A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 11

Hank rolled out of bed a while later and meandered into the kitchen.

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Things take a turn for the worse in Hank's neighborhood. ... Image via Wikipedia

“Got anything to eat?” he said.

“It’s Sunday night: fend for yourself. You know that.”

“Alright. No need to get grouchy.”

Darrell made as if to say something, then shook his head and went back to his crossword puzzle.

Hank began foraging in the fridge. “Where’s Junior?”

“We had an argument about an hour ago and he stormed outta here–”

Hank whirled around. “What?!” He stormed towards the door. “What were you thinking?”

“Hank, where are you going?”

“We gotta find him.”

“Hank!” Hank stopped in the doorway. “He’s in his room.”

Hank relaxed, then came inside and shut the door. “You said–”

“He just went out in the backyard for a while, then came inside. What’s going on?”

“I, uh … I thought you meant he ran away. He shouldn’t be going far by himself, with that bear on the loose. I just panicked. Sorry.”

“Okay.”

“So, uh, what did you guys argue about?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Alright.” Hank went back to fridge, then grazed the kitchen cupboards.

“You know what,” said Darrell, bolting up from the couch, “I actually would like to talk about it.”

“Alright. Shoot.”

Darrell sighed, looked down. “Wade noticed that you were being really quiet this weekend, I said it probably had to do with all this bear stuff … and he said he thinks you should be over it by now – your run-in with the bear, that is.”

Hank looked as though he’d just eaten something bitter. He looked away from Darrell, eyes shifting aimlessly. “He … really said that?”

“Yeah.” He searched for something more to say. “But I don’t think he really meant it, Hank. I think he’s just frustrated – with his report, you know, and I think everything we’ve been doing with Sara may have put some added pressure on him – her being one of his teachers, you know? It’s just a lot for him, all at once. You know how teenagers are.”

“Yeah. I remember.”

“So, uh … you’re okay?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

Hank went back to the kitchen counter, worked on a sandwich. Sliced ham. Tomatoes. Onions.

I should be over it.

Mayo, lettuce.

Yeah. Right.

* * *

Early Monday evening found the Daleys sitting around Darrell’s kitchen table for supper. Hank and Wade had said almost nothing to each other.

“Was Miss Kremshaw there again today?” said Darrell.

“Yup,” said Wade. “She seems to be back to her old self – better, actually. I mean, she was always nice, but now she seems … happy.”

Darrell tried to catch Hank’s eye, but Hank’s head was bowed over his plate.

“So, uh, you guys goin’ hikin’ or campin’ this weekend?” said Darrell.

Neither responded right away.

“Don’t know,” said Hank at last. “Might be puttin’ in some overtime this weekend.”

* * *

Elsewhere that evening, Clyde Pullen rested in his big green armchair. He’d been so busy that he was just now getting a chance to read the new Gazette that had come out two days before. After scanning the front page, he went straight to the obituaries. Below them was a list of the last month’s land transactions; Clyde read through it, shaking his head at one of the names: “Vernon Pillsbury, Billings, Montana, renewal of logging permit for Foster’s Mountain.”

People from away. Wish they’d stay away.

* * *

After dozing off and on for a while, Hank at last fell into a deep sleep around midnight – a sleep so deep that he never heard the sirens of the ambulance and sheriff’s car that whizzed by his house. It wasn’t until he got to the mill the next morning that he heard the news, from one of his co-workers.

“Quite a commotion up near your place last night, Hank.”

“I slept like a log. What happened?”

“Oh. You didn’t hear? Molly Laske was killed.”

“What?”

“One of the neighbors found her out by her back porch … all tore up.”

A wave of dread fluttered through Hank.

“Sheriff says it’s the bear again. I don’t believe him, though.”

Hank struggled to speak, and to act normal. “No?”

“Uh-uh. I think it’s a mountain lion. I saw on the news that they’re startin’ to make a comeback in other states; I figure it’s prob’ly happenin’ here too.”

Hank nodded absently.

Too bad you’re both wrong.

* * *

Hank somehow made it through the first half of the workday, but at lunchtime he found his boss and told him he was going home, didn’t feel well. He left, headed for home, but he drove past his house. A half mile up the road he pulled into the driveway of 26-year-old Molly Laske’s house, shut off the truck and sat there for a minute. No one was there, just him and the thought of her.

After some amount of time – Hank didn’t know how much, didn’t care – he eased himself out of his truck, closed the door and stood on the gravel for a few moments, every sound he made seeming ten times louder than normal, the air so tense he thought it would snap.

He moved across the driveway, towards the house – crunch, crunch, crunch – his eyes shifting. Soon the back porch came into view, along with yellow police tape. He crept ahead, resting one hand against the side of the porch; he was now almost to the corner, around which he would see … who knows what.

He felt as though he was about to fall apart: His heart beat harder than it ever had – harder than during any of his grueling hikes, harder than he thought it safe to do – and he trembled as though an earthquake was passing under his feet. He shivered. When he was a step away from the corner, he stopped.

Keep going, something told him.

He breathed deep and then rounded the porch.

The grass near the steps was all dug up, but there was no body.

Of course not, thought Hank. It’s already been taken care of.

He loosened a little, began to breathe easier. He ducked under the tape to get a closer look. All those marks on the ground … She put up more of a fight than the animals did.

He saw blood on the bottom step, as well as what looked like scratch marks. He knelt for a better view; Hank saw four scratch lines in the wood. His face blanched.

He leaned over, putting his face within inches of the step. The wood was rough in places, and on one of the splinters hung a small piece of flesh – human flesh.

Hank leaned back and sank to the ground. His eyes wandered, fixing on nothing, his face stretched with grief. His mouth hung open, but no words came out at first, only the slightest breathing. He swallowed hard, then began shaking his head. At last he closed his eyes, and he could no longer hold back the sobs.

“I’m sorry, Molly.”

 * * *

Darrell didn’t hear about Molly until just after lunchtime, when the school secretary called to explain why they’d be letting the kids out early that day – for counseling and all that. Darrell managed to tell her that he’d be down soon to pick up Wade and thanked her, but after hanging up the phone he could only sit in silent thought, unmoving, for several minutes.

Molly Laske. … She was just a kid. Twenty-six. … I remember when she used to deliver our paper. … Maybe it is a bear. A person killing animals is one thing, but killing a girl, like Molly? … Has to be a bear. No other animal could do it. … Hank. Hank’s gonna be really upset. I hope he doesn’t do anything stupid. I’d better get ahold of him.

Darrell called the sawmill, but Hank’s boss said Hank had gone home sick at lunchtime.

I’ve gotta get over there.

Darrell snatched up his truck keys and flew out the door.

* * *

Hank was back at his place, wandering around the front yard. It soon grew old, though, so he went around to his backyard. More pacing, more impatience, then he decided to have a seat on his deck. Built off the back of his house, it offered a great view of the woods behind. Hank spent a lot of summer evenings sitting there, enjoying the fruit of his labor and admiring the trees. Those things were far from his mind at the moment, but at least he had a place to sit and think, out in the open air.

After awhile he grew thirsty. He went to the back door, fished the keys out of his pocket, flipped through them looking for the right one, but his fingers seemed numb from cold, even though it was 75 outside. The keys slipped from his hand and fell at his feet. As he bent down to get them, an image flashed in his mind: Him bending down to pick up Clyde’s key and seeing the footprint – the six-clawed footprint. He glanced up now, as he was reaching for his keys, and on the door were scratch marks, lots of them – in groups of six.

He went motionless, taking his time eyeballing the periphery. Then he turned, nice and easy, scanning the reaches of his backyard.

All clear. He checked the knob on the door. Locked.

Must’ve been here last night.

Molly popped into his mind, Molly the pleasant neighbor girl who had never hurt anyone, who didn’t deserve to die when and how she had.

Hank’s body started to shake again, and his heart was pounding hard like before, but something else was happening this time as well: An anger stirred in Hank’s heart, and a sense of urgency. The combination was like a piledriver inside him, hitting him, pushing him, again and again and again, telling him to go, go, the time is now.

He unlocked the door and marched through his house into his bedroom, where he grabbed a shotgun, a rifle and ammo out of his gun cabinet, along with his backpack, which he always kept ready for spur-of-the-moment camping trips with Wade. Seeing the bag, thoughts of his nephew intruded, thoughts of what Wade said about him … about what it meant. Wade, his only nephew, and what had Hank ever taught him?

Hefting his burdens, he went out the back, locked the door and piled into his truck. He gunned it out of the driveway and towards town, never looking back.

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