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Night of the Beast

an extract from the novel

by Harry Shannon


Two Trees, Nevada/The Reiss Family

"It's getting late," Beth Reiss said. "I'd better be Night of the Beast by Harry Shannonon my way."

Candace Stone closed her test booklet and smiled. "You're a fine student, Elizabeth."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"Wait," Candace said. The greying teacher reached behind her tattered blue couch. She produced a small basket filled with barnyard straw and covered with a clean, red-and white checkered dishrag. "Take these nice fresh eggs to your poppa."

Beth slipped into her old brown coat. The afternoon had turned cold. She accepted the basket with a curtsy, since old folks like Miss Stone seemed to like that crap. People over twenty were weird. Beth wanted to run away and get some tattoos, or pierce her navel or something. But she smiled instead.

"Thanks again, ma'am," Beth said sweetly. She opened the screen door and was gone.

Candace Stone called after her. "You give my best to Elmo, hear? Say hello to your Pa!"

"I will."

The desert floor was a smear of dark enamel, glittering in the sunset. A chuckling blackness began crawling down out of the mountains as Beth Reiss, thirteen years old, made her way home.

Beth was thinking about boys. Wasn't a whole lot to think about, since there were hardly any left in Two Trees. Still, the thought of boys made something nice happen low in her belly. Her brother Robert would have disapproved, but she found the sensation wonderful.

As Candace Stone's porchlight retreated into the murky evening, Beth flicked on her flashlight. She didn't want to trip and break the eggs. Paw loved his fresh eggs.

And Beth loved her Paw. But it didn't seem fair to be young and pretty, well at least a little, and have to look after a blind grownup. Especially in such a boring, hick town. Beth Reiss dreamed of following Robert. Oh, not to a nun school, her brother could keep all that religious stuff, just to one of those big cities, where really exciting things happened. The places she had occasionally seen on satellite television, where people danced and laughed and went out at night just for the heck of it. Where they didn't need a flashlight to find their way around, because the whole place was alive and kicking. And there were lots and lots of boys.

Shoot, Beth thought. Damn, I wanna grow up.

Craaaack. Twig snapping? Wait.

Might be a coyote. If one of Miss Stone's eggs were already cracked, the animal would smell it. But a coyote wouldn't jump her; she was far too big a target. Beth relaxed. She walked on, swinging her basket.

Bobby was coming home soon. He'd be a real preacher and everything. Maybe she could get him alone for a while and ask to spend the summer with him. They could go some place nice together. Robert was a decent enough guy, for a preacher. Mostly because he was still so young.

Naw, then who'd take care of Paw? Elmo Reiss was a tough old buzzard who got around pretty well on his own, but somebody had to stick by him just in case. He could maybe fall and get hurt, not be able to reach the telephone. But heck, with fat old Gladys Pierson running the system there was no telling whether anybody'd answer anyway.

Beth sighed dramatically and swept the ground with the beam of her flashlight. I guess I'll just be stuck in this one-horse town for the rest of my life, she thought. How tragic. Someone should write a book about it. I mean, this would make a movie that'd tear your heart out.

Craaaack. Something else. Rattler?

Pebbles, sliding down the edge of the rock face in that small gully by the side of the road. Oh, Jeez. Something was trailing her after all. Maybe a bobcat or a badger, probably because of the eggs. Beth walked faster, swinging the basket, a tiny dust devil spinning merrily in her wake. Unforgiving night spread across the empty desert like an ink stain and swallowed her whole.

Meanwhile, Elmo Reiss sat quietly by the fire in his private darkness. He was listening to a scratchy old Tex Williams single: Yuuuuuuur cheeeeetin' ways, are gonna break my heart...

Elmo waved one hand near the blaze. It was dying, just like Two Trees. Time to throw another log on the fire. But where was Elizabeth? If the wood had burned that far down, she was more than an hour late. Elmo leaned back in his armchair and fumbled for the telephone. He figured he'd best call Candace Stone and ask after his daughter. He went to ring for Gladys.

Footsteps on the front porch.


"It's me Paw," she said. The door, closing behind her with a click. "Sorry if I worried you. Miss Stone and I got to talking, and you know now how she is."

Elmo chuckled. "Indeed I do. Gimme a hug, girl."

Bare feet crossing the carpet. Bare feet? Why? The whisper of soft flesh on ragged wool, sliding away from him. "In a minute, Paw. I need to wash up a bit first."

"Fine, sweetheart. What's for dinner?"

"A big surprise."

Elmo leaned forward and started the record again: You'll cry and cry, the whoooole night thruuuuu... Gawd, they just didn't write 'em like that anymore. That kid Peter Rourke, off doin' so well, by God he could have been even bigger with a few lessons from ol' Hank.

Elmo grew impatient. "What kinda surprise?"

"You'll see."

Humid breath on his cheek. Elmo jumped half out of his overalls. She was standing right behind him, and he hadn't even heard her move.

"Girl, you scared me half to death. You been sneakin' up on little boys?"

"What boys?" Beth said. Elmo read the pout in her voice. It disturbed him. He reached for her hand but she was gone again. He grabbed only air; a suddenly cold patch of air.

"I know it's been rough on you honey, tendin' to a useless old man. Things are bound to get better once Bobby comes home."

Your cheeeetin' ways, are going beak my heart... She went to wash up? There wasn't any water running in the bathroom. Where was she?

"Beth, honey?"

Silence descended. Now, old Elmo Reiss had been sightless for more than ten years and he was pretty much used to it. Still there were times when a raw, spooky hollow grew in his insides and he got afraid of the dark. Times like this.

"Don't you tease me, child. Beth?"

"In the kitchen, Pa. I'm fixing your surprise."

Whoosh of relief, a slower pulse. Elmo became aware of a scratching sound that kept repeating itself rhythmically, something like a woman doing her nails with a cardboard file. His old record player. He reached over to turn it off.

It wasn't there anymore.

"Beth, did you move my old record machine away?"

No answer.

"Honey, I can hear it goin' round and round. That'll mess up my record collection. Could you please shut it off?"


She was right at his ear again. Elmo jumped, his weak ticker nearly skipping a beat. A pain clutched at his left arm. He rubbed himself. Said: "What's that terrible smell?"

"What smell, Daddy?"

Sniff. "Don't know. Like rotten eggs. You bring some home from Candace?"

"Uh, huh. That must be it. One of 'em's bad."


"Not really, Daddy. Here, have another whiff. I kinda like it myself."

His stomach heaved. "Don't do that, honey. That's not nice and it's not funny."

"I've been meanin' to tell you a few things, Paw."

Elmo swallowed. His heart felt unsteady, mouth dry as a cotton ball. "Like what?"


They were nose to nose, her face was only inches away. Elmo Reiss realized with horror that the stink was coming from her breath. She stank of the grave.

"I'm tired of bein' nice," Beth said. "I'm fucking sick and tired of being your servant, your nurse and your goddamned babysitter."

His left arm went numb and a giant fist smacked into his bony chest. Christ, the pain! Elmo clutched himself and groaned. He heard something wicked hiding in Elizabeth's thin, reedy laugh. She whispered of sin and corruption.

"I want to get fucked and sucked, Daddy. You hear me? You still there?"

The pain. God help me, the pain! Elmo wept for his daughter.

Fingers pinched his nostrils tight, and one hand plopped over his mouth like a gag. The skin was cold and clammy. Elmo fought to breathe and began to thrash about like a beached whale. He could barely endure the agony. His frantic heart pounded and pounded. He was dying and he knew it.

"Come with me, Daddy," the Beth-thing snarled. "It's time to go."

Twinkling lights. Christ, I can almost see again. Am I dead? But no, his heart still hammered. Only this wasn't his heart anymore, it was someone knocking.

Elmo collapsed on the rug, gasping for air. The pain...

"Elmo! Goddamn you, open up!"

A huge, ham-like fist thudded into the wood one last time, and then Glen Bates just kicked the front door down. He stepped inside, knelt by Elmo Reiss and felt for the old man's pulse.

"Elmo, can you hear me?"

Reiss managed a weak smile.

"I'm all right, Sheriff. I got dizzy. Really. Just help me up." God, Beth, I won't betray you. I will not tell. No matter what. But why did you do a sick thing like that?

"Elmo, I want to take you over to Polson's for the night."

Back on his feet. Tiny pinpricks, left arm still numb. "Glenn, I'm fine. I just fell. Beth will look after me."

Small hairs rose, as if from a static charge. Bates wasn't responding. Reiss felt himself slipping over the edge. Oh no, Beth. No. He realized Bates had been speaking for some time. Elmo shook his head and tried to concentrate.

"It must have been some maniac from out of town, Elmo. Everyone in Two Trees has been accounted for."

A pause. "I'm sorry."

Elmo wavered. Bates caught him.

"What are you saying?"

"Someone murdered your daughter. Out by the highway, probably less than an hour ago. I found the body myself. At least it was quick. Her neck was -- Elmo?"

Weary heart a jackhammer, blood roaring in his ears. Fuck it. The peal of distant laughter; a voice that was Beth's, but not Beth, mocking him. Falling.

And then Elmo Reiss was dead.

© Harry Shannon 2002, 2003.
Night of the Beast
Night of the Beast is published by Medium Rare Books (2002; ISBN 0-97111629-6).

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