CHAPTER 1 - DEATH COMES AT THE BEGINNING
Harold tugged at the old door. It creaked and pulled back, opening.
The huge, oncoming hand holding a mammoth meat cleaver came at him from out of the darkness of the closet like an express train.
Harold managed a half-scream, a bleat of horror and astonishment, as the cleaver came down, imbedding itself in his chest like the hammer of God. Or the Devil. Or maybe both.
His scream mingled incongruously with the laughter issuing from the TV set that Edna was watching in the living room behind him.
The hand twisted the cleaver in a vicious, merciless circle. Harold’s chest exploded in flame and agony. And death.
His punchy body toppled backwards, crashing to the floor.
The meat cleaver jutted from his chest like a tombstone.
Edna heard the crash from the other room where she sat. She turned off the television set was a frown and a habitual sign. Clumsy Harold again. The man was all thumbs all the time!
When no answer came, she left her seat on the couch and went to the bathroom door. It would not budge when she pushed against it. At her feet, she saw fluid seeping out from underneath the door. She stooped, dipped her finger in the stuff, and sniffed. The toilet was no flushing inside and it didn’t stop the way it should have, as if someone had left their hand on the lever. “Harold, what’s taking you so long in there? You all right?”
Her nose had already provided her with some kind of answer even if Harold hadn’t. He had been hitting the bottle again!
“Whiskey. I thought so.” She grimly told herself.
She walked back to the desk in the living room, found the skeleton key she had placed there for emergencies such as this and hurried back to the door. But before she could insert it, to her shock she now found the bathroom door opened a crack. A tiny crack, but it was open. For a moment, she was nonplussed.
“Harold. . .?”
Gingerly, she edged the door inward. It swung wide, revealing the boxes, the crates, the dusty curtain.
The flushing noise was continuing unabated, a roaring Niagara.
Almost reflexively, she stooped to pick up the half-empty whiskey bottle. Then she turned toward the maddening sound of the toilet, to confront Harold with the damaging evidence of the bottle.
She screamed at the sight of Harold sitting on the toilet just behind the angled door, a Harold she had never seen before.
Harold, with his pants down, like a grotesque dummy of some kind, something red drooling out of the corners of his mouth, two twin streams of crimson. The meat cleaver thrust outward from his chest. One of Harold’s elbows was jammed against the flushing handle of the toilet tank.
Harold’s dead, sightless eyes were like two bits of broken glass.
The whiskey bottle feel from Edna’s senseless fingers. It hit the floor and shattered, scattering shining shards.
Edna began to scream uncontrollably. From somewhere behind her, the huge hand rematerialize. It did not hold a meat cleaver this time. It held the long, missing, knitting needle.
The hand drove the needle directly into the back of Edna’s skull with such force and strength that the striking end pushed out through her screaming mouth, all in one lightning-like movement.
Edna was gagging on her own blood as she died on the floor without ever knowing why.
Death walked in Pinehurst County again, for the ninth and tenth time in a matter of days.
Two days, to be exact.
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CHAPTER 2 - THE MAD STRANGER
“Hey! The van’s on fire!”
Indeed it was. White smoke, rising and spreading, was coming out of the windows of the van. Soon the entire vehicle was engulfed, or at least seemed to be. The assorted luggage lashed to the top of the red van was now lost from view. Chris let out a yelp and bounded down the stoop. The others followed in varying degrees of intensity. IN a body, they raced to the smoking van. Andy was the first to reach it, the complete athlete. He jerked open the door on the passenger side.
Chris hurled herself at the driver’s door, doing the same thing.
Thick, acrid smoke issued from the windows of the van now. It was difficult to breathe much less see. But the trouble was soon detected and it was just about what Andy and Chris had expected, given the two people they had left behind in the van. Chuck and Chili were not exactly the most dependable, reliable citizens in the universe. No way, man!
They could have been Cheech and Chong look-alikes except for the fact that Chuck was a boy and Chili a girl. Together, however, they were just as wacky and far-out. Left alone, they could be counted on to gum things up or at the very least, cause some kind of trouble, as they had now.
They were sprawled in the back of the van, squatting on the floor, each puffing away like crazy on a bong filled with marijuana. Each had a stereo headset plugged into their very own Sony Walkman portable cassette players. Each was tuned out of the real world and tuned into their own private heaves, those Could Nines they always visited when they started to smoke grass. Dreamy-eyed, contented, they both turned grinning but indifferent faces as Chris and Andy put in an angry appearance.
All Chris and Andy could do was exchange glances, the kind that so clearly says, without words, I should have known.
As they well should have. Chuck and his Chili or Chili and her Chuck were as totally irresponsible as children in a candy store unguarded by personnel. Left alone, they were capable of anything – like setting themselves and the red van on fire.
“Com on,” Chris ordered briskly. “Let’s get this show on the road before any Smokey’s get here and break up our party.”
Nothing must break up or interfere with the glorious weekend she had planned for herself and the gang up at the Haven – Higgins Haven.
Not even the Crystal Lake Killer – or Killers.
Chili and her boyfriend Chuck continued to suck and puff away at the bong which was rather like a Turkish water pipe, only without the water, as Chris so desperately put the red van in gear while the others did all they could to dispel and thin out the offending smoke.
The red van, trailing white smoke like a plume, barreled on out of the working class neighborhood, passing the stickball-players who set up a raucous hoot of derision as the vehicle swept on by. The seven young people were now ready for a great weekend.
And perhaps a great adventure.
The morning was still young as the red van, piloted expertly by Chris, sped along the empty rural highway. The New England countryside, a picture postcard of rolling low hills and verdant forests, was an almost changeless panorama. Chris had never tired of the view, in spite of all her problems. Mother Nature was like some lush harlot, advertising her wares for all to see. Chris grinned at the mental image this gave her. The driver’s side window was open and the wind blowing in whipped her flaxen hair about her face. The only other seat in the van was the passenger seat. Andy held this one down, accommodating a willing Debbie on his strong lap. Hello, Young Lovers!
Andy yawned. “How much further to the cottage?”
“We could’ve been there already,” Chris flung a mocking glance at Debbie, “if some people didn’t have to go to the bathroom every five minutes!”
Debbie scowled and took the defensive. “Oh year? Well, just hope that you never get pregnant, ‘cause all you do all the time is piss!”
The red van reached the crest of a gentle hill. Debbie hit Andy’s ear as Chris changed gears, readying for a long slide down the ribbon of highway which pointed toward a high wall of seemingly endless trees. The overhead sun was a yellow balloon in the blue sky.
At that moment, murder, slaughter and massacre were only words in a dictionary.
In the rear of the red van, Chili and Chuck lay sprawled on the floor involved in some very serious matters, like taking inventory of their supplies of Funny Stuff – joints and bags of marijuana. Shelly sat cross-legged closer to the back of the van. Directly opposite his pudgy form was Vera Sanchez. She also squatted but her long legs were wide open in an enticing V of femininity. Yet her gaze and attention were not on Shelly. The dark eyes were dreamily absorbed in the blue sky and the treetops racing by the prism of the back window. Shelly had been unable to take his eyes off her. Her body was far too sexy. There was too much pleasure in roving your eyes over girlie-goodies so close at hand.
Vera was all too aware of his scrutiny and the mental rape he was perpetrating. As she turned her head quickly at one point she caught his hungry eyes fastened on her surging breasts. To cover up, Shelly averted his eyes and looked in Chuck’s direction – he was lighting up another of his joints, inhaling it and then handing it to Chili, who took it as if it were manna from heaven. Which it certainly was for the likes of Chuck and Chili.
Shelly could not conceal his disgust. “Is that all you two are gonna do this weekend. . . smoke dope?”
Chuck’s eyebrows raised in mild surprise at such a question. “Why not, man? Is there a law against it?”
“There are better things to do with your life.”
“Like what?” The statement had confused Chuck.
Chili exhaled after a long intake on the joint. “ I can’t think of anything,” she confessed cheerfully. Shrugging, she tried to pass the cigarette to Shelly. He declined with a wave of both hands. Chili then offered it to Vera Sanchez.
“Sure, why not?” Vera agreed and came forward on her hands and knees to receive the offering. As she managed that, she inadvertently thrust her shapely posterior almost full into Shelly’s face. He made no attempt to retreat. Actually, he reveled in the closeness of such charms.
Vera puffed tentatively on the joint.
“Is this stuff any good?”
“Home grown, man!” Chuck chortled with pride. “Of course it’s good. You think we mess with junk?”
Chili’s drugged face smiled sleepily.
“And it’s good for you, too. Strictly organic. No preservatives, man”
The aroma of good grass wafted toward the front of the vehicle. Andy’s nostrils got the message. He shifted Debbie on his lap and craned his neck around. “Hey. Share the wealth with those less fortunate up front here.” Vera nodded happily and passed the joint along.
Shelly was now rummaging through a small black suitcase of warn leather, a relic of a suitcase. Vera, her curiosity aroused, asked, “What d’ya got in there?”
Shelly looked very secretive before he answered. “My whole world,” he said slyly.
“In that little thing?” She was incredulous and skeptical, too.
“Stick around,” Shelly said mysteriously, “and you’ll see.”
Vera Sanchez had no use for mysteries, especially from fat, ungroovy guys. She turned away and went back to her contemplation of the rear window. More blue sky and more high trees were rushing by.
Abruptly, there came the all too familiar whine of keen sirens. There was no mistaking that sound. Police noises. Vera scrambled erect and quickly spotted the pair of cruisers with lights flashing, now in pursuit of the red van. Smokey was hot on the trail.
“Oh, oh,” Vera sang out. “Better hid the grass. It’s the cops!”
Chris’s side view mirror had given her the bad news already.
“Oh, no,” she murmured unhappily. Andy and Debbie tensed up.
Shelly looked out the back window glumly. “What’re we gonna do?”
“Destroy the evidence,” Vera exclaimed. “Pronto!”
Chuck’s echo of those words was pure shock. “Destroy the evidence? No, man!”
Chili, the slightly more sensible of the two, stared him dead in the dazed eyes. “Yes, man!”
Everyone exchanged worried glances. The siren sound was getting nearer and a lot louder. Vera was oddly amused by the situation and not at all alarmed. Her dark eyes twinkled. But without a word and with simultaneous precision. Chili and Chuck began to stuff loose grass and joints into their mouths. “Come on,” Chuck urged, his jaws full. “Dig in”
Andy, reaching around Debbie toward a bag of the stuff, seized it grudgingly. “Aw, shit!”
He began to chew as diligently as Chuck and Chili were doing. Vera grinned and joined in. The police siren was blasting.
More bags were passed around to Chris and Debbie. Andy did the dispensing. “Here, eat,” he commanded brown-haired Debbie. She shook her head at him. “No way. We’re pregnant, remember?”
Chris demurred too. “Try me some other time. I’m driving.”
“Breakfast,” Andy signed, chomping vigorously. The sirens’ wail was like an air raid now. Chili leaned toward Chris, frantically. “You better step on it! Or we’re heading for the last lock-up!”
Chris stepped on the pedal. The van picked up speed, but the police cruisers thundered on, narrowing the gap.
Chili, Chuck, Andy and Vera’s cheeks were filled to capacity at that point. The dope was going down in huge amounts. Their faces were beginning to turn awesome shades of green. They couldn’t eat fast enough. Only Shelly had not joined in the feast. He was hugging his odd black suitcase, keeping his eyes peeled through the rear glass window.
“Faster!” he bellowed. “Faster!”
Vera angrily thrust a fistful of grass at him. “Why don’t you help us, big mouth?”
“Uh-” His reluctance was all too apparent. “I guess I’m just not hungry.”
“You’re always hungry!” Andy shouted around a mouthful of dope.
Shelly’s face twitched at that, but to appease everyone, he began to nibble on the marijuana held out to him in Vera’s hands.
Chris, blinking furiously, cried out. “They’re too close. I gotta pull the van over. Hurry up and swallow! And everybody just be cool.”
With that, she cut the van over, easing to the side of the highway, slowing down to a full stop. She thrust her head from the side window, to watch the cops arrive. But much to her astonishment and the surprise of everyone else, the twin police cruisers, flashers swirling like mad, barreled on by the van like released rockets. Dumbly, Chris saw them get smaller and smaller in the distance. And then the sight and the sounds were gone. Chris blinked again, in confusion and wonder.
Andy let out a huff of a belch. “I think I’m going to be sick,” he said and put his hands to his stomach.
A huge collective sigh went up all over the van, more for regret of the destruction of so much good grass rather than the near-miss of a bust by the police. Vera, doubled over, groaned aloud. “The line forms at the rear, Handsome”
Chuck, dazed and glazed and utterly unhappy now, made his declaration to them all with full vocal inflection and dismay. “I’m gonna be sicker than all of you, man. Now I gotta spend the whole weekend totally straight!” He buried his face in his hands. “I don’t think I can make it, man!”
Chili touched his shoulder gently. Her eyes held a curious smile.
“Chuck. . .look.”
Slowly, she unbuttoned her blouse. Everyone was looking at her now. They saw her fingers reach down inside of her bra but instead of her full breasts emerging into view, out came a good-sized plastic bag of marijuana. Chuck’s lower jaw dropped foolishly. “Not now, man,” he had begun to say, thinking she had sex on her mind, but then came the miracle of revelation. His big grin almost split his face in two.
“I’m a slow eater,” Chili explained.
Chuck whooped in delight, throwing his arms around her in an excess of love, relief and praise.
“I love you, man!” he blurted, showering her with kisses on the mouth, cheeks, nose and eyes and neck. Everybody laughed again.
The near-miss with the cops and the grass had been just another adventure, another excitement, all part of living and being young people.
None of them could know what lay on the road just ahead. How could they?
The twin police cruisers were just finding out for the first time. About what happened at Harold and Edna’s.
To Harold and Edna, that is.
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CHAPTER 2 - THE MAD STRANGER
Everyone could see the body of a man lying directly in the road, only inches from the nose of the van. They all scrambled out for a closer look at the figure that lay like an old bundle of dirty laundry flung down in their path. Chris stared down at him numbly. The others all ringed around in an anxious circle. Everything was happening on this trip, or so it seemed.
The incredible figure lying on the ground was a withered old man with long stringy hair and white whiskers like a Santa Claus, an ancient, bony bundle of flesh outfitted in baggy, shapeless clothes of some kind. A duffle bag incongruously over seventy. None of them had ever seen anyone so old.
The old coot’s eyes were closed. Either he was sleeping – or he was dead. Chris shook herself. “I must have been daydreaming. I didn’t even see him!”
Chuck, crouching for a closer look, chuckled. “Hey, you know he looks just like my grandfather, man.”
Debbie shuddered. “Is he dead?”
Andy negated that. “Nah-just some old bum catching forty winks.”
Vera smiled. “Maybe he’s Rip Van Winkle?”
Before anyone could think of doing something positive, the apparition laying on the ground opened its eyes, eyes of a marvelous hue and depth. Everyone took a step back. The eyes focused on Debbie’s lovely face. “I must be in Heaven,” the old man said in a remarkably vibrant and clear voice as everyone stooped to help him up.
Shelly recoiled at that. “Don’t touch him! You don’t know where he’s been!”
Now, the old man tottered erect under his own power, though his legs seemed wobbly and uncertain. The luminous eyes swept over all the young faces encircling him. His smile through the full beard was warm. There was an aura about him, too. Strange lights danced in those damnable eyes of his.
“You are, all of you,” he intoned with grand eloquence, “very kind and generous young people to lend a helping hand to a tired old man. Thank you very much.” He began to dust himself off as if his rags were the finest of garments. “Perhaps I can repay your kindness.”
His civilized manner of speaking coupled with his shabby appearance made them all exchange glances and expressions of curious wonder.
“My name is Abel, young people. And I am my brother’s keeper.”
He reached down into the duffle bag and rummaged. They could only look on and wait for his next words. “I have something very important to show all of you.” Chris tensed, inexplicably. Debbie caught the action and took her hand, squeezing it for comfort and assurance. But all the group was watchful and guarded. You never could tell with dippy old men you met in the woods.
Abel produced a tiny bundle from the bag, something small, wrapped up in a scrap of some kind of cloth.
“Look what his Grace has brought me,” Abel proclaimed.
He unwrapped the object, holding it in the palm of his old hand, right in front of Shelly’s face. For a moment, Shelly could not recognize the small, slimy, white oblong thing.
“What is that?” Shelly winced.
Able smiled with all the beatific splendor of a holy man who has seen the Light, or Diogenes finding an honest man.
“I found this today. There were other pieces of the body lying there, but I believed that He wanted me to find this.”
The blood drained from Shelly’s face as his brain told him what his eyes were actually seeing in the old man’s withered hand. He drew back, his pudgy face showing fright.
“That’s an eyeball!” he shouted. “Oh, God!”
Abel’s smile only grew wider. He looked at the rest of the group.
“He wanted me to warn you. Look at this-all of you!”
The command was accompanied by an extension of the long bony arm and the hand holding the eyeball for all to see. For an eyeball it was.
They shrunk from him in a body, all of them. Chris, Debbie, Vera, Andy, Chili and Chuck cringed at the awful sight. Chris could feel her heart trying to climb out of her chest. Her eyes blinked uncontrollably. Old visions and horrors from the past danced in her mind.
“See,” Abel intoned solemnly, advancing on all of them, “with your own eyes what I have seen. Run away! Go back to where you came from! Now, my children!”
Fire and brimstone raged in his eyes. His voice had taken on volumes of doom and death. That was all any of them needed. With a rush and an almost unified bleat of terror, they whirled and raced back to the red van. Chris was in the lead, afraid to look back, too frightened to think any longer about what Able and his awesome object might mean. She had the van’s engine throbbing with life almost before Andy, the last one in, could settle down and slam the passenger door. A human eye-God!
Abel, tall, withered, old and terrible, stood in the center of the roadway, holding the eyeball straight out as the van quickly backed away from him and roared onward along the narrow dirt road.
“I WARNED YOU!” he bellowed.
The red van gathered speed and rocketed out of sight. Chris did not look back. She couldn’t. She was afraid to see the Angel of Death standing on that dirt road, pointing an accusing finger in her direction, like a dirty old man.
The others did not look back, either.
Abel was the very last straw of a very busy, overloaded morning. And he was in no way to start a pleasant weekend vacation. No way, man! As Chuck might have succinctly expressed it.
None of them could wait to get to Higgins Haven now, no matter what was waiting for them there. Anything was better then a nutty old man with an eyeball for company. Geezis! How loony could you get?
Chris, Andy, Debbie, Vera, Shelly, Chili and Chuck had no way of knowing that they were all about to find out that hardest way just exactly how loony things could get.
The Crystal Lake maniac was a long way from done, and all the hounds of Hell were fathering at Higgins Haven.
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CHAPTER 3 - GIVE HIM THE AXE!
The mutilated corpses of Harry and Edna had left a pall of horror over the police station. Veteran officers, despite the recent spate of slaughters, were once again asking each other, “What’s going on in this town? Who the hell is doing these things? And are we never going to be able to stop him-them?”
Nobody had the answers to those questions, least of all the chief of police.
When the coroner left his office with the ultimate autopsy verdict and the chief was alone with his thoughts, all he could do was stare out the big windows at the waning sunlight and wonder if this crime wave would cost him his job, as it very well could. And might.
Election time was coming up again in the fall. And Pinehurst County would be just like any other community when it came to expressing their dissatisfaction with the police chief who couldn’t get the job done. The chief of police let out an enormous tired sigh, but one single thought was paramount in his troubled mind.
This kind of thing had happened before. Oh, had it ever!
Dead, butchered bodies lying all over the countryside. Those murders were still unsolved, still open on the books. And if this were the same maniac and/or maniacs—the chief of police shuddered. Suddenly, his office was a very cold place to sit and his police chief’s chair uncomfortable.
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CHAPTER 5 - THE NIGHT VISITORS
The moon had come out now, shining plainly in the dark sky, shining down on a barn with three dead people in it, and one murderer.
A monster from the past called Jason.
Within the cozy walls of the cottage, the fireplace was going. Warmth had made the old house very comfortable. Chuck and Chili, left to themselves momentarily while Shelly and Vera were off somewhere, were almost at loss as to how to amuse themselves.
But Chuck’s lazy eyes always knew the solution ever at hand.
“Chili—how you feeling?”
“Check. Get us some nose candy and we’ll try for the moon.”
Dutifully, as she trotted off in search of some of their own particular brand of lightning, funny cigarettes and cocaine spoons. The bong was tucked away safely in their bedroom. Maniacs and murder sprees were the farthest thing from their minds. Death was for old folks, not young ones.
But the night ahead would prove them wrong.
There was a monster loose in their very midst.
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CHAPTER 6 - THE DARK REVEALS
Rising out of the shadowy waters, clad in a black Scuba suit and white faceless mask, was none other than Shelly, the practical joker One pudgy hand was curled around a spear-gun. When Shelly tugged the mask off and Vera saw his familiar face, the glare she gave him could have killed. She was also shocked speechless for a moment by the colossal stupidity of his jest.
“You’ve just learned a valuable lesson,’ he mocked her with solid scorn. ‘A beautiful girl like you should never go out in the dark alone.”
She found her voice, her gorge rising with it.
“Damn you, Shelly!”
She came at him, fists balled. He blanched, retreating.
“Why do you do these stupid things?”
“I have to,” he answered lamely.
“You don’t have to! Nobody does.”
“I just want you to like me.”
“I do like you. But not when you act like a jerk!”
“Being a jerk is better than being nothing.” His hurt tone softened her. She sighed, feeling futile.
“I never said you were nothing.”
“You don’t have to say it,” he challenged her “I can tell.”
Her eyes showed pity for him. “You’re wrong.”
He hung his head, unable to say anything more. He couldn’t face her, either He turned and trudged off towards the house. Vera Sanchez felt her maternal instincts rise. And her native simpatico always did her in. “Hey ...I’ll be in in a little while. We can talk some more.”
She couldn’t tell whether he had heard her or not.
When he reached the house, Shelly plumped down on the porch swing, defeated again. He was still clutching the mask and spear-gun. His mood was contemplative and self-pitying. He began slowly to rock back and forth. The taut metal chains that supported the swing vibrated and creaked in a steady, mechanical rhythm.
Shelly stared down at the lake revealed in the moonlight.
As for Vera, she was sitting on the dock’s edge again, her back to him.
He had to wonder, as he had since he first saw her, what it would be like to make love to a girl like Vera Sanchez. He was somehow certain he would never know.
It was then that he heard the animal-like cry emanating from the old barn, as if some creature were wounded or hurt. He roused himself. Coming to his feet, he thought he saw a large, shadowy figure cross in front of one of the windows. The cry sounded again.
Alarmed, he ran down the porch steps and headed for the barn on a dead run. His mask and spear-gun dangled at his side.
As soon as he got to the barn, he peered through the window anxiously It was too dark to see anything. He rapped on the window.
“Chuck? Chili? What’re you guys doing in there?”
Rumbling noises issued from within but there was nothing that sounded like an answer. He moved quickly to the barn doors and pried them open. Inside, he fumbled for the light switch in the dark.
“You guys doin’ somethin’ I shouldn’t see?”
Jocularity did not help. He was worried, realizing he hadn’t seen Chili and Chuck around. H e found the switch and flicked a finger. Upon the flooding of the interior with light, an owl flew toward him, zooming down from the upper loft. Shelly dropped the mask and his spear-gun, throwing up both hands to protect his face. The owl shot by him in a flash, whipping through the partially open barn doors. Shelly closed them quickly so the bird couldn’t get back in. Then he took a deep breath, his eyes shooting around the interior of the big old barn.
Now there were no more rumbling noises or sounds of any kind.
Slowly, watchfully Shelly stalked the barn. This time he held the spear-gun in both hands, ready for anything that might happen. More owls or— whatever.
Vera was pacing on the dock, trying to think. She stopped at the furthest edge, peering down into the water. A white object was floating by with a chuckle, she saw it was a woman’s bra. Debbie’s probably considering what she and Andy had been doing in the lake earlier that day Vera smirked, lay prone on the floorboards of the dock and grabbed the undergarment before it could sail by.
Leaning back on the dock again, she wrung out the soaked bra. As she did so, the wallet in the rear pocket of her jeans was nudged out of place by the heel of her boot beneath her buttocks. She picked it up. It was Shelly’s wallet, the one he had handed her at the liquor store.
For a second, she hesitated. Then with a little smile, she leafed through its contents. She found his driver’s license and a photograph of Shelly with a woman who had to be his mother. Then she heard a noise. She turned, embarrassed. Shelly was nowhere in sight. Nor was anyone else, for that matter She straightened up and once again, the wallet gave her trouble. Her hand knocked against a dock post and the wallet fell out of her grasp, bouncing off the platform into the waters of the lake. She saw it sink out of sight and her spirits went with it.
“That’s just great!” she said aloud to no one in particular.
Sighing, she took off her shoes and plunged into the water, diving after the billfold, hell, she owed that much to Shelly
She paddled around in the shallows, searching with her hands. Then she cut underwater, holding her breath, and looked further down. The water was dark and murky. She had to rise periodically to store up oxygen again. Now she submerged deeper than on her previous attempts. She had no idea how deep the water was here. But she had to go further out, too. The billfold was light and could have dropped further out as it sank. Air bubbles marked her progress. She wound up a good distance from shore, and she always came up empty-handed.
She couldn’t find the damn thing. What lousy luck!
On the dock, now as she looked back, she spied a dark figure. She could see the while mask and the spear-gun held aloft. She waved to the figure, shouting at the top of her voice, “Hey—I dropped your wallet! I’m sorry She began to swim back for the shore, giving up the hunt. The figure nodded, waiting. Poor Shelly—always a loser, she thought.
Using a smooth breast stoke, Vera reached the dock in no time at all. And lo and behold, barely two yards from the platform, she spotted the leather wallet, floating on the surface. She grabbed at it eagerly, happy at heart, treading water Then she held it triumphantly above her head for Shelly to see. “I found it!”
Vera reached the dock edge and looked up from the water, only to find the spear-gun leveled right at her head. She was literally looking up its barrel. The masked face above the gun was now something out of Nightmare Alley.
“What’re you doing.. . ?“ she began to murmur, shocked. And then utter panic took over all of her senses and reflexes. “Who are you?”
This couldn’t be Shelly. Shelly wouldn’t point his spear-gun at her.
She never heard the trigger depress, or heard the click of the powerful air propulsion.
The world exploded and kaleidoscoped with one roaring rush of violence. The barbed arrow, the deadly spear, penetrated swiftly into Vera’s skull, all in one lighting-like split second.
But even as her dying body sank beneath the waters of Crystal Lake, there was an expression of disbelief etched on her lovely face, frozen for nil time and all eternity.
Blood slowly seeped to the surface of the water. Red bubbles came up, too, tiny circles of death.
The monster known as Jason stared down for a long time at the place where she had submerged. His ragged breathing sounded more hoarsely than ever. It was so easy to kill once you got into the habit.. .
This had been perhaps the easiest kill of all.
But, like all the other victims, this one too had come to him, swimming to her own demise.
Jason turned from the docks edge and stared back toward the house. The light in the second floor bedroom window drew his fevered gaze. There was a lambent glow from that window, as though from candlelight and not electricity. Andy and Debbie’s room.
Huge, hulking Jason marched back to the house, the speargun hanging from his right hand like an executioner’s axe.
The night was still young and there was more work to be done.
There were still seven alive in Higgins 1louse.
The black ones did not count. They had been strangers.
Vera Sanchez had been the first to die of those who had come to the cottage for the weekend, the first out of eight young people.
Jason strode as swiftly and as silently as death toward the big old house half-hidden by the surrounding oak trees.
Only the full moon saw him.
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CHAPTER 7 - BLOOD BATH
Andy, walking upside-down with all his athletic, well-conditioned prowess, was whistling an off-key tune. But he was happy too. It was great to be young and in love and Debbie was a swell chick.
He did not see Jason’s hulking figure braced against the wall in the hallway corridor close to the entrance of the bedroom. Andy hand-walked right by him, only inches from his booted feet. His own whistling drowned out the coarse, ragged breathing of the massive maniac. Suddenly Debbie’s voice sang out from the bathroom again. “Andy are you still there?”
Andy had reached the head of the stairs.
He turned around deftly, still upright on his hands, pivoting at a one hundred eighty degree angle. It was then that he saw Jason’s boots. Surprised, he looked up. Jason was wearing Shelly’s awesome white mask, and the machete was poised above his head, high and deadly.
Before Andy could react, the glistening blade came down in a savage, powerful arc. The blade sliced through Andy’s upside-down body, literally halving him where he stood. The ghastly scream that bolted from the young man’s throat seemed to reverberate throughout the house as his mutilated remains toppled down the spiral staircase, bouncing and bumping all the way.
Jason retrieved the body. He moved like a silent wraith for so large a man. He dragged Andy’s halved corpse up the stairs. There was no indecision in the monster at all. He carried the corpse back into the bedroom, while Debbie was still showering.
With the water going full blast and the bathroom door closed, Debbie saw and heard nothing. She was rinsing her hair now. When she finally shut off the faucets, she felt like a million dollars.
Suddenly the silence from the bedroom struck her.
“Andy—are you there? You can have my beer. I don’t want it."
Humming, she wrapped herself in a terrycloth robe and swung the bathroom door open, to find the room quiet and untouched. Andy was nowhere in sight. Debbie shrugged and walked to the bedroom door. Opening it, she called down the stairs:
“Andy, don’t bring me a beer. Do you hear me?”
She stood at the door for a moment, listening.
Behind her, a huge shadow flitted silently across the room.
“Andy! Answer me! I hate when you do that. . .”
She slammed the bedroom door shut angrily Peeved at the absent Andy, she picked up the paperback novel lying on the end table by the bed. The Beast With The fled Hands, a shocker by Sidney Stuart. An old title but a goodie. She swung into the love hammock once more and made herself comfortable. She didn’t bother covering herself. The covers and blankets drooped to the floor. She settled in. The hammock swayed gently with her weight. She found her place in the book where the hero was undergoing his Jekyll and Hyde transformation and began to read. Her right hand indolently played with her damp brown hair.
Quite unexpectedly, from above her, a large drop of something fell, splattering all over the white pages of the book. Something red— blood? Alarmed, she touched the fluid with her fingertips, trying to think straight. “Blood. . .?” she asked herself.
Reflexively, her gaze swung upward to the ceiling.
The scream that started in her throat would not come out.
Her eyes could not blink.
Wrapped around the wooden rafters above her, was a mangled, bloodied, awful thing. It couldn’t be—it was. . . Andy!
Her mind rioted, her nerve-ends jangled. She tried to get up.
From beneath the arch of the hammock, hidden by the draping covers and blankets, a huge hand reached upward, buried itself in her damp brown hair and snapped her head back violently pinning her helplessly to the pillow. Now the scream started to come, welling in her throat, bursting for expression.
The carving knife that plunged into the hack of her neck and savaged on through her flesh, the point emerging from the front of her throat, was murderously effective. Splashing blood spurted all over Debbie’s horrified face. Her eyes were incredulous.
The curious, ragged, intense breathing filled the silence of the room. The bloody carving knife dripped.
Three down. Vera Sanchez, Andy and Debbie.
Five more to go. Chuck, Chili, Shelly, Derek and—Chris.
Jason’s awful shadow stalked across the floor of the bedroom.
The candles burning low made the room a scene from Hell.
With the moon for company and the darkened landscape yielding to the beam of the flashlight. Chris and Derek were still making their way back to the cottage. The road was rutted and twisting and treacherous. Derek found that out the hard way. An unseen pothole brought him down, twisting his ankle and making him fall forward, the flashlight dropping from his hand. Amazingly, he landed in the arms of a dark figure standing just before them. Derek gasped in surprise as the man clutched him. Strangers on a dark night are never exactly comforting.
But Chris, quick to act, retrieved the flashlight and turned it on the newcomer’s face and relaxed. It was the ancient hitchhiker of the morning, the raggedy, gaunt old bum who called himself Abel.
“What are you doing out here?” she demanded angrily
Derek regained his feet, his ankle tender but unbroken.
“You know this guy?”
“Sort of,” Chris admitted. “We ran into him today coming here in the van. He’s kind of—well, unusual.”
Abel’s whiskered face and burning eyes reacted to the glare of the flashlight. “I’m one of the Flock as are you, my brother and sister”
Derek made a face. “Yeah—sure—come on, Chris. I think we should be going.”
But the tall, ragged Abel blocked their path, raising his long arms as if in benediction. “I can’t let you go,” he declared.
“Look, old man,” Derek said, quietly. “We don’t want any trouble. Stand aside.”
“Then turn around, Brother, and walk away from trouble.”
Derek started to fume, thought better of it and took Chris’s arm. “Chris—let’s go.” He hobbled past the tall, gaunt Abel. Chris followed him without looking back. Abel, arms still raised and eyes burning with some inner conviction, solemnly intoned in a rising, cultured voice, “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil. . . .”
That made Chris look back, in spite of herself. She restrained a shudder. There was something about the old man that was not laughable at all. He sounded so damn sure of himself...
“Forget him,” Derek laughed. ‘The world is full of nuts like him. A loser, that’s what he is. And we’re not going to join him. Get me, Chris?”
“Got you, Derek.” She smiled and felt a lot better.
But, still—the old man sure put on a good act, didn’t he? Right out of the Bible, too.
Derek and Chris fumbled their way cottage, the flashlight guiding them with some help from that gorgeous moon overhead, and a skyful of stars.
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CHAPTER 11 - SCREAMS AND DREAMS
Jason raised the machete over his ugly head for the final execution. He moved into the barn, toward her shrinking figure, every inch and atom poised for this ultimate solution. The building wind, a ferocity of noise and visual violence now, swirled and eddied about him sweeping dust and litter and sanity away in its tumultuous path. The dark night behind him was a shroud of death.
Chris could only back away, farther and farther into the barn.
He came on relentlessly. His eyes were truly mad.
The machete raised higher.
She stepped back and stumbled, going down to the ground in a full sprawl. Curling his arm upward, Jason prepared for the downward stroke. Chris closed her eyes and waited.
All about the barn, the massacred, bloody corpses kept silent vigil, mute witnesses to the carnage that was to come.
Jason growled deep in his throat. His arm came down. The machete swished through the air.
And the dead came to life, if only for a little time.
Blood-soaked, dying Ali, still incredibly alive somehow, rose from the bloody ground and grabbed at Jason. Powerful arms locked about the giant’s neck and pulled him down. The machete was checked in its lethal descent. Chris heard the interruption. She opened her eyes, heart throbbing wildly.
But the dying Ali was no match for his murderer.
Almost gleefully, Jason swung the machete again. It came down on the black man’s wrist, chopping off an outstretched hand in one swift stroke. Straddling the dying man, Jason went at him with the machete, slashing away unmercifully. All died instantly this time, hardly aware of the nightmare he had awakened to. One last powerful thrust and Fox’s man was gone forever.
Then Jason turned his attention back to Chris, and got more than even he had ever bargained for.
While he had been busy with the black man, she had found a sickle, the only available weapon close at hand. She seized it with all the hatred and determination left in her aching, bruised, tortured body.
Jason looked up.
His eyes went wide with fear. For a moment, he almost looked human. But it was only an illusion.
Chris was running right at him, something shining in her hand.
It went aloft and came down with one vicious, swiping motion, and lopped the mad monster’s head off directly where his neck met his shoulders. Crimson and carmine and vermilion flowed.
The huge body flopped, thrashed and then did not move. It was still. This time it would not come back to life. It could not. The head lay a few feet away from the body, frozen-faced in death. The ugliness and grotesqueness of the face was monumental—a head for all museums that specialized in horror artifacts. A monster’s countenance. A ghoul’s.
But even in death, Jason had reached out for Chris.
The awful hands came at her from a headless body reaching out.
But he had finally toppled forever and for all time.
Backed against the wall of the stall, Chris stared down at the headless corpse at her feet. She was shaking again. She would never stop shaking.
She began to scream again. “No! Nooooo!”
The wild wind picked up the word and played with it, tossing it around gleefully, as it keened and whimpered in the blackness of the Crystal Lake night.
The night and the wind and the dark had truly won their victory their conquest of the living, and Death was the ruler of the cottage at Crystal Lake.
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CHAPTER 12 - ABEL'S PROPHECY
The sun was high in the sky and white fleecy clouds had that lamb-like look. All in all, a lovely day, despite the local murder spree which had taken over the countryside. There was little else to think about in the county these days.
In the master bedroom of the rustic cottage at Crystal Lake in Pinehurst County, Chris lay in a huge bed, the coverlet tucked up to her chin. Her eyes were blinking erratically from side to side. Her blonde hair lay in limp disarray on the pillow. The night had been hideous for her. She had slept the sleep of the mentally deranged, a fact the man standing at her bedside was quick to note. He was a doctor and somehow, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the old bedraggled bum of Chris’s yesterday—Abel, the whiskered weird one.
The doctor was holding a glass of water in one hand and a pill in the other. He handed both to Chris with a patient smile.
Blankly, she took the objects and used each of them as prescribed. Her brain would not rest. It was so easy to let others do her thinking for her. The door to the room opened softly. The sunlight streaming through the bedroom window reflected on a tall, burly man in police uniform. Chris blinked again. But she did recognize the chief of police of her town. A good man, a kind man. She had always liked him. But the doctor—about him she wasn’t too sure. When she handed the empty water glass to him, her distrust of the man was all too apparent. The police chief smiled warmly.
“Everything’s just fine now. All taken care of. Your parents are on their way. They should be here by early evening.”
The doctor who looked so much like Abel had taken her unprotesting wrist and was silently checking her pulse.
Chris stirred. Something was fighting inside her to be told. But it was all so confusing—the night, the memories. . .
“I asked you both before about my friends,” she quavered in a little girl’s voice. “I want to know. They’re all dead, aren’t they?”
The chief looked at the doctor.
The doctor looked at the chief.
The doctor was shaking his head, concerned. Chris got angry at that and rallied, plucking at the coverlet with nervous fingers.
“Do you think I made it all up?” she demanded, angrily “Why haven’t you found them? They’re all out there—at the cottage. And he killed them all! I killed him.”
The chief grunted. “Best thing for you to do now is get some sleep. Like 1 told you, everything’s just fine.”
The doctor seemed to agree with that conclusion. He placed Chris’s arm gently on the bed. His smile was tolerant and forgiving.
“Doctor’s orders now,” he purred. “Rest and relaxation, young lady, just like the chief said. You’re going to be just fine.”
She compressed her lips in a thin line. She didn’t say another word.
Suspicion, doubt and confusion dominated her mind, heart and soul. What as going on here? Why didn’t they believe her? It was all so easy to check out, wasn’t it?. . .
The cottage, the lake, the barn, the broken bridge, the stalled van, the dead bodies all over the place...
But she could only watch as the two men exited the room, closing the door softly behind them.
Chris’s eyes blinked again, side to side, back and forth. To and fro.
Nothing seemed quite real to her.
Outside in the hallway, behind her closed bedroom door, the chief of police and the doctor talked things over. They were both a little worried. A thing like this could spread to all the other young people in the town. Maybe the older ones, too. You just never knew.
“I’ve arranged for the officer to stay here ‘round the clock, doctor, just in case there is anything to the poor girl’s story”
“Someone should watch her, all right. In her state of mind, she’s liable to do almost anything.”
The chief eyed him closely running his forefinger along his nose.
“What do you think did it?”
The doctor stared at the closed bedroom door
“Hysteria. Too much imagination. She’s a lovely young girl and possible she’s spent too much time wondering about this maniac or maniacs running loose these days. All these killings and wholesale slaughters. Thing like that is bound to prey on the mind, especially of an impressionable young girl like Chris.”
“I’ll buy that,” the chief nodded, briskly “She did have that bad experience a few years back when she ran away from home. . .”
“Just so. And she is tending to relive it. The doctor rubbed his hands again. “Well. I’m off. Call me if you need me again.”
“Will do. Thanks for your help, doctor”
They both turned to go, passing a young police office on duty in the living room, sitting in a chair. He rose to acknowledge his superior and the chief waved at him. The young officer nodded.
The doctor and the chief of police made their final farewells to each other and walked out the front door of the house to their respective cars. The man on guard duty went back to his chair.
The weather was still beautiful. Sun splashed over the earth, tinting everything with gold. The doctor and the chief drove off, raising dust as they maneuvered down the winding dirt road to the old ramshackle bridge.
The setting was still pastoral, still peacefully magnificent.
Horror did not belong here.
The young officer left on guard duty looked at the watch on his wrist and nodded to himself. He walked toward the bedroom. There was a curious expression on his face, one his chief would not have understood had he been present to see it.
The young officer turned the knob of the bedroom door and swung it open. He peered in quietly.
Chris was revealed, sleeping calmly on the big bed.
Golden sunlight dappled her blonde hair, highlighting the damp tresses. The officer smiled, pleased. The coast was clear.
He closed the door softly without so much as a murmur, then crossed on silent feet back to his chair to wait.
He knew what his job was—to keep the young female from getting hysterical and going off the deep end again. Considering the mad, wild and wooly story she told— geezis! What if the story was true?
But it couldn’t be true. . .
As soon as the young officer closed the bedroom door, Chris opened her eyes. She waited for a long moment and then sat up, listening. When she was sure he was gone, and not biding behind the door, she left the bed.
Inserting her bare feet into a pair of slippers, she grabbed her bathrobe lying on the chair close by. She tied the belt tightly about her waist. Slowly tip-toeing, she went to the bedroom door. Her manner and all her movements were a stealthy as a jungle cat, or someone who has come to rob, steal and kill.
She edged open the bedroom door and peered down the hallway.
She saw the young officer leaning his head back against the wall, his long legs out in a straddling posture. His eyes were closed. He was already asleep.
Chris’s smile was something no artist ever could have painted. Like the Mona Lisa, it was enigmatic, a puzzle, a mystery.
Her thoughts at that moment would have been unfathomable.
She slipped down the hall like a wraith, turned at the staircase and glided down its length without a whisper of sound. The sleeping young officer did not stir He was snoring lightly.
The house was like a tomb. An unopened tomb.
The dust of centuries seemed to shine in the sunlight washing the interior. Chris headed for the front door. She tried not to run.
She was on her way to the barn where the answers to everything lay. Where they had to be— before she went out of her mind completely.
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CHAPTER 13 - TERROR TIME AGAIN
The sun poured into the empty barn, a place now totally barren of all its nightmarish remembrances of the previous night. The normal, everyday objects which filled it, which Chris had always known, were as they always had been, in position, not out of place. The saw horse, the tools, the storage sheds, the horse stalls, the bales of hay the piled boxes and crates—nothing was different. The loft ladder stood as it had always stood. The squared loft opening in the second level showed more sunlight streaming in from outside.
But Chris’s face showed dogged determination, purpose and resolve. She had to know, she had to be sure.
Yet it was intensely bewildering now.
She raced explored feverishly, almost wildly From the tool shed to the ladder to the haystacks to the tool boxes lying on the soft earth. Rummaging, searching, hunting, like a cub looking for its mother She needed evidence, some kind of proof that it had not all been nightmare and unreality, that she had not dreamed all of it up. Otherwise she would go mad.
She stood in the center of the barn, perplexed and sore of heart, mind and soul. Her eyes batted furiously. The barn mocked her, somehow, as if all the inanimate objects were laughing at her.
“It can’t be. . .” she muttered, aloud, “. . .can’t be. It happened. I know it did. . . I saw them. . . I did! Oh, what is going on here?. .”
She threw her head back as if to clear it of hornets and wasps and dread things buzzing around in her brain. The tears started to come again, streaming down her taut face. She fell helplessly to her knees, defeated. There was no answer for her questions.
The random sunlight illuminated the haystack rising before her Something glittered there, like a lost jewel, shining, twinkling, iridescent something. She started—her heart skipped a beat. Glints of red and green were shooting from the haystack, caught by the bright sunlight. She crawled forward on her hands and knees, like someone seeing the miracle at Lourdes.
She focused her wild eyes on the strange, sparkling glow.
She moved to the spot on the haystack, her hands going out in a pawing gesture. An odd dark shape now defined itself as a hand—a human hand! And on its black fingers, red and green gleamed. Rings. . .Wincing, she picked up the hand. A bloody piece of evidence. Of proof. But she remembered the big black man coming to life. Jason and his machete chopping off a hand. . .the savage murder right before her very eyes. . . right here. . .in this barn! Last night!
She attacked the haystack like a woman possessed, pawing, scraping, ravaging it with eager hands. She did not care what she found, no matter how grisly Her sanity was at stake. As long as she found something! Anything!
Her wildest hopes were realized, her greatest horrors proven.
She found a human leg.
A human foot, and then a mutilated arm lying under the first layer of bloody straw. She probed deeper, her heart in her mouth. The hay gave away
Her numbed fingers unearthed more limbs, more faces, more bodily remains.
What was left of Vera. . .Shelly. . . Andy. . . Debbie. . .Chuck. . .Chili. . .and those black strangers. Fox, the woman. . . and Loco and Ali. . . and Derek, poor wonderful Derek. . ..
Transfixed, mutely horrified, she dropped the gruesome proof and retreated the way she had come, toward the barn door. Yes, she had been avenged, but at what terrible cost!
She emitted one last, piercing scream and flung herself from the barn of death. The scream followed her all the way up to the house nestling among the tall old oak trees, echoing like a siren.
“I found them!” she shouted for all the world to hear. “In the barn! They’re all dead! Help me, help meeeee!’
The young sleeping officer must have heard her. The front door of the house was swinging wide when she got there, throwing herself at that door, still screaming and pounding. “Open the door! I found the bodies! Let me in! Help! Please let me, can’t you!”
The door pulled back, opening wide.
A huge shadow stood there.
Jason. His arm drew back, coming down from on high. Something glittered in the dazzling sunlight of the new day.
Chris started to scream again, but not before the machete lopped off her head, bringing the nightmare full cycle.
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CHAPTER 14 - THE BEGINNING COME AS DEATH
The young officer left on duty in the house yawned awake. Guiltily he looked at his watch. He had been cat-napping for a good hour. He got up from his chair, stretched and walked toward the master bedroom. ‘There was a curious expression on his face. He reached for the doorknob. He turned it lightly, gently and opened the door.
He peered into the room once more, as he had before, and saw the young girl sleeping peacefully on the big bed. The golden sunlight was still touching the damp blonde hair, making it radiant to see. He waited only a second longer, nodded to himself, and then closed the door again. All was well. The juicy blonde was okay for the time being. Everything was still cool. The smile on Chris’s face was almost angelically serene. The young officer was pleased.
This job was going to be a snap. No sweat at all.
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CHAPTER 15 - THE DEVIL'S KEEPER
Page 199-200 (End)
Ed Harris Station KLTZ’s Early Morning Reporter, was back on the job that day Indeed, all of Pinehurst’s bewildered and terrified citizenry wanted to know all they could, and more, about the crime wave circulating in the county Hell, if a maniac was on the loose and people were getting slaughtered like flies, it was high old time the police department got on the ball and caught the person or persons responsible. What were people paying taxes for?
The breezy Harris, however, had little of note and interest to offer his listeners. It seemed the authorities had made very little progress since the horrible discovery of two more victims in their marketplace store and home. The details of the massacre of Harry and Edna was Topic A in Pinehurst County All folks could do was lock doors, watch out for strangers and hope the killer or killers would be caught real soon. Never had many phone calls been made to the KLTZ switchboard in its entire history
Harris did have one bit of new information, nonetheless.
In a calmer voice with some lightness in the tone he delivered the following tid-bit to his anxious and nervous audience:
“Local police arrested a man today who walking on the back roads behind Crystal Lake. Calling himself only Abel, the man is an obvious vagrant. He was wearing old hand-me-down clothes and is somewhat of a Bible quoter. He is a tall man with full white whiskers and his eyes are unusually bright. Officials estimate he is well over seventy but he is by no means feeble. It took three officers to bring him into custody Authorities are holding him for further investigation. As of now, no one knows the suspect’s true identity The only note of interest here is that when in custody the old kept saying over and over again, ‘It is Judging Day. The time has come. Repent, ye sinners, and I will take you to Him who will save us all.’ Unquote. And now, tuning to the local sports action...”
All Pinehurst County shuddered. What was going on in their peaceful little community?
Only Chris knew, and nobody was listening to her.
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