10.09.2017

All The Angels Are Sleeping Now

Okay, round two of Octoberfest.  I'll warn you, this one's dark even for me, so for the easily disturbed, ya might want to pick something else out of the menu below.  For the rest... enjoy?  Good luck.

And yeah, there should be another one, maybe even two, before the month's out, soon as I type 'em up and revise 'em.

Mighty Blowhole Fiction Table of (Mal)Contents:

KickerOfElves:
Profbolt:
My stuff:
And little descriptions of actual nightmares I’ve had




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                                ALL THE ANGELS ARE SLEEPING NOW


                There was a woman in a nightgown climbing onto one of the coin-operated horses outside the Dollar General, Tanner noticed and was about to mention, but Jackson interrupted with news that her cell phone had died.

                “I’d die, too, if you poked at me that much,” Rick said.  “Every five minutes.  You torment the poor thing.”

                “I just charged the battery, like, two days ago,” Jackson said.  “I’m worried the damn phone is broken.  It, like, comes on for a second, but you touch anything on it and it blinks out.”  She slapped at it and tried again.  Her face lit up in the darkness for a second, then was gone.  “Shit.”

                “It’s hiding from you and I don’t blame it,” Rick said.  “Anyway, we’ll be back in Tupelo in an hour or so and your laptop’s there.  You’ll survive.”

                “I got a text, though, and it’s gonna drive me crazy wondering what it was.  Who’d be texting me at midnight?  Is somebody dead?”

                “Too bad it’s not working,” Tanner said, digging for his keys.  “There’s something over there you could take a picture of.”  He thrust his chin toward the Dollar General.

                “Oh my god,” Rick said.  “What the hell, she dressed like some Disney princess?”

                “I think it’s a nightgown,” Tanner said, pulling out the keys.  The chain had a disc on it that said PETER; that was his real name, but since his last name was Boyle some long-ago classmate had started calling him Tanner, after the smartassed Tanner Boyle in The Bad News Bears movies.  He’d encouraged it, because who wants to be called Peter, anyway?  Later he’d found out there was an actor already named Peter Boyle, but he didn’t look a thing like him.  Didn’t look like Tanner Boyle, either, for that matter, but it was a better name.  His grandmother had been so proud of herself for finding a keychain with “Peter” on it, and had given it to him the day he got his driver’s license, so he used it.  Every time he looked at it he remembered her, dead three years now.  She’d gone a bit senile, but never enough to ride the horses outside Dollar General, thank the Lord.   That, that was special. 

                He unlocked the car door and leaned in to open the others for Jackson and Rick, still staring at the woman, half-laughing.

                “Yeah, that’s a nightgown,” Jackson said.  The woman was straddling a blue horse and shaking the hell out of it; even across the parking lot they could hear her grunting in rage at the lack of cooperation she was getting.  She rared up her heels and kicked at it and gave out with a scream.  “That is nuts!  And it’s midnight, right?”

                “Yeah, ten past,” Tanner said.  The lights of the indoor flea market they’d been in were already shut down.

                “Sure, that shit would’ve been perfectly normal around 8:30,” Rick said.
               
                “I dunno, when is happy hour around here?”  Tanner laughed.

                “She must have wandered off from her house,” Jackson said.  “She can’t have been out here long, dressed like that.  Wonder if she’s okay?”

                “Obviously not, since she’s trying to ride a pony in a freaking nightgown,” Rick laughed.  “If humping a kid’s ride in your jammies passes the test, then ‘okay’ is a whole lot different where you’re from.”

                “Must be on something,” Jackson said, frowning.

                “Whatever it is, I hope nobody ever drops any in my drink,” Rick said, getting into the back seat.  “I’ve embarrassed myself enough with just beer.”   They could hear the woman yelling across the parking lot even as the car doors shut. 

                “Lock all your doors,” Tanner said, “just in case.”

                “Don’t you worry, already done,” Jackson said.  “Jesus, that’s creepy.”

                “Anybody want to go put a quarter in the horse for her?”  Tanner asked, getting a laugh out of Rick.

                “It’s not funny.   Wonder if we should call anybody to come get her?” Jackson asked, twisting in her seat to watch the woman, who was now off of the horse and slapping its face.

                “You can’t, and I won’t,” Rick said.  “I’ve got an unpaid speeding ticket.  I don’t want my name showing up on the police caller I.D. and reminding them I exist.”

                Jackson laughed.  “Idiot.”

                “What?  That’s how they got Dillinger.”

                “It is not!  They didn’t even have phones then.  Well, they had them, but they were a box on the wall you cranked and yelled into, like the Waltons.”

                “At least those worked,” Rick said. “If Jim Bob was here, he could call the cops.”

                “Yeah, but all he’d do is tell them good night, like ten times,” Tanner said, turning his car key.  There was a click, a brief flicker of lights in the dash, then nothing.   He tried it again.  Not even a click.  “Uh oh,” he said.  He pumped the gas, tried it again, got nothing.

                “Oh shit, is it dead?” Jackson asked.

                “What do you think?”  He slapped the wheel.  “Shit!  I left the damn headlights on.  The battery’s dead.”   Tanner slapped the wheel again and sighed.  The parking lot had been so brightly lit and they’d all been talking so much he’d forgotten about the headlights.  The parking lot was still bright, and empty.  The last tail lights were leaving, the flea market employees had made their escape and the whole shopping center was past-midnight-dead.  “Looks like nobody’s having any luck getting their rides to work tonight.  Sorry, guys.”

                “Don’t worry, things can always get worse,” Rick said.  “Check out what’s coming across the parking lot.”

                The woman in the nightgown had left the horse and was walking toward the car.  Half-running, in fact.

                “Oh my god,” Jackson said, grabbing Tanner’s shoulder.  Jackson was almost-pretty most of the time; a little too skinny, maybe, her face a little too long and her chin too pointed and her teeth verged on buck, but otherwise she was cute, large pale blue eyes and almost-white blonde hair that was long and straight, hippie-girl bangs hanging in her eyes.  Now she just looked scared, though, so terrified that all the cuteness was gone, and that gave Tanner an extra shot of fear.  Terror was infectious.

                Rick was laughing, though.  He hadn’t caught it yet.  “Well, this should be fun.”

                “Ain’t the word I’d use,” Tanner said, twisting the key again, hoping for a miracle and getting nothing.

                The woman reached the passenger door and pulled at it, and Jackson yelped and crowded into Tanner.  The woman yanked at it some more with a frustrated growl, then crouched down and peered in.  She had tangled dark hair and crazy eyes the color of toothpaste spit.  They looked swollen from crying, dark from lack of sleep.  “You gotta give me a ride,” she said, twitching her face into a hopeful smile.  “I got to get out of here.”  The palm she pressed to the window was dark with something.

                “Sorry, lady, my battery’s dead,” Tanner said.

                “My babies are dead,” the woman said.  “The angels are dead!  I’ve got to get out of here now, please give me a ride right now!”

                “Lady, I can’t, the car won’t work,” Tanner said again.  Lord, but the woman looked insane, some test pattern running behind her eyes.  And what was that about babies?

                “I need a ride!”  she insisted, yanking at the door, slapping at the window.  “Be reasonable!  Don’t be getting me mad now, please!”

                “Sorry, but the car won’t work,” Tanner said.

                “Rick, call the police,” Jackson said.

                “Love to, but my damn phone is in the fucking trunk,” Rick said.  “I didn’t want to leave my jacket in the car because someone might steal it, remember?”

                “Ah, shit,” Tanner said.  He didn’t have a phone, either.

                The woman was pulling herself onto the hood of the car, climbing it like a lizard.  She pressed her face to the windshield and they could make out a crazy grin through the shadow of the backlighting behind her, a gleam of teeth and eyes.  “I’m so tired,” she said, almost rationally, muffled through the windshield.   She scratched at the glass, and her hands were very dirty, crusted.  “The angels were falling all over tonight.  You must have seen them.  Surely you saw them.”  She waved a hand at the sky.  “They made me do it, you know.  I had to do it, you have to do what the angels tell you, don’t you?”

                Tanner stared at her, noting that her nightgown was splashed with dark stains.  This lady had done something very bad tonight, he was sure.  This wasn’t just a bad night for her, it was the bad night, and now they were being made part of it.
               
                “DON’T YOU?!” she yelled, slapping the windshield.  “ANSWER ME!”

                Jackson screamed and tried to bury herself in the floorboard.  Tanner yelled, “Yeah, yeah, I guess so!”

                The lady’s upper lip pulled up on the glass and her breath fogged it.  She sneered and panted, calming herself down.  She licked the glass and smiled.  Tanner looked to the highway, which was empty.  The flea market had been on the outskirts of town and there was little reason for anyone to come out here this time of night.  They were on their own.

                The woman smiled wide and laughed.  “All the angels are sleeping now,” she sang.  “I did it with a hammer.  I had to, I had to.  So, see, I have to get away from here.  You have to give me a ride, you see?  You see?  You see, you see?”

                “Like I said, lady, I’d like to help you, but my car won’t start.”  Tanner twisted the key again, trying to show her but hoping somehow it would work.  It didn’t.  He could hear Jackson curled in the floorboard, sobbing.  He tried to think of anything in the car that could be used as a weapon, but there was nothing.  Tire tools in the trunk, with Rick’s phone.  They’d have to go out there with her to get to either.  He could stick his keys through his fingers and hit her if he had to.  He’d always thought about doing that, but now that it might actually have to happen the idea made him sick.  Light flashed from the floorboard as Jackson tried her cellphone again and got nothing.

                “You have to let me in there,” said the woman, sounding reasonable with a timid smile.
               
                “Sorry, lady,” Tanner said.

                “Yeah,” she said.  “You need to.  You really need to.”  She tilted her head, a “please” gesture, almost flirty.

                “No,” Tanner said, feeling around under the seat, wishing his brother had left a wrench or screwdriver under there last time he tuned the car up.  He felt candy wrappers, a ketchup packet, a lost M&M that he remembered two-ex-girlfriends-ago spilling in his car.  Nothing that could fend off a crazy lady.

                “Yeah you need to.”  She sat up, nodding.  “They’ve gotten in you, too, those fallen angels.  They’re creeping around in the night, crawling into people.  Something bad’s going on in Heaven tonight.  You need my help.  You need to let me in.”

                Tanner shook his head.

                “I can’t go back to my house!” the woman said, suddenly sobbing.  “They’re there, they’ll always be there and I can’t look at them, how they are now.  Their heads all… I CAN’T STAND IT!”  She slid off the hood and paced in front of the car, pulling her hair and screeching.  “I can’t stand it, I can’t STAND it!”

                “Yeah, me either,” Rick said.  “You know we’re going to have to take this bitch down, right?”

                “No!  Maybe she’ll leave,” Jackson said.  “Maybe she’ll wander off again!”

                “That’s what I’m hoping,” Tanner said.  “I don’t want to have to hurt her.”

                “Me either,” Rick said, “but she ain’t gonna leave.  She’s got a captive audience and she’s having a breakdown.  Sounds like she killed her kids.”

                “Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking, too,” Tanner said, wondering if he and Rick could subdue her.  He was a big guy, in fairly good shape from painting houses for a living.  Rick was short, pudgy, and had some low level bank job that didn’t keep him in shape for anything but data entry, but Tanner knew he’d give it a try, just to protect Jackson.  Rick was always a stand-up guy when it came to women.  He’d had two younger sisters to look out for so it was in his nature.  But he wouldn’t want to have to hurt the woman, either.  “Maybe she’ll wander away, she’s so flipped out she could do anything, maybe forget we’re even here.  Go off chasing angels or what-the-fuck.”

                “Afraid that’s wishful,” said Rick.

                “Let’s just wait and see,” Jackson said, sitting back up, trying to be composed, wiping her face.  “If we have to fight it’s three on one, but maybe we can wait it out.”

                The woman was batting at a moth that was dive-bombing her, her nightgown glowing in the sodium arc light, something sheeny, faux-silken.  She swatted at the moth and then rushed to the driver’s side door and yanked at the handle, screeching.  Jackson yelped again and clutched Tanner as he leaned over against her.

                The woman stopped and leaned down, panting and fogging the window.  She nodded and said, “I’ll get in there.  I will.”

                She trotted a few steps away and found some loose gravel and began flinging it at the windows.  The rocks hit with sharp snaps, but bounced off without breaking anything… yet.

                “Cut it out! Stop it, goddamnit!” Tanner yelled.

                The woman screeched a laugh and kept flinging rocks.  They cowered in the car in case she managed to smash through.  She was throwing them hard, but they were all small rocks.  Tik-tik-tik.

                “You crazy… stop it!” Tanner yelled, laying across Jackson to shield her, just in case the window did give in.

                “LET ME IN!” the woman screamed, suddenly slapping at the window again, frenzied.  “AAAARRAAAAHHHHH!”  Her face was a nightmare, furious, all wide eyes and bared teeth in the dark.

                “FUCK OFF!” Tanner yelled, lunging at the window, and Jackson pulled him back, thinking he might be about to open the door.

                The woman ran off across the parking lot, and Rick said, “If she goes far enough, pop the trunk and I’ll jump out and grab my jacket.  God, I hope my cell phone’s charged.”

                “My trunk doesn’t pop,” Tanner said.  “Gotta use the key.”

                “Shit,” Rick sighed, watching the woman running back and forth about twenty feet away.  “If she goes far enough I’ll still try it.”

                “Don’t,” Jackson said.  “Don’t go out there.”

                “Do you think I want to?”  Rick laughed.  “I’d rather light my dick on fire!  But that bitch is going to get in here eventually.  It’s, what, eight hours or something before anybody else will show up?   Six at least, I don’t know when or if Dollar General opens on Sundays.  And there’s nothing else out here.  That flea market is over and that hair place down there looks abandoned.  Sure it wouldn’t open on Sunday, anyway.  We’re pretty fucked.”

                “She could just wander off,” Jackson said.  “Her mind’s all screwed up.  She wants out of here.  If she decides we can’t help her she may give up and run off.”

                “We can wish,” Rick said.  The woman ran back to the car and slapped at the windows again, screeching wordless rage.  She rushed off again, looking for something.  “She’s trying to find something to break a window,” he said.  “Somewhere there’s a rock big enough.”

                “Shut up,” Jackson said.

                “Just a fact.  Better get ready.”

                As if on cue the woman pried a chunk of asphalt the size of a cantaloupe out of a pothole and glared at the car with crazed triumph.

                “Oh shit,” Tanner said.

                She rushed the car again and began clubbing Jackson’s window.  Tanner kept his wits about him enough to snatch out the key before the window cashed out, littering the car with gummy cubes of safety glass.  Tanner grabbed Jackson and pulled her along with him as he opened the driver’s side door, and there was a brief tug-of-war as the woman grabbed Jackson’s leg.  Rick leaned over the seat and punched the woman’s arms until she let Jackson go, then she and Tanner spilled out into the parking lot, in a heap.

                Seeing the driver’s side door was open, the woman left the window and rushed around the car, still wielding the chunk of asphalt.

                Tanner and Jackson scrambled backwards, tangling and tripping each other up as they tried to get to their feet.  The woman grabbed at Tanner and swung the asphalt at his face but he managed to deflect the swing so it hit his arm instead; the hurt was bright electric pain.  “Jesus, lady!” he yelled, shoving at her, aware that his keys weren’t in his hand now.

                “I had to!” the woman yelled.  Her breath was sour, like someone just awakened.  “I had to do it!”

                “Okay!” Tanner said.  Jackson was up and running someplace.  He didn’t know where Rick was.  The crazy woman was a wild-haired shape between him and one of the street lights.   He shoved at her with the arm that wasn’t hurt, accidentally grabbing one of her boobs and feeling vaguely embarrassed despite the overwhelming terror.

                “They had the angels in them, the bad ones, the fallen ones,” the woman yelled.  “In my babies!  God!  I had to, I had to make them sleep!”

                Tanner rolled her over and dropped a knee into her, then stood up.  She was doubled up, for the moment at least.  He felt of his arm, flexed the fingers.  It didn’t feel broken but maybe sprained, certainly bruised like a bastard.  He looked around for his keys, wanting a tire tool more than he did Rick’s cell phone.  He didn’t see them anywhere.  Had he dropped them under the car, maybe?  Or inside the car?  Good luck finding them there in the dark.

                Rick was beside him, and he glanced past him and saw Jackson hanging back, watching.  Her face lit up for a second, then winked out.  Trying that cell phone again, stupid stubborn hope.

                “You have to take me away from here,” the woman said, sitting up.  Her face had fresh blood on it, this time her own, from coming through the window.  “They’re not going to understand, when they find them.”  Her voice choked, broke.  Her hand went to her mouth.

                “You just stay right there, don’t you move,” Tanner said.

                With tears on her face, gleaming pink in the sodium light, she laughed.  “That’s just what I said.  Don’t you move.  And they didn’t move.  Twitched for a minute, but then didn’t move.  Five and three.  They were.  Always will be.  Mama’s little angels.  Sleeping now.  Always will be.”  She sobbed and laughed at the same time.  “You think it’s bad, don’t you?”
               
                “I think you need help.  And if you just wait right there, maybe we can get it for you.”  He and Rick backed away.  “Just sit quiet and we’ll send help.”
               
                She wagged her head.  “They won’t understand.  They’ll send me back, forever this time.  I know how it works.  I can’t stay here.  I can’t go there.”

                “If you don’t stay back, we might have to hurt you, and we don’t want to do that.”

                “Yeah, lady just stay right there,” Rick said.

                “Wanda.  My name’s Wanda,” she said, sniffling.

                On instinct Tanner almost said “Pleased to meet you, Wanda” and wanted to laugh.

                “What are your names?” Wanda asked.  She climbed to her feet.  Tanner noticed she was wearing sneakers that looked like they’d been dipped in blood, as had the hem of her gown.

                “My name’s Tanner.  This is Rick and that’s Jackson.  And if you’ll just stay there, Wanda, we’ll send help for you.”

                “There’s no help after what I did,” she sob-laughed.  “Their little heads.  Bloomed open.  Like flowers.  They didn’t look like people anymore.  They weren’t people anymore.  That makes it easier.  It got easier the less they looked like them.  I don’t think I could have done it.”

                “Maybe we should just run,” Rick whispered.  Tanner glanced at the empty highway, far away, offering nothing, like a dry riverbed.

                “Tanner, Rick, Jackson,” Wanda said, pointing at each, then placed her palm on her chest.  “And Wanda.  Now we’re friends.”  She giggled.

                “Yeah, whoopie,” Rick breathed.  They were still edging back, away from her.  At any second she could rush them, close the gap inside a second.

                “Yeah, that’s good,” Tanner said.  “We’re friends and you need help, Wanda.  Why don’t you go sit in my car and rest while we go find you some.”

                “I’m suspicious,” Wanda said.  “I don’t know you.  We just met.”  She breathed deep, let it out.  “Tonight you can’t know anybody.”

                “It’s okay, just back up and go sit in the car.”

                “Uh uh.”  She wagged her head and stepped out of the light, became a black shape moving in the night.  “You wouldn’t let me in before.  You wouldn’t take me away, you wouldn’t help, you’re tricking me.  Don’t trick me.  Don’t be tricking me.”

                “They’re not tricking you,” Jackson said, moving up and grabbing Rick and Tanner’s arms.  “I know these guys, they’re good guys.  We want to help you, but you need to go sit in the car.  We’ll come back with help.”

                “Maybe I need to help you,” Wanda said.  “Maybe that’s why you’re here, so I can help you.”  She stepped into the light and her smile was terrifying, eyes bright with purpose and disconnect.   She was far too close, and they were all tensed.  If she started running she’d reach them before they could react, but if they turned and ran she would likely chase them.  It was like facing a growling dog.  One wrong move and violence would be happening.

                It would be three on one but she was homicidal, had already done something unthinkable tonight, and no one wanted to try tangling with her.  Life-or-death struggles were something everyone thought about, but being faced with the real thing, with options quickly running down to zero, was chilling.  And even if they subdued her, she could hurt them.  She’d already hurt Tanner; he was cradling his arm, and of the three of them he was the biggest and strongest.  Rick was willing to fight, but Jackson could probably beat him up.  He was no athlete. 

                And they were reluctant, while Wanda seemed eager for violence.  She had no fear, just excitement.  Agitation.

                They kept backing away, looking for weapons.  Tanner steered them back toward the Dollar General, hoping to find a brick or chunk of concrete to throw through the front window.  The store likely had a security system and a glass break would summon the police in a hurry.  Smash that window and they’d probably only have to fend Wanda off for about ten minutes.

                God, ten minutes.  Had it even been ten minutes since they first saw her?

                She started walking faster.
               
                Rick said, “Uh-uh, stay back,” but Wanda ignored it.  Jackson gripped their arms hard and pulled at them.  “Stay BACK!” Rick said again.   Wanda giggled.

                “I need to help you,” Wanda said, nodding.  “You need help.”   She reached down and picked up the neck of  a broken beer bottle near the base of one of the utility poles.

                Jackson yanked at Rick and Tanner hard and then they were running, and Wanda was shrieking, chasing.  There was no time for the smashing-the-window plan, and Wanda was herding them away from it, anyway, so they made for the highway.  It was dark and silent but it could lead to some area of civilization.

                Each was unwilling to split up and leave the others, so they had to run in a pack through the weeds.  Wanda reached them when they had to stop at the edge of the ditch.  Screaming, she slashed at them and Jackson and Rick both yelped in pain before Tanner shoved Wanda down, hard, and they all jumped the ditch and started running down the highway.

                “How bad did she cut you?” Rick gasped.

                Jackson held up her arm, showing a long, nasty slash, a slice drooling ribbons of blood.  “I think I need stitches.”

                “Jesus,” Rick said.  “She got my hand pretty good.  I tried to grab the bottle.”

                “You saved me from getting cut a lot worse,” Jackson said, sobbing and panting, both from panic and from running.  “Is she following us?  I can’t see her!”

                “She disappeared in the weeds when I knocked her down.  Probably looking for that damn bottle,” Tanner said, glancing back.

                “I hope she landed neck-first on the fucking thing,” Rick said, cradling his hand.  His shirt was already bloody.

                They ran through the nowhere until they were out of breath and were forced to slow down and walk, looking across lonely fields at distant lights.  Jackson’s arm, under the light of a utility pole, did need stitches, but the bleeding was slow so she’d make it.  Rick’s hand, also, would need stitches, most likely.  Tanner offered to tear up his shirt for bandages, but was refused.  The night was chilly and him getting pneumonia wouldn’t help anyone.  Besides, Jackson said, forcing a laugh, the damn  thing was probably filthy.  She’d often teased Tanner about his habit of putting off doing laundry.  He welcomed her sense of humor in the face of her having that slice in her arm.  Jackson would whine about little things like malfunctioning cell phones, but could be tougher about the bigger things.

                The night around them was quiet and still except for a breeze that gave a little wave to the weeds, but what in other circumstances would seem peaceful now just felt like prowling.  Wanda was out there, somewhere, creeping and keeping an eye on them while she probably looked for a better weapon.  The woman was brain-squirmingly crazy and wouldn’t be put off so easily.  They were her new project.

                They kept walking, watching, waiting.  The dread built.  It tasted like iron, smelled like blood, sounded like a pulse in the night.

                “Looks like a neighborhood up there,” Rick said, squinting past some trees.

                “I was just noticing that,” Jackson said.  “What you want to bet it’s where she lives?”

                “Probably so,” Rick said.  “I doubt she wandered too far from home in just a nightgown.”

                “I don’t know,” Tanner said.  “This is the South.  We’re used to shrugging off all kinds of aberrant behavior.”

                “Even if we don’t know the word ‘aberrant.’”

                “I know what it means but I can’t spell it,” Jackson said.  “Double B, double R, E or A?  Can’t we just go with ‘weird’?”

                Rick smiled.  “Anyway, even if it’s her neighborhood, somebody will have a phone and that’s all I want.”

                “If we don’t get shot for knocking on somebody’s door at one in the morning,” Jackson sighed.  “Shooting people’s part of that great Southern aberration.”

                “I’d be real happy to be arrested right now,” Tanner sighed.  “If they won’t answer the door maybe they’ll call the cops.  That’d be fine.”

                “Where do you think she is?” Jackson asked, looking around them, at all the dark and silence.  “Maybe she forgot about us and ran off.”

                “Maybe, but I’m not counting on it,” Tanner said.  “She’s probably sneaking around somewhere, watching us.  Planning to ‘help’ us, save us from the angels she was babbling about.”

                “I hope she didn’t really kill her kids,” Jackson said.  She was cradling her arm now and pain was making her voice tighten.

                ‘She got an awful lot of blood on her from somewhere,” Rick said.  “Did you see her shoes?  They looked like she marched through a swamp of it.”

                “Yeah, I noticed that,” Tanner said, staring back at the field of weeds between them and Dollar General’s parking lot, which was distant now.  He thought he’d seen something move back there but he couldn’t be sure.  The grass stirred.  His pulse was starting to even out after the running but it wasn’t slowing down all that much; the fear was still working on him.  Jackson and Rick were holding it together admirably, but they also looked terrified.  They were being hunted, he was certain.  Wanda was fixated and she was still out there, slinking through the night with a head full of crazy plans.  They had to find a phone.  In the meantime he kept looking for anything that could be used as a weapon, but nothing looked appropriate.  They’d passed a few sticks but none stout enough for a club.  There was plenty of broken glass, but all too broken, plenty of gravel, no rocks big enough.

                They kept walking to the neighborhood and then walking through it.  Most of the yards, they noticed, had For Sale signs, and even the houses that didn’t looked empty and abandoned, no cars in the driveways.  “Well, this place looks dead,” Rick said.

                Tanner scowled, not liking all the hedges, buildings, trees, all the hiding places.  Wanda could have figured out they’d come here – there was no place else to go – and might be lying in wait with something taken out of someone’s toolshed.  “Probably one of those neighborhoods they built, thinking there’s going to be development on this side of town.  When there isn’t, nobody wants to move in anymore.”

                “Be even fewer people wanting to live here one they find out they have neighbors like Wanda,” Rick said.

                “I see a light up there,” Jackson said, and began walking faster.  Rick and Tanner followed, then slowed as they saw that the light was coming from an open front door.  Jackson looked at the other two and frowned.

                “I don’t know about that place,” Rick said.  “An open door at one in the morning?”

                “It’s her house, isn’t it?” Jackson said.  “With her babies dead inside.”  She bit her fingers, staring at the doorway.  “Their heads bloomed open like flowers, she said.  And they didn’t look like people anymore.  That’s what’s in there.  In that house.”

                Tanner wanted to tell her it wasn’t, but knew it probably was.  But he also knew there was probably a phone in there and it was the one place Wanda wouldn’t want to go.  So he walked forward.

                “We’re not going in there?” Jackson hissed.

                “There’s a phone, I bet, and we need a phone.”

                “We don’t know that there’s a phone,” Jackson said.  “Who has land lines anymore?”

                “Then at least there’ll be a weapon,” Tanner said.  “And what if her kids are just hurt, not dead?”

                “With all the blood she walked through, they aren’t just hurt,” Rick said.  “Dude, I wouldn’t go in there.  You’re gonna see some shit you don’t want to see.  You wanna see shit I can’t even stand to think about?”

                They were in the yard now.  There was a hammer lying in the driveway, at the edge of the spill of light from the door, enough light to show them that it was clotted, the claw full of hair.  Jackson turned away from it, sobbing.  “Let’s go, let’s go home,” she whimpered.

                “I’m trying to get us there,” Tanner said.  “I’ve got to go in to do that.  You and Rick wait out here.  Keep watch.”

                Rick cradled Jackson to him.  “Be careful, man,” he said.

                “Yeah, don’t set the house on fire,” Tanner said.

                Rick snorted.  He and Tanner had a joke about how their parents must have considered them idiots when they were kids, telling them “don’t burn the house down” every time they left them alone for a few hours, like that’s the first thing they’d do if they weren’t reminded not to.  “Be careful” was an obvious warning Tanner didn’t need, going into what was almost certainly Crazy Wanda’s house, where two lives had already ended tonight.

                As he stepped through the door he knew there was no “probably” to it; the floor was smeared with bloody footprints.  He didn’t want to see where they led.  For all his talk to Jackson about the kids maybe only being hurt, he had no intention of trying to find them.  He didn’t think he could live with the sight.  He was sure he was signing on for a lifetime of nightmares just for being in the same house with the bodies.

                The bloody tracks led from a hallway to the right, where a doorway, fifteen feet away on the left, was open to a room with the lights on.  Tanner knew that was where the bodies were.  Nothing could have made him walk down that hall and look in that room.  Even the sight of the footprints made him want to flee the house.  There was a dread here so dense that he could almost hear it, a low whistle of blood pressure in his ears, his heart pushing it into his head, everything telling him to leave. 

                He’d gotten morbidly curious late one night a few years ago when he was still in high school and had looked at some of the real-life-gore sites on the internet, crime scene photos, murder victims, just to see if he could handle it.  He almost hadn’t been able to, had nearly greyed out over some photos.  They weren’t anything like the special effects in horror movies. 

                And something like that was in the room down the hall.  Still and quiet.

                He could smell them.  Iron, organic, voided bowels and open skulls and blood in a great quantity, a slaughterhouse scent.  Two children.  Five and three, she’d said.  Not looking like people anymore after what she’d done.  What she’d done.

                He was shaking as he kept walking toward a dark room.  The inside of his chest felt packed with Jello, quivering.  He felt for a light switch, holding his breath.  What if the light came on and they were in there, instead?

                What if she were in there?

                He flicked the light.

                A kitchen, bright and yellow.  It had probably been sunny and cheery once but now it was filthy and cluttered, Wanda’s housekeeping disintegrating with her mind.  There was a stale and sour smell, a deeper yellow than the paint, through which buzzed the last flies of summer.  Children’s drawings were magneted all over the refrigerator, smiling mom and kids, some happy yesterday. 

                He found a phone on the wall, a yellow one.  He’d never seen such a bright yellow phone, rain-slicker yellow, he didn’t know they made them.  It was dead, though, like everything in the house.  Either Wanda had let it go in favor of a cell phone, or as her insanity took over she’d just stopped paying the bills.  Nobody here to talk to anymore.

                He looked around through all the trash on the counters and tabletop – lots of crazy scribbled notes -- but didn’t see a cellphone.  The search of a drawer gave him a knife as a consolation prize.

                That’s when he heard Jackson and Rick screaming.

                Gripping the knife, he ran toward the door, then stopped.  He couldn’t see Rick or Jackson, just heard running footsteps off somewhere in the night.  It was an echoey street and he couldn’t even tell the direction for certain.  He stood in the doorway, peering hard at the darkness, seeing nothing but a lot of shadows where something could be.  His heart triphammered a panic beat and the knife he held was not as big as he’d like but it was a weapon at least.

                The hammer, he noticed, was no longer on the sidewalk.

                He hoped that Rick or Jackson had grabbed it, but he had his doubts that they’d be willing to touch it.  Especially Jackson, after she’d turned away crying at the sight of it.

                The night was still and silent now, the footsteps gone into the distance.  He was alone.

                He stepped out of the house, one cautious step, two, three.

                Wanda was standing in the yard, holding the hammer.

                Ice rocketed through him and he froze, not even breathing.  She stared at him.  The light spilling from a window into the yard lit only one of her eyes but it was wide, wild.

                “What did you do in my house?” she hissed, teeth bared in frenzy.  “WHAT DID YOU DO?!”

                She rushed at him with the hammer as he ducked on impulse, trying to meet her with a tackle, and a stab.  The stab connected to nothing and the hammer clubbed his back like a gunshot but his weight took her down and then he was running.  Behind him she was screaming.  Chasing?  He wasn’t sure, didn’t dare pause to look, his skin flinching in anticipation of another blow from the hammer.  He didn’t think the shot she’d gotten in had done any real damage but Christ it hurt, pain enough to make him want to curl up and just focus on breathing through it.  But he had to run.

                His footsteps echoed through the neighborhood and he looked for lights.  None.  He wasn’t even seeing cars in driveways.  Did anyone live here anymore?  “HELP!” he yelled.  “SOMEBODY HELP!”  If nothing else maybe Rick and Jackson could find him again.  Maybe somebody in some dark house would call the police, if not to save him then to complain about some nut screaming in the middle of the night.

                Finally, lungs aching, he paused and looked back.  An empty street.  He bent over, palms on knees, catching his breath.

                Down the street, behind him, lights came on in a house.

                “Thank god,” he whispered, and began walking back there.  His yelling had awakened someone.  They’d have a phone.

                As he neared the place, though, he saw two figures in the driveway.  One wore a nightgown.

                “He’s one of them!” Wanda shrieked, pointing.  “He’s one of them that killed my babies!”

                Tanner’s impulse was to run but he fought it back; this was a chance to save himself and maybe Jackson and Rick, too.  “Hold on, now, that lady’s crazy!” he said.  “I didn’t do anything.  She murdered her own kids and she’s been trying to kill me.”  He stuck the knife in his back pocket and held up his hands.

                “That’s not true!  LIAR!”  Wanda yelled.  “You killed my babies!”

                The man with Wanda, a heavyset white guy in a bathrobe, looked confused.  He frowned at Tanner, then Wanda, then back.  “What now?” he said.  “What’s this?”

                “I swear, mister, she’s out of her mind.  She’s been chasing me and my friends all over, from the Dollar General up the road.”  He stopped, holding his hands up.  “I’ll stay right here.  Just call the cops, let the come sort this all out.  I’m staying right here.  Just please get the cops.”

                “LIAR!  LIAR!” Wanda screamed, then pulled the hammer out from under her arm and started flailing at the man.

                “HEY!” he yelped, holding up a hand, which promptly lost a finger to the bludgeoning of the hammer; Tanner saw it bend back and fly off.  The man’s next yell was cut off as the hammerhead chopped right into his mouth, then yanked back out and fell again, whudding into his face with a football-punt sound of solidity, then fell again, plugging an eye socket.  Wanda was in a crazed frenzy, a blur of violence that the man was already crumbling beneath.  He squealed through a mouth now missing half its teeth, rolling over, trying to shield his head with his arms, only to have them broken, too.  And Wanda was laughing in triumph, not stopping.

                Tanner was stunned.  He should run, but which way?   It was clearly too late to help the man, but did he have a wife, maybe kids, in the house?  A phone would likely be in there.  Did he dare to try to rush past Wanda?  He didn’t want to be anywhere near the frenzy he was seeing unleashed on the man now dead on his lawn, the sound of the hammer dropping an octave as it thwacked into stew instead of skull.

                Panting, Wanda stopped, straddling his chest and smiling down at him.  Her nightgown was considerably bloodier now, sodden.  She looked like Carrie on her trip home from the prom.  She stared up at Tanner, her eyes and teeth just wet places in the dark.  “You have to make a big enough hole to let the angels out,” she gasped.  “It’s work.  Come see.”  She waggled a come-here finger.

                Tanner took the knife out and held it against his leg, low, ready to swing up and stick.  He crept closer, deciding to make it into the house.  If she moved he’d plow into her, stabbing.  After what he’d seen, and felt, he could do it now… almost wanted to do it.

                Wanda thunked the hammer’s claw end down into the mess that, seconds ago, had been a face.  She wrenched the hammer deep, setting it in bone, and pried at it, grunting.  A rush of dark blood washed across the sidewalk.  “Now the angels can get out. See them?”  Wanda tilted her head back, spread her arms, and smiled at the sky, bloody and blissful, seeing wonderful things that weren’t there, a sky full of glories.

                Tanner stepped around her and made for the house.

                “Hey!” Wanda yelled and he got in quickly enough to slam the door in her face and lock it. 

                A woman in the hallway yelped, and he looked up.  She was a short, pale, grey-blonde in a tee-shirt and panties, an oddly teenage sleeping ensemble for a woman around sixty.  A little girl about ten – a granddaughter, he guessed – was clinging to her, squeaking in pitiful fear.  “Who are you?  Get out of my house!  Raymond!” the woman yelled.

                Wanda rattled the doorknob, then started hammering it.

                “Call the police!” Tanner said.  “There’s a crazy woman out there!  Call the cops, NOW!”

                The woman kept screaming about Raymond but the little girl ran for the back of the house.

                “Who are you!?  Who’s out there?!” the woman yelled.  “Get out of my house!”

                “There’s a crazy woman out there,” Tanner said, though it was obvious by now, the way Wanda was attacking the door.  “Her name’s Wanda, lives down the street, she murdered her kids, she’s been trying to kill me…”

                “Wanda Kilpatrick?  Oh my god, we knew she was crazy, but… oh my god!  Raymond!  What did she do to Raymond?”

                “Just call the cops, lady!”  Tanner said.  The door was already making splintering noises.  “She’s going to be in here in no time!  Call the cops!  If you have a gun, get it!”

                “Raymond has a gun, I don’t know where he keeps it,” she said.  “Oh god, what did she do to Raymond?”

                “Just call the cops,” Tanner said, looking around for anything that’d make a better weapon than the knife.  The cluttered living room offered nothing, it seemed all pillows.  Can I smother her? he thought, almost wanting to laugh.  Maybe they’d work as a shield, but what he wanted was a shotgun, a machete, a chainsaw, a panzer.

                Wanda stopped pounding the door and Tanner could hear the little girl in the back of the house, talking to the cops.  “Meemaw, what’s the address here?  What’s the address?” she asked, coming up the hallway.

                “Meemaw” turned to take the phone from the girl and a stone the size of a loaf of bread smashed through the front window, taking most of the glass with it.  Tanner hissed as the glass showered him and he covered his eyes and ducked behind a chair.  Another big rock, part of the landscaping around the hedges out front, came sailing through most of the glass that was left.   Wanda, looking like sheer bloody madness, started climbing in, raking glass aside with her hammer.  She was panting, laughing, babbling something about angels.

                There were screams in the back of the house, and a door slamming, the knob rattling as it was frantically locked.  Good, Tanner thought.  The woman and the girl were safe, for now.  And the cops were on the line.  In minutes they should be here, gunning this nightmare down.

                Meanwhile he was locked out, out here with Wanda, who was smiling through blood, mouthing something crazy, stepping in.  She pointed the hammer at him and whispered, like some naughty secret was being shared just between them.  “YOU… are filled with angels!  And they’re waking up!”  She smiled so wide and crazy that her face was hardly human.  “I can help you.  I will light up the sky.”

                “You just stay back,” Tanner said, pulling a cushion off the couch; it wasn’t much but now that he was looking at that hammer it didn’t seem so ridiculous.  He wanted anything between himself and it, and there wasn’t anywhere to run.  He could try the room behind him but he didn’t know the layout of the house and was as likely to corner himself as he was to find a door.

                “If you’re still it’s quicker,” Wanda said, with the consoling tone of a nurse about to give you a shot.  “That guy in the driveway… that went bad.  It doesn’t have to be like that.  But the angels have to come out.  They aren’t the good kind of angels.  They’re nasty squirming muddy angels, they’ll rot you inside like a bad apple.  You don’t think I’d have done that to my babies if I had any other choice, do you?  I loved them!  I LOVED THEM!”  She shrieked at him so hard her body shook, and a chill shot through Tanner like electric current.  She wiped at tears and just made her face bloodier.

                “Just stay back,” he said.  “You’re confused, Wanda.  You’re confused, you need help.”

                “Am I?” she asked.  “I had to make them sleep.  They have to sleep.  If they don’t sleep, they never leave you alone.”

                “Do you have some pills to make them stop?”  Tanner asked.  Back in the parking lot she’d said something about being “sent back,” which made him think she’d been institutionalized before.  She probably had medication, probably the only way they’d let her keep her children.  “You’re confused, Wanda.  You need your pills, not the hammer.”

                “How do you know about the pills?”  she asked.  “I had some, once.  Not for a while.  Insurance quit paying for them.  Didn’t need them anymore, I figured.  I got cured.  I was happy and cured, didn’t need any pills.  I used the money to buy toys for the kids.  I didn’t think I needed pills anymore.  Did I?”

                “Why don’t you sit down and wait, and we’ll find you some?”  Tanner said.  He was listening hard for sirens, glancing at the window for flashing lights.  Nothing.  Was time even moving?  So much could happen in a space of seconds.  “What you need is the pills.  Not the hammer.  You’re confused.”

                The self-doubt was working.  Wanda had been confused before, so perhaps she’d betrayed herself again.  That’s what she must be thinking, Tanner thought.  He needed to feed that.  It was making her pause.  His back and arm were killing him, throbbing and stiffening with pain, and he was having doubts that in his condition he’d do well against a frenzied woman with a hammer.  A size and weight advantage weren’t enough; he’d seen that much from what happened to Raymond.  Wanda’s mind had her going like a shark in a feeding frenzy and she could wreak incredible damage with that goddamned hammer.  He needed the cops.  Or Meemaw to find Raymond’s gun.  Or Rick and Jackson to come back with an axe or something.

                None seemed to be forthcoming.  But Wanda was paused.

                “When I had the pills, there were no angels,” Wanda said.  It seemed a surprise to her.

                “That’s right.  The pills are what kept the angels away, Wanda.  Not the hammer.  Put it down and sit down and we’ll find somebody to bring you pills.”

                “I won’t be tricked by you!” Wanda screeched.  She jerked the hammer at the air, testing the feel of it.  In a second she could be putting it to work.  A clump of clotted hair fell from it.  More dangled from the claw’s tines.

                “I’m not tricking you,” Tanner said, trying to keep his voice calm.  “Think!  Slow down and think. You feel confused, don’t you?”

                Wanda stared at him, blank.  Then her face crumpled.  “Oh god,” she cried.  “OH GOD!”

                Tanner held his breath, said nothing.

                “I did the wrong thing, didn’t I?  Oh god, I did the wrong thing!”

                Tanner motioned for her to sit.  She shook her head, hard, and stared at her bloody arms, the clotted hammer.

                Tanner thought he heard sirens, far off in the distance.  Coming here?  Stopping some speeder out on the highway?  The blood pressure was whistling in his ears so hard he couldn’t be sure heard them at all.  He wondered if all the pain in his chest was from the hammer blow he’d taken in the back.

                Wanda sobbed and screamed, then screamed, then screamed.

                Tanner stepped back and put the easy chair between himself and her.  It’d mean an extra second of life if she had to come over it.  His hands were trembling and he was disturbed to find that he couldn’t stop them.

                “I DID THE WRONG THING!” Wanda wailed.  “My babies!  The angels weren’t in them!  I – I – I – I did that, I did that… and the angels weren’t in them.”  She stared at Tanner, eyes shining like diamonds with madness and tears.  “The angels were IN ME!  THEY WERE IN MEEEEEEEEEE!”

                Tanner held his breath.  Sirens, he was pretty sure those were sirens, moving through the night. 

                Wanda’s face was contorted in the worst anguish Tanner had ever seen, a moment of clarity coming to someone who could bear anything but that.  Then, as though a cinching string had been cut, her face slackened and took on a look of calm sadness.  “I’m so sorry I bothered you.  The angels aren’t in you.  They’re in me.  And I have to let them out now.”

                Then it happened.

                When the police arrived they found Tanner shaking on the front step, trying to deal with the image of what Wanda had managed to do to her own skull with the hammer before she died.  She’d been determined, oh, god, so determined it didn’t seem possible.  The angels had been given plenty of room to escape and were, assuredly, sleeping now.

                He sat looking for new lights in the sky, but all he found was a vaster darkness.









                                                                              THE END


Copyright 2017 by me

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