By Shari Rood
Suspense/Thriller - 341 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald
Henry Peterson is trying to change his ways. After his escape from the nightmare he created in Virginia, he is turning over a new leaf in Florida. He meets the vivacious Shelby Taylor and he thinks he may have found the latest girl of his dreams. When she disappears, he goes on a frantic search for her that leads him halfway across the country, deep into a snowy winter storm. Can Henry find her and, perhaps more important, can Henry keep his sanity as the weather closes in around him?
Rex Roland is minding his own business when a boy claiming to be Henry's brother shows up. At first he thinks it's an opportunity to get into an old pal's good graces but as things go bad, Rex soon realizes that helping the boy might be just another disappointment.
Henry pulled into the parking lot as the rain came down. It was all a bit too familiar. He wanted to get in and out and leave this place forever. After spending the last couple of months in North Carolina, deep in the woods, he had come to an understanding about the way things were. He walked long trails that went through old growth forests and along the river and made peace with himself.
~ * ~
It was nearly five o'clock and already getting dark. He waited, studying the rain as it ran down the windows and gutters of the building and spilled out across the brown, dirty grass. He thought about going to get something to eat and coming back later when there would be less people on duty. He pulled out of the parking lot and headed past the diner. The railroad tracks and the trash-strewn grass looked exactly the same as it had in November. He slowed down and looked in the window, and saw a young couple having dinner, waiting for the evening train.
He sighed and kept going. There was nowhere in this town he could get a bite to eat; he'd be spotted immediately. He drove past the feed store and the dying downtown with its empty spaces and for sale signs. He grabbed a pack of crackers from the passenger seat and ate them.
He drove past the cemetery and held his breath like he'd done when he was a kid. A silly superstition. He wondered if she was buried there or in Lakeland and then quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. Still, the image of flowers and hymns and a funeral procession, and a girl with chestnut ringlets in a flowing gown passed through like a ghost and he had to turn on the radio to break the spell.
It was dark then and he turned on his headlights. The windshield wipers were frantically scraping away the heavy rain that was starting to turn into a slushy mess that sounded like BBs hitting the car. He pulled back into the parking lot of the Caitland Nursing Facility and slowed down. He paused for a moment before driving his car around to the back of the building.
There were two cars in the lot and he joined them, parking next to a white Kia. He took out a well-worn envelope that contained a key and Rex's almost illegible scrawl. The note said: Thanks buddy. You're the best. Catch you on the flip side.
Henry held the key in his hands and looked at it thoughtfully. "After this, things are going to change." He said it like an affirmation and nodded as if to drive the point home.
~ * ~
Once inside the building, the scent of bleach blended with a darker smell. He tried not to sink into despair. He looked at the old clock on the wall. It was a round, institution-style clock. A kind he was quite familiar with. It was nearly six. There was an orderly watching TV, sitting on one of those spinning doctor's stools and a nurse standing next to him with her hands on her hips. "You know, Al, that girl doesn't have the sense God gave a mouse."
"She'll wise up; just watch."
"Bet you ten bucks she don't."
"I'll take that bet."
Henry took silent steps along the corridor. He slipped into the room and gently closed the door. There was a dark heaviness that pervaded everything, giving it a palpable weight. He saw the man lying there and started to reconsider. He knew he owed Rex but he didn't want to slip. He was finally starting to feel like himself again. No voices or hallucinations. Months of personal reflection and simple, clean living had cleared his head. Backsliding wasn't an option.
He quickly walked over to the man. He noticed his waxy complexion, the look of decay and atrophy. His thinning hair was oily and smelled rancid. He wondered how long it had been since they had bathed him or done anything even remotely kind for the wretched soul.
He pulled a pair of rubber gloves from his pocket and put them on. He touched the tube that lead from his body to a machine and squeezed it for a moment. How to do this? He suspected that an alarm would sound if the man's breathing stopped. He eyed the spare pillow that was sitting along with a brown blanket on a shelf and for a moment had an image of holding it over the man's face. He wouldn't put up a fight. His stomach rolled at the thought and he felt inside his jacket to reassure himself that it was still there. An injection then. He took out the kit he'd brought. He hated needles, but he'd practiced on an orange a few times the week before. "I can do this," he said with gritted teeth. Rex had filled him in on a few details…a pertinent one, the man was diabetic. An overdose of insulin would be quick and since he was in a coma already, painless. Henry didn't want him to suffer. He was done causing people pain.
He took out the bottle, carefully unwrapping the syringe. He drew the liquid into the needle and leaned over the man. "This will be a kindness. I promise you."
He felt the man's arm for a vein. He wasn't an expert but they felt thin and spidery to him. He also didn't want the mark to be clearly evident. He lifted up the man's right arm and quickly shoved the needle into his flesh until it hit its mark. He pushed the plunger and then laid his arm back on the bed. The sheets were yellowing and he felt sorry. Nobody deserved to waste away, unloved and uncared for. "Well, I've taken care of that," he said as he quickly packed up everything and stood.
"It really is a kindness. I know you would thank me if you could," he whispered.
He slipped out the door and saw the nurse, her hands still on her hips, the guard still sitting on the doctor's stool.
"I told you she was on to him. I've always been a student of human behavior. I could see it coming a mile away."
"A real know-it-all, ain't you?"
"Either way, I win…"
The guard cackled with delight as he took a drag on his cigarette. Henry was pretty sure smoking wasn't allowed. For a brief moment, he felt a flash of anger and thought about putting a bullet into the back of the guard's head. Oh well, he thought, at least that poor man in the room won't have to suffer in such an awful place anymore.
"Pay up, ten bucks. Victory is sweet."
Henry backed down the hall and hid in the shadows by the door, waiting for the right moment. He had left the back door open a tiny crack and inched toward it slowly.
"Yeah…You got me this time but mark my words; payback will be such a bitch."
"Dream on, sweetheart."
Henry took three steps and was out the door. He eased it closed and locked it. He walked through the rain to his car, got in and drove off. The night air was murky and the fog was starting to creep around the edges of the parking lot. He smiled. He was leaving Virginia. Things would be better. Someplace warm. Someplace sunny. That was where he was headed. He couldn't wait. A new start…it was what he'd always wanted and now he was going to have it.