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