They were running from a deadline. But was the deadline also running from them?
|"I just saw the cutest little thing in there," Philip Armbester said as he slid back behind the wheel of the sedan. His wife, Sylvia, pointedly concentrated on her knitting as he grinned back at the office of the two-pump gas station. "A little kid, sitting on the cola dispenser, chanting that rhyme about the days in the months. Only he's stuck on the first month and keeps chanting the line over and over."
"What's cute about that?" Sylvia asked without looking up.
"Because he's got the number wrong, which is probably why he's stuck on it. 'Forty days hath September.' That's what he's chanting in there, over and over. Forty days hath September."
Sylvia paused. "I don't think that's very cute," she said. "It makes it sound like the month is never going to end."
Philip guffawed and slapped her on the knee.
"Don't you worry about that," he chortled. "October first will be here before you know it."
"It must be some novelty tune on the radio," Philip said the next day as they were leaving a diner near the Illinois-Indiana border. "Like 'Mairzy Doates and Dozy Dotes'."
"What must be a novelty tune?" Sylvia snapped.
"What makes you so grumpy?"
"Is that supposed to be the novelty tune?"
"I'm just asking. But you must have heard that little shaver that was going in with his folks just as we were coming out. He was reciting that calendar song, like that nipper was I telling you about back in Ohio. 'Fifty Days Hath September.'"
"I thought it was 'Forty Days' back in Ohio."
"That was in Ohio," Philip retorted, and he pointedly refrained from opening the car door for her. "Out here I guess it's fifty. 'Fifty Days Hath September'."
"I'm beginning to hate September."
"September in the Midwest, I can see that. Just let's get out to Idaho and that little cabin up in the mountains. Then we'll run out the clock before you know it."
"Did something happen?" They were in Nebraska now, and he had just come out of the office of a flyblown little motel to find his white-faced wife standing by the curb, and staring down the empty boulevard that ran down the middle of town.
"A little girl," his wife told him in a strangled voice. "A little girl came running past, and she stopped and she looked at me and she said—"
Her throat seemed to swell up with the words as she choked on them. The stare she turned toward her husband was glassy.
"She said, 'Sixty days hath September'. Then she ran off."
Philip returned her stare with one of his own.
"Well, that was rude," he said slowly, "but—"
His wife flushed.
"Let's go back to New York, Phil," she exclaimed. "We'll let Aunt Hetty's lawyers find us! Then it'll be over and we—"
"It'll be over on October first when the injunction expires!" Philip grabbed his wife's wrist. "We're not going to let your Aunt Hetty walk off with the money your grandmother left you! Not after—!"
He pulled her over to the sedan and thrust her inside. Not until he had moved them twenty yards down, to the room he had rented, did he continue.
"We've been fighting your Aunt Hetty for two years now," he said. His voice smoldered with frustration. "It's time to end it. They can't renew the injunction if they can't serve us, and when it expires—which will be at the end of the month—the estate will release the money to us. And then just let your Aunt Hetty try to get ahold of it!"
"But it's like it's never going to end!"
"Which is why we just have to wait a little longer. It'll only be a few weeks, Sylvia."
She sagged. "But October seems as far off as it's ever been!"
"Sixty days hath September," Sylvia murmured. The burning highlands of Colorado stretched endlessly away under a fathomless sky as they skated along the highway. "That's what the little girl said. Sixty days hath September."
"So?" Philip had long since ceased to be amused by the mangled rhyme.
"That would put the end of September at the end of October, wouldn't it? Thirty days of September and thirty days of October. Right up against Halloween."
Philip cast his wife a furtive, sidelong glance. There were hollows about her eyes.
"Aunt Hetty always claimed to be something of a witch," she said.
"I can believe it," Philip snapped. "She certainly has a face that could stop a clock."
"And what if she could?" Sylvia said. "What if she made it be September, forever and ever? September without end?"
Philip didn't answer. He wished she would drop the fancy.
It was bad enough that in the restroom at the last burger joint, he had heard a child's ghostly voice drifting through the vent in the wall: "Seventy days hath September, seventy days hath September."
"We can leave now, can't we?" Sylvia snarled. Philip ducked, lest she hurl her coffee cup at his head. Two weeks in the mountain cabin with no newspapers, no radio, no movies, no magazines, and only each other and the insects for company, had scraped their nerves to bloody shreds.
"Tomorrow, dearest," he snarled back. "You wouldn't want to put your nose out two minutes before midnight and have a process server hit it with an injunction. Not after what we've been through." With each other, he silently added.
"At least I can pretend it's already tomorrow," she hissed back, and stalked over to the kitchen wall.
A day calendar hung there, and she tore away the sheet that said SEPTEMBER 30.
"There! At least now I have the satisfaction of—!"
Her voice failed, and her husband rose from the table with a slack jaw.
The new sheet read: SEPTEMBER 31.