THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Eleven
The path of least resistance. The way always chosen by a smart man. And Leland Cooper considered himself to be smarter than most. He saw no need in doing things the hard way when he could help it. If he could just pull this off, he’d save himself a great deal of time and effort. The easy road.
Leland paused between the bookshelves, pulled a comb from his back pocket and ran it through his hair. He lay aside the books he’d been carrying and smoothed down the stiff, buttoned shirt he wore, checked his creased trousers and polished black shoes.
Look like I’m comin’ from church.
Leland collected the books, canvas-backed with their spines bound in black tape, smelling of old paper. A list of names he remembered from high school, all the ones the teachers had tried to force the kids to read. Faulkner. Steinbeck.
Leland came out from between the rows, crossing the room through the area reserved for tables and chairs, the spinning racks containing paperbacks, a monstrous fern in a clay pot as big as a washtub. The stone bust of some bearded guy–maybe Shakespeare–staring down at him from a niche in the wall. A couple college kids sat at one of the tables, heads bowed over notebooks while they played footsies with their sock feet, shoes kicked off and lying derelict. An old lady stood at the circulation desk, carrying on a conversation with the librarian. Something about the Governor. Leland waited for her to move away before approaching the desk himself.
“Hi.” He smiled his most earnest smile, setting the books on the counter. “I, um, need to apply for a library card. I’m new in town.”
The librarian, middle-aged and fat and as ugly as homemade sin, smiled back at him with lips painted the color of strawberry syrup mixed with shit.
“Well, I’ll just need to see your driver’s license, and you fill out this little form for me.” She pulled a sheet of paper from behind the counter and slid it across towards him, took a pen from a University of Alabama mug and handed it to him. Leland nodded his appreciation.
“Oh, some good choices,” she said, taking the three books and standing them upright.
“Gordon Kidde is my favorite,” Leland said, still grinning. “I could just read his books over and over.”
“Oh, yes,” the librarian said. “So could I.”
“You know,” Leland said, holding the pen poised in the air. “Somebody told me he lives here in town.”
The librarian nodded, smiling. “He sure does. We’re very proud of that around here.”
“I bet,” Leland said. “Golly, I didn’t believe it when they told me. My favorite writer in the whole world. He lives close by, you say?”
“Yes,” she beamed. “He comes in from time to time. Such a nice man, too.”
Leland forced himself to stay calm, take his time filling out the form. He didn’t want to blow it, not now.
“I’d love to meet him some time,” Leland said. “Just to tell him thanks for all he’s given to me. By his work, I mean. I guess he’s a very busy man, though.” He continued writing. “I just love the way he can capture real life. His characters are so real to me.”
“I know just what you mean,” the librarian said. The bitch was eating up every word.
“And he lives right here in Ironwood. What are the odds?”
“Just outside of town, yes,” the woman replied.
Leland looked up. “I live out past the mine, myself. Just moved in, like I said. I’m sure he doesn’t live out that ways?”
“No, he lives out on the other edge of town, past the downtown.”
“Anywhere near the big Baptist church?” Leland asked. “That’s where I go to church.”
“Two, three miles,” she said. “Out on Randolph Street.”
Leland felt like laughing. “Golly, that sure is something.”
He waited for the woman to run his new library card through the laminating machine, collected his books and headed for the door. The stone eyes of Shakespeare watched him as he passed.
“You enjoy those books, now,” the librarian called after him.
Leland waved back. “Oh, I will. And thank you. You’ve been most helpful.” He grinned. “Very helpful, in fact.”
Roosevelt came home for a late lunch, tired. He let himself in the front door. Rebecca, sitting on the couch, grabbed the remote and muted the volume of her soap opera.
“Hey,” Roosevelt said.
“Hey.” Rebecca got up, coming towards him. “It’s been all over the news.”
“Yeah.” Roosevelt embraced her, leaning into her.
“The reporters are all saying ‘serial killer.'”
“Yeah.” Roosevelt sank down on the couch. Rebecca sat down next to him.
“It was ugly,” Roosevelt said.
“God.” Rebecca shook her head. “I never thought, here in Ironwood.”
“Yeah.” Roosevelt leaned his head back on the sofa.
“Any idea who could’ve done it?” Rebecca asked. “Any leads?”
“Nothin’ that makes any sense.” Roosevelt didn’t open his eyes.
“Somebody had to have seen something,” Rebecca offered.
“Yeah.” Roosevelt chuckled, without humor. “An old lady two blocks over, on Chestnut, said she saw a man in bloody clothes run through her backyard.”
“Um-hum,” Roosevelt said. “She said he jumped clean over an eight-foot privacy fence, ran across the yard, and jumped clean over it on the other side. Never even broke stride. Her husband says she sees UFOs, too.”
“Couple of meth-heads said the Devil looked in the window at ’em,” Roosevelt continued. “Had big, sharp teeth and glowing eyes. Said he smiled at ’em.” He sighed. “All the crazies comin’ out of the woodwork.”
“I’m sorry, baby.” She nuzzled close to him.
“Everything alright here?” Roosevelt asked.
“Yeah.” She hesitated.
“What is it?”
“Savannah’s not sick?”
“Oh, no. She’s fine.”
“Then what’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Just that I’m getting worried about Tillie.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Well, she hasn’t been eating.”
Roosevelt smiled. “That won’t hurt her any.”
“Stop,” Rebecca said. “She’s not drinking much, either. I’m scared she’s gonna get dehydrated. And she stays shut up in her room all the time, praying, speaking in tongues and all.”
“Mmm.” Roosevelt sighed.
“And, like today, she asked me to drive out to the Lawrence farm and get her a few ears of corn. But she didn’t want them to eat. Said she needed the husks.”
“What for?” Roosevelt said.
“Well, I went up to take her some lunch,” Rebecca said. “And I caught her using them to make some kind of a doll or something. You know, like a voodoo doll?”
“Oh.” Roosevelt sat up. “I don’t know that I want that kinda thing goin’ on in my home.”
“Oh, I don’t think that she’s doing any harm with it,” Rebecca said. “I’m just, I’m worried about her. She seems like she’s, I don’t know, having trouble keeping touch with reality.”
“We talked about that.”
“She doing anything else funny?”
“I’m gonna have to leave this one up to you, baby,” Roosevelt said.
“I got too much on my plate to be worrying about Tillie. Whatever you want to do, I’ll back you up. But I can’t handle it just now.”
“I know.” She kissed his cheek, hugged him. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“Come on,” Rebecca said. “I’ll fix you something to eat.”
“I gotta go to the bathroom first,” Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt went down the hall, halting outside Mathilda’s door on his way to the bathroom. It stood halfway open, and he could hear her snoring. On a whim, he went inside. The room smelled strange, some strange odor he couldn’t place. He looked at the old woman sleeping, scarce fitting in the bed, sweat beaded on her dark skin. The shadow of some tree branches fell across her through the window, like the skeletal fingers of a giant. Rebecca had never gotten around to putting up curtains in this room.
Poor old Tillie.
Roosevelt turned to leave. He saw the voodoo doll on top of the dresser, beside Mathilda’s hairbrush. He walked over and picked it up.
She’d used the corn husks and some twine to fashion a rough effigy of a humanoid being, two arms, two legs, a head. But Mathilda hadn’t stopped there. She’d covered the doll with what looked like a rabbit skin or a squirrel’s fur. Where she’d gotten hold of that Roosevelt didn’t have a clue.
But Roosevelt found the thing’s head most disturbing of all.
Mathilda had taken the skull of some small animal–a rat, maybe?–and fastened it onto the head. She’d glued some loose hair onto the bone, painted the rest of it black. She’d fashioned a pair of tiny ears from the corn husks, fashioned a long tail from the skin. More than anything else, the effigy gave Roosevelt the impression of a wolf.
A wolf standing on two legs.
He put down the doll, turned around. “Oh, I’m sorry, Tillie. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
The old woman’s eyes gleamed. “S’fine,” she said. “You knows it, too, don’t you, boy? You knows what’s a’ comin’?”
“What do you mean, Tillie?”
Mathilda closed her eyes. “You knows.” Then she was asleep again.
Perhaps she had been the whole time.
Roosevelt looked down at the doll. He started to pick it up again but hesitated. He stood still, then left the room and shut the door.
For some reason, Roosevelt had wanted to take the doll and tear it apart, break it, throw it out with the trash.
For some reason, he’d felt afraid to do it.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!