AND THEN HE WAS GONE
The tall, dark-haired boy in the grey tee-shirt and blue jeans walked with a soft step along the worn path, placing his sneakered feet carefully over twigs and fallen branches that could easily snap and give him away. The sun’s rays pierced the tall trees like a floodlight into a cathedral, but he felt affinity with neither church nor God. He was a stalker, a cat tracking its prey with practiced stealth. He could hear the lake now, sloshing softly against the bank, could smell its slight chemical scent in the air. A few yards further along the path, it came into full view, calm and blue. Spotting his bike lying on a grassy patch of ground, the sun's glint reflecting off the chrome, he paused in his step, quieted his loud breathing lest he be heard. Standing there, feeling the soft ground beneath his feet, the cold fury swelled inside him and his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
Beside the bike, his little brother sat contentedly on the lake bank. He was wearing a navy blue and white striped tee shirt, denim shorts. He’d thrown a line into the water and the tiny red bobber floated on its surface, waiting for its own prey. Not a care in the world, the bigger boy thought, glaring at his brother's back with his cold, angry eyes. Well, he would have a care. He damn well would.
Sensing a presence behind him, and already knowing who it was, David slowly turned his head, his stomach dropping into some netherworld at the sight of Rath's grim face. He tried to keep the fear from his own face, but he knew it betrayed him. It always did.
“Hey.” He attempted a smile at his older brother, but the fear had travelled to his throat, and his muscles wouldn’t let him. His brother saw the fear and David could see that it pleased him.
“I thought you were staying with Grandpa and Grandma for the weekend,” he croaked, his voice breaking on the word Grandma, turning thin and high, as if his voice were changing right there in that moment.
“Seems you were wrong, eh, shithead! Who told you you could take my freakin’ bike, eh?” He gave a kick to the small of his younger brother's back. He's not my real brother anyway, he thought, just the stinking half-brother he hated from the second he saw him swaddled in his mother's arms, that stupid baby face peeking from the blue blanket.
“He’s such a good baby,” his mother used to tell her friends. “Hardly ever cries.” He had fixed that quick enough, with a pinch to the arm or leg or by bending a baby finger. She caught him once, and that was the end of that. He could still feel the sting of her slap across his face. All because of this little prick.
David was getting to his feet warily, rubbing at the small of his back, a plea in his big blue eyes. “No ... no one. I’m sorry. I was going to bring it back, Rath. I just wanted to …”
“You think I care what you wanted, you little freak. You stole my bike.”
“No, I didn't, honest. I ‑I just borrowed it. I was just going to...”
The lake continued to lap at the shore, unconcerned, indifferent to the business of humans. High up in a tall pine, a crow cawed and a swollen bee hovered and buzzed nearby. Otherwise, all was silent.
The darkness spread across the older boy's brain like a black cloud crossing the moon's surface. Without warning, his hands shot out, giving David a hard shove, sending him backwards, arms flailing, eyes wide, into the water. He landed on his back with a loud splash, but he was already scrambling to his feet. Rath pushed him back down again, and, dropping to his knees, held him there. He grasped those small shoulders in his hands and pressed down, until the face that still held its babyness, was wavery and distorted under the water. A sense of power flowed through Rath as he glared into those eyes so big and blue and filled with panic. Even as bubbles rose and broke on the surface, Rath felt nothing but pure rage that fed his need for revenge for all that had been taken from him. When the terror gradually washed from David’s eyes, and at last he lay still, moving only when the water nudged him, like so much flotsam, Rath stood up. The dark fury at last drained off, an eerie calmness remained in its wake. Like the lancing of an abscess, though the core remained. Gasping for breath from the exertion, he wiped his hands on his jeans. The front of his tee shirt was wet, but no big deal; it would dry on the way home. Leaving his little brother behind, bobbing in the water, not unlike the bobber farther out on the lake, he drove the bike home and wheeled it back into the garage. Then he went inside the house, a smile on his handsome face. “Hey, ma.”
His mother was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping tea and reading one of her romance novels. He glimpsed the woman on the cover dressed in an old-fashioned gold-coloured gown. She folded down an upper corner of her page to save her place and smiled up at him. “You said you were going to grandma’s and grandpa’s.”
“I changed my mind.” He planted a kiss on her cheek. “It’s kinda boring over there. Besides, I would have missed my mom too much.”
She laughed. “You silly. You’re such a charmer.”
She had heard the squeak and rattle of the bike as her older son wheeled it into the garage. At first, she had thought it was David coming home. She was sure she'd seen him driving down the road this morning with his fishing gear tied on the bike. But she must be mistaken about that, she told herself. And promptly buried the memory.
THE DEEPEST DARK
The three dark figures moved quietly among the shadowy, rain-dripping birches, pines and alders toward the old farmhouse where amber lights glowed in the two lower windows. They crept with the stealth of foxes intent upon the chickens in the hen house, hungry and deadly, already tasting blood. And the Nichols’ actually did keep a few chickens of their own, mainly for the fresh eggs, but not altogether for that reason. They liked seeing them clucking and pecking about the yard; they were good company and cost only a bit of seed. Once, they had operated their own farm, and a fair sized one it was, too. These days they kept a small vegetable garden and Ethel Nichols tended the flowers that grew along the walkway and in her window boxes, mainly morning glories in heavenly blue and pansies in shades of lavender and sun-yellow.
In their early eighties now, and in relatively good health, they were enjoying the fruits of their labor in these latter years, including the big screen TV on which they were presently watching an old rerun of All in the Family, one of life’s pleasures that Hartley and Ethel shared. …
When the commercial came on, Ethel rose from the big stuffed chair across from her husband’s Lazy Boy. She was white-haired, ample of figure, and quick to smile. “Cup of tea, Hartley?”
He looked in her direction and grinned mischievously. Though his own hair had long gone and he walked with a limp, to Ethel he was as handsome as the first time she saw him walking into Mr. Biggar’s class in grade nine. She could still see him as he was then, tall and lean, with a thatch of fair hair fallen over his brow.
“Wouldn’t mind having just a tiny slice of that apple pie you baked to go with my tea.” An affectionate coaxing twinkled in blue eyes that had faded only a little over the years.
Looking at him, she mentally shook her head. He knew he had trouble getting to sleep if he ate after he’d had his supper. “Sure,” she said. And it will be tiny, Mister Nichols, you can bet on that. She had started for the kitchen when she stopped in the doorway between the living room and kitchen, thinking she’d heard a noise outside. She listened. Heard it again. A squeaking of the porch swing chain?
“Did you hear that?” she called into the living room.
“Hear what? Didn’t hear nothin’, Ethel.”
“I’m not sure. Sounded like... oh, I’m sure it’s nothing. The wind.”
THE ABDUCTION OF MARY ROSE
The teenage girl hurried along the darkening street, head down in a vain attempt to divert attention from herself as she headed for her bus stop, still over a block away. The car behind her was a soft growl in the still, warm air.
It was mid-June, only two weeks till school closed. The air was fragrant with the smell of lilacs that grew here and there along the street. She wore a jean skirt and white cotton shirt, and yet she felt as exposed and vulnerable as if she were naked. She was anticipating the freedom of summer and thinking about spending more time with her new friend Lisa, when she became of aware of the car following her. She had been thinking maybe she and Lisa would swim in the pond edged with the tall reeds, near her house where she sometimes fished with her grandfather. She'd let grandfather meet Lisa. She knew he would like her. It would be impossible not to like Lisa, even though her grandfather didn't quite trust white people.
The growl of the motor grew louder, and she heard the window whisper open on the passenger side, close to her. "Where you goin' in such a hurry, sweet thing?"
She didn't turn around, just kept on her way toward the bus stop, one foot in front of the other, as fast as she could go without running. Music thumped loudly from the car radio, pounding its beat into the night. It was not music she would have listened to, not like the music they'd played on Lisa's tape player tonight, and that she and Lisa had danced to in Lisa's room. Lisa had tried to teach her some new steps; it had been so much fun. They danced to songs by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross' Mirror, Mirror and a bunch more she couldn't even remember. Lisa had a lot of records.
The music that blasted from the car sounded angry and unpleasant. The car drew up so close to her she could smell the alcohol the men had been drinking, mixed in with the gas fumes.
The car edged even closer to the curb, and the man said something ugly and dirty out the window to her and his words made her face burn, made her feel ashamed as if she had done something wrong though she knew she hadn't. She pretended not to hear, made herself look straight ahead, her eyes riveted on the yellow band around the distant pole that was the bus stop, just up past the graveyard. She kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, trying not to look scared, and prayed they would go away. Fear made her heart race.
The day was fast fading, the sky a light mauve, only a sprinkling of stars yet. Soon it would be dark. She was always home before dark. Grandfather would be worried. A few more minutes and you'll be at the bus stop, she told herself. Ignore them. But it was impossible to do with the car following so close that the heat from the motor brushed her bare legs, like a monster's breath.
The car crawled along beside her. She moved as far away as she could get, but the pavement was next to none along here and broken. "Hey, sweet thing," the man said. "You trying to get away from us." He laughed.
Despite herself, she turned her head and looked straight into the man's face. He was grinning out at her, showing his square, white teeth, causing her heart to pound even louder than the music. He made her think of the coyotes that sometimes came skulking around grandfather's house at night hunting for small cats and dogs. No. I am wrong. He is not like the coyotes. They are just being coyotes. It is a noble animal. An evil spirit dwells within this beast. One tied with the most fragile of chains. She could feel him straining toward her, teeth bared. She would not have been surprised to see foam coming from his mouth.
Softly, he said, "Hey, Pocahontas, want a ride?"
Feeling as if a hand were at her throat, she darted a look behind her, praying to see someone, anyone, who might help her, but the street was deserted. She'd left the row of wooden houses behind her a good ten minutes ago and was now at River's End Cemetery. There was no sidewalk at all here, just the dirt path, broken curb on her left and the empty field to her right, leading up into the graveyard. If a car comes along, she thought, I'll just run right out into the middle of the road and flag it down. But none did. She visualized herself safely inside the bus and on her way home to Salmon Cove, to her grandfather's small blue house on the reservation. She would tell him all about Lisa, her new best friend from school. Her grandfather would smile at her, and be pleased for her and call her his little Sisup. She fingered the pendant around her neck that he had made for her, a kind of talisman. To keep evil spirits away.
Grandfather didn't always understand the white man's world though, and there would be worry on his weathered face because she was not home yet. But she would make them a pot of tea and they would talk, and he would forget his worry. She was still focused on the bus stop, the utility pole marked by its wide yellow band. With the car so close, the thrum of the motor vibrating through her, the bus stop seemed a mile away. She walked faster, a chill sweeping through her body. She was forced now to walk on the slight incline that led up to the graveyard. Only the ruined curb separated her from her tormentors.
A taxi fled past, but she'd been so intent on getting to the bus stop she'd noticed it too late. It had been going so fast, out of sight already, just pinpoints of taillights in the distance, then nothing.
"Hey, what's your hurry, squawgirl?"
She gave no answer, swallowed, and kept going. When the man did not speak for several minutes, she became even more frightened by his silence than his talk. The boys at school sometimes called her Indian, and other dumb stuff like pretending to be beating on war drums, or doing a rain dance, and though it hurt her feelings and sometimes even made her cry, this was different. The boys thought they were being funny. Not so with this man. She could feel his contempt, even hatred for her, and something else, something that made her mouth and throat dry and her blood race faster. As she continued to put one foot in front of the other on the worn, rocky path edging the graveyard, she was very careful not to stumble and become like the wounded deer under the hungry eye of the wolf, she kept her eyes on the pole with its yellow band. In the darkening sky, a high white moon floated.
Everything in her wanted to break into a run, but a small voice warned her that it would not be a wise thing to do. Anyway, no way could she outrun a car. Why did the bus stop seem so far away? It was like a bad dream, where no matter how fast you run you don't go anywhere, and whatever is behind you ... draws closer and closer.
She shouldn't have stayed so long at Lisa's. But they'd been having such fun, just talking and listening to music, sharing secrets. It was nice to have a best friend, to feel like any other teenager. But you're not like any other teenager. You're an Indian. She should have listened to her grandfather.
The man spoke again. "C'mon, get in, Pocahontas," he said, his tone quiet, chilling her. "We'll have us a little party." He reached a hand out the open window and she shrank from his touch, stumbled, nearly fell, tears blinding her. She heard the driver laugh, a nervous laugh and she knew he was a follower of the other man. There was an exchanged murmur of words she couldn't make out, then, the car angled ever closer to her, wheels scraping the curb, making her jump back.
"Got something for you, sweetheart," the grinning man said. "You'll like it."
More laughter, but only from him now. Adrenaline rushed through her and she started to run, ignoring the warning voice. But it was too late. The car shrieked to a stop and instantly the door flew open and the man burst from the car and grabbed her. She screamed and fought to free herself from the steel arm clamped around her waist, but it was no use. She kicked and clawed at him, but he lifted her off her feet as if she were a rag doll and threw her into the back seat, and scrambled in after her. He shut the door and hit the lock. "Go," he yelled at the driver but the car remained idling. The man looked over his shoulder, started to say something but the man holding her down yelled at him a second time to go, louder, furious, and they took off on squealing tires.
"Please let me out," she begged. "Please…" Her pleas were cut off by a powerful back-hand across the mouth, filling it with the warm, coppery taste of blood. "Gisoolg, help me," she cried out, calling on the spiritual god of her grandfather, and of his grandfather before him. But no answer came.
Up in the graveyard, an owl screeched as it too swooped down on its night prey. And all fell silent.
NOWHERE TO HIDE
It was nice to be alone. As she brushed her hair, Gail launched into her favorite fantasy of buying her sister a white Ferrari. Ellen's birthday was coming up in May; she'd have the car delivered right up to her door, a big red bow tied on the antenna ... dream on, girl she told herself, grinning at her reflection in the mirror.
Tiger padded into the room just then, winding his sleek, warm body around her bare ankles, purring like an old washing machine.
I owe her so much, Tiger, Gail said, reaching down to stroke the cat's soft, glossy fur. If it wasn't for...
Suddenly, Tiger's back arched under her hand and he hissed. Gail's heart leapt in her breast and her hand drew back as if burned. "What the...?" But Tiger, fur standing on end, had already fled the room. Gail turned in her chair just in time to see his electrified, retreating tail...
Then she caught a movement from the corner of her eye. Turning, she froze at the sight of the closet door slowly opening.
August 6, 1979
The closet door was at the top of the stairs at the end of the hall. To get to it he had to pass by two doors, one on either side, both now partly open. He could hear talking, very low. Farther away, the sound of running away. In three quick strides he was past the doors and inside the closet. He knew he was smiling. He felt excited the way he always did when he got past them. Even if anyone had got a glimpse of him, it wouldn't really matter. He was invisible. The invisible man.
The secret door was to his right, just behind the wide rack of musty-smelling winter coats in varying sizes. He ducked beneath them, and opening the door, let himself into the narrow, cave-like space.
The space separating the inside and outside walls went nearly the whole way round the third floor, stopping abruptly at the wall of the stairwell where he had to turn around and go back the way he had come. Once, this space had been used for storage - old bed springs, broken chairs, trunks - but the doors, except for the one in the closet which he had come upon quite by luck, and through which he had come again and again, had long since been replaced by sheetrock and papered over with rose-patterned wallpaper.
It was pitch black in front of him and all around him, like he was all alone in the world. He had his flashlight, but didn't turn it on. He knew the way. Besides, it might shine through someplace.
As he made his way along the darkened corridor, breathing the stale, hot air, his progress slowed by the long, heavy skirt he wore, he had to stoop. At seventeen, though narrow-shouldered, he was nearly six feet tall.
Sweat was trickling down between his shoulder- blades, and under the wig, his head felt squirmy, so he took the wig off and stuffed it into his pants pocket, under the skirt.
And then he was there. He could see the thin beam of light shining through, projecting a tiny star on the wall. It was coming through the place where two Sundays ago, when they were all at Chapel, he had made a peephole. He'd made it by simply pounding a nail through, then drawing it cleanly back out so that there would be nothing detectible on the other side - no more than a black dot.
A giggle floated through to him and the smile froze on his face, his fists clenching involuntarily. No, it can't be me they're laughing at. They can't see me. They don't know I'm here. I'm invisible, remember? Calming himself, he slowly brought his face to the wall.
Eight narrow, iron-framed beds faced him, each covered by a thin, grey blanket with a faded red stripe across the top and bottom. Twelve beds in all, but the two at either end were cut from his view. A few religious pictures hung above the beds. The one facing him said 'Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me'. It had a picture of a lamb on it. Only three of the beds were occupied. It was still early. Some of the girls were probably downstairs watching their alloted hour of T.V. Others would still be doing kitchen duty. At least one troublemaker would be doing 'quiet time'. He grinned.
He understood now that the laughter he'd heard had come from one of the two girls sitting on the edge of the bed flipping through a teen idol magazine. He'd caught a look at the cover - some weirdo with a green punk hairdo and a guitar slung around his neck. The two sluts, heads together, were still at it, giggling, whispering, low and secretive. He felt a hot surge of hatred course through his veins. He wished SHE would walk in on them right now. He knew what they were doing. They were talking about who they liked, who they thought was 'cute', who they would let do it. They were thinking and talking about that.
Two beds over, a fat girl with short brown hair that looked as if someone (guess who? Ha-ha) had cut it around a bowl, lay on her back with her hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling. A jagged scar travelled from a spot between her eyebrows right up into her hairline. He could tell she'd been crying; her raisin eyes were all red and puffy, practically disappearing in her moon face. They cried a lot in here. Mostly in the middle of the night when they thought no one could hear. It always excited him hearing their soft muffled sobs. Sometimes, though, it just made him mad like it did when they laughed. Then he wanted to fix it so they didn't make any sound at all.
His gaze wandered back to the girl who had first caught his attention, the one who sat under the lamb picture, and who he'd wanted to save for last. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, a writing tablet balanced on her knees, her long, pale hair fallen forward, though some damply dark ends curled against her neck. He watched as she scribbled a few lines, then frowning, looked over what she had written. She would chew on her yellow pencil, then write some more, the pencil making whispery sounds on the paper. He watched her for a long time, taking in the flushed, shiny cheeks that made him think, as had the darkly damp curls, that she might just have stepped out of the bath. Yes, he remembered hearing the water running. He liked to see them when they just got out of the bath - all that damp flowing hair, pinkly scrubbed skin, soft necks. Sometimes they changed into their flannel nightgowns right there on the edge of their beds, right there in front of him - though of course they didn't know that.
That was the best part. Them not knowing. It didn't matter that they dressed so hurriedly and so slickly that he often didn't get to see much. Though occasionally there was a flash of white shoulder, a curve of breast.
I'm watching you, he thought, and had to stifle a giggle of his own.
And then she raised her head and those clear blue eyes were staring right at him, stabbing fear into his heart. He couldn't move.
She was frowning, not in the way she did when she was thinking of what to write, but with her head cocked to one side, as if she were listening for something. A terrible thought struck him. What if he hadn't just almost laughed, but actually done it, right out loud? Adrenaline pumping crazily through his body, he backed slowly away from the peephole. Standing perfectly still with his back against the wall, he waited. When after several minutes there were no screams, no sudden cries of alarm to alert the other girls - and HER, especially HER - he began to relax. His heartbeat returned to normal; once more he brought his eye to the hole. She was back to writing. Of course she was.
He smiled to himself.
He hadn't laughed out loud, after all. And she hadn't seen him. Of course she hadn't. His gaze slid down to her breasts, their shapes round and firm as little apples under the flannel nightgown.
But you will, he thought. You will.
LISTEN TO THE SHADOWS excerpt
Beneath his attic room, the house slept.
Stealthily, he made his way along the darkened hallway, stopping at a door with peeling green paint. He fitted the key into the lock, turned it, and heard the familiar scraping of wood on linoleum as the door opened inward. His calloused, blunt fingers then groped along the inside wall to his left, found the switch and flicked it on. Instantly, the cramped space was washed in harsh light from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, revealing a few pieces of scarred, make-do furniture, including a single cot covered by a worn-thin, grey army blanket, drawn so smooth and taut he could have bounced a quarter from its center.
Though shabby, the room was painstakingly neat.
Wearing an air of contained excitement, he strode across the room to where the calendar hung from the wall like a window-blind and advertised A & R Realty in black lettering. He peeled back the months of September and October. Then, taking the pen clipped to his shirt pocket, he drew a red circle around the "5" in the month of November. He saw that the fifth fell on a Sunday. Not that it mattered. He regarded the carefully drawn circle for a few seconds, then dropped the pages, letting them whisper back into place. He moved to the table with its rickety legs that managed to support his double hotplate and serve as his dining table. He opened the table's single drawer, and from beneath a red plastic flatware tray that held only a steak-knife, fork, spoon, can-opener and a butcher-knife, he withdrew a soiled and yellowing envelope. As he shook the photograph from the envelope, his hand trembled.
As he had for many months now, with almost religious dedication, he studied her features, let his gaze travel over her long, shapely body. She was wearing shorts and a halter-top. Her long brown hair blew in the breeze. She smiled out at him in open invitation, her almond-shaped eyes crinkling a little at the corners. Her feet were bare.
The wait was over. Finally. Triumph raced through him, settled like molten lava in his loins. He welcomed the almost painful arousal.
Katie Summers. His patience would be rewarded at last. The debt would be collected.
On November fifth. The day he would kill her.
His eyes lowered to the butcher-knife in the drawer, and he reached in and picked it up. He gripped the black wooden handle, liking the feel - the heft of it. Slowly, thoughtfully, he ran the thumb and forefinger of his left hand over the flat of the blade. Up and down, up and down. Stroking, stroking, until gradually a dull film began to slip over his eyes. Abruptly, the rhythmic movement of his hand stopped. His eyes cleared. He tossed the knife back into the drawer where it clattered to silence.
No. That was not the way he would do it. It felt wrong. And everything must be exactly right. He'd waited a long time.
As his gaze returned to the girl in the photograph, inspiration flashed in his mind. Yes, there was a much better way. A perfect way. A slow smile spread across his features - one that entirely missed his pale, cold eyes.
Ah, yes, Katie Summers, he thought. You will most definitely be worth the wait.