Home > The Rains (Untitled #1)(4)

The Rains (Untitled #1)(4)
Author: Gregg Hurwitz

I spit to clear the bitter taste from my mouth. “Then why do we need the shotgun?”

Patrick headed along the side of our ranch house toward the McCafferty place. “’Cuz what if we see a buck along the way?”

I didn’t smile.

As we passed the rows of cozy crates lining the outside wall, our seven remaining ridgies stirred, a few of the boys sniffing the air and starting to growl. All at once they went crazy, snapping at the scent on the wind and howling. When they were riled up, you could hear the hound in them.

“Quiet,” Patrick hissed. “Quiet!” Then to me, “Make them shut up before they wake Jim and Sue-Anne.”

I said, “Hush,” and the dogs fell silent, though Cassius whimpered with impatience.

Weeds grew tough and fast out here, so Uncle Jim let a few hungry goats roam the acre beyond our doorstep to keep the view. A few bleated as we passed them by and cut through the pasture. Some of the cows stirred as we drifted by. As we neared the McCafferty place, the cries got louder and my mouth dryer. The air tasted so vile I choked on it.

“You think something’s burning?”

Patrick shook his head. “No. That’s something else.”

A dot of yellow illuminated the McCafferty porch, the light glowing next to the front screen. The door was laid open, the house’s interior black as pitch.

We heard the kids clearly now through that screen door. This was no game. They weren’t squealing.

They were screaming.

A slow, steady banging echoed out at us.

Maybe Hank was drunk again, trying to kick down the kids’ door. Maybe there was an escapee from the state pen one county over. Maybe a homicidal psychopath had hitchhiked to our quiet little town and decided to have some fun.

The terrible banging continued from inside the house.

I whispered, “Should we go back and get Uncle Jim?”

“And leave JoJo and Rocky to whatever’s happening?” Patrick said.

The question required no answer. I shrank back behind Patrick. Despite the cold, I could see sweat sparkling on the nape of his neck. He quickened his pace. When we were about twenty yards away, he stopped and called out, “Whoever’s causing trouble in there, I got a shotgun!”

The banging ceased at once.

The McCafferty kids inside—JoJo and Rocky—stopped screaming, but we could still hear them sobbing. Patrick and I stood side by side, his shotgun raised, my grip growing tighter on the baling hooks.

JoJo’s wails tailed off into silence.

From inside the house came a creak. Then another. Someone descending the stairs?

The footsteps continued, maddeningly slow, growing nearer.

Then we sensed a dark form behind the mesh of the screen. Just standing there. Staring ahead. We couldn’t make out anything more than a silhouette of shoulders and a head, shadow against darkness.

Breaths clouded through the screen, quick puffs of mist in the cold night air. A sound carried out to us—shallow pants, as if from someone who had just learned to breathe.

Patrick jacked the pump of the Winchester, the shuck-shuck loud enough to make my scalp crawl.

The breaths continued. The wind blew cold and steady.

It went down so fast we could barely register it.

The screen banged open. A woman in a nightgown flew out, a clawed hand jerking up to shatter the porch light, the front of the house falling into darkness. Bare feet hammered across the boards, and then the form leapt over the railing, moonlit, limbs spread like a cat’s. She landed on all fours, bounded up onto her feet, and scampered toward the grain silo.

A hatch opened on rusty hinges, then banged shut.

Patrick and I stood there in the night for a moment, breathing. My undershirt clung to me, and I realized I’d sweated right through it. Slowly, Patrick lowered his shoulders.

“What … was that thing?” I said.

“A woman, I expect. We better check it out.”

My heart did something weird in my chest. “Shouldn’t we check on JoJo and Rocky instead?”

“And let her escape?” Patrick said. “We got her cornered in the silo. What if she gets out and circles behind us? Or heads back for Jim and Sue-Anne?”

He started walking through the gloom toward the grain silo. He was my brother. I had to follow.

Plus, being alone with that thing out here didn’t sound much better.

The side hatch was loose, swaying in the wind. The latches clicked against the metal wall.

Patrick readied the shotgun with one hand as he reached for the handle. His fingers might have been steady, but my whole body was shaking.

The hatch creaked open, and Patrick stepped back, pointing the shotgun barrel at the black square. We waited for something to fly out at us.

But nothing came.

We blinked, let our eyes acclimate to the darkness.

Uneven mounds of barley rose head-high.

The woman stood at the far side of the silo behind one of the mounds, facing away so we could make out only a shoulder and the back of a head.

She half turned, and we caught a silhouette. Her skin looked pale, and her nightgown was torn and ragged at the shoulder, as if chewed.

Patrick lowered the shotgun. “Mrs. McCafferty?” he said. “Are you all right?”

She twitched a few times, her head jerking to the side. Moonlight from the open hatch cast her in an otherworldly glow.

“Did someone hurt you?” Patrick asked. “Is something in there with you?”

He lifted one leg and started to step into the hatch, ducking down to get the Stetson through. I grabbed his shoulder. “Patrick,” I said. “No.”

“I have to make sure she’s okay,” he said, shaking me off.

He entered, stepping over the arm of the sweep auger. It was like a giant clock hand that rotated around the floor, sweeping the barley toward a center vertical auger that carried the grain up through the roof and into a chute for loading trucks. It wasn’t moving now, shut down for the day.

I armed sweat from my forehead and watched my brother approach Mrs. McCafferty. I could see directly over his shoulder. She remained partly turned toward us, twitching and slightly hunched. Her rhythmic breathing continued, bellows without the wheeze.

“Mrs. McCafferty?” Patrick said. “Whatever happened to you, it’s over now. You’re okay.”

She turned and looked at us.

For a moment I didn’t believe what I was seeing.

In place of eyes, two tunnels ran straight through her skull. The beam of illumination from the flashlight cast twin glowing dots on the silo wall behind her. There was no blood at all on her face.

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