Carved In Stone
By Cheri Celeste Pennell
Susie Fowler sighed heavily, as she drug her tired feet up the front porch steps. She looked back out across the sprawling yard and gazed into the falling ochre sun. The strangest feeling washed over her, when she turned to unlock the old farmhouse door. She was home; and for once, all alone. For the first time in nearly five years, she had the house entirely to herself. No husband, no twins, and absolutely no responsibility outside of work.
Max, the one-eyed Catahoula Cur, wagged his tail and nuzzled her leg. It had been the savagery of a wild boar that took out his right eye. The razor sharp tusks narrowly missed penetrating his brain.
“Hey Maxie, are you hungry boy. I bet you’re sure glad to see me, huh? You know Daddy’s gone away for the weekend, don’t you baby. Where’s our Lady?” Susie cooed lovingly to her hog-dog, as she reached down to scratch behind his tattered and scarred up ears. She then saw Lady, their retired Redbone coon-dog. She came around from the side of the house, languishly stretching her tired old bones. Dante knew that the old girls’ time here on earth was numbered. One of these days, Lady would not be coming around that corner.
Susie opened the solid pine door and walked into the house. It was dark, but she naturally made her way to the kitchen and turned on the light. She thought back to the early morning hours before John and their two children left, to take a trip out of town. They were on their way to see his mother Lola Fowler in Iowa City.
Lola had come down for Susie and John’s wedding and she had been there for the birth of their twins. That was four years ago. She had been rapidly deteriorating ever since. John’s mother had grown quite frail with severe arthritis as the time passed, and was no longer able to travel long distances.
Susie had supported John’s decision to take the week-long trip. She had insisted on staying behind to look after their home, animals and the pumpkin patch. The surrounding areas bought out all three acres of their brightly colored pumpkins, gourds, and squash every year. Whether it was for cooking or carving jack-o-lanterns, they were always in demand during the decorative Fall season.
Susie felt like John was a million miles away from her and their 100 year old wood-frame house in Papalote, Texas. He might as well have been in Antarctica, but she knew that it was a necessary trip. This could be the last chance he or the kids got to see their Mother and Grandma.
It was a Friday night. Susie took her time cleaning and doing chores around the house. She popped open a bottle of wine and soaked in a warm bubble bath for nearly an hour. As the stress of the day left her body, she reflected on the work week. She had taken a job as a Special Education teacher in the nearby small town of Skidmore, Texas. It was a tough job but she loved teaching and helping the kids. There was a heart wrenching attachment and hope she held for each and every one of them. She loved her job, home, family and friends; but her truest passion was sculpting and carving wood. As she rose from the huge claw foot bath tub, Susie felt the call and tug of the old shed behind the house. John had helped her turn it into her very own art studio.
Susie made her way down the dark narrow pathway that led to her work space, thinking of the last time she had carved on her current project. It had been the middle of last week. She held her last glass of wine and cell phone in her left hand as she got closer to the door. Before she could pull up on the bar of the traditional drop latch lock, the wind picked up and the door creaked open.
“Hmm….I could have sworn that I securely latched that lock last time I was out here.” Susie thought as she pushed it forward, just a crack. She reached around the inside of the door and flipped the switch. Light flooded the shed. Susie scanned the space for wild animals and then went towards the back end of her one-room studio. Her project awaited her on the huge solid oak table. She set her glass of wine down and turned on the small fluorescent light just above her. She noticed that the light bulb still burned in the tiny 10×10 bathroom. She could have sworn that she had turned that light off too.
Susie was in the middle of an intricate wood carving that was entitled, “Lovers”. She sat down on her tall stool and pulled the protective covering away from the piece. She stared at the embracing couple. They were locked in a breathless kiss. It was her best work to date. A timeless tribute to her soul mate and husband John. She had spent almost two months creating it, in hopes that she could have it completed by their anniversary in November. It was the middle of October and all she had to do now, was add the last finishing touches.
Susie opened the middle drawer of the table. John had been so thoughtful, to build this table for the soul purpose of her work and tools. She took out her professional woodcarving set, then turned on the old stereo in the corner. Sonic Youth’s “Hits Are For Squares” started playing, “Bull In the Heather”. The melody radiated from the speakers, as Kim Gordon’s haunting vocals filled the room. Susie started to work.
After a while, mindless thoughts swayed towards her very dearest friend, Dante Stone. They were still thick as thieves. Even after nearly three decades of ups and downs, there was no love lost. They could fight like blood sisters, but could never stay mad at each other for long.
Susie put down her razor sharp veining tool next to the #5 gouge and chisel. She couldn’t get Dante out of her head and figured she should give her a call, just to check in. She knew that Dante had been studying relentlessly for midterms and had a major portion of a dissertation due soon. Susie picked up her cell and found her friends number. Before hitting the call button, she took the last swallow of her wine. She had to take a bathroom break before they got too engrossed in conversation.
Susie rose up slowly from her table, as Sonic Youth’s “Slow Revolution” played on. She yawned, stretching her arms up high and back down again. As Susie turned, she got the breath knocked right out of her. She was suddenly grabbed from behind by an unknown force. It plowed into her like a runaway freight train and wrapped one burly arm around her delicate frame. Pushing her guts into the sharp edge of the table, her arms were pinned down like an iron-clad bear trap at her sides. She was so completely caught off guard, there was no time to panic. Her eyes grew wide and she let out a partial shriek, as she felt the stab of a needle penetrating deep into her jugular. All Susie heard as she floated into oblivion, was the deep-throated heavy breathing of a man. Then she was flipping and falling backwards into the deep black spiral abyss.
When Susie woke, her skull felt as if it had been bashed in by an anvil. The pain seared through her brain and she realized she could not move. Her eyes started to open and she murmured softly.
“That’s right Susie Q, open those pretty brown eyes.” The airy voice echoed in her pounding head like some sort of careless whisper.
Susie stirred as her eyes stuttered and flit open. She tried her damnedest to focus on the surroundings. Her body felt slow and stupid, but she quickly realized her hands were bound in front of her with rope. She was propped straight up on her carving table, sitting with her back against the wall.
Naked. Spread-eagle. Her knees were bent. Her feet flat on the tabletop, at least 4 feet apart from each other. A wooden post was keeping her legs pried wide open, and a thin sharp wire wrapped her ankles to both ends.
There was something rough covering her face but not her eyes. It felt like frayed burlap, and it was fastened tightly around her neck. She peered through the cut-out holes of the mildewed material, and her eyes focused on the dark shape of a large man. He was holding her cell phone.
“What the fuck!” She screamed inside of her head.
Susie tried to move. She tried her very best to scream or kick. She tried with all of her might; to fight off the heavy weight in her body, to no avail. She started sobbing. Was this the bitter end to her sweet life? The man stepped in closer, and touched the call button on her cell phone.
Susie stopped weeping. She had to think. There had to be a way out of this situation. She squinted at the man, trying to make out any distinguishing features through her tear-pooled eyes.
“We are going to call…your dearest friend Dante. We can’t have her worrying about you. Seeing as how you are here all alone in these woods.” The man’s amused voice trailed off. Susie was horrified as shock and boundless fear raked through her mind.
“Please Dante. Answer the phone,” Susie thought. “Please God, just let her answer the phone. She will know something is wrong. She’ll know.” Her mind thought frantically, grasping for hope.
But Susie could hear Dante’s recorded voice mail greeting faintly coming through the phone’s speaker. She was in Austin and had already turned her phone off for the night or fallen asleep. At the sound of the beep, Susie started to break down again, crying as hard as her body would allow. She tried to scream, but only low mewling moans and sniveling whimpers escaped from her lips. It was only seconds; before the man snapped her phone shut with his thickly gnarled hand, and sat it down in between her legs.
“Ahh yessss…now where were we…sweet Susie?” The man said as he sat himself down on the stool, directly in front of her. He picked up a sharp cutter from her neatly arranged carving tools and ran it lightly, up and down her shin.
Susie blinked back her tears. She could move her head now and was starting to feel the pain of the wire cutting into her Achilles’s tendons. She looked down at one of her now searing hot and throbbing ankles, and realized her tendons had both been severed. Even if she could get unbound, she could not run, walk, nor crawl. This realization of immobility put her into instantaneous shock.
Then she suddenly regained her voice and let out a lung-full of blood curdling screams. After about 30 seconds, Susie’s wailing turned into whining. She was hoarse and out of breath.
“Are you quite finished with that nonsense?” The man said, as he stood up with identical razor-sharp cutters in both of his grotesquely large hands.
Susie pleaded for her life in a voice no louder than a whisper, “No, God. Please no. Not now….Please Sir, not yet. My babies. Please….Why are you doing this to me? I am begging you, please don’t do this. Please!” The man just stared blankly through her, then gave a small shrug.
“You beg, for what I cannot give. There is no stopping poetry in motion.” He said as his arms came up and pushed the cutters into the sensitive inner-most part of her thighs. The new pain pierced closely to her soft exposed mound. Susie felt the trails of warm blood cascade straight down to her vulva, and drip slowly from her swollen lips.
“This may smart a bit.” The man said as he pulled the cutters down hard towards her knees, slicing down her once perfect legs…to the bone.
Susie’s screams went unheard into the white-hot cadaverous night.
“Tisk, tisk….the true suffering has yet to begin, my dear.” The shadowy figure grabbed and turned her face with one hand, as if inspecting his pale fleshy canvas. She could just make out the wide yellow smile that spread across his torn lips. Then she blessedly drifted back into the sweet dew of unconsciousness.
On the Monday afternoon of Susie Fowler’s funeral, Dante Stone followed a long procession of cars. They crawled down the winding old cemetery road like some ancient serpent. She had rented a car and drove down from Austin, Texas in the still dark morning. She made it to the funeral home just in time for Susie’s service. Now, as she turned the car into the country cemetery in Papalote Texas, her mind wandered. How could it be possible that Susie, one of her oldest and dearest friends from childhood, was now gone forever.
Susie’s suicide didn’t make any sense to Dante, not now and probably not ever. Susie was the sweetest, kindest, and most unselfish girl she’d ever known. She had a family now. Her husband John and their four year old twins, James and Joselyn. Sue finally had everything that the two would daydream about in their nearly 30 years of friendship. Why would she leave the ones she loved the most, and her seemingly perfect life behind? Then Dante felt the sickening wave of guilt that had been washing over her for a couple of days now. She was the last person that Susie tried to call. Was it her last ditch effort, a final cry out for help?
Dante played the voice message that Susie had left the night she died. Over and over again she had searched for her voice, a quiet rustle of clothing or anything familiar. She listened for the smallest something, just to stop the guilt of turning off her phone that night. All she had wanted was some peaceful sleep after completing a 50 page portion of her dissertation. Every time Dante replayed the message; all that she heard was her dear friend’s ragged breath and low frantic whimper. Then there was nothing before it abruptly cut off.
“She had been upset and crying, begging me to answer.” Dante thought as she drove even slower behind the line of cars that was pulling to the left.
She blindly followed and parked across from the long row of graves. She stared at the remnants of the long dead and gone. They were now only remembered by plastic flowers and the epitaph on their headstones. A hundred markers, crosses, and angels littered the cemetery, surrounding Dante. She felt suffocated as she opened the black Impala’s door and stepped out onto the hallowed ground.
She immediately spotted Trae Holt about three cars up. He still looked the same, so young and lost. He gave her a half-hearted lopsided grin as a cigarette hung from his mouth. His suit needed pressing badly and he appeared disheveled. Dante could feel his stare upon her, even thru the dark lenses of his familiar Ray Bans.
That boy had loved Susie. And Dante had loved him. But he and Sue had been childhood and High School sweethearts. Dante had never let her feelings be known. She could not bear the thought of confessing that one secret to her lifelong friend. Besides, Trae had worshipped the ground that Susie walked on. But as years went by, he just couldn’t stop his notorious drinking and womanizing.
One thing about Trae, he liked his beer ice cold and his women on fire. It got old way back in their early 20’s, which was when Sue had finally left him for good. She got tired of all his excuses to stop partying and become an even semi-responsible adult. It didn’t take John long to swoop in and carry her over the threshold, into a loving marriage.
As the remainder of the long line of vehicles came to a halt, Dante and Trae walked silently together to Susie’s freshly dug grave.
After the short service, Dante walked up to Loretta. She wanted to pay her respect to Susie’s mom and give her condolences. As Dante hugged her tight, she had no words, only a mass amount of tears spilling down her cheeks.
Dante slowly walked back to the car alone. She wondered if Susie’s Father had shown, but wouldn’t recognize him if he had. Sue’s Dad had left town when they were only about 8 years old. The only memories that she still had of him, was of a vile loud man. He got in trouble because he could not keep his hands to himself or off of Loretta and Susie. He had spent 15 years in the penitentiary and was never heard from again.
Dante’s mother had died that same year in a freak car accident. Thank God HER father had survived the crash and been able to love, support, and raise her right. He had never so much as laid a hand on her, even when it came to discipline.
“Hey Dante.” Trae said as he jogged up and brushed against her side. He had pushed his sunglasses to the top of his unkempt blond curls. His eyes were still as aqua blue as a lagoon in an island paradise. A girl could get lost in those eyes.
“Hey Trae. How are you?” Dante immediately felt self-conscious and stupid for asking such an inconsiderate question. But Trae smiled and took her hand.
“How are any of us really? You know, just trying to keep it together I suppose. How are you sweetheart, are you okay?” He said this in a genuinely sincere fashion, turning towards her as they reached the rental. All she could do was nod her head and sigh. She just did not have any words.
“You wanna follow me down to the Horseshoe and get a couple of drinks after the reception? Everybody’s going out there around six or seven tonight. Not too often we’re all back together again.” The look in Trae’s eyes told Dante that the word no, was not an option today. He needed her to be there. And honestly she wanted to go. She thought it would give her a good chance to talk to as many people as possible that still stayed in the back country of Papalote. Dante had a feeling that someone might know something, or have a clue to why Susie would end her own life.
Dante felt an eerie sense of comfort at the reception, sitting out back at Loretta’s house. She practically grew up there with Susie and her mom, who was like a second mother to her as well. Dante watched Loretta through the glare of the sun porch windows. She was bustling around inside, tending to all of her guests. Some tried to get her to sit down and relax. Others watched her with a worried furl on their brow. Couldn’t they see that she had to stay busy, and could not possibly stop running circles around everyone? By serving drinks and making sure everyone was fed, she kept herself strong and in check. Dante figured Loretta Fowler would break down eventually and come to accept her daughter’s death in her own way. It couldn’t be forced, and now was just not her time.
Dante sipped her sorbet and ginger ale punch and wondered what had happened to Trae. He did not show his face at the reception. She was in kind of a daze, when she heard a deep male voice directly in front of her.
“Hey school girl. I’m glad you could get down here for Susie’s funeral.” Susie’s Uncle Waylon grinned as he leaned down to give her a bear hug, his rough grey beard scratching her cheek.
“You’re looking good kiddo.” He appraised. Waylon was Loretta’s oldest brother. When he finally let Dante go; he grabbed for her hands, sighed and opened his water rimmed eyes.
“Yeah, you know I had to Uncle Waylon. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her. We been friends so long, it’s like this huge part of me is missing. I don’t know how to feel or really what to think.” Dante felt her own tears well up again.
She saw a change in Waylon’s face. He leaned in and whispered, “Do you have a minute Dante? I really need to talk to you about something important.” His serious steel blue eyes held hers as he let go of her hands.
They walked inside through the crowd to get a cup of coffee and sit in the privacy of the den.
“I think there is something you should know.” He started slowly.
“What is it?” Dante replied.
“There is something really bad going on down here in this neck of the woods. It’s sinister. I don’t know how to tell you this Dante. My niece didn’t kill herself. She couldn’t have. Wouldn’t have. There is no way in hell….” He trailed off and looked quickly towards the window. His eyes were vacant as he continued.
“But that’s what happened Waylon, regardless of what you want to believe.” Dante said softly.
“No, baby girl. You didn’t see her, or the marks that were left all over her body. The police said she killed herself, but fuck Dante….Susie was carved up like one of her own Halloween pumpkins. I identified the body because Loretta just couldn’t do it. Did you know Frank Jones found her? He and his son went out to her house with their old flat-bed trailer to load up their order of pumpkins. Soon as he drove back to the barn, he could hear old Lady Red and Max howling. He said they were carrying on like they’d cornered a whole mess of coons.” Waylon paused and continued to stare past Dante. “Frank saw it. He saw what that animal did to her. He sliced a fucking masterpiece into her skin. I saw too. Dante, I saw what that bastard did to her with my own eyes.” He said looking drained and hollow.
“What do you mean bastard? He who? An animal? What are you trying to say Uncle Waylon, that someone murdered her? That’s just crazy talk. You’re still in shock or upset that she’s gone. Seeing her body like that is enough to….” But before she could finish, he cut her off.
“NO Goddammit! I saw it for myself! You don’t know. You can’t possibly understand what I saw out there in that shed.” Waylon defended himself vehemently. “After Frank called Sherriff Stone,” he paused, “you’re Father; I heard Susie’s address go out over the police scanner at the garage, calling all cars. I got on my bike and arrived before your Dad did. It was just me and Frank for a couple of grueling minutes.” He paused as if hesitating on giving out any more of the gory details.
“Okay, what did you see Way Way?” Dante said at a near whisper.
“It was bad honey, real brutal. He put her up on that big table John built for her. He put her up there and sliced away her skin. He carved into her delicate pale flesh like a fucking demented butcher!” His eyes darted back and forth, frantically pleading with her.
“Alright enough! I believe you, I just don’t want to hear anymore okay? Please Waylon! I don’t understand why my father would lie to me. He’s the Sheriff for Christ’s sake. He told me that Sue slit her wrists and then eventually bled out. That she even left a note… What the fuck is really going on?” Dante was suddenly very angry, her face flushing a deep crimson red.
“That’s not all. I think that this madman, serial killer, or whatever the fuck he is, has been doing a lot more damage. Do you know we’ve had 9 unusual deaths, just this past year? That’s not counting the old folks that pass on from around here, God rest their souls. Six of those deaths were women. Young women from ages 18 to 39. Did your Daddy tell you about that?” Waylon bordered on a full blown rant as Dante shook her head.
“No. No he had not told her any of this,” she thought.
“Even Craig. You know we were best friends since…we were in the 1st grade,” Waylon choked out, “1st fucking grade Dante.” The man continued shaking his head slowly.
“No. No Uncle Waylon. Craig’s death was just an accident. His grinder malfunctioned that morning at the machine shop. He hit his head. Dad told me about that.” She tried her very best to console him.
“Yeah, he hit his head alright, but that was AFTER the back of his skull got split wide open by his own grinder!” He spit out fiercely and continued to rant. “And what about Old man Langston? He has been vacuuming out septic tanks for over 40 years. You mean to tell me he’s going to fall in a shallow tank and not drown, but choke on the end of that hose? It was shoved halfway down his wind pipe Dante. His esophagus ruptured and he choked on his own blood. No way. I’m sorry. I’m just not buying it.”
Waylon stood up and grabbed Dante’s arm as she rose from her chair. Her knees were shaking and she felt seriously faint.
“There’s more Dante. More than you can imagine. There were the two ladies found in the restroom at the truck stop. That was a cruel and unusual blood bath. The cops couldn’t cover that one up, before it hit all the local papers. They were found so savagely lacerated, their dental records were the only means left to identify. Then those kids at the creek. They blamed it on that poor Rob Thomas boy. People talked. They said that he callously killed those three girls. Cut ‘em all up and gutted ‘em like fish right out there on the bank of the creek. They were out in the open, in broad daylight. I heard all the rumors that he went mad and was in some kind of diabolical hallucinogenic rage.” The words rolled off Waylon’s tongue, and a thin sheen of sweat broke out across his forehead.
“But I thought that is exactly what happened. I heard they were all tripping on acid or mushrooms out there, and he just went nuts. He killed them with some sort of filet knife and shot himself in the head.” Dante said with a condescending tone.
“Those kids may have been trippin’ as you call it, but he didn’t do it. I knew that boy. He was in church every Sunday. He took his rabbits and goats to the livestock show every year. He volunteered for Ms. Hailey every other Saturday and Sunday, cutting her yard and doing odd jobs. For free. No Dante, Rob Thomas, he was a good boy. He was no coldblooded heartless killer.” Waylon said.
Dante stood in front of the ceiling to floor mirror in Loretta’s plush master bathroom. She ran her fingers through her long straight dark red hair, and stared at the dark circles under her eyes. Her face was ruined. She was overcome by all that Waylon had said to her in the den. There was just too much to take in all at one time. To think that you know the truth of a matter, and then come to find out you don’t know anything at all.
Everything her father had been telling her about Susie and the other deaths, was a lie. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach and nausea overcame her. Dante practically threw her face into the porcelain toilet and started retching up fancy finger sandwiches and frothy punch. She slid down to her knees, then rolled herself over into a fetal position on the cold tile floor.
Dante didn’t know how long she had laid there, clutching her knees to her chest. Her slightly catatonic state was interrupted by the incessant buzzing of her cellphone. Hesitantly, she got up and reached inside her purse that was hanging on the inside of the bathroom door.
“Hello.” She answered.
“Hey, where the hell are you?” Trae said.
Dante could tell Trae was hauling ass in his truck. The wind was whistling sharply through the receiver and his speakers blared Metallica into her ear.
“I’m still her at Loretta’s. Where are you?” She tried to sound nonchalant.
“On my way back to the Horseshoe. You coming? You’re not gonna wuss out on me are you? It’s already past 8.” He said over the chorus of “Sanitarium.” Still listening to Master of Puppets, Dante had always known Trae to have Metal in his blood.
“No, I am not wussing out. I just got caught up, that’s all. I saw Susie’s Uncle Waylon and he told me some pretty crazy shit.” She tried to remain calm and not sound the alarm.
“Alright, well just get your ass in gear. You can tell me all about it when you get here. I myself, just got here. So hurry up, okay? I’ll be out in the back waiting for you. You better show Dante, I mean it dammit! Me and Jesse brought a shitload of wood to make a bonfire, so come on with it.” Dante heard that same old spark in his voice. Trae sounded excited and unreasonably happy, considering all the extenuating circumstances.
“Alright, alright, I’ll be there in a minute. I promise I won’t punk out on you okay? Just let me get myself together and I’ll head out.” She knew how impatient he could be. In Trae’s mind, Dante should have already been at the bar, waiting for him at ten till six.
Dante ended their short call and then scrubbed her face in the sink. She found Loretta’s makeup bag and a new tooth brush in the nearest drawer.
“Perfect,” She thought. “The least I can do is go to the bar without fucking raccoon eyes and vomit on my breath.”
Dante said her goodbyes to Loretta and a few stragglers still left in the house. She made her way out to her car and took off down the familiar road. It was getting dark a little earlier now, but she knew every twist and turn by heart. She turned off the country road and on to the highway. It was about a one-mile straight shot to the little hole-in-the-wall bar. Highway 181 was deserted, Dante saw only three cars on her way. She was so used to the traffic and bustle of Austin, but would always be an easygoing country girl at heart.
“Damn. Those fools don’t waste any time.” She thought. The bonfire blazed strong and high about a football field back away from the interstate. She turned into the parking lot of the Horseshoe, which was basically a giant patch of caliche in front of the small building. She took a deep breath and braced herself. The place was packed.
Dante opened the door and walked straight into John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” playing full blast from the juke box. She couldn’t help but think that it was probably one of the same CDs she and Susie had donated, when they were about 18. Funny how some things never change. Everything looked exactly the same, with the exception of a relatively fresh coat of beige paint on the walls.
She walked up to the long smooth bar. She watched as Alice and Al stood there, hands busy popping tops and mixing drinks. They had opened the bar before Dante was even born. They ran it themselves; day in and day out. But tonight it looked as though they had some extra help for the busy crowd.
“What can I get for you, honey? We haven’t seen you out this way in ages.” Alice leaned over the counter and had to practically yell at her over the music.
“Yeah, I know! Ya’ll got anything good on special tonight?” Dante didn’t know if she should drinking at all, but felt it might help calm her jagged nerves.
“Oh you know, the regular stuff and some kind of imported pale ale they say is pretty good. That’s unless you want the real hard stuff. Al went out and got a whole shitload of top shelf yesterday. Depends on what you’re thirsty for.” Alice motioned behind her at the rows of whiskey, vodka, tequila and more.
While Dante was trying to pick her poison, Trae’s little brother walked up from behind and covered up her eyes.
“Guess fucking who?” Jesse said in a deep sexy voice. He let go of her as she wheeled around. “She’ll have one of those imports Alice, you know them city girls don’t drink no rat piss!” Jesse laughed goodheartedly. He picked Dante up and spun her around.
“Damn Dante, well ain’t you a sight for sore eyes! How you been baby girl? You are looking SO good.” Jesse’s grin was contagious as he set her back down. He was only 2 years younger than Trae and had always been the bigger flirt.
“Thanks Jesse. Been pretty good until just lately.” Dante said as she clutched the open beer Alice passed her. Jesse grabbed her hand and led her to the spacious back room where games of 8 and 9-ball were ongoing.
“You wanna play a game of pool with me sugar? I promise not to whip your ass….too hard.” He winked as he removed two sticks from one of the wall racks. Dante couldn’t resist his charm, but scanned the room for any sign of Trae.
“Yeah sure, why not? We’ll see whose ass gets whooped.” She challenged.
As she racked up all the balls, the jukebox started to play Judas Priest’s “You Got Another Thing Coming.” Jesse leaned in with his pool stick and made a solid break. Three balls fell into empty pockets all at once.
“Seen your brother?” Dante asked while looking for her first shot.
“Yeah, he’s out back. Say, do you still have the “hots” for him after all these years?” Jesse’s question shocked her and she missed an easy straight shot.
“What the hell are you talking about? I never had a “thing” for your brother Jesse!” Dante had never told anyone. She had never even looked at him wrong, much less let her feelings out in the open about Trae.
“Awww… come on Dante. We’re all grown up now. You don’t have to be embarrassed or hide it anymore. I always knew you loved Trae. I could tell by the way you looked at him. Your eyes always give you away darlin’.” His smile then touched on her eyes as he knocked back the rest of his beer.
Dante stood quietly then reached into her little purse that was strapped around her. She needed a cigarette. Badly.
“It’s okay you know. That you still have feelings for him. He has some for you too.” Jesse said this and made a perfect bank shot. His English could use some work, but he was better than he used to be.
“Oh really? And just how do you figure?” She tried to sound uninterested.
“Because he told me earlier this afternoon, when we were loading the trucks up with wood.” He stated matter of factly. “He told me that he thought you were just as beautiful as ever and he regretted never making a move on you back in the day. He also said that if he got the chance now, he wouldn’t screw it up.” Jesse’s eyes were smiling over at her, just as the backdoor opened.
Dante’s mind was spinning as Trae sauntered in.
“Glad to see you finally made it.” Trae said, his eyes glossy. Dante knew that he and Jesse had probably finished off at least a 12pack together already, before they had even got to the bar.
She composed herself as best she could and said, “Yeah, I made it. Now the least you can do is buy a thirsty girl a drink!” She said as she lifted her empty bottle up towards him.
It was easier than she thought to get her bearings and feel completely comfortable around Trae. They sat out in back of the bar for a couple of hours as she explained everything that Waylon had confessed to her. She was buzzed; but not drunk like Trae, when he grabbed her hand and pulled her up out of her chair.
“Would you do me the honor Dante? May I have this dance?” Trae said while bending down to kiss her hand. He took a deep bow and then pulled her close. Brooks and Dunn crooned out “Neon Moon,” as they danced under the naked stars. He moved and spun Dante all over the concrete patio. As the song ended, Trae pulled away and looked into her eyes. Dante couldn’t believe what she thought was about to happen. He leaned in very close to her and was only inches from her pouty mouth.
“You are so beautiful Dante Elise Stone. God don’t make ‘em like you anymore.” His voice sounded so soft and sincere, it melted her heart. Then the enchantment was abruptly broken. Out of the corner of Dante’s eye, she saw a flash of pale color.
She look out into the brush and saw someone standing perfectly still. As soon as the stranger realized she had spotted him, he turned and went straight back into the trees.
“Oh my God! Trae I just saw somebody right there in the woods! He was just standing there looking at me and then took off fast.” Dante said and pointed towards the front of the bar.
All of the sudden she was interrupted by the sound of a single shotgun blast.
“KA-BOOOM!” The gunshot echoed through the woods like a wartime canon.
Trae grabbed Dante and ran back inside of the bar. They hurried through the game room to the front and saw Al on the phone. He looked upset. Jesse came in through the front door and began to explain to them what had happened.
“Julius got mad at Geoff and pulled the Remy from his gun rack. Said he was looking at his woman wrong or some bullshit. You know you can’t have too many drunk rednecks in one spot. Then Geoff charged him and tried to take it. The gun went off, but no one got hurt.” Jesse shrugged, as he spat out the explanation in practically one breath. Dante felt relieved that no one had been injured or killed.
“Hey Dante, your Dad is on his way. He just got back in town from that police conference in Houston.” Alice said as the trio headed out the door.
“Thanks for the heads up Alice. I had a good time tonight.” Dante replied to the owner. She really meant it too.
The three stepped back outside into the night air and walked towards Jesse’s truck. A girl hollered from 4 cars down, “Hey ya’ll coming out to my house? It’s still early.” Dante recognized her as Texie, one of her childhood friend’s little sisters.
“You game big brother?” Jesse said as he looked across the lot, at Texie’s cute little petite frame.
“Naaah, you go on ahead and have fun. I’m pretty wasted. Think I’m gonna go on home as soon as Dante’s Dad gets here. I’m not leaving her out here alone. Just a minute ago she saw somebody off in the woods out back just staring at her. It could’ve been somebody taking a piss, but I’m not taking any chances. Sherriff Stone should be here any minute.” Trae said to a distracted Jesse, as he winked at Dante.
She felt her face burning with a slow prickly blush, the fire rising from her chest to her forehead. Jesse just nodded and jumped into his truck to follow the party caravan to Texie’s.
“I’ve got to get out of here too Trae. I’m not so ready to confront my Dad yet, about all of his discrepancies and lies.” Dante said.
“What, you don’t think I was listening to you earlier? I know you don’t want to see him right now. He’s a liar and you are intoxifiably inebriated.” Trae shook his head, feigning a hurt look. Dante punched him playful on the arm.
“Since you’re not going home, where are you going to stay tonight?” He asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
“I, am not intoxicated in the least, fine sir. I figured I’d drive the 20 miles to Beeville and rent a cheap motel. I can always come back home in the morning and deal with my father.” Dante replied.
“No. I’m not having you drive all the way to Beeville by yourself. Why don’t you just follow me home? You know that you are more than welcome. There is an extra room, or the couch. I promise I don’t bite. Hard.” Trae looked at her and Dante’s grin turned into a laugh.
“Trae!” She said as he put his arms around her. Then Dante’s smile faded and she looked down for a hesitant second.
“I guess that I should, just for the night. I mean, don’t want to play the damsel in distress, but I’m still pretty freaked out about everything. Are you sure it’s cool?”
Trae ran his rough hands down her smooth tan arms and said, “Dante, yes. I wouldn’t have invited you if it wasn’t cool. You have every right to be upset. We both do. Our best friend is gone. I really don’t want you to be alone tonight, and besides I would enjoy your company.”
“I just don’t want to be a burden.” Dante realized she really didn’t feel like driving. Then she thought about their near kiss and swooned.
Trae caught her in his arms and said, “No ma’am. Not a burden. Never that. You have always been a blessing in my life.” He then proceeded to kiss her hard on the mouth. Lightning ran through Dante and she softly moaned from his touch… and his wandering tongue. He pulled away suddenly, then scooped her up in his arms. She hung on tight to his wide shoulders as he cradled her, and walked them both back to his truck.
“Trae, wait. What about my car?” She had purchased insurance for the rental, but didn’t want to see it get vandalized or worse, stolen.
“It should be fine. I’ll bring you back over in the morning to get it.” He said as they started to hear a faint siren coming their way in the distance.
They looked at each other and laughed. “Come on let’s get out of here!”
Trae put Dante back down on her feet and they scrambled to get in his truck. They didn’t see Uncle Waylon’s 1959 Chevy pick-up parked on the side of the Horseshoe. And they didn’t see it slowly pull out behind them, thirty seconds after they turned the corner.
Dante didn’t say much on the short two mile drive to Trae’s house. He was babbling and mentioning that his last girlfriend was a psycho beast from hell. As the truck hit the one mile mark towards Trae’s land, they passed the right-hand turn that lead to her father’s home. Dante was still thinking about her Dad, as they pulled up in Trae’s driveway. The place was covered with trees, and the big ancient oaks towered above them. As he pulled to a stop and cut the engine; all they could hear thru the truck’s open windows, were the frogs and crickets.
“I think we’re being serenaded.” Trae said as nature’s song crescendoed into the depths of the surrounding woods.
“I almost forgot how beautiful it is out here.” Dante said as she peered out of the cab.
Trae gently reached over and touched her cheek. Dante sighed as she closed her eyes. How long had she waited for his touch? For even so much as a knowing look from this boy.
“I didn’t forget how beautiful YOU were.” Trae said as he touched her long coppery hair.
She turned towards him, as if in a slow-motion-madness dream. Their eyes met and her heart pounded out of her chest. He left his hand in her hair, and leaned forward. He brushed her supple velvet lips softly. Then Trae cradled her head and caressed her neck with his large hands, and slowly began to taste Dante.
Her lips were resistant at first; tense and unsure, but he didn’t rush her. He continued to press into them, molding her soft pink mouth to his own…letting his tongue envelop hers. The kiss was long and slow but rapidly turned urgent.
Trae slid from behind the steering wheel on the truck’s leather seats and whispered, “I want you to get on top of me.”
Dante obeyed and climbed on top of him. She strattled Trae’s hips and he immediately felt for her plump ass. She threw her shiny loose hair back behind her shoulders. They were face to face in the moonlight now, and the beams shining into the cab only enhanced Dante’s radiance.
“You are so fucking beautiful Dante. I want you to know that.” Trae said while grazing her face with his fingertips.
“You’re drunk!” Dante laughed lightheartedly.
“No, it’s not just the liquor talking. I have always loved you. Always wanted you….probably more than I ever should have.” He looked straight through her and Dante could suddenly feel Trae pressing into her hot mound through his jeans. It didn’t help that she wore thin lace panties under a mid-thigh cotton skirt. A skirt that was now hiked up and barely stretching over her round ass.
Dante let her hands trace over his face, neck and shoulders. Trae kissed her again and she wound her arms around his back. She then began rubbing his short hair, getting lost in the feel and the instinctual movement of his deep sensual kisses.
Lifting herself up and away; as she arched her back and tilted her head, Dante looked untamed. Trae growled and started to unbutton her white linen shirt. One button at a time, he let his kisses go from her hot mouth to her sensitive neck and chest. He pulled Dante’s shirt open to reveal her lacey bra. She cupped her own breasts in both hands and pulled at her already engorged nipples through the thin, see-thru material.
He moaned and flexed his whole body under her. Dante kissed him softly and then put her index finger up to his lips as if to say, “Shhhhh…”
Dante lifted up on the underwire of her bra. She pulled it up as her ripe round tits stayed in place. The wire pressed into the tops of her fleshy breasts; making them point nearly straight up towards Trae, and his hungry waiting mouth.
He dove into her, one hand rubbing and squeezing….tweaking one of her erect nipples. His other hand gripped her twin hard, pulling it towards his hot tongue. His licked and sucked at her perfect swollen peaks. He took turns, giving each his full attention. Trae was ravenous as Dante squirmed and moaned on his lap. Her huge ripe wet nipples glistened, as her hips rolled back and forth on him.
Dante grinded on Trae’s huge rock hard bulge until he couldn’t take it anymore. His teeth tugged gently on one of her slippery silver dollar buttons. He kissed her with abandon and said, “Come on baby, let’s go inside. I want to do this right.”
Like two teenaged school kids, they ran to the house together. Trae lifted Dante’s hand to his mouth, just as he unlocked the front door.
Dante heard an unusual noise about 20 feet away in the dim lit trees. It sounded like a hurt animal. “Trae, what was that?” she said and stood at attention, straining to hear.
“What was what?” He stopped to listen too.
“It was nothing baby, just a wild animal or something.” Trae didn’t seem too worried, as he kissed and parted her lips again with the tip of his exploring tongue.
He flipped on the hall light and turned to grab Dante roughly around the waist. He continued to flood her mouth with deep exotic wantonness; swirling and sucking at her tongue and biting her thick bottom lip. He reached up and undid her already lifted bra, letting it fall to the floor. Trae palmed both of her perfect breasts. They were so round and heavy in his kneading hands. Her tits were perfect firm cushions, with nipples now like tightly puckered rose buds.
Dante put her arms around his muscular shoulders and tilted her head back. She looked deep into his eyes as if to say, “Now what?”
It didn’t take Trae long to give her the answer she was looking for. He lifted her off the ground once again and let her legs cross around his firm torso. She hung from him as he pushed her half-naked back, up against wall. His hips plowed into her, as his mouth abused her lips. Trae then walked with her in his arms, down the long narrow hallway.
He got to the first door on the left and kicked it wide open. With one hand he pulled the lamp string and dim light flowed over the room. He reached back to squeeze and cup her ample ass with his eager hands. He gripped her cheeks, kneading and spreading them apart as he continued to fiercely punish her mouth.
His rough kisses turned faster and more aggressive as Trae laid Dante down on his king size bed. She could hardly keep up with the speed and strength of his tongue, darting in and out of her mouth.
She shuttered as his his kisses moved along her jaw line, to her neck and hypersensitive ear. His three day old stubble scratched and burned her cheeks, chin and neck, but she didn’t care. She wanted him so bad. Dante needed Trae. She had always needed him.
Half an hour later Trae whispered, “Damn baby, if I would have known it was gonna be like this….” He was finally drained. He collapsed on top of her. Even in the cool room, his body shined with a thin sheen of sweat.
Dante’s senses were heightened and satisfied. She smelled the mesquite smoke of the earlier bonfire radiating from their skin, mixing with the sweet warm musk of their sex.
Dante could feel Trae’s heart pounding through her own heaving chest. She rubbed her hands along his rigid shoulder blades, to the tight rippled hollow of his back. This was even better than she could have ever possibly imagined. He superseded any expectations that she may have had in her years of fantasies about him.
Dante shifted her head on the satin sheets as she heard a faint creak and shuffle in the hallway.
She let her eyes lazily flutter open. There was a tall figure looming in the doorway of the bedroom. At first, Dante thought that her eyes were deceiving her, playing some sort of sick trick.
“Dad? Is that you?” She adjusted her pupils to the dim light, to see that it was indeed Sheriff Stone. The shadow spoke as it walked swiftly towards them.
“Ahhhh Dante…I see that you’ve been a very naughty girl.”
“Who are you and what the fuck are you doing in my house?” Trae rolled over and snapped to attention, when he heard the deep voice. It was too late. Sheriff Maxwell Stone swung, and an axe came down hard right between Trae’s aquamarine eyes. The blow split his skull wide open, with a wet and sickening crack.
Dante screamed as her lovers blood splattered all over her flawless awkward frame. She managed to scramble off to the side of the bed and onto the floor. As her Dad viciously pried the axe from Trae’s brutally deviated face, Dante got to her feet and ran out the door. She didn’t look back as she sprinted the length of the dark hallway.
She made it to the front door and saw the truck keys still hanging on a hook by the light switch. In one fluid motion she grabbed the keys and turned the doorknob with her other hand. Dante burst out of the open door and flew down the steps to the unlocked truck in the driveway. She saw her father’s police cruiser had parked right next to them.
She swung open the driver’s side and jammed the key into the ignition. She turned it forward and…nothing. She tried again and pumped the gas, willing the engine to turn over for her. The battery was completely dead.
“Oh my fucking God, NO! What the FUCK! Why is this happening to me?” She screamed in terrified frustration. She looked up and saw that her father now loomed just outside of the dark doorway, bloody axe ready in his hands.
Dante had no choice. She had to at least try and make a run for it. Her only hope was that she could make the 2 mile stretch that led back to the highway. She shot out from the truck; running naked and barefoot with all of her might, through the chilly night.
She stayed on the road, for fear she would not make it through the thick South Texas brush land, so full of cat claw and mesquite trees.
“I can do this. Damn him. My life will not end tonight. Not like Susie’s.” Dante thought as she felt the bottoms of her feet getting sliced and scored up from the sharp rocky asphalt. She thought about who would see her bloody foot prints on the road after the sun came up.
She thought about her friends and family. Her family. Her very own father, a killer.
Dante’s mind raced as she ran for her life. She thought, “I rationalized the entire situation. Yes, I was upset. But I figured that he was only trying to protect me from all the horror and murders. I am his only daughter, he didn’t want me to worry any more than I had to. He was the cause of all the gruesome homicides. He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t love me. He killed my best friend. The man I always loved. Kids. Strangers. No fucking way. Wake up Dante. Wake the fuck up from this hellish nightmare! ”
A million strands of fear-induced thought raped her consciousness, as her heart pumped even harder. Dante needed to stop and take a rest, but she did not dare. Her lungs were burning and sharp pains tore into her side. She tried to pace herself, but it was the inconceivable fear that drove her on.
She was so close to the house where she grew up. She thought maybe it would be safer if she could get there, and get a gun from the cabinet in her Dad’s room. Dante also knew that her feet could not possibly withstand another mile to the highway. The only other home out on this road, was half a mile in between her old house and the highway. That was Uncle Waylon’s property.
All of the sudden she saw the road in front of her start to light up. Dante looked back and could see the red, white, and blue lights flashing on top of her father’s cop car. He was coming; and fast, driving like a maniac.
Dante went into survival mode. She turned down her old driveway and sprinted up to the house. She hoped to God a key was still hidden under that rock by the front porch. It was.
She raced up to the front door, just as her father fishtailed into the driveway. Her hands were shaking as she tried to unlock the deadbolt.
Her father skidded to a stop behind her.
She dropped the key, but snatched it up just as quickly.
“Damn girl, I’m glad you could drop by to see your old man.” The sheriff said as he got out of the car and slammed the door.
The lock turned and Dante went into the house, slamming and relocking it behind her.
Internally she was a mess, but Dante silently rationalized and consoled herself. “I can do this. I will live to see another day.
She ran to her father’s room and straight to the gun cabinet. The key was still at the very top. Dante opened it up and grabbed the Ruger model 44 and a box of cartridges. It had been her favorite hunting rifle growing up. She knew how to load and shoot that thing with one hand tied behind her back and blindfolded.
She heard the slow methodical banging on the door, but she blocked it out as she loaded the old rifle. She cocked it and made sure the safety was off. She went back through the living room to the front door and pointed the gun right at the center.
The knocking continued and then a voice behind the thick door spoke.
“Sheriff Stone? Maxwell, is everything all right? I saw your lights going, and came by to see if everything was okay. You in there?” It was Waylon’s voice.
Dante unlocked the door and hissed, “Come in Waylon, hurry up. Now!” She didn’t know what to think, but didn’t want to leave him out there to get chopped up.
He opened the door and stepped inside. Dante shut it promptly and locked it back up.
“Dante! Dear God what in the name of Sam Hell? Why are you all bloody and naked?” Waylon exclaimed trying not to stare at her exposed body.
“It’s my Dad, Waylon! He is the killer. He killed Trae right in front of me! He chased me down and he is out there, outside somewhere. He lied to me about the murders because he was the one who committed them!” She told him as they went quickly towards the kitchen.
“Fuck Dante. This is my fault. I was supposed to be watching you tonight, but I went home. Loretta made me promise I would watch out for you because she doesn’t trust Trae. She thought that Trae had something to do with Susie’s death. I followed you over to the bar and was trying to be inconspicuous out back. Then you saw me, so I went off into the trees.” Waylon said shaking his head.
“That was you staring at me, from the edge of the woods? Why would you do that? Why didn’t you just come talk to us or have a beer?” Dante made her suspicions very clear.
“I don’t know. I wanted you to have a good time. I didn’t think you wanted an old timer hanging around you and friends you haven’t seen in ages.” He paused and add, “I followed you to Trae’s house too. But only because I was worried and I wouldn’t have forgave myself if my baby sister was right about him. If Trae had tried to hurt you or take you off somewhere, I would have stopped him. But Dante once I saw ya’ll kissing and going on into the house, I split. I promise I didn’t hang around.” His pale blue eyes lingered on hers, pleading.
“My Dad came in the house after you left.” Dante said more to herself than to Waylon.
Just then they heard a woman’s bloodcurdling scream somewhere behind the house. Waylon grabbed the Ruger out of Dante’s hands.
“Stay here. Stay inside. I’m gonna go kill that son of a bitch!” Waylon said and headed for the back door.
“Fuck no! I’m not staying here in this house all by myself!” Dante said as they exited the back door together.
The two headed towards the boat garage in the back, which had been a storage area for years. Dante could here faint sobbing and whiney cries as they approached the door. Then she heard the slashing. The soft ripping and tearing of flesh, as something whooshed and cut through the air.
Waylon kicked at the partially open door and it slammed open.
Dante’s father stood with his back to them. He stood in front of Loretta. She was standing, but hog-tied to one of the thick wooden beams that came down from the ceiling of the dwelling. Her body was ripped to shreds and the fresh blood dripped bright red, into thick congealing pools on the dirt floor.
Her once beautiful face was now nearly unrecognizable. Dante saw that most of Loretta’s skin had been deliberately removed from her exposed muscle. It had been peeled away, and her flesh carved down to the bone.
Then she saw that there was some sort of method to the madness. The cuts circled from her temples to her chin. There were gashes that curved over her nose, around her mouth, zigzagging across her cheekbones. The killer had left certain pieces of rubied flesh and skin in tack, and it gave off a sick kind of artistic design and feel.
Pieces of her intestines hung from her torso like bright red scarlet satin ribbons. Loretta was already dead, but Dante watch in horror as her father continued to slice and cut at her already fissured hips and torn thighs.
“Daddy, stop this! Why are you doing this, whhhyyy?” Dante screeched, as her knees bent and she fell to the ground.
As she collapsed, the good Sheriff Stone turned while grabbing a meat cleaver from the thick leather tool belt around his waist. He threw it over-hand like a fast ball and it went straight into Waylon’s chest.
As Dante looked up, Waylon was falling and his fingers let go of the heavy steel Ruger. Dante reached out and caught the gun with one hand as she rolled onto her stomach.
She had her gore-splashed father lined up in perfect sight through the rifle’s scope, as she steadily took aim at the middle of his blood and plasma covered forehead.
“You have killed everyone that I have ever loved. I bet you killed Mama too you sick fuck.” Dante whispered.
He looked at her cruelly for the last time, and smiled wickedly. His eyes lit up with a demonic serpentine madness as he charged straight for her. Dante shut her eyes tight, as she pulled back on the cold and heavy trigger…