Deputy Hadley: Ain’t you afraid he’ll come get her?
Dr. Ambrel: That man is too mentally ill to accomplish such a thing.
Dr. Wincott: I agree. I see no reason to go back there, now; not until you are able to arrest them all. Have you told others of that plan and where they are, yet?
Dr. Ambrel: Not yet.
Deputy Hadley: What ‘bout the file you started on Miss Trambler? Don’t it say where we got her? My report did.
Dr. Ambrel: All in good time. I will turn over all of our findings when I am sure we will get the support and manpower we need. Although, I still object to allowing the girl to keep that baby; she will never be a fit mother.
Dr. Wincott: We needed the good will of Dr. Sorrel, and he is Catholic. The baby will be put up for adoption, as we promised him.
Dr. Ambrel: Leave my name out of that, Dr. Wincott. The baby may have many problems inherited from the father; I can’t recommend anything beyond foster care.
Deputy Hadley: We need to know what they’re doin’ in Fuller. I can go out there again; I might could spot the Hewitts, see if I can find any more evidence o’ the Connors tanglin’ with ‘em. If I know the others ain’t home, maybe I could make Old Monty talk. I can say I’m lookin’ for Sheriff Winston Hoyt, tell him I saw his car drivin’ ‘round.
Dr. Ambrel: Patience, David. We are still assembling our team for treating Thomas Hewitt. I have gotten the assurances of three of the people you suggested, Dr. Wincott. Your specialists and that nurse you recommended.
Dr. Wincott: Thank you, Doctor. As soon as they arrive and can see Miss Trambler, we can really begin. I will have the group session with her arranged; she has agreed to try to answer their questions. She could have simply stolen those rings. Perhaps the team can find out more.
Dr. Ambrel: Excellent. We should be able to move on Hewitt soon.
Deputy Hadley: Honestly, Doc? I don’t see how you’re gonna get him, if you don’t believe me ‘bout how dangerous that whole family is. Charlie Hewitt probly murdered Sheriff Hoyt; his nephew is just a wild bull compared to that creep. A wild bull that probly murdered your uncle, though, in case you forgot.
Dr. Wincott: Country rumors are not facts. The young Thomas Hewitt I met years ago was being terrorized by your own brother and his cronies. He didn’t even fight back.
Deputy Hadley: My dead brother, ma’am – killed by an act o’ arson at the school. Thomas Hewitt likely set that fire. Do I gotta remind you that he attacked us and my patrol car with a chainsaw?
Dr. Ambrel: Enough, both of you. We all have much to do to prepare; I suggest we begin in earnest.
She stared out the window, her thoughts far from the hospital. Beyond the Austin city limits, heading south, the dusty road led home. Tears gathered in her eyes as she rested on her back in the bed. Her hand stroked over her swollen belly.
Dr. Ambrel had come in again but she ignored him, as she had for months. He and the deputy sheriff were from there, from home, like Dr. Wincott. They had run away when the times got bad, as most of the people who had lived in that tiny Texas town for generations had. The jobs had gone and the people followed the jobs – but not all of them … not quite.
The deputy hadn’t been there for a few days but whenever he came, he flirted with the pretty nurse who always stayed in the room while they were there. She appeared to like it; perhaps she thought the young man was handsome? Now the nurse frowned at Dr. Ambrel as she worked on her report behind him. Did she hate him … or her? Amarie had learned that most people in white jackets and uniforms were bad news and too clever to fool, most of the time. She was glad the deputy hadn’t come.
Whenever Dr. Sorrel came in, Amarie would speak, answer questions, and tell him how she felt today – if he stuck to business. If he called her Mrs. Hewitt again, she would smile. That other name, the one Dr. Ambrel and the deputy used, meant nothing to her. If they called her that, they could go to hell.
Dr. Wincott had made them move the bed near the window for her after asking her to remain in it and rest – for the baby. Dr. Sorrel was the man who refused to let them take her baby before it was born. She didn’t know how they could, but Dr. Wincott told her it would be killed if they did.
The others who came in to see her were awful. The skinny old nurse had said her family was a pack of animals when she had cried over them taking away her wedding rings. The two men who always asked about her brother just frightened her. One of them had even touched her chest when no one else was looking.
Ain’t no use in tellin’ this awful man; he only wants me to say stuff that would get Tommy in trouble.
“Miss Trambler, I can’t help you unless you talk to me.” When she stared at her hand where the rings had been, Dr. Ambrel got cross again. “You know the Connors died, don’t you? Did you see them at that house? Their families are upset that they can’t ever get them back.”
Dr. Wincott wants me to say I stole ‘em, but I’m no thief. Tommy will get me new weddin’ rings, if I ever get home. The thought made her start to cry again. To soothe herself, she sang softly about mockingbirds to the baby in her belly.
“I wish you would try to trust me,” Dr. Ambrel spoke again. “Would you please stop singing? I’m not here to condemn anyone, or judge – I only want to understand what happened to you, to help you recover. Deputy Hadley needs to find a lot of missing people who were seen in or near Fuller, and we think you could help us with that, too, if you would. I’ve asked him to wait in the hope that you would tell me something – anything.”
The door opened and Dr. Sorrel stepped in. Amarie didn’t turn her head to look; she didn’t have to. His cologne was familiar by now, and the sound of his habitual low grunt of disapproval was also familiar, and comforting. She stopped singing – for him.
“Good afternoon, Amarie,” the heavy-set doctor greeted her. “How do you feel today?”
“Dr. Sorrel, if I may,” Dr. Ambrel interrupted, “I need to speak with her. I can’t get the authorities to authorize a warrant without some kind of proof of what is going on in Fuller. Perhaps you could help –”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but my patient has made it clear to me that she will not talk to you about Fuller, not at this time. I’ve given you many opportunities to change her mind, but I won’t have her badgered. For now, I’ll have to ask you to leave, sir.”
Amarie felt the tears in her eyes spill over down her cheeks. His voice was low, and it sparked memories. Her hands moved slowly again, stroking her belly. The baby wasn’t ready to come for a few months yet, but afterward, she would find a way to go home. Then she would show the baby to the people who had taught her about the only thing that mattered – family.
She remembered to smile when Dr. Wincott came in and dismissed the nurse. When Dr. Sorrel left after checking her, the woman remained. As soon as the door closed, Amarie dropped the smile and glared at her.
“What month is it now? Nobody here tells me nothin’.”
“Hello Amarie. It is mid-March. You and your baby are doing very well.”
“You said a couple months only.”
“Don’t you want the baby to be safe and healthy?”
Amarie sat up and hugged her belly. “I cain’t have it here. That mean old nurse told me they’ll take it away from me.”
“We won’t let that happen. You can go home soon, I promised. What do you think of the other new doctors? Are they nice to you?”
“Hate ‘em. That one with the droopy smile touched me.” She squeezed her left breast in the white cotton cover to show her. “Like that. He’s got that look – like he’d like to do more. If he tries, I’ll kick him!”
“I don’t blame you – I would, too. I’ll speak to Dr. Butler, don’t worry. What about Dr. Graham?”
“He’s just cold and mean. He looks at me like I’m trash.”
The woman came over and sat at the foot of the bed. Amarie scooted her feet up under the blankets.
“Dr. Graham and Dr. Butler used to be my therapists when I was a little girl, right after I moved here to Austin from Fuller. Nurse Brigham used to pinch my shoulder, hard enough to bruise, if I didn’t do what she said. It was Catholic school all over again.”
“Religion, a system of beliefs that is very old. Your foster parents are Protestant – they didn’t teach you anything else, I assume?”
“Didn’t teach me nothin’, ‘cept how t’ hurt a person.”
Well, I don’t blame you for not liking those doctors, or the nurse. I didn’t like them either but they did help me become the woman I am today.”
“Don’t wanna talk to ‘em, I just wanna go home, ma’am.”
“I know you do, Amarie. Now we have to talk about Thomas Hewitt, so that Dr. Ambrel will keep letting me see you alone. Last week you said that he can be led and controlled if you know how. Please tell me more about how to do it.”
“He’s gotta like you for that.”
“How do you get him to like you?”
Amarie smirked at her. “You gotta be family.”
“You weren’t born family, you became that. How?”
Breathing deeply and letting it out as a sigh, she shrugged. “Momma Hewitt got me into the family. She just … liked me.” Closing her eyes, she settled back down and tried to relax. “She loved me. She wanted me. They all did, after a while – even crabby old Uncle Monty. I ain’t never been loved like that. Never.”
“Uncle Monty? We haven’t talked about him yet. Tell me about him.”
“Well, he’s old – in a wheelchair cuz he ain’t got legs no more. He’s my momma’s uncle…”
The area behind the counter in the store was thick with smoke as Luda Mae puffed her third cigarette. She watched the young men, clean cut and cordial for once, who had driven up to ask for directions. They had been surprised to find out they could get gas there.
She didn’t bother to call Uncle Monty on the phone after they walked back out to their car. The freezer was full again and there were fewer mouths to feed anyway. Bowing her head at the thought, she sighed. The ache for her missing daughter hadn’t faded. Charlie would kill the men just to relieve his anger and frustration, and she didn’t have the stomach for it.
My poor sweet boy barely leaves the basement now, unless it’s to sit at the crossroads. Her brother had ended up cuffing him on the shoulder to make him pay attention long enough to help move boxes out of the Mason hayloft. His rages are gettin’ worse – I hope he don’t go after Charlie one o’ these days.
The men called out a greeting as another car rolled up. Hoping it wasn’t Charlie, she peered up and out through the screen door.
An old gray Chevy had pulled in and parked, and when a pretty blonde woman got out, Luda Mae froze. It was the Mason girl, the one who helped kidnap Amarie months ago. The note the woman had left on the counter after that was folded and tucked in her nightstand drawer at home, with the lock of her daughter’s hair.
Luda Mae moved to stand by the phone and waited. The men got in their car and drove away as the woman approached the store, the bell sounding as she came in.
“Hello? Mrs. Hewitt?”
“Unless you got my girl with you, this is no safe place for the likes o’ you, Mason.”
“I told you I would come and that I wanted to help. So here I am. Do you want my help to get her back?”
“Yes. Now you tell me why you wanna ‘help’. The truth, or my brother will get it outta you the hard way. He’d like you – far too much.”
“I want your help in return. I need your son and brother to do something for me.”
“Charlie said you wanted somethin’. Is my girl okay? Are she and the baby healthy?”
“She’s fine, they’re both healthy. She misses all of you.”
“Tell me where you took her.”
“A hospital in Austin.”
“I can’t tell you that yet. I’ll give you that information soon, but not this trip. I need a guarantee I’ll leave here in one piece. I’d like to be friends … if we can be.”
Luda Mae held her cigarette and looked the woman over. The fancy suit and hairstyle made her look like she’d never lived in a place like Fuller. “We cain’t trust people like you – city folk who just wanna lock my son up and prod him with sticks.” She leaned over and spit on the floor beside her shoe.
The woman smiled and winked. “I’m a country girl at heart. I’ll send you proof, and the information you want. Maybe that will help us get friendlier. For now, I think I’ll go – just in case you already called Charlie Hewitt.”
“How are you gonna tell us where she is? Use a phone and let ‘em hear you talkin’ to us? Not even mail comes here now.”
“I told you, I’ll send it – special home delivery. Tell Uncle Monty to keep his cane handy.”
~ ~ ~
She finished up the dishes that night while her brother paced the kitchen floor. Monty slumped in his wheelchair at the end of the table, watching them both.
“Our hands are tied, Momma,” Charlie told her. “I keep goin’ out and try to look, ask ‘round. Probly too dangerous to keep at it if those assholes are also lookin’ for us.”
Monty snorted. “They could know every damn thing ‘bout us by now. How’d she know so much ‘bout me, huh?”
Luda Mae frowned when both men fell silent, watching her. She turned and leaned against the sink, drying her hands with a towel. “My precious girl wouldn’t tell those people ‘bout us.”
It took only an instant for Charlie to go from a cold calm to a white-hot rage. He punched the wall, leaving a dent in it without making a sound and then quickly settled again. Monty had instinctively looked away, frozen in place.
“I know, I know – they don’t seem to know nothin’ beyond the common crap. I just plain ran outta places to look, Momma. Nobody’s seen Amarie, or they ain’t tellin’. Why didn’t your new friend leave us gas cans? I got the gas to drive all the way to Austin again and back only once more. Without knowin’ where to go to find her, it’d be a bust.” He flopped against the wall and crossed his arms. “Tommy would draw attention an awful lot, too, even if I got him in the back to play prisoner.”
“We gotta get her home,” Luda Mae whispered. “My boy is so down and lost, he’ll barely eat.”
“I’m only posin’ as a sheriff out there. One bad run-in with real ones, and that’s the end o’ it. All o’ it.”
“The Mason woman said she’d send proof that she ain’t after us – promised she’d tell us where Amarie is, too.”
“The day I trust a city skirt, one that helped steal our girl…”
“We gotta try.”
Monty’s wheelchair squeaked and broke the silence as he moved off toward the living room. “If I can help, y’all lemme know. I miss that little gal, too.”
Luda Mae smiled through her tears. “You miss not doin’ the washin’.”
“Yeah, that, too,” he told her, and gave her a rare smile back.
~ ~ ~
The morning was cool as Luda Mae set out on foot across the fields to go to the store. Charlie had left earlier to hunt for travelers, after helping her order her son to stay home.
She turned her head toward the distant road when she heard a car coming. For a moment, she thought it was her brother returning far too soon – probably because his hunt had been successful. Then the memory of her daughter being kidnapped filled her with fear, and on instinct, she squatted down in the tall weeds before the car came into view.
It’s just Charlie’s Plymouth, she thought. As it went by, she squinted at it to see if there was anyone in the backseat. Glancing at the license plate, she frowned. Charlie’s car is number 74-925. The trunk and bumper had been damaged and repaired, a cheap fix. Staring at it as the car slipped out of sight again, she gasped. “It’s that Hadley boy.”
Struggling to her feet, she turned back toward home. She hoped Monty could handle him and prayed that he would see him driving up first and call Charlie in on the radio.
When she reached the house, she didn’t see the car right away. Then she spotted it – he had parked it around the back along the grass-grown dirt track that circled that end of the house and garage. Only a glint of metal was visible at the corner of the building. She didn’t see anyone. Then she heard Monty talking, but couldn’t make out what he said.
Hadley might feel he can handle an old cripple in a wheelchair. If I walk in the front door, he could get spooked and he’s probly gotta gun on him. Monty will keep him in the hall, though, if he can.
She went around the back and up to the patrol car. As she remembered from the store that day, it was a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere just like Charlie’s, and it wasn’t locked. With a smile, she opened the driver’s door and popped the hood release.
Once she got the hood propped up and found the distributor cap, it only took a few moments to prise apart the two retaining clips and lift the cap off, just like Charlie had shown her. She pulled the wires from the cap and stuffed it into the wide pocket in front of her dress. Leaving the wires where they fell, she lowered the hood and shut it as quietly as she could.
Slipping into the kitchen through the back, she moved through the room to the opposite door that led to the main hall. She could hear Hadley talking now and Monty had him going good. Leaving the door shut, she pressed her ear to it.
“Done told you what room, she’s upstairs – go look for yourself, Sheriff.”
“I don’t trust you one bit and I cain’t drag you upstairs with me.”
“Don’t gotta drag me nowhere, just promise you’ll take me with you when you go. The chair can fit in the trunk. They cut off my legs, damn it! You gotta take me with you!”
“Mrs. Connor? Dodie Connor! Answer me if you can!”
“Aww, Sheriff, I’m sorry, but I expect that crazy coulda killed her. Ain’t heard a sound all mornin’ and I cain’t go up to see…”
“Shit. Stay right there, you hear me? If that chair makes one squeak, I’ll shoot you, do you understand that?”
Luda Mae listened for boots going up the stairs. When she heard him shout out up there, she cracked the door open. Monty turned his head and saw her. He grinned wolfishly at her solemn nod to him.
Shutting the door again, she moved away from it. It wasn’t hard to hear them now. Tommy, you better be here… Please be here…
“She’s dead, rot you; that sick freak tore her up bad! I gotta go – now. I’ll be back. Play dumb ‘til then. I’ll tell the others not to hurt you.” The boots started to stomp down the hall to the front doors.
“No, wait, Sheriff, please!” The harsh thump of Monty’s cane struck the floorboards. “You gotta help me, son! Come help me!”
With two more hard thumps of the cane, they all heard the roar beneath their feet. The Hadley boy yelled curses and fled the house, running around the corner outside to his car.
Luda Mae burst out of the kitchen. “Did you call Charlie?”
“Couldn’t get no chance!”
“Do it now!”
She grabbed Monty’s wheelchair and barely got him pulled back out of the way before Thomas erupted from the basement door, leaving it open behind him.
“Out back, Tommy, through the kitchen! Don’t kill him, you hear?” She left Monty alone and followed after her son. He jumped down the back kitchen steps as he yanked the chainsaw to life.
There was Hadley, key in the ignition, frantically trying to start his car.
“Tommy we need him alive! He has to tell us where your sister is! Don’t kill! Don’t kill!”
The young man jumped out of the car and tried to run, but her son was too close. Luda Mae kept yelling, hoping Thomas would hear her over that dreadful machine. He lifted it, swung it down, and Luda Mae turned away, just in case. She didn’t want see if he’d heard her just yet – the screams of the young sheriff were bad enough.
The hated meat ran. Thomas lifted the chainsaw and swung it down, howling when it chewed into the boot and the blood burst free. The meat screamed, fell, and then tried to crawl, fumbling for the weapon on the hip.
He hoisted the chainsaw and hacked at the groping hand, watching some of the fingers sheer off and fall away. Moving forward, he planted his boot on the meat’s leg. Turning off the chainsaw, he dropped it and plucked the meat hook from the strap of the leather apron.
With a grunt, he stabbed into the shoulder muscle and pushed the hook through. Gripping the handle, he hauled the meat up off its chest and around, ignoring its bleats and curses.
“Thomas Brown Hewitt, you look at me and listen, now!”
Raising his head, he looked at his mother, caught between the fear of her anger and the need to tend to the meat.
“Don’t kill him, not yet. You wait for your uncle, y’hear? This man can tell us where your sister is, so we can get her back. Do you understand?”
Thomas nodded once. He stopped trying to haul the meat away.
“Your uncle will be here any minute, my sweet boy. Just you wait – he’s gonna be so proud o’ you, same as me, for catchin’ that one.”
~ ~ ~
“Hold still, you dirty cocksucker! Now, Tommy – right there.”
Setting the long nail between the hand bones, Thomas hefted the hammer and drove it into the wooden post, pinning the hand. They fixed the other hand to another post. Standing and shaking, one foot half-chewed at the boot heel by the chainsaw, the meat screamed and cursed.
His uncle turned and grinned at him. “That’ll do. Wish you hadn’t poked holes that shirt, boy. I coulda used a spare set. Still, with the hook in there, we got us a handy convincin’ tool. Now you gotta stay outta my way, Tommy, y’hear? You can have him if he don’t tell us where your sister is. Go wait by the work table. Me and the Hadley boy got some jawin’ to do.”
Thomas moved away, stifling a growl at the meat. He stood next to the work table and watched, knowing his uncle would make the thing suffer.
The meat lifted its head, the face wet. “You’re mad, Hewitt. People know I’m here – a doctor. He knows ‘bout your family, and … him… Lemme go and I’ll talk to ‘em –”
“Name’s Hoyt, boy – Sheriff Hoyt. You’re gonna learn that, just like you’re gonna tell us where you took my niece.”
“She ain’t your niece.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to you, is she? We love that little gal, she loves us and we aim to get her back. Now do you understand the fix you’re in?”
Thomas leaned in, his hands flexing. He watched his uncle draw something metal from his pocket. With a click, a long and thin blade popped out.
“That heel is messed up and you’re also bleedin’ from that fuckin’ fat hook hangin’ outta your shoulder. That pose is gonna get mighty exhaustin’, too. Do y’know what’ll happen if you struggle and lose your balance? Those nails would rip right outta your hands the hard way. If that happens, my nephew here is just gonna nail you up again by somethin’ a bit more solid.”
“I cain’t tell you where she is. I won’t. You’re a crazy fuck. You tore Dodie Connor up…” The head turned, seeing the hanging meat on other hooks around them. “Oh God … this is beyond … insane…”
“Son, you’re gonna be ‘beyond the bounds o’ sanity’ in next to no time. I read that in a book my grandma left me. Do ya know what else it said? It said, ‘You’re fucked, asshole.’”
“You go to Hell…”
“Aight, here we go, then. Don’t get all bowed up and fall now.” Then his uncle smiled. “It’s hot in here, Tommy. Let’s make our guest more comfortable. C’mere, boy, help me get this stuff off him.”
Moving forward warily, Thomas wasn’t sure what his uncle wanted him to do. He looked at him and waited.
“Hold him still, son. Don’t let him mess up our nice nail work.”
The meat stared at him, full of fear and disgust. It made him growl again. He moved behind it, gripped under the shoulders and held it up.
“That’s it, son, hold him still. I need to get these boots off, and then the rest.”
“Don’t do this, Hewitt…”
“Didn’t I say my name is Sheriff Hoyt? Always knew the Hadley boys were bright as goat shit.”
The knife handle was wedged in the mouth before his uncle knelt down and tore the boots off one by one. The bloody one made the meat scream and the body jerked in his grip. His uncle removed the heavy belt and weapon and got up to set it on the floor out of the way.
“Give me that,” his uncle ordered, yanking the knife handle back. The meat yelled and cursed as the blade tore the shirt into strips until it dropped away. “Hang on, I want that badge.”
“You’ll kill me no matter what I tell you…
“Aw, now, see hear – I ain’t never said I was gonna kill you. My little bitch seized up and cold bitch gets borin’ quick, as it happens. Fuckin’ up your day is turnin’ my frown upside-down – gonna want it to last. The pants could fit me, Tommy.”
It was harder to hold the meat still as his uncle took off the pants. Finally, he was told he could let it go and move away.
“I ain’t even gonna see if your unders fit, but they still gotta go.” The blade sliced through the sides of the cloth, cutting into the skin. “Look at that thing tryin’ to crawl up inside. Think it might could be scared. You scared, Hadley?”
“Just stop … please…”
“Please, is it? Lemme tell you the situation you’re in, boy. That blonde skirt, Wincott, we know her as a granddaughter o’ old Samuel Mason. Seems she wants to be friends, like our granddaddies were. She told us where you both took Amarie, probly cuz she didn’t wanna end up where you are now. Here’s the deal: you tell me where you took our girl, and you tell the truth. If I catch a lie comin’ out your cocksuckin’ hole, you’re gonna be here keepin’ me from gettin’ bored for days – long as I can make it last, anyhow. In the end, I’m gonna start cuttin’ off parts you can survive without and addin’ ‘em to the soup pot. So – ready to play?”
Thomas flexed his fists. Most of the words he didn’t understand, but his uncle’s posture was eager, and the meat had gone pale and silent.
“I had a long day, boy – and I bet you’d rather keep me on your good side. Guess you need to think ‘bout it a bit.” Reaching up, he grabbed the metal hook near the point and jerked it. The meat screamed. “Still need to think ‘bout it some more?”
“No, sir – I’m sure you meant, Deputy Hadley.”
“Dr. Wincott – she’s workin’ with you…”
“We charmed her with our sterlin’ Southern hospitality.”
“You’re lyin’, I saw her, she told me to come out here… She told me…”
“Oh, lordy, here come the tears and the wailin’. Yeah, you got betrayed. Women can be deceitful, y’know. Sorry to be the bearer o’ bad tidin’s. Now, we got chores to do, so if you don’t hurry the fuck up, I’m gonna have to come back later. Tommy can keep you comp’ny. He’s got somebody to skin and quarter, I’m sure. You’d have a great view from here.”
“Brackenridge, the hospital … 1400 East Avenue at 15th Street in Austin… I swear…” “See there? That wasn’t so hard. You done good, boy.” His uncle slapped the abdomen and the meat twitched. “Now the room number, if you don’t mind.” “Ask that bitch Wincott. She’ll betray you, too… She’ll…” The meat began to sag, tearing where it was nailed. With a flinch, it cried out. “Okay, Tommy, it’s your turn. He’s all yours. Make me proud, son.” “No! You said … you wouldn’t kill me!”
“I said I wouldn’t. Also said if you didn’t tell us where that girl was, Tommy was gonna kill you.”
“I told you the truth!”
“Yeah, I guess you did. Ain’t that a fuckin’ bitch. Workin’ for ‘em quacks, huh? Tryin’ to drop us all in some cage?”
“I didn’t… I didn’t do nothin’ to your family… Please…”
“You stole my nephew’s wife, asshole. He wants to share how that makes him feel. Get to it, Tommy.”
As soon as his uncle moved aside, Thomas grabbed the chainsaw and moved forward. The meat began to scream again and one thrash to get away tore the nails through its hands. The thing fell as Thomas yanked the cord and gave life to the machine.
For a few moments, he watched it crawl backwards as he stepped up and leaned down. His growl erupted into a roar as he pushed down and swung the saw, once, twice, and again, the blade chewing roughly through the legs, sectioning them. He heard his uncle laughing and hollering encouragement as he cut.
He paused then and watched its face, and just before the eyes went unfocused, he shoved the blade into the thing’s guts. The blood sprayed him everywhere but he continued to push the blade up until it hit bones. Turning the machine off, he stood there, panting and dripping red.
Breaking the silence, his uncle chuckled. “Beautiful work, that is. Now once you got that squared away, let’s go get that little woman o’ yours, huh? You and me – it’ll be fun.”
~ ~ ~
Thomas clung to the door frame in the shadows under the deep front porch. Nearby on the swing, his mother sat with her hands crumpled into fists in her apron. They both watched his uncle as he spoke to the strange female.
She was blonde like his sister, but stood as poised and predatory as his uncle. He hadn’t been allowed to bring the machine. The hand still out of sight inside the house gripped a curved bloody meat hook. Once, she had looked up directly at him and he had growled and clung tighter to the house.
His uncle’s tone was wary, angry – but there was something strange about it, too. He didn’t speak to her as he had to the meat downstairs.
“So you’ve seen him. Her room number, now – don’t want me to get impatient.”
“Would he come out?”
“That’s ‘bout as far as you’re gonna see him, unless I tell him he can have you.” His uncle looked her up and down. “Be a damn shame, if you ask me.”
“Her room is 603, but I need to meet you there. If you want to get her home safely, you’re going to need my help.”
“When and where?”
“You have to be there tonight. I’ll meet you at the Emergency entrance. The best way to get Thomas in is to get him to play injured. With you as a sheriff and me playing doctor, it can work.”
“Aight, we’ll be there. Won’t be unarmed, mind – just in case you’re hopin’ to save your friends the bother o’ catchin’ us here.”
“I want you armed.” She turned and opened the trunk of the car she had come in. When she stepped away, his uncle peered in. “Those are for you – another good faith gift. I assume you found the baby supplies.”
His uncle whistled and pulled out a pair of red metal gas cans. “When this is over – if you don’t fuck up – you might could find us more friendly-like.”
The woman glanced up again and Thomas recoiled from her stare. “I hope so. I have to get back. I’ll be ready to meet you after eight o’clock. Good to see you again, Mrs. Hewitt!” she called out.
Setting the gas cans on the ground, his uncle closed her trunk. They all watched as she got in and drove away in a cloud of dust.
“Well, well.” Turning to face his family, his uncle grinned. “I got me an idea o’ how to do this, and first thing is, Momma, you’re stayin’ here.”
~ ~ ~
Thomas had been coaxed into the back of his uncle’s car. The machine was out of reach in the front. Once his mother stopped petting his head and singing to him, she moved and closed the door. He shifted so he could see it – yellow, black, gray, and dripping red – and tried to obey his uncle’s order to be still and quiet.
“Lemme see it, how you practiced,” his uncle asked, twisting in his seat to watch. “Remember when that fuckin’ biker knifed you in the back? Pretend, son.”
Thomas swallowed, bent forward and covered his mask with his hands. He let a moan bubble up, but it was the pain and confusion of losing his sister that made him cry out and hunch his shoulders.
“Gotta be close ‘nuff, I guess.” His uncle reached over and patted the red-smeared yellow body of the long-bladed machine. “Such a terrible accident, Tommy – what a shame. Don’t forget your part now. I’ll be carryin’ this damn thing ‘til we meet up with the Mason girl. Once we find your sister, don’t let a fuckin’ one o’ those idiots take her away again.” He shook his head, grinning as he faced forward and started the car. “Fuck, this is gonna be a good time.”
Thomas held himself tightly in the small space. The movement and noises were frightening. He stared out the smudged window until the world he knew was simply gone outside. Seeking comfort, he watched the blood drip from the dark blade, hearing its song over the crackle and skip of the black box hanging under the dash of his uncle’s car. Now and then, a clear voice came out of it, making him growl.
“Won’t be too long now, son – just imagine how happy that sweet little wife o’ yours is goin’ to be when she claps eyes on us again. Not to mention how shocked those other bastards are gonna be.” He chuckled. “Don’t nick Miss Mason, now – she’s a friend, I ‘spose, and even if she turns out to be a lyin’ whore, I still got uses for her – gotta use for every tasty bit.”