TO DOVE’S TAIL
“Look on every exit as being an entrance
This wasn’t good...
Had either Raymond or Judith
Crowe taken a moment to consider the stupidity of their decision, they would
never have left
their home to find themselves on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the ungodly hour
of 1:47 a.m. Somewhere between Beaver County and the Warrendale Toll Plaza an
unforeseen snow storm developed, and now the radio warned of white out
conditions within the hour. At this inopportune time the couple seemed ripe for
their first argument.
Toro squirmed uncomfortably in
the back seat. The Crowes’ German Shepherd hadn’t been walked since they left
Cranberry six hours earlier.
“We won’t make it to Intercourse
tonight, you know.” Judith’s unintended double entendre brought muffled
laughter, but the pair’s comfort level had been seriously compromised. In faux
Amishspeak she added, “I meant the town, my dear horn dog husband.”
The names of Pennsylvania’s
small burghs had earlier caused child-like snickers between them. Who wouldn’t
smile at places called Lititz, Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, Virginville, and of
course the daddy of them all, Intercourse.
Ray had told his wife that the Keystone State’s Amish must have laughed
themselves sick labeling their little boroughs. Judith suggested maybe the
founders were so sexually repressed they were too horny to think of anything
other than their underused penises.
A few hours earlier it seemed
Judith couldn’t get out of their home in Cranberry fast enough. But that
was then, and now here they were in
this damned blizzard and she was headed for bitch mode again. Ray knew his
smiles fell short of genuine, although he tried to keep them going with “I
believe the exit to the village of
Stick-It-In-Your-Ass should be coming up soon, sweetheart.”
have to pee, and I’d prefer not to do it
in...” She studied the GPS on the Camry’s dash. “..Jugtown, Pennsylvania? Can you believe this? What were the founding
fathers in this state thinking?”
Ray didn’t feel much interested
in the historical genesis of Pennsylvania’s obscure Dutch villages. The snow
had grown significantly heavier, and the white out had already arrived. His
wipers did little more than smear puffy flakes against the glass, revealing a
turnpike that seemed a whitewashed moonscape.
True, he had suggested this
spur-of-the-moment romantic adventure, but that was mostly because Judith had
been on him about stagnation so easily screwing up so many of their friends’
marriages. You had to be careful that didn’t happen so early into your own, you
had to be impulsive and go for it, whatever “it” was. Rethinking that logic,
Ray decided fuck Dr. Phil and those righteous cunts on The View. He would have
been home in his own warm bed had his wife not bought into their crappola. But
he kept that thought to himself.
“There’s not another car on the
road. We may have to stop before nature makes the decision for us.”
Judith rubbed the windshield. “Some romantic remote Pennsylvania Dutch
hole in the wall where we can fuck each other silly, yes?”
“Dying on the turnpike in
Dick-in-hand, Pennsylvania, that’s silly. The plan now is to survive the
night. There should be an exit coming soon. Check the nav again.”
Judith shook her head. “We’re
passing Mercytown now, but
there’s no exit for maybe ten miles.” She squinted though the smeared
windshield at a blurred signpost. “Sign here says the Dove’s Tail exit is one
mile. Could be a charming place even if it’s named after a bird’s ass.” She looked back at the GPS.
“That exit isn’t on the screen. There might not be anything open this hour, no
room at the inn for weary travelers. Or maybe no inn at all.”
“There are inns in Little
Tits?” Ray wasn’t trying to be funny and
Judith didn’t laugh.
“That’s Lititz, lover. And I
don’t think my bladder will last much long--”
She swallowed the rest of her
sentence as the car took a mean skid. Toro snapped awake, and for one hairy
moment the Camry seemed headed for the guard rail. Ray steadied the wheel,
pulled over to the median. Taking a deep breath he puffed a mouthful of air
like a man on a respirator. The two looked at each other, the reflected snow
smearing their faces like dripping veins. Another bad skid could turn that
Judith strained a smile. “I
don’t have to pee any more.”
“All right, here’s the plan. We
exit here and we sleep. Agreed?”
Not waiting for an answer Ray
took the Dove’s Tail exit at a crawl. There was no toll booth, no directional
signals, nothing to indicate the center of town. One route seeming as good as
the other, he went West. This township seemed unaware of the invention of the
snow plough, and inching the Camry at 20 mph through blinding snow, Ray hated
what he had to suggest. He made the mistake of turning to Judith.
“Maybe we should pull over, just
sleep here in the--”
And then, a sickening thump. The
car hit something and sent it flying, something big enough to make a thick
crunch on impact. Ray skidded the Camry to a slushy stop in the middle of the
road. The wipers were going full tilt, but he couldn’t see anything. He smacked
the steering wheel like a mad man.
“Shit! Piss! Fuck!” He turned to his wife almost as an
afterthought. “You’re okay?”
“An animal? Maybe it was just a
deer. There are a lot of deer around these--”
“—It looked taller, something
upright. I couldn’t really tell. Who would be walking in a blizzard at this
hour? It’s 10 degrees outside!”
Judith spoke what he had been
thinking. “You have to get out and see what it is. We can’t just leave. We
can’t—” She stopped, reconsidered. “It could’ve been a bear. Maybe it’s better
if you don’t get out.”
“If it was a bear, it’s a dead
bear.” Ray unbuckled his seat belt, popped the glove compartment for a
flashlight, and slid out of the car. He opened the rear door and let Toro out.
While the dog enjoyed his piss in the snow, Ray noticed the front bumper. Sure
enough, it was crushed, and the right headlamp was out. The dreaded search
followed, and he pushed through a dust storm of flakes to locate what he had
hit. A path of fresh footprints ended at the point of impact, then only a thick
smear remained in the snow. Ray followed it along what he could see of the
road. About fifty feet from the Camry the streak thinned, then came to an
Maybe whatever he struck had
limped off, and it would be hard to see footprints off the road. Ray aimed the
flashlight in a wide arc, half expecting some zombie-like creature to shamble
from the woods for him. The beam revealed nothing. He knew that didn’t mean
there was nothing there. Something (or someone?) had been on the road, and he
had made it airborne. If a dead man
lay hidden nearby in a snow bank, he would have to answer for it. Ray tapped on
the car’s side window and shrugged at Judith.
“Head lamp’s busted.”
“Nothing else?” She noticed Toro
still in the snow, sniffing at an object buried in a drift. “I think he’s found
something. Go look!”
Aiming a thick beam about a
hundred feet from the Camry Ray saw the object of his dog’s attention, but the
person’s face was covered with snow. The impact must have sent the body hurling
into a thick snow bank, and only legs were showing, toes up like a corpse. One
high heeled shoe
had been knocked clear off, but the remaining one dangling from the foot was
red. The exposed legs revealed shriveled flesh, hideous candy striped stockings
bagging at the knees.
“Shit! Fucking shit!”
Ray managed to pull a withered
arm free from the drift. He didn’t feel
a pulse, and he knew dead when he saw it. Climbing back into the Camry as Toro
settled in the rear seat, he tried his cell. He got nothing.
“I...I ran into an old woman, I
think. I couldn’t find a pulse. What in hell would anyone be doing in a storm
at this hour? Christ, the woman was in heels!”
“It’s hit and run if we leave.
“We haven’t seen a car in over
an hour and there’s a blizzard, in case
you haven’t noticed. What else can we do?”
Judith needed a moment. “We’ll
have to stop at the first
place we find, okay? We have to tell someone what happened.” She hesitated. “We
do have to tell someone, don’t we?”
Ray nodded but said nothing. He
inched the Camry along what remained of the road, a single lane with no hint of
street lights anywhere. No one would find that old woman any time soon, that
was a fact. Driving blind he couldn’t tell if he remained on a main road or had
somehow veered off onto some backwoods horse path. Ray knew only that he had to
Judith spotted a flickering
motel sign. Through the windshield the electric lettering appeared as a smudge.
The motel’s name would have been hard to decode even in clear weather.
The shabby lodge seemed on the
verge of collapse, but it would have to do. The lights of the office were on.
“Wait here,” Ray said, but Judith had no intention of
doing that. She got out of the car with him.
The office area was empty, and
only one picture adorned its wall, some old-time soldier in a rust colored
uniform standing at stiff attention, displaying on his lapel what appeared to
be a purple heart. A snow globe was on
the front desk displaying the shabby snow covered motel inside the glass, probably
a tacky gimmick
for visitors to remember their stay. At least the office had color befitting
the name of the place whose letters had vanished on the sign outside : The
Rainbow Motel. Its garish logo seemed everywhere with its gum ball assortment
of colors : on a twisted rack containing cheap postcards, on an even cheaper
looking thin pile of stationery, and on the lapel of a blue sports jacket that
lay over an old swivel chair behind the desk. The jacket was small, as if meant
for a child.
Ray hit the bell at the desk.
Like a magic trick a little person (a dwarf?)
entered rubbing his eyes. For some reason the old guy felt the need to
put on the blue jacket before he spoke.
“A bit late to be checkin’ in,
hey? Snow’s that bad, is it?” Even on
the chair the little guy sat half hidden behind the desk, his bald head barely
clearing the counter.
“It’s pretty bad, and we’re
tired. And I think we’re very lost.” Ray looked at his wife. Her eyes suggested
his describing the events of the past half hour could wait.
The dwarf unwrapped a Tootsie
Pop, offered one to Ray. Ray shook his head. “Well, we’re not ‘zactly booked
here. Never are, hidden as this place is. We don’t get many strangers in Dove’s Tail.” The little man
wall for a key, one of those old-style two-pronged jobs that seemed meant for
an outhouse. “You’ll find your room the first one closest to the office. No
address needed for sign in, just your name and town will do. We’re not very
formal here.” He looked outside at the Camry. “See you’ve got a dog. The wife
and me, we usually don’t allow no pets, but—well, I guess it’s okay tonight,
‘count of the storm.”
As if on cue another little
person appeared, an ugly woman in a raggedy terrycloth bathrobe who stood
beside her husband. Her normal sized head looked as if it were attached to the
body of a doll.
“Your front lamp’s busted,
Mister. Whitey Osbourne’s service station is a mile up this road. You can go
there in the mornin.’ My Elmer here will
make the call tomorrow, if you’d like.” The woman’s voice could have come from
a ten-year old.
“Winnifred, these people are
tired. We should let ‘em get some sleep.”
Judith nodded her agreement. “We
had an accident. Some old woman was out walking—”
Ray motioned to interrupt her
but Elmer did it for him, the Tootsie
Pop never leaving his mouth.
“That would prob’ly be one of
the Grimm sisters. Them two old women live together, and they’re both crazy as
loons. Ellie, she’s the younger—she likes the night time, goes out walkin’ the
back roads with nowhere special to go, but her sister Nessa, she’s always
spookin’ the locals like some goblin, never mind the forecast. Most ‘round here
steer clear of both of ‘em.”
The dwarf’s choice of words sent
cold fingers along Ray’s spine. He wanted only to see a bed, to forget this
night ever happened. He slid a credit card over the desk to Elmer.
“Sorry. Cash only. Thirty-four
dollars fifty cents for the night.”
Somehow the Rainbow Motel’s
policy didn’t surprise Ray. The twenty-first century clearly had by-passed
Dove’s Tail. He fished out two twenties and motioned for Elmer to keep the
change. Managing an exhausted smile at the diminutive pair, he followed Judith
back to the car. His wife said nothing
until they approached their room’s door.
“What about our bags.”
“Leave them in the car. We won’t be staying here long.”
“Shouldn’t we make a call from
the room, tell someone what happened?”
“I don’t know. Yeah, I guess we
should.” Ray jiggled the key before the door opened. Toro bolted inside but Ray
didn’t enter; instead, he looked at the parking area. Theirs was the only car
in the lot. No surprise there, but probably a good thing considering the
Camry’s tell-tale damage.
The room proved no surprise
either with its drab and threadbare furniture and bedspread. But a weak
dew-like smell didn’t fit. The yellow/red floral assortment on the nightstand
told the tale.
“They’re poppy flowers—not
usual fragrance of choice for motel rooms,” Judith said, attempting some
semblance of normal conversation. “Supposed to be good for sleep because the
seeds contain opium. In Greek and Roman myths poppies were put on soldiers’ graves.
you glad you
married an English major?”
Ray’s mind was somewhere else.
“I should make that call. I guess 911 ought to handle it.” Hidden
behind another snow globe he found the
phone, the old rotary dial type. Ray looked at Judith and shook his head. “No
dial tone. It figures, right?”
“Storm probably knocked the
lines down. I doubt this place is Wi-Fi friendly.”
Ray had the discomforting
feeling that this place wasn’t friendly, period. “Fuck it, then. We’ll find
somewhere to call from in the morning. I just hope this accident doesn’t keep
us here for the next six months. The little guy at the desk said the old lady
was crazy walking out there in a blizzard. Cops should understand that, right?
We couldn’t stay with her in the road all night, could we? And I didn’t much
feel like bringing her with us.”
“Right. We couldn’t. No
way.” Judith didn’t sound very
convincing, and the silence that followed was deafening.
Needing a distraction, Ray
reached for the snow globe on the night stand, held it for his wife. “When’s
the last time you saw one of these? Now two in one night.” He handed it to her.
“Snow. Appropriate, I guess,
considering...” She shook the glass ball, faking interest in watching the
papery flakes fall. “I hadn’t noticed. The miniature of this motel has the same
letters missing from the road sign.
Isn’t that kind of—?” Judith’s eyes opened wide. “Ray, look at this.”
The sphere displayed a tan Camry
parked outside the room they were in, but closer inspection revealed the car’s
bumper was crushed, the right head lamp busted.
“What are the odds?” Judith stopped, considered this. “Jesus, what
are the odds?”
Ray felt too tired to add more
heebie-jeebies to the night’s events. “We both need sleep, okay? Things will
look more sane in the morning after we clear up this mess with the locals.”
“And get out of Dodge in time to
screw each other into oblivion tomorrow night in our own bed?”
“That’s the plan.”
“I’m going to hold you to that.”
Judith placed the globe inside the drawer and slammed it shut. She patted Toro
who already had settled alongside the bed, planted a kiss on Ray’s cheek, and
slipped out of her clothes.
Sleep came fast for Raymond and Judith Crowe.
The poppy flowers did their job
The motel room remained dismal
even with morning’s light filtering through a flimsy curtain. Judith stretched
and almost had a decent moment before the memory of the previous night
returned. Still woozy, she realized something wasn’t right. She shook her
“Ray, get up! Toro isn’t here.”
“He’s asleep beside the bed. He
Their dog never strayed from
their side when time came for his morning walk, and in this single room there
was nowhere to stray to. The door remained locked, but Toro was gone.
Not bothering with pants Ray hurried outside wearing his boxers. The snow had
lessened to flurries but a brisk wind remained.
Fresh footprints that didn’t
belong to either of them were in the overnight powder. The imprints seemed a
woman’s high heels, strange footwear following a thick snow, and they ended
abruptly--just stopped. But there were no paw prints. Toro was a large dog, and
heavy. He certainly would have struggled
had a stranger tried carrying him, and it seemed unlikely a woman could manage
that. Ray’s shouts for Toro echoed in the surrounding woods. He made it as far
as the parking lot before another realization hit.
Their Camry was missing. Thick
tire tracks curved toward the empty parking space, suggesting someone had towed
it. Maybe whoever owned the truck had taken their dog. Ray headed back to
“The car’s been towed too. Get
The couple bee-lined to the
front desk where Winnifred stood alone, and she glared at the Crowes through
squinty eyes. She seemed even uglier in the morning.
“Thought you two would be
sleepin’ late. It’s barely seven in
The dwarves somehow could have
had taken Toro. Elmer had said they weren’t usually accepting of pets in the
motel, and the dwarves had a room key. Ray couldn’t keep the accusatory tone
from his voice.
“Our dog and our car, they’re
missing. Would you know anything about
“Your dog couldn’t have gone far
after you let him out. There’s lots of woods ‘round here for a mutt to have a
Judith set a bead on the lady
dwarf. “We didn’t let him out. We woke up and he was gone. And so was our car!”
The old woman poured a cup of
coffee, her calmness infuriating. “Well, see, your car I can answer for. You
mentioned that accident you had. Whitey Osbourne stops in here for coffee
sometimes before he opens his repair shop. I spoke to him this mornin’, so I’m
guessin’ he must have towed it for you. Some java?”
“We didn’t ask for a fucking
tow!” Ray said.
“And Elmer and me didn’t ask to
be called from our beds in the middle of the night, so we’re even!”
Sucking another Tootsie Pop
Elmer entered, again rubbing his eyes. “Mister, ‘spose you tell us ‘bout that
accident you had ‘fore we discuss the matter of your dog. I had a look at your
car last night. Seems you hit something pretty damned hard. Your wife here
mentioned an old woman...”
Ray absently picked up the snow
globe from the front desk, diddling with it before looking inside the glass. A
new scene displayed the exposed legs of the dead woman, snow covered almost to
her striped stockings. Ray’s eyes caught Judith’s and she saw the globe too.
Somehow his wife managed to remain rock steady, but he didn’t feel certain
about himself. He forced his attention back into the moment.
“I tried to make a call last
night to report our accident, and now my cell’s dead. Are your phones working
Elmer picked up the office
phone. Ray saw his chance and slipped the snow globe into his coat pocket. The
overcoat bulged but was heavy enough to hide most of it. It didn’t do much to
hide his guilt.
The dwarf shook his head. “Phone’s
still dead. And if you’re
tellin’ me Ellie Grimm is dead too, well then...”
“It was snowing. I didn’t see
The dwarf rubbed the stubble on
his chin. “Well, if you did run over that woman, then I think I can explain
what happened to your dog. But you ain’t goin’ to like it. Them two sisters
watch out for each other like damned hawks. Nessa often comes ‘round here, and
she might’ve found your car, then put two and two together. Them hags each
somehow know what’s goin’ on with the other, like a pair of damned witches.”
Judith exchanged glances with
her husband, then beaded in on Elmer. “You’re telling us this Nessa Grimm just
walked into our room with no key and carried our dog out? He weighs almost a
“Witches don’t need no
explanations for that stuff. That’s what makes ‘em witches -- and, trust me, you
don’t want to go pissin’ on Nessa. Can’t say I’m sad to see one of
them sisters dead. I doubt the
authorities ‘round here will be either. At least, off the record, ‘cause the
law is the law, you know.” He tried the
Ray kept a disturbing thought to
Can’t think like
He took Judith aside, spoke low.
“We’ll find that
Osbourne guy’s shop and call the authorities to report the accident and see if
that Grimm woman has got Toro. Witch, my ass.” He turned back to Elmer. “Can we
walk to the repair shop from here?”
“It’s maybe a mile further West
just past the old church. Sorry ‘bout your dog.”
“Thanks. Listen, about Ellie
The dwarf turned to his wife. Winnifred
made a zipper-my-lip gesture, and Elmer nodded.
“You stay on the road, ‘cause
there’s some nasty stuff in our woods you won’t be comfortable seein’. I’d take
you to Whitey’s myself, but I don’t drive. These legs can’t reach no car’s pedals.” He found this really funny, laughed hard for
almost a minute.
Winnifred spoke up. “You didn’t
have to stuff our snow globe into your coat, Mister. We have a truckload, and I
woulda given it to you for free.”
Her husband reached under the
desk still snickering like a mad elf. “Tootsie Pop?”
There seemed no shortage of
crazy in Dove’s Tail. As they left the
Rainbow Motel, Ray told his wife they had seen the worst of it.
He was wrong.
The snow-covered road was
especially unpleasant on foot with nothing surrounding them but the uninviting
wood the dwarves had mentioned. The couple saw no one and the weather remained
bitter, the wind biting. Flocks of large birds flew amid dark clouds, large
vulture-like creatures whose flight seemed clumsy, not really like birds at
all. From the forest, echoes of trees dripping with dagger-like icicles
transformed into a cacophony of cracks and drips, branches undulating like
living creatures anxious to ensnare both of them. There were animal growls too,
as if from some close-by jungle cat. There was no enchantment in this forest.
Ray broke their silence. “Toro, he’s got his I.D. tag, you know.
Someone will see that. And maybe we can track down a phone, report what
happened last night.”
“Or maybe we should forget about
calling the police at all. We can get our car and leave. Let them find us.”
“You think that’s the right
thing to do?”
Judith said nothing.
The old church came into view,
at first a welcoming sight deceptive from a distance until the couple
approached it. The questionable message on the sign by the entrance read BE
COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO GIVE TO THE ALMIGHTY YOUR HEART AND MIND. Judith held
Ray’s arm. They could only stare at the figure on the cross near the church
“That’s not Jesus,”
He might have laughed himself
sick at the sight, but time spent in Dove’s Tail negated that possibility. What
some fool had nailed to the outdoor cross was some kind of blasphemy or sick
joke. Straw legs performing a mad dance in the wind, a threadbare scarecrow
The cryptic irony occurred to
Ray, but he chose not to spook his wife even more. He and Judith quickened
their pace until another battered sign came
OSBOURNE’S TOWING AND REPAIR
The place was a large shack, and
counting the church, Osbourne’s shop was the second structure they had seen
during an hour’s trudge. The couple hurried toward it, but the deafening noise
from inside stopped them at the door. A filthy curtain covering the garage
windows separated the service area from nosey outsiders peeking inside. The
metallic bashing sounded like some kind of demolition derby, and that was
exactly what it was. The lone silver haired mechanic seemed a one man wrecking
crew, sledge hammering their new Camry into twisted chunks of metal with the
exuberance of some kid happily stomping flat a huge sand castle. Noticing the
couple, Whitey Osbourne smiled.
“Mornin’. You people
must be the
Crowes.” He returned his attention to pulverizing the windshield.
Ray’s response was considerably
less civil. “Excuse me, but are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Mister, you oughta be thankin’ me. You got evidence
here could put both of you in a Dove’s Tail lock-up ‘til your teeth fall out of
your heads.” (Smash!) “Sheriff
sees what you done last night, the way them motel dwarves said you left Ellie
Grimm dead or dyin’ in the snow, he’s gon’ to throw away the key. Law’s the
law, and you can’t go pissin’ on it.” (Smash!) “Then again, I’m a pretty law abiding citizen, so maybe I
should abide, ‘less of course we can come to an agreement.” (Smash!)
There was method to the wrecking
ball madness here. The man was talking blackmail.
“You’re a thief, and you wrecked
“...and soon it’ll be junk, so
you’re welcome. When I towed it in here your damaged vehicle had death written
all over it. Best you pay no ‘tention to what I’m doin’, and I’ll see to it
that you and your pretty missis leave Dove’s Tail with your asses intact.”
In another moment Ray might have
grabbed the old guy by the throat. He
reigned in the impulse.
“And how are we supposed to do
that with no car?”
(Smash! and Smash!)
Judith pulled her husband aside.
“I want to get out of here now. Screw the damned car.”
“Screw the car? This son of a
bitch is going to pay for our car!”
Ray shouted to Osbourne, “You hear that, you thieving bastard?”
“You got it backwards. Cost for
my service is damned reasonable, considerin’ the situation. Got your license
number to see I get it, too. Cheap at twice the price, Mister Crowe!”
This was a scam, plain and
simple. The dwarves at the Rainbow knew about their car accident, saw the
opportunity for a little finder’s fee from old Whitey Osbourne. Those ugly
Smurfs probably laid in wait for strangers to visit their roach motel,
anticipating some kick-back from Osbourne’s towing and repair services. If
Dove’s Tail’s Sheriff proved anything like its other residents, the mechanic
was right, and likely he and Judith wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.
Ray did the only thing he could
do. He paid the bastard. Cash.
Here it was late morning, and
the couple stood together shivering in the snow with no car, no dog, no money,
and no plan. Judith nudged her cheek against Ray’s and whispered, “Here’s my
idea. We check out some local real estate and just settle here.”
“‘No defeat, no surrender,
okay?’ That’s Springsteen talking.”
“‘We’re fucked big
time.’ That’s me talking.”
The road conditions had
worsened. Thick snow squalls reduced the roadway to a barely visible path no
sane driver would attempt maneuvering. Hungry, cold, and tired, the couple
headed further West expecting at least to find a farm house, but by noon Judith
stopped in her tracks. Her face had turned sickly pale and Ray thought it might
be frostbite -- he was feeling pretty numb himself -- but it wasn’t that. She
said only “Look” and pointed far down the road to the familiar sign shaking
with the strong gusts.
RAI B W MO
“That’s impossible! We went West
from the shop...we went West! How can we be back here?”
a good question, Ray. A very good
question. But it doesn’t much matter how, since we’re back where we started.”
“Don’t go blaming
me for all this.
You couldn’t wait to get away from our home. It would be good for our marriage,
right? This weekend getaway was more your idea than mine.”
“It was Dr. Phil’s. But thanks
for the guilt trip.”
Ray knew when to backpedal.
“Let’s not do this, okay?”
“You have the snow globe in your
coat. We should have another look, don’t you think? Maybe this time we’ll find
ourselves trapped inside it freezing to death.”
Ray had forgotten he carried
that souvenir of the Rainbow Motel. They looked into the globe for whatever
nightmarish new image might appear next to make this vacation complete, perhaps
the battered Ellie Grimm digging herself from the snow drift to return like
some staggering ghoul seeking blood revenge. But there was nothing to see
inside the globe except for a murky fog. No Rainbow Motel, no falling snow,
nothing. Judith’s expression turned textbook bat shit.
“I’m hungry, I’m
freezing, and I’m scared. We’ve lost
Ray held her. “Not everything.
The important stuff is right here.”
He knew she was trying to
connect the same dots he was unable to, wrestling with events of the past few
hours as if tackling some complex mathematical equation. Experiencing the
incomprehensible didn’t mean you had to accept it, but somehow you had to go on
living your life as if things made sense even if deep down you knew they
“Something’s familiar about this
town, Ray. It’s been driving me crazy, but I’ve almost got it.”
The shrieking bird things were
back in the grey sky. Judith watched them. They were frightening looking
creatures, whatever they were, but Judith didn’t seem frightened of them.
Huddled close to her husband, she spoke as if sharing a kids’ campfire
“So...there’s this couple gets
lost in a blizzard, and while in some strange place they run over an old woman.
And there’s this older sister and she’s pissed, so she steals their dog. This
couple, they take some useless journey because two dwarves tell them only one
guy can get them back home away from this terrible place they’re in. But he
doesn’t. No, he’s interested only in scaring the bejeezus out of them for some
hush money. So, they have to find the way out themselves using their wits. But
here’s the punch line. There is no way out, because their story isn’t
the same as another similar story -- their story is real, and in real stories
the good guys don’t always win. Need to hear more? Are you seeing what I’m
talking about, Ray?”
He didn’t have a clue. Since
planting Ellie Grimm in that snow bank, he wasn’t even sure if they were the
good guys any more.
“Judith, we’re a couple
strangers surrounded by some backwoods crazies in just another Pennsylvania
small town with a ridiculous name. Shit is happening we don’t get, but things
happen all the time that people can’t explain. Maybe those damned poppies last
night fucked with our heads and we’re still asleep at the motel right now
sharing some gonzo opium nightmare together.
Maybe we’re sharing some incredible high like a pair of 60’s acid
“The poppies. Yes, there’s that
too.” Judith turned her attention to the
skies again. “The poppies, and those things flying around up there. It all adds
“You’re making some kind of
“Oh, hell yes! You’re a betting
man, aren’t you, Ray? I’ll bet there’s
something very freaky beneath this snow here, something that’s been here the
whole time but we couldn’t see. You think this is maybe some hippie dippy drug
trip? I’ll show you a trip!” She kicked some of the drift from the road;
impatient, she went on her knees and dug through the snow until her fingers
turned raw. A chunk of road surface
showed. Judith laughed and dug some more. “I knew it! I just knew it! Look,
He was wrong. He understood that
at once. Judith had connected the dots, all right. What he saw made no sense,
but it was real and that was all that mattered. No opium high here, but like
the famous expression went, they weren’t in Kansas anymore.
...because the snow covered road
they had been following all morning was made of yellow bricks.
The shrieks from the clouds grew
louder, but they were closer now, and Ray saw these weren’t birds swooping
towards them. The flying creatures had arms, legs, and they were carrying
On her feet again, Judith
watched the sky. “This is our shared nightmare, Ray. But I don’t think we’ll be
waking up.” Her eyes went to the glass
sphere in her husband’s hand. The fog inside was lifting. “Look!”
The snow globe changed again, a fuzzy
image forming within an ashen green glow. The face of a warted hag appeared.
Held captive in her bony arms Toro struggled weakly. This had to be Nessa Grimm,
and she spoke while cackling like a
“Just try to stay out of my way,
just try, you fuckers! I’ve got your dog and I’ll get you too!”
The threat wasn’t how Ray
remembered it, but it was proof enough. Tossing the globe as far as he could
throw it, he watched it explode like a grenade in the snow. He half expected
the entire town to disintegrate that same moment and felt mild disappointed
that it didn’t. But there was a plot working here, and they had to follow it.
He pulled his wife close.
“You were right. God help us,
you were right...”
A spear landed in the snow at
his feet. Another flew past his shoulder. From above came an insane chorus of
monkey shrieks and a rain of more spears.
“I think—I think you should say
the words now, Judith. You know them. Everybody in the civilized world knows
“But this isn’t that place,
we’re not in some storybook tale. We’re in Dove’s Tail Pennsylvania, a town
named after a bird’s ass.”
Another hailstorm of spears
circled them. The screeching was much louder. And nearer.
“You have to say those words
we’ll die in a town named
after a bird’s ass.”
His wife’s unexpected tear made
no sense, but why should it? Nothing else in this place did. Or, maybe it was
part of the plot too, the last part.
“Do you understand any of this,
Ray. I mean--why here, in this place?”
He wiped her tear, kissed her. He
knew it had to be quick. “Asked and
She offered him her best
smile. “All right, my darling husband,
I’ll say the words you want me to say.”
Ray hadn’t heard her call him
that in a long time, but he liked hearing it. He stroked her hair.
She took his hand, held it to
her heart. He liked that too.
Judith said the words.
Jebediah Albrecht turned to
his wife and
appeared troubled. They had been watching as another couple lay upon adjoining
cots in a bedroom inside the family’s farm home. The bandages had quelled some
of the bleeding, but surely there was internal damage to both the man and his
woman. Jeb stroked his thick beard.
“Lucky we heard that vehicle go
through the rail from here. They’re in bad shape, these two. Get some more warm
towels, would you, Rebekah? Not much else we can do ‘til help arrives.”
The Amish woman did as she was
told. She put a kettle of potato soup on just in case, but she doubted either
of their visitors would be having it.
Returning to her husband she
found Jebediah shaking his head. “Ain’t no
hospital exceptin’ in Lancaster,
and that’s too far from Mercytown to do these people much good. Not in this
storm, certainly. I had Cleon make the call anyway.” He patted the whining
German Shepherd at his feet. “Glad we were at least able to save their dog.
I.D. on his collar says his name’s Toro. So you’re Toro, are ya boy?”
The dog had not left the young
couple since they had arrived.
“Best we can do is keep these
people comfortable, I suppose,” Rebekah said. “That motor car was near tore in
half. Could’ve stayed in these woods for
days ‘fore anyone found them. So many accidents on that motorway, makes you
wonder why folks on the outside use it.”
For only a moment the
semi-conscious pair on the two cots stirred, each turning toward the other, the
woman’s arm twitching as if she were trying to reach out. Maybe it was some
sort of miracle, but if that were so, it seemed a minor one.
“You might think these poor
people right now are sharin’ their thoughts,” Jeb added. “I guess it would be
comforting to them if they were.”
Rebekah nodded. “What this young
woman said before...I suppose she didn’t have her wits about her.” Their
visitor had moments earlier mumbled the only thing the Amish pair had heard
either of the two utter, but she had said the words over and over.
“Not so strange, when you think
about it ‘Bekah. I’m certain home is
where this poor woman and her mister would prefer bein’ right now. Ain’t no
place like it, as she said.”
Moving closer to the woman’s
face Rebekah swabbed the warm towel across her forehead. She whispered as if
sharing a secret, “My husband is a good
man who will do what he can, I promise you. I am told that in ancient Canaan
his given name, Jebediah, means wizard. Of course, that foreign place is not
our way of life, but perhaps knowing this may give your spirit strength.”
Jebediah had been watching his
wife. “Would you sing, Rebekah? That
song you sang before? Perhaps it will do them some good.”
“Certainly, Jeb. I will.”
Rebekah‘s tune was soft,
soothing. It seemed to fit, and she hoped this poor couple could hear it.
Jebediah Albrecht listened as
his wife sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Ken Goldman, former
Philadelphia teacher of English and Film
Studies, is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. He has
homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. His stories
have appeared in over 910 independent press publications in the U.S.,
Canada, the UK, and Australia with over thirty due for publication
in 2020. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The
Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written six books : three anthologies
of short stories, YOU HAD ME AT ARRGH!! (Sam's Dot Publishers), DONNY DOESN’T
LIVE HERE ANYMORE (A/A Productions) and STAR-CROSSED (Vampires 2); and a
novella, DESIREE, (Damnation Books). His first novel OF A FEATHER
(Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014. SINKHOLE, his second
novel, was published by Bloodshot Books August 2017. Ken looks forward to the
day he and Stephen King are called to the dais, and someone asks, "Who is
that guy standing next to Ken Goldman?"