THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Fourteen
The clank of steel against steel, the sound of the cell door sliding closed, woke Lucas Vale from his stupor. He stood for an instant, disoriented, his eyes taking in the confines of the tiny cell: drab gray walls of painted over cinderblock, interlocking bars of ugly blue metal, a narrow bunk bolted to the wall, stainless steel sink and commode; even the solitary panel of light overhead blinked behind a thick wire grate. As soon as his mind registered the fact that he now stood confined in a jail cell, Lucas rushed to the bars and called out. A lone guard glanced back over his shoulder, sneered, and continued on down the hallway.
“Hey!” Lucas yelled.
The cells around him came alive, in procession to the right and left. Lucas’ cell, like all the others, faced a blank wall. There were no windows. The long hall terminated at each end at a door of heavy metal the same color as the bars. Though he could not see them, Lucas heard the voices of the men in the other cells. Hooting and whistling, laughing, taunting.
” . . .fish tonight . . !”
” . . . good pussy . . !”
” . . . wild man . . !”
Lucas tensed, grabbed the bars as if to shake them.
“Shut up!” he snapped. The tone of his voice surprised even him.
“Easy now, wild man.” Lucas could make out the words coming from his immediate left. A dark face pressed against the bars, trying to meet Lucas’ gaze. “We just fuckin’ with you. Heard you was a bad motherfucker, but you just a little shit.”
“Where am I right now?” Lucas asked. “Is this still the Ironwood jail?”
The black face grinned. “You shittin’ me.”
“Is it?” Lucas demanded.
The prisoner chuckled. “They must’a gone upside your head,” he said. “You can’t ‘member where you are. This here’s solitary. You got to be a bad motherfucker to get on solitary.”
“Solitary?” Lucas asked, his cheek pressed against the cool bars.
“S’right. Second floor. S’where they send us when they scared of us. You do all that shit they sayin’, wild man?”
“I don’t know.” Lucas went back into the cell, ignoring the rest of what he heard. He sat down on the cot, placed his head in his hands.
He raised his head. One of the voices seemed much closer than the others. He looked around. He was alone in the cell.
“Hey, Lucas. Over here.”
Lucas turned his head. The voice seemed to emanate from the rear of the cell.
Lucas stood, took the two steps that brought him to the rear wall, the sink and the commode.
Lucas stared into the commode. By the light of the blinking panel overhead, Lucas saw his reflection, floating on the thin film of dirty water. His reflection smiled at him.
“Looks like you’re in trouble,” his reflection said, grinning up from the toilet bowl.
“Oh, God!” Lucas sobbed, squeezing his eyes closed. I am losing my mind! Lucas sank down on his knees, head to the floor, and covered his ears.
“You still trying to get away from me?” His voice, his own. “You can’t. I’m inside you.”
“Leave me alone!” Lucas sobbed.
“Come on, Lucas. Just let go. Let me get us out of here.”
“You can’t keep me inside for much longer, anyway.”
“Shut up!” Lucas yelled.
“I’m gobbling up your pristine little soul, Lucas. One bite at a time. Pretty soon there won’t be any of you left. Why fight it?”
“No!” But Lucas could feel himself getting weaker. Slipping.
“Come on, Lucas. You know it feels good.”
“Losing your soul is like losing your cherry,” the voice said. “It feels so good. Give it up, Lucas. I promise I’ll be gentle.”
“You can’t hold out on me,” the voice pressed. “I’m inside you. And I’m all appetite.”
The evening had started to cool with the lowering sun, the trees along the sides of the street casting long shadows. Marley pulled into the driveway, waited while the garage door opened and then pulled in to park beside Chaney’s Camaro. Her own Volvo was not so flashy but, with its metallic ivory to contrast the candied apple of her sister’s car, Marley felt their respective choice of vehicles provided a good visual representation of their divergent personalities. Although Marley sometimes wished she felt more like a red and less like an off-white.
Chaney had assumed her usual claim on the sofa, her legs stretched out so that no one else could sit there without discomforting her. Of course she had the TV up too loud. Chester lay sleeping on the floor in front of the entertainment center.
“You walked him yet?” Marley asked, plopping down in her reserved recliner.
“Could you turn that down a little?”
Chaney sighed, picking up the remote.
“What are you watching, anyway?”
“Beats me. But that guy there is planning to kill his wife.”
“And you could be reading a book instead,” Marley said. “Dad would be so disappointed.”
“So what else is new?” Chaney replied. “I saw him today, by the way.”
“Oh, he didn’t say a word. You know he’d never discuss sex with either one of us. He just gave me that stern disapproving look.”
“Yeah, I know that look.”
Chaney shifted on the couch, rolling over onto her hair. “Shit.” She moved again. “So, can I borrow your car?”
“My oil light’s still blinking on and off, when I stop and start.”
“You haven’t gotten that checked out yet?”
“I keep forgetting.”
“You’ll remember when you end up on the side of the road somewhere.”
Chaney grinned. “Which is why I want to borrow your car.”
“Gee, thanks,” Marley said. “It’s okay if I end up on the side of the road.”
“You won’t be driving anywhere except around town tonight, will you?”
“No. I just gotta go to practice. Why?”
“Because I’ve gotta drive up to Birmingham.”
Marley frowned. “And what is there in Birmingham?”
“I’ve gotta work, okay?”
“Work, my ass!” Marley said. “You’re doing another movie.”
“Well, that’s work.”
“Oh, yeah. Hard work.”
“You should try it sometime.”
“Forget it,” Marley said. “I will not be an enabler. You wanna go and swim in the sewer, you can do it without my help.”
“Fine,” Chaney said. “I will. And I might break down. In Birmingham. They’ll find me in a dumpster with my throat slashed.”
“Oh, you bitch!” Marley said.
“Our parents will be devastated.”
“Fine,” Marley said. “You can take my car. Go out and screw every guy in the state. I don’t care.”
“You’re such a peach.” Chaney grinned. “So, you see your new friend today?”
“No. I’m kinda surprised he didn’t call.”
“Figures. You almost get him in the boat and you let him wiggle off the hook.”
“I haven’t done anything,” Marley said.
“Right,” Chaney said. “And why haven’t you?”
“It’s a little early for that.”
“Please. You like him, he likes you. Hasn’t he made a move yet?”
“Lucas? No. I don’t think he’s the type.”
“To make a move?”
“Not every guy has sex on the brain,” Marley said. “Lucas is a gentleman.”
“Oh, come on,” Chaney said. “Sex is the first thing on every guy’s mind, your cute little Doctor included. They can’t help it. It’s the way they’re wired.”
“Then he’ll just have to be patient,” Marley said. “Unlike some people I could name, I like to get to know a guy first.”
Chaney shook her head. “Well, good luck with that,” she said. “I have a feeling your so-called ‘gentleman’ may turn out to be more aggressive than you think.”
Mathilda could hear the sounds of digging, even in her sleep. The Little ‘Uns, digging in the earth. Down deep, deeper than the mines, where the big people and the machines had driven them. Big people, like her.
Sometimes she could hear their voices, chittering and mewling, no language that approximated words, nothing she could understand, but angry. Mathilda suspected they were talking about her. Oscar explaining to his kin why he’d been away so long, where he’d been. All their kind gathering in rage and indignation; the insult visited upon one of them by a hated surface dweller. One violation among many.
Mathilda wondered if the magic would be strong enough to protect her this time.
“What you got, Tillie?” The voice of her littlest sister came to her through the void. Little Hepzibah, who had died the day before her eleventh birthday of the measles. But she lived in Mathilda’s dream. Now they stood in the pine thicket behind the house, hot sun and humidity plastering Mathilda’s dress to her skin. A procession of the others joined them, all the young ‘uns still too little to work the fields with Daddy or help Momma with the chores. They all clustered around, wanting to see what Mathilda had in her potato sack.
“Look what I done caught,” Mathilda heard her own voice say, strange to her ears. Her pudgy child’s arms held out the sack, open for the others to look in.
“Where you get it?” one of the girls demanded. But she looked different now, full grown, with caramel skin and long black hair. Not one of the family after all, yet Mathilda knew, in her dream, that this strange woman’s name was Susanna. Mathilda’s child’s mind dismissed any curiosity she felt over the stranger. She had more exciting things to occupy her attention.
“Where you get it?” Susanna asked again, her voice that of Mathilda’s sister, Lucretia.
“In the cave,” Mathilda answered. “I hit it with a stick.”
“You killed it.” Her brother Samuel reached into the bag and poked around.
“Naw. It still alive. I seen it breathin’.”
“Better turn it loose.” A brother she couldn’t remember. One of the ones that died in the war.
“Naw. I’m a’ keepin’ ‘it. I’m a’ gonna call it ‘Oscar.'”
Mathilda rolled over, the dream image changing. They were digging in the earth.
Mathilda flinched as the hickory switch struck her bare legs. She danced in place and cried, her hand knotted in the hem of her undergarment, holding it up out of the way. Momma held her by the other arm, striping her legs with the switch.
“Can’t never let it go now!” Momma shrieked, continuing the beating. “Come back at night and kills us all in our sleep!”
“I’m sorry!” Mathilda blubbered.
“Can’t never let it go! Drag us all down to Hell with it!”
“Don’t tell Daddy! Don’t tell Daddy!”
But now Oscar was loose. And the magic she’d put on him over all the years couldn’t hold out for long.
“Comes back an’ kill us all!”
Mathilda woke with a snort. She rolled over onto her elbow to get a decent breath. The room had grown dark. She could just make out the doll she’d fashioned, on top of the dresser. The tiny effigy of the monster. The beast that was coming.
“Promise me you won’t never let it go!”
“I promise, Momma!”
Mathilda closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Momma,” she wheezed. “Didn’t never mean to tell you no lie.”
Mathilda lay back. She wanted to cry but didn’t. She couldn’t worry about that now. Not now. There were more important things in the world than broken promises.
And there were worse things out there than Oscar.
For the first few moments, the Beast experienced the rage and anxiety that all wild things feel upon being caged. He shook the bars, but their strength exceeded his own, defiant of him. Without the Moon to lend him its power, he could never free himself that way. He paced the strict confines of the cell, climbed upon the bunk and sought escape through the ceiling. The steel grate stretched but refused to give way. Finally he threw back his head and gave voice to his frustrations and anger. He howled a second time, then a third, sending inhuman echoes to reverberate up and down the cell block.
An instant later, the door at the far left end of the hallway jerked open, the noise muted but discernible amidst the tumult of voices, the cries of the alarmed inmates.
” . . . hey, goddamn it . . !”
” . . . the fuck was that?!”
” . . . somethin’ in here, motherfucker!”
The guard, who looked altogether too young to be working there, shouted to be heard above them. “What’s going on in here? What’s making that racket?”
The Beast paused, a clever brute, a new plan occurring to him.
“Help!” He ran to the front of the cell, his face pressed against the bars. “Help me! It’s in here with me!”
The guard, wearing an expression of alarm, hurried down the hall.
“What is it?!”
“Hurry!” the Beast shouted.
“What?!” The guard ran up to the Beast’s cell.
“There! Under the bed!”
“Where? I don’t see…” The guard stepped up to the bars.
“Look closer.” The Beast’s hand moved too fast for the jailer to react. He grabbed the man’s collar and jerked him forward. The youngster’s face connected with the steel. The Beast held on, letting the guard’s body recoil, then repeated the effort. The guard’s head struck the bars like the clapper of a bell. Three times, a fourth. The boy spat broken teeth; blood sprayed from his flattened nose, his burst lips.
The Beast held him standing long enough to detach the keys from the officer’s belt. Letting the body slump to the floor, he tried one key after another until he found the one that opened his cell door. He tossed the keys aside as he stepped over the guard’s body, out into the hallway.
He passed by each cell, in no particular hurry now that he’d gotten free. He peered in at the other inmates. One by one, their voices were silenced as he met their respective gazes through the latticework of steel. Each face frozen in an expression of alarm, of abject fear. Even these harsh, hardened men could recognize in him the proximity of a greater threat. The Beast smiled at them, reaching the door that the guard, in his haste, had failed to re-lock.
The Beast came out into a larger hallway, opposite a fire door, opening onto stairs. Up or down? The Beast chose to go up. Without the Moon to aide him, the more prudent choice would be the one in which he encountered the lesser physical resistance, though it galled him to run from even the superior numbers and firepower of the Ironwood Police Department.
Just as he opened the fire door, another pair of guards came around the corner. They hesitated, confused for an instant. Then they were coming after him, tugging cans of pepper spray from the harnesses at their belt, shaking them in preparation for use. The Beast blew them a kiss, then darted through the door and up the stairs.
He rounded one flight before coming to another door, this one opening onto the roof. He stepped out into the cool, humid night, an exultation of new freedom sending a thrill coursing through his stolen body. The jailers burst through the door behind him.
“End of the line, asshole!” one of them shouted.
“Get on the ground!” the other added.
The roof formed a perfect square, surrounded by a short-ledge and topped by curling loops of razor wire. The Beast looked up at the dark sky, where the Moon–still not strong enough– lay hidden behind a cloud.
Who needs the bitch.
The Beast ran. He jumped. His leap carried him over the coils of wire. Two stories below, he hit the parking lot hard, his right leg giving under him. He rolled, colliding with the tire of a parked patrol car. He roared in pain. The Beast got to his feet. His leg throbbed, scarce able to support his weight.
The guards on the roof were gawking down at him, flailing their arms and shouting. Any second now the building would empty, and a mob of policemen and jailers would be on him. With a snarl, the Beast hobbled as fast as he could for the darkening perimeters of the parking lot, the greater darkness beyond.
The Beast ran into the security of the descending night, cursing the Moon with each hissing breath, swearing with each curse to return and avenge himself of the dishonor of his flight.
This time he would run away.
Please, just let me sleep.
“Lucas, get up!”
Lucas Vale forced his eyelids open. Bright light stung them and he covered his face with his hand.
“You can’t quit now!”
Lucas recognized the voice. His own voice. A face hovered over him. He blinked it into focus. “Marcus?”
“Come on, little brother.” Marcus tugged on his arm. “You’ve got to keep moving.”
“What’s going on?” Lucas sat up and looked around him. They were in some kind of jungle. He sat resting in a patch of thick crimson moss. The air felt hot and sticky, and smelled like the inside of a greenhouse. Sunlight filtered down to them in a deep green mist through the high ceiling, the canopy of interwoven branches held aloft by the countless boles of trees, trunks like gnarled columns. From the branches, a million birds twittered and sang; monkeys, unseen, chattered and screeched; insects and frogs joined in, harmonizing. A concert of life.
“Where are we?”
“Mexico,” Marcus said, helping him to his feet. “Now get moving! There’s not much time!”
“Time?” Lucas began to follow as Marcus led, holding him by the hand as though he were a small child.
“Until the Moon is full.”
A sound, half howl and half roar, pierced the cacophony of the monkeys and birds in the treetops, silencing them. It reverberated through the jungle, angry. If the noise of the animals had been a song, this then constituted a curse. The voice of an intruder, speaking blasphemy.
“It’s right on your heels!” Marcus said, urging him on.
“Marcus!” Lucas pulled his hand free. “Tell me what’s going on!”
“I tried to stop it.” Marcus looked so sad, on the verge of tears. “But I couldn’t. Now it’s up to you. I’m so sorry, Lucas.”
“Stop what?” Lucas demanded.
“It,” Marcus replied. “Him.”
“So which is it?”
“The Beast,” Marcus said. “It’s not a man. But it’s playing at being a man.”
“Look, Marcus, whatever it is you want, I can’t help you. I’m sick.” Lucas noted that he and his brother were dressed alike, just like when they had been kids. Jeans and matching T-shirts. Both were barefoot.
What I was wearing back at the jail.
“You’re not sick.”
“There’s something wrong with my head. I’m losing it, brother.”
Marcus grabbed him by the shoulders, pulled him in close. “Now you listen!” he said. “This thing is not the product of some mental defect of yours. It’s a demon straight from Hell! You are not crazy, you’re possessed! You can’t accomplish anything if you don’t understand that!”
“Yes!” Marcus said. “It got me first, but I killed myself. I thought that would stop it, but it didn’t. It found you.”
Lucas shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s our blood,” Marcus said. “We have the same blood in our veins. That’s how it found you so quick.”
Another howl/roar, louder this time. Closer.
“Listen!” Marcus shook him. “I thought I could stop it by killing myself, but I was wrong! Death won’t stop it, because it can’t die! If you kill yourself, it’ll just go find somebody else! Even without the blood, it’ll find somebody else!
“You can’t stop it that way,” he continued. “Not by dying. Death don’t work. You’ve got to live! You’ve got to swallow him before he can swallow you!”
Lucas’ head spun. Marcus, the jungle seemed to be growing dim, indistinct.
“What?” Lucas managed.
“First of all,” Marcus said. “You gotta believe in it, or it’ll have won already. And keep moving. Don’t let it catch you. It wants you out of the way so it can do whatever it wants. It needs your body. Don’t let it have your body, Lucas!”
“Marcus!” Lucas clutched at his brother. His knees buckled.
“It’s up to you, little brother,” Marcus said. “You gotta stop it before the Moon gets full! ‘Cause nothing in Hell or on Earth will be able to stop it then!”
“Marcus?” His vision went black and he felt himself falling. Oblivion rose like waters around him, but an imperfect oblivion. Something called to him, tugged at him out of the void. A feeling, a sensation.
He clung to it as to a lifeline, following it. He used it to pull himself up from the depths.
The darkness lessened. He could feel other sensations now, but they were muted by the pain.
Have to wake up.
He forced his eyes open. He groaned at the pain.
Lucas sat up. His leg throbbed. He moved it to see if it might be broken. More pain. Swollen, but at lest he could move it. He looked around him.
He sat on the ground, dirt and gravel. A tiny trickle of a stream to his left. Weeds and trash around him, just discernible in the darkness. Plastic soda bottles, a wet bag from a fast food restaurant, beer cans, cigarette butts, a used condom. To his back and on the other side of the stream rose concrete walls, decorated with crude graffiti. A third wall formed a ceiling above him.
Lucas got to his feet with difficulty, wincing at the pain in his swollen ankle. He leaned against the nearest wall.
Where am I?
Mexico? No, that had to have been a dream. The jungle, Marcus. But this wasn’t the Ironwood City Jail, either.
He’d had another blackout. And now he didn’t know where the hell he was. Lucas leaned against the wall.
“Goddamn it!” He hit the wall with the underside of his fist.
A bellow, part roar, part howl, shattered the fragile silence. Lucas froze.
It’s a demon straight from Hell!
Lucas couldn’t move. He had to force himself to breathe. Another howl, this one closer. The concrete around him began to vibrate. Lucas wanted to run but couldn’t.
With another burst from its horn, the Beast began to rumble over the bridge above him.
Lucas doubled over, his hands on his knees. He began to laugh. It had only been the train. It had all been a dream after all.
His laughter became sobs. He sank to all fours and buried his face in the dirt.
You’re not crazy, you’re possessed!
Lucas wept, shaking his head, grinding it into the dried mud. Not possessed. Crazy. Strange that he did not know which seemed the more terrible. He feared going mad as much as any demon. Almost, anyway.
Get up! You can’t quit now!
Lucas lay down in the weeds and trash. He wished that the weeds would grow up around him and become a jungle, one that would hide him forever. He wished that he could disappear out of the world and remain all alone, alone forever. Just him and his madness, his demon.
Just him and the Beast.
Hank stood up from the uncomfortable bench where he’d been waiting out in the hallway of the police station. His side balked at the effort. He’d been lucky. A couple of ribs cracked but nothing broken. That didn’t make it hurt any less, though. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and he felt the desperate need for a shower. Hank sat his Styrofoam coffee cup, his third of the night, aside as he stepped out into the middle of the hall. This time, they weren’t going to pass him by. Not without running him over.
The two detectives, Brewster and Whitlow, shared a brief glance as they caught sight of him. They approached, the former in the lead.
“Dr. Frye,” the former began.
Hank seized the initiative. “So, have you rounded up a posse yet?”
“I’m sorry?” Brewster replied.
“Finished passing out the guns and ammo?” Hank continued.
“I don’t follow you.”
“You should be prepared by now,” Hank said. “To bring in the suspect, dead or alive. Dead being better. Am I right?”
“Dr. Frye,” Brewster said. “No one is planning on forming a lynch mob. But a very dangerous man is on the loose.”
“Lucas Vale is in need of medical care!” Hank said. “He is a very sick man, not some animal that needs to be put down!”
“No one said that,” Brewster replied.
“No?” Hank said. “Well, I beg your pardon. But your behavior thus far has established a certain precedent, wouldn’t you say?”
“I advised you from the beginning as to what kind of situation you were dealing with,” Hank said. “And from the beginning you chose to ignore everything I said.”
“We have an established procedure, Dr. Frye,” Brewster said.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” his partner, Whitlow, interjected.
“And a jolly fine job you’ve done,” Hank said. Raising his voice made his side hurt, making him even angrier. “I told you, the first thing you should have done is contact the psychiatric hospital and request assistance. Instead you throw a disturbed man into an interrogation room and try to browbeat a confession out of him.”
“Now, look here…” Whitlow began.
“No, you look!” Hank snapped. “Had you handled this situation according to my direction you would never have lost control like this! Lucas Vale would be in a hospital, receiving the treatment he needs, instead of on the loose somewhere!”
“Dr. Frye,” Brewster said. “You were in and out of consciousness when the deputies arrived at your home. You weren’t making a lot of sense.”
“Convenient for you to say that,” Hank replied. “Makes your department here look a little less incompetent.”
“You hold on!” Whitlow stepped forward. Brewster held out a hand, keeping him back.
“Ron,” Brewster said.
“No, he needs to hear this!”
“You can save your bluster,” Hank said, shouting now. He wanted everyone in the station to hear him. “I want you both to know that I am holding this department accountable for this entire situation, including its resolution! If my patient is harmed, or is allowed to harm anyone else, for that matter, this department will bear full culpability. I will personally see to it that every state and local media outlet, every patient’s advocacy group and victims’ rights group, all the police watchdogs, all of them know the whole sordid story!”
Whitlow’s face had grown pink, then crimson. “Why you son of a bitch!”
“Ron!” Brewster snapped. He turned back to Hank. “This department will do everything within reason to ensure the suspect is recaptured without any injury to his person, Dr. Frye,” Brewster said. “Until such time, a unit will be dispatched to keep an eye on your residence, in case Mr. Vale tries to make contact again.”
Hank exhaled, his legs trembling. He couldn’t remember ever having been more angry. He took a moment to compose himself. “I hope you mean that, Detective,” he said. Hank turned to leave.
“Dr. Frye!” Whitlow said. Hank looked back.
“Your ‘patient’ tried to kill you, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Ron,” Brewster warned.
Whitlow held up his heavily bandaged right arm. “Your boy went nuts an’ damn near took my arm off! He just sent one of our jailers to ICU with a fractured skull!”
“Which is explainable,” Hank countered, “by your procedural incompetence.”
Whitlow bristled. “Is that right? Well, Doc, your pal jumped off a two-story building, then got up and walked away from it like he was goin’ for a stroll in the park. Maybe you can explain that, since you seem to have an answer for everything. How does a man jump off a two-story roof and still get away? Can you answer me that one?”
Hank paused. He swallowed.
That’s where you fucked up, Hank. I AM the simplest explanation.
“No,” Hank replied. “No, Detective. I can’t.”
Lucas limped along, tripping and groping in the dark, half a mile before he came to the end of the woods. Pine trees yielded to corn stalks, separated by three rusty strands of barbed wire and corroded steel posts, spaced every ten feet or so. Lucas figured his location. The Lawrence Family cornfields.
He followed the fence another quarter mile to Highway 63. The fields continued on to his right; to his left, the pines soon thinned out and buildings, houses started to appear, the highway leading back into town. He had not traveled far at all. Like an automaton, Lucas began to follow the road to his left. There in those woods his mind had bottomed out, he had plumbed the very depths of despair, and now he walked just to avoid being still.
Simpson’s Garage butted up against the cornfields, separated by a narrow lot, at one time a junkyard and now returning to woodland. Lucas reached this first. He noted something as well, something he almost missed as he trudged past. Illuminated in the orange glare from a lone security light. Simpson’s had a pay phone.
Like a parched man catching a glimpse of water, Lucas ran to the phone. His pockets were empty, but he dialed anyway.
One ring. A second.
Please, God. Please.
Someone picked up.
“Hank!” Lucas said.
“To make a collect call, please say your name at the tone.” The recorded voice of the operator. Lucas heard the chime.
“Hank, it’s me! Please, I need your help!”
The beep cut short his message.
“Pleases stay on the line as I attempt to connect your call.”
Lucas squeezed the receiver, shifting from one foot to the other. A car passed. He held his breath. The driver did not seem to notice him.
Another pair of rings, a third, then a click.
“Hank!” Lucas almost shouted.
“You have a collect call from…”
“Hank, it’s me!” His recorded message began to play back. “Please, I need your help!” Click.
“Will you accept the charges? Say ‘yes’ or press one now.”
A pause. “Thank you.” Click.
“Lucas?” Hank said.
“Hank!” Lucas said. “Thank God! Hank, I’m so scared!”
“Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas replied. “I don’t know what’s happening to me! I remember you were going to hypnotize me, then the next thing I know, I’m at the jail, and they’re telling me I tried to kill you!”
“It’s okay, Lucas.”
“Then I blacked out again, and I woke up in the woods! I am so scared, Hank! I don’t know who else to turn to! Can you, can you help me?”
A pause. “Yes, Lucas. Of course I’ll help you.”
“I was scared to call the police. They wouldn’t let me talk to you.”
“No,” Hank said. “We won’t need to involve the police. Do you know where you are now, Lucas?”
“Yeah, I’m at Simpson’s Garage, out at the edge of town.”
“Okay, okay. Stay put, and try to stay out of sight. I’ll come get you.”
“Thank you, Hank. Thank you so much.”
“It’s going to be okay, buddy,” Hank said. “You hang tough. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Hank hung up the phone and retrieved his wallet and his keys from the bedroom dresser. He passed his reflection in the mirror but didn’t meet its gaze. He knew the question he would see staring back at him from his own eyes.
What the hell are you doing?
He headed for the front door.
Breaking the law. That’s what I’m doing.
To hell with it. Some things were more important than the letter of the law. Lucas was his best friend. What’s more, he needed medical care, immediate medical care. And the Ironwood cops had demonstrated all too well how unprepared they were, how incapable they were of dealing with this situation in an adequate manner.
Hank stepped outside. Bugs and tree frogs were chirping in the trees along the street. A police cruiser sat opposite his house, half blocking the road.
They sure didn’t waste any time.
Hank hadn’t bothered to pull his silver Olds Cutlass into the garage when he’d arrived home an hour earlier. He climbed in and cranked the engine, backed out of the driveway, started down the street. The police cruiser pulled away from the curb and fell in behind him.
I was afraid of that.
Hank forced himself to remain calm. Intellect was called for now, not panic. Panic was a biological anachronism, no longer beneficial to modern man. Hank pulled over. The police car stopped behind him. He got out and walked back to the cruiser. The uniformed cop driving rolled down his window.
“What is this?” Hank demanded. “Why am I being followed?”
“Well, we’re supposed to keep you under surveillance, for your own protection,” the officer said, his accent pure trailer park. “Didn’t they tell you?”
“I was told that you’d keep an eye on my house,” Hank said. “Not that you’d be following me to the 7-11.”
“Well, that’s what they said.”
“And who is ‘they?’ Whitlow and Brewster?” Hank leaned down, his face closer to the window. “Well, officer, I suggest you get on your radio, there, to those two oafs who gave you that order. I suggest you tell Whitlow and Brewster that I’ve had more than my fill of their small town, redneck approach to law enforcement. I suggest you tell those gentlemen that I will not tolerate this kind of harassment.”
“Ain’t nobody harassin’ you, buddy,” the cop said.
“I suggest you inform officers Whitlow and Brewster that I employ a very good attorney, and that I intend on giving him a call. Should I be followed another foot, another inch, they can expect to be facing civil charges in addition to the trouble they are already swimming in. I suggest you tell them that.”
“Now you lissen here!”
“And what is your name, sir?”
The policeman blinked. “Huh?”
“Because you will also be named in my civil suit, officer Mason.”
Hank pushed off from the patrol car, returning to his own vehicle. He got in, fastened his seat belt. When Hank pulled away from the curb, the patrol car did not follow. Hank sighed with relief.
He’d bought himself some time, at least. Now what? He’d have hell to pay later, but he did have a good lawyer. And he had the Ironwood Police Department spooked, too. Hank knew he could handle them. And he had enough confidence in himself as a Doctor to feel certain he could handle Lucas. This time, anyway. He’d make sure of that. He’d come prepared, this time. Lucas would be no problem.
The thing that had taken up residence in Lucas’ body, on the other hand, Hank wasn’t so sure about.
* * *
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!