by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Billie was in the middle of cooking dinner, when the lights went out. She looked out the window; as lightning flashed in the sky and cursed under her breathe. “Well, at least the oven is gas,” she mumbled, as she rummaged through the drawers, looking for a match, “and candlelight would be romantic.”
Lighting candles, she made her way into the living room of the summer cottage. Looking out the window, she couldn’t help but chuckle. It had been a rough week in the city and even though it was still early in the season, Rob had insisted that they take off for the weekend, getting away from all the day to day stress. He had said it would be fun to be up in the mountains, with no one else around.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Rob had arranged this, just so he could be alone in the dark with me.” Billie said, to herself, and then laughed as Sam thumped his tail in protest.
“Alright, alright, so he could be alone in the dark with us.” she said, reaching down and scratching the big dog behind his ear.
“Where is Rob anyway,” Billie wondered, looking at the clock. “He should have been here by now. The storm must have slowed him down. I guess I can forgive him just this once.” she sighed, checking her hair in the mirror. Sam woofed approvingly and picking up a candle, Billie made her way back into the kitchen.
The back door was standing open, rain pouring in, onto the floor. Billie rushed across the room, slamming the door shut, locking it, so the wind couldn’t blow it open again.
“Just great!” Billie exclaimed, pulling the meatloaf from the oven and then grabbing a mop to clean the water up, off of the floor.
Glancing out the window again, she screamed as she saw a face peering in at her. The face moved away from the window and a moment later there was a knock on the kitchen door.
“It’s Mr. Fletcher,” a voice called out and Billie breathed a sigh of relief.
“What are you doing out in the storm?” Billie asked, letting the old man in.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Fletcher said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was driving by and saw the light in the window, just before the power went out. I didn’t know you and your husband were going to be up this weekend. I was just checking to make sure it wasn’t some vandals.”
“It was a last minute decision.” Billie explained. “We needed to get away and we thought it would be quiet without the usual summer crowd. We didn’t even think about notifying you.”
“Hey, it’s none of my business,” Mr. Fletcher said, throwing his hands up in mock protest. “You two kids don’t need to explain anything to a nosy old man like me. I’ve just been trying to keep an eye on things around here, especially after the Bakers cottage was broke into a few weeks ago.”
“That’s terrible!” Did anything get stolen?”
“No, but the place was messed up. Some food was missing from the freezer, but everything of value was left alone. Probably some kids trying to have some fun. No respect for anyone’s property these days. By the way, where is Rob?”
“He had to work late, so I came on ahead. I thought he’d be here by now, but I guess the storm has him held up.” Billie looked out the window, a tinge of worry creeping into her voice.
“Oh, don’t you worry none,” Mr. Fletcher assured her. “I’m sure he’ll be along. Would you like me to wait with you until he gets here?”
“No, that’s okay,” Billie said, pushing her worries aside. “It’s just an early spring storm. Probably be over in no time. Rob will be here as soon as it lets up.”
“Well, okay,” Mr. Fletcher said, heading towards the door. “The Missus is probably wondering what’s keeping me as well. I’ll check on you in the morning. By the way,” he said, stopping just inside the door, “make sure you keep the place locked up. Vandals are one thing, but there was an escape from the hospital last night. Probably long gone by now, but until they catch him, the police have asked us to be extra careful.”
“Really?” Billie asked, feeling a chill as she remembered the open back door. “Well, I’m sure he’s headed towards civilization and not up into the mountains. Besides, I have Sam to protect me,” she said, referring to the big dog, now sleeping in the next room.
Sam may be just a mutt, but he was loyal and brave. She and Rob had never determined what kind of a mix he was, something between a lab and a St. Bernard. She trusted Sam completely to keep her safe. No escaped patient from a mental hospital would even dare mess with him.
“Like I said,” Mr. Fletcher repeated, “he’s probably long gone. Just the same, be careful.” With that, he bid her a good night and disappeared into the storm.
“Escaped mental patient.” Billie grumbled. “Just lovely.” She turned her attention back towards the meatloaf, turning the oven to low and placing it back inside.
“If Rob isn’t here soon, I may just eat without him.” Her stomach twinged a bit, as she drained the potatoes and began mashing them by hand.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sound of breaking glass, followed by the sound of a dog yelping. “Sam!” Billie called, but the dog had gone silent. “Rob?” she yelled, her voice sticking in her throat as this time she called for her husband. There was no answer. Gripping a knife she pulled from the kitchen drawer, Billie inched towards the living room.
Laying on the floor next to where Sam had been sleeping, lay a vase that had been on an end table. Sam was gone. Billie realized he must have bumped the table, as he’d lumbered to his feet. Sam was a big dog and the small cottage didn’t give him much room to maneuver.
Then Billie noticed the blood on the floor. “Sam must have gotten cut by the glass,” she thought to herself, noticing that drops of blood heading toward the bedroom. Concerned, she went to check on him.
“Poor baby.” Billie said. “I hope he’s not hurt too bad.” She checked in the bedroom, but the big dog wasn’t in there.
“That’s strange.” Billie said. “I thought for sure he’d be hiding under the bed. She knew, that even though Sam was big and would go to great lengths to protect her and Rob, he was really just a big baby. If he thought he’d done something to get himself in trouble, he’d always run and hide under the bed. Or at least try to hide under the bed, since his frame was too big to fit under all the way. She always thought it was funny, finding him with his back end sticking out from underneath, while he firmly believed he was hidden from view. No matter his crime, she was never able to stay mad at him when she found him under her bed. But this time Sam wasn’t there, which was really strange, since there wasn’t anyplace a dog his size could hide.
“Sam, where are you?” she called She waited, expecting to hear him padding towards her, ready to jump up and lick her face; but all she heard was the sound of thunder and rain pelting against the windows.
“Sam,” she called again, uncertainty creeping into her voice. There was something very wrong with his silence, the drip, drip of the faucet sounding ominous against the opressive void left in her pets absence.
Gripping the knife she still held, Billie crept towards the bathroom, hoping to find Sam hiding in there. The dripping in the tub was causing her stomach to tighten, as she recalled an old horror story she’d once heard as a teenager. Ironically, the story had involved an escaped mental patient, a dog and a woman alone; along with an ominous dripping in the bathroom.
She pulled back the shower curtain and breathed a sigh of relief at the empty tub. Loosening her grip on the knife, she reached in with her other hand and tightened the knob on the faucet.
Determined to find Sam, she turned and headed back into the bedroom. stopping dead when she entered the room. Laying in the middle of the floor, where he hadn’t been, just moments ago, was her beloved pet; slit open from his throat, down to his belly, his entrails spilling out onto the floor in a bloody mess. Billie dropped the knife and screamed.
“Oh God, no!” Billie moaned, as she dropped to her knees beside her old friend. “No!” she wailed, pulling the mutt into her arms. Hearing the floorboards creak out in the hall, she sucked in her breath. Grabbing the knife, she got to her feet and quietly headed to the door.
Putting her ear to the door Billie heard someone breathing on the other side. It was a raspy, shallow sound, nothing like her husband's familiar breathing. Billie knew there was no way it was Rob. If only it were, he’d know what to do. Billie remembered what Mr. Fletcher had told her about the escaped patient. She pictured a deranged man on the other side, crazed and hungry for blood. Raising her knife, she opened the door and screaming, plunged the knife into the being on the other side.
Mr. Fletcher’s eyes opened wide in surprise and he stood there a moment, before stumbling back against the wall. “I heard you scream.” he said, his hands grasping at the knife in his chest. Billie stared in shock at the blood seeping through his shirt. Then, sliding down the wall, Mr. Fletcher breathed in a ragged breath and died.
Billie moaned, as she realized what she had done. Hearing her scream, Mr. Fletcher had come back to check on her. Billie bent over the old man, her tears falling on his anguished face, offering an apology. Then she realized that whoever had killed Sam was still in the cottage. Pulling herself together, she did what she never would have imagined doing. Saying a quick prayer and offering an apology to her neighbor, she gripped the knife and pulled it from his chest.
Putting her back to the wall, she inched down the hall, towards the living room. When she’d reached the end, she stopped, took a couple of slow breaths, and then looked around the corner into the living room.
It was empty. Billie breathed a sigh of relief and then turned her attention towards the kitchen, the only room left where he could be.
“No way I’m going in there,” she told herself and trying to keep quiet, moved towards the front door. Silently, picking up her keys and her cell phone she threw open the door and tore out of the cottage, heading for her car.
Putting her keys in the ignition, she prayed the car would start. She’d seen enough horror flicks to know that when you were running from a psycho killer the car usually didn’t start. The engine roared to life. Shifting into reverse, she raced down the drive and onto the road. Switching to drive before she fully cleared the drive, Billie sped away, not looking back to see if he was chasing her.
“I’ve got to get to town and get help.” she sobbed to herself. She continued to cry, recalling Sam in the middle of her bedroom, his guts spilled out, onto the floor. Then Mr. Fletchers face, his eyes open wide in surprise, as she plunged the knife into his chest.
“He was just a sweet old man.” Billie sobbed. “If he hadn’t been so worried about me, he’d still be alive.”
Flipping open her cell phone, Billie attempted to dial 911, but she knew it would be useless. She didn’t even know why she’d bothered bringing the phone into the cabin in the first place. There was no signal in the mountain, no tower nearby to transmit her call. That was one of the things she and Rob loved about the place. No phone lines, no cell phones, no interruptions. They could get away from everything and everyone.
Rounding the curve, she saw headlights up ahead. There was a car parked on the side of the road and recognizing it as Rob’s, she pulled over. Stumbling out of the car, she raced to his, anxious for the security of his arms. Everything was going to be alright, Rob would know what to do. He always knew what to do.
Reaching the car, she pulled the drivers door open, tears falling as she prepared to tell him everything that had been happening. Instead, she screamd as Rob fell out, onto the ground.
His throat had been slit and in her hysteria she noticed his eye sockets were empty. Horrified, Billie fell backwards away from her husband, gagging on vomit and struggling to understand what had happened.. Pushing herself back to her feet, Billie’s eyes locked onto the rearview mirror in her husbands car and she sagged to the ground again as she registered what was dangling there. His eyes, strung together by a piece of string, were hanging from the mirror as though they were some trinket from a novelty shop. Then to her horror she heard something else; the click of a car door opening. Terrified, she turned around and saw a rail thin man crawling out of the back of her car. He had a jagged scar on the side of his face and his eyes held a look of mental depravity in them. He began moving towards her, a butcher's knife in his hands scraping along the side of the car. Without wasting a minute, Billie turned and ran, plunging into the side of the woods.
She ran for her life, stumbling blindly through the woods, not daring to check behind her to see if he was close on her heels. Stumbling out of the woods and into a clearing, she saw the Fletcher’s cabin up ahead.
“Mrs. Fletcher!” she screamed, banging on the door. “Open up! Mrs. Fletcher, please let me in!”
The old woman opened the door, looking bewildered.
“What’s wrong honey?” She asked, pulling the woman inside. “What on earth are you doing, running around on a night like this?”
“We have to go!” Billie panted. “He’ll be here soon. We have to go. Where are your car keys? We have to go!”
“Calm down dear,” Mrs. Fletcher said, sounding unnervingly calm in the midst of Billie’s panic. “Now tell me, what’s wrong?”
“The man who escaped from the hospital, he’s after me! He’ll be here any moment.”
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Fletcher said. “He’s long gone. Probably miles away by now.”
“No!” Billie screamed, trying to get the woman to understand. “He killed Sam and Rob and oh, Mrs. Fletcher,” Billie moaned, “Mr. Fletcher is dead.”
“Mr. Fletcher?” she asked, unbelieving. “Tom? He killed Tom?”
Billie moaned, shaking her head. “I thought he was the killer. I’d just found Sam and I heard him on the other side of the door. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know it was him.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” Mrs. Fletcher asked, her voice sounding like steel.
“Behind her, Billie heard the door open and close. Turning, she saw a gleam in his eyes, his knife tracing the scar on the side of his face. Billie backed against the closet door, screaming for Mrs. Fletcher to run, but bizarrely, the old woman remained where she was.
Then Billie realized something else that was odd. All of the lights in the Fletcher’s cottage were lit. If the storm had taken out her electricity, it should have taken out the whole mountain. She also noticed a pair of overalls lying across the back of a kitchen chair. They were a horrible color of orange, the kind worn by patients at the mental hospital.
“Have you met my son?” Mrs. Fletcher asked. “He just got back from a long vacation. Too long. I really missed him. “I’ll never let anyone take him from me again.”
Billie turned her head, looking into Mrs. Fletcher’s eyes. She’d never noticed it before, but there was a glint of madness in them, very much like her son’s. Also, like her son, she held a knife in her hand. One that was pointed directly at her.
copyright 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar. All rights reserved.