The Story Eaters (Switchblade Stories Book 4)
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Aghast: Switchblade Stories 9
Bigfoot and the Loggers. This is the fourth episode of Bigfoot in a ancient forest. Annabel and Jacob are Annabel and Jacob are informed by Otis Stud and Lumber Company that they plan to log Annabel's research site in an old growth forest in the Coast Range Joe was enjoying a cup of coffee and at his desk in the sheriff's office The tiny balcony outside her window, the balcony she had steadfastly refused to stand upon since the night of the slaughter, the night of the fog with eyes, that balcony she swept and set about with little flower boxes in which she planted geraniums, petunias, dwarf zinnias, and other hardy perennials.
Then, closing the window, she went to give herself, to involve herself in this city to which she had brought her ordered life. Seeing off an old friend from Bennington, at Kennedy International, she stopped at the terminal coffee shop to have a sandwich. The counter—like a moat—surrounded a center service island that had huge advertising cubes rising above it on burnished poles. The cubes proclaimed the delights of Fun City. New York Is a Summer Festival. The food emerged from a window far down the service area and moved slowly on a conveyor belt through the hordes of screaming waitresses who slathered the counter with redolent washcloths.
The lunchroom had all the charm and dignity of a steel-rolling mill, and approximately the same noise level. Beth ordered a cheeseburger that cost a dollar and a quarter, and a glass of milk. When it came, it was cold, the cheese unmelted, and the patty of meat resembling nothing so much as a dirty scouring pad. The bun was cold and untoasted.
There was no lettuce under the patty. The girl approached with an annoyed look. The waitress started to walk away. The waitress scratched it off the check. It was the first time in her life that Beth had said that word aloud. It was raining again. She was trying to cross Second Avenue, with the light. She stepped off the curb and a car came sliding through the red and splashed her. She emerged from the building at One Astor Place with her big briefcase full of Laban charts; she was adjusting her rain scarf about her head.
She gasped and dropped her case. The old drunk with the stippled cheeks extended his hand and mumbled words. She cursed him and walked on up Broadway past the beaver film houses. She crossed against the lights on Park Avenue, making hackies slam their brakes to avoid hitting her; she used that word frequently now. Nights later. She had come home from the Lincoln Center ballet, and gone straight to bed.
Lying half-asleep in her bedroom, she heard an alien sound. One room away, in the living room, in the dark, there was a sound. She slipped out of bed and went to the door between the rooms. She fumbled silently for the switch on the lamp just inside the living room, and found it, and clicked it on.
A black man in a leather car coat was trying to get out of the apartment. He almost had the door open, but now he closed it, and slipped the police lock.
He took a step toward her. She backed against the wall at the head of the bed. Her hand fumbled in the shadows for the telephone. His shape filled the doorway, light, all light behind him. In silhouette it should not have been possible to tell, but somehow she knew he was wearing gloves and the only marks he would leave would be deep bruises, very blue, almost black, with the tinge under them of blood that had been stopped in its course. He came for her, arms hanging casually at his sides.
She tried to climb over the bed, and he grabbed her from behind, ripping her nightgown. Then he had a hand around her neck and he pulled her backward. She fell off the bed, landed at his feet and his hold was broken. She scuttled across the floor and for a moment she had the respite to feel terror. She was going to die, and she was frightened. He trapped her in the corner between the closet and the bureau and kicked her. His foot caught her in the thigh as she folded tighter, smaller, drawing her legs up. She was cold. Then he reached down with both hands and pulled her erect by her hair.
He slammed her head against the wall. Everything slid up in her sight as though running off the edge of the world. He slammed her head against the wall again, and she felt something go soft over her right ear.
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When he tried to slam her a third time she reached out blindly for his face and ripped down with her nails. He howled in pain and she hurled herself forward, arms wrapping themselves around his waist. He stumbled backward and in a tangle of thrashing arms and legs they fell out onto the little balcony. Beth landed on the bottom, feeling the window boxes jammed up against her spine and legs. She fought to get to her feet, and her nails hooked into his shirt under the open jacket, ripping.
Then she was on her feet again and they struggled silently. He whirled her around, bent her backward across the wrought-iron railing. Her face was turned outward. Through the fog she could see them watching. Through the fog she recognized their expressions. Through the fog she heard them breathing in unison, bellows breathing of expectation and wonder. Through the fog. And the black man punched her in the throat. She gagged and started to black out and could not draw air into her lungs. Back, back, he bent her farther back and she was looking up, straight up, toward the ninth floor and higher….
The words Ray Gleeson had said in a moment filled with what he had become, with the utter hopelessness and finality of the choice the city had forced on him, the words came back. A new God, an ancient God come again with the eyes and hunger of a child, a deranged blood God of fog and street violence. A God who needed worshipers and offered the choices of death as a victim or life as an eternal witness to the deaths of other chosen victims.
A God to fit the times, a God of streets and people.
She wanted to be saved from having to make that choice. But the black man had punched her in the throat, and now his hands were on her, one on her chest, the other in her face, the smell of leather filling her where the nausea could not. And she understood Ray had cared, had wanted her to take the chance offered; but she had come from a world of little white dormitories and Vermont countryside; it was not a real world.
This was the real world and up there was the God who ruled this world, and she had rejected him, had said no to one of his priests and servitors.
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