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Authors: Max Gilbert

RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK (33 page)

BOOK: RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK
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And still she trudged on, waiting to be overtaken. Freezingly expectant of the sudden tread behind her, the arresting hand on her shoulder that never came. Screaming all the while, in deadly silence, inside her.

More and more shadows, more and more trees. More and more of night.

She kept going forward. She wouldn't turn her head. Afraid, thaybe, of what she would see if she did.

The ground began to tilt upward, and she realized with a shudder she had taken the road that led upward to the cemetery.

Over to the side, to the right, there was a grassy meadow. She stopped, turned and struck out into that. The field was white in the moonlight. You could see all around you, it was so open. It was like being in the middle of a big open lake of grass, your own height the only thing to oppose the sweep of the eye.

The grass grew higher as she advanced; she had to pick her way. Calf-high, and creeping at last almost to the knees. She still didn't look back. She wouldn't. Maybe by this time she couldn't any more. Fear paralyzes.

She was almost in the exact middle of it now. She stopped. She stood there upright in the middle of it, like a marker.

She turned with quiet deliberation to face the way she had just come.

There was something black coming toward her across the expanse. Small and black. It had broken away from the surrounding black periphery, was striking out on its own. Separate, detached, moving unerringly toward her. Wading through the moon-frosted grass, as she had.

The impulse to flee ricocheted through her; she jolted as she curbed it.

"My God!" she shuddered aloud.

No help could reach her out here in time.

Did he know she was only a replica, the living scarecrow of his lost love? Had he guessed, back there, and was that why he'd refused to approach for three nights? Had the baited become the baiter? The ambuscade was back there, not out here. He had drawn her bodily out of it, taken her away right under their noses and set her down now to wait where there was no trap. Where he was the trapper, and not they.

She had done something wrong, she had made some error in tactic, but what it was she still didn't know, she couldn't have said. She couldn't have done other than she had done, without throwing away all their weeks and months of careful, not-to-be-repeated preparations. Or maybe it wasn't that she had done anything wrong; maybe it was just that his own instinct was so unerringly right, that it had guided him through to immunity. Instinct, in the deranged, can be supremely accurate; it has no reason or logic to contend with.

The oncoming black something was growing steadily larger. Now it had a head, shoulders, arms that swayed to its walk. The moon found where its face belonged, and gave it a face. Small yet, yards away. The moon gave it tiny pin-prick eyes, a tiny nose, a tiny mouth.

A man.

No, the death that walked upright like a man. The death that Sharon and Madeline Drew had mistaken for a man.

It was like looking at some horror in miniature, all the greater for not being life-sized. The moon added details she didn't want to know; the moon left nothing incomplete. It gave him a tiny slanting shadow from his hat brim, it gave him a V of paleness from his shirt front.

He was within the last few yards of her now. He was full-sized, had attained her own proportions. They were within speaking distance. He didn't speak, just kept coming on closer, toiling through the tall grass.

She didn't speak either. Maybe to speak was to betray herself, destroy herself. Was the illusion still intact? Was it already shattered? Or would the first sound of her voice, the wrong voice, only shatter it then?

She could see the expression on his face now. A sort of joy, and a sort of pain, both blended together at once. But nothing there of menace or of abnormality. And that was the ultimate horror; the façade had remained unimpaired through it all, still was now, at this very moment. You had to guess, you couldn't know. It looked a little younger, more boyish, than it otherwise would have by now, perhaps; that was the only indication.

It was hard to meet his eyes. She steeled herself not to evade them.

"Dorothy," he said quietly.

"Johnny," she whispered.

Something broke in his throat. It sounded as if he were crying deep down inside somewhere. Not up where his face was, but deep down in his being. "A fellow's girl--always waits for him. And my girl--waited for me."

His arms went hungrily around her, and she froze. The very flow of her blood seemed to stop.

His voice was close to her ear now, warm, and low, and glad. There was nothing about it-- Just the voice of a young man.

"I've got that much, anyway. My girl--she waited for me."

He kept saying it over and over, lower and lower, slower and slower.

"She waited for me.

"She waited--for me.

"She--waited."

His head went down suddenly on her shoulder, as if he were awfully tired, couldn't hold it up straight any more.

"She waited for me," he sighed. "Thanks, God; she waited for me."

Over his shoulder, horrified, she could see rippling invisible snakes of the field coursing toward them through the grass here and there. Just the ripples she could see, and not what caused them. They'd stop short, go on again when they dared. Stop, go on again.

Coming toward them, like spokes of a wheel drawing in toward its hub.

He just stood there, mute, inert, his arms about her, his head down. At rest, at peace.

A strange thought coursed through her policeprobationer's mind. "How cruel this is. Why does it have to be so cruel? Why couldn't it have been some other way?"

She could feel his heart beating against her. Like a wild bird beating its wings, that has come to rest for only a moment, but threatens to take flight again instantly at the first alarm.

He started to bring his lips around, trying to find hers with them.

The grass whispered a little here and there, as though fingers of a breeze were touching it in certain places, leaving it alone in others. Something rustled, like taffeta being trailed over the ground. Then something snapped smartly. A stick maybe. Then there was silence. All over the meadow silence. Too much silence. Not enough harmless, natural sound.

Instinct.

His arms opened, braced themselves against her sides, holding her at the waist.

Suddenly he gave his body a whirling, spiral twist. She went down, one way, into the grass. He darted off, the other way, bent low, running fleetly, a dark something streaking this way and that. A human-sized rabbit.

Men leaped up everywhere, where there hadn't been any a moment before. They were like dark raisins in the white crust of a pudding, suddenly popping to the top.

Fireflies began to flit here and there all over the meadow, in crazy erratic pattern. Or lack of pattern. Each one seeming to call up its opposite number, back and forth, forth and back. Fireflies hooked up to thunderclaps. Each wink sparking a heavy thud.

Suddenly the rabbit stopped, sank from sight right where it had stopped. A sort of hole remained in the top of the grass where it had gone down. A little dimple.

The thudding fireflies stopped and little wisps of smoke trailed off, as though they had burned themselves out.

There was a silence now of cautiously-bent men, creeping in closer toward that hole, closer, but very carefully, very craftily.

Suddenly a moaning cry rent it. "Dorothy!"

The men kept circling, circling closer all the time. "Dorothy!" rose again, in faint, unutterably loneliness, up toward the objective stars. A love cry, a death cry.

They found him alone there in the grass, head twisted around to look helplessly up at them. Like the rabbit does the hunters.

His eyes were dimming crescents, straining upward into the starred night sky, as if trying to make out, to visualize, some phantom face that no one else could see. And what is love anyway but the unattainable, the reaching out toward an illusion?

He died with her name on his lips.

"Dorothy, hurry up," he whispered. "All the time we've wasted--there's so little of it left now--"

The men stood around him in a circle, looking down.

"He's dead," someone said softly.

Cameron nodded. He raised his hand to the brim of his hat for a moment. He didn't actually take it off, he just gave it a little perk of finality.

"They're together now--I guess. They've kept their date at last."

BOOK: RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK
6.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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