Terror in the Snowstorm Ch. 02bywantsomefun1951©
I wrote this story and originally submitted it to another site. I have made a few slight revisions to the story before posting it here. Enjoy!
Author's note: If you're into wham-bam-thank-you-mam stories, this isn't one of them. It's an extremely long story, and you should really read my "Terror in the Snowstorm -- Part 1" story first to learn how the characters got to this point. Thank you for your indulgence. Comments are welcome, constructive criticisms will be much appreciated.
As we started through the deep snow on the lane leading from Zeke and Merle’s cabin to the hard road, I could see the fire rapidly growing inside the cabin, through the cracked rearview mirror of Zeke’s Jeep. I knew that poor, murdered Merle’s body was being cremated, and that his brother, Zeke, was being roasted alive. The horror of the entire situation, Zeke’s attempted rape of Tara, his brutal murder of his brother Merle (who Zeke had called Ox, to make fun of his immense size and strength, along with his obviously limited mental ability), my wounding Zeke with his own gun, and Tara’s decision to torch their cabin with Zeke inside, alive, but disabled by his wounds, nearly overwhelmed me.
I could barely drive through the deep snow, torn between the urge to cry openly from my terror and exhaustion, to be physically ill, or to pray to God to thank Him for sparing us and to beg forgiveness for our own guilt at having killed a defenseless man, even though the man had proven himself to be nearly the devil incarnate. Looking over at Tara, who had actually been the one to cause Zeke’s death, didn’t help me. She was sitting stiffly in her seat, staring straight ahead through dead-looking eyes, her face frozen into an unreadable mask.
When we reached the hard road, I turned toward home, hoping that Zeke’s monster Jeep would be able to get us through the deep snowdrifts and over the trees that had been blown down during the worst of the storm. We crawled along at a steady but slow pace, finally reaching Tara’s wrecked car, which is where our whole nightmare had begun. I stopped the Jeep I had stolen from Zeke so we could retrieve Tara’s purse and luggage, along with my duffle bag from my truck, all of which had been left behind when Zeke and Merle had kidnapped us. Tara was silent and expressionless the whole time. When we had gotten back in the Jeep and resumed our slow progress toward home, she broke the silence.
“I killed a man, Seth. I burned him alive. He would have raped me if poor Merle hadn’t stopped him. He would have killed us both when he was done using my body. He laughed as he murdered his own brother. He deserved to die. He was a monster. We could have escaped after you wounded him, but I killed him. What happens now? Am I a murderer? Am I any better than he was? Will I go to prison? Will I go to Hell for this? Worse still, will I have dragged you down with me?” She began to sob quietly, pitifully, tucking herself into almost a fetal position on the seat next to me.
I drove in silence, not knowing what to say to her. My emotions were so mixed up that I couldn’t decide if she was, in fact, a cold-blooded killer, or if her actions could be excused by the inconceivable horror of the entire situation and the mortal fear that Zeke had caused in both of us. I had shot the bastard twice, but I was at peace with that. I had been prepared to empty his gun into him just to prevent him from raping Tara, but I had been tied up and could not get my hands free.
After Merle had attacked Zeke to stop him just as he had been ready to begin raping Tara, she had untied me and I had grabbed the gun, but I didn’t fire it. When Zeke had overpowered Merle and had killed him, I threatened Zeke with the gun. Zeke lunged at me with the same fireplace poker he had used to murder his brother, so I shot him twice to disable him. I was prepared to take Tara and flee the scene, knowing that Zeke would probably have bled to death before we could have sent police and medical personnel to his cabin, but I was comfortable with that. His death would, technically, have been at my hands, but I felt that, morally and legally, it was a killing in self-defense and in the defense of another. Tara’s dumping moonshine and kerosene all over him, knowing that it would trickle toward the fireplace and incinerate him alive was, perhaps, another matter.
The miles passed slowly on the drifted, tree- and branch-strewn woodland road. Tara and I were each lost in our own agonized thoughts. As we passed through the small town where I assumed Zeke and Merle had sold their hides and moonshine, I was acutely aware that we would have been seen as fugitives from justice if the stolen Jeep we were driving were recognized, but no one seemed to see us as we crept through the dark town. When we were back in the woods moving toward our home towns, Tara finally spoke again.
“Seth, stop the Jeep. Find a place to pull over and stop. We need to talk.”
I saw an abandoned gas station, and stopped behind it, hidden from the road. I stopped the engine and turned the lights out.
“Seth, should we call the fire department? What if the cabin has started a forest fire?”
“I think that’s pretty unlikely, Tara. There’s so much snow out here that the likelihood of the fire spreading is almost nothing. The cabin will probably burn to the ground, but it’s so isolated that no one may even have spotted the fire. When someone finally does find it, all they’ll find is two badly charred bodies in the rubble. Even if they find the bullet wounds in Zeke, there will be no way to know who fired the gun. All our fingerprints will have been destroyed by the fire. They’ll probably figure that mean old Zeke finally pushed his brother too hard, that they fought, and killed each other. If they really investigate, they’ll find the broken moonshine jug and the kerosene lamp, which will probably have been broken when the roof fell in, and they’ll assume the fire was accidental.”
“Should we go to the police and tell them what happened?” Tara asked.
“That’s your call, Tara. I understand why Zeke had to die. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I will abide by whatever decision you make. If you feel you need to tell your story to the authorities, you may be able to justify your actions and avoid any trouble. You may also be able to get your father to use his influence to help you or to get you the legal help you may need. But really, I think that the only evidence of us having been in that cabin will have been destroyed by the fire.
I continued, "Our vehicles are abandoned at least two miles from the cabin, and the storm has covered any footprints and tire tracks that would show that we were picked up and taken to the cabin in the first place. We can come up with a story about having been picked up by some kind-hearted stranger who dropped us near one of our homes. The only problem that I can see is that we’re driving Zeke’s Jeep.”
“Oh, no, Seth! You’re right, the Jeep will incriminate us. Even if we abandon it, it will be found. People will wonder why it isn’t at the cabin if Zeke and Merle are. We’re still incriminated!” Sara moaned.
“It doesn’t have to be found,” I said. “Through the garage I work at, I’ve learned of a few, shall we say, interesting people who could make it disappear permanently. If I can get the Jeep to them before it’s spotted, we should be home free. The disappearance of the Jeep from the cabin will probably make people suspect that Zeke and Merle didn’t kill each other. They’ll assume that a third party was involved, but with Merle’s description of Zeke’s behavior, it’s not hard to believe that he may have made enough enemies in his life to have given someone a reason to kill him and steal his Jeep.”
Tara was fumbling in her purse for her phone. “Damn, I still don’t have reception. Get back on the road and head for home. As soon as I can, I’ll call my Dad. Even though his law practice is corporate, he knows a lot of people. Discrete people. Influential people. Some pretty disreputable people too. I remember that one of his clients was rumored to have some questionable business interests in some companies that were suspected to be silent backers of some car theft rings and chop shops. Let’s drive straight to my house. Daddy may have some ideas of how to get rid of this car without any trace leading back to us.”
It was about eighty miles from Zeke’s cabin to Tara’s house. The storm was over now. We emerged from the wooded, hilly area into a stretch of flatter farm-land. Apparently, the winds had been much milder here, since there was little drifting, and the snow was only about a foot deep. This was easy going for Zeke’s mountain-man Jeep, but we were the only vehicle moving. Even the snowplows hadn’t yet gotten to this country road. It was about 3am when Tara was finally able to call her house.
Her Dad answered on the first ring. “Daddy, it’s Tara. I’m safe and on the way home. A friend of mine from school is driving me to the house. We should be there in less than two hours. But Daddy, we need your help. Something really bad happened, but I won’t tell you about it on the phone. I need to discuss it with you face to face. Part of the problem is the vehicle we’re driving. It doesn’t belong to either of us. Daddy, listen to me. It’s a long story, but this vehicle has to be hidden. What? Yes Daddy, we took it. Daddy, stop yelling at me! I’m sorry, but I have to tell you the whole story for you to understand. Please, Daddy, please don’t yell at me! I’ll explain everything when we get home. I need your help. Should we drive straight to the house, or do you have someplace else to park it? Daddy, I know, I know, but please, you have to help me. I’ll explain everything when we get home. OK, we’ll just keep heading for home while I wait for you to call me back. I love you, Daddy.” She closed her phone.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He’s way pissed, but I could tell he’s scared for me, too. Daddy and I love and respect each other. He knows I would never be in a stolen car without a damn good reason. He’s making phone calls right now. He said he’d call me back within the hour to tell us whether to head home or to go somewhere else to hide the car and get picked up.”
I figured that, at the rate we were going, it would take at least an hour and a half to get to the part of Tara's town where I believed she lived. Even if we drove straight to her house, it would still be dark, which would make it less likely that we would be seen. Besides, I was pretty sure Zeke’s Jeep had never been this close to real civilization.
We drove in silence for a long time, still not seeing a soul. The ring of Tara’s cell was startlingly loud. “Daddy? We’re about 5 miles from home. Uh-huh, yes, I can find the place. Yes, I can give Seth directions to get there. OK, third overhead door from the left on the back of the building. The man will bring us to our house? OK, we’ll tell you the whole story when we get home. Thank you, Daddy. And thank you for believing in me. I know you’ll understand when you hear what happened. I love you, Daddy.”
With Tara’s directions, we made our way to a run-down warehouse district. A gate was open in the rusty chain link fence, and a single set of tire tracks led to the back of the building. We drove inside and stopped the Jeep. The overhead door closed behind us and we were in the dark. Suddenly, lights came on, and we could see a man walking toward us. We got out of the Jeep as he approached.
“Get all of your possessions out and follow me,” he said. We walked behind him, and he opened a pedestrian door to the outside, leading us toward an SUV. He loaded our stuff in the back, opened the back door for us, and motioned us to get inside. Without a word, he got in and drove us through the gate we had used to enter the property.
Immediately, several snow plows came around the corner, drove through the gate, and began to remove the tire tracks made by Zeke’s Jeep and the SUV we were in. In silence, the man drove us to Tara’s house. He drove to the back of the house, actually a huge mansion, and we were immediately met by a man in a vest and tie, who hurried us into the back entrance and took our outerwear.
“Miss, Suzette and I will get your things and your friend’s things from the driver. Sir, my name is Lawrence. I am the butler. Suzette is the maid, whom you may happen to meet later. Miss, your parents are in your father’s study. If I may be so forward, I must inform you that they are not in a good mood.”
I had never been inside a house anything like this. I couldn’t help gawking at the sheer size of the place and the luxury of the furnishings as we walked. Tara said, “Let me do all the talking. Please don’t say anything unless my parents or I ask you to. And for God’s sake, quit looking like an awe-struck tourist!”
Tara opened one of the double doors into her father’s study, and I walked in behind her. Her father was an imposing-looking man, immaculately dressed in an expensive-looking suit, even at 5 in the morning. He was sitting behind a massive oak desk when we entered the room. Her mother, a stunning woman who must have been close to fifty years old, also expensively dressed, was sitting in a large leather chair next to the desk. Her father said, “We’re listening, young lady. We need to know exactly what happened. And who the hell is this?”
“Daddy, Mom, this is Seth Johnson, a friend of mine from college. Seth, my father, Joshua Hawthorne, III and my mother, Amanda Hawthorne, MD.”
In a very clipped and stern tone, Tara’s father said, “Sit down, Seth. You too, Tara. I can hardly wait to hear your excuse for having stolen a car!”
Tara told her parents the whole story, leaving almost nothing out. The only thing she didn’t explain was what the relationship had been between us on campus. As she spoke, her parents listened intently, stopping her several times to get her to clarify some details. The longer Tara talked, the less angry and more concerned her parents seemed to be. At the end of Tara’s story, they stood up and went over to Tara. She stood up, and they grabbed her, hugging her tightly and kissing her hair. “My poor baby girl,” her father said quietly. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you. I just thank God you’re safe here at home.” Her mother, dabbing her eyes with a hankie, said, “We love you, honey. We’ll do everything we can to make sure that you’re protected. You did nothing wrong. You did what you had to do.”
Her father turned to me. “Son,” he said, taking my hand in both of his, “I don’t know how to thank you for everything you did to try to protect my little girl. You’re a very brave and fine young man. My wife and I are forever in your debt.”
Tara’s mother came over to me, looked deep into my eyes, and then threw her arms around my neck and hugged me. She started to cry, holding me tight. “Thank you for being there for our baby. She is very lucky to have a friend as wonderful as you.” After a few moments, she pulled away and stood next to her husband, holding his hand tightly.
Tara’s father said, “You two must be exhausted. Tara, Suzette has unpacked your things and drawn you a bath. Seth, I will ring Lawrence. He has put your things into one of the guest rooms and has furnished the bathroom with anything you should need to be able to freshen up from your ordeal. I have a number of items to attend to regarding this matter. Suzette and Lawrence will call you in time for you to have lunch at one this afternoon. Hopefully, I will be able to put your minds at ease about the difficult details of this situation when my wife and I join you for the meal. Oh, and Seth, give Lawrence your parents’ phone number, so he may call them to let them know you are all right and will be staying the day and evening with us. He will only tell them that you had difficulty with the storm and are at a friend’s family’s house. You can call them this afternoon to tell them whatever else you want them to know.”
Lawrence knocked on my door at noon. By the time I had gotten showered and changed into the silk pajamas Lawrence had provided for me, I was so exhausted that I had simply collapsed on the king-sized bed in my suite. I felt like I had been asleep for only a few minutes when Lawrence’s polite knock sounded on my door. “What is it?” I said through my fog.
Lawrence answered through the door, “Mr. Hawthorne instructed me to wake you at noon, sir. May I come in to assist you, sir?”
“Sure, come on in, Lawrence, though I don’t know what help I would need, other than to get my sorry ass out of bed.”
“Sir,” Lawrence replied, “I will gladly help you to your feet if you so desire. However, what I had really intended to assist you with is selection of your attire for your late luncheon with the Hawthornes.” As he came into the room, he pulled behind him a large, wheeled clothes rack with three sport coat and dress slacks combinations, two suits, a variety of shirts and ties, five pairs of shoes, and numerous packages of underwear and socks.
“What’s all this, Lawrence?”
“Sir, in the Hawthorne household, everyone dresses appropriately when a guest is invited for a meal. I spoke to Dr. Hawthorne, since I knew you had only casual clothing with you, and she instructed me to have some items delivered in your size. I do hope you will find them to you liking. For breakfast, it is appropriate to wear a simple shirt and slacks. Luncheon usually calls for a sport coat and tie. At dinnertime, a proper suit is usually expected. If you would not mind, I will select a luncheon ensemble which I believe will be pleasing to you and will make the proper presentation to the family.”
Obviously, I really didn’t know how the other half lived. The clothes all looked great, but way out of my league. “Knock yourself out Lawrence. My usual clothing selection involves jeans and a t-shirt. Pick out something you think will look good. I’m going to grab a shower and a shave.”
“Excellent, sir. I shall return in ten minutes to assist you in your clothing selection.”
When I came out of the bathroom, having showered and shaved with the supplies Lawrence had set out before I had gone to bed, he was waiting in the bedroom. “You look refreshed, sir. Are you feeling well?”
“Lawrence, I’d feel a lot better with about eight hours more sleep. But, I’m anxious to hear more about what Tara’s Mom and Dad have to say about what happened to us. Also, I’m hungry as hell. What do you think I should wear for lunch?”
“Sir, may I suggest the ensemble I have laid out on the bed? If I may offer my opinion, these clothes have a casually dressy appearance which should be well received by the Hawthorne’s.”
I dressed as Lawrence puttered about the suite, replacing the used towels in the bathroom, and hanging my other new clothes in a closet. He brought in all the clothes that had been in my duffle bag, but which were now laundered and pressed, and put them away neatly in dresser drawers. When I was ready to put on my necktie, he said, “I would gladly assist you with that if you like, sir.”
“Sure, that would be great, Lawrence.”
When he was done, I put on the sport coat. “You look fabulous sir!” Lawrence said. “Please take a look in the wardrobe mirror.”
I checked my appearance in the mirror and had to agree. “How did you manage to get clothes for me that fit me this well?” I asked.
“Sir, I used to be co-owner of an exclusive men’s clothing store in town. My contribution to the business had been my sense of style and my eye for fit. My partner’s contribution had been primarily his business acumen. Mr. Hawthorne had become a steady customer of ours, and purchased virtually all of his clothing from us. When my partner had succeeded in siphoning off most of the money from the business and had absconded with the funds, leaving me to face bankruptcy, liquidation of the business, and financial ruin, Mr. Hawthorne invited me and my wife Suzette to come to work for him as his butler and maid. We have been in his employ for nearly fifteen years.”