Rabbit in the Road Sample

1966, Beverly Foster

I got my job at the record store right out of high school. I don’t work very hard, and I get to listen to music all day long. I can’t think of too many things that could be better. Sometimes I think I’d like to be a singer, maybe, like Diana Ross, or even Cher, but, you know, less showy.  Mostly, I just like listening.

I make enough that I have my own place, a sweet little one-bedroom above the dry cleaners on Cavalier Avenue. It stays warm in the winter, from all the steam presses downstairs.  It stays hotter in the summer. It’s quiet, for the city. The light is good, the neighbors are nice and it’s all mine.

I have a steady fellow who likes to take me out on the weekends to listen to music on the waterfront. I don’t like bars, really. I’m not that kind of girl, but that’s where the music is. I got off work at 6:30, closed up shop and made one last telephone call to Franklin. We made arrangements to meet at my apartment and take his car to a show. Some college band was playing and people say they’re unbelievable. I’d have just enough time to grab something to eat, if I freshened up on the train. Franklin hates to be kept waiting. I buttoned up my long overcoat and tied my scarf around my neck.

I hustled down the street, ran up the stairs to the platform and caught the train just before it pulled away. I took a seat in the middle, between two old ladies arguing over a crossword in the paper and a tired looking nurse. I opened my bag, digging through all the junk, flipped open my compact and swiped on a fresh smear of lipstick. In the mirror, I saw him staring at me.

He was around 35 years old, maybe 40… I couldn’t really tell. He looked like just about anyone, sort of unremarkable. Medium height, boring clothes, with middling sandy brown hair that needed a haircut a few weeks back. His suit was kind of stiff looking, not very well-tailored. It looked like a hand-me-down from his father, or his grandfather, even. He didn’t wear a scarf, even though it was painfully chilly. He was completely ordinary, except he was staring at me so hard.

He looked too long at my face in the compact mirror, making that awkward reflected eye-contact. My cheeks got hot and I snapped it shut abruptly, wanting his eyes to move on. He was a few rows behind me, just standing there at the rear of the train. I could feel the heat of his eyes on my back.

Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe I was just vain, thinking some oddball on the train was so fascinated with me. I’ve had romances before, and I know how to deflect an unwanted pass. It’s not like I get to practice all the time, but I’ve had boyfriends. Don’t get the wrong idea about me, though. But this wasn’t flirtation. Just attention. I leaned over to brush some imaginary dirt off my boots, sneaking a look at him. He had looked away, down to the far end of the train car. I sat back up, feeling silly.

I looked up at the sound of the door between the cars swishing open. A man entered the car, lean in his face, almost gaunt. Something about his face set my heart charging, and not in a good way. I felt a tingle in my lips and face, a flush of adrenaline.

He was dangerous. Oily, dark eyes darted back and forth, like a predatory animal. His brow was furrowed, eyes slitted, his mouth hanging half open like he was starved. A swollen tongue dangled out between his lips, flicking like he was tasting the air. He pushed past a man in a hard hat and plaid shirt who slept in a seat near the door, his legs out in the aisle. The man shot to his feet, furious, but he went silent after a single look. What he saw in those eyes I’ll never know, but his jaw snapped shut and he recoiled like he’d been stung by a bee.

The tingling in my cheeks turned to needles.

I grabbed my bag, hugging it to my chest. He was stalking down the aisle now. All the passengers reeled away from him like he walked in a poison cloud.

That was when I saw it. Time felt like it had stretched out like hot taffy. His hand was sliding into his coat. Not fast, not quick. I knew he wasn’t reaching for a hankie. I’ve seen plenty of movies, and I know exactly what it looks like when someone reaches for a gun.

I felt paralyzed- my arms and legs felt heavy and stupid, untrustworthy. I was locked in place. Should I stay, and hope he passes? He’s passing the others, surely he’ll pass me. His narrow, hungry face swept back and forth, searching the car. His expression got darker and darker; sweat beaded on his brow. All I could think about was fleeing, getting away from that look before those greasy eyes fell on me. He was too close, my heart said. I shot to my feet. I stumbled into the aisle, clutching my bag. My back was to him now, and that was both worse and better. I couldn’t see his slippery eyes, but I could feel them. I turned.

The old ladies sitting near me dropped their crossword puzzle in the aisle, pen rolling away under the seats. They shrank back, almost dissolving in their heavy coats, hiding their faces. The nurse locked her eyes ahead, staring at nothing, while tears poured down her cheeks.

I hit the door at the back of the car hard with my palm, fumbling. My panicky heart was already running like a rabbit’s, even if my body hadn’t quite caught up. Behind me, someone took my hand.

I looked back.

The sandy-haired man in the old fashioned suit held my hand in his. He stared at me, his eyes wide and almost glowing with purpose. He placed himself between me and that hungry, dark stalker of a man. I knew, in that very moment, Sandy Hair was the one that he hunted.

I knew other things, too. I knew them all at once, in a rush, and knew them deep in my bones. I knew if I pursed my lips and exhaled, I could blow the hat off the man sitting near Sandy Hair. I knew, holding his hand, that I could send every newspaper and paperback whirling through the car like a tornado, if I only coughed. I could derail the whole train car with a loud laugh, sending us screaming to the street below. I could uncouple it and send it airborne if I thought about it hard enough. I held his hand, and the train car rocked alarmingly.

I felt like Sandy Hair knew these things, too. His eyes had taken me in and measured me in every way. A grand smile lit his features from within. How could I have thought he was plain? For that moment, he was radiant.

It was over so fast, save for the screaming.

Sandy Hair pulled a gleaming knife, longer than my forearm from his overcoat. He held it backwards and charged down the aisle at the dark and angry looking man. The Stalker drew his revolver like a cowboy at high noon. Before he could fire, the huge blade was jutting out of the base of his throat. Like some kind of movie monster, he pulled the blade free, blood spraying out in all directions. He turned the knife in his hand and hurled it back at Sandy Hair.

Sandy Hair, snatching my hand again, had already moved. The knife whistled through the flapping lapel of his overcoat. It stuck, thrumming, in the face of the little old man who had been sitting off to the side just moments before. His hat finally fell off.

Then the screaming started.

I felt the electric energy of panic, the heat of the mob. I was trying to run; I didn’t know where, I didn’t care.  Anywhere was good so long as it was away from these gleaming, evil men.

Sandy Hair held my hand fast, jerking me back to his side. “Stay close,” he growled, and advanced towards the Stalker again, pulling a smaller blade from a sheath somewhere near his belt.

I cowered next to him, my hand plastered to my face. I tried to hide from the sights, the smell, the juicy, guttural sounds. I heard Sandy Hair’s knife tearing through flesh.

The Stalker, still bleeding, somehow upright, kept coming. He was forcing us back, ignoring the stab wounds on his chest, arms, and neck.

The announcer rolled over the PA. “Next stop, Carwell and Grange.”

I could barely hear him over the piercing wail from the other passengers. I ducked low, my free arm protecting my head. I didn’t so much pray as beg. Dear God, I thought, I will do anything you want, just get me the fuck away from here.

Sandy Hair grunted and was driven back, slamming me up against the handrail. I covered my face, hiding behind my hair, my eyes locked on the floor in front of me.

Entrails, insides… insides-on-the-outsides….ropey, sausage-like intestines splashed across the floor near my feet and I shouted something when the smell hit me. I don’t remember what I said. I watched them pull away, reeled back in, looped back into someone by unseen hands.  I pushed my hair back and made myself look.

The Stalker had not fallen, not even staggered. He had one hand clamped over his blood-soaked midsection, I’m guessing it was to hold his guts in. His face was twisted, furious and ugly. Blood jetted from dozens of ragged, vicious cuts.

The doors on the platform side flew open- Carwell Station. People waiting at the tracks drew back in horror as screaming, blood splattered passengers broke like a wave around us, washing out onto the platform.

Sandy Hair jerked my hand and steered me toward the door. I faltered, kicked something across the floor. It was the gun. He ordered me to pick it up. I fumbled, off balance with just one free hand. I only managed to slide the gun out between the doors of the car, where it disappeared into the gap between the car and the platform.

Sandy Hair was cursing in my ear. The Stalker pushed forward, intending to cut us off from the door. Blood sprayed out like a fountain from his neck. His chest was shredded with fatal wounds, and still, he pressed forward. No amount of fancy knife work from Sandy Hair could seem to keep him back for long.

Again, that sugar-sweet knowing feeling. Seeing him move to cut off my escape brought me clean out of panic and into clarity. I saw my small pale hand in Sandy Hair’s grip and I knew. I could have knocked that man’s hat off with breath, I thought. I could have changed something.

The doors to the Stalker’s left were closed. The oncoming train would be on that side of the track shortly, headed the other way. I squeezed Sandy Hair’s hand. With a sound like a short cough, the doors flew open.

Startled by the sudden sound, the Stalker turned, and I hauled Sandy Hair out the platform-side doors with me. He didn’t stumble, or hesitate. He followed along as smooth as my own shadow.

The Stalker turned before I had both feet over the gap. He began to roar, a huge, tearing metal sound. I saw behind him the lights of the oncoming train.

I stared him in his angry, hungry face. Just for one moment, I was coolly unafraid. I knew.  I sighed softly, pressing the exhale.

The Stalker swept back like a fish on a line, whisked out of the car and onto the far tracks.  I saw his furious face in the headlights of the oncoming train, and then he was gone.  The dull thwacking sound of his body smashing against the train was completely drowned out by the sound of metal wheels grinding on track as it whizzed past. I couldn’t breathe.

Sandy Hair dropped my hand for just a moment, surveying the carnage he… no, we had wrought. I gasped, bracing my hands on my knees, unable to take a breath that filled me or didn’t smell like blood. The colors in my vision slowly leaked out of the world.

Sandy Hair took one charging step, grabbed my hand, and we were off again.

Police at the platform had come flying toward the train from all the commotion, but everyone was running, and we escaped their notice. We fled down the steps of Carwell Station and out onto the street. I could barely see through my tears.

Sandy Hair kept checking behind us. Half a block away from the train, he paused, slicking his hair out of his face with a bloody hand. “Holy Christ,” he breathed, starting to chuckle. He looked around in wonder, as though he’d never seen the world before. “Just… Holy Christ.”

He looked plain to me again. I sobbed, slithering away from the stink of blood on him.

He patted himself down, checking all over for injuries. Satisfied, he turned to me again.  “What’s your name? Do you have somewhere we can go?”

I turned away, unsure of whether to flee or cling to him. I shook my head. The adrenaline had left me with arms and legs like lead, and a shaking deep in my core.

“Goddamn it,” he grumbled, and snatched up my hand. I felt that radiance overtake us, that deep, internal light, and his face turned from hard to kind.

“Betty?” he asked softly.

I raised my eyes. The shakes were subsiding, and I felt as though I could walk. Holding his hand, I felt like I could run.

“And your place is…”  he held up a finger, looking up and down the street, wagging it back and forth.  He pointed south, toward Cavalier Avenue.  He checked behind us again for pursuit and then we ran.  “This would be easier,” he puffed, “If you had gotten the gun.”

“I couldn’t,” I cried, tears running from my eyes. “I’m left handed.”

He looked down at our clasped hands and laughed, a clear, resounding laugh with music in it. As we ran, sirens began to sound and soon, police were streaming past us. He pulled us into an alley, waited for them to pass, and then we were on Cavalier. We dashed past the dry cleaners and up the narrow steps leading to my apartment.

“Which floor?” he asked, and before I could answer, he said, “Third.” He was reading my mind.

I was only dimly aware of the nightmares this would cause me.

Once on my floor, he pulled me to the wall, leaning close and intimate, like he meant to plant one on me. He never let go of my hand, just patted down my skirt pockets until he pulled out my keys. He dragged me to my door and opened it with my keys after fumbling with them for a moment. He shoved me roughly inside. He shut the door behind him with a snap, gluing his eye to the peephole. Satisfied, he shot the deadbolt and secured the chain.

I staggered across to my worn-out couch and sank gratefully into it.

“Do you have anything to drink?” He blew around my little kitchen like a hurricane. I waved vaguely at the chipped, blue sideboard. It was covered in almost empty bottles and second-hand store glasses. He poured half a glass of bourbon and drank it greedily.  “I’m still shaking,” he said, and sat down in the chair across from me. He wiped his hand over his face and then saw the blood. He went back into the kitchen.

I listened to the water run. He scrubbed for a long time.

I sat on the couch. I hadn’t moved. I wasn’t sure I could. My arms felt like rubber, and the quaking inside me wouldn’t quit.

He came over and pushed his half-finished glass of bourbon in my face. “Drink this, you’ll feel better.” He sat back down, staring, grinning, and then leaped back to my side, panicked. “Oh, shit, you aren’t hurt, are you? Jesus!”

He grabbed me by the chin, turning my head back and forth. He turned me by my shoulders, raised my arms up in the air, looking me over. The stink of bourbon and his groping hands were too much. I dropped the glass. It bounced off the floor and liquor poured out in a small cascade. I shot to my feet, cracking him a good one on the cheek. “Asshole.”

I fled to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I slapped on the light and recoiled from my reflection. Blood painted my face, my hair was matted with it. My mouth was swollen and my lower lip bitten. I didn’t remember doing that. I sat on the toilet and scoured my face with a hot, wet washcloth. It started off white and soon enough was filthy, rust-colored. The blood smelled heavy, a deep, rich stink.

Knock, knock.

“Betty.”

I turned on the faucet and ran my hair under the tap, watching pink swirl away down the drain.

Knock, knock.

“Come on, Betty, open up.”

“Bevie,” I shouted, wrapping a towel around my head.

“What?”

I turned off the tap. “My name is BEVIE,” I growled, furious. My voice echoed, my breath vicious and cruel. I snatched open the door.

Sandy Hair was surprised but smiling. “What?”

“Beverly.”

“I was close, wasn’t I? And I wasn’t even holding your hand.”

Find out how the rest of the story goes on the Rabbit in the Road Product Page!

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