Archive for panic

Hanging On: Thirty

Posted in short stories with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by Uncle Tree

According to Matthew, he slept in the chair under the window all night long and, amazingly enough, the rifle hadn’t fallen from his lap. Prior to his sudden awakening, he’d been having a dream in which he was employed by the railroad as a cook on a passenger train. He was only able to recall the very tail end of this dream experience, but since it’s occurrence was so coincidently timed, he thought he ought to add it into the story as a pertinent matter of course. Here then is his dream as it was handed down to me. In Matt’s own words:

I was working alone as a cook in the back of the caboose. The sun was just beginning to rise, and the train seemed to be moving down the tracks at top speed. I was wearing a long white apron over my clothes, and I was standing over a hot stove with a spatula in my hand. I appeared to be making a whole bunch of breakfast. A large skillet of scrambled eggs lay before me, and there was a tall pile of fried bacon off to the side. I remember hearing the muffled scream of a woman, and I raised my head to look towards the front. There was a window in the door, and through it I could see the car ahead of me. It also had a window in the door, and from what I could tell, all the seats were taken. I mean, the car was full. There were even people standing in the aisle.

Next thing I know, here comes some man in a gray business suit pushing his way through the crowd. He seemed to be in a hurry. Once he got to the back door, he opened it towards him, and as soon as he’d made it to the step outside, he quickly shut it behind him. Then he lowered his head a bit to look back through the window. I figured he was being chased. He didn’t look for long, and then he turned around and started to make his way carefully between the cars. About two seconds later, he stepped up to my door and rushed in, but he spun around and slammed the door so fast that I didn’t get a good look at his face. The sharply dressed man bent down again to look through the window before he turned around. I was pleasantly relieved to see that it was only Luke, but I also remember being concerned for he was certainly in a panic. I’d never seen him look so scared. Funny thing was, he didn’t seem at all surprised to find me standing there.

“He’s after me!” he yelled as he continued in haste towards the back door. “Who’s after you?” I asked. “The murderer!” he cried. “Oh, crap!” I remember saying, and then I looked through the windows again, but I didn’t see anyone coming. Luke opened the door to go out, but then then he stopped and hesitated, as if he wasn’t sure about the action he had planned. “Do you have a gun?” he asked. Well, I didn’t know. I checked my side for a pistol. “No, I guess not,” I said as I scanned the room for a rifle. “Where’re you going?” I asked him. He looked at me in all sincerity, and with a very serious tone to his voice, he replied, “I’m jumping off this train, and if you don’t want to be killed you better come with me!” I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.” Luke wasn’t waiting around for me to make a decisive move. He swung the door open and stepped out onto the platform.

I looked back towards the front and through the windows. The aisle had been cleared, and everyone was sitting quite still in their seats. Not one head was turned, they were all looking forward, and then the door to the passenger car slowly opened all by itself. No one was there, and the door stayed open. Nobody looked, and no one got up to shut it. When my front door began to open, I remember thinking, “Run for it!” but my feet wouldn’t oblige. My attention remained frozen to the scene straight ahead of me. I watched the door swing open, but there still wasn’t a soul to be seen. I tried to move my legs again, but they were unresponsive. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the empty entryway. The next thing that happened was so downright impossible that I’ll never be able to forget it. I still have a hard time explaining it to myself.

As I looked towards the open door, my view through the space inside the frame began to blur. All else in the room remained clear and stayed in focus. It was just the air right there in the doorway that was being distorted. A split second later, that fuzzy bit of space began to swirl within itself. Gradually, but quickly, a form began to take shape. Shortly thereafter, I could see a vague outline of a tall human figure wearing a wide-brimmed hat. It only took another second or so for the figure to finish materializing, and then I was able to tell for sure who it was. It was the murderer alright, and he was dressed all in black, just like I’d seen him the night before.

After the killer had completely appeared out of the thin dreamy air, I was finally able to see his handsomely featured face, which didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of his menacing look. Oddly enough, even though his whole body was standing there in the doorway, he wasn’t all there yet, so to speak. I mean, he didn’t come to life right away. He just stood there stiff as could be, and stared straight ahead without moving a muscle. It was only then that I noticed he was holding something in his hand, but this something didn’t materialize in time with the rest of his figure. It took a little bit longer to put itself together, but soon I could tell exactly what the thing was. It was a knife! But it wasn’t just any old knife, this was a white-handled dagger with a long double-edged blade.

The blade began to glow, and the man opened his eyes. The glow grew hotter and brighter, and as it changed from red to white, the killer stirred to life. He looked at me in jest, and put a mischievous grin on his face. Then he raised his arm and pointed the knife at my head, and blinded my eyes with a bright shaft of light. Instantly, I felt a surge of energy course through my body, and shoot on out from the ends of my fingers and toes. How long he held me there in suspense, I don’t rightly remember, but eventually he removed the light from my eyes, and right away I could see fine again. First, I looked at his sinister smile, and then I looked him straight in the eyes. He tilted back his head and let out a laugh, a terrifying laugh. It was more like a roar actually, a roar so loud that it drowned out the sound of the train as it rolled down the tracks.

To tell you the truth, that scared the crap out of me, and that was all it took to set me free, apparently, for without my command, my hand dropped the spatula. Then all of their own accord, my legs decided to move, and my feet took off for the door. I could hear his steps as he closed in fast behind me. I ran out to the platform, and there was Luke hiding off to the side. “Are you ready now?” he asked me. I quickly nodded my head in agreement. He says, “I’ll go first to show you how this is done. Hit and roll! Do you hear me? Hit and roll! Now, watch.” Luke jumped off and away from the train, and when he hit the ground, he rolled about a dozen times. Then he got up on his feet, and waved for me to come on. I hesitated ever so slightly, and then I felt that hot surge of light piercing into my back. I took the leap right then and there, and when I did, I jumped up and out of my chair. My rifle went flying through the air, but before it had a chance to land, I heard my wife screaming my name at the top of her lungs.

Hanging On: Chapter Nineteen

Posted in short stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2009 by Uncle Tree

Back about the time when Sam and his posse had been in the cave, Matthew had been back in Bedlam defying the urge to sleep. Since it was a Saturday night, he’d allowed himself to stay up a bit later than usual. His wife and his boy had gone on to bed without him.  To stay awake and keep warm, he’d kept himself busy by tending to the fire in their stove. It was blazing away at full strength, and it lit up the room fairly well. This enabled Matt to take to the task of cleaning his rifle. He’d planned on going hunting the next morning, but the storm had caused him to reconsider that idea. He dearly wished it would move on.

There was also something else rummaging about in the back of Matt’s mind, and that was Sam and his posse. In his estimation, he didn’t think they’d be back that night, but he couldn’t be resolutely sure. That made him a shade anxious, and he’d been peering out his windows on and off all evening long. It was simply a nervous reaction. For sure, he was hoping they would catch the murderer eventually. If there was to be another hanging in Bedlam, he didn’t want to miss it for anything. He’d only seen one since they’d lived there, but that was from afar. He thought he’d like to have a close-up view someday, just so he could brag about having had the experience. All the better, too, if the hanging involved this particular killer. Someday the man would be famous, for it was such a vicious crime. The story would be told for years to come. Matt certainly wished to be a party to it’s history. In that respect, he was a voyeuristic storyteller. He didn’t see himself as a fearmonger. He told his tales for the express purpose of entertaining others, not because he wished to scare people away.

By the time that Matt had finished the readying of his rifle, the stove had cooled off, and it’s light had grown dim. He decided to get the fire going one last time, and then he’d hit the hay. On the way to his back door, he once again looked out his window in the direction of the graveyard, but he couldn’t see very well because of the rain. Matt owned the last house on the left as you made your way south out of Bedlam. The hanging tree stood on the other side of the street. It was a block or so further on down the road from his place. Matt didn’t believe the tree was haunted, nor did he believe in ghosts. Nevertheless, he kept an eye out for them, especially at night. In this regard, he was like most people. If there were such a thing as ghosts, then for sure he’d like to have seen one. Not up close, mind you, but a ways away, a very safe distance away.

Matt bundled up in his coat, put on his hat, and grabbed his gloves before going out the back door. Much worse was this storm from what he had previously forecast. He’d been expecting snow, rather than rain under those freezing conditions. Earlier that afternoon he’d covered his stack of logs with a large piece of cowhide, in order to keep the wood good and dry. By this time, a thin sheet of ice lay atop the cover. Matt pulled up a corner, and grabbed as much as he could hold before covering it back up. As he began his return back to the cozy comforts of home, he looked around at the few remaining occupied houses. They were emitting no light. He thought, “This town is dead.” Matt was longing for the good old days when Saturday nights used to bring a change of pace, and a little excitement. He badly wanted to move to the new town because that’s where good things were happening, except for last night, of course, but he figured that was a once in a lifetime event, and everything would soon be back to normal up there.

Matt was halfway to the door when he heard his old hound dog howling inside the house. “Damn dog!” he thought. “He’s going to wake everyone up.” As if the dog could hear him, he spoke out loud, “There’s no one out here but me, ya stupid dog.” Matt was wrong, for just as soon as he’d finished speaking, the silent night brought him a surprise. It was a sound so startling that he dropped his armload of firewood to the ground, and froze in his steps. This unmistakable sound was the high-pitched whinny of a horse expressing it’s fear, and it was coming from the direction of the graveyard. Matt shuddered in his tracks, and felt his heart begin to race. “Who’s that?” he thought quietly to himself. Then he broke his own rule for a change, and let his curiosity get the best of him. Instead of picking up the firewood, he left it there to lay in the rain, and crept his way towards the back of house. “It must be Sam and his men,” he thought. “At least…oh, God, I hope it is,” he said to himself after considering the alternatives. “But, why the heck are they back so soon? They couldn’t have caught him already. Could they?”

In order for Matt to be able to see the graveyard, he had to look around the corner on the east side of his house. With his left hand gripping the edge, and his right palm against the wall, he braced himself, and leaned his head out to take a look. As soon as he had a complete view of the tree and the graveyard, he stopped moving, and held his ground. As far as he could tell, no one was there. He was sure of what he’d heard, so he paused and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, and coming from the far-side of the graveyard, Matt caught sight of a mysteriously slow moving object. It was a vague, sinister-looking shadowy figure on a tall, dark horse. Matt waited in alarm for another figure or two, to appear from behind, but none were forthcoming. There was only one single rider. That dreadful fact alone had Matt quaking in his boots, and it gave him the willies just to think about who it might be. The freezing rain continued to fall from the blackened sky, and the cold wind was causing shivers to run up and down his spine. He stood spellbound in disbelief as the horse coursed around each encountered tombstone, and continued to carry it’s master through the foreboding graveyard.

Their indistinct shapes were beginning to take form as they neared the hanging tree. The old oak seemed to be cloaked in gloom on that night, or so it appeared to Matt. Once they were under the furthermost reaches of it’s branches, the horse brought it’s rider to an abrupt halt. It reared up off the ground, and voiced another neigh. Upon landing, it shook it’s head and mane, and snorted loudly in a show of disgust. Small clouds of hot, steamy breathe came rolling out of it’s nostrils. The wisps of warmed air rose up into the cold night sky, and quickly vanished. Matt couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It bore an awfully close resemblance to the ominous scene he’d pictured the day before on his ride back home. The man got off his horse, and led it by the reins until they were under the lowest limb. A moment later, Matt remembered that Sam had dropped a rope on the ground at that very spot. From the looks of it, the man was dressed in black from head to toe. By then, Matt was able to see the man was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and it reminded him of the description Luke gave of the dangerous, wanted murderer. That memory was enough to arouse his worst fears. It was more than enough to frighten Matt into a mode of panic, an excruciating emotion, which to him had hitherto been unknown. Never before had he felt so terrified. Never before had he been scared stiff, and it took his breathe away.

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