Authors: J.C. Conaway
Harry spread his stubby fingers and held his hands closer to the fire. The heat seemed to infuse him with more confidence. "So we found some remains of an animal we can't identify. Perhaps it's a hoax, kiddos, perhaps not." He paused for effect. "I think it's merely a fluke of nature." He smiled broadly and that smile effectively colored his voice. "On the other hand, kiddos, maybe everything has changed. This just might be the biggest Goddamn scientific discovery of the century. Hah! We'll all be in
. More coffee?" Ted and Amy held out their mugs. Harry filled them with steaming black liquid and then replenished his own. "I'll just sweeten mine up a bit," he said lightly and produced a bottle from his back pocket. "White lightning." He filled the mug to the brim, stirred the concoction with his finger, and took a hearty swallow.
Ted cleared his throat. "How do you explain that cache of human bones we found buried beneath the floor of the cave?"
Harry scowled. "I don't explain it. This is mountain country, kiddos. The mountains are populated with plain people who have volatile emotions. They live by their own creed ... mountain justice. If a mountain man finds his wife in the hayloft with somebody else, then look out! Mountain justice is swift, fast, final."
"Oh, come on, Harry. What about the law?"
"They abide by their own laws, Amy. You've heard of the Hatfields and the McCoys, of course. For what it's worth, I figure those bones earned their resting place."
"You don't think ..." Amy began.
"We've not found any evidence that it had any ... descendants." He stood up and stretched. Despite his burly appearance, Harry was not an insensitive man. He had noticed the furtive looks that Ted and Amy had been giving one another. If memory served him, their expressions were unmistakable. "Nothing has changed except that I'm going to stand watch on the mound tonight." Ted started to protest, but Amy squeezed his thigh to stop him. Harry grinned. "I thought you might agree."
"I - we - really appreciate it, Harry," said Ted.
"Hell, kiddos, I was young myself - once." Amy jumped up, hugged Harry tightly and kissed him on the cheek. Harry pulled away, ashamed that he felt the faint stirrings of sexual arousal. "I'll just take my bottle and we'll go keep them dead Indians company."
The Scamper left the turnpike at Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Josh checked his watch. It was nearly nine o'clock. "We'll have to find an all-night supermarket. There ought to be one near the center of town."
"I've been making a list, Josh. No convenience foods, and nothing with sugar or preservatives."
"Don't forget to strike anything with nitrates and artificial colors and flavors."
"My God, will there be anything left to buy? How am I going to get through the trip without my 'fillers'?"
Josh grinned. "I'll give you 'fillers'."
Cresta playfully hit him. "I've been thinking of giving up meat and becoming a vegetarian like you."
"Seriously, love, you'll have a lot more energy. Besides, once we get into the mountains we'll do some fishing and catch our own dinner."
"But we didn't bring any sticks and worms."
Josh laughed. "I'll buy a couple of poles and lines from the locals. And worms are definitely out. It's dough balls, love. That's what catches the biggest fish."
"What's a dough ball?"
"Sort of a sticky cornmeal concoction."
"Now you're even pushing vegetarianism on the fish."
The supermarket was not crowded. The cashiers, drained of color by the phosphorescent lights, leaned against their cash registers like a line of poor-quality mannequins. Josh and Cresta hurried down the aisles selecting condiments, paper products and other necessities. They kept their groceries to a minimum. Josh explained that they could buy fresh vegetables and homemade canned goods from the "hillbillies." They passed a haggard woman pushing a baby in a cart. When they passed Cresta said, "Did you see that poor kid? How could she keep it up so late? It's past his bedtime."
"Maybe she works and hasn't any other choice."
"I would never let that happen to my child. Ours, I mean."
Josh silently concentrated on the cantaloupes.
After loading the goods into the camper, they headed back to the turnpike. Josh's stomach began growling. Cresta asked, "Are you hungry?"
"Starved. I was tied up with Phelps in the laboratory all day. We meant to send out for lunch, but neither of us remembered it." A familiar yellow arch loomed up ahead. "Let's have one last pigout." Josh pulled the camper into the parking lot of a McDonald's.
"I'll get the stuff," volunteered Cresta. "What do you want?"
"Fish sandwich, french fries, and a couple of coffees. We've got a long drive ahead of us."
Cresta pushed open the door. "I feel like a condemned woman ordering her last meal. One Big Mac, please ... to go!"
The river gurgled with what sounded like happiness. Ted and Amy, naked except for towels draped around their shoulders, hurried to the water's edge. Ted set the strong camper's lamp on a log and adjusted its position to illuminate their "bathtub." The cove was only moderately deep and retained the warmth of the afternoon sun. Moored nearby were the three canoes which had transported the trio and their equipment to the digs. Amy spread her towel out on a carpet of moss and, soap in hand, gingerly tested the water with her narrow foot. "Ohhh," she shuddered. "It's colder than yesterday."
"Coward," laughed Ted as he dropped his towel beside hers.
They joined hands and together waded to the edge of the drop, then took deep breaths and jumped in. They came up sputtering and squealing and held onto one another. They were both slim in build. In fact, to a stranger they would have looked like brother and sister.
Beneath the water Ted ran his hand between Amy's legs, but she pulled away. She wanted to talk. "Do you think it's all a hoax, Ted?"
Ted, quickly losing his erection, shook his head. "No. I don't believe it's a hoax and neither does Harry. That thing really lived."
Amy shivered. Perhaps it was the water. "It
been the same since we made the discovery. Things have changed. The karma isn't right up here any more. Can't you feel it?"
Ted's erection returned in full force. He slid his penis between her legs and said in a mocking tone, "Can't
Amy did not respond. She looked first across the river, then toward the mountain slope, then back to Ted. "I feel like we're being watched," she whispered.
Ted laughed. "That's just old Harry getting his jollies."
"No, no," she protested. "He can't see us clearly from the mound. And even if he could, that wouldn't bother me. No, it's something else." Once again she looked toward the mountainside. A cool wind rushing down the slope whistled through the pines and came upon them like a sudden cold breath. "There's somebody up there. I can feel it. I can feel their eyes on us."
Ted shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe it's some of the locals spying on us. Perhaps it's that goofy Reuben who sells Harry his 'white lightning.'"
"Eeuuuwww! He gives me the creeps." She snuggled closer to him, pressing her small breasts against his chest and tightening her thighs around his hard column of flesh.
Ted crooned, "Isn't it something how our bodies fit? I mean they
The diversion worked. Amy began moving her pelvis back and forth against Ted's slim hips. "Yessss," she whispered. Hurriedly they soaped one another's bodies, dove beneath the surface to rinse off and then, back on the soft green bathmat of moss, grabbed their towels and dried each other off.
They ran back to the tent. Amy crawled in first and unzipped the huge sleeping bag they shared. Ted entered the tent and placed the lamp on the floor so that its beam was against the canvas, filling the entire tent with a rosy glow. He lay down beside Amy and began kissing her about the face and fondling her small, but well formed breasts. They turned to face one another. Amy slipped her hand between their tingling bodies, wrapped her fingers around Ted's swollen penis and rubbed the tip of it against the opening of her vagina. She started to guide him inside her.
A howl tore the night air. It traveled down the mountainside and rushed through the encampment like a messenger from Hell. The piercing cry silenced every nocturnal sound until nothing remained but an ominous hush which hovered about the tent like a questing beast. The howl was repeated, only this time it was joined by another, and then another, until there was a chorus of cries, each in a different key.
"Oh, my God," gasped Amy. "What's that?"
"It's wild dogs," Ted said soothingly. "Just wild dogs."
"Where do they come from?"
"City people drop off their unwanted pups up here, damn 'em. They think the locals got nothing better to do than care for their strays."
"That's terrible! There are too many unwanted animals in the world as it is."
"Tell you what. If we can find one of the pups, we'll adopt him and take him back to New York City with us."
Amy began to relax. The howls stopped, and once again she reached for his still erect penis and guided him to her entrance. He entered her, and they were joined together as man and woman.
The oncoming headlights were as sharp and bright as the eyes of a giant animal but Josh didn't seem to see them. Cresta grabbed the steering wheel and spun it away from the approaching car. "Jesus, Je-sus! Wake up, Josh!
" Josh opened his eyes and shook his head. He took the steering wheel and steadied the camper as it bumped over the shoulder and into a field of tall grass.
"What, what happened?"
"You fell asleep, damnit! Look, Josh, you're too tired to go on. You didn't get much sleep last night and apparently the coffee didn't help. Now be sensible and let's find someplace to park this thing. You'll get some sleep and when you're rested we'll continue on."
"I wanted to get there by morning, love," Josh growled.
"I want to get there in one piece."
Josh looked at Cresta. Her face was drained of color and her hands were shaking. He took them in his and steadied them. "You're right, Cresta. Let's see if I can get this thing back on the road and we'll find a place to park. Check the map, will you? Where are we?"
"The exit up ahead is Frederick, Maryland."
"That should do." Josh pulled the camper off Route 70 and parked behind a large sign advertising Seagram's Seven. He looked at Cresta. "Well? I expected you to say that's sure as hell appropriate."
"I wasn't going to say anything, Josh." She looked out the window. "This is cozy. That's a super big maple tree."
"That's an elm." Josh turned off the lights and climbed back into the camper. "I'm going to have a vodka," he said evenly. "The hair of the dog and all that."
"You'll get no argument from me. After that ride I'm going to join you. I'll have a glass of wine."
They had their drinks; then Cresta went in to take a shower. Josh poured himself another vodka and noticed that his hands were trembling. The incident had left him more shaken than he cared to admit. He downed the drink in one swallow and closed his eyes. Mentally he calculated how long it would take to get to Jericho Falls. If they started by eight in the morning, they should get there by one or two. Going back after so long a time made him feel depressed and elated at the same time. He wondered if his parents' former house still stood at the foot of the mountains, or whether it too had become a casualty of progress. It was probably a shopping mall, he mused.
What would he find on Chestnut Ridge? Would his Aunt Avvie still remember him? Was she even still alive? Josh closed his eyes and tried to remember her. She had made regular-as-clockwork appearances on holidays with gifts of homemade candies and jams. He recalled her as a sturdy, unadorned mountain woman who always regarded him with a certain strange sadness. As much as Josh had enjoyed her presents, he had always been relieved when she returned to the Ridge. Perhaps it had been that expression of sadness (or had it been pity?) which had made him uncomfortable. Everyone else had looked upon him with admiration or envy. Had the old woman seen a flaw in him that nobody else saw?
He glanced down at his glass. It was empty and he didn't remember finishing it. He quickly poured another and downed it. The vodka lifted his flagging spirits. He attributed his mood to the near accident, but he knew that was not really the source of his anxiety.
Josh stripped out of his clothes, opened the door to the small shower, and stepped inside. Cresta beamed with pleasure and moved back, allowing him room. "I thought you were tired."
"Only most of me. Not all of me," replied Josh.
Cresta looked down. "I see what you mean."
From atop the mound, Harry lifted his head and listened to the dying howls as they reverberated around the mountains. Goddamn dogs. He wondered why he'd had no word from the institute. Perhaps he'd drive over to Jericho Falls in the morning and place a call. Surely they had received his package by now. Harry hoped that they would send Josh down to continue the investigation of this odd phenomenon. Harry liked Josh, liked his sense of humor and his easygoing manner. And he respected Josh's expertise. So what if Josh wasn't the world's most reliable drinker? Of course, he had always wondered why Josh spent so much of his spare time out drinking. He sure as hell wouldn't, not with a dish like that Cresta waiting at home.
Harry looked over his left shoulder at the tent and sighed wistfully. It glowed from within, making it resemble a giant wedge of pink cheese. He tried not to think of what was going on inside that wedge. But the simple act of two young people making love triggered a memory he couldn't resist.
Gracie Ferguson was the eternal party girl. If there was no party to be found she made her own. Harry and Gracie had dated on and off for more than fourteen years. It was a stormy affair full of good times, hangovers and hot loving whenever Harry was in town, between assignments from the institute. He had often asked Gracie to accompany him on his trips, but she had always turned him down: "No thanks, kiddo. I'm an indoor girl who dislikes sunburns, insect bites and fresh air." Had it not been for that difference and the long stretches of time Harry was gone, perhaps they might have married.