This story was inspired by and is dedicated to a fellow Emergency! fan and friend of ours, Roberta Simpson Brown. A wonderful story teller, she's known as 'The Queen of Cold-Blooded Tales' and if you want some good scary reading, her books are just the ticket.
By Audrey W., Linda2 and Vanessa Sgroi
Twilight was falling on the late October evening as the
white Land Rover, speeding along at a fair clip, turned onto the shortcut. The
driver, resigned to returning home early, was relaxed and drove with ease. He
knew the roadway well and made the turn without hesitation. This shortcut
was familiar to him now. Taking it, he could shave forty-five minutes off his
travel time. The fact that the roadway was more or less deserted did not bother
him. Rather, he enjoyed the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere as he
traveled along the road with fields and densely growing trees alternating on
both sides. In the two or three times he had taken the route he had seen maybe
one or two other cars.
Glancing at his passenger he suppressed a chuckle but could not resist needling the man just a little. “You’re going to have a hard time explaining this one to Cap.”
“Tell me about it,” the other man groaned, looking down at his swollen, ace bandage wrapped ankle ruefully. “I’m sorry, John. I know you were looking forward to fishing some more tomorrow. If I hadn’t missed that step…”
“Don’t worry about it, Chet,” Johnny said, grinning. “We can go another time. It’s just too bad you sprained your ankle and will have to be off it for a week.”
The two men had left the morning before on a three-day camping/fishing trip. On the morning of the second day Chet had missed a step and ended up spraining his ankle. The doctor at the local clinic had wrapped the ankle and instructed him to stay off it for the next week. With Chet on crutches they had decided the best thing to do was to cut their trip short and return to the city. John reflected smugly that if Chet had planned any Halloween pranks for that night, he would not get to play them.
Silence reigned as the Land Rover traveled several more miles. With a suddenness that was surprising, the Rover’s engine quit running. The vehicle moved forward in silence and John steered it off onto the shoulder of the road.
“What’s wrong?” Chet asked. “Did we run out of gas?”
“No we didn’t run out of gas. We have plenty of gas.” Johnny responded with a frown knitting his brow. Glancing at the gauge to make sure, he saw that it read a half tank.
“Are you sure? Maybe you didn’t get enough gas when you filled up last time.”
“I got plenty of gas. See the gauge says half full.” John pointed to the dashboard, which was still lit.
“It could be wrong; there could be something wrong with it.” As Chet peered at the gauge on the dash, it went dark.
“What the….” Johnny turned the key in the ignition, but nothing happened, no sound issued forth from the engine. When he opened the door to get out of the vehicle he noticed that the ceiling light did not come on. Groping amongst his gear in the back of the Rover, he located his flashlight. Returning to the front end, he lifted the hood and peered at the engine using the flashlight.
With one hand on the Land Rover to steady himself, Chet hopped around to the front of the vehicle to peer at the engine with his friend. John poked and prodded but could find nothing amiss. After several minutes and several attempts to restart it, which elicited not even the weakest of coughs from the engine, they decided the cause was hopeless.
“It must be out of gas,” Chet insisted.
“It’s not out of gas. If it was out of gas the engine would at least try to turn over,” John insisted in his turn.
“So what are we going to do?”
“The only thing we can do; walk,” Johnny replied, wiping his hands on a rag with his flashlight tucked under his arm. Suddenly dimming, the flashlight flickered then went out, leaving the two men standing in just the light provided by the moon. “I’ll walk, you stay here and wait for me to bring help back.”
“Help? Where are you going to find help around here? We’re in the middle of nowhere!”
“I don’t know exactly where, but I have to do something. There’s hardly any traffic on this road, so we can’t just wait for someone to come along.”
“All right, we’ll walk.” Chet turned to hop back to his seat in the vehicle where he had left his crutches.
“No, I walk.” John pointed his thumb at himself then his finger at the other man. “You wait.”
“No way!” Chet shook his head emphatically. “I’m not waiting here in the middle of nowhere by myself.”
“Chet, if you come it’ll just slow me down.”
“I’m not staying here.” Chet drew the crutches from the vehicle and placed them under his arms. “Let’s go.”
“All right, but you have to keep up.” Johnny shook his head. Thankful for the full moon that was already well up in the sky providing plenty of light, the two men donned their jackets against the cooling air. Securing the Land Rover, they started walking. Chet found it easiest to use his crutches on the paved roadway and since there was little chance of a vehicle coming along, he was perfectly safe. When they had walked no more than twenty yards they saw something neither had expected to see in such a desolate location. A mailbox, dimly lit, but plainly visible in the moonlight. It stood beside a dirt path that cut through a dense growth of trees. Though dilapidated and leaning slightly to one side, the mailbox showed signs of having been recently used. John stopped, looking at the mailbox speculatively. “I wonder…” he mused, half aloud.
“What?” Chet halted beside his friend and also gazed speculatively at the mailbox. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Where there’s a mailbox….”
“There’s a house.”
“And where there’s a house, maybe there’s a phone. Or at least some way to get help.”
Tacitly agreeing both men started up the path. It was wide enough they could walk abreast but the going was rough because it appeared the path had not been used in a long time. John wished his flashlight had not given out on him; the moonlight was all but hidden behind the trees overhanging the path. Chet was having so much trouble navigating with his crutches that finally Johnny told him to carry them in one hand, while he helped to support him on the other side.
At length the dense growth gave way to a clearing. There sat a two-story house with lights on in several windows. Continuing up the path, which led directly to the house, the men climbed the steps onto the porch. And elderly woman answered their knock.
“Hello, ma’am. Our car broke down on the road. Do you have a phone we could use?” John asked when the woman opened the door. The woman was as tall as Chet with gray hair and twinkling blue eyes. Seeing two strange men at her door did not seem to bother her in the least. She smiled as she stood back for them to enter her home.
“Certainly,” She said indicating an old fashioned heavy black phone standing on a table and seat combination. The lamps in the livingroom gave the old fashioned, but meticulously clean room, a soft glow. Crossing to the phone, John picked up the receiver and put it to his ear. No sound came from the ear-piece, the phone was dead.
“There’s no dial tone,” he said, turning to the woman.
“Oh, dear, it must be out. The service out here is very unreliable.” The woman seemed unperturbed.
“Do you have a car we could use?” John asked, trying to think of some way to get to help.
“No, dear, I’m afraid not. Why don’t you young men stay here for tonight? Maybe the phone will be back on in the morning.”
Tired and discouraged, knowing that Chet could not travel any further that night, they agreed to stay.
The woman seemed inordinately please with their agreement.
Smiling broadly, she clasped her hands together “Have you two had any supper?”
she asked solicitously.
“Uh, no, ma’am, we haven’t, but….” John started.
“Well why don’t I fix you a little snack then?”
“That’d be great.” Chet spoke up before John could say anything more, fearing he would decline the offer. “I’m starved.”
“If it’s not any trouble…” John said shooting Chet a scowling look.
“Oh, no trouble at all. I’ll have one fixed right up.”
“Look, while you’re doing that, I’m going to run back out the Rover and get our bags. We’ll need a change of clothes in the morning,” John said, starting back out the door. Chet hobbled after him.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, you stay here. Get off that foot. I won’t be a minute.” Chet watched from the porch as John moved off down the path. Watching his friend disappear into the tree line a shiver went up his back. Inexplicably, he felt a sense of foreboding. He couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but somehow he sensed something was not quite right.
“Come on in, young man.” The voice behind him, pleasant though it was, startled him. “Your friend is right; you need to get off that foot.” Turning Chet followed her back into the house. “Your friend will be right back.” The woman spoke in a soothing tone, as if she sensed his unease. Guiding him to a chair in the living room she placed a worn ottoman under his feet. She then went into the kitchen to begin preparing the snack.
Sitting in the chair with his feet up on the ottoman, Chet began to relax. This was just an old lady’s home, out in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing to fear. Surveying the room, Chet saw a couch covered with a colorful granny square afghan, an old wooden rocking chair with a high back, a coffee table and several other assorted pieces of furniture you would expect to find in a livingroom. To his dismay he noted there was no television, otherwise the room looked perfectly normal. That is until the rocking chair began to move of its own volition.
At first Chet could not believe what he was seeing. The chair swayed to-and-fro as if someone were rocking in it. So surprised was he, that he could not make a sound but could only sit and stare at the chair. Blinking, his eyes did not make the apparition go away. Just as Chet was about to bolt, he heard footsteps on the porch. Eyes round with fright, he looked toward the door and was relieved to see Johnny walk through it with their bags. When he looked back at the rocking chair it had stopped moving.
Coming into the house with the bags, John sat them down by the stairs. Looking up he saw his friend looking wide-eyed. “What’s the matter, Chet, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” John chuckled at his own jest. To John’s surprise, Chet’s bottom jaw worked up and down a few times before he closed his mouth and swallowed. But before the other man had a chance to answer, the old woman came back through the kitchen door, bringing with her the wonderful aroma of food cooking.
“Good, you’re back just in time. Come have your snack.” She turned and went back into the kitchen.
John picked up Chet’s crutches and handed them to him as he stood up. “That chair…” Chet whispered pointing at the rocking chair. “Was rocking on its own.”
“Sure it was, Chet.” John grinned and turned to go into the kitchen. Chet reached out and grabbed his arm, stopping him.
“It did…” he whispered loudly and emphatically. “I saw it.”
John contemplated the frightened look on his friend’s face and the chair. Something had happened, but he doubted Chet had actually seen the chair moving on its own. “I bet you dozed off and dreamed it.” He started once more for the kitchen.
“No, I didn’t…” Hobbling after the other man, Chet followed him across the room. Any further conversation about the chair was cut short as Johnny walked through the kitchen door before Chet could catch up to him.
Johnny wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed his chair
back from the kitchen table, patting his stomach. Their unexpected late evening
snack turned out to be a four-course meal.
“That was good, Mrs. Varger. Thank you.”
The woman smiled as she cleared the dirty dishes from the table and placed them in the sink. “Now, young man, I told you to call me Wilma. We’ll have none of that last name stuff around here.”
“Right. . .Wilma.”
Chet shook his head and burped. “ ‘scuse me.” He grinned and shrugged when Gage gave him a disapproving glare. “What made you want to live way out here, Wilma?”
“Oh, the husband and I moved out here years ago. After he passed on, I just couldn’t bare to leave him here alone.”
Both Johnny and Chet looked sharply at Wilma, taken aback by her comment. Noticing, the woman let out a chuckle.
“Don’t worry. His body’s not here.” The sudden relief visible on their faces made her realize she was right on track about their thoughts. “Oh no. He’s buried in a cemetery.” She sighed. “I’ve just always felt he was still here in spirit. I can’t see him leaving without putting up a fight first. He’s. . . Harley was. . .a stubborn man. I’ve tried to keep the house just how he wanted it.”
Johnny and Chet laughed slightly, hoping she was going for humor.
Wilma clasped her hands together. “Well, now, let me get the beds upstairs ready for you, then I’ll show you to your rooms.”
“You want us to clean up the sink?” Johnny asked, getting to his feet. It was Chet’s turn to shoot his friend a glare. Gage mouthed, ‘Well?’
“No, don’t be silly. You’re guests. It can wait. It’ll still be there tomorrow if I don’t get to it tonight.” She grabbed Chet’s crutches from against a wall and handed them to him. “Why don’t you boys have a seat in the livingroom. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
The two firemen agreed and headed towards the other room while Wilma walked into the foyer where the staircase led to rooms upstairs.
Chet hobbled on his crutches and made his way over to a couch where he sat down. Johnny picked up the phone again, hoping to find it suddenly fixed. He hung it back up when there was still no dial tone.
“It’s a good thing we’re off tomorrow, or Cap would have a fit,” Chet said finding his eyes locked on the rocking chair. He was so sure it had moved before.
Noticing the curly haired man staring, Johnny reached over and started the chair rocking, a grin on his face. "Boo!" When Kelly startled, Gage laughed. "Just gettin' your attention." He could see Chet didn't find it very humorous. "Anyway, I don’t know if being off duty is such a good thing. If we were on duty tomorrow, at least someone would miss us. This way, they aren’t expecting us back till day after tomorrow.”
“John, you heard the lady. . .Wilma. The service here is unreliable. The phone'll be working tomorrow. We'll get help."
“Yeah, you’re right,” Gage admitted. “I just. . .I don’t know. I just wish I knew what happened to the Rover. It still doesn’t make sense.”
Chet reached over to the coffee table and picked up a hardcover book that was lying open. He turned it over and looked at the cover in curiosity. “Hey, Johnny. This lady’s a writer!”
“I think she’s a famous writer. Look!” He held up the book so Johnny could see the cover.
“Zappers by Wilma Vargas,” Johnny read aloud. “She’s ‘Varger’, Chet. Wilma Varger. I don’t think that’s her.”
“It’s gotta be a pen name. ‘Varger’, ‘Vargas’.” He opened up the book to the pages it had been on and read a few of the words.
“What’s it about anyway? A group of people that go around defibrillating other people?” Johnny snickered.
Chet didn’t answer as he continued to read to himself. ((The little creatures known as Zappers climbed up under the unsuspecting motorist’s hood and placed their hands on the wires. With each touch, energy was taken away from the car’s battery until there was no life left in the motor.)) Chet’s face paled. “Uh. . .Gage. . .”
Just then Wilma stepped into the room. She saw Kelly holding the book in his hands. Hiding her dismay, she smiled. “Your rooms are ready. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of setting up the downstairs bedroom for Chester. I thought it would be easier on him than climbing the stairs in his condition.”
“No, that’s fine,” Johnny answered. “Isn’t it, Chet?”
Chet wasn’t so sure. He was starting to get the creeps. He wanted to tell Johnny about what was in the book, but how could he unless Wilma left them alone?
“Uh. . .did you write this book?” Kelly asked, forgetting about the question on rooming.
“Yes, I did. It’s been a long time. Did you get to read any of it?”
“A. . .a little.”
Johnny went to take it from Chet’s hands to look at it, but Wilma snatched the book first. “You don’t want to read an old woman’s tales.” She reached out and grabbed a hold of Chet’s right hand with her left. She then looked deep into his eyes as she said, “You look almost too tired to even speak, young man.”
Johnny snorted. “That’ll be the day.” He handed Chet his crutches, then stretched. “I’m kind of beat myself.”
“Let me show Chester to his room, then I’ll be back and take you to yours.”
“’kay.” Johnny watched as Chet hobbled out beside Wilma on his crutches, kind of surprised at Chet’s lack of voicing any. . .
Anything at all, Johnny thought. Shrugging it off, he peered out the curtains to the moonlit yard.
Chet kept silent as Wilma ushered him to his room, Zappers still in her right hand. The fireman had wanted so badly to fill Johnny in on what he saw in the book, but found that for some reason his mouth was indeed too tired to function. His jaws had felt like they'd been immobilized ever since Wilma suggested he was too tired to speak. He stood in silence as the old woman leaned his crutches against the bedroom wall and began to close the door.
“Pleasant dreams, Chester.”
As soon as he was alone, the fireman’s mouth returned to normal in feeling. Chet sat on the bed and rubbed at his sore jaw. Oh man.
Wilma smiled as she escorted Johnny to his room upstairs. “If you need anything at all, John, don’t hesitate to ask. We. . .I want you boys to have a comfortable stay. The bathroom is down the hall, last door on the left.”
“Thank you,” Gage said, taking in the huge bedroom with the four-poster bed. The furniture was of heavy oak, a varnished look to it. A large dresser with a mirror was against one wall, and a desk and chair was on the other.
Wilma nodded, as she closed the door. She peered through the closing crack and smiled at the dark-haired man who was now sitting on the bed checking the softness of the mattress.
“I hope you boys enjoy your stay” she whispered.
Johnny bounced on the bed a few more times.
This was a nice
place to stay. Why Chet had been acting so odd ever since they arrived at the
house, he had no idea. If John didn’t know how good he was at
setting up tricks, he might have believed the other man was serious about having
seen the chair rocking on its own. But, knowing Chet, he was just as likely to
have contrived with Wilma to set his friend up for a few Halloween pranks after
all. Especially good had been the bit with the book and Chet seeming not to be
able to speak when Wilma had led him off to his room. Well, he’d be ready for
whatever those two threw at him tonight.
Slipping off his shoes and socks, John remembered he had left the bags at the bottom of the stairs. After a moment’s hesitation, he slipped out of his room and into the hallway. His bare feet made hardly a sound as he walked back down the hallway to the stairs. There at the bottom were both bags. He would take Chet’s to him, if he could find the room Wilma had put his friend in. When he got to the bottom of the stairs he heard a voice in the kitchen. It would be just like Chet to be in there with Wilma setting him up for something. Well, maybe this time it would backfire, because Johnny was going to find out what he was being set up for. A bag in each hand, he approached the kitchen door quietly. What he heard startled him.
“No, Harley, I won’t lose this chance. These young men are just what we needed. It’ll all be over by morning.”
Sitting on the bed, Chet sighed. What a day this had been,
from missing the step that morning to the Land Rover cutting out on them, to the
glimpse he had gotten into that book. “Zappers.” Maybe Gage was right. Maybe he
had dreamed the rocking chair was moving on its own. But he hadn’t dreamed
reading the passage in that book. How could he explain that? Somehow he had to
get to Gage and tell him about what was in that book. But he could not climb the
stairs with his crutches. At least not quietly. So, what was he going to do?
He sat for a long while in indecisive contemplation. Whatever he did would have to wait until he put his foot up on the bed long enough to ease the hurting. Now he had a new problem. He needed pain reliever and his bottle of aspirin was in his bag. Looking around the room vaguely, he tried to remember where his bag was. Then he remembered the last he had seen of it John had set it down beside the stairs. Being distracted and having been practically dragged into the bedroom he had not thought to bring his bag with him. With no way to summon anyone, he decided he would have to go get his bag himself.
Standing, he began to hop over to where Wilma had placed his crutches. A knock sounded softly on the door. Soft as the knock was, it startled him and he lost his balance falling to the floor with a thud.
Startled by what he had just heard, John pulled back from the door. He had to
find Chet. They had to get out of this house. Something very sinister was going
on here. Moving quickly and quietly Johnny found a room with a closed door and
deduced correctly that it was the one Chet was in. Knocking softly on the door,
he was dismayed to hear a thud which sounded like a falling body come from
inside the room. What was going on here? What had happened to Chet? Leaving both
bags on the floor outside, John opened the door and burst though to find Chet
lying on the floor.
“Chet, what happened?”
“I fell. When I heard your knock, I was startled and fell.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No, I think my bruises may have bruises, but I’m okay.” John helped him up and to sit on the bed.
“What’s going on in here?” Wilma stood in the doorway.
Roy sat at the kitchen table and sorted through the candy his kids had brought home after a venture out on Halloween night. So far everything was looking to be safe and not tampered with.
Joanne set a glass of milk down in front of him. “They got quite a bit this year.”
“I’ll say. I think I’m gonna take some to the station day after tomorrow and give it to the guys.”
“Just don’t tell the kids that.”
Roy laughed. “They’ll never miss it.”
“I wish Johnny could have seen them in their costumes this year. Jenny really wanted him to see her Princess crown.”
“Yeah, well, maybe one time when he’s over. You know she’ll have it on again.”
“True.” Joanne took a sip of her own drink. “Where’d they go again?”
“Some place Johnny likes to go fishing. One of his ‘secret’ spots, but I guess it won’t be secret anymore. Not with Chet having the location.”
“I wonder how they’re doing?”
Roy grinned. “If I know Chet, he’s driving Johnny crazy right now with his Halloween pranks. Johnny’s gonna wish he’d left him here.”
Joanne laughed at the thought. “You about ready to turn in?”
“Yeah. Just give me a few more minutes.” Roy took a sip of his milk and leaned back in his chair. I can just imagine what Johnny’s thinking of Chet and his pranks right now. Kelly may end up walking home.
Johnny glanced over his shoulder, then quickly turned around. “Uh. . .I was just bringing Chet his bag.”
“Yeah, and I was just checking out the floor,” added Chet. He ignored Johnny’s ‘oh brother’ expression.
“Silly me,” Wilma said, shaking her head at her forgetfulness. “I was so anxious to get you boys settled in, I didn’t even think about making sure you got your bags from near the staircase.” She glanced down at the two bags sitting just outside the room. “Chester, which is yours?”
“The one on the right.” As she started to pick up a bag, Chet corrected, “No, my right.”
Johnny stared at the woman. She looked so sweet. . .so much like anybody’s grandmother. How could he possibly think she was planning something sinister, he wondered. Then again, he had heard her talking to someone. Harley. . .dead Harley. Maybe her husband wasn’t really deceased after all. He returned to his original plan. They had to get out of the house. Coming out of his thoughts, Johnny realized the woman was carrying Chet’s bag into the room. “I can get that,” he said stepping forward and reaching for the handle. Their hands brushed and his eyes were drawn to hers. He found himself locked on the blue pools around her pupils and a sensation of falling into them came over him. It took every effort he had to pull away from her gaze.
Chet was staring at his friend’s back. “Uh. . .Johnny?”
Gage turned around, missing Wilma’s disappointed expression. She quickly continued to carry the bag into the room while Johnny was preoccupied.
“Nothin’. Never mind.” Kelly knew he couldn’t say anything that he’d wanted to his friend as long as Wilma was in the room.
Johnny gave a puzzled look to Chet, then turned to face Wilma. She wasn’t behind him. Where’d she. . .? He then noticed her setting down Chet’s bag near a dresser.
“We appreciate you offering us a place to stay overnight,” Johnny said, feeling awkward. “But really I think we’d be okay sleeping in the Land Rover. I’ve done it before.”
A hurt expression came over Wilma’s face. She wiped at her eyes as tears pooled. “It’s happened again, hasn’t it?”
“What?” Chet asked. He’d been relieved to hear John suggest they leave, but now seeing the old woman upset had him feeling guilty.
“I came on too strong. Trying to make you boys feel at home. Now you’re going to leave me all alone,” she explained sadly.
Johnny sighed. “It’s not that. It’s just. . .well. . .” he watched as a tear escaped down her cheek. Man, I can’t do this to her. “Okay, we’ll stay.”
She rushed over and hugged him tight. “Oh good! I’m so glad!”
“But only till we can call for someone to come out and look at the truck tomorrow.”
“Oh of course,” Wilma wiped off her cheek. “Of course.”
The two men kept silent, hoping their hostess would leave so they could talk. But she stood by the doorway waiting for Johnny to come along with her. Giving up, Johnny finally spoke.
“You okay now, Chet?”
“Yeah, I just needed my aspirin. It’s in the bag.”
“He’ll be okay. I’ll be downstairs a while longer,” Wilma offered. “If he needs anything at all, I can help him.”
Neither man felt reassured at the news, but one couldn’t voice the opinion to the other. Instead they had to assume each approved.
Johnny gave one more glance to his friend before heading out of the room. He reached down and picked up his own bag. After closing the door to the room Chet was in, Wilma walked alongside Johnny till they reached the stairs.
“You go along now, and get some sleep,” she said, waving her right hand towards the upper floor. “You’ve got a long day ahead of you tomorrow, I’m sure.”
Johnny took a quick glance at the front door in the foyer. He was so close to the way out. And here he was about to go back up the stairs. He decided he’d stay awake in his room. Once he heard Wilma go to her room and all was quiet a while, he’d sneak down to get Chet and they’d leave unnoticed. That way they wouldn’t have to see the hurt in her eyes when she discovered they’d left.
Once in his room, Johnny decided that his best plan of action would to be have his shoes handy to carry downstairs later so as not to wake Wilma. Remembering where he’d left them he went to move them closer to the door. There was only one hitch in his plan.
My shoes! Where’d they go?
Searching the room, his shoes were no where to be found.
Oh man, this is just great. How’d she get up here and down to Chet’s room so fast.
Then another thought came to mind. Harley. . .?
Down in the livingroom, Wilma sat on the couch and watched the rocking chair move back and forth.
“Isn’t this nice, Harley?” She looked down at a hardcover book on her lap that was another written by her. ‘The Gazer’. Opening it to where she’d left the marker, she read to herself. ((The old woman relished in the power of her eyes, as she could make a person believe they were experiencing her suggestion when they locked gazes with her. And with the mere touch of her hand, she could get the unsuspecting victims to take the bait.))
Chet could hear the floor in the livingroom creaking under the movement of the rocker. He’d just returned from hobbling to the bathroom downstairs to get a glass of water to wash the aspirins down. He wanted to get Johnny and leave, hurting Wilma’s feelings or not. But he couldn’t bring himself to open the bedroom door for fear of what he’d see.
With a sigh, Chet sat down on the bed, grimacing at a sharp
twinge in his ankle. He sat there for several moments lost in thought,
contemplating escape. The creaking of the living room floor continued on
Suddenly, the firemen felt something brush against his leg, and he let out a quickly-stifled yell. Chet leaned forward in dread, almost too afraid to look. Intense yellow cat eyes stared back at him.
Grinning in relief, Chet murmured, “Well, hello there, cat. Where’d you come from?” As his own words sank in, the dark-haired man’s grin faded. Hey, where DID you come from. He was sure the room had been empty when he’d come back from getting water. Chet studied the room carefully looking for a way the cat had come in. He couldn’t find an answer.
“Hmm, that’s really strange. Well, maybe you were under the bed or something, huh?”
Still looking around the room, Chet reached down to pet the midnight-colored cat. His hand met empty air. Puzzled, he looked down. The cat was gone.
Harley? C’mon, Gage. You can’t surely believe . . . The paramedic shook his head at this passing thought.
Johnny searched the room one more time for his missing shoes. When he finished, he sat down on the bed in defeat. Rubbing his eyes with closed fists, Gage yawned. Overwhelming sleepiness seemed to envelope him as he sat there.
Gage jumped up and swung his arms around in circles in an attempt to wake up. His bare feet made no noise as he crossed the floor to the window. Johnny pulled back the flowered curtain at the window to look around. Given the moonlit night earlier, he was surprised to see a thick layer of white fog twisting and roiling obscuring everything from view.
The dark-haired paramedic whipped his head around at the unexpected sound, searching for its source. He saw the black cat standing at the foot of the bed. What the . . .
“Well, well. Who are you? C’mere kitty.”
“Meow.” The cat merely sat down and stared intently at Johnny. Hypnotically.
Johnny’s gaze was pulled back to the window by a flicker of movement. Or what he thought was movement. He stared intently into the thick vapor, for a glimpse of something, but the harder he stared the more opaque the murk seemed to become. He shivered as a chill ran down his spine.
“Sure turned into a nasty night out there, didn’t it, cat?”
When Gage turned his head, the cat was gone.
Having finished with the children’s candy, Roy
started up the stairs when he realized they’d left the front porch light on. He
quickly went over to the light switch and pushed it down. The brightness of the
full moon still made for a light glow through the curtains in the livingroom
The paramedic unlocked and opened the door. After stepping out on the porch, he
gazed at the moon above in the clear sky. It was a Harvest moon. Though the
street lights helped to illuminate the area, it was still much lighter from the
I guess I do kind of envy Johnny on a night like this. Away from the city, the moon and stars have to be something else. Couldn’t ask for better weather.
He gave one last look, then went back into the house. It wasn’t long before Roy was snuggled in bed with his wife, spooning her body as they dozed off. All thoughts of Johnny and Chet were gone.
Johnny stared at the empty space on the bed where the cat had just been. Or he
thought there was a cat. . .he was becoming less sure of anything by the minute.
Maybe it went under the bed.
Getting down on his hands and knees, the paramedic lifted the bed skirt and looked underneath. With the light on in the room, he could see fairly well, although it was partially darkened from the skirt being down on the other side.
I don’t see any sign of a cat.
He let the skirt drop, then sat on the floor a moment, thinking. There was really no where else for a cat to hide so quickly.
It’s probably with my missing shoes, he thought sarcastically as he looked at his bare feet. Gage frowned. With no shoes and a thick fog outside, it would make leaving in the night difficult. More hassle than he wanted. It was almost as if things were happening to prevent him from leaving.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said to himself. “Now you’re sounding like Chet.” The thought of his friend had him wondering how the fireman was doing.
Wilma stood near Chet’s bedroom door and placed her left hand lightly on the
outside of it. Closing her eyes, she focused completely on his image. . .an
image of a very tired Chester, surrounded by nothing but quiet space. Conjuring
up a world in her mind where Johnny didn’t exist as his friend, she began to use
her unseen power to send the thoughts to Chet.
You’re so tired, Chester. . .so tired and all alone. . .
Chet searched everywhere for the black cat that he could manage with his injury.
If it was just in the room and he hadn’t opened the door, it had to be somewhere
in there with him.
Why’d it have to be a BLACK cat? he thought. Why couldn’t it be a nice friendly orange tabby?
After several minutes of looking for the animal, the fireman gave up and sat back down on the bed. It was then he noticed the quietness of the house. The rocker had stopped creaking on the floor.
Chet sat on the bed with his foot propped up for several
minutes, listening. The creaking of the rocking chair did not resume. No sounds
came to him, the house was eerily silent.
Maybe the old woman had gone to bed. Maybe he could hop on one foot up the stairs and find his friend and they could talk about getting out of this house. If only his ankle wasn’t hurting so much. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to wait a few more minutes to give the aspirin a chance to work. Propping the pillow behind his head he leaned back and tried to relax. Just as he was succeeding he heard the sound of a cat screeching somewhere in the distance.
Must be that black cat, maybe someone stepped on its tail.
The thought made him smile slightly. Leaning back again, he began to doze. Just a few more minutes and his ankle would stop throbbing. Then he’d go do something. What was it he was going to do?
Turning to dig in his bag, John dragged out a pair of socks and sneakers
he had stashed there. He was glad of the impulse that had prompted him to pack
an extra pair of shoes—just in case. No disappearing shoes, or cats for that
matter, were going to stop him from leaving.
With the socks and sneakers on, he crossed the room to the door and opened it. A light was glowing dimly in the hallway. Opening the door wide, he stepped out of his room. Hearing a hissing sound, he turned. Behind him, in the middle of the hall less than a foot away, was a large orange striped tabby cat. Every bit of fur on the cat was standing on end and as John watched, the cat arched its back, then leapt in the air, screeching. Johnny jumped back into the room behind him to avoid the cat’s claws. Watching as the animal landed and ran down the hallway, he stood frozen in the doorway. Though the hallway was dim and he could not tell for sure, he thought the cat disappeared half way to the top of the stairs.
“What’s the matter, John?” Wilma’s voice startled the paramedic; she came down the hall towards him. Where she had come from he did not know. She was almost to him before he saw her. He’d been looking directly at the top of the stairs, but he had not seen her come up them, nor had he seen her come out of a room. Wilma came nearer to him and put her hand on his arm. “It’s all right, John, everything’s going to be all right.” Once again he found himself getting lost in the depths of her blue eyes. “You must be tired after the day you’ve had, dear boy. Why don’t you just lie down on the bed and get some sleep.”
Growing suddenly very tired, he was not frightened, just very relaxed. Allowing her to guide him, he walked toward the bed and sat down on it. Yes, he was incredibly tired and all he wanted was sleep. Gone was any thought of fleeing from the house. Lying down on the bed, he closed his eyes and began to doze off.
“See, Harley, I told you I have perfect control over them. This is going to be a cinch,” John heard Wilma whisper as she crossed the room. He heard her exit and pull the door almost closed. “Harley, I will make this work. It has to work. We only have tonight, tomorrow will be too late.” Whatever Harley answered was lost as Wilma pulled the door all the way closed and moved off down the hall.
John lay on the bed half-asleep. Something bothered him, he could not think what. There was some reason he shouldn’t allow himself to give in to the overwhelming need to sleep, but he couldn’t think what it was. Nor could he quite place the name ‘Harley.’ Just who was Harley? And what would have to work, and why would tomorrow be too late?
Chet was falling asleep, Johnny totally forgotten, when a sudden thought came to his mind. How’d the cat get out of the room to get its tail stepped on?
Curious, the fireman slowly sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He hopped over to the bedroom door where his crutches were leaning against the wall and put them into place under his arms. Clumsily getting the door partway open with one hand, he pushed it all the way open with the tip of his left crutch and then started down the darkened hallway in search of an answer.
Johnny was losing the battle to stay awake. He felt like he was floating on a cloud as he drifted deeper into slumber, Wilma’s words still sounding in his head, “You’re exhausted.” The sound of purring blended in with a dream and only helped to soothe the paramedic more. Out of habit, he absently put his left arm across his eyes and the other hand on the black cat that was now snuggled up against his right side as if watching over him.
Wilma slowly opened the door to the dark-haired man’s room and her smile widened. With Johnny sleeping, and his friend doing the same, her plan was a sure success. Finally, a productive Halloween. She tiptoed over to the bed and carefully laid a blanket over Johnny, then patted the cat.
“Just don’t you try anything, Precious,” she said to the cat. “These boys are mine.”
Going to her own room, Wilma got into bed and picked up a book she’d written many years before. ‘The Sandman’. ((Lost in their dreams, the boys were powerless to flee the looming danger. If they stayed in the house till sunrise, they would belong to it . . .and to the ones who dwelled inside)) “Yes, Harley. They’ll be ours soon.”
Chet was in the kitchen, still looking for the cat, when one of his crutches hit against something on the floor and tipped him off balance.
“How come the cat didn’t screech now?” Flicking on a light, he saw a familiar pair of tennis shoes. But they weren’t his.
Whose. . .? Johnny? Who’s Johnny? Chet thought hard, as the name had to mean something. Staring at the shoes, memories came flooding back. Johnny! If his shoes are here, where is he?
The fireman hurried into the foyer, then dropped his crutches and hopped up the steps as quick as he could go, using the banister for support. Once at the top, a winded Chet searched for Johnny’s room. He had no idea where his friend was. The first room on the right was a study. The next one on the right, a linen closet. Behind the first door to the left across from that, Chet hit pay dirt. As soon as he opened the door, he saw Johnny lying in the bed asleep. The injured man hobbled over and shook his friend, trying to wake him up.
“C’mon, John,” Chet whispered. “We’ve gotta get outta here.”
Johnny didn’t respond, except for slight mumble.
“Okay, you asked for it.” Kelly did a firm sternal rub on the unconscious man in an attempt to get a response. The results weren’t what he expected. Johnny opened his eyes and shot up to a sitting position, disoriented.
“Wha. . .?” He glanced curiously at Chet in the darkened room. “Hey!” He rubbed at his eyes.
Chet clasped a hand over Johnny’s mouth. “Shhhh.” When all was quiet, he took it away.
“What’re you doin here?” Johnny asked.
The fireman continued to whisper, hoping Gage would follow suit. “I came to get you. We’ve gotta get outta here.”
Johnny sighed and lay back down. “I’m tired, Chet. I’m not goin anywhere till mornin’.” He looked down at his right side. “What’dya’ do with the cat?”
“What. . .you’ve seen a cat, too?”
“Yeah. . .” Johnny furrowed his brow. “Chet, what’s gotten into you?”
“I think I should be asking you, pal.”
Johnny closed his eyes and put his left arm over them again. “G’night, Chet.”
Kelly wasn’t going to give up. He pulled Johnny’s arm back down. “Gage, have you forgotten Wilma, Harley, the empty rocking chair that does just that. . .rocks. . .? Something’s going on here.”
Johnny propped himself up on his elbows. “What’re you talkin’ about? Who’s Harley? What rockin’ chair?”
Chet hobbled back in shock. Something wasn’t right. The sound of someone coming down the hall had him awkwardly scrambling for a place to hide. Under the bed was his only option. Still somewhat under Wilma’s suggestion, Gage was too tired to care. He lay back down, his arm across his eyes. The paramedic never heard the door open and quickly close again.
In the meantime, Chet found himself staring at a set of familiar yellow eyes in his hiding spot.
Pulling the door closed after checking on John, Wilma
smiled smugly to herself. This was going better than she had ever dreamed
possible. All she had to do was to keep them here in this house until the first
light of morning and they would be hers forever. They would be the sons she and
Harley had never had. They would make good companions for Harley.
She would show Harley. He had not believed she would be able to do it, but she had done it. Or at least as near as made no difference. This one night was her chance. This night when all the elements had come together so perfectly. They could not have come together more perfectly if she had planned it. And she knew how lucky she was. If it had not been for Chester hurting his ankle, the two young men would have spent the night camping rather than attempting to drive home, falling into her trap.
A feeling of immense satisfaction came over her. How many times had she laid the trap and how many times it had gone unsprung? But not this year, this year she would succeed beyond even her wildest dreams. Now if only those cats would not interfere.
Lying under the bed looking into the glowing golden eyes of the cat, Chet barely refrained from giving a screech of his own and through sheer force of will, lay quietly still while he listened to the door close softly. He and the cat contemplated one another for a long moment after the door closed. Chet didn’t know which side of the door the woman had been on when she closed it. He listened for footsteps, but none came.
The cat sneezed. Startled, Chet jumped, bumping his head on the underneath side of the bed. The fireman let out a mild curse. The cat scurried out from under the bed and Chet crawled out the other side. If the woman were in the room, she knew he was there after all that racket, so it was useless to hide under the bed any longer. But the old woman was not in the room. Using a bedpost at the foot of the bed to pull himself up, he stood. He was surprised to see the cat on the bed with Johnny.
The cat had jumped up on the bed and was presently pacing on the supine man’s torso. Though Chet was unfamiliar with cats, even he could tell this animal’s actions were deliberately calculated to wake the sleeping man. Chet watched in fascination as the cat continued to pace up and down. Then it sat down on Johnny’s chest and did something that astonished Chet. Sitting up on its haunches, it reached out with both front paws and slapped John’s cheeks repeatedly. This caused Gage to moan but still he did not wake. The cat resumed its pacing, this time including the sleeping man’s head. Chet decided it was more than time for him to intervene.
“John, wake up,” he said as quietly and urgently as he could, shaking his friend. “John, come on I need your help, wake up.” The paramedic simply moaned and batted Chet and the cat away.
Wilma began to descend the stairs. Her upstairs guest was still fast asleep, now it was time to check on her downstairs guest.
Chet had about given up when he noticed the cat was sitting
on a book near the foot of the bed, meowing. When he reached over, the animal
moved, allowing him to pick up the item.
“What’s this? Where’d it come from?” The cat just stared at him.
Chet glanced at Johnny as the paramedic groaned and rolled over onto his side, his back to the fireman. Kelly held the book up in the dim moon light shining in through a slight part in the curtains. “ ‘The Sandman’ by Wilma Vargas. . .?” He opened it to the summary just inside the cover. ((Lost in their dreams, the boys were powerless to flee the looming danger. If they stayed in the house till sunrise, they would belong to it . . .and to the ones who dwelled inside)).
Suddenly the other book called ‘Zappers’ came to mind. Chet didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he did know one thing. He and Johnny needed to get away from Wilma, and the creepy house and books as soon as possible. Problem was, he wasn’t in any condition to lend physical support to help the other man out. He would have to devise a plan and return to the room later.
“I’ll be back for ya, Johnny. I’ll be back.”
Chet started for the door, when he noticed the cat stayed by Johnny on the bed. He had a feeling somehow there was a reason it needed to be there. Slipping out after making sure the coast was clear, Chet quickly hobbled to the walk-in linen closet across the hall. Closing the door behind him, he stood in pitch dark. Suddenly something heavy was pressing on his left shoulder. He stood perfectly still, afraid to even take in a breath.
Wilma was half way down the steps when she noticed the crutches lying haphazardly on the floor in the foyer. She glanced back upstairs, remembering how she’d thought she heard voices coming from John’s room. But he was sound asleep and alone when she had peeked in again. There was no way Chester could get all the way upstairs and explore around on his own in his condition. She hurried to the bedroom downstairs to see for herself if the fireman had woken up.
After the weight didn’t lift on its own, Chet slowly reached over with his right hand. He felt a firmly folded bed sheet that had been nudged off the shelf resting on his shoulder.
Pull it together, man. You lose it, and you and Johnny are both history, he told himself.
Having found Chet’s bed empty, the once again dismayed woman rushed to the staircase. She stood a moment, contemplating what to do next. If Chester had made it outside, he was probably going for help. But with the thick fog, and his injured ankle, his chances of getting very far were slim. Though he may avoid the fate of his friend. And one son was better than none. That thought reminded Wilma she needed to make sure John was still a secure deal.
Rushing up the staircase, Wilma hurried to the paramedic’s room. The bed was empty.
A very disoriented John Gage sat on the floor of the study between a wall and a
large oak desk, the black cat on his lap. He’d been woken up yet again, this
time with a few claws digging into his back. Unsure of where he was or why, Gage
had sleepily made his way out of the bedroom in search of Chet and some answers.
For whatever reason, the cat had led him where he was now. Gently stroking the
animal’s back, both he and the cat looked at one another in the dim light, when
they heard a familiar voice coming from the hallway.
“Oh, John, my dear boy, come out, come out, where ever you are . . .It's urgent that I see you. . . ”
Hearing the voice also, Chet squatted down and inched back under the high sitting bottom shelf in the closet. It was all he could do not to yell when he felt part of the wall give behind him. Carefully backing in, he soon found himself in a small cubby hole, concealed from the interior of the closet. He wasn’t sure how good his hiding place was, but at least he knew Johnny had somehow gotten away. . .for now. . .if only he could be sure Gage remembered anything from before.
Still nowhere near fully awake, Gage felt himself drifting
off as he stroked the cat’s fur. Suddenly he felt claws puncturing his arm.
Waking with a start, he heard Wilma’s voice. Something about the voice made him
uneasy. The woman had seemed nice when they had first come to the house, she’d
welcomed them and fed them; given them a room for the night. But there was
something about her that disturbed him, now if he could just remember what it
Hearing her voice and footsteps drawing nearer, he dove under the desk, clutching the cat to him. The footsteps stopped at the door and then he heard it softly opening. Holding the cat close, he listened as the footsteps crossed the room to the window. The old woman gave an exclamation and left the room with angry steps. John breathed a sigh of relief. Once again he felt claws digging into his flesh and remembered the cat. “Sorry,” he whispered as he loosened his grip on the animal.
When Wilma opened the door on the study quietly, the first thing to catch her
eye was the moonlight streaming across the floor. Moonlight! What had
happened to her thick fog? Crossing to the window she looked out. There was fog
all right, thick as ever, but it clung no more than three feet from the ground.
And it was thinning even as she watched.
Those cats! Those obnoxious cats! She had thought she’d swayed them to her side this time, but obviously she hadn’t. They were always interfering with her schemes. As usual, they had let her get within striking distance of success before they interfered. Well this time she would not let them win; this time she would succeed, despite of their efforts to stop her.
Turning, she practically stomped out of the room, forgetting she had not searched it. “I should have gotten rid of those cats long ago,” she fumed. But they had been there before her and all her efforts to rid herself of them or turn them to her cause had been unsuccessful. Their interfering had cost her many a success. But not this time, she vowed again. This time the victory would be hers. She had to succeed this time, there would be no next time. Having used the last of her power after putting it all into the trap, there would not be another chance. Calling out again to John, she moved on to the next room, continuing to search.
Listening to the retreating footsteps of the woman from his cubbyhole, Chet breathed a sigh of relief. If the woman was still searching, she had not found John yet. And the farther away from the linen closet she went the better for him. Contemplating whether or not to leave his position in the cubbyhole, he was startled to hear a cat purring.
Though he was getting used to cats suddenly appearing and disappearing, this time he was startled because the purring sound was coming from behind him where the wall of the closet should have been. But, now that he could take his mind off what was going on outside the closet and was able to take stock of his surroundings, he realized that he was feeling a draft at his back. Where the wall should have been was a gaping hole.
Feeling his way, Chet crawled into the passageway. Though the passage was probably sufficiently tall for him to stand up in, it was pitch black and he did not want to risk falling. Therefore, he crawled on hands and knees.
The passage extended before him, and he could hear the cat purring a short distance in front of him. But off to one side was an opening in the wall. Being careful not to topple into the dark chasm, he felt his way into it. At first he thought it was a shaft, but then his hand made contact with flooring about five inches below the surface of the passageway. Further investigation revealed another drop of about the same distance. Stairs. Now he knew how they could get to the ground floor without being detected by the old woman. All he had to do was find John.
Contemplating whether to go back to the closet or on down the passage, he heard the cat purring again. “What should I do cat? Go back or forward?” Chet whispered, not really expecting an answer from the animal. But then he heard the cat meow softly and scratch on the wall of the passageway. “I guess that means you want me to come there.” With no better idea to offer, he crawled forward to where the cat was. The animal continued to scratch the wall with some urgency and purpose. Chet began to feel around the wall. It was solid wood. Pushing and pulling on the surface and several objects got him nothing. Then suddenly he pushed on a piece of wood and felt the wall give and slide open.
The door slid to the side like a pocket door. Well, now he had found a way out of the passage without going through the closet. But he still didn’t know where Johnny was.
In his cubbyhole under the desk, John had lost his battle to stay a wake and had once again dozed off. Suddenly the feeling of claws digging in to his flesh again wakened him. This time he let out a yelp of pain.
“Gage?” The whispered word seemed to come out of nowhere. “Gage? Is that you? Where are you?”
“Chet?” John called softly back, not daring to come out of his hiding place. He heard a scuffling noise and soon Chet’s face appeared in the opening of his hiding spot.
“John?” They heard Wilma’s voice in the distance coming closer. “Come on out, John. I know you’re still in the house. You have nothing to fear. Everything’s going to be all right. You need to rest your weary mind.” Wilma’s wheedling voice continued to call as she moved about the house, still searching.
“C’mon, we have to get out of this house.” Chet’s voice was urgent but John was still groggy. All he wanted to do was to be left alone and go back to sleep. “Don’t listen to what she says, man. C’mon, Gage, I need your help. We have to get out of here. I need your help, c’mon.” Chet urged his friend, hoping that his plea for help would touch a responsive cord in the paramedic. It seemed to have the desired effect as John made more of an effort to wake up.
“What? Why do we have to leave?” Johnny asked, rubbing his eyes.
“I don’t have time to explain now. Just come with me.” Chet began to crawl back to the opening in the wall. He didn’t know how they had managed it exactly, but Chet strongly suspected that he had the cats to thank for John being in the room the wall panel opened into. Noticing when he left the cubbyhole under the desk that the cat he had been following was not a black cat but a striped one, Chet had distractedly dismissed it in his efforts to find his friend. Now finding the black cat was still with Johnny, he figured he knew how he came to be there. He was just glad he hadn’t had to roam the house dodging while Wilma was looking for Gage.
“Chet, why are we crawling?” John whispered from behind him.
“Because I’m tired of hopping around and I don’t want to risk falling again,” Chet whispered back as he reached the panel in the wall. Directing Gage into the passage, he followed him. Vaguely he wondered where the cats had disappeared to now, but had no time to worry about it as he heard Wilma’s footsteps coming nearer. Groping as quietly as he could, he found the trigger and the door slid closed just as Wilma pushed open the door to the room and stepped inside.
She was still calling to John but her tone had become more strident and was interlaced with irritation and mumbled words Chet could barely hear, much less understand. Both he and Gage froze where they were making no sound until the woman had searched the room and left it again.
“Chet what are we doing? Where are we?” Gage asked curiously.
“It’s a secret passage.” Chet replied. “Shhh, don’t talk, she’ll hear you. C’mon.”
“Where’re we going?”
“Down the stairs,” Chet said, then in an effort to silence the other man. “Just trust me and don’t ask questions. Come on, I need your help.”
“All right. I’m not sure trusting you is wise but…”
“Just follow me.” Chet rolled his eyes even though he knew the paramedic couldn’t see it. “The stairs are this way.”
Johnny was still fighting to stay awake. Nothing was making any sense to him. All he knew right now was that his friend needed his help and he had to respond. If that meant crawling in secret passages, and going down stairs, he would. Then he would go to sleep when they were done.
Chet sat on the top stair and began to descend in a sitting position. He had no desire to attempt to hop down a staircase in the pitch black, a surefire way to get killed. John followed him, groping his way down the staircase as quietly as he could, yawning all the way.
The two men bumped down the stairs, the darkness pressing
against them. It was slow going but they eventually reached the bottom. Wilma’s
angry calls had faded somewhat as they descended.
Once at the bottom, Chet carefully felt around until he found a secret panel. Having done this a couple of times already, he skillfully pushed the panel to the side. He peered out the opening recognizing the room immediately.
“C’mon, Gage, this is the livingroom. We’re not all that far from the front door.”
When Johnny didn’t answer, Kelly glanced over his shoulder to see his friend’s eyes were closed again.
He reached out and shook Johnny. “Gage! We need to go,” Chet hissed.
The paramedic opened his eyes.
Chet pulled hard on Johnny’s shirt. “C’mon.”
They both crawled through the opening, sprawling briefly on the carpet. After orienting themselves, they stood up and made way for the front hall and ultimately freedom. Chet hopped as quickly as he could, supported by the drowsy, barely alert paramedic.
The fireman bit back a shout of joy when they reached the front door and he opened it.
The screech from the top of the stairs badly startled both men, and they fell against the jamb. Chet never did figure out how Wilma flew down the steps so fast. But suddenly she was there, and she had a firm hold on his arm. The minute she touched him, Kelly felt all energy draining from him. Drowsiness set in quickly and his eyes began to close.
“That’s it. That’s it. Just let go. Let go and go to sleep. Go . . .” Wilma’s chanting ended abruptly as she tumbled backward, knocked off balance by one of the cats.
Given this brief respite, Johnny and Chet managed to navigate out of the house and down the steps before finally giving in to the waves of lethargy. They collapsed in a heap just beyond the last step.
Regaining her footing, Wilma rushed after them but was brought up short at the top of the stairs. She could go no farther. It was as if a shield blocked her way.
“NO! NO! Not again! NOT again!” she wailed.
A flicker of movement to her left drew her attention. Harley appeared before her. His kindly old face wreathed in sorrow. The cats both rushed to his side, twirling and circling around his feet.
“Harley? It was you? It was you all along? You and the cats working against me? How could you? HOW COULD YOU?”
“Now, Wilma, I couldn’t let you do it. I couldn’t let you hurt these boys. Just like I couldn’t let you hurt all the others.”
Wilma sighed. Her chance of adding to the family was gone.
When John woke he saw the sky was lightening with the first rays of morning. Lying beside him on the ground, Chet was also waking up. Shaking off the last of the sleepiness, he looked around in bewilderment and gasped when he saw the house. Looking as if it had been abandoned years ago, it was dilapidated to the point where the old structure appeared ready to cave in on itself. The windows were blank where most of the glass had long since been broken out and the front door hung limply on one hinge. Any paint that had been on the house had long since peeled off leaving the wood exposed to the elements. Stairs leading up to the porch were broken and splintered.
On the porch sat two cats. An orange tabby dozed with its paws tucked up underneath it and a black cat nonchalantly washed its ear. Stopping in its ablutions, it turned its golden green eyes on the two men lying on the overgrown grass. Staring back at the cat the men struggled to believe their eyes. They looked at one another and then back towards the cats, both of which were now gone.
Then John noticed that lying beside them on the ground were not only Chet’s crutches, but also both their bags. He almost laughed aloud when he saw his shoes, with his socks stuffed inside, perched on top of his bag. Just as they had mysteriously disappeared they had mysteriously reappeared.
Once again the men looked at one another. Neither seemed able to find anything to say. Finally Chet spoke, “Let’s go home.”
John nodded agreement and they made their way slowly out to the road and the Land Rover. Placing their bags in the vehicle, they walked to the front of it. “Think it’ll start now?” Chet asked.
“Don’t know.” John shrugged. “Only one way to find out.” Climbing into the driver’s seat with Chet already in the passenger seat beside him, he put the key in the ignition and turned it. Somehow, neither man was surprised when the engine turned over and roared to life immediately. “Let’s go home.” Johnny said with a sigh. Pulling the truck onto the road they continued their interrupted journey toward home.
Coming on for duty, Roy set a bowl of Halloween candy down on the table in the dayroom as he headed for the coffee pot on the stove. Sitting on the couch, Mike held down the book he was reading and glanced across the room.
“What’s with the candy? Holiday’s over.”
Roy reached up to get a cup out of the cupboard. “Oh, that’s some of Chris and Jennifer’s stash from the other night. They got way too much. If Jo and I let them have it all, they’d be bouncing off the walls for months.” He lifted the coffee pot and poured some of the hot beverage. Taking a sip, he looked at the doorway as Johnny came in, Chet beside him on crutches.
“What happened to you?” Roy asked.
“Chet,” Marco began, coming in behind the other two, “you can’t do much like that. Besides, I think I saw your replacement getting into uniform.”
Kelly gave a frustrated sigh. “I know, I know. I just came in to see how everyone was. . .you know. . .to touch base with you guys.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, he’s not plannin’ on fightin’ any fires in his shape,” he snorted. “We just sorta had a different kind of Halloween. . .kinda. . .we think. . .” he noticed the others staring at him with confused expressions on their faces. “And . . . and Chet wanted to get a dose of some. . .normalcy. You know. . .” still seeing the baffled looks, he rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Never mind. . .” The paramedic knew it wasn’t going to be easy to explain the experience they had on the way home from camping. He and Chet both were still unsure of what had transpired. It was beginning to feel more like a dream than a real thing. But something had taken place in the old run down house they’d stumbled upon. . .something he was fast becoming more sure he and Chet should keep to themselves.
No one could have lived in that house, Johnny thought to himself.
“How’d you hurt yourself?” Roy asked as he pulled out a chair.
Chet leaned on his crutches. “I missed a step and that was it. It’s just a sprain, but I have to stay off it another week. It would’ve been sooner, but. . .” he looked at Johnny and shrugged. “I didn’t do what I was told and forgot to use the crutches a few times.”
Mike just grinned and shook his head at his shiftmates’ confusing explanations. Wanting to get back to his book, he held it up in front of his face and began reading again. Johnny noticed the movement and stared at the cover that was turned towards the rest of them. His eyes widened at what he saw. Nudging Chet, he pointed to the engineer’s book. Chet followed the cue, his eyes widening at what he saw as well.
((The House by Wilma Vargas))
Johnny and Chet exchanged a glance. If Gage and Kelly didn’t know better, they would have sworn they heard the Twilight Zone theme playing in the room.
Audrey W. Linda2 Vanessa Sgroi