A man must face his worst fears in order to confront an evil menace.
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Vividly conscious of suffocating while lying in the view of the "coma men" standing in the mist, Sully grows aware of his girlfriend's assuring him that he just woke from a bad dream. He nonetheless suspects that it wasn't a dream. Having survived a horrendous automobile accident in which he almost died, Sully knows that blank spots exist in his memories. A high-school teacher who is the father of a small girl and the lover of Anna, a writer possessed of an intriguing personality, Sully dreads driving any long distance from home. Each time he does so, he experiences strange visions while on the road. He also discovers that when he has those disturbing experiences, someone in the local area dies in a fire. As time goes on, and he grows aware of a strange presence living in his home, he struggles to understand what might be happening to him. After his father supplies a clue, and Anna provides enlightening insight, Sully finds the courage to confront the shadowy menace casting so troubling a pall over his life. Will Sully ever break free of the evil force menacing him? Will he ever be able to live a normal, unthreatened life?
The coma men are there. They stand in the distant mist. But that mist is thin, so they must see him lying on the ground. They have to know that he is suffocating. He wonders why they won’t help. He longs for air.
Finally, it no longer hurts to suffocate. A sense of complete tranquility rushes over him. He feels light. Like he can float away. His vision begins to blur, but he thinks he can see one of the coma men moving his way. And now he is floating.
Everything goes black.
Air. He needed it again, because something had pulled him back. But he was no longer in the mist. And the coveted air rushed in on Sully Jacobson, like a dam breaking. Disorientated, he sat up in the dark and hyperventilated.
“It’s okay!” a voice said. “It was only a dream.”
A sense of familiarity. He was supposed to recognize that voice. Where had he heard it before?
He felt the fingernails sting his back and heard her voice again. “You’re okay now, Sully.”
It came to him. Anna was his girlfriend now. Anna, who was strong. Anna, who was conscientious. Anna, who at times seemed to know what he needed more than he knew, who had dug her fingernails into his back, knowing the sharp pain would hasten his recovery from oblivion and fear.
Anna removed her claws. No need to maintain the pain. A jolt was enough.
“Slow down. Get your breath under control.”
Yes, he could slow down. Air was abundant. And not going away. No need to rush it in. Another minute and it was under control.
“That’s the third time this week,” he said, though he knew it might have been more, the other dreams forgotten.
“You’re probably just nervous about the trip,” Anna said.
Yes. The trip. That was the last piece of the orientation puzzle, the latest change in his life, the final part of time catching up with him. His ex-wife, Faith, had moved further away, out of state, three months ago. When the phone calls did not come immediately, Sully thought she was gone for good, having given up a part of her life, the four-year-old daughter they had together. Then, about a month ago, she had called. And though it was within his rights to shut her out completely, he being the parent with full custody, he would not do that to his daughter. So for one week, every two months, little Monica would go stay with her mother.
Next year, when Monica was in kindergarten, the system would have to change. But that could be worked out later. Right now, there was tomorrow’s trip to think of.
“Let me do it for you,” Anna said, reading his mind.
“No,” Sully replied, though the word didn’t feel right, wanting to let Anna take care of him. “You can pick her up, but I have to drop her off. I have to face this.”
And he did have to face it. For so long, after returning from his state of near death, he had just avoided it. He had only to travel one mile to town, where he taught his classes. Most everything he needed, his family, groceries, entertainment, was right there in Little Axe, Oklahoma. And he could handle going a little further, so long as he was home at a reasonable hour and someone was with him. And if what he needed was even further away and could not be taken care of by phone, Internet, or mail, then Mom or Anna would always take care of it.
But he couldn’t do that forever. He had Monica to think of. Soon, she would be old enough to notice the things people did, the roles they served in life. He didn’t want her to think it was okay to be dependent on others for what she could do herself. And he didn’t want her to learn that she was supposed to let some man become dependent on her.
“You don’t have to be strong in everything,” Anna said. “Let me do it for you.”
How could she say that? How could a woman who valued personal autonomy like she did expect her lover to depend on her? And what was worse was that this scared Anna at all. She thrived on horror. Her livelihood depended upon things that were scary. Her threshold for fear was much higher than his. So if this scared her enough that she asked him not to do it, then maybe it should scare him to the point that it was beyond consideration.
Sully thought of arguing with her, of telling her that she was making it worse for him. But then she placed her naked breasts against his back and tasted his neck with her tongue. Chills ran up and down his spine and his whole body seemed to swell with anticipation. She then moved in front of him and laid him down. She went down low and used her tongue on his thighs. As she moved up slowly, covering him with her hot, wet mouth, Sully forgot about his arguments. Tomorrow, he would make the trip himself. Tonight, he would let Anna take care of him.
Sully arrived at Little Axe High School around 7AM the next morning. After grabbing a cup of coffee from the teachers’ lounge, he went to his classroom, where he studied his lesson plans for the day. It was easy for him to get lost in his work and thus forget about the trip that he would have to make after school today.
It was September now, the beginning and most difficult part of the school year. There were thirty in the entering freshman class. They were about evenly split between farm kids and town kids. Some acted cool, but he doubted a single one of them wasn’t intimidated. Whether a football player for the first time suiting up with guys three years older and forty to a hundred pounds bigger, a princess being eyed for the first time by older guys and resented by older girls, an academically minded kid for the first time being in a place where GPA really mattered, or just an average kid trying to avoid being noticed and singled out for cruelty, it felt like somebody was out to get you. Sully didn’t want them to feel the same about their math teacher.
The freshman came in at eight. There was no remedial math at Little Axe. All entering freshmen took Algebra 1. The challenge for Sully was figuring out how each student best learned math. Some were abstract and would learn by studying written concepts. Some were visual and could understand through charts and diagrams. Then there were the practical, who had to know how the square root of X divided by Y squared would ever apply to their lives. And Sully accommodated them all. By the end of the year, all would be through the first Algebra section, about half would be through the second section, and a few would be onto Geometry.
The rest of the day he would be with students he knew and who knew him. He taught all four years of math. Then, at two o’clock, the end of the day, he taught a college prep class.
Sully considered the prep class his reward. He had already taught these kids for three years, and, in the prep class, he got to see the fruits of his efforts. The first part of the year was focused on preparing for the entrance exams: word lists, extensive reviews, timed practice tests. But today being Friday, Sully took it easy on them. They went to the computer lab and got on the Internet. Some, as they were supposed to, looked at college websites. Some played games, checked their E-mail, or whatever computer activity suited them, as long as they thought they could get away with it, as long as they thought Mr. Jacobson would maintain his façade of indifference. It was Friday.
He loved the prep class. Last year, they had actually placed a student at MIT and another at Stanford. There were twenty-eight seniors scheduled to graduate in the spring. Of them, twenty-five were in the college prep class. Sully fully expected to place all twenty-five at four-year colleges.
He was wrong. Because on Tuesday, he would see one placed in the ground. Then there would only be twenty-four.
At 3PM, Sully was walking through the parking lot. He barely noticed the students moving around him, heading to their cars, walking off campus, or loading on the buses. The sounds of their laughter and shouts, their car stereos blaring, all seemed distant.
This was it. He had packed Monica’s things this morning. No need to go by home first. He would just pick her up at daycare and then hit that long stretch of interstate, just he and a helpless child. A helpless child and a helpless adult.
He felt a strange energy. Part of it was anticipation, excitement over the prospect of recovering, the closed avenues this would reopen in his life. But another part was fear, not knowing what lay ahead, the possibility of failure. It was hard to tell how much each emotion contributed to the energy. But he thought he would soon find out, when he was driving and one or the other came to the front.
Sully had just started his Ford Taurus when he was startled by the high-pitched chime and brought from his head. He laughed at himself, realizing that it was just his cell phone. He took it from the passenger seat.
“Hi, Sully. What are you doing?” It was Anna. Her voice revealed a mixture of sadness and anger.
“I just got out of work. I’m on my way to pick up Monica at daycare.”
“She’s not at daycare.”
Sully hesitated. She was playing some kind of game with him. “Oh. Why not?”
Anna’s voice was suddenly aloof. “Because I decided not to take her today. I’m used to seeing her everyday and now she’s going to be gone for a whole week.”
Anna had not always played games. This addition to her personality had come when Sully started talking about making the trip. Sully tried to think of how to avoid being drawn into this little emotional sparing match, what words to use. He finally went with, “Sounds nice. Did you two have fun?”
“Of course,” Anna said, the anger creeping back up.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, despite knowing the answer, not wanting to sound presumptuous.
There were a few seconds of pause, then Anna said, “Don’t go.”
Sully sighed. “I have to.”
“No, you don’t!”
“We’ve been through this. I have to get over my fear. You traveled before you met me. You’re going to want to travel again.”
“I traveled because I’m a writer, and I didn’t have any reason to stay in one particular place. Now I have two, and they’re both getting in a car when—”
“Anna. Come on. We’ve already done this.”
“I don’t care, Sully. If you want to travel, then we can all travel. I can go with you. I can go with you tonight.”
Again, Sully sighed. He knew this was not an argument that logic would win. Anna was brilliant. He had no doubt of that, but when it came to this particular issue, she seemed to tune out the entire logical part of her mind and listen solely to the emotional centers.
“Anna. It’s only a five-hour trip. I’ll stop at a hotel if I get overwhelmed.”
“No. It’s ten hours there and back. And that’s too much for your first time alone.”
That actually made sense to Sully. Ten hours did seem like a lot. But he didn’t want to take it slow. He would rather jump right in than prolong his misery by taking this in ever so slightly increasing increments.
“Anna. I’m coming home. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
“You don’t have to,” Anna said, right when Sully was about to hang up.
After a few seconds, it occurred to him what she might mean. He got out of the car and looked around the lot. Over the tops of several cars, he saw her. He hung up the phone.
Even in the distance, he thought he could make out her sad-angry expression, her red pouty lips standing out in contrast to her light face. That face also contrasted with her night-black hair. Though he was sure that to many people of this rural community in nowhere Oklahoma this woman looked like a freak, he was equally sure that in other places in this huge world, her eccentric style was beautiful, just as it was to him.
They both moved to the back of their respective cars. Now across the way, he could see both of his girls, Anna in her casual pullover skirt outfit, Monica, her hair as blonde as the sun, in her pink shorts and white T-shirt. They walked hand in hand and converged with him in the middle of the parking lot.
Sully lifted Monica up to his chest and hugged her tight. “How’s my little girl?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” she said in a subdued tone.
Sully put his daughter out in front of him and inspected her to see if he could figure out what was wrong. Was she sad or just tired? Seeing her droopy eyes and subdued breath, he knew immediately. He looked at Anna and said, “No nap?”
Anna, who now had tears in her eyes and her arms wrapped on her chest, shook her head.
Sully looked around. He was relieved to see that none of the remaining students in the lot seemed interested in them. Then he remembered that it was Friday for them too. They had more important things to focus on. It would take quite a scene to get them interested in what their math teacher was doing.
Sully placed Monica back on the ground, and then the three of them walked to his car. Monica got into the backseat and Sully fastened her into her booster chair. Her eyes went to the various books and games he had placed in the car this morning. He kissed the back of her head and then stood up.
Sully shut the door and then turned on time to feel Anna rush into him. He had to take a step back to keep from falling over. She gripped him tight, so strong for a little woman.
“I love you,” she said, sobs in her voice.
“I love you too,” he returned, wrapping his arms around her, lifting her slightly off the ground. Though he didn’t like how upset she was, he loved the way she felt in his arms. Clinging to him. So light.
A few seconds later, he sat her down. Nearly a minute passed, and he realized that she did not intend to let him go. He gently pushed her out in front of him.
“Hey,” he said. “That new book you’ve been outlining is not going to write itself.”
Anna started to say something, but stopped. She then nodded her head in resignation.
He looked hard at her, tried to decipher why this scared her so much. There just seemed to be more to it than what she was saying. But after a few seconds of trying to read her face like he was reading one of her stories, he thought of how ridiculous he was being. She was probably just worried for the same reasons as he, the same reasons she had told him.
Sully kissed her on lips that barely moved and then left her standing beside the car.
A little while later, he was backing his car out. He caught a glimpse of Anna, who was still standing where he had left her, a dejected look etched on her face. He hated to leave her this way, but he knew that it was going to be leaving her this way or not leaving her at all. And he knew she would eventually put it to her own logic. She valued freedom and autonomy. She would be able to respect his decision. And after he made it back okay, they would both be glad he had made the trip.
After pulling out of the lot, Sully looked at Monica in the rearview mirror. It looked like she had gotten into her playthings, but now she ignored them.
“Are you exited to see your Mommy?”
Monica nodded her little head. Then she said, “I’m tired.” Five minutes later, she was asleep.
It was a twenty-mile drop from Little Axe to I-40. And that was where Sully and Monica would spend the majority of the trip, driving from the west side of Oklahoma all the way to the eastern border, about 315 miles.
Shockingly, the first couple of hours went by without a hitch. Sully had expected the fear to grip him. After all, fear was what had kept him from trying this before. But any fear he had started out with faded quickly. Maybe it was the resolution, he thought. Just telling himself that he was going to recover was enough to push the fear away. He wondered why he had waited so long to try. He started to feel a little regret for what he had missed out on, needlessly. But he pushed that regret away, not wanting to spoil his optimistic mood.
The weather was nice. Traffic was light. Sully put a CCR CD in, and in no time he was into his thoughts, thinking about the future, thinking about his life now, liking what he saw. As a teacher, he pretty much had the summers off. He pictured the three of them traveling together. Maybe they could drive clear to the ocean. Monica was about to the age where she would form lifelong memories, good memories, like the ones from his childhood. He thought of how he would love to show her some of the places he had been. And Anna. She had traveled all around. He tried to imagine seeing some of the places she had been. Hearing her stories about them. Trying to figure out which places inspired scenes in her fiction.
Monica woke up about the time they hit Oklahoma City. The traffic picked up in the city, but even that didn’t really bother him. He talked to his daughter for a little while, and then she opted to play her Leap Frog board.
On the other side of OKC, they stopped at McDonald’s. Sully ate, while Monica climbed around in the PlayPlace. He watched her climb to the top, where she hesitated at the slide. After considering it for a few seconds, she came down. Then, having learned that the long slide wasn’t nearly as scary as it had looked, Monica played fearlessly.
Sully laughed, his daughter having just reinforced what the road was showing him. Things sometimes looked a lot scarier than they were.
After finishing his dinner and drinking a cup of coffee, Sully got Monica a Happy Meal to go. Walking out to the car, Sully noticed that the day was beginning to give. That caused a tinge of anxiety. But even that anxiety dissipated, as he moved down the road and closer to the night.
It was dark by the time they hit the final exit. Faith and her husband, Scott, were waiting at the edge of the Wal-Mart parking lot, behind their car, in the light of a lamp.
Monica spotted her mother and finally showed signs of excitement.
“Mommy! There she is Daddy! There’s my mommy!”
Sully parked the car and unlocked the door. Monica got out on her own and ran excitedly into her mother’s arms. Sully thought he saw hesitation in the movements of his ex, as she lifted her daughter off the ground.
Sully got out and walked toward them. He took Scott’s extended hand as they met behind the cars.
“Hey, Sully. How was the trip?”
“Not bad at all.”
He had known Scott before Faith and Scott got together. And Sully had not once felt ill will toward the man. Overall, Scott seemed trustworthy, and Sully was glad that he didn’t have to worry about Monica suffering a malevolent step-dad.
“Thanks,” Faith said to him, already crying and then took Monica to the car.
Scott stood there for a few awkward seconds and then said. “Well, Sully, you be careful now.”
“I will, buddy. You do the same.”
Sully walked to the backseat of Scott’s BMW and waived through the window.
Monica said something to her mother and then the window came down. Monica planted a kiss on his lips.
“Bye, little girl,” Sully said.
A little while later, the car backed out, and they left him standing there.
Sully stayed alone in the parking lot for a few minutes, tokeing on a cigar he had been saving for when he had made it home. But it felt nice now, having made it this far.
There were cars and people nearby, but they faded into the background, as he got into the sweet taste of the cigar and the thoughts going through his head. He dwelled on things he hadn’t dwelled on in a while. Coming out of the coma. Within hours, his mother told him that Faith had left.
Even at that time, just coming from what he thought was his eternity, he had not felt forsaken. Nor was he sad or angry. He had only felt relieved.
Ten minutes later, Sully was back on the road. He called home, where he got the answering machine. He then tried Anna’s cell phone and got her voice mail. He wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t answered. He pictured her with the laptop on the dining room table, entranced by her story. She had probably stopped to listen to his message, then, assured that he was okay, kept typing. In the year and a half that he had known this young horror writer, he had come to find that she had two worlds that she lived in. Two worlds that didn’t overlap.
In one world, she gave herself to him completely, while in the other world, she wouldn’t be disturbed. Even when she was in the latter world, Sully savored her presence, the way her face glowed. Her eyes so intense. He liked to look at her and try to imagine what was going on inside of her incredible mind, what new place was being created. And he wondered how she did it, conjured people out of nothing and gave them personalities and lives. And the most amazing thing was that none of her characters resembled her. How could she get inside their heads? Know what they thought, how they acted, what motivated them?
How he loved this mysterious woman who had come out of nowhere and into his life.
Sully felt good now. He felt like he would be able to drive straight through. That would put him home about 1:30AM. Anna would most likely be asleep. But she would still be glad to see him. And she would probably be horny. And that made the idea of driving straight through even more appealing.
Sully was forty-five minutes away from where he had exchanged Monica. I-40 was quiet, but he could make out the lights of a semi in the distance. He had passed a few vehicles and a few vehicles had passed him in the last half-hour. It was a nice little balance that helped him feel all the more normal.
Now that Monica was no longer with him, he was able to blare the stereo. He had the latest Pearl Jam CD in the player. He had bought it last spring but had not gotten to know it yet. And now, it moved him. This band fascinated him. Like no other band, they seemed to come up with a different sound with each new album. And every time, the new sound would grow on him. Every time, he would swear it was their best album yet.
Sully drove fearlessly down the road, into the night, trying hard to decipher the lyrics coming through his speakers. By now he had nearly forgotten that his fear ever existed. Then the rain started.
At first, it came down in a little sprinkle. But that was enough to set off a vague sense of anxiety.
“Just a little rain,” he said out loud. He made the wipers sweep one time. “There. See. Perfectly clear.”
He had hoped that would be sufficient. But the wipers and the self-assuring words were not enough to make the anxiety go away. And he thought it might be intensifying.
The rain picked up over the next couple of miles. He turned his wipers on low but continuous.
“No big deal,” he said. But then he reflexively reached to turn down the stereo, which was quickly becoming mere noise to him, a distracter from the road he felt an increasing need to focus on. A few minutes later, the rain a little harder, he turned his stereo off.
He didn’t know why the rain would make him so anxious. There was not enough traffic that he would have to make a sudden movement that might cause him to skid. His vision was still pretty clear. Logically, there was no significant threat. But he still slowed down.
A cold sweat came over him. He became aware of his heart thumping in his chest and the tightness of his stomach muscles. There was a fiery pain in his spine as the rest of his body stiffened. His breath picked up. A semi sped past him, causing the disturbed rain to rush his windshield. He gasped, as for an instant of a second his view of the road was gone. Then, of course, his vision improved as the wipers extracted what the semi had thrown his way, but the panic did not dissipate so quickly. He considered stopping, but knew he shouldn’t. Stopping would only validate his fear, giving it a stronger hold.
Sully didn’t understand how he could be afraid of something that he couldn’t remember. Most of the night of the accident was gone. At least, most of that night was inaccessible to his conscious mind. But evidently, something inside of him beyond consciousness remembered those events, because he was still afraid.
Sully forced himself to push down the accelerator. He went from below sixty to just over seventy. That was ten miles per hour less than what he had been going before the rain started, but now he felt like he was speeding out of control. The steering wheel felt precarious in his hands, and his vision seemed to blur a little. Still, he pressed on. He got the Taurus up to seventy-eight and passed the semi that had just passed him, his heart banging like a snare drum in his chest. He turned his stereo back on and cranked it. His mind rushed and so did the oncoming road. His fear was intense. He pressed on.
Sully had researched this before he decided to try it. Irrational anxiety was supposed to dissipate when the feared situation was faced without a negative consequence. When the spider doesn’t bite, the arachnophobic recovers. When you don’t fall off the mountain, the fear of heights goes away. But now, in the mist of what he feared, it didn’t seem like fear would go away, only intensify, forever intensify.
But he pressed on. Time seemed to stretch out. The other vehicles on the road seemed so close. The edge of the road seemed so close. The night seemed to get darker. Even the music coming from the speakers seemed to intensify, louder and more distorted. But he pressed on.
Then, it was as if the pressure inside of him became too great. But he didn’t break. Instead, a valve was opened and his fear began to diffuse away.
He didn’t know how long it took, but soon Sully’s fear became manageable. He felt sure he would make it home. And just as his inner turmoil had, so did the rain begin to dwindle.
“Yes!” Sully shouted. “I did it!”
He hit the button on his stereo, skipping past songs until he found the right one. He wanted to hear I am Mine again. That’s what he was now. He was conquering his fear. He was owning himself. He found the right track. The mystical guitar began to play. It was a simple rhythm, but simple because it needed little accompaniment. He could hear it progress and know something profound was coming. The singer would deliver the lyrics that made the significant moment more significant. A quick series of drum strokes told Sully those words were about to begin. He would soon be feeling those words as much as hearing them. But before Ed Vedder began to sing, the music suddenly stopped.
Sully looked down at his stereo. The power was on. The counter was counting. But there was no sound coming from his speakers. That’s when he noticed that there was no sound at all. He looked up on time to see the ominous lightning illuminate the sky. Then the light was gone and sound returned with a thunderous crash.
Sully felt as if his air had left him and his heart had stopped. He was now afraid almost beyond thought. He hadn’t really seen what he thought he saw in that flash of lightning. At least, that was what he tried to tell himself. This wasn’t really happening.
But the road in front of him begged to differ. He could no longer see the lights of another vehicle ahead in the distance. He was alone. And there were no longer the wide lanes of I-40. But that couldn’t be. How could he be on a two-lane highway?
It was all so clear to him now. He suddenly remembered that night from three years ago, the night he was returning from a road football game, Faith and Monica having stayed home, the night that he would not wake up from for two months, the night they told him about in the hospital.
And he told himself that was all this was, just a memory. Or maybe he was dreaming.
But then lightning struck again. Once again, he saw the giant black wall. The tornado owned the sky. And it would soon own him too. He let off the gas, but it didn’t matter now. Too late. He felt the car lift off the ground like an airplane. The world spun for a couple of seconds. There was a crash. There was black.
The next thing Sully was aware of was the loud noise. It brought him from his unconscious state, and he watched the semi that had just blown its horn at him speed by. He looked back and saw more lights approaching. He had come to a complete stop on the interstate. Though it was hard, he knew he must move now. He crept the car down the road, letting vehicles pass. He got the Taurus up to fifty, the minimum allowable speed on the road. But with how bad he was shaking, that felt too fast, so he slowed down to thirty.
The courage he had felt minutes ago now felt like something from his distant past. Even his desire to get better was long gone. He had just had his first flashback to the night that the tornado got him.
How was it now that he remembered? Had it been buried deep in his subconscious, waiting for the right set of circumstances to cue the memory?
Whatever the psychology, Sully wanted no more battle tonight. He saw an advertisement for a hotel five miles ahead. It was a very long five miles.
Sully sat in the hotel parking lot, trying to calm down enough to deal with getting a room. He felt relieved to be safe for the time being. But he also felt small and weak. And he felt foolish for approaching this so boldly. But most of all, he was afraid. He feared that at any second he would be taken from the familiar safe reality and thrust back into a world of tornadoes and being carried into the sky.
Was it an accurate representation of the actual night? Had the tornado really lifted him high into the air and dropped him? Or had his mind exaggerated?
He had seen pictures of his car. It was very condensed in size, the roof having caved, both the front and back ends smashed in. He had wondered how he could have survived at all. And yes, it did look as if it had been picked up off the ground and dropped.
After nearly half an hour, he felt like he could at least fake like he was okay. He shook the whole time he was in the lobby, but not enough that the clerk paid much attention to it. She went about her job indifferently, just tending to another stranger from the interstate.
Inside his room, he debated on whether he should call Anna. He really didn’t want her to know how messed up he had become and then be worried about him more than she already was. But she would probably be more worried if he didn’t call. He would just have to fake it with Anna too.
Yeah, the trips going fine. I just stopped because I’m tired. There wasn’t a tornado that lifted me into the sky. I didn’t come to with my car idling on the interstate.
Sully took a few extra minutes to calm himself a little more. Then he made the call. Luckily, Anna didn’t pick up the phone. He left a short message.
Alone in the mist. But this time he can breathe. And he can move around. He wants to meet them, to know who they are, to know what they want and why they keep coming to him. But where have they gone? Where are the coma men?
Sully drove through Little Axe around noon on Saturday. He was relieved to be on the homestretch. All morning, he had been anxious that the events of the previous night would repeat themselves. But the rest of the trip had been madness free. It hadn’t even rained again.
It was only a mile to Perry Acres, the housing addition outside of town. His house was not actually part of the addition, but since it was only a small wheat field away, people often assumed that it was. He saw Anna’s Neon parked in the driveway. He wondered if she was still in her writing world, since he still hadn’t been able to contact her.
Sully’s house had been built by the farmer who lived in it years ago. The construction was sturdy but the layout strange. It was hard to know where the main entrance was intended to be. The front of the house had a porch and a door. But the side of the house, which ran along the driveway, had a sidewalk leading up to a smaller porch and then a foyer. This was where Sully liked to enter, and most guests seemed to naturally go there.
From the foyer, Sully entered the kitchen. From there, he looked into the dining room and saw Anna’s laptop on the table. He smiled, remembering how he had pictured it there the night before. He knew she must have just finished typing, because she had not shut it off.
Or maybe she wasn’t done. Maybe she had left the room briefly, and when she came back, he would be a distraction to her.
Off the dining room, at the front of the house, was what Sully thought was intended to be the living room, this being where the front entrance led to. Sully used it as a study. He would often go there to grade papers. Anna often went there to write in solitude if Sully and Monica were home.
Anna probably knew that he was home by now. He figured he could go into the study and wait while she finished up. Then she would come to him when she was ready. He had his hand on the doorknob, when he heard Anna’s alluring voice.
Next to the study, separated from it by glass doors, was Monica’s room. Next to that, separated by a wall, was his and Anna’s room. That was where he thought Anna’s voice had come from.
En route to their bedroom was the strangest thing about his home. It was just this room in the middle of the house. Sully had made it into the living room when he made the other room into a study. The middle room might as well not have been there as Sully crossed it on his way to his waiting girlfriend.
He found her sitting in a chair against the wall. With one hand, she held a paperback a few inches above her face. A finger from her other hand was inside her open mouth, gently caressing her tongue. Sully looked at her from top to bottom as she pretended that she didn’t see him there.
She was wearing a gray T-shirt but nothing else. The way she was sitting, slightly propped, with her legs spread, he could see everything between her legs. Simultaneously, his mouth watered and his penis swelled. Then Anna dropped the hand from her mouth down. Without looking up from the book, she ran her fingers through the small patch of curly hairs and into the pink below.
“What ya reading there, baby?” Sully asked.
“Some book on cannibalism,” Anna responded lackadaisically. Then, in the same low-key tone, she said, “And now I’m going to eat you, my sweet, sweet Sully.”
There were a few seconds of pause, something Sully thought a part of this cool horror writer’s way of building tension, and then abruptly, Anna tossed the paperback aside. She jumped up and then jumped into him. She took him down to the floor. And as she so often did, she ravished him.
Afterward, they lay naked on the floor, Sully flat on his back, Anna curled into him. Relaxed and satisfied, Sully laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Anna asked, making little circles on his chest with her fingers.
“You’ve got to be the most aggressive woman in the world.”
Anna sat up. “Does that bother you?” she asked, the look on her face confident.
Again, Sully laughed. Before he had met Anna, he didn’t know women were capable of having sex like her. He doubted most men could match her intensity. And it didn’t seem to be leveling off as they spent more time together.
“No. I can’t say that it does.”
Anna smiled and lay back down beside him, obviously not oblivious to the complement she had just received.
“Did you get my messages?” he asked.
Anna hesitated and then answered, “You know, it’s the funniest thing. I was at the table writing last night. And it was going pretty well. I heard your message and figured I’d call you later. Then the next thing I knew, I was sleepy. And not just get-ready-for-bed sleepy. More like, I-wonder-if-I-can-even-make-it-to-the-bed, dog tired. I barely remember walking back to the bedroom and getting undressed. I didn’t even hear the phone ring the second time. I must have slept right through it.”
Almost on cue, the phone beside the bed rang out. It was an older model that Sully kept around simply because he figured nobody could ever sleep through its blaring ring. A little astonished by Anna’s story, he got off the floor. He answered the phone on the third ring.
“Sully,” his mother’s voice said abruptly. “Did you just get home?”
“Yeah, a little while ago. Why?”
He heard his mother moan. Then her voice croaked as she said, “Something bad has happened.”
“What Mom? What is it?”
“Ohhhhh!” his mom cried.
Anna came up to him. “What Sully? What’s wrong? Is Monica okay?”
Monica? Yes, she had to be okay. He would have been notified before his mother if something had happened to Monica. Faith would have called him first. And Faith would never call his mother, scared to death to speak to a woman who hated her.
“It’s one of your students,” his mother finally said.
The last time anyone saw Caitlin Barr alive was Friday night, around 10:55PM. She had attended a party for the Little Axe football team, which had just won its first game of the season. She had left alone, rushing home to make her eleven o’clock curfew. She never made it.
The official report from the Sheriff’s Department was that something inside the cabin of her car must have ignited. Then, trying to escape, Caitlin opened her front door, allowing in a rush of oxygen that fed the flame, causing it to engulf her. They found her remains about a half-mile from her parents’ farm.
The next two days of school were cancelled. Services were held on Tuesday.
Sully had been raised in Little Axe. The road to the cemetery ran by the high school to the outskirts of town. Many times he had seen the processions drive by. The Little Axe cemetery, in his mind, had always been a place for two types of people, the really old, and the occasional baby that didn’t make it. Those in between simply were not allowed. But now, the rule had been broken.
And what a perfect fucking day for a funeral Tuesday was. The sky was clear and the wind nonexistent. Sounds rang out with clarity. Images were clean and crisp. A town stood in shock as a coffin containing the charred remains of a seventeen-year-old senior at Little Axe High was lifted onto a platform. There were sounds of people crying, but they were drowned out when Caitlin’s mother, who had been silent in her catatonic state, erupted.
The fifty-year-old housewife, and once proud mother of one child, rushed up to the platform, screaming, “No! No!”
Pallbearers, Mark Walker and Craig Norris, two of Caitlin’s former classmates, caught Mrs. Barr’s leaning body before she could slip into the open grave. They held her body at an angle over the large hole in the ground, as the woman clad in a black dress flailed her arms about the large sky blue coffin that contained her favorite person in the world.
The two pallbearers looked around in fear and confusion, until Caitlin’s father came to their assistance. As Mr. Barr dragged his resisting wife away, she screamed, “Don’t put her down there! She’s just a baby! Don’t take her away from me, please!”
Up to then, Sully’s mind had been on the lost girl and her classmates, whom he would have to face the next day. At that point, seeing the child’s mother become the most desperate, pathetic creature he had ever seen, seeing her father’s hollow expression, he began thinking of his own daughter, who was now so many miles away.
Anna was on one side of him and his mother on the other, both clinging to him. He pulled them both closer and pushed the thoughts away.
Sully wanted to go home after the funeral. But there was a sense of urgency in her voice when his mother asked if they would ride to Elk City with them for dinner. He felt pangs of guilt, realizing that he had not considered what the day must have been like for her. He doubted there was anyone in town whom could identify with the feelings of Mrs. Barr more than his mother, having once almost lost her only child.
Wind for him, though. Wind instead of fire.
He rode in the backseat of his parent’s Grand Marquis, one hand in Anna’s beside him, the other stretched over the front seat to his mother.
As his father drove silently, his mother alternated between spells of quiet tears and outright bawling, as Anna sat there with a blank expression on her face, possibly with her novel in her head, Sully thought. He wondered how much this would disrupt her. She told him before that the initial stages of writing a novel were always the most difficult. She had gotten no work done since he had come home from dropping off Monica, constantly with him, consoling him, helping him console others. He thought she would recover fast, as soon as she picked up the pen again. But he worried that he thought her too strong. He worried about taking that strength for granted. In his mind, he resolved that he would insist she work tomorrow. But part of him, the part that clung to the belief that Anna was infinitely strong, knew that his assertions would be in vain. Anna would make up her own mind.
A while later, they sat inside the steakhouse. Across from him, Sully’s dad was reading a newspaper, as he ate his steak and baked potato. In the next seat was Sully’s mother, who was ignoring the sandwich she had ordered, staring off at the wall, the look on her face now anger, a red pout with bloodshot eyes.
Beside Sully, Anna picked through a soup and salad. A vegetarian, she did this habitually, always checking for little pieces of meat that might have accidentally made it into her food, like one piece of flesh would cause her a deadly allergic reaction. He knew she hated being in the steakhouse at all, the scent of meat cooking so prominent, but for the sake of Sully and his parents, she tolerated it.
Tonight, Sully was a vegetarian too. The imagined image of Caitlin’s burnt corpse made the thought of cooked meat repulsive to him.
His mother’s mood seemed to dictate the atmosphere. They ate in silence.
It wasn’t until they were in the car, on the way back to Little Axe, that his mother spoke up.
“I think Monica should be here,” she said in a coarse tone.
In the backseat, Sully and Anna looked at each other. There were three people in the car who were not shy about telling Gladys Jacobson that she needed to mind her own business. Sully wouldn’t do it tonight. By the sympathetic look on Anna’s face, she wouldn’t do it either. Horace Jacobson, Good Old Dad, a usually quiet man by nature, but not a man to take shit from anybody, had no problem sticking it to his forlorn wife.
“Don’t start, Gladys. Sully’s got plenty on his mind without you turning your mouth on him.”
Sully looked from Anna to his mother. Her face was beet red, and her eyes were bulging. It looked as if her scowl could set the man on fire. She spoke in a hissing whisper. “I just don’t understand why that woman should ever be allowed to see my granddaughter again.”
His father started to speak but was cut off.
“She abandoned her daughter,” his mother said in a loud, self-righteous voice. “And as parents, the worst of all sins, even worse than murder, is to abandon one of our children. Never, ever, should we give up on them.”
Sully felt Anna’s claws sink into his forearm. He looked and saw that her mouth had fallen agape and realized that she knew what he knew. They had both heard his parents fight before. It was usually not that big a deal, as neither one was really that hurtful to the other. But tonight, in the last thing that she had said, Gladys Jacobson was not just talking to her husband. She was talking about him.
The sun had just begun to set when they arrived back at the cemetery. Though it was not dark yet, just the thought that it would soon be was enough to give the lone Taurus an ominous appearance to Sully. They were less than a mile from home, but still, he asked Anna if she would drive.
Anna started the car but didn’t back out yet. She waited until the Grand Marquis was well out of sight and then spoke.
“Do you ever feel that way? I mean, like your mom feels.”
Sully looked across the field at the large pile of Earth that would be used to cover Caitlin. Earth for her, wind for me.
“No,” he said. “My heart hadn’t beaten on its own for over six weeks. There was very little brain activity. In my dad’s position, I think I would have done the same thing.”
Now Sully looked at Anna, who had a ponderous expression. She held that look for about thirty seconds. Finally, she said, “Me too.”
Anna still didn’t put the car in gear. She waited about a minute and then said, “Do you ever wonder what your real mom was like?”
Sully laughed lightly. It was a question he knew people were afraid to ask him. Still, it was easy to answer. “Yeah. Of course. I’ve thought about it from time to time. But I never pursued it. My parents, the Jacobsons, have given me all I got. They raised me. They supported me while I was in college. I guess I just never wanted to break their hearts trying to find a woman who gave me up.”
To that, Anna nodded. “Makes sense.” She put the car in gear.
When they got home, Anna attacked him. She fucked him harder than he had ever been fucked before. She moved him all about the house, getting on top of him, bending over for him. By the time they were through, most of the day seemed to have melted away.
Afterward, she cuddled up next to him in bed. Then she said the words that he would never forget.
Anna said, “Death happens, my dear Sully. But life goes on.”