Chapter: Rue for Two

Entry: Aug 13, 2007

Kyle barreled down the stairs, pummeling them like a rocky landslide driving a bull-stampede. "C'mon Kyle," Frank quipped, his voice echoing hollowly through empty rooms and hallways from his distant study. "Try to leave some of the house upright."

If Kyle heard, it didn't register—at least not obviously. The sound was enough to break his harried concentration and send his head whipping around toward its source. Frank didn't bother with a follow-up taunt, so nothing but a ghost of a whisper lingered in the foyer. But he did catch a glimpse of the grandfather clock in turning toward his father's study: 10:27; not quite his bedtime, but his fevered nap cashed more time than he cared to spend.

Ignorant wretches.

Kyle's eyes nearly crossed and he swooned, grabbing a nearby walnut bannister to avoid careening into any furniture or split open his head on the multitude of jagged hardwood accents adorning the "classic" home Frank insisted on buying. Gorge thick with bile flowed up his throat, scorching like lava and tasting somehow of copper pennies and turpentine. And like a drunken sidekick—not a waste or second string reject good for nothing but comic-relief—came the spotty sight, the marble blank, mottled and ravenous. His grip loosened, and he slid further down; to the floor he went, a freshly poured mound of hot clay. What the hell was that?!

It didn't last long, and like magic, Kyle's vision cleared and his limbs again surged with strength and purpose. He hauled himself upright and glared an angry challenge at the front door while regaining his bearings. Maybe after all this is over, there would be some time to see a doctor about the recent deluge of dizzy-spells, but it was probably something stupid like hormones or clumbsyteeneageritis. He subvocalized a growl and threw open the door, annoyed by his body's temporary failure to cooperate. Worthless piece of crap.

The storm had indeed died down, almost as if blasted to the ground by a hunting rifle. For no breeze sang in the trees, no howl whipped over eaves or slithered through Tammond Dale's brick-lined streets. Not a whisper, not a whimper, not a peep. The wake of the blizzard was meek, a silent death spun and skipped along the pristine powder, still as a portrait in a mausoleum of ancient and irrelevant lore. It was timeless, and the beauty impressed upon Kyle an uneasiness leagues beyond the raw fear practically seeping from Old Town.

As he walked forward toward the steps, his shoes crunched through an inch of snow loudly enough to startle him.

It was the only note of life in this still landscape. No bird chirped, no cricket or lingering cicada twilled in the trees. Kyle's foot upon the snow clashed like a chandelier crashing from a grand ballroom ceiling to an unyielding marble floor below, shattering to thousands of plinks and tinkles, utterly alien and contemptible. Might as well shit on a birthday cake, he thought. He felt both guilty and terrified, having disturbed the unnatural tranquility so abruptly. Almost enough to forget about Samson—but not quite. Unlike Kyle, that old dog wouldn't care about disturbing the peace, no matter how eerie; the arthritic and half-blind codger was simply past such mundane trivialities. Old dog: no new tricks.

So Kyle lept down the stairs, taking them in twos and skiing slightly on the landings he did strike. It was brisk and mildly perilous, but no worse than his previous spill in the foyer.

The snow at the bottom was much deeper, almost a foot high, and drifted into greater towers and dunes, rippling like a desert sea waiting to swallow Kyle whole. He sighed and shifted his weight, pulling up a leg and sinking it past his knee in the white fluff. It would be slow going—hot and thankless work any other day—but he didn't have far to go, after all.

Past the stairs, around the porch, and finally to Samson's makeshift kennel, doghouse, and mansion. Living under their expansive porch was easily the biggest structure the gargantuan dog ever called home. Unfortunately that also meant a wide square of decorative latticework needed to be removed to accommodate his girth. Someone more picky might deem it an eyesore, but Kyle's family had long-ago accepted the avalanche of caveats owning Samson brought. To them, the gaping hole was beautiful because somewhere in that dark expanse waited a big friendly tongue and liberal amounts of devoted slobber.

Now it held only inky dregs of hate. Kyle peered into the dim and saw little—certainly no great, shaggy Saint Bernard huddled near the mouth of his impromptu cave. There may have been a hint of white near the back, but Kyle wasn't sure; Samson shed liberally though they brushed him daily, and the cove already looked like the losing end of a pillow-fight.

And then he saw them, glinting red in the blackness, baleful and thirsty. Too close together to be Samson's eyes, and to far apart for a rogue rodent or mole—Kyle knew those eyes, and his heart began to pound. All moisture fled his mouth, leaving it numb and stuffed with cotton, dry and parched with astringent born of shock.

He had no reason to be afraid! Maybe a dream, a fever or an image long forgotten in the chaotic turmoil of sleep. Just that, only relegated to the boundaries of thought: a phantom. But those twin beacons of rage blinking and wavering only feet away were concrete, real and solid and damning Kyle with every passing second.

A coughing, bristly growl issued from the newly exposed teeth neither vicious or even mildly mean. Somehow, it would appear, a rabbit got caught beneath the porch and felt cornered. Kyle breathed a sigh of relief and laughed at himself. Scared of a fucking rabbit. I'm such an idiot.

When it moved forward, bathed shallowly in the faint moonlight, Kyle's mirth died on his lips and soured to a chill in his belly, as stomach and entrails sought to escape his body. This was no rabbit: torn and rotten, decayed fur patchy over dry bones that scissored together, gyrating as it inched further forward. No bunny, no hare. Nothing so tame, and Kyle felt a thrill of giddiness at the sheer melodrama unfolding before him.

He didn't wait for it to leap upon him, vying for a meaty hunk of his throat, as all cliché creatures of the night must. He shifted his weight and hurtled backward, forgetting the deep drift behind him. He fell heavily and knew he was trapped and lacked any leverage to stand. There was nothing left but to struggle, and to scream.

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