A Siren in the Rain
Jenny was late. So, there I stood, alone on a suburban street corner not far from the empty soccer field. The early October evening was marked with the welcoming scent of autumn decay, but the overcast sky was hazy and cold. It wasn’t Jenny’s absence that chilled me. It was the silence, the coming dusk. Nervous, I counted the streetlights as they lit, listening to the gurgling kill; it was the sound of water over rocks and mud.
Shivering, I shouldered my sagging schoolbag and kicked my soccer ball; it left a mark in the wet grass as it rolled away. My windbreaker rustled in the breeze; it had been drizzling on and off all day, and despite its waterproofing, I now felt raw and clammy. Shaking off a chill, I looked at my cracked wristwatch and frowned. Thirty minutes ago, I had used my last quarters to call her on the old payphone. Jenny was supposed to come and pick me up. And now…well, where was she?
I didn’t want to be alone on this side of town at night. The kids at the school said that a creep of a man lived in the woods. They called him crazy, called him “Wild Will”. They said that after a storm took his house and the town took his property, he moved into the forest by the water. There, the old man became deranged and flighty, but greedy for property, things of his own. Now, they said that Wild Will took anything or anyone that crossed his camp. Bikes, balls, bags, pets…even kids. I was right beside the kill now. And down in my gut, I knew that those rumors were true.
A gust of wind disrupted my thoughts. I shuddered and began to pace, the crisp fallen leaves crunching like fresh potato chips under my feet. Jenny was just preoccupied, I thought. Busy making dinner at home. A warmth washed over me as I imagined the hissing pressure cooker, the sweltering kitchen. I could almost smell the savory peppered beef and succulent vegetables. Jenny would be setting the table with paper plates and cheap plastic silverware right about now, and when she remembered my call, she would rush to the soccer field straight away. And if she made a wrong turn or two along the way…well, that would only extend her delay.
The soccer ball squealed under my wet rubber sole as I trapped it and dribbled it across the manicured field. I glanced at the roadway and noticed the asphalt was growing speckled and black. My cheek felt the kiss of rain. I grimaced, wiping the wet drops from my face. It was then that another thought came to me: what if Jenny hadn’t forgotten?
In my mind’s eye, I saw her following the kill south in her little gray sedan. The weather was always worse on the northern side of town, and the wind was picking up, tearing at the last remaining leaves on the trees. But Jenny didn’t mind; she was safe in the driver’s seat, her hands firmly on the wheel. Puddles splashed under the car’s tires. She squinted at the road ahead through the fogging windshield, each wiper stroke streaking the glass with rain. Her headlights flashed as she rounded the bend, and?
A burst of lightning—a falling branch! With a start, Jenny wrenched the steering wheel, swerving just as a heavy bough fell into the road, its branches splintering upon landing. But the car in the oncoming lane didn’t see her, reacted too late. Crunch! The cars collided, and the impact sent both of them spinning, launching glass and plastic high into the air.
I shuddered, pulling up my jacket’s hood. No, that wouldn’t happen, I thought. Jenny would be a good driver. And there was no lightning in the air at all, no metallic taste of ozone. There was only a drizzle and the flavors of wet grass, sodden earth. Reassured, I walked back to the curb and sat. But then, in the distance, I heard a wailing echo. It was the sound of a siren. Perhaps an ambulance.
Another vision came; it was the little gray sedan on its side in the middle of the road. She was in the driver’s seat, buckled in but out cold. A purple bruise stained her pale forehead as the driving rain filtered in through the shattered window, soaking her auburn hair. From the outside, the car looked like a crushed can, and a rescue crew was prying open the driver’s side door. Not far away, the red and blue lights of an ambulance swirled. And then, just behind it, two police cars appeared on the scene.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, feeling anxious once again. The cars, those lights…it was too much to take. I plodded back and forth as the mud sucked at my shoes. The dim sky was getting darker now, and the rain was becoming more intense. The siren seemed to hang in the air like a warning, casting grim pictures in my mind.
I bit my lip and chewed, tasting the twang of blood. I needed to stop the worrying, I thought. Otherwise, my imagination would get the best of me. To diffuse the tension, I kicked the soccer ball again and watched it bounce away in the direction of the kill, spraying dirty droplets into the air. It spun to a stop in a puddle by the water?just as a soft rustle shook the bushes nearby.
My body froze. Had that been the wind?
I stopped, silent. The babbling kill sounded much louder now, like a gushing torrent. I took a cautious stride forward and listened, waiting. Nothing. No more sounds, no more movement at all. Relieved, I released my breath and relaxed my shoulders—just as the sound of a snapping twig reached my ears.
There she was, pulling herself out of the crumpled gray sedan. While the cut on her forehead bled into her eye, and the bruises on her shoulders marred her ivory skin, she seemed otherwise unharmed. But she was alone; there was no ambulance, no rescue crew on the scene. Valiantly, she stood and wobbled through the rain to help the driver of the second car, a dark green jeep, which was tipping into the kill. The cracked windshield was spattered with something red; a chime sounded as the jeep’s door hung ajar.
Warily, she peered inside, but she found that the driver was gone. She searched the front seat; the key was still in the ignition and the engine was idling. Puzzled, she looked down at the ground to find that the grass at her feet was flattened and streaked with mud. Her expression telegraphed that this was curious; it looked like something?or someone?had been dragged, pulled out of the jeep and into the kill.
Her voice quivering, she called out twice for help. But the pounding rain silenced her calls. Shaking, she found the cell phone in her left pocket and turned on its flashlight, focusing its beam on the water’s surface, which was fetid and green, pulsing with ripples from the rain. Cautiously, she scanned the streambed, her eyes adjusting to the low light, her heart pounding fiercely. All she saw were scraggily watercress, reeds, and rocks—but then, another, stranger shape gave her pause.
A solitary sneaker.
Her jaw dropped as she stared at it, growing even more pale than before. Clean and white with black stripes, Adidas, its laces twisted in the muddy current, like the thin threads of algae nearby. To her, the sneaker must have looked out of place. Crude. It couldn’t have been there long.
Turning away, she traced her flashlight’s beam along the shoreline. Her nose crinkled; the foul, sulfurous smell of the creek was strong, overwhelming her senses. Soon, she came upon fresh footprints in the sand; there were two sets, raked into the riverbed as if the two people had been struggling. One pair matched the lonely shoe in the water, and the other pair was?
Something splashed loudly behind her. She spun quickly, the flashlight’s beam dancing in the dark. The silt at her ankles swirled in the water as two pale shapes appeared in her quivering beam. She squinted, narrowing her eyes, unsure of what the shapes were—but then it came in a cascade of fear:
Feet. Bare feet.
A surge of adrenaline took her. She bolted, the silt pulling at her every desperate stride. But the watercress were slick under her slippers; she stumbled and fell.
Her heart pounding at the inside of her ribcage, she clawed at the wet sand to reclaim her footing. A low grunt came from nearby.
Her eyes widened; a rusty iron pipe landed inches from her nose.
Frantic, she rolled away and shrieked. Then she stood, wobbling on her knees as she made one last attempt to call for help on her phone; her wet fingers squeaked as they jabbed at the buttons. But it was in vain.
A shove from behind sent her reeling. A look of surprise flashed across her horrified face before she tumbled and fell, landing face down on the rocks in the kill. There was a sudden stillness. The cell phone fell from her fingers and into the water?but not before connecting to someone on the other end.
That vision did it; I was sprinting now, terrified. My breath came in ragged gasps as I raced away from the kill. The rain was falling in sheets all around me, rushing like a waterfall. But I didn’t slow down. No, I needed to get away. Far away. All I wanted was to be gone, to be dry. To be safe.
Suddenly, there was a flicker of light on the road. I shielded my eyes as a vehicle came around the bend. Yes! It was Jenny.
Desperate, I waved, running to the road, my limbs flailing wildly. The car’s brakes squealed as it came to a sudden stop. I tried the passenger side door?but it was locked. Panicked, I banged on the misty window, praying that Jenny would unlock the door and let me inside. But when Jenny did finally roll down the window, a different response came; the woman in the driver’s seat choked with fright, her broad face paling as she opened her mouth to scream. But it was drowned out by the sound of screeching tires.
“No,” I shouted, “wait!”
But Jenny didn’t; the car lurched forward, wheels spinning, and sped away, knocking me off my feet and into the street.
My tailbone hit asphalt, sending a burst of pain up my spine. Howling, I watched Jenny disappear, wincing and cursing as I rubbed my scraped palms. I glanced down at a puddle of murky water nearby. And there it was; my own gaunt, grime-smeared face staring back at me, the grizzled hair of my beard dripping with spittle. Frustrated, I shook my head and swore.
With a snort, I stood, wobbling on my feet. My new Adidas sneakers, though wet, were still quite clean. Quickly, I unshouldered my schoolbag. My fingers were shaking as I unzipped it and rifled through its contents: a waterlogged cell phone, my rusty old pipe, and an agenda. I snorted, pulling out the latter and throwing it away; if it hadn’t been for the phone number inside it, and the boy who had forgotten the bag when he ran off with his friends an hour earlier, I wouldn’t have had the chance to call his mother, Jenny, at home. All I wanted was a ride out of town. But now, that opportunity was gone. Soon, the police would hear about the smashed cars and their two missing drivers, the man from the jeep and that other woman—whatever her name had been. In any case, I had his shoes, and her cell phone. There was no doubt that Jenny would report me near the scene. And so, if I didn’t get away from the kill soon, “Wild Will” would be wild no more.