Friday, February 15, 2008

Chapter 9: Third Night, Part V

Baby in one hand and darkened flashlight in the other, he walked quickly through the living room while casting glances over his shoulder at the light. One of three bulbs in the fixture had burned out, but the remaining two burned steadily as he passed into the kitchen. Ray snored in his ear. His shoulder and elbow ached with the effort of supporting the kid's weight. When did he get so heavy? It'd be nice if I could put him down and leave him there for a while. He set the flashlight on the kitchen table and shifted Raymond to the other shoulder. Handling the lanterns proved awkward, but finally he got the battery cover off and slipped four new D-cells in each. The box claimed that was good for sixteen hours; even with a manufacturer's tendency toward outrageous claims, he figured that should be enough to see them through the night.

The lanterns swung from his free hand while he looked from the dark room at the back to the rope coiled on the table and back. He shifted from foot to foot and tried to quash a surge of impatience. The microwave clock showed it was not yet ten. Still plenty of time. But why wait? He had no idea how long it might take to find Cheryl and Alexis, much less bring them inside. Vernon nudged the baby with his chin. Ray didn't budge. Moving the lanterns to his other hand, he hooked his forearm through the loop and let it slide up to his elbow. The rope felt heavier than he remembered and kept trying to drag his arm down. He hitched it back up and walked into the living room. He cast a glance back at the blackened window beside the refrigerator as he crossed the threshold. His feet crossed, and he stumbled as he tripped over his own heel. The rope slithered free and landed on the floor in a tangled heap.

Vernon growled and tilted his head back. "Why can't anything be easy?" he asked the ceiling. When it didn't answer, he squatted, set the lights beside the recliner and went to his room, where he grabbed a couple of pillows off the bed. He dropped them on the floor in front of chair and kicked them around until they lay side by side. He laid Ray on top, pausing to make sure the infant wasn't going to wake up. Vernon stood and backed toward the doorway, his shadow stretching in the brighter kitchen light to drape over Raymond. He smiled and turned his attention to the rope.

Grabbing the end, he stood and started winding it around his forearm between the hand and elbow. He'd gotten about half of it done when Ray started whimpering behind him. "You're OK," he muttered. The cries increased as Vernon coiled the rope. He muttered to himself and continued to loop it around his arm. He heard a thump. The crying turned to screams. Vernon tossed the rope on the floor in disgust and turned on one heel. "Oh, come on!" he snapped. "Can't you go five minutes without someone holding you?"

Raymond wasn't there.

Vernon's shadow trailed out from his feet. Long and thin, it had stretched beyond the pillows and grew even as he watched, dragging Raymond across the room by the collar of his onsie. It appeared to be headed for a tall chair in the corner that sat just high enough he might fit under it. The baby kicked and screamed. Breaking into a run, Vernon bent down and snatched up the lanterns.


Part VI coming next week!

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