Just past midnight and in a god-forsaken middle of nowhere, Jack Gallagher’s fist
was poised to knock on a most formidable looking door. In desperation, Clara
made a last ditch effort to change her husband’s mind.
"You probably have no idea what tonight is, do you?"
Jack lowered his hand and turned to her, waiting to be enlightened.
"It’s the Night of Dread. When Friday the thirteenth and a full moon join forces."
"I’ll tell you babe," he said, chuckling, "you’re a fountain of trivia. There’s only one
problem—I’m not superstitious."
"I’m not either, usually. But something’s telling me this is a really bad idea."
"A premonition of doom? Is that what you’re saying you’ve got?"
"Kind of, I guess."
"Listen—all we want to do is use their phone. Avis’ll come out with a loaner, and we’
ll be out of here. One phone call. What could possibly happen?"
Clara gave it up. Jack was determined to get back on the road and describing for
him the half-dozen or so graphic scenarios which sprang instantly to mind would
have served no constructive purpose. And so, hampered by no further arguments,
Jack’s fist connected with the door. However, the sound that started up concurrent
with his knocking did seem to lend at least a bit of credence to Clara’s premonition.
"What the—?" he said. "There hasn’t been a wolf in this area in over a hundred
"Yeah? Maybe you’d like to inform those wolves of that fact. Because someone sure
as hell forgot to."
Instead of meeting Clara’s sarcasm with a rejoinder as would normally have been
done, Jack pulled her close. Approaching footsteps from within, crescendoing
howls, the ominous creak . . . creak . . . creak of an old and unused door was a most
unsettling cacophony of sounds. Then, and most unsettling of all, appeared a pair of
eyes most likely borrowed from the devil.
"Good heavens, children," the ancient woman said, in a voice so soft and silken,
"you gave me such a fright. Who could it be, I asked myself, knocking on my door at
such an hour? Who ever could it be?"
She smiled, and a coldness descended chilling every fiber of their being.
"We’re sorry to bother you at such a late hour," Jack said, doing his best to shake off a feeling he hadn’t had since last he’d been in dire
straits upon the battlefield, "but we saw your upstairs light on. Our car broke down, and since this area isn’t cell phone friendly, we were
hoping you’d let us use your phone to call for help. It won’t take more than a minute. I promise."
"Alas," the old woman said, "you’ll find my home empty of telephones; modern conveniences, you see, are luxuries for which I have no
need. But regardless, I insist you come inside to rest your weary bones. And while you relax in the parlor,"—said the spider to the fly,—"I’ll
fix a bit of nourishment to better send you children on your way."
"Thanks anyway," Jack said, "but we’re in kind of a hurry."
"Then I wish you a safe and uneventful journey home. However, should you find you’ve changed your minds,"—and how that hideous smile
grew—"I’ll be up late."
"You win," Jack said, immediately upon hearing the bolt slide shut. "Let’s get out of here."
And away they went. Or so was their intent. But barely had they crossed half the courtyard’s width when Clara noticed something; it stopped
her dead in her tracks.
"Oh God, Jack—listen."
"To what, Clara? For God’s sake, what am I listening to?"
"The wolves. They’ve stopped howling."
The sudden realization of impending doom begins with a clammy, crawling kind of sensation, originating in the pit of the stomach. It
spreads, stopping not until every inch of the victim’s body is consumed, leaving him, not unlike a thousand year old redwood, rooted to the
spot. Unless you’re Jack Gallagher, who’d faced death so many times he’d lost count. So fluid was Jack’s movement that the two wolves
blocking their path barely noticed that one course of their prospective dinner had pulled a hunting knife from his boot.
"When they spring," he said, in a quiet, confidence-instilling voice, as he placed himself between the wolves and his wife, "take off for that
tree on the right."
"Oh God, Jack—"
"I can handle them. But I need to know you’ve got your legs. Okay? Babe?"
The tree Jack made reference to was fifteen, maybe twenty yards away. More than enough of a running start to easily make it to the lowest
branches. Clara said a quick prayer of thanks to her father. For providing her, since a small child, with a cabin getaway surrounded by trees
ripe for climbing. The place, in fact, from which she and Jack were just returning.
"I’ll never forgive you," Clara said, "if you make a meal out of yourself."
"Believe me," Jack returned, "that’s not part of the plan."
Wolves; or dogs trained to rip a human being to shreds; it was all the same to Jack. It was a maneuver he’d performed in real life more than
once and had rehearsed a thousand times. When they sprang, the one closest would have its throat slit before it even felt the blade. Its
body, still sailing through the air, would block its friend from an immediate attack of its own. Jack’s next move would then be decided by the
one remaining. Another direct attack and it would end up, its fate the same as its partner’s. If the animal decided however that Clara might
make a tastier morsel, its demise was equally assured. The knife would, in a twinkling, be transformed into a missile; one which delivered
its payload with deadly accuracy.
With nerves spring-loaded, waiting for the wolves to pull the trigger, a single clap resounded through the courtyard. In astonished disbelief,
Jack and Clara watched the wolves—with fangs withdrawn and softened threats—back reluctantly away.
"Forgive me, children," the old woman said, peering through the doorway. "I forget, sometimes, what a nuisance my pets can be. How
terrible a fright it must have
been for you. Perhaps you’d best come in a while . . . to calm your frazzled nerves."
"Yeah," Jack said. "Perhaps we’d best."
To Read the Prologue, CLICK!
Contact Martin for details about the May 2009 publication firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Horrifying Tale of Mrs. Trollope
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