When It Rains, It PoursbyAll by myself©
The first time I saw him was after a play downtown. It was storming quite badly, the kind that tend to render your windshield wipers useless. My wife and I were in the car on the way home, both of us grumpy because we were wet and uncomfortable. The play was good, but we were eager to pick up baby Kylie from her grandma's house. Maybe a little too eager. I was slouched down in my seat trying to drive by looking through the inch and a half dent my heater made through the fog on my windshield.
"Can't you wait five minutes for the heater to work? You're gonna get us killed," Jenny said, her arms crossed beneath her breasts. She looked amusing sitting there like that, water dripping down the front of her nose, her teeth chattering just a little as she rubbed her arms trying to warm herself. She also looked beautiful.
"I want to get Kylie before it gets any worse," I said. Knowing of course that she was right, and at the same time knowing that I wouldn't stop for a second for the heater to work.
"You're such a man."
I looked at her and saw a smirk try to leave the corner of her mouth. I caught her eyes with mine and smiled. She smiled back and I could see the dimples on her cheeks. And then she screamed. My foot was on the brake before I saw the dog in front of the car, but it was too late. I felt the thud of the front tire on her side hitting the dog, then the back one. When we were finally stopped I turned to Jenny and saw that she was crying.
"Stay in here," I said as I put on the hazard lights. When I reached the back of the car, I saw that there was an old man in a trench coat and a cowboy hat bent over the dead dog. The dog was an odd mix; I couldn't figure the breed, but it was big. Anyhow, when the guy saw me standing there he grinned. It didn't look right. Maybe it was the reflection of the yellow lights from my car on his face, but that grin didn't look right at all.
"Hey mister, is that your dog?"
Nothing. No reply.
"It's real slick. I couldn't see him till we were right on top of him."
The man just stared back at me. His grin faded at least, and I was grateful.
"How can I fix this? Can I call someone for you?" I asked, hoping desperately for him to reply. I just wanted him to say anything. But he didn't. He just stared back at me, the rain bouncing off the top of his hat, his eyes darting back and forth like a kid that's been caught with his hand in a cookie jar. The silence was awful. The two of us just stood there like that for the better part of a minute. After deciding the old man wasn't going to speak to me, I turned to walk back to my car. When I was almost to the door I decided that I probably should at least try to give the man my card, should he at some point find the power of speech. I turned back toward the rear of the car and… he was gone. Just like that. I looked all over for him. I looked in the field beside the car; across the highway; even underneath the car. By the time I stopped looking for him I was soaked, and my wife -I could tell- was worrying.
"Where's he at?" she asked, after I was back in the car.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I can't find him."
"Well it is hard to see outside with all this rain. I guess it wouldn't be too hard to get away from us if he wanted to, but what about the dog?"
Oh yeah, the dog. I'd forgotten about that. I grudgingly got out of the car to do -I don't know what- with the dog, when I realized that the dog wasn't there either. In my mind's eye I saw an old man outside in the storm with a big mutt slung over his shoulder, and cringed. I shook my head and got back into the car. What else was there to do?
"The dog's gone too," I said as I buckled my belt.
She didn't reply, and that was good. That was real good. I knew she had a dozen questions about what happened, but so did I, and I think she knew that. Marriage is a sort of telepathy, and I think she knew that I didn't have a clue what had just gone on in that storm. Just as I knew, simply by the crease in her brow, that she wanted nothing more than to be as far away from this place as possible.
I called Jenny's mother and asked her to keep the baby for the night. I'm not sure why I didn't feel comfortable having baby Kylie with us. I guess I was more shook up than I wanted to admit. Her mom didn't mind; I'm sure most grandma's don't.
Jenny and I shared a late dinner that night in silence, both of us picking at our food without an appetite. She broke the silence with a whisper.
"Who was that man?"
"I don't know," I replied with that same hushed tone. As though whispering we could lessen the import of the conversation.
"I can still see his face."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"When you went outside he looked at me through the back window. I don't know how he could have. It was dark and raining, but he did. He looked straight at me, and when I close my eyes, sometimes I can still see his face."
"It's ok," I said, knowing of course that it wasn't. As the silence spun out between us I thought about the patch of blood that was already being washed away by the rain where the body of that dog should've been. That man just wasn't normal. Who takes the corpse of a dog and runs into a storm with it?
"He took the dog with him didn't he?" Jenny asked. Her eyes were welling up with tears now, and she returned to her stilted whisper.
"What did you see?"
"When you started back towards the car he looked straight at me and grinned. Then he bent over the dog and-"
"I dunno. I couldn't see below his waist because of the back of his car, and when he bent over I couldn't see anything."
"Nothing at all?"
"Not a thing," she replied.
But she was lying. I'd have bet my life that she was lying. Her voice stayed steady, the inflection didn't change a bit. She didn't look away from me or anything like that, but I could almost smell it. Why would she do that? Why would my best friend in the world lie to me about an old man in a cowboy hat?
After that the conversation was dropped, and we ate in silence as the storm raged outside. I had no intention of calling her on her little fib, and I'm pretty sure she was grateful for that. Both of us using that low grade ESP again. We left the dishes for the morning and she said that she was heading up to bed.
"Honey are you coming?" she asked. Her brow was furrowed to the point of being comical under other circumstances.
"I'll be up in a minute. I'm just going to lock up."
I nodded and headed to the front door, locked it and went to turn off the kitchen light. The sink was dripping the way old sinks do if you don't make sure and twist the handle real good. Jenny never did, so it wasn't a surprise to hear the drip of the water in the stainless steel sink. I looked out the window above the sink, half expecting to see that old man carrying a dog over one of his shoulders, but of course there was nothing there. Only the rain pounding the window and the wind swirling the early October leaves around the yard. I reached for the kitchen light and saw that a carton of milk was left on the counter. I reached to put it in the fridge -Jen would die if there was no milk for cereal- and just then lightening struck and illuminated a shadow on the wall across from the window.
It's a tree, I thought. It's a tree or a branch or something like that. C'mon, give me a break. I whipped around to face the window and saw nothing. I couldn't see outside because it was so dark there and bright in the house, so I turned off the kitchen light and stood in the darkness. Lightening flashed again and there he was. The man in the hat was outside my window. My throat tightened and I couldn't breath as I stood watching him leer at me through the window. I expected him to cup his hands around his eyes to look in the house. He couldn't have seen inside with rain like that. Except he could. I remembered my wife saying that he looked at her through the back window of the car, and now I understood. The man in the hat smiled at me, and I saw his teeth. They looked as though they had been filed down to a point. All of them. He tipped his hat -bidding me goodnight perhaps- turned, and walked away toward the now empty barley field opposite of our house. I watched him walk away and began to breath again. I don't know how long I stood there, my eyes fixed on the window.
"That didn't just happen," I said aloud to the empty room. "There's no way."
Sure there is.
Concentrating on the sound of my breathing, I took the stairs two at a time, not sure what I would say to Jenny.
As it turned out that wasn't a problem. She was passed out in bed, her body making the funny U shape only women seem to be able to accomplish. Her head and feet were on the edge of her side of the bed, but her butt was where mine should be on my side. I smiled at her, the old man already fading like a dream upon waking.
Maybe I didn't see him. There's no way to be totally sure, I thought. And then, Sure I did. My hands are still shaking for the love of God.
These were the thoughts in my head as I grabbed my wife's little butt and pushed. She was moving but it was slow work. Also, she was moaning the way she does when she's between worlds. That moan drives me crazy. When I was finally in bed (her rump secured not quite on her side but close enough for me to at least fit on the bed) I put my hands behind my head and closed my eyes, listening to the soft snores from the pillow next to me. The old man's face came to mind, with his crazy grin and fangs. I turned and put my arm around my wife's waist, feeling the softness of her stomach and the indentation of her belly button. In her sleep she reached and clasped my hand in hers, and I gave up the day. Our hands moving up and down with her lungs, the scent of her hair filling my nose.
The next morning seemed normal, for the most part at least. We woke up early and showered together. It was the first time since baby Kylie that that had been possible, and I was glad for the opportunity. Both of us were eager to get to her mother's house and see the little one, but a little alone time helped us out a lot. The previous night's escapades seemed more like a dream than ever. Just some weird aberration not unlike the people you see in the periphery that don't seem to be there when you look full on them. Still, I wasn't exactly comfortable with the previous night's goings on, but I wasn't about to bring it up to the little lady. Not when her smile was so broad and her eyes so shiny. So I simply didn't bring it up. In hindsight I don't know how much -if at all- that decision affected things, but it's one of the things that keep me up at night. The casual way I dismissed the old man seem strange now, but so do a lot of things.
Anyhow, we made to her mother's a little past noon and just about knocked grandma over to get to the munchkin. Remember, that was our first night away from little Kylie. She was our little angel, just looking up at us as though it hadn't been nearly twenty hours since we'd last seen her. Jenny was beaming, holding Kylie up to her face and planting kisses all over. I made small talk with my mother-in-law, not really listening, just putting in a uh huh every once in awhile while gazing at my wife and our daughter.
Twenty minutes later we were in the car, all of us buckled up. Kylie was in her car seat, the one we took down to the fire station to have looked at to make sure it was right for our car. I found the trip to be unnecessary, by my Jenny saw it on Oprah, so it behooved me to go along. One of things I've figured out in my five years of marital bliss is that when my wife suggests something she sees to be important to the welfare of her offspring, it's a relatively large mistake to contradict her. No matter how ridiculous it seems, like barring the use of generic formula for the baby (although on the side of the box the ingredients are exactly the same and I'm only paying for the fat little face on the front), or like taking a trip to the fire station so a three hundred pound man dressed in glow-in-the-dark yellow can teach me how to strap in a car seat.
Anyhow, it was Saturday when we picked Kylie up from her grandma's and our little family was on the road with no particular place to be until Monday. We spent the majority of the afternoon at a park south of town, just the three of us laying on a blanket, me making funny faces trying to get a smile out of the little one, and Jenny holding her, gently rocking her back and forth, shushing her when she was crying and smiling when she was laughing. Jenny said she needed to go to the mall to pick up some things, maybe buy a dress. When she said the last part she bit her bottom lip and furrowed her brow, looking for approval I guess.
"Sure," I said, "Let's go."
And we did. We went all over that mall. I was ready to leave long before she was, as is usually the case, but this time I really didn't mind. I was just happy to be having a normal day I guess. The previous one was so otherworldly that I guess I was just happy to be with my wife and daughter. Even if we were in a hot sticky mall.
"I can still see him," she had said.
Walking to the car as the sun was setting I thought about her saying that. How her eyes were wide like that of a child's. How her teeth were chattering in spite of the warmth of our home. I thought about how she had lied to me, and about how I'd let her get away with it.
It didn't begin to rain until we were already on the highway. Only 'rain' is not a strong enough word for it. It was storming worse than the night before; I could barely see the road in front of me. The wind was whipping around terribly and I could already see tree branches scattered along the road. There's a stretch of highway that has about seven miles between exits, and that's where we were when I realized that the low fuel light was on. There was no way to tell how long that thing had been blinking. It's just one of those things you don't pay to much attention to. I pointed it out to Jenny and she was quite a bit short of thrilled about it.
"What's wrong with you?" She said, shaking her head.
"What are you talking about? I just wasn't paying attention. It'll be fine. We have about five miles to go until an exit. Chill out."
She opened her mouth to say something, found nothing, and closed it again. We continued down the highway in silence until the car shut off. At first I kind of coasted for awhile, watching the speedometer move from the right to the left, and trying not to hear my wife cry with her face in her hands next to me. I pulled over to the side of the road and put my flashers on. I think I scanned the outside of the car without realizing it, and then I turned to look at my wife. She was rocking back and forth with her hands still over her face, crying and shaking her head in defiance. Maybe defying the storm, or maybe defying me. Perhaps it was a little of both, but either way I was intent on getting out of there in a hurry.
I unbuckled my belt and reached to touch Jenny's arm, but she pulled away from me.
"Just take care of Kylie," I said. "I'll try to flag someone down to help us."
"Please hurry. I can't take this anymore," she said as she grabbed my arm. Her hands were ice cold, and when I looked at her face I saw that she looked probably twenty years older than she had when she started the day. I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the shoulder wishing I had some kind of raincoat on as the rain soaked through my clothes completely in a matter of thirty seconds. I saw a truck and waived my arms furiously, yelling at it to stop, please stop. My family's in the car, and we're out of gas. I knew, of course, that I couldn't be heard, but sometimes it helps to just yell. The truck pulled over and I was glad. Finally something was going right. The man in the truck opened his door and climbed out. I opened my mouth to thank him for stopping, but nothing came out. It was him. It was the man in the cowboy hat. He was grinning that half sane grin, and I could see the pointed tips of his teeth resting on his lips.
"Well, how goes it?" the man asked. It was the first time I heard him speak, and I wanted to cry out. If there is a tone that can -in and of itself- define crazy, then it was in his voice. Perhaps crazy isn't the word I want, because there was a cold calculation in his eyes, but it's as close to true as anything I can come up with. Even now as I pen this, remembering the sound of his voice sends shivers down my spine.
"Well perhaps if you won't speak to me I'll ask your wife."
"What do you want?" I asked.
"You… or her, or the little one, it really doesn't matter all that much to me."
"What do you mean?"
"Hungry? What do you-"
"Do you have to ask? Honestly I'm growing impatient. I do despise killing, but there seems to be no way around it. I simply have to eat, and waiting around for road kill simply takes much too long, and to tell you the truth tastes less than fresh."
I swung at him before the last of his words were completely out of his mouth and struck him square on the chin. He just laughed at me. I grabbed him, and he bit me. Before I even knew it had happened I was bleeding from my right bicep. There was a piece of my muscle gone from my arm and it happened so fast that I saw the flesh leave my body before I could feel it. I looked up and saw it hanging from his teeth.
"Yum," he said.
I fell to the ground bleeding like a stuck pig, and he just continued on, speaking as though we were old friends talking about who we liked in the Final Four this year.
"Now that that bit of unpleasantness is out of the way, I need to speak to you about your family." He motioned to the car and I could see my wife sitting with Kylie in her lap, rocking back and forth, crying into the blanket that held our daughter.
"Please, they're all I have. What do you want?"
"Dinner, sir. I simply want a meal, and it's your job to provide me with one."
I looked down at my arm, watching the rain wash the blood to the ground, fell to my knees, and began to cry. I'd like to tell you differently. I'd like to say that I pulled a McGuyver and got us all out of there safe and sound, but I've been honest with you so far, and if I don't finish it that way then what's the point of this little exercise.
"Listen up," the old man said, "I do detest putting you in this situation, and I do understand that it's quite unfortunate, but there's no alternative. Choose one for my supper."
"Oh sure you can. It's quite easy. You can do eenie meenie miney moe if you'd like, but the reason I'm asking is that I'm sure you have a preference."
I was barely holding on to consciousness at that point. I looked down and saw that I'd lost a lot of blood. It covered my shirt and most of my pants too in spite of the rain. He must've hit some kind of artery or something.
"Stay with me young sir. It would be quite disappointing if you passed out on me with the current situation unresolved. Choose someone, I can take you if you'd like, but I'd appreciate it if you chose. It's always much more interesting this way."
I reached up and grabbed his arm. He looked startled at first, but then relaxed when I whispered into his ear.
"Fantastic choice young sir. You have excellent taste."
He said more, but it was a blur. I think I lost consciousness because of the blood loss, but I'm not sure.
When I awoke I was in the hospital. My arm was bandaged up. It itched like mad, but other than that I think I was ok. I asked the first person I saw about my wife.
"She's being looked at," some intern that was barely old enough to shave said.
"I want to see her now!" I began screaming her name. They tried to calm me and couldn't, so they sedated me.