Chapter Ones

ORIGINAL

Sarah moaned and the Irish Setter beside her bumped her arm with a weary nose. Sarah did not respond, simply sat with her hands on the steering wheel, staring through the rain at the closed gate in front of her.The two strands of barbed wire were not really such a big problem. It was just that in order to get them out of her way, she would have to leave her warm, dry car and step out into the eye of a spring thunderstorm.

As she debated, Paddy whined, nudging her again. The action reminded her of how long they had been on the road already. Neither of them had been out of the car since before the storm began. The dog’s patience and bladder were probably stretched to the limit by now.

Oh, well. Sarah sighed and bravely opened the door. A gust of wind drove the rain in, causing Paddy to retreat to the far end of the front seat. Ruefully, Sarah envied the lucky animal as she stepped out, her coat providing little protection as it blew around her knees.

Within seconds, her short hair was plastered to her face. After splashing through an unnoticed puddle, she reached the fence and had to pause in order to figure out how the makeshift gate was fastened. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to keep trespassers out. The wire had been twisted tightly around the post two or three times, the barbs cutting into the wood and inter her hands as she fumbled with slippery fingers.

She cursed out loud, but finally succeeded in loosening the wire, her decorum stretched to the limit as wind and rain wore away at her temper. She dumped the gate unceremoniously out of the way and hurried back to the car.

In her wet clothes, the car no longer seemed so warm and dry, but at least she no longer had to battle the wind to keep her breath.

There was no way she was going to get out of the car again if she really didn’t have to, so she left the gate gaping open behind her as the car chugged up the muddy incline that led to the farmhouse.

Even with her bright lights on, she couldn’t see the house until they had almost reached it. Between the clearing the farm was built in and road was a good two blocks worth of trees and underbrush.

Blocks. Sarah smiled slightly. She would have to lose her city way of thinking if she really wanted to become a country girl. Speak in acres instead of blocks, crossing the road instead of the street. A small price to pay, she figured, for the beauty and solitude of a budding country springtime.

The storm had not diminished any by the time she pulled up to the dilapidated side porch. A crack of lightening revealed the weathered siding with its blank window frames. She caught sight of the barn, too, two hundred yards further up the drive. The crooked, hulking building matched the sagging old house and abandoned air of the stormy night.

Sarah shivered and pulled her coat tighter. She would leave the motor running for just a while longer, just until the warmth of the heater began to penetrate the chill of her bones.

Paddy whimpered, wiggling impatiently as she looked at her mistress with distressed eyes.

“I know, girl,” Sarah said. “You have to go, don’t you?”

She looked out at the rain again and thought about the dash up the steps, fumbling for a key only to enter a dark, unfamiliar house. The prospect was not appealing. Maybe if she waited just a while longer, the rain would lighten up, leaving her one less thing to contend with.

The idea appealed to her. The only problem was Paddy. A large dog confined to a small car for a long time was not a happy dog. Sara searched on the floor under her seat for the length of chain she used for a leash.

Looking at it, she decided if she caught the end of if in the passenger side door, Paddy would have enough chain left to do her duty and then retreat under the porch if she wanted.

The dog was delighted to be let out, only slightly daunted by the rain and the tug of the confining chain. The inclement weather seemed less important to her not that she had her relative freedom. Then, just as she had become acquainted enough with her surroundings to look for a properly secluded spot, she stopped, stance erect, tail straight.

Sarah looked in the direction Paddy seemed to be pointing. Squinting her eyes to see through the murky dark, she saw only rain and the dark outline of the distant barn.

The dog was sniffing now, her nose tilted upward, delicately testing the wet wind. Then, without even a bark, she dropped her wariness and watered Sarah’s tire.

Sarah relaxed, her first indiction that she had been tense. She had come prepared for fear, knowing the lonely seclusion she sought would also mean a big adjustment after the bustle of Chicago’s busyness.

Slumped down in the passenger seat, Sarah leaned back and breathed deeply, willing her quickened pulse to slow to a steady beat. She deserved congratulations. A little as a month ago, she would not have reacted so reasonably.

She closed her eyes, her mouth relaxing a little, although not quite smiling. She was on her own. Really on her own, not just alone. All she had to do was rely on that small thread of self confidence that had begun to glimmer since she’d made the decision to stop seeing Dr. Roberts. All she had to do was take one step at a time.

One hand dropped from her lap to the seat. The motor still hummed. Warmth began to spread through her, stilling the shivers, deepening her breathing. Her head tilted on the head rest, her yes closed, her mouth dropped open slightly.

“You’re such a scaredy cat,” her mother had scolded. “You’re afraid of your own shadow. Honestly, how I ever managed to give birth to such a milksop.”

Sarah jerked awake, her mother’s voice still ringing in her mind. The dream had not awakened her, but something else had. Paddy, barking in an earnest attempt to call her attention, to worn her.

She sat up straighter. Instinctively, she turned toward the driver’s side window. She froze.

There in the night, parted from her by dripping glass, a pale orb stared at her with huge eyes. A human face? A specter? Sarah screamed, squeezing her eyes tight against the terrifying sight.

In a second, they were open again, searching for reassurance. The window was empty now of all but the diminishing rain drops. The night beyond displayed none of the terrors she had expected yo see, but there was no comfort in the emptiness.

Sarah fumbled through the hastily packed odds and ends she had stored in the back seat. Her fingers finally closed on a smooth leather case and she pulled it out. Unzipping he triangular pouch with shaking hands, she withdrew a forty-five automatic pistol and a loaded magazine. Clumsily, she turned the magazine till she remembered which way to slip it into the gun butt. It slid into place with a reassuring click and she pulled back on the barrel to load a bullet into position.

Gun in hand, she searched the darkness around her again, all he sense on the alert for signs of danger. Paddy had stopped barking, sitting and looking at her with such an undisturbed look that Sarah began to doubt she had heard the dog at all.

“You’re suck a milksop.”

Slowly she lowered the gun to her lap, shivering now from a force more undeniable than cold and damp. After a few minutes, she reached over to shut off the motor. What a fool she was to fall asleep with the car still running. She was lucky to have gotten off with only imagining things. She might not have woken up at all.

The rain had stopped. She could go in the house now. But still she sat, worrying, wondering about that thread of self confidence she had been depending on so much.

REMEMBERED

The car shuddered with the force of the wind. Miranda Preston kept a firm hand on the steering wheel as she turned off the dirt road and pulled up to the locked gate.

As usual, she had terrible timing. She’d intended to arrive mid-afternoon, earlier if she could, in order to settle in well before nightfall. A flat tire, however, and the storm that brought premature darkness, had interfered with her plans. So here she was, raindrops just starting to plop against the windshield and blackness pressing in on all sides. The farm was so far from the nearest neighbor that the only light on the horizon was the dim glow of Greenville, ten miles north.

The battered mailbox at the side of the driveway had lost its door and the name painted on it was barely legible and missing several letters. This was the place, though. She recognized the long line of pine trees from her vacations here as a child. The massive trunks had looked like giants to the twelve-year-old she’d been on her last visit and still seemed so to the twenty-five-year old adult she was now.

“What do you think, Rufus?” she asked the Jack Daniels-mix pup at her side. “Can you find any squirrels to chase here?”

The two-year old canine in the passenger seat hopped with his front feet and barked at the overgrown trees and bushes that flanked the pine-lined driveway ahead of them.

“You might find a few things in there big enough to chase you,” Miranda added.

She unlocked her door and rammed it hard with her shoulder as she opened it. The fifteen-year-old hinges released reluctantly and let in a mix of dirt, leaves and rain whipped by the wind.

As she exited, Rufus slipped out past her, headed for a clump of weeds in the ditch that looked like they needed marking. Miranda held her jacket closed with both arms crossed in front of her and, head down, stepped toward the gate. The headlights offered a comforting circle of light around her. She tried hard not to look or even think about the shadows that pressed close beyond their perimeter.

The attorney had given her a set of keys, but it took several tries before she found the correct one for the rusted padlock guarding the farm’s entrance. She had to lean hard on the arm of the gate to get it to arc open against the force of the gale. By the time she secured it against the post at the side of the drive, the storm clouds had settled just above, ready to stay awhile. The raindrops had grown smaller but fell more frequently, cold on her face.

Even Rufus seemed eager to avoid the elements, already waiting by the car when she returned and jumping in as soon as the door opened. Nose pressed to the side window, he watched the scenery eagerly as Miranda slowly drove in.

The garage came into view first, worn doors rattling in the wind. The white paint had peeled and splintered, exposing damaged, dry wood. A light pole at the corner leaned as if yielding to the storm, but the globe on top was dark. Only Miranda’s headlights reflecting off the building cast shadows toward the bulky farmhouse on the right. Miranda drove slowly around the circular drive so that she could see the place she planned to make her new home.

The roof of the unscreened porch slanted drunkenly and the railing had long since rotted away. The steps leading to it were cement, at least, and looked secure enough. She put the car in park and turned off the engine, but left the headlights lit. The place didn’t look like much from the outside, but it would hopefully be dry and warm inside. She grabbed her overnight bag and a flashlight from the back seat and she and Rufus ran for the house.

She shivered when she reached the comparative shelter under the porch roof, partly because of the cold wind and partly an anticipation that was at least half fear. She’d forgotten how dark a country night could be when there were no stars or moon out. A smothering blanket of blackness that, if she looked too long at it, would feel suffocating to her.

“Stop it,” she told herself. When Rufus looked up as if wondering if he had done something wrong, she had to laugh. “Not you. Good boy. It’s me who’s being a big baby.”

She fumbled with her keys again, finally finding the correct one. When she pushed the door open, she found her expectations of dry and warm had been a little high. As she stepped across the threshold into the kitchen, the room was dry, at least, despite the dripping she heard somewhere at the back of the room. But the chill that pushed back at her felt like all the winters since her last visit had been stored inside, awaiting her return.

There was a switch on the interior wall but no lights turned on when she flipped it. Looking up, she saw an empty socket outside and decided that switch must be the control for the porch light. There had to be another one for the interior lights. She couldn’t find it anywhere near the entrance, however, and a quick span of her flashlight showed only towers of boxes covering a Formica table and stacked nearly ceiling high along the floor. Rufus sniffed at the corner of the nearest cardboard pile, whimpering and scratching.

“Rufus,” she whispered to call him back. Then she realized how ridiculous whispering sounded and called him again in a normal tone. “Rufus. Come.”

He gave up his quest, but when Miranda moved forward, giving him instructions to heel, he clearly had difficulty accepting his restraints.

There were appliances on the other side of the wall of cardboard: a stove with rusted cast iron burners, a refrigerator with a rounded top that was even shorter than Miranda, a long porcelain sink attached to the wall. There was also a light switch, one so old it had two buttons rather than a flipper.

“Finally.”

Her relief was premature. Nothing happened when she pressed the top button. She tried several times, as if repetition were the key to success, but despite that and the panic rising in her throat, the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling remained dark. Removing it, she shook it to make sure it wasn’t burnt out, and returned to the porch. The light that still flooded the entrance from her headlights felt like such a relief she sighed and felt the tension in her shoulders ease. The rain had begun in earnest, flooding the gutter that hung from the roofline on only one bracket. Putting the bulb in the empty socket, she tried that switch again. Nothing.

She’d called weeks ago. It had been critical for her to have lights working before she got here. The electric company told her there would be no problem. The caretaker had also agreed to have the propane tank filled and furnace checked to make sure all was in working order. Heat, however, she could live without, for a while. It was the darkness she needed to defend against. Even now with the glare of headlights beaming through the open door, her subconscious mind cringed from the dark corners where the light didn’t reach. Where something, despite her rational brain telling her otherwise, might be lying in wait.

“Rufus!” Her panic edged closer as she suddenly realized the little dog was no longer at her side. At that same moment, she heard him, barking from a far room. An excited, aggressive yapping which usually meant he had a victim at bay.

A rat, it had to be a rat. Or a mouse or a bird. Her brain knew there could be dozens of logical reasons for his behavior. But her nyctophobia, despite reassurances and years of therapy, only knew terror. Her childhood bouts of panic had always happened more frequently while staying on this very farm. That made sense in a way, since the darkness of a country night was so much more “complete” than that in a streetlamp-strewn major city.

Her heart fluttered and her breath shortened until she forced herself to inhale a deep, slow breath. She held it for a count of five and slowly released it. Her pulse still raced but the fear backed off a pace. She could do this.

With another slow breath, she stepped forward, flashlight held high. “Rufus,” she called. “Rufus, come.”

At the far end of the kitchen, she found the source of the dripping she’d heard earlier. A soup pot had been placed in a corner; a steady plop pinged into the rusted receptacle from a spreading stain in the ceiling. The next room appeared to be the dining room, though all the furniture had been covered and books and other debris cluttered the floor. Three more rooms opened off of this one, their doorways gaping black holes.

“Rufus!” Anger helped stave off the fear. “Come here.”

He ran out of one of the darkened rooms and pranced across the floor toward her like she had just invited him to fetch a thrown ball. Circling her feet, he yipped playfully. Miranda laughed, but the high pitch of it had an edge of hysteria that made her shiver.

“Heel,” she commanded, then hurried to the porch, closing the door behind them with a sigh of relief.

The storm was in full force. Wind whipped her hair into her eyes, sprayed her with rain even under the shelter of the porch roof. The temperature had dropped in just the few moments she’d been inside and held a hint of the winter to come. Holding her overnight bag over her head as a makeshift umbrella, Miranda dashed to the car. Jumping in, she locked all the doors.

Goose bumps pricked her arms. She turned the engine on and cranked up the heater but even with the blowers going full blast, Miranda couldn’t stop shivering. Putting her hands on the steering wheel, she rested her forehead on them, trying hard to do the deep breathing exercises that usually kept her calm. Deep breath in, then out. Deep breath in…. But her breath came out in a sob, short and angry.

“Stupid, stupid,” she whispered, hitting the steering wheel. “Don’t be such a baby.”

The words helped, reminding her of the pep talk she’d had with her coworker at WKLU during her last days on the job.

“Don’t be such a baby,” the woman had told her last time Miranda complained about how cutthroat the entertainment business was. “I bet you were tickled pink when they offered you the weather anchor job. You were green then, were you? Thinking life was going to be all smiles and promotions from that point on? Of course not. So don’t expect a tea party now. TV news is a cutthroat business, always has been. So either embrace the madness, or change directions. Take control of your life like the adult you are.”

So she had. The lawyer who’d handled her grandmother’s estate had been pressing her to sell the 40 acres she’d inherited; he even had a willing buyer waiting in the wings. But rather than get rid of the small farm her father had grown up on, she decided to quit her job and start fresh. Maybe a few months away from the crazy pace of Chicago would help her decide what she really wanted to do with her life.

Except the house in front of her looked nothing like the warm cozy home she’d enjoyed so much as a child. The isolation she thought she longed for felt oppressive on this dark stormy night. And the rain, the God awful rain was dampening more than just her flimsy jacket.

Miranda laughed suddenly, realizing the irony of a “weather girl” letting a storm get her down. Rufus jumped into her lap at the sound, putting his front paws on her chest. The pup searched her face.

“Yes,” she told him. “I know that was crazy. But do you realize this means we can’t stay here tonight?”

Rufus barked, two short yaps, and hopped back into the passenger seat, tail wagging.

There was no motel in Greenville, not unless a lot had changed for the better in the past fifteen years. Riverside, however, while further away, was right on the interstate, and now that summer was over, was bound to have a room available somewhere. Miranda dug for her phone in the glove compartment and turned it on.

No bars. She held the phone out in front of her, up by the ceiling, off at her side, but she knew it was hopeless. She’d gotten so used to city living it hadn’t even occurred to her she wouldn’t be able to use her cell phone this far out in the country. Being in the valley of a glacial moraine probably didn’t make the reception any easier, either.

So, there was no way to make a motel reservation or call the custodian for help. What was his name again? Harlan something. Harlan Hunter, that was it. She even had his number programmed into the phone. A lot of good that did.

Her options then were to drive the twenty file miles to Riverside on unfamiliar roads hoping to find a room for the night, suck it up and go back into the cold, dark farmhouse, or— Miranda peered out at the storm. Though the rain fell steadily, there had been no thunder or lightening. There were no tall trees close enough to squash the car if blown over in the wind. There was nothing on the property to tempt a trespasser even if he hadn’t been put off by the torrential rain.

She could spend the night in the back seat. Surely that had to be better than staying in the cold, unfamiliar house with its gaping dark doorways and shadows lurking in every corner. Her flashlight had fresh batteries plus an extra set in the glove compartment. Rufus would be more than willing to share the comforter that served as his bed and she could run the heater periodically if it got too cold. She would be perfectly comfortable and safe for one night. She had, after all, trained in martial arts for self-defense. And for extra added protection…

Miranda rummaged in her bag. In the very bottom, her hands closed around the butt of a .38 revolver and pulled it out. Opening the chamber, she loaded it and clicked it closed again, making sure the safety was on. She and her father hadn’t spent much time together before he died—he’d been too busy with his career. But they had enjoyed the hobby of target shooting together and the weapon she held had been kept for both sentimental and practical reasons when she’d gone through the things he left behind. Knowing she was a fair marksman would hopefully give her the security she needed to get at least a few hours of sleep before dawn.

Rufus thought she was playing as she crawled into the back seat and started rearranging the toys and bones he had scattered there. He hopped from front to back to front, tail wagging, retrieving each thing she tried to throw out of the way. Finally, however, he let her make a halfway decent bed for herself. Settled under the comforter, flashlight securely pointed at the ceiling, she leaned into the front seat one more time and turned off the engine. Then, with a deep breath, she flicked off the headlights.

It wasn’t so dark, she told herself,. The flashlight beam reflected off the ceiling like a warm glow. Miranda settled under the comforter and rearranged the overnight bag under her head as a pillow. She was careful not to look out through the rain streaming down the windows, and reached down to confirm that the extra batteries were within easy reach on the floor, right next to the gun. As she settled fairly comfortably on her back, knees up, Rufus jumped on top of her and laid down, head on his paws to look intently into her face. His warmth and company made her think maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

She did manage to fall asleep, although at first she thought she would not. The wind rocked the car and the rain sounded loud on the roof. She turned on the engine twice to warm the car back up before falling into a shallow restless dream where she was running down the hallway at the offices of WKLU, trying to outrun the lights which were shutting off after her one by one with explosive pops.

In her dream the pops turned to barks from Rufus. Miranda awoke with a start.

“Rufus,” she called, realizing the barks were real.

The dog was standing on her stomach, barking furiously toward the window at her feet. Thunder rumbled, followed by a flash of light, and in that brief second, she saw what had disturbed him.

A face, white and distorted by the rain rivulets streaming down the glass, stared back at her.

REVISED

Sarah could barely see the barbed wire gate ahead through the sheets of rain that fell across the low beam of headlights. Thunder rolled across the night sky followed by a crack of lightning that made her jump.

Her Irish Setter, Paddy, bumped Sarah’s arm with her nose and whined. The dog was shivering with fear but Sarah did not respond, simply stopped the car and sat with her hands on the steering wheel, staring up the long dark driveway.

The two strands of barbed wire, wrapped tightly around a post, were all that blocked the way, but weren’t the biggest deterrent to moving forward. The biggest threat was the voice Sarah could hear in her head, as if her mother were here beside her instead of a frightened, friendly Irish Setter.

Who are you kidding? One week in this isolated country and they’ll be taking you away in a tight white jacket. You hear me? If you make it one week, I’ll be flabbergasted.

With shaking hands, Sarah reached for her purse on the passenger side floor, for the pills that would make the voice go away, or not matter anymore. Her fingers stilled, however, tightening on the metal clasp as she took a deep breath, then two, and slowly pulled her hand back to the steering wheel.

“It’s just a storm,” she whispered. “It’s water and wind and a dark sky. No ghosts here. No danger. She’s dead, Sarah, remember? She’s dead.”

Paddy whined, nudging her again. Was it the storm making the dog so nervous or was her bladder about to explode? They’d been on the road for hours, Sarah determined not to waste another penny on a cheap motel when they were so close to the farm.

“You want outside?” Her question prompted a bark and Paddy shifted eagerly on the seat, tail wagging. “You sure?” Another bark of affirmation.

Oh, well. Sarah sighed and opened the door. A gust of wind drove the rain in, causing Paddy to retreat to the far end of the front seat. Sarah stepped out, her trench coat whipping around her legs, and held the door wide. Within seconds, her short hair was plastered to her face.

“Come on,” she encouraged. “You asked for it. I’m not the only one getting wet, you hear?”

She left the door open and splashed through a puddle on her way to the gate. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to keep trespassers out. The wires had been stapled to three thin slats of vertical wood then twisted around the fence post two or three times. The barbs cut into the wood and her hands as she fumbled with slippery fingers.

She cursed out loud, but finally succeeded in loosening the wire, her patience stretched to the limit as wind and rain wore away at her temper. She swung the gate open and dumped it on the side of the drive before hurrying back to the car.

Paddy waited in the car, but it was clear from her drenched state that she had braved the weather long enough to water the roadside weeds. She barked as Sarah climbed inside and closed the door, then showed her appreciation by planting muddy paws on Sarah’s thigh and washing her already wet face with a long pink tongue.

Sarah pushed her away, laughing, then protested as Paddy shook the rain from her red tresses to splatter the entire front of the car.

“Stop, stop. Oh hell, what difference does it make? Everything is already soaking wet.”

She used a napkin from a discarded take out bag to dry her face, then left the gate gaping open behind her as the car chugged up the muddy incline toward the farmhouse. Tall pines and underbrush on either side hid the clearing ahead from sight for a good two blocks before her bright lights finally glinted against the light pole that marked the beginning of the yard.

Blocks. Sarah smiled. She would have to lose her city way of thinking if she really wanted to become a country girl. Speak in acres instead of blocks, crossing the road instead of the street. A small price to pay, she figured, for the beauty and solitude of a budding country springtime.

The storm had not diminished any by the time she pulled up to the dilapidated side porch. A crack of lightening revealed the weathered siding with its blank window frames. She caught sight of the barn, too, two hundred yards further up the drive. The crooked, hulking building matched the sagging old house and abandoned air of the stormy night.

Sarah shivered and pulled her coat tighter. She would leave the motor running for just a while longer, just until the warmth of the heater began to penetrate the chill of her bones.

She was not looking forward to the dash up the steps, fumbling for a key only to enter a dark, unfamiliar house. Maybe if she waited just a while longer, the rain would lighten up, leaving her one less thing to contend with.

Unlike Sarah, Paddy seemed eager to get out. The Irish Setter planted her front paws in Sarah’s lap and whined as she looked out the driver’s side window. Sarah peered where she was looking, wondering if some water-logged squirrel or rabbit was hiding in a bush somewhere, but all she saw was rain, mud and the dark shape of the barn in the distance.

Instead of reassuring her, the vast emptiness made her shoulders tense. Despite having sought out this lonely seclusion, doubt crept in. Was she really up to the big adjustment this would be after the bustle of Chicago?

Her breathing quickened, her pulse raced.

You’re such a coward,” her mother scolded. “Afraid of your own shadow. How I ever managed to give birth to such a spineless lump, I’ll never know.”

Paddy whined again as if her mother’s words weren’t just in Sarah’s head. Sarah tried to shake them off— “You can’t have to pee again, can you, girl?” —but she could barely get the words out past the tight knot in her chest.

The dog only uttered a low growl, directed outside, then turned to lick Sarah’s face as if she were a kitten in need of a thorough cleansing.

“Stop, stop.” A sound half sob, half laugh shook her as she pushed Paddy off, which the dog took as an invitation to play: head down, her tail washing the side window, followed by a shake that sprayed rainwater over everything.

“Ugh.” Sarah reached in the back seat for the blanket that had served as a dog bed during the trip and used it to dry off both herself and Paddy. The action did nothing to alleviate the stink of wet dog.

The dog had distracted her, though, like a good therapy dog should. Sarah leaned back and breathed deeply, willing her quickened pulse to slow to a steady beat. She deserved congratulations. As little as a month ago, she would not have recovered so quickly.

She closed her eyes and repeated the affirmations Dr. Roberts had taught her. You are important. You are creative. You are a survivor. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly, slowly.

She was on her own. Really on her own, not just alone. All she had to do was rely on that small thread of self confidence that had begun to glimmer since she’d made the decision to stop seeing her therapist. All she had to do was take one step at a time.

Her hand dropped from her lap to the seat. The storm had given way to a gentle rain that tapped overhead. The motor still hummed. Warmth began to spread through her, stilling the shivers, deepening her breathing. Her head tilted on the head rest, her eyes closed, her mouth dropped open slightly.

Sarah jerked awake, Paddy’s barking loud in her ear. Angry barking, not just excitement, accompanied by a snarling that warned her of danger.

She sat up straight, turned to the driver’s side window, and froze.

There in the night, behind dripping glass, a pale shape looked in at her with huge eyes. A human face? A specter? Sarah screamed, squeezing her eyes tight against the terrifying sight.

She opened them a second later, but the view was empty now of all but the diminishing rain drops. The night beyond displayed none of the terrors she had expected to see.

Sarah fumbled through the odds and ends she had stored in the back seat. Finally finding a smooth triangular leather case, she unzipped it with shaking hands and withdrew a forty-five automatic pistol and a loaded magazine. Hands wet with sweat, she turned the magazine till she remembered which way to slip it into the gun butt. It slid into place with a reassuring click and she pulled back the barrel to load a bullet into position.

She searched the darkness around her again, neck hairs shivering against her skin. Paddy, who had stopped barking, sat and looked at her with such an undisturbed look that Sarah began to doubt she had heard or seen anything alarming at all.

“Spineless lump.”

Sarah shuddered and lowered the gun to her lap, shivering now from a force more undeniable than cold and damp. The rain stopped. After a few minutes, she reached over to shut off the motor. She could go in the house now. But still she sat, worrying, wondering about that thread of self confidence she had been depending on so much.

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