Authors: Richard Matheson
Where was Chris now? she wondered almost with a sensation of not caring. Had he reached a doctor yet? Which doctor would he go to? Somehow, she could not believe that what he did was important any more. No matter what it was she felt that nothing could be changed. Finally, it appeared, she had accepted the nightmare. She had given up resisting it.
Then, suddenly, she looked up, her heartbeat jolting, as Steve’s body twitched, his shoes thumping on the floor. She felt her body go taut, readying itself to jump up. She stared at him intently. He
was looking around the room in the manner of a man who has just started from unwanted sleep. The revolver was raised from his lap, the barrel of it wavering uncertainly in his grip.
“You’re going to die if you stay here,” Adam told him. After the long period of silence, his voice sounded unnaturally loud.
“Shut up.” Steve spoke without emphasis, slurring the words together. He swallowed and grimaced, licked his lips. Breath faltered in him. “Damn…” he muttered.
Abruptly, he made a half-angered, half-agonized sound. Helen couldn’t take her eyes off him. She sat woodenly, her gaze unmoving on his pain-twisted features. He looked over at her and her eyes fell, closed momentarily.
God, please help us
, she thought, the words flaring in her mind without volition.
She knew then that she hadn’t given up, that she couldn’t give up as long as Connie was alive. There had to be a way out. It was too impossibly monstrous that Connie should die in this horrible place, in this horrible way. There were sudden words in Helen’s mind again—terrible, heart-chilling words.
The sins of the fathers
, they began.
No! Helen sat rigidly, her lips trembling in the midst of fear, a great outraged fury. Connie would not die. She would not!
She glanced up and saw Steve trying to look at the watch on his wrist. He couldn’t seem to focus his eyes properly. He kept blinking them, his teeth clenched. He was close to the edge now, she realized.
“Do you want me to read it for you?” she asked, almost awed by the brittle presence of her voice.
Steve looked up at her. From the corner of her eye, Helen noticed Adam watching her.
“Do you want me to tell you what time it is?” she asked. This time there was a little bass tremble to her voice. She spoke more consciously now, more aware of what instinct had driven her to speak.
“Do you?” she asked.
“It’s ten minutes to one,” said Adam.
Helen felt a sudden coiling in her stomach, part of it hatred. Adam knew what she’d had in mind—to get beside Steve, try to wrest the revolver from him.
“If we don’t leave now,” Adam said, coldly, “You’re going to die.”
“All right, die!” Adam interrupted, “What the hell do I care?”
“That’s right, you don’t care,” mumbled Steve, “Nobody cares.”
Helen realized, then, that, within the sight of death, what small sensitivity remained in Steve was piercing his shell of brutality. He was frightened, terrified and he had so long repressed these feelings that he was incapable of responding to them, of even recognizing them.
“He’s got ten minutes,” said Adam, scornfully, “Think he’ll make it?”
There was a dry clicking sound in Steve’s throat. “He’ll be back,” he said; but there was more desperate hope in his voice than assurance.
“Wrong,” said Adam, “He won’t. He’s probably out of the county by now.”
Helen started and looked over at Adam’s malign face. It isn’t true, she thought.
“He won’t be back,” said Adam, “Why should he? For
?” he asked, gesturing toward Helen with his head. “Don’t be a fool. He never told her what he’d done. Even after he murdered Cliff, he talked her into not telling the cops. Was he worrying about them then?” Adam snickered contemptuously. “The hell he was,” he said.
“Shut up,” said Steve; but it was closer to a request than a demand.
Helen felt a cold tremor pass through her body.
, she thought but there was no conviction in her. She didn’t know whether Adam was right or not. She really wasn’t sure—and, in a way, it was a more terrible feeling than the fear of death.
“And you gave him the car,” said Adam, “You let him go.” He shook his head slowly. “I always knew I should have left you and Cliff. Well I’ll be rid of you soon.”
“Will ya?” Steve shoved his arm out and pointed the revolver at him.
“Go on!” snapped Adam, “Shoot me! Then you’re
alone. Then you
haven’t got a prayer, you ignorant bastard.”
Steve drew in a harsh, shaking breath. “He’s coming back,” he said.
“Sure, sure, he’s coming back,” said Adam, “He’s bringing Florence Nightingale and your sainted mother and the first girl you ever kissed and a box of candy with a ribbon on it.
You—moron. I should—
He broke off suddenly as Steve pressed back against the chair, his mouth yawning in a sucking gasp of pain, “
,” he whimpered, “
In an instant, Adam was alert, his body straightened from the wall, his legs slightly bent as if he were getting ready to rush across the room at Steve who was twisting his head from side to side, tiny noises of fear and agony and disbelief hovering in his throat. Helen’s fingers tensed on Connie, she began to shift her to the side so she could put her on the floor and stand—get ready to rush for the gun.
“Get over here,” said Steve, hoarsely. He looked at Helen with glazed, watering eyes. He said something else but it was too garbled for her to understand. Hastily, she lowered Connie’s head to the floor and stood up.
“You let her over there, she’ll grab your gun!” Adam warned.
“And you won’t?” muttered Steve. There was a glitter in his eyes now. He spoke through teeth continually on edge. Helen moved toward him very slowly.
“Come on!” he snapped.
Bracing herself, she walked over to where he sat. He looked up at her groggily.
“You wanna die?” he asked.
Helen bit her lower lip and shook her head. “No,” she said.
“Then keep me awake.”
Up close, she could see the waxy pallor of his skin, hear the laboring of his breath. The bandage on his shoulder was dripping with blood.
“How?” she murmured.
“I don’t—” He broke off suddenly and pressed his teeth together so hard that she could hear them grinding. The whine in his throat was like the high note of a song. It would have sounded funny under other circumstances.
“Just keep me awake!” he told her, “Your kid’ll be the first one to get it if I feel myself—”
He gritted his teeth and stared at Adam with baleful eyes.
“And if I don’t kill her,” he said, “
will. So you better keep me—”
Steve shut his eyes, his head slumped forward.
Helen caught her breath and glanced over at Adam. He wasn’t moving. She looked back at Steve and saw that his head was raised again, his feverish eyes were open. He said something to her.
“What did you—?”
Don’t try t’ get my gun
,” he warned.
“I won’t.” Helen looked down at the revolver with a revulsive fascination. It looked huge. She saw how Steve’s index finger kept twitching against the curved edge of the trigger. Her insides seemed to turn to stone as she watched. She could never get it away from him, she knew. Even if he began to lose consciousness, his hand would still grip the stock. In trying to get it away from him, she would only arouse him.
She shuddered and looked over at Connie. She was lying motionless, still asleep. Adam was leaning against the wall again, motionless. The only thing that moved was time.
,” Adam said.
Chris twisted the wheel sharply and the Ford spun onto Wilshire Boulevard with a grating of tire rubber. He straightened it and drove to Twelfth Street trying not to think. If he thought, it would be about the hopelessness of getting the gun and returning to Latigo Canyon in five minutes. Resolution would fail him then, nerves would desert him. Steve would wait; he had made up his mind to that. He wouldn’t let himself consider anything else.
Still, braking in front of the house, his eyes moving instinctively to the dashboard clock and seeing that it was one o’clock, he couldn’t check the sob that broke in his chest. All he could do was cut it off and push out of the car. He raced across the lawn and jumped onto the porch.
The door was still open. Chris pushed inside and hurried across the living room, skidded around the corner of the doorway and entered the kitchen. Charging to the drawer, he jerked it open.
The gun was gone.
“No!” A spasm of demented anguish drove through him and he pulled the drawer out all the way, shoved his fingers wildly through its contents. Pads, pencils, tacks, rubber bands, stamps, envelopes, pennies, clips—no gun. A wave of dizziness flooded across him and he fell against the edge of the cupboard, gasping for breath.
Clenching his teeth then, he lunged for the other drawers and pulled them out one by one, plunging his hand into each, clattering berserkly through silverware, pulling out dishtowels, knocking over jars and cups and boxes. “
Oh, God—Oh, God—Oh
, God.” The horror was back again, he couldn’t stop it. Helen and Connie were going to die.
.” Chris spoke the word softly, as a man speaks just before the end—with one last surge of resisting will. Whirling, he ran out of the kitchen and across the living room rug. Helen could have put in their room, fearing that Connie might come across it in the kitchen drawer.
Skidding into their room, Chris ran to the bureau and hauled out the top drawer. He rummaged frantically through Helen’s things, a
shearing pain in his heart as he touched the smoothness of her lingerie, the crackling sheerness of her stockings.
The gun wasn’t there.
On an impulse, Chris dropped to one knee and pulled out the bottom drawer. He drove his hand beneath the neat pile of skirts and sweaters. At first, his fingers only rubbed along the lining of the drawer. Then, abruptly, they were bumping against the barrel of the gun. He jerked it out and stood, breaking into a run for the door. As he rushed across the living room, he shoved the pistol into his jacket. He pulled open the front door.
“Oh!” Helen’s mother twitched back, startled, on the porch.
Chris couldn’t speak. He stood, petrified in the doorway, staring at her, feeling as if his body were rocking with the violence of his heartbeats.
“Chris, where have you been?” asked Mrs. Shaw, “I’ve been phoning you all morning. Where are Helen and Connie?”
Chris shivered. “I’m going to them now,” he said.
“I thought she was coming to the house. I’ve been frantic, Chris! Why didn’t you phone?”
“I’m sorry, Mom. I have to go now. I’ll—I’ll be back in a while.”
“She had to go shopping. I’m going to get her now.”
“But you said she was going to—”
“I know!” He couldn’t keep the sharpness from his voice. “I’ll get her, I’ll bring her over. Now—” He started past her.
“Chris, what’s wrong?”
He had to press his lips together they shook so badly. “Nothing,” he muttered.
Mrs. Shaw looked at him, frightened. “Chris, don’t lie to me!” she said, She gasped and caught at his sleeve. “Has something happened to them? Are they hurt?”
“No, Mom. I—”
“Mom, I have to go!” He started across the porch but she held on.
“There’s been an accident,” she said in a forcibly calm voice. “You can tell me, Chris. Are they—?”
“They’re all right!” Chris tried to jerk free and the movement jarred the pistol from his pocket. He caught it as it fell.
Helen’s mother shrank away from him. “
,” she whispered.
“Mom… Mom, please,” he begged. “They’re all right. Just let me go. Wait here. I’ll bring them back.”
“Where are they?” Mrs. Shaw’s voice was barely audible.
“Mom, they’re all right! Just stay here!” Abruptly, Chris jumped off the porch and sprinted for the car. Steve would wait. He was badly hurt, he had to take the chance that Chris would return with a doctor. Chris pulled open the car door and slid onto the seat, glancing toward the porch. Helen’s mother had gone inside. With a quick movement, Chris turned the ignition key and started the motor.
He was just pulling away from the curb when it struck him. Jamming in the brake pedal, he slapped the gear shift into neutral and pushed out of the car. He ran around the front of it and across the lawn. The door flew open before the impact of his body.
In the hallway, he heard Helen’s mother gasp; then suddenly, cry out, “Give me the police! Quickly!”
Chris ran across the room and into the hall. Helen’s mother caught her breath and pressed back against the wall, the telephone receiver clenched in her hand. Without a word, Chris grabbed it.
“No!” Mrs. Shaw raised her arm as if he were about to strike her.
“Mom, for—!” Chris pulled the receiver from her and slammed it back on the cradle.
“Don’t…” she pleaded.
…” Chris stared at her in anguish, trying to decide what to do. If he left her, she’d only call police again.
“Come with me,” he said.
“I’ll take you to them, for God’s sake!”
“Chris, what have you done with them?”
“I haven’t done anything! Come on!” He grabbed her wrist. “
“You killed them!”
…” Chris pulled her toward the living room. “They’re all right,” he heard himself telling her, “They’re all right, Mom. Just come with me. I’ll take you to them.”
She stopped and pulled free.
“Chris, we’ve got to tell the police,” she said in trembling voice.
Rage billowed up in Chris. Even though he sensed that it was only subverted guilt, he couldn’t stop it. With a gasp, he pulled the gun out of his pocket.
“You’re coming with me,” he ordered.
Helen’s mother stared at him as if she’d never seen him before. Then, without a word, she turned and walked through the doorway.