Three bullets raced across the night. The first hit the spotlight shining down the hill, meant o discourage all vehicle traffic. The bullet sliced through the spotlight’s metal casing, shattering the protective glass, and shredding the light filament. The spotlight, which only moments ago had lit the road to safety for Tina and Jamie, went dark.
The second bullet hit the tall streetlight by the Flint’s house, blasting the glass casing into and knocking out the remaining source of light.
The darkness was complete.
Since it did not cause any observable effects or injury, the third bullet went unnoticed for some time.
But it too had found its mark.
Santis had given the order to shoot. His order was followed. But not by his team. Someone, an unidentified party, had shot three bullets into the night. Shot out the light.
Santis swore at the darkness.
“Goddammit are you fuckin’ kidding me?”
The agents standing nearby heard and turned to see him, though everyone was invisible in the dark, eyes still adjusting, pupils widening millimeter by millimeter.
In the darkness, the shots’ origins were unclear. Logically, they had to be from somewhere below the lights, to take out both the spotlight and the streetlight. But on either side of the dirt road there was forest.
Had Santis misjudged the convicts? His mind raced. He knew what had reported on TV and in the initial briefing, when the manhunt began. The two escaped men were unpopular in prison, had a reputation for violence. They kept to themselves. But Santis wondered now, had they had outside help with their escape? He’d been certain they were two loners, that all he needed to do was isolate them. Now that there was only one, hiding somewhere on this hilltop, he thought the job would be easy.
Was he wrong? He already had one agent down. He needed to send a team.
But he had no light.
And still there was no sign of the convict. All he had was a rotting corpse
The moon, hidden by cloud, offered neither light nor solace.
“Goddammit. God DAMMIT! Hold all fire!” Santis pushed his way through his agents who were grouped together like nervous cattle before a storm. A few agents pulled out cell phones to shine as feeble torches against the dark.
“Get me a real goddamn light!” Santis yelled. “What the fuck is going on?!”
People ran to the cars. Two by two, headlights flooded the night.
In the initial darkness following the shots, the ScareIt scuttled away, putting distance between it and the FBI agents, who in the darkness had momentarily forgotten about it. It loped across the field, through uncut hay, always keeping the house within reach. It knew from experience that darkness made detection less likely, capture less probable.
It had also learned that opportunity was often short-lived and required action.
Still in the field on the far side of the house, the ScareIt moved toward the grassy yard. Its strides were long and slow. Noise from murmuring agents carried across the yard to the ScareIt. It was not concerned. While on the crest of the hill, headlights offered haphazard light, here in the shadows, under the hidden moon, it was cool and quiet. Darkness reigned.
The ScareIt crept across the field, stepping onto the grass. As it approached the house, it lay its body on the ground and slid, snakelike, across the grass, aiming for the side door.
At the door, it stood, its white bones luminous even in the darkness. It placed a sharp tine on the door handle and paused, as if listening.
Earlier in the evening, Sarah and Max had argued about locking the screened-in sleeping porch. Sarah wanted the doors unlocked 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. Even if the screens could be pushed in, a locked door was a locked door.
In the end, they had left unlocked the porch door unlocked. A cheap-after thought during house construction, the wooden porch had windows on three sides that were open most days, to allow a breeze through the flimsy screens. The porch door consisted of a thin metal frame with a Plexiglas window that would not have deterred anyone interested in entering. But the porch was protection enough from persistent mosquitos, chiggers, and the biting gnats. In summers past, the porch offered the family a bug free haven for deer gazing, as the shy animals ventured into the fields to graze in the cooling twilight. Later, after the children were in bed, Sarah and Max would watch the heavy moon rise above the tree line.
Holding the handle with a razor sharp tine, the ScareIt pulled the door. The door opened on oiled hinges.
The ScareIt slipped onto the porch.
Jason woke feeling guilty. He was sweaty and his heart pounded against his thin rib cage. He’d been dreaming of summer camp. He and Justin paddled a canoe on a smooth lake. Meg was in the canoe and an argument had started about who got to paddle. That’s when Jason had woken, as the fight started. Something had stirred him awake. Lying in his bed, feeling his heart slow, he couldn’t remember what it was.
A steady knocking sound filtered down the hallway. That’s what it was, he remembered. Knocking. Someone was knocking to be let into the house. In his dream, he’d heard a soft tapping on the canoe. It had distracted him, the boat had gone off course, and that’s why they were fighting.
Now the sound had started up again, a gentle but insistent sound, as if to signal only the lightest of sleepers.
Jason waited for the tapping to stop. His heart had slowed and now beat steady. Oddly, the tapping seemed to be twice the rate of his heartbeat.
Jason 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. Jason knew about the convicts but the parents had not mentioned the manhunt, saying only that there had been an accident in Mister Bank’s field that was under investigation.
Jason 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 of a word he heard his dad say while driving.
In the dark (it seemed darker than usual), he looked over at Justin, asleep in his bed. Jason could make out the dim outline of his brother, his mouth open, sprawled on his back, a blue 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. Justin slumbered on. Jason knew Justin would be pissed if he woke him up. Justin was a grumpy sleeper. Too many times Jason had received a punch in the arm when he had tried to wake his brother to ask him something in the night. Justin needed his sleep.
The tapping again. It sounded like a fingernail on a window. Tap-tap-tap.
Jason 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 Justin who was still fast asleep, Jason 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, Jason 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. Meg would be in trouble for sure, for running off and worrying them all.
No need for the yelling right now. 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 mom 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, phone calls with clients.
Jason 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. Jason’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, Jason 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. Jason 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 Jason, the younger brother – by only minutes, he would remind Justin – 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.
Jason 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 blurred vision, Jason studied the porch. The clouds had moved on, spurred east by a strong wind. The moon gave away its light. Jason could see the fuzzy outline of the table and chairs, the utility cabinet where Dad kept his tools, the empty gun rack. The couch where Meg had slept.
The porch was empty. There was no one here.
Maybe the tapping sound had been a tree branch hitting the window. Or a bird flying in the night. Either way, it had stopped.
Jason yawned. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find. But now that he knew it was nothing, he was ready to go back to bed. His limbs felt heavy. He would lock the door and go to sleep. Maybe tomorrow, Meg would come back and everything would be better.
As he shut the porch door and turned to go to his bedroom, he stared directly into the blank face of the ScareIt. In horror, Jason saw it had no eyes, nose, or mouth. A small sound of shock came out of his mouth.
Inches from his face, the ScareIt grabbed for Jason’s throat. Jason ducked and ran into the center of the living room. The ScareIt turned and raced toward Jason, it’s tines reaching for him.
Over the couch and across the coffee table, Jason scrambled. He could feel his heart pounding. He knocked a few books off the table and land on his mom’s neat stacks of paperbacks. The ScareIt was looming over him. its boney tines wrapping around the boy’s neck like a snake. Jason’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 ScareIt squeezed, lifting Jason 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.
The voice urged Kyle forward. He could feel his captor’s breathe on his neck. Kyle stepped forward, feeling the ground ahead with his foot, afraid to look down. Pricker bushes on his left and right grabbed at his trousers and his bare forearms. The road was bright, lit up by a light farther up the hill. Kyle wondered, as he stepped over a dead tree limb, why the light was there.
“Stop,” the voice hissed, several feet before the road. Kyle felt a hand reach around to him and check him for weapons. Check him like an expert. Then the hand grabbed Kyle’s left arm and wrenched it around his back. Kyle thought to fight back but the pistol was still firmly pointed into his back. He heard the clink of metal-he knew that sound. Handcuffs. The cold metal was a shock on his skin.
Too late, he decided he preferred to get shot. He tried to whip around but his captor had closed the other cuff around another wrist.
This time, her own.
She pushed him again, pointing the gun at him with her left hand.
“Let’s go meet the welcome party, shall we?” They walked forward, toward the road.
They stepped over the drainage ditch when the spotlight went out.
The night went dark.
This time, Kyle did not hesitate. He slammed his first into the face of his captor, crushing a nose and cracking a cheekbone. His captor collapsed on the ground. Kyle stooped over her, feeling in her jacket pocket for handcuff keys. He found her gun, her flashlight, and car keys, which he hoped would be a good escape car. He sifted through the keys, feeling for a small metal fob. No luck. Kyle felt outside those, all the way down to her ankle. There, in a zip pocket, were two slim metal keys.
The woman groaned. Kyle shoved the keys into the lock and popped the cuff off his wrist. He slapped the empty cuff around a nearby sapling and chucked the keys deep into the woods. The woman groaned again.
He was not going back to prison. He hit her once more across the temple. He stepped into the dark road. Up the hill he heard voices again. That must be where the cars were parked. He would go that way.
Parked behind a row of shrubs at a highway turnaround, a parked police car appeared to monitor traffic. Alert drivers caught sight of the car in their peripheral vision and tapped their brakes. Some drivers were going 65 mph, some 90 mph. They assumed it was a speed trap. As each driver hit his brakes, he hoped he had done so before he was detected on the radar. As the cars sped by, neither the lights nor sirens switched on. The car stayed put. Drivers breathed a sigh of relief. NY speeding violations were a bitch.
But the car was empty, its hood cold. It had been parked there for three hours.
Passersby would not have known that its driver was a mile in from the road, hunkered down in a wooded deer blind, fifty feet from the Flints house, aiming a shotgun and smiling.
Route 17 stretched east – west across New York State, starting around Newburgh and ending unceremoniously at the state’s intersection with Ohio. The road 17 is surrounded on both sides by rolling green hills, desolate rest stops, and convoluted highway interchanges as roads occasionally branch to the north and south. The freeway passes through cities that New Yorkers would never visit. Binghamton, Horseheads, Bath. Corning can draw a crowd, but that’s as far west as most New Yorkers might go. Beyond are cities les well known: Oneonta. Unadilla. Uncasville.
These villages and hamlets were a parallel New York, where people lived and worked as teachers, lawyers, nurses, bankers, and firemen. The small towns along the emptier stretches of route 17 were places where people knew their neighbors. Folks knew more about their neighbors than anyone cared to admit. Such is village life. People raised families, kids grew. Sometimes they were lured away to the City. But mostly they stayed. There was no rush hour here. There was no rush.
Officer Danny had stayed in his home town. He liked the easy pace of New York’s rolling hills, the seasons changing right in front of you, the snow drifts deep and quiet in the winter, the corn tall and green in the summer. And then there was hunting season in the fall. He was a hunter, had grown up hunting on family land, with cousins. Hunting was his way, in his blood, all the men in his family hunted.
Policing too was in his blood. Some little boys grow out of wanting to be a policeman or a fireman. Danny had not. Sure, he’d lost a few years to partying after high school but had gotten back on the road to being a cop.
His family wasn’t too big, only one brother and one sister – but they were tight. He had followed his brother into the police force, though his brother was a few towns north. His sister had married young, had a few kids and dumped her loser husband for a California tech genius turned vineyard owner over to Keuka Lake. Danny visited now and then for free drinks and a view of the lake on a sunny summer day.
All else being equal Saturday had not unfolded as he had expected. After he had found the body, he had called it in.
Events had not unfolded as Officer Danny had hoped. One finding the dead convict, he had followed the correct procedures. He had notified his boss, he had written up a report, he had waited to be commended and sent back to the scene.
But that had not happened. His boss immediately called the State Troopers, who had called the FBI. Within a half hour, the scene was of his reach. Beyond his purview.
A FBI agent had called the station, talked with the top brass.
Then the FBI Agent asked to speak with Danny.
“Officer, I understand you were first on the scene and called the body in.”
“Yes, that’s right. Well, Mr. Banks of course. But yes.”
Danny waited for the praise. He wasn’t sure what but something good would come of this.
“Can you please walk me through your exact steps, from the time you arrived to the Banks Farm to the time you left the property?”
The agent repeated the question, as if a tape recorder played it back.
Officer Danny felt the heat rise to his face.
“I arrived, went to the farm house. Banks drove us to the field, I saw the body, ID’d the body as the convict, and drove back to the station.
The Agent on the phone was silent. Danny heard a pencil scribbling on a pad of paper.
OK. That’s a start, now take me through it again, filling in the details you are leaving out.
Officer Danny scoffed.
“I don’t care for your tone…”
The FBI Agent cut him off.
“Nor I for yours. But, I am in charge here. Not you. So I don’t care if you don’t like my tone, my face, or my momma. Answer the fucking question. Walk. Me. Through. It. Again.”
Danny’s face burned. He walked through his drive to the farm, his arrival at the house, his truck ride with Banks, and his discovery of the body. He could see it as he explained it. The white farmhouse, the dusty road, the dark woods, the mowed field.
The call ended with an admonition to stay away from the Banks farm. Not to mention this incident to anyone. Not to speak to press if it called wanting details or a statement. The Bureau would handle it from here.
Danny hung up, seething.
As he talked, he remembered a couple details. He had an idea. The barest outlines of an idea. He tucked it aside to think on later. It made him feel better as he replied to this FBI agent who didn’t know much about country folk.
Janet Reins wanted a cigarette and she needed a story. Or she needed a cigarette and wanted a story. Either way she was fucked. She’d been trailing this convict manhunt for weeks, following FBI agents on rainy trails through the woods. So far all she’d gotten from it was a nasty cough.
Well, that and a crick in her neck from banging one of those flak-jacketed FBI guys in the back of an SUV. Even if the windows were blacked out, it wasn’t her idea of an ideal first date.
But she needed a source.
Unfortunately, so far he hadn’t panned out. She still wasn’t sure of his name. Granthers or Gathers. Ganson? Janet was bad with names. Not like it mattered if she knew his name or not, she’d promised him anonymity.
Plus he sure had a big dick.
But she hadn’t seen him for over 24 hours. Something was up.
When half the FBI detail had up and skedaddled from upstate New York near the prison, she knew something was up. Latest news was the convicts had been found but beyond that the FBI agents were being mum. Then they left in the dead of night, hoping to avoid tipping off reporters. She’d tracked them to this shithole of a town but had lost them on the outskirts. She had nothing to go on. Her source at first refused to divulge what was going on and now he refused to answer his phone.
Now she’d dragged her sister with her halfway across the state on this never-ending chase for a story.
“Come with me, it’ll be fun. See how the other half live,” she’d promised her younger sister, whose loser boyfriend had recently dumped her. Anything was better for a girl than sitting at home wishing some loser had loved her enough to stay.
Janet navigated the narrow tree-lined streets, staying under 20 mph like the sign said. They were lucky to have a decent place to stay in tiny this village where Janet had tracked her Mr. Right-Now FBI source.
Now if they could just find a decent bar. She needed a drink.
The sound of a broken muffler announced the old pickup truck’s arrival into the bar’s crowded parking lot. Through the open windows, the huff-huff-huff sound filled the bar, drowning out the jukebox. A couple of young bucks looked up from their game of pool, rolled their eyes when they saw the truck.
The engine stopped and the car’s driver stepped out, shoving his keys into the pocket of his tight jeans. His beer gut hung over the edge of his belt but everywhere else he was lean. Skinny arms stuck out of a tight white t-shirt. As he strutted across the parking lot, he caught the attention of the young ladies seated by the window. They giggled when he waved.
The old man pulled open the door. His face was red from the sun and high blood pressure and the two whiskeys he had downed before he got into his car to drive to town. His short hair nearly matched his face, though the hair dye was a shade of red not normally seen on any human, let alone an 80-year-old man.
At the bar, he slid onto a bar stool and banged his gnarled fist on the wood.
“Madeline, get me a beer! P-R-O-N-T-O!”
At the far end of the bar, Madeline the bartender glanced up from dishwashing. She rinsed the mug she was holding and dried her hands on a towel. She nodded his way.
“Right away, Tony.” She turned to open the cooler and added, “You stinky old coot.” A few nearby patrons snickered.
Tony shifted on a stool and tapped his finger tips on the bar, humming a tune out of sync with the 80s pop playing on the jukebox.
“Ba, ba bum, ba, ba da dum…” Tap, tap.
Phil ignored him. This was not the company he was seeking. The arrival of this geezer was not going to help his case. His repeated glances at the women had yielded nothing. No sign of interest.
The young bucks finished up their game and brought the pool balls back to the bar. Madeline opened a beer, handed it to Tony, and took the rack from the young men and set it on the back bar. The young men stared at her. She stared back. “Waddaya want? You played four games, not two. I’ll hang on to your deposit. Next time, don’t try to sneak extra games when you think I’m not looking.”
Unfazed by the chastisement, the young men shrugged and sidled outside to smoke.
“Jerks.” Madeline wiped down the bar. “Come in here, drink water, and try to cheat me on a game of pool. Who does that?”
Tony had no answers. He guzzled his beer and looked around the bar.
“How’s it lookin’ tonight, son?”
A moment too late Phil realized Tony was talking to him. He learned away , hoping he could pretend he had not heard the old man.
But Tony, who was hard of hearing himself and figured others might be too, just repeated his question. He moved to the stool directly next to Phil.
“How about those two fillies by the window? Haven’t seen them in here before. I dunno about you, but I could use some fresh meat. Thirty years of banging the same woman night after night, I done my time. And I’ve banged all the ladies in this town. Every one, even the married ones. But not those two. No. They’re not from around here.” He licked his lips.
Madeline flicked a towel in Tony’s direction. “Tony, keep it down. No one wants to hear about your conquests.”
He waved a dismissive hand at her, said, “Yes, yes.” He leaned conspiratorially over to Phil.
“Correction. I hadn’t banged her YET. But she wants me. She’s holding out.”
As Tony leaned in, Phil smelled the decay: the dry, dying skin, putrid breath with notes of mint, drug store cologne, failing antiperspirant – the old guy needed a shower. The strongest smell was a base note of whiskey, from this night and many nights previous. The man reeked of dying. Death has a stink that no perfume can hide.
But he was hanging on tonight and would not leave Phil alone.
“Whaddaya say, one for you and one for me? Huh?” Tony nudged Phil’s arm. “I fancy the blond. Always had a thing for blonds – these days the drapes never match the carpet. Heh heh.” His laughter morphed into a juicy coughing fit that ended as Tony hawked up a ball of phlegm, which he spit into a cocktail napkin.
Tony guzzled his pint in large gulps, the pale liquid disappearing into his hard gut. His throat worked at a clip to keep up, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with each swallow. When the glass was nearly empty, Tony set it on the bar, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and looked at Phil. Feeling the old man’s gaze, Phil sat very still, and stared straight ahead, studying the bottles of vodka, gin, and bitters stacked in rows on the back bar. Phil figured if he didn’t engage or reply, the old guy would leave him alone, finish his beer, and drive home.
“You don’t say much, do you? Not interested in those lovely ladies? Maybe you’re one of them city faggots that drives out this way on your day off looking for antiques. Huh? Is that what it is? Where’s your boyfriend, faggot?”
Phil turned to look at the old man, whose mouth was open as he chewed on some left over something in his mouth. Tony’s right eye was watery and there was a chunk of yellow sleep crust in the corner of his eye.
Phil’s face was tight. He clenched his fists and stared straight ahead. He knew if he spoke, it would be words followed by fists, and they would both be thrown out.
“Hi fellas.” Phil felt a soft hand on the back of his neck. He turned to the sound of the sweet voice. The blond was staring at him. He saw she had deep blue eyes. She was about five foot five in heels.
Her companion stood behind her.
“We saw you gentleman over here and thought you needed cheering up.”
The two women settled onto the bar stools on either side of the men.
Phil watched the brunette fondle her long neck beer.
“Er, so…you from around here?” he asked.
Sarah had slept fitfully. For a long time, she had heard the FBI talking outside, their voices muted by the cabin windows. She caught a few words: ‘Santis’ and reporter. Eventually the voices quieted down. Car doors slammed as shifts changed. When she had finally drifted off, exhausted by adrenaline and worry, the voices had filtered into her dreams.
Now, she was awake again. Wide awake. The talking outside had ceased. Perhaps the FBI agents had all finally decided to sleep. That Santis jerk had promised her he would keep her family safe and find her daughter – he was probably snoozing in the back of one of those oversized SUVs.
It seemed too quiet. Or perhaps it was in the quit that she heard something else. She listened. Not voices. But something. The faintest protests of floorboards. Movement.
Footsteps. In the house.
Some nights, Max raided the kitchen for potato chips. She listened harder.
Not Max – these footsteps were light and quick. Must be Justin or Jason. The dust of sleep still on her eyes, she blinked. Her eyes grasped at the darkness for familiar shadows.
At the sound of breaking glass, she bolted, fumbled with the lamp on the side table, searching along the cord for the switch. Her hand found the plastic piece and she pushed it with her thumb, turning on the lamp.
Light filled the room.
On the floor, the stained glass lamp that had graced the family room for fifty years. It lay in pieces, the colored glass shattered in sharp edges.
She saw the ScareIt. It stood still, appearing as a statue, except its tines twitched, the white bone catching the light from the headlights.
In front of the ScareIt, standing guard, was Justin. His soft cheeks were flushed. He squinted at the thing before him. He didn’t turn his head but he spoke.
Sarah heard this. Her heart beat a double beat and then clenched, as if the cold hand of inevitable death had seized her heart for a moment, taking what in the end was rightly his, reminding Sarah that she had made this boy who must one day live without her protection.
Sarah couldn’t breathe. She saw this afternoon, her yelling at Justin for cutting his sister’s hair. Screaming at him in her panic about Meg.
Her Justin, who did not blink or flinch or even whimper as the ScareIt forced its sharp tines through the clothing covering Justin’s slight torso, and connected with the soft belly of the boy. The determined body resisted the intrusion for several seconds but the tines cut through his intestines, his liver and his left lung.
Sarah watched her son crumple by the broken glass. His head landed on the purple pane, which had been smashed into hundreds of small pieces and glass dust when it hit the floor. Sarah thought absently that it would take some washing to get all those glass fragments out of his hair.
Meg, she thought
Where was she?
Why had she run off? Why had she stayed away?
This invasion was too much for Sarah, the mother of three.
Sarah screamed as she charged the ScareIt
The ScareIt eyed her and appeared to smile, the bones of its face shifting, like a puzzle game. As she got closer, Sarah saw that an antler grew out of its right cheek. It smelled of dust.
As Sarah approached it, it reached for her, its tines dripping with Justin’s tissue.
Sarah lifted the gun and aimed it point blank at the ScareIt’s torso.
Outside, gunshots. Sarah turned. The picture window showed mayhem outside- headlights lights and men running. But in the spotlight from the helicopter she saw one man racing at her. A man whose face she knew only from TV news reports. The convict. The one the FBI had taken over her house to find.
He was yelling as he ran, but over the noise of the low flying helo, Sarah could not hear him. She tried to read his lips but the words were not distinguishable. She thought he was saying, “curl” or “hurl”. In the back of her mind, she wondered why he was running toward her house, which was at the moment the brightest point on the hill. There was no safety for him here.
He kept running. Sarah watched the agents behind him move and coalesce, as if dancing in slow motion.
At the same time, she felt cold creep across her skin. The ScareIt had grabbed her wrist and was pulling her toward it. The tines seemed to sharpen as they poked her skin.
The running man had reached the window. He looked straight at Sarah. At her hand that held the gun. He was still screaming.
A sharp sound and the man’s face disappeared from the window. A second man stood behind Kyle. Santis. Holding his gun.
Santis had followed the convict’s mad dash toward the house. As Kyle ran, Santis couldn’t get a good shot. Until Kyle stopped at the window.
He would explain later that he felt Kyle was an immediate threat to the family. But now he stared in the window at Sarah and the ScareIt.
In the bright kitchen light, the ScareIt shone white and clean, as if it were bleached bone on a deserted beach. It stood six inches over Sarah.
Sarah stared at the ScareIt’s tines on her arm. The tines did not hurt her or perhaps she was now numb from fear that could not feel pain. She looked at the ScareIt’s head.
Was the light playing tricks on her or were the bones of the head moving, as if tectonic plates shifting.
Yes, she was certain, the ScareIt’s face was shifting, the bones changing color, from white to grey as the matter moved. Sarah thought she could almost see the bones cells flowing over each other, streaming down the shoulders of the ScareIt.
A small hole appeared on the front of the ScareIt’s head. Sarah watched as the cells flowed even more quickly away from the hole. The hole grew in diameter. Sarah felt drawn to the hole.
The hole in the boney plate grew larger. It was dark inside, which meant that it was not solid bone. There was space. Perhaps it was a hollow cavity.
The cells continued to stream away from the hole in the bone plate of the ScareIt’s head. In a matter of seconds, the hole was now three inches in diameter, then four, then five.
Sarah’s heart stopped. She felt it stop, she was sure she did, though she remained standing and alive, staring at the ScareIt, staring at its bony head.
It was a hollow casement. As the bone plates had shifted aside, like curtains on a stage, it had revealed its main event.
Sarah stared at the human face inside the skull.
It was the face of a sleeping girl.
Meg’s eyes opened wide. She stared past Sarah, the whites of her eyes shining bright in the darkness of the ScareIt’s skull cavity.
She screamed, “Help me!”
Sarah fainted, her arm still held by the ScareIt.
The sheets of bone reformed, closing the facial cavity. The ScareIt dropped Sarah’s arm and paused as if watching her. Then it turned, slipping out to the screen porch and away into the welcoming night.
Look for Thirst Part III March 1, 2017