddenly gone-black-as-midnight sky.
She struggled, clawed at the fingers sunk too deep for her to grip and stared up into his face pleading at him with her eyes, aware of her tongue protruding eyes bulging blood soaring through her cheeks. She twisted under him and kicked and pulled desperately, hopelessly at his
forearms, stones raking her spine, she pounded him with her fists, trying to scream but nothing but a bubbling strangled sound like something under water coming out of her until the curled hard fingers seemed to receive some distant message, some caution from the brain—and he released her. And she could almost breathe again through throat and lungs that throbbed with rushing life as he groaned and collapsed on top of her.
He rolled away. Lay panting while she gasped and fought for air.
And being next to him was like lying next to a poisonous, treacherous snake. She got to her hands and knees and scuttled away.
! You fucking
There was no way to know when the tears had begun but now all of a sudden she could hardly see. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand and groped for her blouse, her panties, her jeans.
She stumbled getting into the jeans and nearly fell, still dizzy and sobbing, too much movement too soon after…what had happened…and him just sitting there watching.
Not moving. Not reaching for his clothes. Just sitting there looking dazed.
Looking almost…my god! Looking almost innocent!
! You almost
me! Was that your idea of some kind of
? Are you
“What? You’re sorry? Is that what you’re going to say to me? You’re
?” She shook her head. “Jesus! and to think that I…Jesus,
the one who’s crazy!”
“Susan just listen to me, all right? I don’t know what…”
, you bastard! I’m
going to listen to you! You come
me and I swear I’ll kill you. You understand me?
God damn you!”
She couldn’t stop sobbing. Chest heaving huge deep still-liquid gulps of air. Still so out of control of herself that it hurt.
He reached for his clothes. She wiped her eyes and watched him.
She saw no remorse. No concern for her.
He doesn’t care! she thought. My god. He really doesn’t care!
And the tears this time were worse in a way than before because they came from somewhere deeper inside her. Not from lingering fear or pain or even anger, but from the loss of him, the loss of her idea of him and of the two of them together. She had held that idea much closer than she’d imagined.
you,” she said. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you would do…
to me. I think you need help or something, Wayne. I think you’re a…very sick person.”
She buttoned her blouse and tucked it in. Turned. Her footsteps along the stone and dirt path unnaturally loud in her ears as she stumbled toward home down the mountain.
He’d come so close this time.
In the end, he hadn’t dared.
God! He’d wanted to. Every cell and nerve end in his body seemed to demand it of him. Its power was wonderful, the holding back a brute physical ache. And now he felt drained, as though pummeled by some massive orgasm.
When in fact his own had been weak, brief, unfulfilling. Nothing to what it would have been, he knew, had he given in.
Had he killed her.
He wondered—for maybe the thousandth goddamn time in his adult life—why he hadn’t dared.
He tied his Reeboks, got up and slipped the backpack over his shoulder. He felt depressed. It would be good to walk for a while. There was a place down by the pond he thought was okay. He had the sandwiches.
Jesus! She’d been angry!
Thinking about it now, it was almost comical. He almost laughed. Because of all she didn’t know. Because of what none of them knew and what they couldn’t see.
That so many of them
to die. Men, women, kids. Their sex didn’t matter. Their age didn’t matter. The Leigh kids who kept tearing up his fence at night. Roberts, the fatass next door with his goddamn dog from hell. Half—no, nearly
—his regular customers over at the Black Locust Tavern. Murdoch with his smelly backyard barbecue every summer. The weird old lady who waved to him from her three-wheel bike and whose name he didn’t know but who seemed to know him or want to know him, some friend of his mother’s maybe attempting some fucked-up down-home intimacy.
Assholes. Going through life with so little on their minds that it was comical. Knowing nothing
life, really—that life had nothing to do with love and home, family and friends, that life was made up of stealth and planning and
brains and guts and will. That, and the obvious—the isolation. All of them thinking that they actually mattered to somebody. And that because of
that their weaselly little lives had to matter too. When they didn’t. Couldn’t. Ever.
He kept a notepad and jotted down offenses. “Roberts: dogshit in left-hand corner of the yard, 1/3/93—he picked up the big chunks but left some smeared on the grass.
” Or “Loden: ordered scotch with water back, then tells me no,