Well, as some of you may be aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. Sounds daunting, but it can be done. Anyway, I thought I would post an excerpt of the project I started this month in honor of NaNoWriMo. If I get the firs draft done in the 30 days, so be it. If not, I'll have gotten a chunk of it out of the way. Here it is, a project that is tentatively titled Devil's Bluff. Let me know what you think.
The rising and falling wail of a banshee broke through the depths of Billy’s sleep and he awoke with a start. It was a running joke with dad that while Billy could sleep through the alarm clock on the night stand right next to his head, the siren from the firehouse could wake him from the sleep of the dead. Because of that, his father often said he would grow up to be an ambulance chasing lawyer. The television was still on. The Lucy marathon had ended while he slept, and an infomercial for some exercise equipment was running. He glanced at his watch. Four am. The sun wasn’t even up. Still dressed in the clothes he wore yesterday, he was on his feet and moving for the door before the second rising and falling wail sounded.
Outside, he grabbed his bike and started down the steps. The car would be faster, but without knowing where the emergency was, the bike was easier. He knew from past experience that other morbid curiosity seekers would be there, most of them with their cars, and he didn’t want to contribute further to the congestion. In the distance, the firehouse siren continued to wail. It was a shame really, but not surprising. The ambulance and firefighters were all volunteers. Billy often thought if the locals had had any sense, they would have a crew on call in the event of overnight emergencies. They didn’t though, which said something about the people in town. It also meant that whoever was in need of emergency care, be it the ambulance crew or the firefighters would have to wait until the response team was fully awake and dressed. That ten or so minutes could mean all the difference between life and death, but that didn’t seem to matter to those answering the calls.
Clouds had gathered during the night, blocking out the light of the full moon, which only deepened the darkness that laid claim to this end of town. Because DeVille House and the house his parents had purchased several years back were the only two properties this far out, the Town Council couldn’t justify the expense of extending the street lights to an area that they considered barely populated. The fact that the DeVille’s were not generally liked by the locals made the decision that much easier. He briefly reconsidered taking the car, though, after see just how dark it was. Even if the moon’s rays weren’t hindered but the cloud cover, once he got on his way, there was a large stretch of road that was covered by a canopy of trees. Even in the bright light of day, the road was in perpetual shadow. “Ah, screw it,” he mumbled to himself. He already had the bike off the porch, so what the hell.
Because of the darkness, Billy didn’t ride as fast he would have during the daylight hours. The road was a relatively straight run into town, with only a few snaking curves. As he rounded one of the bends in the road, he saw up ahead the blinking red taillights of a car pulled over on the side of the road. The headlights were on, backlighting the forms of two people huddled by the car. They looked young, and more than likely, being that they were in this neck of the woods, they were in their late teens out this way to fool around. Billy pulled his bike up behind the car and got off. They seemed oblivious to his presence, just staring out into the road as if expecting something to come out of the darkness on the other side. He laid his bike down on the grass on the side of the road and moved around the rear of the car. “Do you guys need any help?”
The coupled started at the sound of his voice. “N-no,” a female voice said, immediately followed by a male voice saying, “We’ve already called the sheriff’s office. Somebody should be here soon.”
Billy approached the couple. “What happened?”
The siren had finally fallen silent. If they had enough for a crew, they’d be here in ten or fifteen minutes.
The girl spoke, but it wasn’t in response to Billy’s question. “If my father finds out I’ve been out this way, he’s going to kill me.”
“He won’t find out,” the young man reassured her.
“But he’s one of the paramedics,” the girl whined.
Billy waited for their little drama to play out. While he waited, he looked around, but he couldn’t see more than a foot or so in front of him, even with the illumination from the headlights.
“If you’re that afraid he’s going to show, why don’t you wait in the car.”
Without waiting to be told again, the girl scurried to open the rear door of the car and climbed in, stretching out across the seat. She obviously wasn’t going to take any chance of being seen from the road by anybody. In the brief flash of light as the car door was opened, Billy got a glimpse of the couple. The guy was around eighteen years old, the girl a year or two younger. He had seen them both around town, but didn’t know them.
Once the car door was closed, the guy moved towards the front of the car, indicating that Billy should follow. In the glow from the headlights, Billy had a clearer view of the guy. He obviously thought he was some bad ass in his cuffed jeans, MC boots and leather jacket: a James Dean wannabe. Somebody should tell him that look hasn’t been cool since Happy Days went off the air. The guy was very nonchalant in his movement, seeming not to have a care in the world as he perched himself on the hood of the car. Whatever had happened, it couldn’t have been that serious.
“So what happened,” Billy asked again, coming stepping into the glow of the headlights.
The guy was in no rush to answer the question; he took a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of this t-shirt and lipped one before offering the pack to Billy. Billy wasn’t a smoker, not in the sense that he went out and bought his own packs, but he had bummed a smoke from his friends from time to time, accepted the offered cigarette and the light. The guy leaned back on the car, supporting himself with one arm while taking a deep drag. He blew the smoke out slowly, and there was something about his actions that had Billy wondering if maybe the guy wasn’t high.
“You live around here,” the guy asked.
"Yeah. Just up the road.”
The guy looked around as if he didn’t want to be overheard. “I’ve seen your mom in town. She’s hot.”
Billy took a drag on the cigarette and choked on the smoke. Now he knew the guy was on something. That’s not something you say to a complete stranger. Recovering from his cough spasm, Billy asked, “And you are?”
“Doug. The bitch in the back seat is Amy.”
Ignoring the last, Billy asked for the third time, “So what happened?”
“Don’t know. Amy and me, we came out here to fuck around.”
Tell me something I don’t know, Billy said to himself.
“We was on our way home and there was this body on the side of the road.”
“What? Who is it?” Billy’s gazed shifted to the other side of the road, straining against the darkness to see where this body was.
“Don’t know. Looks like some old broad.”
“Is she okay?”
“Lousy lay. She just lays there, but the bitch knows how to polish a knob, though.”
Definitely high, Billy thought. He should have thought to bring a flashlight with him. He wasn’t that far from the house that couldn’t head back and get one, but the ambulance crew would more than likely be here and gone by the time he got back. Instead, he started across the road.
“Hey, Anders,” Doug called after him in a loud whisper, “you want her to do you? She will if I tell her to.”
“That’s okay.” He moved deeper into the darkness, needing to put some distance between himself and that asshole. He didn’t know Doug, but from what he learned during their brief interaction was enough to know that they wouldn’t be best buds anytime soon. It was obvious they weren’t a couple, as least Doug didn’t see it that way, and he wondered if Amy thought differently.
“Don’t know what you’re missing, man.”
Moving through the darkness, totally blind to what lay ahead of him, he tried to block out Doug’s badgering. Gradually his eyes adjusted to the lack of light and he could make out a vaguely human shape on the ground a few yards away. He quickened his pace, and when he stood before it, he dropped it a crouch. Not knowing how badly hurt the person was, he didn’t want to touch the person, but he did want whoever it was to know that somebody was there. “Are you okay?” When he didn’t get a response, he dropped all the way to his knees. The gravel bit through his jeans but he ignored the discomfort. “Help is on the way.” And it was. He could hear the ambulance now, the mournful wail growing louder as it approached. He thought he heard the person mumble something, but he couldn’t be certain, not with the asshole running his mouth. “It’s going to be okay.” He tried to be reassuring, comforting, but couldn’t help but feel totally helpless. He wondered what could have happened to this individual when he was hit with an ugly thought.
He lifted his head and stared across the road at Doug. The guy was definitely on something. Was it possible he hadn’t been paying attention to the road, maybe getting head while he drove, and ran the person down? Is that why Amy was so afraid of her father finding her here? Well, he knew if he had a daughter and had caught her with the likes of someone like Doug, he wouldn’t be at all happy with her. Somebody like Doug would be one to boast of his conquests, and probably wouldn’t be above exaggerating the details. Even if Amy hadn’t put out, Doug’s version of the story would have her sounding like a slut. The girl’s reputation would be ruined. With Amy in hiding, Doug was free to spin whatever tale he wanted as to why he was out this way. Billy shuddered at the idea of the creep getting away with running somebody down. If that was what had happened. It was also entirely possible that the guy was telling the truth. If Doug’s version of what had happened was indeed true, what was this person doing out in the middle of nowhere at this time of night. Considering what went on out this way, Billy could only arrive at one conclusion: this person was up to no good.
He gave an involuntary shiver now that that thought was firmly planted in his head. He was out here all by himself now that his family had gone home. Anything could happen to him and nobody would know. Well, his mother the worrier would suspect, but dad would talk her down. It would be days before they found out what had happened. One too many scenarios in his head to make a judgment. Innocent until proven guilty. Even at that, he suddenly wished he had never left the house, and he wanted nothing more than to be back inside in front of the television.
A flash of light caught his attention and he looked down the road. The ambulance was minutes away. He could see the flashing bubble lights now, and the steady twin eyes of the headlights drawing near. Turning his attention back to the wounded individual, he said, “Just a few more minutes. They’re almost here. Just hang on a few more minutes.”
A groan escaped the lips of the person lying on the ground. There was no mistaking it. It sounded male, but of that he couldn’t be certain. And then the lights from the ambulance and the sheriff’s car washed over him, revealing the identity of the person before him. He fell back, startled at seeing Old Lady DeVille, the Devil Woman herself, sprawled on the ground.
As much as the woman was despised in town, the ambulance crew wasted no time attending to the old woman. The entire time the paramedics worked on her, DeVille wouldn’t stop mumbling to herself in a voice so low that nobody could understand what she was saying. The paramedics had been determined that the woman was delirious, hallucinating maybe, because she wasn’t responding to requests to repeat herself or to speak up.
While Billy watched them work, he glanced occasionally across the way to where the sheriff was questioning Doug. They were too far away for him to hear what they were saying, but Billy could imagine. Amy was still hiding in the backseat, and Billy wondered if, when the sheriff came over to talk to him, he would give her up. Maybe the truth would come out if she was questioned by the law. Maybe Doug was telling the truth, but they wouldn’t know for sure until his story was corroborated. The sheriff would have to get her alone, though. There was no way she would tell her version of what happened as long as there was a potential threat from the man she was screwing.
By the time the old woman was stabilized and loaded into the ambulance, the sheriff was meandering over to Billy. When the man was close enough where he wouldn’t have to shout to be heard, he said, “Well, Bill. . . Or is it William?”
Flustered, Billy, said, “It’s Billy, sir.” He had never met the sheriff and was at a loss at how the man knew his name. He guessed if he was responsible for the safety of the town, he would make himself familiar with all the locals—and the outsiders. It hadn’t even crossed his mind that Doug might have mentioned him by name.
“Well, Billy. What brings you out this early in the morning?”
“I heard the alarm go off, sir.”
“You can relax, Billy.”
“You can drop the ‘sir’.”
“Yes, sir.” Billy felt himself blush. Even though he hadn’t done anything wrong, he still felt nervous talking to the sheriff.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“I’m not sure myself. The alarm woke me up. I was on my way to see what it was all about when I saw Doug parked by the side of the road.”
A frown creased the man’s face. “So you know Doug.”
“No, sir. I’ve seen him around town, but only just met him tonight.”
The sheriff picked up on something in Billy’s voice. “You don’t like him?”
“I don’t really know him, but from the few minutes we spent together, no, not at all, sir.”
“And what did he tell you?”
“That he was on his way home and saw her in the road. He told me he called your office and was waiting ‘til you arrived.”
“Hmmmm,” the sheriff said, mostly to himself. “That doesn’t sound like him at all.” Then to Billy, “Was he alone?”
The question caught Billy off guard. “Sir?”
“Was he by himself?”
Billy hesitated, not wanting to get on the wrong side of Doug. As he told the sheriff, he didn’t know the guy, but he had no doubt the guy could make his life a living hell.
“It’s rare for people to come out this way by themselves. You do know this area of town is the Bluff’s version of Lover’s Lane.”
Licking his lips nervously, Billy said. “I’ve heard that, sir, but never saw anything to make me believe it was true.”
“Are you covering for somebody, Billy?”
Billy shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to decide if he should say anything about Amy.
“If it will make things easier, we know he was with a girl. Dispatch said a girl called this in, but that she refused to give her name.”
Heaving an inward sigh of relief over the fact that Doug had screwed himself over and that he wouldn’t technically be squealing if he said anything, Billy said, “There was a girl.”
“Were they in separate cars?”
With a shake of the head, Billy said, “No.” He wasn’t going to say anything else unless the sheriff asked, and he knew the man would ask.
“Where did she go? Did she head into town on foot.”
“No, sir. She was hiding in the back seat.”
“Would you happen to know who she was and why she was hiding?”
“She was afraid of her father finding out that she was out here.”
“Do you know who she was?”
“I’ve seen her around town, but don’t know who she is.”
The sheriff accepted this and let it go. “Well, that’s about it for now. When will you and your family be heading out?”
“My parents already left, sir. I’m here by myself now.”
The sheriff raised his eyebrows.
“Classes start in two weeks. Dad said staying here would be cheaper than staying on campus.”
“I wouldn’t know about that. Well, I’ll let you get along home. If I have any other questions or think of something else, I’ll be in touch.”
“Good night, sir.” Billy went across the road to retrieve his bike, turned around, and pedaled back to the house.
Back inside, he turned off the television and went up the stairs to his bedroom, where he stripped off his clothes and crawled into bed. Sleep was slow in coming. His mind was working overtime, and for some reason he couldn’t fathom, his thoughts kept returning to the DeVille woman lying by the side of the road. Every time he saw her in his mind, he was seized by chills. When he was younger, his grandmother always said somebody was walking over her grave whenever she got the shivers, and why that thought would to him at this moment bothered him more than he could say. For the second time within twenty-four hours, Billy Anders wondered if staying in this house by himself wasn’t such a great idea afterall.
He tossed and turned, but sleep wouldn’t come. He kept seeing her face, eyes closed, lips moving silently, as if she was uttering a prayer. He tried reading, but found he couldn’t concentrate on the words. Why old lady DeVille being hit by a car preyed on his mind the way it was he couldn’t say, but he didn’t have a good feeling about it.
Eventually, he got out of bed and returned to the living room. He turned the TV on again, fluffed the pillows under his head, covered himself with the blankets, and tried to lose himself in a movie. He stared at the screen without really seeing the action unfolding there. His thoughts had moved on, leaving the old lady on the side of the road and turned towards the house on the bluff, where is sat like a bird of prey overlooking the town. The image of the darkened house looming over the land below scared the shit out of him worse than any horror movie he had ever seen. He saw himself walking up the road towards the house. It was like he was dreaming while he was awake, but it was more like a waking nightmare since he couldn’t shake the images. He approached the house. As he walked up to the door, it swung open on its own, revealing nothing but a threatening darkness beyond. Something was waiting for him. Something that terrified him. That knowledge alone should have had him running the other way, but he took a step forward and entered the house. As the door closed behind him, sleep finally claimed him. If he dreamed, he didn’t remember it.
Or he wasn’t being allowed to remember.
He didn’t know which, and wasn’t sure he wanted to.