Night of the Beast
an extract from the novel
PART ONE, CHAPTER 7
Two Trees, Nevada/The Reiss Family
"It's getting late," Beth Reiss said. "I'd better be on
Candace Stone closed her test booklet and smiled. "You're a fine student,
"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!"
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
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?"
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
"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?
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?"
"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
"I've been meanin' to tell you a few things, Paw."
Elmo swallowed. His heart felt unsteady, mouth dry as a cotton ball.
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
"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
"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
"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
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 is published
by Medium Rare Books
(2002; ISBN 0-97111629-6).
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