Prologue of new novel
Ted Woodard lifted the kitchen chair in close to the metal table, careful not to grate the tubular legs across the linoleum floor. The sound might, or might not, attract her attention, but he would not take any chances. He just couldn’t, and that was all there was to that.
The baby-faced, gangly, blonde-haired man, although his hair was now matted with dried blood, silently adjusted his bathrobe and squirmed around until he was in as comfortable a position as he could get, given the current circumstances.
Ted (he despised being called “Teddy,” his mother’s favorite) placed the nickel-plated Smith & Wesson, .38-caliber revolver at his two o’clock position, precisely at arm’s length, and made two practice grabs at the gun. Only two of the revolver's five chambers held bullets.
Satisfied that he could get to it in time (not that it would really do me any good, he thought), he opened the spiral bound notebook, picked up the blue, plastic, ink pen that lay along side it, and began to write.
December 1, 1951
Sometime in the middle of the night
I have never been more terrified than I am now. Ever. The feeling of sheer helplessness is suffocating. I know that at any instant she can do whatever she wants to me. There is absolutely NO defense against her!!
So, before I entirely lose the ability to control this pen, I’ll try with all the strength God gave me to accurately describe the terror I’ve witnessed and the nightmare that continues to surround me, torment me. Even as I sit here, my heart races wildly, pounding at the thought that she hides in the shadows, within the very air that surrounds me, waiting to claim me.
I haven’t slept in two nights. Nor do I remember the last solid food I’ve eaten besides a handful of corn flakes. No sleep and no food. Step right up ladies and gentlemen! See the Korean War veteran turn into a babbling psycho before your very eyes.
I’ve stopped looking in the mirror. The reflection that stares back at me is unfamiliar - uncomfortable. I’ve aged.
It was just a few weeks ago that my only concerns and worries revolved around my reentry into civilian life--just a few weeks. Not so now. I feel worn-out, sucker punched by something I can’t even see.
I’m very afraid. My hair is streaked white, and I’m only 21. There are bare patches where she has ripped handfuls from my scalp. They look like divots.
Ted pulled another Camel from the nearly empty pack and lit it with the candle that burned in front of his journal. He exhaled a lung full of blue smoke, careful not to extinguish the flame. He used the last match to light the candle, which now burned well below the halfway point, leaving barely two inches of light left. A mound of wax lay curled around the base of the brass candleholder.
Except for the Morse code-like flashes of lightning from the violent storm raging outside, the flickering candle provided the only light in the apartment. If it went out, he would be alone with her in the darkness.
Funny, Ted thought, he wouldn’t even have had the candle were it not for the gentle nagging from his mother.
“What are you going to do if the electricity goes off in a storm, and the batteries in your flashlight are dead? Huh, Mr. Tough Marine,” he remembered her saying. She then reached into the brown paper shopping bag that she always carried, and pulled out a small cardboard box. It held a collection of small candles.
“Yeah, Ma, like that’s gonna happen. I don’t even own a flashlight,” he laughed. But that was a lifetime ago, when he had first moved into the apartment, and his mother helped unpack boxes in the comfort of a well-lit kitchen.
Now, the last of the candles was minutes away from extinguishing and, without doubt, so too, was his life.
A butt smoldered under a heap of partially smoked cigarettes that overflowed in a black, plastic ashtray. Ted took a deep drag, blew the smoke out in a thin stream, and continued writing.
…I’m feeling colder by the instant, and that means she is nearby, getting ready for something. From where she’ll appear, I couldn’t know. That’s like trying to guess where the next lightning strike is going to hit. But when she does come, it will be hideously fast.
Dear God help me.
Escape is impossible. She has sealed the doors and windows shut. I don’t know how. The windows won’t break despite my frenzied and repeated kicks at the glass.
The phone, too, is dead. I’m tired beyond definition. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.
Funny, but I just thought about what that wrinkled Gunnery Sergeant told me in the galley, aboard the Mitchell. “Better get close to your maker, son. There ain’t no looking back now.” I was scared then, too, but it wasn’t nothing like this.
Ted dropped the pen unceremoniously onto the Formica tabletop and rubbed his eyes. He glanced at the circular clock mounted on the wall above the stove. It was too dark to see it clearly, but he knew Westclox was written in bold script across the face. Somehow, that gave him comfort. It had stopped being a working clock at 1:23 a.m. when the power had suddenly shut down. How long ago was that, he wondered?
“Time has a way of fooling you when you’re TERRIFIED!” he screamed, slamming the table hard with his fist. The jolt nearly tipped over the candle and caused the revolver to jump. He cringed, swiveling his head side-to-side, but the kitchen remained silent.
Sluggishly, Ted stood and stretched. His arms felt as if they were made of lead. He had never felt this bone tired and weary. Not even a year earlier, when as a Rifleman with the 1st Marine Division, he fought all through the frigid night repelling the manic advances of a Chinese Division.
Carefully, Ted lifted the candle, and walked into the living room, shielding the tiny flame with his hand. He stopped at the damaged end of a walnut cocktail table and jerked the phone off its cradle, hoping the dial tone had returned. Despite his repeated jabs at the round buttons on the cradle, the phone line remained dead. He cursed, jerked the telephone from the wall, and threw it across the room.
Ted stood in the middle of the tiny parlor, breathing heavy, nearly to the point of hyperventilating. All around him lay the broken and smashed reminders of what had occurred in his flat the past two nights, and what was certain to be in his future.
An end table and chair were upended in a corner. One of the table legs was fractured where he had fallen on it. Instinctively, Ted rubbed the bruise on his back.
A chunk of plaster, the size of a large dinner plate, was gouged from the wall where the metal pole lamp slammed into it. It lay crumpled like used tissue paper on the floor.
The few books he had managed to collect lay scattered throughout the room, pages torn out in some instances. All the spines bent backward. A velour drape sagged from its rod, held precariously by one hook. Two bullet holes pockmarked the intricate molding that surrounded his bedroom door. The only thing that managed to escape the fury was his prized possession, a white, plastic Philco table radio that sat unscathed on the top shelf of the built-in bookcase.
Ted eased back into the kitchen and turned on the burner beneath the glass coffeepot. The gas jet remained silent. He sighed, and poured the cold coffee into his mug. After taking a long swallow, he sat back down at the table.
I don’t know how long it is until dawn, Ted wrote. Maybe a couple of hours. If I can stay awake, it’s possible that I’ll survive this. The assaults have not happened during the daylight. But that doesn’t mean they won’t. There is a limit to my endurance; I am almost there. Please forgive me.
I look out the window for any sign of light, but there is nothing but the blackness. The air in the apartment is getting colder. I can begin to see the faintest trace of my breath. She’s near.
The candle has now burned so low, that the flame is barely visible. It is difficult to see even where I write on this page. The next sign will be
Ted shrieked when the phone rang. It wasn’t like the intermittent, natural ring that might have fooled him into believing it signaled a return to normalcy. It sounded more like when the firemen tested the alarm at the station on Saturday mornings. Yeah, that was it. It was a clanging, not a ringing.
Why is no one answering it, he wondered. It’s getting so loud and insistent.
“I’m coming,” he yelled.
The phone lay sprawled on the living room floor, where Ted had thrown it. The receiver lay next to the base, connected only by the brown, rope-like cord that transmitted the voice.
Ted reached down and hesitantly brought the receiver to his ear. The incessant ringing continued. “H-hello,” he stammered, barely avoiding wetting his pants. At first, he was greeted only by a low hum, punctuated by a series of staccato gasps, as if someone were struggling for air.
“I’m home,” the voice whispered.
The ringing stopped, and the line went dead. This time he could not halt the warm flow of urine. It collected in a puddle between his legs.
Ted dropped the phone and backed into the kitchen. As he neared the table, the lights turned on throughout the apartment, temporarily blinding him. After his eyes adjusted, he looked around warily, praying that God had had enough and finally put an end to it.
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, and comforted by the bright lights (were they brighter than before?), Ted blew out the candle. It could not have happened at a better time. The candle’s wick was beginning to submerge beneath the melted wax. It would have flickered out for good in seconds anyway.
No matter, Ted thought. The lights work, and I am okay. He stood leaning on the edge of the table waiting for his heart rate to slow before he started the massive clean up in his apartment.
Then the lights blinked out for good.
He stood motionless, rooted in terror. All his instincts screamed for him to fight or flee, but he could do neither. He expected to be set upon instantly and tensed for the assault.
Moments passed in suffocating quiet. Confused, he began to relax slightly when he smelled the acrid, pungent odor of ammonia. It was followed by a blend of rotten eggs and putrefied, decaying flesh, an aroma with which he was now all too familiar.
Ted frantically groped around in the darkness until he found the dishtowel next to the sink. He jammed it tight into his mouth to stop the nausea that swept over him in crashing waves, and more importantly, to stifle the primal scream that was about to erupt.
In the living room, Ted’s plastic, fantastic radio suddenly blurted alive. The voice was tinny and unfamiliar.
“Please oh please, oh do not let me fall,
You're all mine and I love you best of all,
And you must be my man, or I'll have no man at all,
There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight, my baby.”
Ted burst into laughter. First, it was only a chuckle, then it broadened into a guffaw, and finally into a howl. A tear splashed on his cheek, bouncing off his beard stubble like a watery pinball.
The stench got stronger, doubling Ted over in pain and nausea. As he struggled to straighten up, the phone began to ring again.
“I’M HOME!” The voice screeched, between what seemed to be gasps for air. The words erupted from the walls, ceiling, and floor throughout the apartment.
Violently, the pantry and kitchen cabinet doors were wrenched from their hinges. The kitchen exploded into a wall of broken dishes, glasses, and recently sharpened knives.
Over the rising din, Ted heard the laugh before he saw the shape. He knew it was too late. Without hesitation, Ted Woodard grabbed the .38 from the kitchen table, screamed “Semper Fi!” and pulled the trigger.