Deputy Hadley: You get a new secretary, Doc? Who’s the blonde?
Dr. Ambrel: A colleague, Dr. Cassandra Wincott – originally from Fuller.
Deputy Hadley: She don’t look like a psychiatrist, and I cain’t recall seein’ her back home before.
Dr. Ambrel: Dr. Wincott was fortunate enough to leave Fuller both early and often, as I did. She came into possession of some invaluable documents and files on Thomas Hewitt, from a local country doctor, which had been stored in the attic of the house she bought in Fuller after coming home from the university some years ago.
Deputy Hadley: She still lives there?
Dr. Ambrel: She retains ownership of the property; she lives here in Austin.
Deputy Hadley: So she just happened to know you’d be interested in these files?
Dr. Ambrel: No, I asked her about the Hewitt family, knowing she had lived there around the time that Thomas Hewitt was in school. She had a fascinating tale to tell about an encounter she had with Hewitt in her grandfather’s barn, and then she offered to show me the files. Apparently, her experience with him set her on the path of her profession.
Deputy Hadley: You trust her?
Dr. Ambrel: Is there some reason I shouldn’t?
Deputy Hadley: Woman seems cold is all, shifty even – got the personality o’ a truck.
Dr. Ambrel: Perhaps you should limit your flirtations to the nurses, David. Dr. Wincott is very … focused on her work.
Deputy Hadley: Which is what, exactly?
Dr. Ambrel: She believes as I do that we have a moral obligation to remove Thomas Hewitt from the damaging influence of his family, and a duty to strive to help the poor man.
Deputy Hadley: You mean you want to study him like one o’ these bugs you got pinned in your display case. Admit it, Doc – you already called him a ‘career builder’. As for Wincott, I wouldn’t turn my back on her if I were you. Last thing looked at me that cold was a snake.
Dr. Ambrel: I’ll take that under advisement.
Amarie paced, holding herself tightly. She didn’t know if she should remain where she was, or go upstairs through the metal door and see if she could help her mother and uncles.
I feel like a coward, hidin’ down here while they’re in danger, but Tommy wanted me to stay here and I told him I would. If he comes back and I’m gone, that wouldn’t be good, neither.
She crept to the back of the basement, to the start of the long, empty passageway that led to the storm doors. The sounds that echoed down to her were frightening, full of screams, cursing, and the grinding roar of the chainsaw.
Please be okay, Tommy, she thought. Abruptly, the chainsaw stopped. Is it over?
Amarie listened carefully, unsure if the noises beyond and above had ceased or just moved too far away. Then she heard one of the storm doors open, and the heavy steps of her brother returning down the creaking wooden stairs.
Wanting to be closer to where he’d left her, she retreated to the head of the work table to wait for him. Smiling in welcome, relieved that he was all right, and hoping he hadn’t been injured again, she drew in a breath to greet him.
The dark silhouette paused, watching her, and then he stepped out of the shadows, and the dim light glinted off of the silver zippers of the black leather motorcycle jacket. The mouth split in a broad smile, and then Frankie lifted his hand to her.
“Hey, pet, you’re still breathin’,” he said. “We ain’t doin’ so good out there, but I think you and me might could do better without ‘em, don’t you?”
“Frankie…” Stunned, Amarie froze, unsure what to do.
He was almost as tall as Thomas, though not as heavy. His scarred face, framed by shaggy brown hair, was lit with a desperate hope.
“Amarie, you gotta understand – I never meant for Kelli and the others to hurt you. Anyway, they’re all gone, ain’t they? Remember what we always talked ‘bout? We can do it now. Let’s get outta here in one piece, and I’ll take you up to Dallas. I’ll get work, and take care o’ you.”
“How did you find me down here?”
“Tom and Sly – they told me what you said ‘bout these animals keepin’ you in their basement. We were goin’ to get Kelli, when all hell broke loose where they’d left you, so I sent ‘em back to help.”
“You never tried to save Kelli.”
“I know. I realized I didn’t care what they did to her – I just wanted to get you back. I saw that creature come up outta those doors, and figured I could find you that way.”
“He went up to kill the others for comin’ here. What ‘bout ‘em?”
“Fuck ‘em. You hate ‘em, and I’m sick o’ their shit. We can slip away, just us, and start fresh. It’ll be good, Amarie, and I’ll protect you. C’mon,” he urged, still holding out his hand. “We gotta go now.”
The future hung before her like the misty dream of a dusty road. The man who had brought her out of a bad home, taught her about pleasure, and helped her to feel alive for the first time in her life stood in one direction, and as she faced him, the memory of her time with Thomas waited behind her, muddled and mute.
God, what should I do? I know Momma Hewitt’s right, Tommy is dangerous. He wouldn’t mean to hurt me, I believe that, but it don’t mean he won’t, eventually. He cain’t teach me anythin’ neither, or show me the world, like Frankie promised once; the poor thing dunno anythin’.
“Are you worried ‘bout those freaks?” Frankie asked. “Don’t be. The old couple is holed up in the kitchen, but the woman had a shotgun, so we left her alone. The sheriff took on some o’ our boys ‘round the side o’ the house, but they’ll get him. That freak with the chainsaw chased the rest o’ ‘em into the woods, along with the women. We can get away from all o’ ‘em, but we cain’t wait ‘round.”
Uncle Hoyt, Momma… She thought then of all that they had done for her, and the lesson that her gruff uncle had taught her. ‘Family, lookin’ out for ‘em, that’s the most important thing. Family is all we got, and all we need.’ Everything Frankie had said and done abruptly paraded through her thoughts. The others follow him cuz they expect him to look out for ‘em, but he’s leavin’ ‘em to die so he can run away. Frowning, she held herself tightly, her feet taking a few steps backward away from him. He let the others rape and beat me – but Tommy protected me, over and over, and Momma and Uncle Hoyt, too. They … love me. Family – my family.
Frankie advanced, his smile wilting in growing anger. “I said now, girl.”
“What the hell –”
“I’m not goin’ with you. I’m stayin’ here – but if you leave quick, you might could live.”
“They’re keepin’ you prisoner! God knows what they’ve done to you already! You’d rather stay and let that animal have you? Somethin’ like that – it must be sick what that thing does to you.”
“He’s not an animal. He’s my brother, and my – lover; he’s gentle and sweet.”
“Girl, you got your brains scrambled. C’mere!”
His disgust coloring his face, Frankie lunged for her, trying to grab her arm. Leaping back, Amarie cried out when her elbow struck the wheel of the bone grinder. Frankie surged after her again and she shrieked, hitting his reaching forearm with both hands.
He cursed when his fingers struck the grinder’s blades. “You little bitch! You’re comin’ with me, y’hear?”
Crying out, Amarie rushed forward and gripped his leather sleeve with one hand, her other hand groping for the wheel. It was heavy and stiff, but she leaned her weight on it and with a horrid squeal, it turned: pulling the man’s hand into the blades.
Frankie screamed as his hand disappeared to the wrist inside the metal funnel. As he tried to clutch at her with his free hand, Amarie let go of his sleeve and moved behind the wheel. Taking it in both hands, she dropped her full weight against it, and felt it move farther, grinding the sleeve of the jacket in with the flesh and cracking bones.
She shrieked again when his cries split the air. Retreating from the gory mess, she pressed her hands to her ears and watched the large man struggle to free his pinned limb.
Then she saw it – beyond the trapped man and the work table: a massive and silent shadow, watching her from the dark.
Whirling, she hurried around the work table to touch him, her hands sliding up his chest. He held the dripping chainsaw, his breath heaving, but his free hand lifted to hold her against him without hesitation.
Amarie looked up at him and saw that his gaze had never left the screaming and cursing biker.
“He came down here to take me away,” she explained. “I said I wouldn’t go, so he was gonna force me. I tried to catch him in that thing, but I could barely make it move!”
Releasing her, Thomas handed the heavy chainsaw to her and stalked over to the wheel.
“Holy shit,” Frankie cried out. “Get the fuck away from me, you freak!”
Without a glance at the man’s face, Thomas wrapped his thick fingers around the metal wheel. His arms moved first, and then his shoulders. Grunting and breathing fast through the mouth of his mask, he forced the wheel to turn.
Amarie covered her ears again, but her eyes watched avidly as the bone grinder yanked the leather-clad arm down, transforming it into a bloody frothing sludge that dripped from the bottom of the funnel into a large bucket beneath it.
The body of the man writhed, his screams growing weaker. His uninjured hand struck and gripped at the grinder’s indifferent metal, sliding away only to lift and slap at it again. It continued until the legs gave out, the thicker arm bones snapping as the heavy body sagged.
Thomas moved to it, took it by the waist and hauled it backward. The arm tore away as he lifted the body and laid it down on the work table.
“Please,” Frankie whispered, shocking Amarie. “Kill me…”
Thomas turned to face her, but when she offered him the chainsaw, he shook his head. Stepping forward, he took it from her, but only to lay it down on a countertop nearby, along the wall. Then he reached for her hand, holding her fingers gently.
“What is it?” Amarie asked. “What do you want?” When he tugged at her slightly, she approached the work table, allowing him to lead her to Frankie’s blood-splattered face.
The mouth worked slowly, as if he wanted to speak again, but no sound came out. Watching her brother, Amarie gasped when his fingers began to stroke the face, his dark eyes on her, questioning.
“You want … his face? Oh, Tommy, that would be nice, yes.” She touched the forehead, and then ran the backs of her fingers along one cheek. “You’d look handsome in it,” she told him.
His half-hidden mouth moved, the lips stretching, forming a shy smile as his eyes dropped, his head lowering.
Heart thumping, Amarie turned him to face her and wrapped him in her arms. He held her a moment, and then straightened, looking over at the saw, and the other bladed tools beside it.
“That can wait, Tommy, just a little bit. He’s still breathin’, so he’ll keep. Are the others safe?” She held her breath as he nodded slightly. It was the first time he’d acknowledged a direct question from her with a real answer she could understand. “They don’t need our help?” Again, his head moved, shaking to say no. “Okay.”
Forcing her breathing to slow, she took his hand and led him to the top of the long freezer. Sitting down on it, she got him to sit beside her. Fingers reaching for his pants, she rubbed his trapped cock inside them until his tense body relaxed, his eyes watching her.
“I want you to make love with me, Tommy, to put this inside my body. I know you been afraid to, but it won’t hurt me. I’ll show you how, and it’ll be okay. Will you try?”
He turned his head away from her quickly, his shoulder turning as he tried to hide his face.
Amarie jumped when the metal door at the head of the stairs opened. Momma Hewitt stood in the light under the lantern, smiling down at both of them.
“Time ‘nuff for playin’, both o’ you, there’s work to do. Tommy, you gotta go fetch the others from the woods. Amarie, I’d like you to help your Uncle Hoyt bring down the ones in the yard and in the traps. Go on up, child, he’s waitin’ for you.”
Reluctant to leave, Amarie nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” She squeezed her brother’s hand once and then headed up the stairs.
~ ~ ~
“Oh, she ain’t keepin’ you from it, honey,” Uncle Hoyt assured her. “Momma just wanted a chance to clarify a few o’ my lessons for the boy.”
Straightening, he sighed, looking down at the tall form of a man in leather and denim, his t-shirt full of red holes.
“Now you get the feet, like last time, and we’ll get started. At least these are easier to pick up – that brother o’ yours is goin’ to be gatherin’ bits he left all over the woods. Damn shame I was too slow on the uptake to give him some direction, though. Plenty o’ those parts were female, but none real usable now, most likely. Tommy’s nothin’ if not thorough.”
Amarie hesitated, staring out at the woods. “Did you get ‘em all?”
“All o’ the males, if your count was right, and at least three or four o’ the women. Some o’ ‘em ran off, though, I heard ‘em tearin’ away on motorcycles down the highway. You think they’ll look for payback?”
“No, sir, not the women – Kelli was the only one with any guts.”
“Hey, what ‘bout their leader, I never saw him?”
“Do tell, darlin’.”
“He saw Tommy use the storm doors and came down ‘em lookin’ for me. I shoved his hand into the bone grinder, but Tommy got it goin’ better when he came back for me. He’s still alive, but not by much. Tommy wants his face.”
“Is it one you can look at for a while?”
“Yessir … it is.” Amarie took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Uncle Hoyt?”
The sheriff met her gaze and his smile was kind. “Yeah?”
“Frankie – he wanted to take me to Dallas and take care o’ me. I was tempted, for a moment, but then I knew I couldn’t never leave y’all. I wanted you to know, I guess.”
“It’s only human to be tempted, honey, but your family loves you.” Crouching down, he gripped the body around the chest, its arms flopping loosely. “Snag his boots, and we’ll take him on down. Gonna have to stack his buddies like cordwood for a bit, too, I think.”
Amarie smiled and picked up the boots. Geoffrey wasn’t as heavy as he looked, and it did her heart good to help her uncle with the work. When it was done, she could go down and sleep in her brother’s bed, leaving him to his work if he wasn’t finished.
When he is finished, he’ll come to me. I hope I can help him to stop bein’ afraid. I’ll help him with his new mask, too, and then maybe he’ll lemme see his real face…
Luda Mae asked her son to wait as she came down the stairs. Hopping over the dark water puddle, she took her daughter’s seat at his side. In front of them, blood dripped from the body on the work table.
“That one still alive?” Without waiting for him to respond, she got his attention and held his gaze. “I need to talk to you ‘bout your sister, and ‘bout the things you two are doin’ together.”
He tried to duck his head, but she placed her fingers under his chin and made him look at her.
“None o’ it’s wrong, Tommy, I’m not upset with neither o’ you. Your uncle, though – I’m afraid he got some wrong notions in your head. He tried to teach you things, and then he had you help him kill that woman. You gotta understand this – he don’t expect you to harm your sister, and neither do I. You can be together and not hurt each other.”
Thomas glanced up the stairs at the metal door, and she knew he was thinking about Charlie, and all he’d shown him. Frustrated, she sighed and reached out with her hand. Her son grunted when she laid her palm on his crotch, her fingers curling around the swollen mound of it. His dark eyes watched her nervously.
“This can be cruel or gentle, Tommy,” she explained. Removing her touch and taking his hands in hers, she added, “It’s like your hands, understand? They can kill – or comfort. It’s all the same; the difference is how you use ‘em. What Amarie wants from you, it ain’t gotta involve killin’ your partner, and it shouldn’t, neither. For people who care for each other, they are kind and gentle. Your grandparents loved each other, and he never hurt her.”
Smiling to reassure him, she let go of his hands and stroked his back to soothe him. Upstairs, they could hear the others coming, lugging a burden.
“Your uncle prefers females he don’t care ‘bout, so he couldn’t show you how to be nice, but you are a gentle boy. You always wanna help, to please. Let Amarie show you how, the right way, and don’t worry ‘bout what your uncle did. Okay? Do you understand me?”
He turned to her, seeking comfort, and ducked his head against her chest. Luda Mae held his head to her, her touch tender.
“You ain’t gotta be afraid… Oh, my sweet boy; you’re becomin’ a man, and that’s good for you. Just remember that she’s smaller, and though she’s strong, you gotta work at bein’ careful.”
Moments before Charlie and Amarie came into view, Luda Mae released her son and stood.
“Now you’ll need to get out there and bring ‘em all in before they spoil.”
He rose obediently, and then paused at the chainsaw. His fingers reached out to touch it, his thoughts slipping away. The machine had always mesmerized him, from the moment he dragged it home.
“Leave it, Tommy,” she admonished him. “You cain’t carry that thing and the meat, too.”
He left it behind and headed out toward the storm doors. Watching him go, Luda Mae released her held breath.
I hope it’s ‘nuff, she thought. Sooner or later, you gotta let ‘em either learn how to fly, or learn how to fall.
She helped her family get the body down the stairs, and then went back up with them to fetch the others. It wasn’t late yet, but by the time it was all gathered, it probably would be.
Outside, Luda Mae reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a cigarette and her lighter. In the distance, Thomas was just reappearing with a torso over one shoulder, dragging another through the trees.
“Well, we’ll eat good for quite a while,” Charlie announced, chuckling. “I’m not much o’ a fisherman, honey,” he added to Amarie, “but you’re the best bait I ever used in a pinch.”
The girl hugged him, laughing, and Luda Mae smiled more easily. We’ll be all right, she thought. Everythin’ will be just fine.
The sewing machine was old, but still worked. Thomas stared at the needle as it punched repeatedly through the leather.
His sister had helped him remove the skin and they’d gotten it off of the sticky skull in mostly one piece.
Her fingers were perched on his shoulders as she watched him work, and he knew that the skin pleased her. The man had been with her before she came here, and she had said that she liked to look at him.
Stopping the machine when the last repair was finished, he took up his heavy leatherworking needle, strung with black twine, and fixed the ties to the edges of the mask, under the long dark hair. Laying the completed face on the table, his fingers began to tremble as they reached for the ties on the mask he wore.
“Don’t be afraid, Tommy. I love you and I won’t be frightened, you’ll see.”
He let the old mask fall to his lap and quickly reached for the new one, but her fingers covered his as she turned to look at his rotted face.
Was she frightened? It was more like surprise … and pity. The pity made him want to growl, but then her fingers reached out to touch him. Flinching, he leaned back.
“I won’t touch it, okay? Oh, Tommy … does it hurt? O’ course it does… I wish we had some medicine or somethin’ for you.”
One hand picked up the new mask as the other rose to gently brush hers away. Lowering his head, he settled the skin over his deformity, tying it quickly in place. Not ready yet to look at her, he kept his head down.
“The right side ain’t as bad off, huh? God, I wish we could help it somehow. Your poor nose… Doctors can fix things, most things, but you cain’t go to a doctor, can you?” She leaned over him, her soft lips touching the side of his neck. “Tommy, move the chair back, would you?”
He obeyed without thinking, and then grunted in surprise when she sat on him, moving the old mask to the table at the last second. With her finger under his chin as she’d seen their mother do, she lifted his head gently.
“Do y’know what a kiss is? It’s ‘nother way to say ‘I love you’. Here, I’ll show you. Open your mouth and I’ll put mine over yours. When I touch your mouth with my tongue, you copy what I do, and that’s called kissin’. Okay? I’ll be careful, so we don’t hurt you.”
He winced, anticipating pain, but her mouth was warm, and the tongue that gave pleasure had never hurt him before. The wet roiling movement of tongues was strange, but not unpleasant.
She didn’t lie … she ain’t afraid o’ it.
Her hands gripped his shoulders as her body lifted, shifting, until she resettled, her legs straddling over his. Her mouth remained light and gentle, but her body began to move, rubbing against his, and making it swell.
The heat consumed his thoughts, building and almost choking him when her hand slipped down to squeeze his swollen flesh under the cloth. Breath coming faster, his hands rose to clutch at her as the pleasure mounted, the sensations drowning his fears.