THIRST – Chapter 8
Copyright © 2016 Kae Bell
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is purely coincidental.
Three bullets raced across the night.
The first bullet hit the FBI spotlight. It sliced through the metal wall, shattered the protective glass, breaking the bulb and shredding the metal filament. The spotlight, which only moments ago had shown the way for agents Tina and Jamie, went dark.
The second bullet hit the lone streetlight by the Flint’s house, blasting the glass casing and killing the remaining source of light.
The darkness was immediate.
Since it did not cause immediately evident damage, the third bullet was not noticed. Not yet.
But it too had found its mark.
Santis gave the order to shoot. His order was followed.
But not by his team. Someone, some unidentified party, had shot into the night. Shot the light by which one solves a crime.
Santis swore at the darkness. He swore at his men. He swore at this job that was getting on his last nerve more and more every day. He swore, first under his breath and then loudly. The agents standing nearby heard and turned to see him, though everyone was invisible I the dark, their eyes still adjusting, their pupils widening millimeter by millimeter.
In the darkness, no one was certain from where the shots were fired. Logically, they had to be from the hill, to take out both the spotlight and the streetlight, so effectively. Or the forest. The shooter could be in the forest.
Or was it multiple shooters?
Had Santis misjudged the convicts? His mind raced as he thought through the intelligence he’d received. The two men were unpopular in the prison, kept to themselves, and had a reputation for violence. Did they have support helping them with their escape? He had been certain they were two lone runners, with no material support. Was he wrong? This day was turning into his worst nightmare. He still had an agent down and he need to sound a team down to investigate but that thing was wandering around.
Hidden behind cloud cover, the moon offered neither light nor solace.
“Goddammit. God DAMMIT! Hold your fire!” Santis pushed his way through his agents, mostly clustered together milling about, pulling out cell phones to use as feeble flashlights against the dark.
“Get me a light!” Santis yelled. People ran to the parked vehicles
One by one, car headlights flooded the night.
In the darkness following the shots, the Scare-It sidled away from the gathered agents to the open field. It cared little if it was light or dark. But it knew from experience that darkness made detection less likely and capture less probable. It had also learned that opportunity was often short-lived and required action.
And so in the darkness, the Scare-It moved through the uncut field to the yard on the far side of the house, out of sight of those who would wonder at its motivations. Its strides were long and slow. Its pale form shone luminous against the golden hay.
From the shadows, it crept back onto the grass and bent low, now sliding and slithering like a snake as it approached the house. It aimed for the side door. The door that opened onto the sleeping porch where fewer than 24 hours ago, Meg had leapt from her bed, chopped off her remaining hair, and run out the door.
By the door, it stood and placed its hand on the door handle. It pulled. The door opened, its noiseless hinges yielding to the pressure of the Scare-It’s grip.
The screen porch was unlocked. Sarah and Max had argued about this too. Sarah wanted to doors locked in case Meg decided to come home. She didn’t want her daughter stuck outside in the dark, terrified, surrounded by armed FBI agents. Max had wanted to lock up. Habit.
In the end, they had left unlocked the door that lead into the screened porch, where Meg had slept and where her hair had met its end. The porch had been a cheap after thought, with windows on three sides, that were open must days, with screens down to allow a cross breeze. The door had a lock locked but the flimsy metal frame and the Plexiglas window would not deter anyone. It was protection enough only to enjoy an evening free from attack by mosquitos and chiggers and other biting critters while watching families of deer venture into the field to eat and later watching the moon rise above the tree line, heavy on the horizon.
Holding the handle with a tine, the Scare-It held open the door.
It slipped inside, unseen, onto the empty porch.
Justin woke feeling guilty. He was sweaty and his heart was pounding. He’d been dreaming of summer camp. He and Justin paddled a canoe on a smooth lake. The Meg was in the canoe too and an argument had started about who got to paddle. That’s when Justin had woken up. Something had woke him from his dream. Lying awake now in his bed, feeling his heart slow, he couldn’t remember what it was. He was trying to remember what Meg was saying in the boat.
He heard the knocking on the door. That’s what it was! The knocking. In his dream, he’d heard a soft tapping on the canoe. Now it had started up again, a gentle but insistent sound, as if meant only for the lightest of sleepers.
Justin waited for the tapping to stop. His heart had resumed a quiet little boy rate slow and steady. The tapping seemed to be twice the rate of his slowed heartbeat. Justin figured it was an FBI agent who didn’t want to sleep in his car or needed to use the toilet. Mom and Dad had explained that the FBI agents were outside the house but that they would stay outside. They finish what they were doing and would leave in the morning. Justin knew about the convicts but the parents had not mentioned the manhunt, saying only that there had been an accident in Mr. Bank’s field that was under investigation.
Justin pushed his three pillows into a stack and leaned into the soft mountain against his headboard.
His glasses were on the night table by his bed. He reached for them and knocked them off the nightstand.
The knocking continued. Everything was a blur without them. He thought a word he heard his daddy say when he was driving.
In the dark, (it seemed darker than usual) he looked over at Jason, asleep in his bed. He could make out the dim outline of his brother, mouth open, sprawled on his back, the blue checked coverlet kicked to the bottom of the bed. Soft breathing sounds
“Jason,” he whispered as loudly as he could. “Someone is knocking. It might be Megs. Should we get it?”
No answer. Jason slumbered on. Justin knew Jason would be pissed if he woke him up. Jason was a grumpy sleeper. Too many times Justin had received a punch in the arm when he had tried to wake his brother to ask him something in the night. Jason needed his sleep.
The tapping again. It sounded like a fingernail on a window. Tap-tap-tap.
Justin pushed off his covers and got out of bed, stepping over the pile of muddy clothes, from adventures.
He open the bedroom door a sliver. He peered into the hall, lit by a faint glow of a nightlight. His parent’s bedroom door was closed.
The tapping continued. Tap-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap-tap.
Glancing back at Jason who was still fast asleep, Justin stepped out of the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He paused and listened.
He walked down the hall, cautious of the squeakiest floorboards, sidestepping the loudest ones.
At the end of the hallway, he stopped and peered into the living room. His mother snored softly on the couch, oblivious to the world.
Without his glasses, Justin could see only fuzzy shapes as he moved down the hall and into the living room. He had the cabin pretty well memorized, since nothing much changed year after year. Still, he was careful not to bump into the chairs or side tables. He didn’t want to knock over a lamp and wake up the whole house. Most of all, he didn’t want to wake up his mother. He didn’t want to wake his mother. Meg would be in trouble for sure, for running off and worrying them all.
No need for the yelling to happen. Meg could at least sleep it off before she got into trouble. They would all be grounded for the next week.
He stepped by the stacks of paperbacks his mother had borrowed from the local library. The model airplane project Jason had brought home from camp. Dad’s briefcase, open on the floor, filled with a pile of legal pads covered in Max’s scribbles, detailing phone calls with his clients.
Justin had nearly reached the door when the tapping stopped. He hesitated, waiting for the tapping to start again. Somehow the sound had been soothing to him, like a beacon. He listened but the tapping did not start. Worried that Meg might have given up, might go back and disappear again into the night, he fumbled with the door lock, bending close to it so that his face was two inches away from the latch. He closed his eyes, as his fingers struggled with the deadbolt. There it was. The metal was old and needed a good shove to release it from position. Justin’s small hands gripped the metal as he slid it aside. Next, the turn piece on the knob. He twisted it.
“Are you ok, Meggie?” he whispered as he turned the handle and pulled the door open, expecting to see his sister, disheveled, hungry and repentant.
Through the open door, Justin saw only the dark porch. No one was at the door.
He took a step forward, through the doorframe and onto the porch. Was she hiding somewhere? It would not be the first time. Two years before, when they were all still friends, the kids had spent the summer playing hide and seek, each night amidst the blinking of the lightning bugs. Justin had almost always been ‘It’. He was not good at hiding. He remembered all those times counting to fifty, as he rested his forehead against the oldest pine tree, his eyes screwed shut so he would not be accused of cheating. He could smell the sap.
His brother and sister had been very good at hiding. They would climb high into the trees. Hide in the road’s murky ditch. Brave the painful pricker bushes for concealment in the bracken. Anything to evade him.
And Justin, the youngest – by only minutes, he would remind Jason – had learned how to seek. How to capture.
Was Meg playing hide and seek again, now in the middle of the night?
“Megs?” he whispered again.
No one answered. No one was here. Someone had been knocking. That had not been a dream.
Justin heard car engines starting up, on the road on the other side of the house. All those people were out there in the night. Long shadows appeared from the bright car headlights that flooded the yard as cars turned around.
With his blurry vision, Justin studied the porch. The clouds had at last moved on, spurred east by a strong wind. The moon gave away its light. Justin could see the fuzzy outline of the table and chairs, the utility cabinet where Dad kept his tools, the empty gun rack that was just for show. The couch where Meg had slept. It was empty. There was no one here.
Maybe the sound had been a tree branch hitting the window. Either way, it had stopped.
Justin turned back, tired now, ready for bed. He’d lock up and go back to sleep.
He turned to stare directly into the white-plated face of the Scare-It, without eyes, nose, or mouth.
The Scare-it was inches from his face. It grabbed Justin’s throat, its boney tines wrapping around the boy’s neck like a snake. Justin’s eyes popped out of his head as he struggled for oxygen. He tried to yell, but did not have enough air left. Only a quiet garbled sound came forth.
The Scare-It squeezed tighter, lifting Justin by the neck and carrying him as it stepped into the living room. Its head scanned left and right, as the multi-point tines stretching up from its shoulders twitched like bug antennas. Seeking.