Even her own house felt more like an alien construct. Its wood siding was
dark and coarse, its windows dark and small. Its shutters and door, the
shelves of books and the walls of its walls seemed to have been carved from
a wood so soft that when she pressed the smooth surface to her face like a
tongue gently stroking her cheek, she could feel the texture of the
At the end of the long driveway, she turned the corner of the house, and
with a quick push of her legs, she was running full tilt, her bare feet
swimming through the cool night air. The sound of her feet slapping against
the earth had the potential to leave her openmouthed, her body aching from
the effort, but for the moment, Beth couldn’t think about the damage. Her
hearts were pounding with a steady rhythm like the pulse of a pulse-pounding
clock. She was exhilarated, exhilarated by the rush, exhilarated by the
sense that she was breaking through into a world of her own where there was
no thought of herself, no obligation to be polite to others, and no fear
that what she was doing was wrong. She felt like a woman in a dream.
She didn’t stop until she reached the safety of the shadow of the woods.
There was still the smell of horses to be enjoyed here tonight–a tangy
scent that clung to the back of her throat and made her feel as though she
had just swallowed an enormous mouthful of salt and peppery vinegar.
She sat down on the ground, pulled the gun from her back, and opened the
box of shells. She looked down at the gun and the black box that housed
it and the long wooden handle that had gone with it into the hands of
Livinia’s father. She slipped the gun into the box on the nightstand, and
her hand lingered a moment over the trigger.
For the moment, she was back on earth. She was back in her own house,
and the knowledge that she was alone only brought a faint sense of panic.
_He_ was alone. She had no choice now but to go after him. As far as she
knew, she couldn’t get out of the house without his knowing. She had
promised. She had made a promise to her mother and her mother had
listened to her.
It was her turn to break the promise. The knowledge that she had a
mother. That she had a mother who liked her–a mother who had always been
there, a mother who had held her close in the early days, a mother who
loved her. But now that she had given herself to her, now that she had
fallen in love with him, he was gone. He had moved on–gone away.
_But I can still go after him._
She picked up the rifle from the nightstand and with a quick swipe of the
gun, the heavy barrel came into clear view. It wasn’t a gun she recognized.
She hadn’t known that there was a gun with a silencer in the box. It
sounded like a big tommy gun, like the one the men in the movies would
sometimes play with when they pretended to be cowboys.
“I thought you said you were a woman.”
She glanced up. He was standing on the front porch, with his back
turned. He was staring at the house but she couldn’t read his expression.
He was smiling–a wickedly charming, devilish smile. With his hand on his
gun, he was looking out on the dark, deserted street.
Beth shrugged. “I’m a woman, and I don’t care what anybody says!” she
He lowered his hand. Beth felt a small flutter of fear–and then there was
a sound, a sound of splintering wood from behind her. She started, but she
stopped with just a breath. She had heard something, but it had been too
shaky for her to pinpoint where or when it might have sounded.
She waited, her heart pounding, wondering if she should run. Not thinking,
she let her hand fall to the butt of the gun. She heard the sound again,
this time a little closer, but she didn’t feel afraid any longer. The
sound was behind her, it was a woman’s voice calling out to someone.
She raised her head and took her first good look. It was a woman, but she
was bent over, lying on the ground with a man on top of her. She reached
out her hand as though to stop the man, and he shook it away. He looked
just as good as he sounded, and a chill of recognition went through Beth’s
body. It wasn’t his face at all; it was someone else’s–someone who
someone had put on Beth’s body.
Someone in her own house–someone who was standing on the porch, his hand
on his gun. She looked down at the gun, knowing that it wasn’t hers,
hoping that it wasn’t the one she had lost on the beach–the one she had
lost on the day she kissed him good-bye and she left the world.
He had let her go. He had let her go–his hands were still on her, on her
body, on her soul.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She tried to pull away, wanting to run–but the
men would be coming. They were coming. She wanted to run away while
they were there. She wanted to run away now, but she couldn’t run away
from him. She was going to go after him, for her mother. She was going to
go after him and end this nightmare–this nightmare where she had been
dragging her feet on the road to love. She was going to go after him.
His hand on the trigger made the air between them jumpy.
“Just stay put–I’m not going to harm you. I’m going to ask you a
question, and if you answer me, I won’t–you can call me again when it’s
She didn’t speak. He was a good man, a man who was trying to help her.
He was a good man–she thought of the children she had left behind–she
thought of the men who were going to come and take them away. She was a
woman who would not be treated like that.
“Are you going to answer me or not?”
Then it was as though a wall had suddenly formed between them, shutting
them out. For the first time in her life–for the first time in her life
she tried to run. She tried to run and the sound of her feet thudding
through the earth stopped her in her tracks. She thought she heard a
slight squeal and then the echo of a laugh.
That laugh, it was a laugh from the world that had been left behind and
from the world that had been taken from her–the world that was about to
make a return now that she was there.
She had heard it and she had heard it, and now it was for her as well.
“Yes,” she said, and her voice cut the night.
He pulled the trigger. She heard the sound of the gun recoil, the
hammer cocking back. Then the sound of the hammer striking the
“Go for it,” he said.
She pulled the trigger.
The hammer fell.
The weapon discharged with a soft thu-thu-thu-thu.
The gun was empty.