That’s right: I’m working, ever so slowly, on a new novel entitled In the House of Wolves. It’s a psychological haunted house novel, and as you’ll be able to tell from the work-in-progress below, some weird things will most definitely happen.
I’m posting this early draft of the first part of the book, which serves as a sort of prologue, to whet appetites and gauge reaction mostly. I’m still early on, and it’s hard to say how much of what is written here – which I assure you is in extreme rough draft format – will stick.
Either way, here is a glimpse at what comes next.
Michael David Anderson
Elaine Salmon called the police after half an hour of long debate, wondering if she wasn’t simply overreacting. After all, there was no crime against taking your child to the park. It shouldn’t matter it was only eight in the morning and below freezing, nor should it matter the snow which had been falling overnight was now nearly six inches deep, which around these parts constituted an emergency for most people. This wasn’t the north, after all, and people around these parts about lost their damn minds when flurries descended and left the lightest of dustings. Six inches? Yes, that was something to write home about, which is why Elaine worried so much about the lady pushing her son on the swing in the middle of the park across the street.
Elaine was an early bird – she knew it, as did her husband Harold, who preferred staying up late and getting a bit more shut-eye in the mornings – and she knew what the neighbors called her: a damned busy body. She was the one always looking out the windows, looking after every person walking up and down the sidewalk or taking a supposed leisurely stroll through the park. Crime wasn’t a worry here, everyone said so, and yet Elaine held the opinion it was only a matter of time before someone tried breaking into a house to rip their brand new LED television off the wall. Why, it wouldn’t surprise her if it was one of those geek agents, or whatever they called themselves, who installed the system; they spent long enough in people’s houses and saw everything they owned, everything from their computers to their home entertainment systems and other personal effects. They couldn’t all be uppity up, oh no. And wouldn’t those neighbors who called her a damned busy body be absolutely thankful she kept a vengeful eye on the neighborhood? Yes, they would! Most definitely!
So why did the lady in the park ruffle her feathers? What was it about her and the boy that bothered her? Other than the snow, of course. It took her a while to puzzle it out, but once the answer dawned on her, it was obvious.
The two hardly moved at all. Perhaps it was the cold leeching the energy from her limbs, but the lady put very little effort into pushing the child on the swing. The arc of the saddle itself was only six inches or so, it seemed from her kitchen window, and the boy… was he even holding onto the chains? Was he wearing gloves? My, he must be freezing.
Elaine brewed her morning coffee. She bustled back and forth, worrying about it, checking out the window every so often to see if the lady and the little boy were still out there, and every time, without fail, they were.
Elaine stood there, peering out the window through her bifocals, tapping her teeth with her nails – one of her many nervous tics. Once she realized she was doing it, she yanked her hand away from her mouth and shoved it deep into her robe’s pocket. Instead, she ran her tongue over the front of her teeth, feeling every crevice between every tooth, caressing the gums above them.
She eyed the clock. At this point, she had already been in the kitchen for fifteen long minutes, wondering and worrying about the lady in the park. Elaine saw the lady was wearing a long scarf. It reminded her of one of the Doctors from that long-running BBC show Harold liked to watch, Doctor Who. Which one was it again? The third doctor? No. It might have been the fourth. All the purists loved that Doctor, Harold often told her.
In addition to the scarf, she was wearing a coat with a hoodie, but the hoodie itself was down, leaving her brown hair exposed to the elements. The snow melted as it touched her at first, but over time her brown hair succumbed to the white until she looked more like an old lady than a young one. The boy was wearing a hat at least – stark red, like blood – but other than that, his clothes were nondescript. Whether he was wearing jeans or pants, Elaine couldn’t tell, not from this far away. She couldn’t even tell if the poor thing was wearing a coat.
After the coffee was finished brewing, she poured herself a cup and stirred creamer in. She tasted it afterward, making sure it was to her liking, staring at the lady and the boy all the while. The longer Elaine watched them, the more she decided something was wrong.
She set the coffee down on the counter. Brooks, her tabby cat, jumped onto the counter to sniff it, but he knew better than to drink it, especially while it was hot. Elaine left him be; she wasn’t worried.
She went to the bedroom, where Harold lay on his back in bed, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. It was a miracle she ever got any sleep at night. Luckily she was always asleep by the time he finally came to bed, so she was never aware of that sonorous timbre until around the time she was rising from sleep in the half hour or so before her morning alarm went off. Normally, it would be another two or three hours before Harold even thought about climbing out of bed, but not this morning.
Elaine shook him awake. When Harold opened his eyes, his disorientation and confusion were evident. “What’s wrong?” he asked first, only thinking afterward to also ask, “What time is it?”
“Harold, come with me.”
He did so slowly, throwing the covers off and sliding his feet into his slippers. He stood, yawning and stretching, before slumping along after her. “What’s going on?”
“There’s a lady and her boy in the park,” Elaine said.
“What about her?”
“There’s something wrong with them.”
“Oh, Elaine honey,” Harold grumbled, “there’s something wrong with everybody in the park.”
She turned back to him, slapping him lightly on the arm. “Not like that!” she snapped. “This is serious, Harold.”
She hadn’t been sure until then, but now that the words were out of her mouth, she was quite certain: this was serious.
A look of exasperation crossed Harold’s tired face, but he came as she bid if for no other reason than he knew she’d never let him go back to sleep otherwise. Little did he know that he wouldn’t be getting back to sleep this morning.
In the kitchen once more, with Harold this time, Elaine went to the window and, with a snappish wave of her hand, said, “Take a look!”
Harold did. He squinted at first, leaning forward against the counter. He cocked his head to the side, and slowly his eyes widened. “Something’s… wrong with that little boy,” he said, his voice tinged with concern.
“Yes, there most definitely is!” Elaine agreed. “That does it. I’m calling the police.”
As she went to retrieve the wireless phone from its cradle, Harold turned from the window. “Wait,” he said. “Are you sure it’s really necessary?”
Elaine gave Harold a look, one he knew all too well, which told him yes, it was really necessary. She dialed, pressed the phone to her ear, and waited.
The call came in at 8:18 a.m. Officer Swan and his partner Hawke were the first on the scene approximately six minutes later. They parked their cruiser in the snow-encrusted parking lot three hundred yards from the swing set where the lady, even then, continued to push the little boy in small, lethargic swings.
“Jesus,” Hawke said, setting his coffee aside as he looked through the windshield. “Doesn’t that lady realize how cold it is outside?”
Swan said nothing. He didn’t think the lady was paying the cold any mind. Just the site of her gave him the creeps though. Calls like this seldom lent to a good night’s sleep in his experience. He got out of the cruiser, and Hawke did likewise, their shoes crunching the snow underfoot.
The officers followed the faint outline of the concrete path into the park, accentuated at the edges where it gave way to grass, until they approached the lady and the boy, both of whom faced away from the officers. Neither of them had reacted to Hawke and Swan’s approach.
Something’s seriously wrong here, Swan thought.
It wasn’t Swan who identified himself but Hawke. “Ma’am, I’m Officer Hawke with JCPD, and this is Officer Swan. Are you and your boy okay?”
The lady didn’t even stiffen. She pushed the boy again. It was like he and Hawke weren’t even there.
Swan rested his hand on the butt of his service pistol. Stepping off the path, he crossed the to the swingset, approaching the perimeter of two-by-fours that separated the grass outside the play area from the wood chips and mulch within, his feet sinking deeper into the snow as he did so.
“Ma’am?” he asked tentatively, leaning forward as he flanked her to get a look at her face if possible, or even the boy. He looked back to Hawke. The man wasn’t easily rattled, but Swan could see the anxiety in his features, just as he was certain Hawke could see the same in his.
Circling around farther, the little boy finally came into view… and from the first glimpse of his face, Swan knew the kid was dead. His mouth hung slack. His eyes stared at nothing in particular. The look on the boy’s face, not of fear but of acquiescence to fate, was nothing compared to his horrible complexion, which looked as if the pigment had been leeched from his epidermis until it was a grotesque shading of various whites and blues.
My God, what happened to him? Swan wondered, swallowing an awful gorge. He looked back to Hawke, his face contorted with emotion. “11-44,” Swan told him. “Call it in.”
Hawke’s eyes widened, but he did as Swan asked, reaching for the radio clipped to his uniform to alert dispatch.
Swan never pulled his weapon, but he left his hand on it all the same. He approached the lady, who never turned to look at him, and slowly, steadily reached out to grasp her shoulder. Even then she didn’t look at him. She pushed the boy again, and the body didn’t move in the swing, not even to slump from the slight shift in momentum or the pressure of the lady’s push. It was as if rigor mortis had already set in, and the boy’s tiny hands held the swing’s chains in a death grip.
“Step away, ma’am,” Swan said. It was a wonder his voice didn’t waver.
It was only then she looked at him. Her eyes shifted the tiniest bit, just enough to acknowledge his presence, but she was hardly there, Swan knew. Yes, she was here physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually she was elsewhere. Only after she looked at him did he notice the trails of frozen tears running down her cheeks.
Swan didn’t know what had happened, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t be sleeping well tonight.
Copyright © August 2015 by Michael David Anderson