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The Ward

by

Bobby R. Woodall







ONE

The sensual woman watched with horror as the blood oozed from her pores in her hands, and screamed at the top of her lungs. A bloodcurdling shriek, that exploded from a throat rubbed raw. This screech made the hair's on a strong man's back raise in alarm. The sound of someone scrapping their fingernails across the blackboard. A spine tingling noise, or to clench one's teeth.

She felt her brain cracking in half, her vision blurred, and the room was plunged into total darkness. As dark as the inside of an abandoned crypt. The silence was deafening to her ears. The coldness she felt, was the utter coldness of a star in the heavens that had been extinguished eons ago. It was a bone-chilling numbness that enveloped her wracked body.

The terror had begun and there was no way she could halt it. She fell to the floor, frantically trying to feel her way to the doorstep. Twenty feet away was her escape, for survival. The evil that was pervading this house was sure to crush her if she stayed--what a fool she had been to think she had erased it.

Her screams became louder, resounding off the walls. Then the hoarseness of her voice changed to low almost intermittently moans of anguish. Her body felt inflamed, almost liquid. Welts erupted into sores that festered as she felt her flesh began to drip off her well-shaped body. These eruptions were like tiny volcanoes leaving streaming pools of mire behind as they coursed down her frame.

She crawled, blindly, and reluctantly toward the hallway. Hands that were withered, she placed over her ears trying to shut out the tumult that surrounded her. Knowing salvation was just a few feet away, she moved her body toward the hall. Safety so near, yet so very far away. The doorway seemed to be receding from her at an alarming rate as if it was caught in a never-ending whirlpool.

I will keep my sanity, she thought, the witch was wrong. My past cannot suffocate me. I know I have done wrong, but Father in heaven, please help me. Frantically, she fingered the cross hanging from a thin chain around her slender neck.

The door suddenly opened and slammed shut, with a force so hard it shook the windowpanes that made her instantly cringe. The portal taunted her with its closeness. A freezing rain pelted against the windows. The panes suddenly shattered, raining sharp shards of glass down upon her. These slivers of glass instantly pierced her body, causing more cuts. Wherever they struck her body, small lagoons of her blood would flow freely to the floor. These pools would slowly trickle down her extremities, and congeal quickly once they touched the floor. She tried unsuccessfully to staunch this crimson tide, but to no avail. It continued to flow as if it was animated.

The lights flickered on and off, creating a blinding blur. Sparks exploded in the corners of the room, igniting a fire that caught and held. This inferno was different. It not only consumed everything it touched, but seemed to crystalize the objects in its preordained path. This was a cold fire, so very cold. It seemed to consume and freeze.

She stopped her agonizing movement when she saw the flames surround her. The seemed to lick at her legs. Gently caressing and at the same time relentlessly tugging her toward oblivion.

The oxygen in the air was being depleted. She couldn't seem to breathe. Raising her hands to her face, she saw to her horror, that they had became as talons of an eagle. She clawed at her eyes, but the blackness remained. Trying to will her eyelids open, but they stayed closed.

She heard the dim beginnings of a mumbled chant, and what seemed like hundreds of footsteps approaching the house. These crunching steps sounded like someone was walking across a room filled with tiny bodies of cockroaches.

Then, the Ouija board appeared, spinning, as if poised in the eye of an intimate tornado. The cyclone roared with anguish. It was like a being in the clutches of some unseen horror. This sound was spine-tingling.

Suddenly, she could sense someone or something in the room with her. A rancid smell permeated the room, a cloying smell as if something was dead and rotting. It made the hair on her the back of her neck stand up in alarm. Her eyes began to cross, then started to rotate obscenely in her eye sockets, as her whole body shook. She clamped her lips tightly shut, but her throat muscles were still convulsing. The gorge subsided, but leaving a foul taste in her mouth.

Over in the corner, a shadow moved. Slowly it crept toward her. She tried to transverse the room, away from the advancing menace. No matter how hard she tried, her leg would not obey her commands to move.

Stretching out her arms, she was able to grasp the bottom of the sofa. She pulled herself forward, as he fingernails began to crack, and finally break off. Her bright blood started to gush forth from her broken and battered fingernails. The crimson fluid began to cascade down her forearms. She was barely able to move, ever so slowly, inch by inch.

She felt something cold and clammy touch her right foot. Glancing to her foot, she saw a black tentacle wrapping around her ankle. She did not have the strength to push it away. Glancing toward the sofa, she was shocked to find, the sofa had turned into the repulsive head of a giant squid! Its mouth gaping wide to reveal a large yellow beak. The tentacles were placing their suction cups against her thigh. Their tugging was bringing her closer to the yawning chasm of a mouth that clicked open and shut.

Outside, the chants were becoming louder and closer. Footsteps were now sounding on the front porch. In a moment, they would come crashing into the room where she was lying in torment and fear.

Why had she thought, she could outsmart the old haggard witch? Why had she come to this house alone? Little did she know that the Black Sabbath rite she had humorously performed would be of no succor. These questions, and myriad others leaped to the forefront of her mind, as she lay there helpless and vulnerable.

The flames were getting nearer now. Again, her body felt wracked by pain. Her breathing became quicker, her heart palpitating, and her arms were becoming more rigid. Muscles quivering, as if they were tiny figurines being consumed by a superheated fire.

The scratching stopped, the chanting curtailed, and the shuffling footsteps ceased. Everything came top a standstill. Then, the door crashed open, the room seemed to revolve, and she started to slide toward certain annihilation. It would soon be all over, she thought ruefully.

TWO

"Linda! Linda!" a distant voice shouted, from somewhere in space. A hollow, but reverberating sounding voice.

Hands were grabbing her by the shoulders. Trying to pull away from this intrusion, she resisted. Finally, getting no relief, her eyelids began to flutter and she awoke to see a pudgy doctor and a slim nurse standing over her bed. The doctor, James Abbot was shaking her arms.

Audra Atkins was hovering over her bed as a mother hen checking her chicks. She even started to cluck like a hen.

"Linda," James said gently, "you were having another of your nightmares."

"Yes, my dear," Audra spoke soothingly, as she smoothed out the pillow behind Linda's head. "Don't worry any. We are here to protect you."

Linda, her head bathed in perspiration, her nightgown bunched about her hips, and her hands grasping the sheet, could only look up mutely. Quickly, she turned her head and glanced out the window. The window had bars, and at first, she was alarmed, but then remembered where she was. WOODALL'S WEEPING WILLOW SANITARIUM the sign outside her window proclaimed. She had been here for over two years!

Linda Rouhib had come here, since her nightmares had started. The staff had assured her guardian that they could help her. Months of electric shock, followed by ice cold plunges in the nearby lake were no help at all. At first, the nightmares had been mild, but lately, they were intensifying. Tonight's had been the worst.

"I'll be all right," she croaked through dry chapped lips.

"I will check on you later, Linda," James intoned, with a strange gleam in his eyes. Looking at the nurse, he nodded good night, and went out the door.

"But, Doctor," Linda started to say, only to find she was talking to a closed door.

"There, there," Audra said. "You will be fine in the morning. Tomorrow, we can talk about it in group therapy."

The nurse started from the room and gently closed the door. Linda could hear the faint click as the door was locked. Then the faint sounds of the nurse's shoes as they receded down the hall.

Presently, the lights went out. The room was as dark as an archaic mausoleum. Linda fluffed her pillow, pulled the sheet up to her throat, and rolled over. Then shuddering, she closed her eyes.

"I'm going to sleep now," she muttered aloud. "I will not dream anymore!"

Two hours had passed, Linda had drifted off to sleep, and her breathing became regular. The sanitarium became quiet for the night. All was still, the crickets were chirping their nightly symphony, frogs were croaking at the pond, and fireflies were scattered over the landscape.

Out in the hall, Jeff Corey, the night janitor, began his nightly task of polishing the floors. He had huge arms and the muscles were rippling in his arms as he began to weave the polisher on the floor. The light was reflected off his bald pate. His baldness, his muscular build, combined with his fastidiousness, had earned him, the epitaph of Mr. Clean. When he was halfway through, he stopped.

"What's that?" Jeff wondered aloud. Turning his head to the side, he listened. Nothing.

"Hrump!" he mumbled, shrugged his shoulders, and resumed his work.

Finishing his chore, Jeff went outside for his nocturnal ritual of smoking. He fished in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes. Jeff unwrapped the cellophane from the package and placed a cigarette in his mouth. Removing a match from his pants pocket and drug it across the stone wall. Jeff lit his cigarette and ambled to one of the many chaise lounges that decorated the patio. He sat, leaned back, and thoughtfully drew the smoke into his lungs. Jeff felt more restful as he blew smoke rings into the night air.

Linda's door slowly creaked open. Doctor James Abbot stood outlined in the opened doorway. He glanced up and down the hallway and saw no one. The doctor quietly closed the door and placed a chair under the knob. The hypodermic in his hand sparkled as the moonlight bounced off it. Softly, he crept stealthily to Linda's bed.

The light from the moon cast an ethereal glow upon her features. Her long black hair was forming a halo on her pillow, and her lips were slightly parted. The tension was all gone, her facial muscles seemed to be relaxed. A hint of a smile traced a shadow on her lips.

As the doctor stared at the young woman, he felt a pang of remorse for what he was about to do to her. But, it had to be done tonight!

THREE

He had reached the end of his rope. The knot that was holding the rope to the ledge was slipping. He was falling toward the dark abyss below. Jagged rocks awaited him with outstretched arms, as a lover welcomes her lover. He could feel the ends of his coat flapping against his side. The wind was whistling around his head, and through his hair as he plummeted down, down, down.

As he was tumbling head over heels, he realized, he would impact the earth with an incredible speed. If his body wasn't buried deep in the earth, it would certainly be smashed into a million pieces, or be splattered all over.

He knew that if he tried to stand straighter, upon impact. His knees would be driven into his chest, as the bones in his legs would act as sharp sticks to impale him. On the other hand, if he lay horizontal, the force of his landing would emphasis the old adage, 'when an irresistible force meets an immovable object, then . . . Of course, that was all academic. Either way, he would still; be dead!

"Roderick! Roderick!" his mother shouted. "Time to wake up. You are going to be late for your duties at the college."

Roderick Bockmiller woke up and was immediately happy to find himself in his bed. The nightmare caused him to lay back and place his hands behind his head. His body was bathed in sweat, his legs felt tight, and his stomach cramped. Swinging his legs out of bed, he tried to strand. Surprised to find his knees were wobbly, he stumbled to the dresser.

Squinting his eyes, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. Narrow face, bloodshot green eyes, his mustache askew, and a receding forehead. He ran his fingers over his scalp, (male pattern baldness, take it after my grandfather), he thought. Then he ran his moustache comb carefully through his mustache. Because of his height of over six feet, he had to scrunch down so he could see himself more clearly.

"He's a perfect Mama's boy," were the snide comments, made by a few of the faculty at the college where he was employed.

Halleyville Junior college was nestled at the edge of Halleyville in souther Indiana. Two rivers, the Flatrock and the White were nearby. Come every spring, the rivers would overflow their banks, deluging the surrounding countryside. The farmers would often complain, but they were appreciative of the rich bottom land left after such an inundation.

The community of Halleyville, population four thousand three hundred and forty-one, was where everyone shopped. If name brands were sought, the cities of Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinnati were within driving distance. Victorian values were present, any hanky-panky was wanted, one went to the larger metropolises, out of sight, out of mind.

The town had a gazebo in the square, where during the lazy days of summer, the town's small band played their weekly concerts. The band serenaded not only people from town, but the ones in the surrounding area also. Young or old, every one liked music.

Toothless old men, happy to be alive, and women with parasols were in attendance. Baby carriages, strollers, and young mothers with babies attested to the youthful generation. Teenagers were walking holding hands, young marrieds with their arms intertwined, and the middle-age bracket just strolling to enjoy the pleasant night air. Small children would swing or play on the teeter-totter in the middle of the square.

Almost everyone had lawn chairs, although a sprinkling of blankets and quilts were visible on the square's grass. Some would sit on the fenders of their cars, while others would sit on the many park benches that were place in the middle of the park. A few of the young lovers would sit on the ones that decorated the perimeter of the square. Almost all would be fanning their selves with fans donated by the local funeral home.

Roderick was a professor of Greek mythology. He had been at the college for almost three months, having completed a short tenure at Hanover College in Madison, Indiana. Halleyville was where he had grown up. Roderick felt as if he was killing two birds with one stone. He was able to not only work at the new junior college, but was going to live with his widowed mother. The best of both worlds. He had never married, there were a few flings at college, but no lasting relationships.

Lately, Roderick had been experiencing nightmares. These nightmares were so horrendous, he thought of going to see Gary Michaels, who was on the staff of the new sanitarium as staff psychiatrist.

Bockmiller and Michaels had grown up in the small town. Michaels had even been the class valedictorian, while Bockmiller was the class salutatorian. The boyhood friends had kept in touch with each other as they went their separate ways. Bockmiller to Hanover, and Michaels to Chicago.

Or maybe, approach that new man in town, Roderick thought. Now what was his name? I have it right on the tip of my tongue. Well, spit it out, Roderick. Gale Loudermilk! Loudermilk had bought the old Simmons bungalow, fixed it up and was now practicing his job as a psychiatrist also. Either way, he was going to seek professional help.

"Come and see me sometime," Michaels laughingly had said, when they had met at a school luncheon. "Purely platonic, not professional."

Michaels was not aware of how prophetic that saying would be to Roderick. Roderick had planned on having Michaels to his home for coffee and cake some evening. He smiled as he remembered the last time they had played chess. Michaels had won easily.

Calling Michaels on the phone, they had made an appointment at the Halleyville square tomorrow late in the afternoon. Roderick hoped to discuss with Michaels his reoccurring nightmares. At first, they only caused some discomfort, but lately they were getting worse. They were starting to get more intense. Like last night's. His hands were still cramping from being squeezed tightly all night long.

Smells of cooking bacon, frying eggs, and percolating coffee wafted up the stairs. Quickly; dressing, he bounded downstairs to the kitchen table. Pulling out a chair, he sat, and picked up the morning paper.

"Smells good," he said, rustling the paper.

"What? No, good morning Mother?" she said, looking lovingly at him.

"Pardon moi, he replied in a long drawl.

They laughed. She was the typical mother. Her grey hair pulled back into a bun, heavy built, and always red-faced. She started to place the food on the table. Finishing this, she poured each a cup of coffee. Then she reached across the table to get the jam. She took her sweet time in spreading the preserves on her burnt toast.

"You know, Roderick," she said, "you need to start your day off with a good breakfast. Why just the other day, I was talking to . . ."

The ringing of the hall telephone, gave him the excuse to leave the table. He grinned, as he could still hear his mother mumbling. Who she was talking to, or about, no one knew.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Roderick Bockmiller?" asked a female voice huskily.

"Yes it is. But please call me Rod. Who is this?"

"You don't know me, but we have something in common."

"Like what?"

"I can't tell you over the phone. But I . . ."

"Look, Lady," he said, impatience creeping into his voice. "As much as I enjoy talking to mysterious women, I most assuredly will hang up on you right now!"

"Would you please meet me somewhere? It will be of your choosing. The time and place."

"Listen, Lady . . ."

"Does the word CYCLOPS mean anything to you?"

"CYCLOPS! Who told you to mention that? No, don't say another word. I will meet you at the gazebo in the town's square at two this afternoon. You be there!"

Rod replaced the receiver, a look of puzzlement on his face, as he returned to the kitchen. He did not look at his mother as he sat, poured another cup of coffee, and leaned back in his chair. Rod gazed thoughtfully out the window.

"Who's that, Dear?"

"Huh? Er . . . wrong number," he mumbled, lost in thought. He sat at the table and began to sip his coffee. Rod took two sips and then looked at his watch.

"Oh, I'm late. Got to run," he said, wiping his mouth and placing the napkin on his plate. He jumped hurriedly to his feet and went back to his room. Once there, he quickly shut the door and locked it. He wasn't going to take any undue chances now. Then, he lay on his bed with his hands laced behind his head and stared at the ceiling.

"Like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland that boy! All the time got to run," his mother had said, but he had already left the kitchen.

Muttering to herself, she went to the sink with a handful of dirty dishes. She began to hum to herself as she filled the sink with soapy water. Mrs. Bockmiller pulled the curtains aside so she could see the morning birds as they frolicked in the birdbath in the back yard.

Upstairs in his room, Rod gazed out his window at the maple trees. He was surprised to see the leaves already starting to change their colors. Must be, the seasons starting early, he thought? Sighing, he continued to stare and think.

CYCLOPS! Why now! Why, when everything seemed to be going so smoothly? Thinking these thoughts, he closed his eyes. Rod tried to remember when he first became aware of CYCLOPS. It was an acronym: Center for Youth in Crusade for Lack of Precepts and Sexuality. To belong to it, was the epitome of campus life. Free thinkers, kooks, kids whose parents did not understand them, and generally any malcontents.

Rod did not like the direction the center was taking, his pursuits lay in another direction. Rod quickly absolved himself of further attendance. Besides, his mother wished for him not to take any part of it. He wanted to please his mother.

"You are going to college to learn," she said, "not to cause dissent in others."

He had tried to explain the Center to her, but she would not hear of it. She reminded him of just who had sacrificed many hours of back breaking toil for him after his father had run off with that woman. The hardships she had faced so he could continue his studies and so on. Rod, to keep peace in the family, had let the matter drop.

Now, after all of these years, a strange woman had brought to the forefront of his mind, the organization. Rod did not like to be haunted, but he sighed and thought, why not? Maybe it will be an adventure for me.

FOUR

Tom Jackson was standing up to his knees in the cold murky water. He had left his old pick-up truck mired deep in the mud. The lonely bray of a dog came to his ears as it answered the howling of another dog on the shoreline. He looked back over his shoulder and spied the old deserted cabin that he had sought refuge in from the inquisitive eyes of the private investigator. Prying into my private matters that are all the good those types are for, he thought, as he felt in his pocket for the small jewelry box he had bought for his wife. Relief flooded his features as he wiped the cobwebs from his mind's eye. I did remember, after all, he thought, pleased with himself.

Tom at first was hesitant about approaching the water. He had a deep aversion to water from childhood. Tom remembered as a child, he was with a group of his friends when they went camping overnight at a nearby river. The youngsters had stood around a roaring campfire that hissed and popped as they roasted hot dogs. Over the crackle of a campfire, each had told of his fears. When his friends found out Tom's fear of water they smiled, and some were nudging the others in the ribs.

Then that night, he was aroused from his tent and asked if he wanted to go on a snipe hunt. He knew there was no such thing as a snipe, but he wanted to be in the happy throng as they teased the younger members. The friends divided up equally. One group went took off, as the others would gather up more firewood.

Tom's duty was to sit on the riverbank and slowly bang two metal pots together. During the course of the hunt, his playmates accidently on purpose. They had laughed as he struggled with the onslaught of water covering his head. He could not swim!

Luckily, a passing motorist saw the youngster floundering. The man screeched his car to a shuddering stop. He slung open his car door and rushed to the edge of the water. Having no thought of danger, the motorist quickly jumped in the raging current and pulled Tom to safety.

Later, when the man dropped Tom off safely at home, Tom again apologized for getting mud in the man's car. Then he turned and made muddy footprints into his home. Tom vowed he would never go near water again.

Now, he was willingly going into the water. He felt the uncontrollable pull of it. As iron is drawn to a magnet, he felt compelled to enter the water.

Slowly, almost gingerly, he moved forward. He could feel the mud sucking at his feet. The coldness of the water made his legs feel numb. My bones are going to start creaking like an old rusty bucket, if I don't get out of this water soon, he thought.

Tom could sense the sand start to shift under him. Strange creatures were sliding between his legs. Shuddering, he continued onward. The water was up to his chest now.

Directly in front of him, the water began to ripple. Something was coming at him! He knew whatever it was, a no-good thing was in the water. A primordial fear was starting to nag him. Goose bumps were forming on his arms, as a cold chill raced up and down his spine. The sweat running down his forehead caused his eyes to sting.

Suddenly, the water in front of him started to churn, as if something from the deep was in great agitation. He could feel the pressure of the water against his legs, causing him to sway forward. Trying to turn, he was shocked to find his feet mired in the mud! Twisting and turning, he was digging deeper and deeper. Tom could not escape!

The fog began to appear, the mist was becoming more dense and the droplets of water were clinging to his forearms and clothes. The night was becoming colder and darker now. Flashes of light, followed by ear shattering claps of thunder was both seen and heard. In the distance, a creature's anguished cry was heard. A slight tremor coursed through his body. The sound caused an eerie feeling to wash over his very soul.

Suddenly, the wind shifted dissipating the hazy fog. Tom peered through the vapor and saw coming directly at him, a denizen from the darkest depths of hell. A large head atop a slender neck, made great waves to issue forth in its swift passage through the dark water. Its humongous mouth was open to reveal two large fangs, dripping vermillion venom. The light from the moon glistened off them. A long tongue darted in and out the cavernous mouth. The breath, pungent with the smell of decaying flesh, made Tom want to empty his stomach. He could feel the bile as it started to rush his throat. Tom clamped his lips tightly shut and convulsively swallowed the vile bile.

Closer and closer, the menace came, Tom could not move. It was upon him now! Like a locomotive, it bore down on him. The jaws were descending on him, fangs were illuminated by the flashes of lightning as they streaked across the sky.

Tom threw his arms up for defense to the imminent attack. In just a moment, he would be the creature's repast. The jaws would descend and engulf him. A crunch, an involuntary swallow, and he would be no more!

"Is that it, Mr. Jackson?" Gale Loudermilk asked, tamping his pipe with tobacco from his leather pouch determinedly. He swung his chair around to face Tom lying on the office couch.

"Yes, that is it," Tom sighed with great relief, running his hand through his sparse brown hair.

Straightening his tie, Tom moved to a chair in front of the window. Sitting heavily in the chair, Tom turned to face the window. His large frame looked out of place in the small chair.

"Well, Mr. Jackson," Gale said, "I will go over your file and see what I can make of it."

"Then, I guess I will see you next week," Tom said, arising from the chair, and turning to the window. He saw the rain was over with for now.

"Sure thing," Gale said, "but I almost forgot. It can't be the same day as I have a conference to attend. You know, have to keep up with the latest technology. How about the day after?"

"Yes, Sir. Well by."

"By to you, too, Sir," Gale mused, thinking that way he would have enough time to get everything ready for Mr. Tom Jackson.

Gale got to his feet and shook the outstretched hand of Tom. Gale then went back to his desk. He had dismissed Mr. Jackson from his mind already.

Tom went out the door and closed it gently behind. He started down the street when he suddenly remembered his coat and umbrella. Shamefacedly, he returned to the closed door. Tom reached out and knocked on the door.

"Yes?" Gale asked, as he opened the door.

"I'm sorry, but I forgot my coat and umbrella," Tom said, apologetically, reaching to take them off the coat rack. After Tom had put on the coat, he retrieved his umbrella. He went out the door again. Once outside, he opened the umbrella as it had started to rain.

After Mr. Jackson had left, Gale returned to his desk, and reached for the telephone. He dialed and leaned back in his chair. Gale lit his pipe and watched as the smoke lazily spiraled up to the ceiling. Once there, the smoke quickly dispersed with the current caused by the ceiling fan.

"Funny, how everything is going to work out just well," he thought, as he contemplated on the designs his smoke made in its rise to the ceiling.

"Yes?" the guttural voice asked.

"Mr. Jackson is ready," Gale said, sitting up in his chair, and reading the file on the desk before him. He hated how this disembodied voice always made him feel, as if he was still in the Marine Corps. Gale had almost stood at attention.

"When?"

"Now!"

FIVE

Rex Ashby slowly smoked his cigarette while sitting in the lounge chair at the side of the patio. A spasm of coughing made him sit up in the chair, and swing his legs over the side of the chaise lounge. He continued coughing and gasped for air.

"Got to quit them cancer sticks," he said aloud. "The little woman will surely like that. The kids too."

"Rex! If you don't quit puffing those coffin nails . . . Well, I'll just . . . " His wife had said, nagging him for the umpteenth time last night. He had given up drinking, card playing, and his night out with the boys. What more does she want? If I quit smoking, there would be no more vices, and I should be able to walk on water!

Rex had smiled at her, then happily continued puffing. It was the only wickedness he had these days. She would throw her hands up in the air and storm out of the room. He knew smiling that was all she would do. Later, she would come back sheepishly, and tell him how much she loved him. Then she would sit heavily in her favorite chair, grab one of her many soap digests, throw a leg over the side of the chair, and continue to read obliviously to him.

All of this, Rex was sitting smoking and enjoying the cool night air. He thought of the strange goings on that were happening at the sanitarium. The furtive looks given by the staff to each other, the sudden stop of talking whenever he approached them, and the secretive whispers in the hallway.

"Money! Money!" Rex said, after seeing a shooting star as it streaked across the horizon. His mother had taught him to say that after seeing a shooting star. Being a child of the slums of New York, he was constantly on the look out for any chance of getting money. He did not know if it worked, but he did not believe in taking chances . . . Who knew?

Rex had been employed by the sanitarium for two years. He had seen patients come and go. Some, for a short time, others longer. The last case had been here for over a year. Where did these people get all of that money, he thought, as he made the end of his cigarette glow cherry red. Then he thought humorously of Mr. Ives.

Mr. Henry Talbot Ives was an Englishman, or as Rex liked to think, a wire-hair terrier. He was forever pacing the halls with his spry step, and his swagger stick tucked neatly under his arm. Mr. Ives would stop the orderlies. He would then, make them line up. When he had decided the proper time, he would clear his throat.

Then, he would strut up and down the line and check the white uniforms of the orderlies. With the voice, of his many years as aid-de-camp to a British colonel, he would bark orders. Often, for the merest infraction of rules, according to his jumbled mind.

"Yes Sir, Mister Ives. Of course, Sir right away, Sir. Anything you say, Sir," the orderlies would say, smiling behind his back.

"Mister Ashby?" a voice behind him asked. "Are you finished with your duties?"

Rex turned to find a nurse, Barbara Landis, staring at him, with a look of disdain in her eyes. A sterile looking stethoscope protruded from her sweater pocket. The starchiness of her uniform and her shoes shined, all bespoke of her fastidiousness of being a nurse in authority.

She had been appointed head nurse last year after nursing for twenty years. Rex could see her impatiently tapping her foot and looking at him with a gesture of agitation. Rex smiled at her.

"No, Ma'am," he said, busily crushing his cigarette out on the white flagstones of the patio. Rex saw her look of concern and he quickly picked the butt up and field striped it. He scattered the tobacco to the ground where the brisk wind whisked it away.

"Mister Ashby, I certainly hope that you will be more careful in the future. Well, anyway, you may return to your duties."

"Yes, Ma'am. But I . . ."

It was to no avail, as she had already gone back inside. The closing of a door made a whooshing sound. Rex could see her marching down the long hallway. Head held high and shoulders thrust back as she took determined strides. Her demeanor was definitely the military, from her head to her toes, all bespoke of her brooking no trouble.

"She ought to be in the army," Rex muttered to the breeze. "Oh, oh. I left that polisher plugged into the wall outlet."

He suddenly remembered what he had forgotten, in his haste to smoke. Rex had been so wrapped up in getting outside, he completely lost track of his duties. A thing like that, he thought, and old Rex will be standing in the unemployment line again.

Rex knew of the concern Miss Landis had over this seemingly minor breakage of the sanitarium rules. She was worried about anything left plugged in, especially after that fire last year. The blaze killed two nurses in another wing. The fire had been traced to an electric iron that had been left on.

Whoee! A really two-alarm fire, that one, Rex thought, as he hurried back inside. He rushed down the hallway to the offending polisher in the cafeteria. He looked worriedly up and down the hall as he entered the cafeteria. Rex ran inside and quickly unplugged the polisher. Going out the door, he again looked around. Seeing no one had observed him, he started down the hall softly humming to himself. He was almost a door, when he saw a light sine from beneath it.

"That fool woman has gone off, and left her light on again," he murmured, as he moved toward the offending room.

Rex reached for the doorknob. That was the last thing he did in this life, for a neat third eye appeared in the middle of his forehead. His face contorted, eyeballs rolled up in his head, and his jaw tightened as he drew them back in a grimace.

The force of the bullet hurtled him backwards Rex felt as if he was caught in the jaws of a great vise. He was thrown against the far wall. His body hit the wall with such force as to make a hole in it. Slowly, he slid down the wall, leaving a red trail where the slug had taken out the back of his head. He quivered once, took a deep breath, sighed, and then lay still. A small tear meandered down the side of his cheek.

The noise brought a doctor and a nurse on the run. John Richards and Jan King had drawn night duty. They were sitting in a conference room discussing the up coming company picnic. It was almost too late in the year, but they had plans for each other. Richards was the sanitarium's Don Juan. Jan and he had many a lover's rendezvous in the deserted rooms of the sanitarium.

"What the . . . !" Dr. Richards said, jumping up and overturning his chair.

"I don't know, Doctor," Jan said, professionalism suddenly returning to her actions, "but it sounded as if it was out in the hallway."

She automatically reached for her sweater where it was draped on the back of a chair. Unconsciously, she pulled the sweater around her shoulders, and started for the door.

Quickly, the doctor ran out the door trailing her. They hurried to the fallen form in the corridor. Rex was lying in a tangled heap near a door, across from the one now crookedly hanging by its hinges.

"Check him out!" Richards ordered, as he went into Linda's room.

The room was a shambles, furniture overturned, and the widow had a small hole in it. Where the glass was broken, tiny thread of shattered glass laced the window as the web of a giant spider. He looked to the bed. Empty!

The sheet and pillow had creases in them, so someone had evidently been there. He went to the bed and felt the sheet. It was still warm. Whoever had been there, he thought, couldn't be gone for long. But where? He then thought of Jan and the body in the hall. Richards walked to the door and leaned his head out.

"Jan?"

"I'm sorry, he's dead. I couldn't find any vitals."

She arose from her examination of Rex and went to the room. Richards was busy at the window running his hands around the sash. She walked up behind him and slowly placed her arms around his shoulders. Richards turned and placed his arms around her shoulders and let her bury her face and cry softly.

"How is the patient?" Jan asked, her duty come to the fore front.

"Gone," Richard said, with a look of puzzlement on his face.

"Gone?"

"Yes. Gone, but just to make sure I am not overlooking anything, I plan on making a more through search of the room."

They made their search fast, but did not miss anything. While Jan went through the dresser drawers, Richards went to the window again and looked out. He could not see anything, but he felt the air coming through the bullet hole. The outside air was becoming more brisk. Shrugging his shoulders, he turned around.

In the meantime, Jan had gone to the closet. Opening the door she looked about. Nothing! It was as if no one had ever been there at all. Turning, she related this discovery to the doctor.

"But, where is the patient?" he asked, pointing to the empty bed.

"I don't know," Jan replied, "somehow she has disappeared. I think we had better call the sheriff or at least Sam Sloan."

"Um, of course. But first, I have to call Dr. Michaels. You go and see if you can calm down the other people that heard all of the commotion. Then I want you to get hold of the authorities as soon as possible."

After she had left, he quickly closed the door and locked it. He hurried to his office, went in, and turned to lock the door. Richards went to his desk and dialed a number. It wasn't Dr. Michaels, but another number that he had taken from his wallet.

While it was ringing, Richards got out a cigarette. He lit it and blew smoke rings to the ceiling. Then, he threw his leg upon the desk and waited. Richards thought of the money he would receive for this call. A smile crept across his features as he was already envisioning spending this money.

"Hello?" a sleepy voice answered.

"I was told to call this number, in case anything unusual happened out here at the sanitarium."

"Yes," the voice said, instantly awake.

Richards was going to tell all he knew, but the voice cautioned him to be careful over the phone.

"I will meet you at the old Mastenbrook farm outside of Halleyville, early tomorrow morning. Make it seven in the morning. Don't be late, as I hate to wait."

"Can't you tell me more than that?" Richards asked, only to find he was talking to a dead line. Replacing the phone in its cradle, he snubbed his cigarette, and started for the door. He had almost reached the door, when it suddenly was opened. Jan stood there with her eyes all red and swollen.

"Oh, John. It is so horrible!" she said, starting to shake with the realization of the recent happenings.

"This is just hunky-dory," he mumbled, as he stood in the doorway and held the sobbing nurse. He wrapped his arms around her and gently patted her back.

Richards tried his best at comforting her. In a moment, she had regained control of her emotions, and smiled up at him.

"You will have to excuse me," Richards said, disengaging himself from her arms, "but we have to get this mess cleared up a little. Then I am going home to my nice warm bed."

"Of course," she replied, wondering to herself, why he was so cold and methodical. Then, she hurried down the hall to her other duties.

Richards knew, he would only be allowed a short time. Enough time for a quick cat nap, he thought. As he was going to his car in the parking lot, he thought, I have to go to the Mastenbrook farm in a few hours.

Richards started out of the sanitarium toward home, then stopped. I have tomorrow off and it not such a bad night after all. What is to keep me from going out there tonight? Nothing, that's what. I will just drop by my house, get some camping equipment, and then watch out world. I am headed upward!

SIX

Samuel S. Sloan was dead asleep when the shrill sound of the telephone ringing jarred him from sleep. He placed the pillow over his head to no avail. The ringing continued, only this time it seemed the vibrations from the telephone pierced his feather pillow.

Finally, having no luck in disregarding this intrusion into his slumber, Sam snuggled up to the backside of his wife, Sarah. She loved to sleep spoon fashion, but he preferred to spread out more on the large bed. He started to sleep on his left side, but in the middle of the night, rolled over on his back. She complained about his snoring. He ignored her, but now he was wishing he heard snoring to the shrieking of the telephone.

"Hmm," Sarah said, moving back into his warm body.

"Methinks, it is time," Sam said, moving his hand tenderly and slowly around her body to cup a warm breast.

"Why don't you answer that phone, Dear?" Sarah murmured seductively and squirming back harder, "and then we just might get something straight between us."

Sam and Sarah Sloan were married for twenty-eight years come next Monday and they still acted as if it was only yesterday. The love they share was good for everyone to see, especially the young people. The townspeople smiled as Sam and his wife walked hand in hand on the town square. He was all the time bringing her flowers, and she would bring him lunch at the jail.

"In this day and age," one of the square squatters, with the baseball cap tilted at a playful degree, would say, "it is wonderful to see two people so much in love. They say there are more failed marriages than ever."

"You sure?" another said, a straw hat on his bald pate. Taking aim at a grasshopper and coursing his lips, he let go with a stream of tobacco juice.

The shooter's aim was true, for the offended grasshopper would squirm and try to move its legs. The living thing was going to lie in the sun basking in its warm glow during the noonday sun. After awhile, the grasshopper would jump away into the grass of the town's square.

"Got it as gospel truth," Cap said, "my Missus was told by a lady who read it in the paper last Sunday."

"Go on!" Hat said, taking aim at another insect. This time his mark was off a hair as the insect quickly scurried away unharmed.

"Yep," Cap said, "she told me that one out of every two marriages end in divorce. These young people don't believe in commitment anymore. The had just soon as spilt the sheet as to change underwear. Of course, I haven't seen the woman to come between me and my old woman yet."

"I feel the same way about my Missus too," Hat stated, then nudged Cap in the ribs, "you mentioned yet. Why yet?"

"Simple," Cap said, whispering aside to Hat, "I meany not yet."

The two old curmudgeons chuckled to themselves and started to stare openly at the new waitress as she crossed the street. She walked to with-in ten feet of the voyeurs, stopped, and intently looked at the aged men. Sighing, she placed her hands on her hips, cleared her throat, and looked sternly at the aged men.

"You old farts," she said, "ought to be ashamed of yourselves. It is getting to where a decent woman can not walk to work anymore.

After saying this, she tossed her long blonde hair, and continued down the street. She knew the vultures were watching her tight pants, so she wiggled her hips for their benefit. Hoots and hollers started to come her way. She smiled and kept on walking.

"I hope the old fools have a heart attack or something," she muttered under her breath, as he opened the door to the diner.

SEVEN

Sam, reaching for the telephone, fumbled with it once, and dropped it on the floor. After retrieving the telephone, he placed it on the night stand. Turning to his wife, he smiled and once again tried to cradle the telephone in his shoulder. He pulled down the covers and felt Sarah get out of the bed. Sam could hear her pad to the bathroom. He heard the shower doors open and close, then in a minute, the sound of the water running reached his ears.

"Hello."

"Marshal Sloan?"

Sam looked at the telephone in amazement. Now who else would be answering his phone at his telephone number, he thought. He lay back in bed and watched as his wife got out of the shower. Sort of feel like a peeping Tom, he thought smiling, watching Sarah towel her body.

She has a good figure after all of these years, he mused. I don't care what she says, she is definitely not getting fat. It would sort of being like the pot calling the kettle black if he was to ever call her fat. Maybe pleasingly plumped, but never fat.

"Of course, who were you expecting, Marshall Dillon?" Sam said, teasingly.

"Ooh, you kidder," she laughed, then her voice took on a more somber note. "This is Jan King, you know. A nurse out at the sanitarium."

"Yes, Ma'am," he said, as he leaned over the table and retrieved a pencil and notebook pad. "Shoot." He had no sooner said this than he remembered the last time he had told a guy to shoot, the man did. It took forever and a day to convince his superiors that he didn't think the guy would commit suicide right there in front of God and everybody. But the hapless man placed the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing out the biggest portion of the back of his head. Sam had the devil of a time explaining to the County Commissioners, but he finally left them placated with the promise to be extra careful in the future.

Jan told of the accident with Mr. Ashby and asked if he wanted her to remain for additional questioning. She also asked if the marshal wanted her to call Dr. Richards, as he had already gone home.

"That will be fine, Ma'am," Sam said, "you go right ahead and call the doctor. Have him meet me at the sanitarium in about . . say two hours."

Sam sat on the side of the bed and reached for his levis and boots. After putting these on, he strapped his gun belt on, and placed his revolver in it. As he was finishing strapping his weapon on, he heard a slight cough. He turned to see Sarah standing in the doorway of the bathroom. She grinned at him. Sam could see the outline of her body in the soft light of the bathroom. The only thing she had on was a grin. And it was lopsided at that!

Sam looked longingly at her, took his gun belt off, and replaced it on the night strand. Then he pulled his boots and levis off. He grinned, moved to one side, and patted the bed next to him.

"I have to go and make a living," he said, "but after all the dead man is not going anywhere soon."

EIGHT

She stumbled through the briars, the thorns scratching her legs, and the branches pulling at her clothes. She slipped on loose pebbles and began to stagger. Falling down, she grimaced as a sharp stone tore into her knee. Quickly getting up, she ran haphazardly down the road, weaving like a drunken sailor on a storm tossed sea.

She stopped for a moment and caught her breath. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw the lights. Lanterns were bobbing in the distance searching for her. In a moment, they would be catching her. The bays of the dogs were getting louder, closer. They were almost upon her!

She saw a sign ahead on the side of the road. Stopping once again, she took in great gulps of air. She started to puff mightily as she reached for the sign. Tearing off a piece of her dress, she hurriedly wiped the mud from the sign. The dilapidated wooden sign had written in faded large letters: ROMINE CAVE. She caught her breath, breathing heavily, she went forward. Once again she glanced back, the pursuers seemed to be lost. She didn't see anyone.

"Maybe, I've lost them," she muttered aloud. Then taking a deep breath, she plunged onward, oblivious to the pain in her legs.

The cave entrance was foreboding. It may have looked all right in the daylight, but now it appeared dark and dangerous. The only illumination was from the moon, which was full and white, like the robe of a saint. The opening reminded her of a haven of solitude, a refuge from the outside world. A shadowy threshold was beckoning to her.

"At least, I will be safe in there," she mumbled to herself, as she ran toward the aperture. Brushing aside the cobwebs and the tree limbs from this access, she stumbled onward. It may have been dark at the opening, but the farther back she went, the darker it became. She thrust out her hands and felt the coolness of the cave's walls. She was able to place her hands on the wall and grope along by turning sideways. The walls were slimy to the touch, she shuddered and continued. She moved at a snail's pace, an inch at a time. Slowly, but assuredly, she pressed forward.

Silence. All was quiet. It got so quiet, she could hear her heart beating. Even the blood rushing through her veins felt louder to her now. Her blood began to flow more freely down her legs, the wounds having opened themselves in her flight from the evil castle.

Up ahead, she could barely make out the sight of a soft glow, and a high pitch wail. The sound of someone or something in utter torment. She could not go back as the count's men would apprehend her. She was afraid to go forward though, the proverbial saying of being caught between a rock and a hard place. The vibrations assailed her hearing like her eardrums were tiny drums being pounded on by the natives of a long dead tribe in deepest Africa. They were coming close to bursting.

Smell! The rank odor emitting from the dark chasm ahead was quickly making her nostrils prickle, as she scrunched up her nose. An involuntary spasm began in her stomach, causing her to hurriedly place her hand over her mouth. Afraid to retch, because of the noise it would make, she convulsively swallowed. The bitter taste was that of sour and warm buttermilk left out all night.

She could see a pair of hands . . . no claws, come over the edge of the chasm. The claws were digging at the slippery edge of the pit. Then, it came from the pit. A horrendous head with two large orbs that glowed, as alternating green and yellow colors came from the crater. The light glimmered off the beast's scales. A low guttural sound came from red lips that were curled back to reveal large teeth that were stained a dark brown with the blood of its past victims.

The smoke coming from the cavern, hid the creature's enormous size. A throw back to the early dinosaur age, it was huge! She could only gasp as it came into view. She was taken back by the sheer size of this colossal behemoth!

Her legs were becoming as squishy as jelly, her heart started to beat faster, and her breathing became more erratic. It seemed as if thousands of tons of rock lay on her chest, she could not breathe. Gasping for air, she began to thrash the air with her little arms. Her lungs seemed not to work!

As the monster stepped forward, its footfalls caused the rocks to tremble. The wall reverberated with echos of it's passing. Pieces of the cave's ceiling began to shower down on her. Particles of smaller rock glanced off her shoulders.

She quickly looked around, there was no escape! Turning back to the advancing form, she felt as if she was being offered upon an ancient altar to an unknown god. Like a Vestal Virgin, she stood her ground, and slowly waited for the end. Her body had an erotic feeling wash over it, as the excitement of the sacrifice was about to begin. She seemed to crave danger! She thrived on it! She needed it!

The beast advanced on her, its mouth opened to savor her tender flesh, as the long tongue slid forward to test the air of the vibrations in the cave. Its large feet, falling slowly and loudly, made a hollow sound in the darkness of the cave.

Sharp shards of rock fell as the stalactites were cracking to fall to the cavern floor, while the stalagmites were making crinkling sounds of tin foil being wadded up. The creature lumbered forth with its heavy weight and enormous clawed feet. Its arms were beginning to reach out for her.

She raised her arms and held them wide open, as if she wanted to be embraced. She felt no fear as the beast hovered over her. Its breath smelled like something rotten from a septic tank. Slowly, the creature reached down for her, its jaws wide open. Closer and closer it came!

"Then, I woke up," Cindy said, starting to squirm her hips more into the couch.

"Well, Cindy," Gale said, while he began to fill his pipe and light it. "What do you think, is the cause of these nightmares?"

Cindy was busy crossing and uncrossing her legs as she lay on the therapist's couch. My hem seems to be riding up more lately, she thought. There, I finally got it down.

Of course, she had been watching the doctor's eyes, but they didn't seem to waver any. He seemed to be looking over her head and out the window. And now, he seemed lost in thought. She shrugged her shoulders and gazed up mutely at him. First the window, now the desk. Why won't he look her directly in the eye?

Gale Loudermilk was an imposing figure of a well-educated man. He was over six feet, slight build, blue eyes, and wore spectacles for his nearsightedness. Dressed always in a Navy three-piece blue pinstripe suit, with a gold watch fob draped across his vest. His highly polished wingtip shoes were of such luster, one could almost see one's face in them. A blue striped regulation tie and a buttoned-down shirt gave the added impression of a professional man. A highly successful one, or at least, one who was sure to make his mark on the world.

Gale had purchased a small bungalow at the north edge of Halleyville. He had hired contractors to remodel the inside. When they finished the work, he quickly hung out his shingle proclaiming:

Gale Loudermilk M. D.

Psychiatry

By Appointment Only

Gale had decorated his carpeted office with a massive oak desk and a swivel chair. Pictures of natural beauty graced his walls, from the scene of a tranquil lagoon, the depth of the Grand Canyon, and the seemingly roaring of the waves crashing on a California beach. A file cabinet stood in one corner, and a comfortable couch next to the desk were the room furnishings.

His clients were as comfortable as possible. After all, he thought, by being more comfortable they will be ready for me to delve into their little quirks, idiosyncrasies, and beliefs. Gale wanted to specialize in nightmares. The hidden meanings, both outward and more importantly, their hidden messages.

Cindy was staring at Gale and thinking he is so handsome. His posture and the way he held his pipe as he puffed it made Cindy think she was falling in love for the first time in her uneventful life. If he would only pay more attention to me, she thought. I am not a bad looking woman, at least that is what other people say. A bit mature for him, but I think that little setbacks can be overcome with the proper mood setting.

Gale glanced down at the opened chart in his hand.

Name: Cindy King

Age: 45

Sex: Female

Race: Caucasian

Eyes: Blue Weight: 115 Dist. Mks: None

Martial Status: Single

Relatives: None -- Raised at the State Orphanage

Employment: Ten years -- Cosco

Twenty years -- Librarian

Hobby: Making artificial roses out of ribbon

Likes: Reading, writing, cooking, and church

Dislikes: Loud music, hot weather, rudeness

Ambition: Remain unmarried, go on a pleasure cruise

Diagnosis: unsure at this time

Gale saw where he had made a note at the bottom of the page. A reminder to talk with Dr. Michaels at the sanitarium. He was thinking these thoughts when Cindy coughed discreetly. Looking up from the chart, he closed the file, and apologized to her.

"That's all right," Cindy said. "In answer to your question, Doctor, I don't really know."

That is what I am paying you for, she thought, as she was preoccupied with the hem of her dress. She was fidgeting with it in hopes of attracting him, but he seemed unaware of her. His mind seemed to be millions of miles away.

"All I know is, the nightmares are becoming more scary," she responded with feeling. A tear started to form at the corners of her eyes.

"Hmm," Gale said, his pipe smoke curling around his head. He had noticed her legs, nice firm ones at that, he thought. A mite distracting, but after all, he was a man and had desires like anyone else. But I also remember the code of ethics. It wouldn't do to dilly dally around with a patient. He thought of this as he smiled at her. Gale stood and approached her. He looked down and smile benignly at the lady reclining on the office couch.

"I'll tell you what. Let me confer with a colleague of mine and next week I will inform you of what we have decided," he said. Then, he dismissed her with a nod and returned to his desk. Gale got busy tamping his pipe out into the ash tray.

Cindy arose from the couch and walked toward the door. She stopped and retrieved her jacket off the coat stand. Cindy was ashamed at her behavior, but at the same time, thrilled with the prospect of finally getting to the root of her problems. Also, as an added bonus, the doctor seemed to have developed an interest in her.

NINE

At five in the morning, John was still half asleep. He had lay in his bed for a short time, perplexed at the phone call. The voice had sounded adamant. Almost an order.

He castigated himself for dozing off, but he was tired. John was only going to lie down and rest his eyes for a moment. He had not planned on dropping off to sleep. Luckily, he had remembered to set the alarm. When it went off, he was snoring soundly in his bed.

John hurried to the kitchen and fixed a cup of instant coffee using the hot tap water. He gulped down the lukewarm liquid in his haste to leave the house. John had almost reached his car when he remembered his blue windbreaker. Retracing his steps, he retrieved the windbreaker and hurried back to the car. He threw the windbreaker into the back seat.

He groggily opened the front door and sleepily crawled behind the wheel. Driving quickly out of the small hamlet, he noticed that no one seemed to be about this early in the morning. Once, he had reached the outskirts of town, he slowed considerably.

No sense in getting a speed ticket, he thought, slowing the car to the speed limit. Especially now, since I plan on being long gone next week anyway.

Now why would anyone want to meet at the old Mastenbrook farm? He thought, as he slowly drove down the lonely country road. That place had been abandoned for years. Now it was the habitat of all kinds of furry things, feathered things, and creepy, crawly things. The Lord knows what else has decided to make a home there, he mused.

John reached for the knob on the radio and turned it on in hopes of catching a clear radio station. At first, all he could tune in was static. Cursing inwardly, he fiddled with the knob. Finally, after twiddling with the tuner, he was able to find a religious program.

"After all," he muttered to the dashboard, "is Sunday."

"Now my Brothers!" the voice on the radio shouted. "The good Lord just loves a cheerful giver. So you people out there in radio land, listen very close to me, and I will give you our box number to send your contributions, which by the way are tax deductible. Don't touch that dial, Brothers and Sisters, and I will personally give you all kinds of blessings."

And here I thought only God could do that, John mused. Then he began to search the dial for something else. It was no use. Sighing, he turned back to Brother Bountiful begging for bucks. He listened for a moment, thinking, I need all the diversions I can get out here in the wilds. John tuned in the fanatic's passionate plea for few paltry dollars.

"Yes Siree Bob, it doesn't matter if it is only a nickel or two. Or maybe, you can dig a little deeper in the old coffee can, or your little pocket purse, and come up with some real folding money. After all, it will be the Lord you will be cheating, not Brother Bountiful!"

There was some background music, mostly guitars, saxophones, and drums. Ever now and then you could hear a tambourine being shaken in the background. One could hear papers being rustled by Brother Bountiful as he continued in a somber sounding voice.

"Don't forget ole Ananias and Sapphira. They tried to cheat the Lord, and you hear what happened to them? They were struck down dead! Dead, I tell you. Dead as a door nail!"

John could recall the times he had gone with his parents to a tent revival. In his mind's eye, he could see Brother Bountiful up on the stage, his corpulent body jiggling each time he moved. Sweat would be streaming down his cheeks as the bright lights seemed to relentlessly bear down on this idiot of an imposter.

Then shaking his head, John listened more closely to this charlatan for Christ, spoke in a whisper. One had to strain to hear the lies this tenacious turkey prattled.

"Also remember the poor widow and her mite. She gave her all, can you do less? He will look down at you and see if you are giving your fair share to Him or not. He will see if you are lusting in your heart instead of lasting in His grace. He will be watching the cookie jar closely to see if you plan on robbing Him again! He will . . ."

"That sanctimonious hypocrite. The big bag of wind. I imagine he has done his fair share of lusting in his time," John muttered to the streaked windshield, as he reached and turned Brother Bountiful off the airwaves.

It was while he was doing this, he drove past the turn-off to the Mastenbrook farmstead. Applying his feet to the brakes, he screeched to a sliding halt. His auto was sitting sideways in the road. Backing up, he then turned into the road to the farm. He started down the dirt lane that was bordered on each side with hackberry trees.

It was beginning to rain now, so he turned on the wipers. He hunched over the steering wheel as he peered through the windshield. The glass was already streaking from the falling mist. A rabbit darted across the road. Suddenly, he felt the car pull to the right.

"That's great! A flat tire," he said.

Tapping his brake pedal, he slowed, and pulled the car to the side of the road. Muttering to himself, he got out of the car. He went to the front of his vehicle and saw his right front tire had gone flat as a flitter.

"Of all the rotten luck," he said. "And me without a spare or an umbrella."

John glanced around his surroundings. In front of him, he could see the road, as it meandered through the woods ahead of him. Through the fence to his right, he could see a derelict barn. By the shape of the wood, he knew it would just be a matter of time before it fell down in shambles. Or to quote Brother Bountiful, "Give up the Ghost!"

He looked at his watch and saw the time was 6:45 a.m. Almost time to be at the rendevous with the mysterious man. John thought the Mastenbrook farm was a short distance down the road.

John reached into the back seat and removed his windbreaker from the car and put it on. He was glad the coat had a hood, as though the rain had stopped, a fine mist seemed to cover him. He shrugged his shoulders and wearily, slipping and sliding, he started trudging down the winding dirt lane. The pathway had tall trees overshadowing it.

A set of deadly eyes followed his every move. Fetid breath fell on the bushes, seemingly making them start to wilt. Heavy footfalls reverberated through the foliage. The mud made sucking sounds, like something heavy was sloshing through it, slowly and methodically.

The sky had taken on a somber hue, changing from cobalt blue to slate gray in a matter of minutes. John pulled the hood of his windbreaker tighter around his neck, as the wind was starting to get brisker. Hunching his shoulders, he pressed onward toward the barn.

John had taken a few steps, when he heard the noise, like the whine of a jet engine very near to the earth. Sounds like it is very near, he mused. He was relieved at having brought the scalpel with him. Don't know as I will need it, he thought, but I am prepared anyway. Sort of a security blanket.

Then he continued to plod onward, heedless to the approaching footsteps. John looked up and saw the Mastenbrook place. He heaved a sigh of relief as he turned to his right and started toward the deserted farmhouse.



TEN

Gale Loudermilk noticed the change in temperature immediately. He glanced at the thermometer outside of his window. The barometer on his desk was also falling. The sky had changed from a bright blue to a heavy overcast of grey. Storm clouds were beginning to form in the west. He cast a look back to his door and saw it was securely locked.

Everyone knew he hated to be disturbed, he thought, especially in the late afternoons, as it was now 4:15 by the clock on his desk. But just to be on the safe side, I have locked my door anyway. I may be getting a little paranoid myself, he chuckled to himself.

Gale walked to the file cabinet in the corner. He slid back a drawer to reveal a long file of patients. Looking through the files, he came upon the one he wanted. He took this file to his desk, sat and began to leaf through it.

As he was browsing through the file, the telephone rang. He chose to ignore it, but the incessant ringing started to distract him. Sighing, he laid the file down, reached for this instrument of his annoyance, and swung his chair around to gaze out the window.

"Hello," Gale said, reaching for his tobacco pouch filing his pipe, and cradling the phone in his neck.

"Hello to you, good Doctor Loudermilk, Sir," Roderick said in a jovial voice.

"Yes?" Gale spoke into the mouthpiece.

"This is Roderick Bockmiller."

Roderick Bockmiller, Gale thought, trying to place him. Then it came to him like a shot out of the blue. Roderick Bockmiller, professor of Greek Mythology at the college. Wonder why he is calling me now? He seemed to be a stand-off ish type of fellow. A bit strange, but then, who isn't? He may also be a tad shy.

"How may I be of service to you?" Gale asked, filling his pipe.

"To be truthful, Sir," Roderick said, "I feel as if I must apologize to you."

"Oh?" Gale said, somewhat intrigued now. He sat up in his chair and began to devote full attention to the speaker now. All thought of filling his pipe now vanished. It wasn't every day someone apologized, especially over the phone.

"Yes Sir, I do," Roderick said with fervor in his voice. "You see, I approached Doctor Michaels about this matter first. And . . ."

"Pardon me for interrupting you. But what matter do we seem to be talking about?"

"That's perfectly all right. I am your proverbial absent-minded professor. I have a tendency to forget things rather quickly. Anyway, I have been having these recurring nightmares and Dr. Michaels suggested I call you."

"Yes?" Gale asked. He was not going to pull any information from this gentleman any time soon it looked like. But Gale was professional enough and good at his job, he had the patience of Job. In all due time, he thought, as he went back to filling his meerschaum pipe.

"Nightmares. Hmm," Gale spoke, as he was busy lighting his pipe and puffing it to cause a layer of bluish smoke fills his office.

"Yes Sir," Roderick said, "I was wondering when I could make an appointment with you?"

Gale reached for his appointment calendar and began to leaf through it. He saw where he could work Mr. Bockmiller in between Mr. Jackson and Miss King. He told Mr. Bockmiller of the time and date. Roderick heartily agrees to it and after a few minutes of amenities, they hung up.

Gale leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the edge of the desk. This is going to be an added bonus to my plan, he thought. A professor no less. He smiled and glanced back at the file.

"Ah," Gale said, "the gods must be pleased with me."

Then he went out the door, started up the street and stopped. Remembering, he turned and locked it behind himself. He was contented now that everything seemed to be falling in place.

ELEVEN

The marshal and his deputy, Jack O'Connor, were headed toward the sanitarium early in the morning. The sun was starting to peek over the horizon. It was going to turn out a fine day after all, though the weatherman on TV forecasted a slight chance of precipitation. The highs were to be in the low fifties with a forty percent chance of showers.

Jack had driven his law enforcement car by to pick up Sam. He pulled in front early in the morning and honked. Momentarily, Sam bounded out to the car, and sat. He leaned over the seat and placed his jacket in the back seat.

"Good Morning, Jack," Sam said, as he began to hum softly a new country and western sing, he had heard this morning on the radio.

"Morning, Sir," Jack responded, easing the car out into the morning traffic of farmers and townspeople.

The two officials drove to the sanitarium. Jack was handling the car with the efficiency of knowing he had confidence in his ability to drive fast but safely. Sam leaned back in the seat and continued to hum.

"Pardon me, Sir," Jack asked, hopefully, "is there any reason I should know that makes you so happy this morning?"

"Nope," Sam said, grinning to himself, as he had not been gone long from the loving arms of Sarah.

"No," Jack asked again, "to the reason or no to letting me know?"

"No," Sam rejoined, smiling, "on both counts."

Sam noticed that Jack seemed a little put out at being left out in the cold, but his business was his business and no one else. He looked closely at his deputy and made an observation.

Jack O'Connor was a big bone Irishman from Cork County, Ireland. He was a jovial type person, who loved life to its fullest. Jack was single, gainfully employed, had a savings, and was well liked by all.

But this morning, he was acting like a spoiled child. Sam could see Jack's eyebrows come down in a frown as his lips became tighter. He enjoyed watching Jack try out his deduction powers. That man is reading too much Sherlock Holmes, he thought, smiling at Jack.

"Jack, me boy," Sam asked, trying to add a brogue to his voice, but failing miserably, "what can you tell me about the new sanitarium and its employees?"

"To be truthful, Sir," Jack answered, placing both hands on the wheel, "there is no much to tell. A little over a year ago, a group of investors from back East, bought the land and developed it. It is halfway in the city limits. The main building has room for at least a hundred patients. There are four doctors, with Dr. Gary Michaels being in charge. They employ around twenty people, almost all locals, but a few they brought with them."

Jack went on to say, there must be some kind of government involvement, as he noticed cars with government license plates. New cars, or at least ones that were not over three years old. Jack went on to say the cars must be government, as they all had black wall tires. He knew the government was too tight to buy the more expensive whitewalls. At least this is what he mentioned to Sam.

In just a moment, they wheeled their car into the parking lot of the sanitarium. Sam noticed there was a lot of activity for this early in the morning. Everybody and their dog must have heard of the happenings out here, he thought, as both law officers exited their vehicle.

The sanitarium was a rectangular cement building with a red roof and was tastefully landscaped. The front was mostly glass, as long plate glass windows were on either side of the entrance. A blonde color brick sidewalk led their way to the front doors. Large maple trees lined the sanitarium on either side.

"They must have spent a pretty penny on all of this," Jack commented.

Sam and Jack walked into the building through pneumatic doors that silently opened. Once inside, they took in the reception area. A large room was lined with chairs on the side, an aluminum table separated the chairs, and at one end a receptionist sat behind a counter.

Sam smiled and she did likewise. She was in her early twenties with soft black hair to her shoulders. A dazzling smile with almost perfect white teeth was her claim to beauty. From what Sam could see of her, she was what guys at the pool room would call a real knock out.

"Yes, Sir," the receptionist said, in a pleasant voice, "may I help you?"

"I certainly hope so," Sam said, smiling at seeing her blush, "we are here in response to the tragic happenings here last night, Ma'am."

"Oh, yes it was bad," she said while toying with her hair. "Now why would any one want to soot poor Mr. Ashby?" She pulled out a long strand and was unconsciously wrapping it around her well manicured fingers.

"Sir," Jack muttered under his breath, so only Sam could hear, "that is a mark of extreme nervousness. The playing of the hair."

Sam sighed within himself. He was here to do some investigating and already Sherlock Holmes Jr. had solved the case. Sam was patiently waiting for Jack to say, "the game is afoot."

"Ma'am," Sam spoke, then looked closer at her name tag over her right breast, "Mrs. Williams."

"It is Miss, not Mrs.," she said, "and why don't you two gentlemen call me Beth.."

Sam noticed she was looking straight at Jack when she said this last statement. Ah, he thought, to be young again. Then he thought of Sarah and felt a pang of guilt. Sarah was more than enough woman for him. But what am I thinking, he mentally smacked himself in the forehead. Jack is single and this woman is single. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the results of such a meeting. Sam, you dummy, they have eyes only for each other.

Sam cleared his throat and started to ask for directions to Dr. Michaels office, when he heard a voice behind him.

"Sheriff?"

Sam turned around and saw the man give a start. Sam was pleased at the effect he had on people. The marshal was in his early fifties, salt and pepper hair cut short, and a short but trim body. Law breakers knew how trim that body was the first time they tried to get the best of him. His training in the Marines, had taught him to expect the unexpected. The Marines had a saying which had stood him in good stead, "the best defense is a good offense."

The marshal approached the speaker. Dr. Michaels was also trim, dressed in a three-piece navy blue suit, and had short red hair. He had a ruddy complexion and was sporting a neatly trimmed red beard, dotted with specks of white. Awfully young looking to have grey, Sam thought as he walked toward to shake the man's proffered hand.

""No, Sir," Sam replied, "I am the town marshal and this is my deputy, Jack O'Connor. I will determine if the sheriff needs to be called, Sir."

"Ah," Dr, Michaels said, shaking hands with the men, "why don't we go into my office? Then, maybe we can get to the bottom of this predicament. Miss Williams, hold all calls for me, please."

As the marshal and the doctor started down the hall, Sam motioned for Jack to remain behind. Of course, Jack was all smiles as he returned to the receptionist's desk. Sam noticed this sudden turn of events and smiled.

TWELVE

Roderick Bockmiller walked to the edge of the town square. He glanced to his right and saw a group of teenagers listening to a boom-box. The scratchy sound that streamed forth out of the speakers of this marvel of the ages seemed to him as a cross between someone in their death throes and the high pitch screech of an alley cat caught in a barb wire fence. Needless to say, it was nerve wracking.

One of the teenagers was the evident leader. He was standing with arms crossed as the others were setting on the grass in obedience to him. The young man was dressed in faded levis with holes in the knees, a black leather jacket, and a colorful scarf tied around his head in Geronimo style. The two young ladies and a boy were sitting and staring at their leader in rapt attention. He was talking to them in animated gestures.

To Roderick's left was a park bench occupied by two elderly gentlemen. They had a checker board between them and one was busy making a move. Roderick noticed, after one made his move, the other would thoughtfully scratch his chin and ponder what to do next.

"Mr. Bockmiller?" a female voice behind him asked.

Roderick wheeled about and at first was taken back by the comeliness of the speaker. A woman in her late twenties, ash blonde hair tied in a pony tail, with a dark green business suit, stood before him. Black leather pumps, a light green scarf about the neck, and a briefcase completed this vision of beauty.

"Ma'am," Roderick said, as he walked toward her with an outstretched hand.

"My name is Ann Jacobs," she said, as she followed him to a park bench.

They sat and did not talk for a moment. Roderick was watching her out of the corner of his eye, while she seemed to be doing the same to him. Finally, they caught each other staring. They grinned and laughed at the obvious absurdity of the situation.

"No, you go ahead," Roderick said, as they both tried to speak at the same time.

"Mr. Bockmiller," she said, "er . . . Roderick. As you know, there is a new sanitarium built at the edge of town."

When she saw him nod, she continued telling him of the new sanitarium being actually ran by a secret arm of the federal government. She also told of the less people that people knew about it the better is would be. She now had his full attention.

THIRTEEN

John was pulling aside the branches of a small bush, when all of a sudden, he thought that he had seen a shadow dash fleetingly at the side of the deserted farmhouse. He peered closer, but could not make out any further movement. He started to have second thoughts about this planned meeting. Unconsciously he felt in his pocket for the scalpel. John removed this little instrument and held it to his side.

"Who's there?" John asked, but quickly found out he was talking to the wind.

It seemed as if the temperature had suddenly dropped. The normal sounds of the countryside had diminished, everything was quiet. He looked toward the farmhouse and it seemed dark and foreboding. Nevertheless, he started forward, raising the scalpel in a defensive nature.

The farmhouse sat on a small knoll. Shingles were missing, windows were broken, and weeds had made their presence known. Small furry creatures darted from the porch as he approached. The early morning sun went behind a cloud leaving a dark shadow on the surrounding area.

John reached the front steps and hesitated. Treading lightly up the steps, he looked about for any danger. He reached the top step and stopped. John saw a broken wicker rocker turned on its side, floorboards were missing in spots, and the overall appearance of the farm seemed in decay and was desolate.

He took a deep breath and reached for the screen handle. As he opened the door, a sudden rush of air greeted him, as a winged animal flew swiftly by his head. John quickly raised his hands and moved to the side. The bat flew unerringly toward the woods.

"Hello?" he called through the door. No answer.

Undaunted, he started through the door. Once inside of the house, he stopped. Then taking a deep breath, he heaved a sig of relief. John wiped cobwebs from before his face as he stepped into a large front room. What was left of the furniture bespoke of it being Victorian in nature. He smiled as he remembered telling people that this place was furnished in early Salvation Army.

He went farther into the dimly lit room, cursing as his shin smacked the edge of a table. The table clattered to the floor raising small dust clouds. He fumbled around the room, before he remembered bring his flashlight.

John reached into his jacket pocket and brought out the flashlight. Flicking it on, he scanned the interior of the room. The beam of light lanced through the darkness as John began to weave it about in the room. He saw a large room with a great fireplace in the far wall next to the broken window. A quick glance to the left of the fireplace showed him a broken window with a gnarled tree as a backdrop. A set of stairs to the left of the fireplace led to the upstairs. A family portrait hung over the mantle. It was dust covered and torn in places.

Now, why would someone leave it here, he thought as he stepped froward to get a better view. Scattering leaves with his feet, John approached the fireplace. He almost had reached the mantle when he heard a noise behind him. Whirling, John called out, "who's there?"

He received no answer, which prompted him to go to where the sound was coming from, somewhere from upstairs. Looking up the stairs he could not make out anything or anyone. Feeling like a fool, he started up the stairs, all the time wondering where his caller was. He had taken but a few steps, when he heard the stairs start to groan and suddenly gave way. He fell forward and down. John immediately raised his arms to cover his face. His sudden hitting of the floor caused him to momentarily lose consciousness. He stirred and sat up groggily. Looking about he saw that he was in the basement. Old canning jars lined one side of the room while a coal bin was at the other. Dust was every where. Spider webs hung from the rafters of the ceiling while rats scurried off in the far corner.

A pair of obsidian eyes watched him as he struggled to get to his feet. These eyes were constantly moving to take in anything out of the ordinary. This person was interesting. Not because of its intrusion into the eyes domain, but because it was cold bloodied and the intruder was radiating heat. Heat it needed. Uncoiling itself from beside an abandoned sofa, it slithered toward its intended victim. A rat darted in front of it and it was paid no heed. The rodent did not have enough volume to interest the snake. With its tongue sliding in and out to test for vibrations, the snake slid forward. The muscles were rippling in it humongous scaly body.

John watched fascinated as the reptile crawled closer. He was frozen to the spot. The snake suddenly stopped and coiled. The tail started to vibrate, making the rattles sound like buzzing bees. A mouth was opened to reveal two large fangs dripping with vermillion venom. A sudden noise caused the viper to quickly uncoil and crawl to the far corner. Preservation overcoming its hunger.

Relief flooded John's eyes as he heard the noise. At least the sound made the snake's movement cease and returned to the corner of the room. John looked up and saw there was no way out of the cellar. He saw a beam of light as it cut through the darkness.

"Hello?" a voice asked coming down the hole caused by the stairs.

"Down here!" John hollered, wanting his rescuer to know where he was located, as he quickly scrambled to directly under the floor opening. He moved in the beam of the light. By looking up, he was blinded by the arc of light. He held his arms over his face and asked if the stranger would please extinguish the light.

The light went out and John felt safer knowing someone was up there to help him out of this predicament. He hollered up for his savior to throw down a rope.

"Are you John?" the voice asked.

"Now who else would be out here in the dead of nowhere," John piped back.

The stranger asked if he was alone and if any one knew he was coming out her to the farm. John told him that of course he was alone and yes no one knew he was out here. I am not going to split any money with any one else, he thought. He was too busy envisioning his new found wealth to hear the click of a revolver's hammer being pulled back. The last thing John felt was the bullet as it entered his heart, stopping the life flow. It had happened so quick that he did not realize he was dead as he slumped to the floor.













FOURTEEN

Hester Martin was walking through the woods that night when she heard a noise. A low guttural sound was off to her left. Glancing that way, she saw only the trees casting shadows, like the skeletal bones of long dead dinosaurs, on the barren landscape.

She shook her flashlight to make it work better and shined it toward the path in front of her. The wind was picking up a little, chilling her to her bones. A slight tremor coursed through her body. She pulled the hood of her coat up more on her head. Hester jiggled her head to clear it, then she hurried her steps. The thorns on the bushes tore at her dress causing it to soon become tatters.

Sharp branches seemed to tug at her arms as she pushed aside the bushes barring her path. The woman could feel no pain as tiny rivulets of blood coursed down her legs. Heedless to the pain she pressed onward. The branches seemed to tug at her. Relentlessly the grasped her clothing. Hester finally was able pull her self from their grasp. Stumbling, she went up the trail.

Up ahead Hester could see the faint outline of a building. It stood stark against the barren cliff face. Beyond the structure she could barely make out the sound of waves crashing against the rocks at the base of the cliff. A lone gnarled tree was rooted beside the house. She could see it clearer now. Relief flooded her features as she staggered to the structure.

A Victorian style two-story house was stationed like a lone sentinel against the backdrop of the night sky. The only illumination was the full moon as it shone balefully. Every now and then a passing cloud obliterated the moonlight. The house shutters were boarded up and the front porch seemed to be falling in places. She walked to the steps and stopped. Looking up she spied a shadow in the far window.

"Who's there?" Hester asked to the wind, which was starting to howl. Glancing up at the sky she was alarmed to see it had turned to an ugly shade of gray.

She received no answer and fearfully started up the steps cautiously. As she gingerly mounted the steps, she could not only hear but the feel the steps creak. Placing a hand on the handrail, she was relieved to find it was sturdier than it looked. Hester held her breath as she started the stairs.

Reaching the front door, she saw that the screen was torn in parts and was barely hanging on by a thread of a hinge. Hester placed her hand on the screen door and it immediately fell off to go clattering on the porch. It was dark inside of the house. Sort of reminding me of my stomach, she tried to humor herself, dark and empty.

She stepped gingerly into the front room, pausing long enough to wipe the cobwebs from the entrance. Hester peered into the darkened room which was only illuminated by the moonbeams that came filtering in the broken windows. Thinking that she was safer only added to her illusion of going farther into the room.

Shining her flashlight on the walls she discovered oval pictures of a family; a man, a woman, and two small children, a boy and a girl, were posing in front of a horse-drawn buggy. The man wore a bored expression, the woman had one of despair, and the children seemed puzzled. All were dressed in farming outfits. The man had on bib-overalls, the woman a flour print dress, and the children were in hand-me-downs. Their peculiarity was they all were hare-lipped.

Hester could understand one of the parents, but all four? It seemed rather incredulous to her, but she shrugged her shoulders and proceeded forward. But as she moved across the room, the eyes of the picture seemed to follow her. Once, she stopped quickly, turned, and looked closely at the picture, only to have it stare back at her like some incarnated and tortured soul. They seemed to be calling out to her from their prison of the picture.

Suddenly there was a noise from her right. She flinched as the sound assailed her ears. Then the pounding started behind her eyes like small gnomes pounding on little anvils. Each time their hammers hit the metal object, it sent a tremor through her body. Hester dropped the flashlight and brought her hands up to press at her temples. The tighter she pressed her hands the less the pressure was on her eyes.

Reeling, she fell on the couch. Her breath was coming faster as her heart began to palpitate faster. The quickening of her heart made the blood in her veins rushed with a frightening speed through her blood vessels. Her chest felt as if a giant tentacles of an octopus were wrapped around it. Slowly the air was forced from her body. Her eyes began to roll upward in their sockets, the pupils were dilated, and the hair on the back of her neck began to stand on end. It was then that she lost consciousness.

"That's all there is to your story?" the doctor asked. Seeing her numbly nod, he began to write a number on a card and gave it to her.

"What is this?" she queried, sitting up on the office couch.

"That, my Dear," he said, handing her the note, "is the telephone number of a friend of mine. He is located in the town of Halleyville, Indiana. I want you to call him and ,make an appointment. I am afraid this whole business of yours is over my head. After all, I am just a country doctor and an old one at that. There have been made new inroads into your nightmares. I am ashamed to admit it, but I haven't quite kept up with the latest developments. I am positive that Dr. Michaels can be of assistance to you."

Hester stared at the note and wondered if she could be helped? She shrugged her shoulders and started from the doctor's office. Once outside, she looked around and remembered where she had parked her auto. Walking across the street, she finally made the safety of her auto.

Opening the door she collapsed on the front seat. Tears began to meander down her cheeks. She fumbled in her purse and brought out a tissue. Dabbing her eyes with the tissue, she started the auto and went down the road to her house. She failed to see the black car following her.

FIFTEEN













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