Things Are Different in the Country
by Martina Bexte

Arthur switched off the light and glanced at the clock radio as he slipped into bed: 11:39 PM. Another late night and the end of another hard day at the office. His tired mind told him to slow down and slow down soon; his hectic pace was catching up to him. Who's gonna remember the guy who killed himself at the office? Nobody, that's who. Not Philby, his boss, who hadn't given Arthur a raise in three years, not the kids, who took old dad for granted except when they needed a few bucks or the keys to the car. And especially not his wife Vera, already sound asleep on her side of their king sized bed.

Arthur spared her huddled form a worn out glance. Vera was usually asleep by the time he got home and crawled into bed. She never seemed to appreciate all his extra efforts, having long ago written him off as an incurable workaholic. She'd conveniently forgotten that his dedication and hard work had gotten her this huge house in the country. And the cars. And entry into the swank country club. Oh yes, she'd nagged him until he'd given her everything she'd ever wanted, even after he'd gone to great lengths to point out to her that things were much different in the country.

But she always ignored his warnings.

Nor did she seem to care that he hated the hour-long commute to and from the city with its narrow, winding roads. Or the fact that the pollen in the air played hell with his allergies. His list of grievances was long. Arthur sighed. What did it matter? Vera's own expectations and needs had always come first.

Arthur glanced over at his sleeping wife. How quickly things had changed. Now she hated country living and most of all the quiet country nights.

Arthur punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape. Served her right. Maybe she finally figured out there weren't traffic lights and latte shops on every corner. As sleep claimed him he wondered if Vera had properly secured the house for the night and decided that no matter how many times he reminded her, Vera would likely never understand that things were different out here in the country.

Something was prodding his arm. Arthur groaned and rolled over. It couldn't be morning yet! But the prodding didn't stop until he realized it was Vera poking his arm and hissing in his ear.

"Arthur! Get up! There’s something outside!"

He glanced at the luminous numbers of the alarm clock and groaned. He'd barely gotten to sleep. Had the woman no mercy?

He turned over and glowered at her. "What's the matter with you, Vera? It's barely past midnight for God's sake!"

Her small frail body was huddled against the headboard, her eyes round with terror. "Please, Arthur. You have to go look. There's something outside. I heard sounds!"

She whimpered the words, looking ridiculous, pitiful really. Quiet country living had become her enemy.

With a sigh, Arthur threw back the covers. Of course he’d have to go look. She wouldn’t leave him alone until he did as she asked. He’d wander around the house checking all the doors and windows, trip over the dog, check in on the kids and then finally report back to her that all was safe and secure.

Resigned to performing the nightly ritual, he swung his legs out of bed, found his slippers and then started walking the well-known route: hallway, back door, patio, dog, children. He didn't see a thing. The night was still and clear and the wind calm.

Arthur shook his head. Vera's imagination again. How many times had he told her that things were different in the country?

He rounded a corner and tripped over the dog. The beagle yelped and slunk off to hide under the coffee table. He glared at the animal. One of these days he was going to have to take some extra time and train that dog to be more alert.

Pale light from the full moon pierced the glass of the solarium and lit a murky path for Arthur to follow. The wind suddenly quickened and out of the corner of his eye Arthur thought he saw the drapes move. He cringed. Oh God no!

He hurried forward, pushed aside the heavy coverings and confirmed what he already dreaded. Vera had forgotten to close the patio door. He widened it enough to poke his head out and surveyed the clear, cool night. He didn't see a thing, not a single threat. But that didn't matter, did it?

THEY would know that the door had been left ajar.

They always knew.

Arthur ducked back inside, slammed shut the door and locked it, then leaned weak-knead against the wall. How many times had he told Vera that it was her responsibility to make sure that all the doors and windows were locked? How many times! He shouldn't be expected to carry this additional burden as well. Why couldn't she get it through her head that things were different out here in the country?

Something rasped against the glass. Arthur whirled in time to see one of the Hawthorne boughs that he'd meticulously tied to the eaves tumble onto the deck. In the next instant the wind found the dry sprig and he watched as it fluttered off the deck and was swallowed up by the night.

His heart thudding in his chest, Arthur surveyed the grounds, then checked his watch. Twelve thirty-nine. Perhaps there was still time -- perhaps THEY wouldn't come. But in the distance he saw the mist gathering and knew it was too late.

THEY always moved with the mist.

Taking a great chance he hurled open the door, then ran out onto the deck and reached up and checked every sprig of Hawthorne and every bundle of garlic attached to the eaves. All were dry and brittle. Useless! Dammit! How many times had he told Vera to keep them fresh? What did he have to do to make her understand?

Out past the long line of elms the mist pulsed and moved closer. In seconds it became a great wall blotting out the moon. Choking back fear Arthur raced back inside and slammed and locked the sliding door, desperately wishing the door was made of foot thick steel and not triple tempered unbreakable glass. The best that money could buy, the realtor had said. Not that it mattered.

THEY knew. Somehow THEY always knew.

He saw their hungry red eyes probing through the rolling mist. Within moments they would surround the house and begin scratching at the glass, looking for ways to get in.

Arthur yanked shut the drapes and stifled a scream when he heard their high-pitched shrieks of outrage and covered his ears as talons scraped across the domed glass of the skylight.

The hideous sounds grew louder and louder and sent him racing back to his bedroom shouting, "Dammit, Vera, how many times do I have to tell you to always lock up and always make sure the garlic and Hawthorne stay fresh! What do I have to do to make you understand! What!"

Vera lay slumped against the headboard, her eyes wide and staring, her face a terror-stricken rictus. Two droplets of blood dotted her lily-white nightgown. Arthur hadn't even heard her scream. Poor Vera.

The chill breeze caressed the lace curtains and he watched with dawning horror as the last tendrils of mist oozed out through the open bedroom window and away from the house to coalesce with the main body. Red eyes gleamed like bleeding diamonds, their hunger sated for the night as the mist melded with the darkness.

Reborn moonlight cast a swatch of light across the bed and settled on the wizened sprig of Hawthorne that lay in Vera's limp white hand.

Tears flooded Arthur’s eyes. His poor little Vera. She never really understood how different things were out here in the country.

See also at BookLoons' ThrillerChiller Theater: Shirley Damsgaard's Little Boy Lost; Mario Acevedo's Wedding Night Feast; The Replacement by Anne Frasier!

Note:The author, Martina Bexte, retains all rights to this story.