Endangered

[A couple chapters from a novel I work on now and then]

 

Chapter 1

Martha McDougal checked the time on the old Grandmother clock. It was 5:45 and Henry, her husband of 47 years, was due home from the Elk’s Club in half an hour.

She put the feather duster away and opened the double-doors of the hall closet. She grunted, and her tired bones creaked and popped as she dragged the heavy, old, Electrolux from its lair beneath the coats, right beside the big box of toys. They were her grandson’s toys, she thought. But they weren’t quite her grandson’s – they were her own son’s. They had been collecting dust in the attic for twenty-five years, and just the other day she decided to bring them down and clean them up. They weren’t the same as the new fangled things you see on TV, but they were good enough for her son, Jeffery, and he had taken good care of them. Jeffery had been such a good boy. Her grandson, Albert, will be in for a nice surprise tomorrow when he comes over to visit. Albert is a good boy too she thought, as the dinosaur-like Electrolux reluctantly left its cave.

The aroma of a roast whiffed past her nose and she scolded herself because she knew it would be done in just a few minutes and would have to be kept warm until Henry came home.

She kicked the button on the base of the vacuum and the beast roared into life. She worked quickly. Over the years she had gotten quite adept at working the power head with one hand and kicking along the separate base with one foot while taking care that the cumbersome hose didn’t knock anything over. Martha had a thing for nick-naks and had been collecting them since she got married at 19. Now, to her aging eyes, they were only nuisances to be dusted around, but she knew that someday, after she leaves this earth, they might bring a fortune on the antique market and possibly put one of her grandchildren through college. That was, if her son didn’t just throw them away. “Junk”, is what he calls them.

A rumbling sound drew her attention to the cylindrical base of the vacuum. She kicked it once and the rumbling stopped. Turning back to her work, she heard the rumbling again. “Dammit! Don’t tell me this thing has finally given up on me.” She kicked it one more time and the strange sound disappeared. She stood for a moment, staring and wagging her finger at it, daring it to act up again. It did. This time she stooped in front of it and shook it by hand, but the rumbling continued. She switched it off and the roar of the old motor turned into a purr, and then into silence. She placed her hands on her hips and sighed.

That’s when she heard it clearly for the first time. It seemed to come from everywhere at once and shook her insides. It was a low, guttural growl like that of an angry dog, except deeper. She knew it was coming from behind her. The sound reached inside her with a cold hand and squeezed her stomach. She wanted to turn around, but something told her not to – something instinctual, like how you know not to take a breath underwater without having to think about it. She realized she had stopped breathing and drew in a slow, trembling breath, knowing that what ever it was would be able to see her move.

It hit her between the shoulder blades like a 50-pound sack of potatoes. She tipped over the vacuum and sprawled onto the floor on the other side. Her head struck the floor with such force her ears rang. The rug lit the side of her face on fire as she slid to a halt. Dazzling dots of light danced before her eyes and she felt feint. The room rocked like a boat on stormy seas, and she nearly lost consciousness.

Her mind immediately cleared when something, knife-like, penetrated the flesh of her back. One, then another. And then three more at once. She tried to scream but only, “Huh”, escaped her as she was compressed under the weight on her back. She tried to roll one way and then the other. It was attached to her by what felt like two handfuls of giant fishhooks. She tried to roll again and the weight was relieved. Then, she did scream as the hooks were ripped from her body, leaving long furrows of exposed muscle and bone. She rolled onto her back and took a breath to scream again, but what she saw in the instant before letting it out caused it to come out as nothing more than a dry wheeze. Through the web of cracks in her shattered glasses she gazed into greenest pair of eyes she had ever seen. They were beautiful, she thought. She smiled and her eyes welled with tears.

She was a little girl standing inside her grandma’s front door. The door had a round window made of stained glass that showed a green sailboat sailing upon blue waves. It was a bright spring day and the sunlight shone through the window, casting green and blue light on the tile floor. The colors danced and wiggled like a puddle at her feet.

The owner of the green eyes exhaled, her glasses fogged and the vision was gone. Stirred from her reverie, she renewed her attempts to scream. This time they were foiled for the last time. She inhaled her final breath before a prickly vise clamped down tightly around her throat and held firm and still. Her windpipe was closed tight; her eyes bulged in their sockets and her heart beat like a drum in her ears. She struggled only a little as her body used up the remaining oxygen in her lungs. As she lie there, she felt her hands and feet go numb, and her final thoughts were of her grandson and the roast burning in the oven.

Chapter 3

“Daddy, what’s a serial killer?”

Bobby scowled at his little sister from across the table. He reversed his grip on the spoon and made stabbing motions into his Fruit Loops. Little Amy mimicked him with her own. Bobby’s spoon clanked in the bottom of the bowl, nearly breaking it. He cringed and looked over at his mother who was already angry.

“You see! See what this is doing to our kids? I knew we should never have moved here. You’d better be quick about this. Then, I want you to take that exam so you don’t have to be in debt to that bastard father of yours any more.”

“That bastard…,” Keith stopped and instead put his arm around his daughter. With his other hand he reached over and ruffled Nate’s hair. At 7 years old, Nate was the middle one. “Why don’t you kids go outside and play”, he said. Nate and Amy were on their feet and heading for the door before he’d gotten the words out. Bobby’s face was a breakfast bowl as he drank the last of the milk from it. He took his time. When he finished he put the bowl down and looked at his father as defiantly as he could manage with milk on his nose.

“Go!”, his mother commanded as she pointed to the door.

Bobby left the room and Keith focused his attention on his eggs. They weren’t quite done and the slime oozed into his fried potatoes. He made a dam out of potato cubes so the slime would contaminate as little of his breakfast as possible. The kids had learned to forgo their mother’s eggs for cereal, but Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch appealed to him even less. “That bastard, as you lovingly refer to him, helped us get this house and helped me get my position in Shady Brook so I could work close to home. How many cops with three kids do you think can afford to live in a house like this? A community like this?” He gestured to the window where they watched their kids chase each other through the back yard. It was nearly the size of a football field and ran all the way to the edge of the woods. “Besides, he’s already made it quite clear that he wants this taken care of fast.”

“Aww. What’s the matter? Is this becoming inconvenient for him?” She held up today’s paper, shook it at him and threw it in the trash. I always thought politicians were slimy and this just proves it.”

“I told you, he’s not a politician.”, Keith stood and gathered his dishes.

“What’s the difference?” Kathy turned on the faucet and began rinsing plates and loading the dishwasher.

Keith carried his plate to the trash where the headline stared back at him. As he scraped his slimy eggs and the few potato cubes that were touching them into the trash he aimed for the word “Serial” in the headline. The headline had been about the same for the past two days, but today that one word was a fresh and unwelcome addition.

Over the sound of clanking dishes and running water he heard something from outside. The shrill pitch of it barely penetrated the noise of fast water striking stainless steel but Kathy heard it too. She looked over her shoulder at him and turned off the water. In the morning silence of their kitchen they could clearly hear Amy’s screams. Keith hit the screen door like a hurricane wind and it splashed against the side of the house. Crossing the porch in two strides he reached back and drew his gun from it’s concealment rig inside the back of his pants. As he rounded the corner, gun in hand, he saw them. Amy was on her back in the grass with Bobby straddling her. He had one of her arms pinned down with one hand. In the other, he held a blunt stick and made pretend stabbing motions at her chest. Amy screamed in glee, more than happy to be the star actress in Bobby’s thriller as she flailed her one free arm slapping at him. Kathy, who Keith turned to see watching the scene through a bedroom window, blew an obvious sigh of relief. The two siblings had an audience of three now. Nate was sitting on the grass watching half-heartedly while tearing out handfuls of turf. He threw the handfuls into the air letting the breeze carry the blades of grass. Keith looked sheepishly at the gun in his hand, repositioned it and looked back up at the window. Kathy was now standing, hands on hips, shaking her head, and giving him a disapproving look. The phone rang and he knew he’d be saved from another discussion.

Keith ran inside and grabbed his cell phone off the table where he’d been eating. “Detective Montgomery.” He listened. Keith switched hands on the phone twice as he put his suit jacked on while half participating in a one-sided conversation. He nodded as he listened as if the person on the other end could see him. “OK”, he said, “Have someone from the coroner’s office meet me there and I’ll need some extra help from the department. We’re going to have to move this one fast.” Keith tucked the phone into his suit pocket and looked at his wife who was standing in the doorway, still in her housecoat. “There’s another one.”, he told her “It’s a kid this time.”

She covered her mouth with one hand and leaned against the doorframe. Her eyes went misty and she squeezed her lips together until they turned white. Keith watched her as he put on his tie. She crossed her arms in front of her, hugged herself once and looked at the floor. Then her eyes met his. It was a look of love and compassion and for the first time this morning he recognized her. This was the woman he had fallen in love with so many years before.

He crossed the kitchen and they embraced. “It’s going to be OK”, he told her. He pushed against her and she, reluctantly, let go. “I have to go.” He disappeared into the house and returned a moment later with an armload of files and notepads. She watched him as he searched the kitchen for his keys, found them and left, letting the screen door slam behind him. She winced at the sound.

Outside, Nate was reading Bobby his rights. Bobby’s hands were tied behind him with garbage ties. He cooperated and let Nate force him into the backseat of Keith’s unmarked police car. Nate slammed the car door with a self-satisfied smile and Bobby was effectively imprisoned. The car’s rear doors didn’t open from the inside and a metal grate separated the back seat from the front. Keith had seen the boys perform the arrest scene dozens of times and Bobby’s loving brother had never failed to let him back out. Although, Keith thought, being left in there for a while would probably do Bobby some good. “Alright, guys! I gotta go!” Nate opened the door and the boys ran into the house leaving the car door open behind them as they often did. Keith kicked it shut. He always knew when the kids had been playing in the car. As Keith turned the car around in the driveway he saw little Amy on her back in the grass where he’d last seen her. Before he drove off he honked and waved out the window. The corpse broke character just long enough to wave back to him and was still once again. Keith laughed out loud. “What a ham!”

© Copyrights reserved by author.

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