Authors: Richard Matheson
“Be seeing you,” he said to Helen. He sounded very confident.
Chris held the gun on him and leaned over to speak into the car.
“You stay here,” he said, “I’ll send Connie out to you. Then you go get the police.”
“What are you—?”
“I’ll stay with them,” Chris interrupted. “Just get the police as fast as you can. There’s a station at Malibu.”
“Do what I say, honey.” Chris straightened up. “Let’s go,” he ordered.
He glanced at Helen.
“Darling, please be careful,” she begged.
Despite the tension, Chris felt a rush of happiness at the sound in her voice.
“I will,” he said.
He and Adam started walking down the road.
“Nice day,” said Adam.
“Just remember what I said.”
“Oh, I will, I will,” said Adam.
Their shoes crunched along the hard-packed dirt. Chris glanced ahead but saw nothing. “For your sake, that shack better be there.”
“For your daughter’s sake,” said Adam. There was mockery in his voice now. Chris stiffened.
“She’d better be all right too,” he said.
Adam chuckled. “The trouble with you would-be heroes,” he said, “Is you don’t know what you’re up against. Sooner or later, you make a mistake. You’ll make yours.”
“There’s the shack,” said Adam.
Chris’s stride faltered as he caught sight of a battered shingle roof rising above the bushes ahead.
“Hold it,” he said.
Adam stopped and looked over at him.
“What now, little hero?” he asked.
Chris hesitated. This part had to be right. If Steve knew, for a moment, what was going on, he might kill Connie—of that Chris had no doubt. This part had to be exactly right.
“Well?” asked Adam.
Chris’s grip tightened on the revolver.
“You’re going to call him out,” he said.
“I’m not fooling, Adam.”
“Shall I call him now?”
“Walk down further,” Chris told him. “I’ll be right behind you. As soon as you’re in front of the shack, call him—and, by God, you’d better make it casual.”
Adam looked at him a moment, a detached smile on his lips. Then he turned. “Watch your step,” he said as if to a casual chess opponent. He started toward the shack.
“Remember—I’ll shoot if I have to.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll remember everything,” said Adam.
Chris walked after him, the gun tightly readied in his hand. He drank in a mouthful of air and exhaled it—then shivered, realizing how cold it was, how heavily still. So still it seemed as if his footsteps must be audible inside the shack.
Up ahead, Adam stopped, glanced back. Chris nodded. He was just out of sight of the cabin doorway, a mass of bushes hiding it from him.
Adam called out. “Steve!”
Chris felt his heartbeat jolt at the loudness of it. Was he wrong to try it like this? he wondered. Was there a better way?
“Hey, Steve!” Adam called again. He sounded very casual.
Chris stiffened as he heard the cabin door squeak open.
“Where the hell have you been?” Steve asked.
Abruptly, Chris lunged out from behind the bushes, gun raised. “Hold it!” he ordered.
Steve twitched in surprise. Then, suddenly, he was grabbing for the gun in his pocket.
“Keep your—!” Chris started before reflexes, quicker than thought, had pulled the trigger and a blast of thunder surrounded him. At the top of the rise, Steve hitched around, one hand clutching
at his shoulder. He fell back against the cabin, a gush of blood drenching his fingers.
Chris threw a glance at Adam, who was still standing in the same place. Then he looked toward the cabin again. Steve was writhing on the ground, teeth set in a grimace of agony.
“Don’t try it again,” Chris warned him.
“Sonofabitch,” gasped Steve. Suddenly, he whined, biting at his lower lip.
Chris looked at the doorway.
“Connie!” he called.
The cabin was silent. Chris felt a chilling tremor in his loins. “No,” he murmured.
“Connie!” he shouted again. “It’s Daddy!”
Inside the cabin, there was a sound of bare feet running. Abruptly, Connie appeared in the doorway, still wearing her pajamas. When she saw Chris she cried out convulsively and ran out of the cabin. Without looking, she rushed down the steeply sloping ground toward him.
She’d almost reached him when she slipped. Instinctively, Chris jumped forward to grab her. The next instant, flailing down the slope to keep from falling, she crashed into him, knocking him off balance. He struggled to keep his footing but couldn’t. His right foot twisted under him, pitching him sideways onto the road, the impact breaking his grip.
The revolver went sliding away from him.
“Honey, look out!” he gasped, lunging for it desperately.
Adam got there first. Chris saw him looming overhead, his lips pulled back in a brutal smile. Then everything was blotted out by Adam’s hurtling shoe. For a split second Chris tried to fling up his hands, tried to twist away. There was no time. The shoe tip crashed against his temple, stabbing a wedge of agony into his brain. Chris toppled over backward with a cry. Somewhere Connie screamed. Chris tried to move.
The next kick sent him spinning into blackness.
Helen was standing by the Ford when the explosion of the shot reached her.
For an instant, she stood transfixed, the rocking waves of sound breaking over her. Then, with a gasp, she broke into a hobbling run, her sandals slapping at the dirt. She ran heedlessly, her gaze held straight ahead on the road turn where Chris had disappeared. “No, please,” she kept on murmuring. “Please.” As if she were entreating someone.
Up ahead, Connie screamed.
“No!” Helen tried to run faster and felt a sting of pain on her sole where the sliver of glass had gone in the night before. She winced but kept on running.
Suddenly, Connie appeared, fleeing around the bend of the road.
Connie rushed across the uneven ground and flung herself against her mother’s legs. She couldn’t speak. She clung tightly to Helen, her body trembling. Before Helen could say a word to her, Adam came racing around the curve, the revolver in his hand. When he saw them, he skidded to a halt.
“All right,” he said. He gestured toward the shack with his gun. “Go on.”
His lips flared back in a grimace of fury as Helen stared at him.
“I said go on!” he ordered.
“Mommy, no,” begged Connie, her face buried in Helen’s skirt.
“It’s all right, baby,” Helen told her. She leaned over hastily and kissed the top of Connie’s head. “Please. We have to go. Mommy will stay with you. I promise.”
Helen shuddered at the look on Adam’s face. “So help me God, lady,” he muttered, pointing the revolver at Connie’s head.
Baby, walk with me
,” Helen said. She tightened her arm around Connie’s shoulders. “You have to come with Mommy now. You have to, Connie.”
“No.” Connie stumbled beside her, her face still pressed against Helen’s body.
“It’s all right, sweetie,” Helen said in a hollow, shaking voice, “Just walk with Mommy. That’s a good girl.” She held Connie’s head against her side with rigid fingers as they walked past Adam.
“Don’t hurt her,” she whispered.
Adam said nothing. He gestured jerkily with his head and Helen tried to quicken her step. Connie stumbled and had to be pulled erect. She started to whimper again.
“It’s all right, baby.” Helen felt a spill of tears down her cheeks. “It’s all right,” she said, faintly. She glanced across her shoulder and saw Adam getting the keys out of the Ford.
When she saw Chris lying in the road, she stiffened in her tracks, eyes widening. She stared at his body, a thin wavering sound starting in her throat. She could barely feel Connie against herself.
She twitched as Adam pushed the barrel end against her back. Involuntarily, she started forward, drawing Connie with her. She couldn’t take her eyes off Chris. He was so still, his body sprawled on the rutted ground, one leg twisted beneath the other, his hands above his shoulders as if, in falling, he had flung them up to ward off the blow that had put him there.
“Chris,” she murmured.
In the shack
.” Adam’s hand was clamping suddenly on her right arm, redirecting her instinctive move toward Chris. Helen gasped, twisting around so quickly that it sent a prickling shock along the muscles of her neck. Connie cried out and she had to pull her close again, stopping to hold her. Adam cursed and shoved her back, almost knocking her over.
“Get in the shack!” he ordered.
She started up the steep incline; drawing Connie beside her, conscious of her own voice soft and trembling as she comforted Connie, not hearing a single word of it. She kept glancing back across her shoulder at Chris and saw Adam lean over, reach under Chris’s coat.
He straightened up angrily. “You have the money?” he called up after her.
She turned and stared at him.
She remembered then and reached into her coat pocket. It was empty.
“I—I can’t—” she started, standing there awkwardly on the steep, rutted ground. Abruptly, she recalled that the clump of bills was in her other pocket. She tried to ease Connie away, but Connie held on with talon-like fingers.
“Baby, let me get—” Helen bit her lip and tried not to cry. She forced her left hand in between her own and Connie’s body and slipped it into the pocket of her coat.
“Come on!” snarled Adam.
Her fingers closed over the money and started to pull it out. As she did, the rubber band slipped off and several of the bills went fluttering to the ground. She tried to stoop and pick them up but couldn’t because Connie was holding on to her so tightly. She heard Adam curse again, then shrank back as he clambered up the rise and snatched the pack of money from her shaking hand.
“Get in the shack,” he told her.
“Don’t hurt her,” she said instinctively.
He jerked her around and shoved her toward the door. Helen felt a rush of dizzying shock as she found herself looking at the other man who was leaning against the shack, his left hand pressed against his shoulder, blood running between his fingers and down his wrist.
Shut her up
,” she heard Adam order from behind her and she was suddenly conscious of Connie’s terrified crying.
“Connie, don’t—” she pleaded. She pulled her daughter against her, shielding Connie’s eyes from the sight of the bleeding man. She almost carried her past him into the fetid chill of the shack. Pulling her to a chair, she sat down and lifted Connie onto her lap, pressing her close, brushing at her hair with short, trembling strokes. “Shhh, baby, shhh. It’s all right.”
Outside, she heard the two men talking and she raised her face from where she’d had it buried in Connie’s hair.
“—doctor,” she heard the wounded man finish.
“Use your head,” Adam answered stiffly and the wounded man said something she didn’t hear except for the curse of pain.
Suddenly, there was a sliding, scraping sound.
Unaware of it, Helen pressed back slowly against the chair, the old wood creaking in the silence of the shack. She hardly heard Connie’s sobbing. All she could hear was the raking noise outside that was drawing closer and closer. She felt a chilling tingle up the back of her neck and her gaze, unblinking, held on the doorway.
Abruptly, Adam appeared dragging Chris into the cabin, one hand twisted around the collar of Chris’s jacket. Her mouth opened as if to breathe but there was no breath in her. Air seemed to stifle in her lungs and in the heavy length of her body it seemed the only thing that lived was her heart.
“Is he dead?” she heard the other man ask as he stumbled into the shack after Adam.
“I don’t know,” Adam answered carelessly. He released his fingers and Chris’s head and shoulders thumped down on the floor. Helen couldn’t restrain the faint gagging sound in her throat. Adam glanced over at her, then turned to the wounded man.
“Let’s see,” he said, drawing Steve’s hand off the wound. Helen twisted her gaze from the sight of the man’s blood-pulsing shoulder. She pressed her eyes to Connie’s head again, her arms tightening convulsively around her daughter’s body.
“I gotta have a doctor,” she heard Steve insist.
“And end up in the gas chamber?” Adam snapped.
“I’m bleeding, damn it!”
There was a moment’s silence, then the sound of cloth being torn. Blotted out, in an instant, by Steve’s hoarse cry of pain. Helen glanced up instinctively and saw the torn, blood-pumping hole in his shoulder.
“I need a doctor,” said Steve. There was a shakiness beneath the hard sound of his voice. Helen looked at Chris again. He didn’t move.
“Come here. Sit down while I bandage it,” said Adam.
Helen looked up, startled, and saw him leading Steve toward her. She shuddered as his eyes met hers and, hastily, she struggled to her feet, holding Connie against her. Connie started to look around but Helen pressed her head down to keep her from seeing.
“It’s all right, baby,” she said. She edged away, watching Steve sink down heavily onto the chair, his face ashen, his teeth clenched together so rabidly she could see the bulge of his jawbone beneath his ears.
“For Christ’s sake, hurry up,” he said.
Turning, Helen moved over to where Chris was lying. She felt numb, almost dreamlike. The entire situation had such an air of unreality about it that, somehow, the dread in her could rise no higher. Simply, the mind would not accept more.
She looked down intently at Chris’s pain-twisted face. There was an ugly, purplish welt across his forehead. She bit her lip and looked at his chest. At first she couldn’t see any movement and the horror she had repressed seemed to flood through her body like a cold slime.
Then she saw a hitching rise to his chest and heard a faint, liquid groaning in his throat. Catching her breath, she put Connie down.