The Hollow - Part Two
Copyright 2011 Anthony Izzo
Liz dialed the management office's number, which was on the printout she'd had in her pocket. The phone rang twelve times and then she got an answering machine whose message told her she'd reached The Hollow's management office and it was closed. She turned off her cell.
She was standing outside the cabin with Jamie next to her. The other two women approached with Kevin and Matt in tow.
Jamie said, “Well?”
“You going to call the cops?”
“No. We're going home.”
“I was getting used to it,” Jamie said. “What about the campfire?”
Sonya was the first to reach her. “Get a hold of the manager?”
“Office is closed. I think we're going to head out.”
Matt said, “Liz, you can't go. We spent hours stacking wood for the campfire.”
“Let me guess,” Liz said, suppressing a smile, “a half hour on the wood and two hours with beers in hand.”
Kevin said, “Damn Matt, she's on to us.”
“I don't like this,” Liz said.
Hannah said, “C'mon Liz, don't get so spooked. Whoever did that's long gone.”
“Yeah. And I brought a bottle of Red Cat, your favorite. So you better stay and drink with us, bitch,” Sonya said.
“I don't know.”
Matt approached her as if she were a patient he was consulting. “Look, it's late. It's a two hour drive back on dark country roads. You're safer here by the fire.”
“I have GPS and Triple A if we need it,” Liz said.
“You really think Triple A's going to come out to the boonies and help you?” Matt asked.
“Matt, you're doing it again,” Hannah said.
“Talking to our friends like they're your patients.”
An angry look appeared on Matt's face, then disappeared as quickly as it had come. Liz was starting to notice this about Matt, little flashes of anger in his expressions, especially when someone corrected him.
“I'm just suggesting what's best,” Matt said.
“I appreciate it, Matt, but if it's all the same, Jamie and I are going to head out.”
“Mom, I think we should stay the night,” Jamie said. “Uncle Matt's right. The roads are pretty dark.”
Liz looked at her daughter, who had a pleading look on her face, and if not for Jamie, she would've gotten in the truck and gone. The woods to her were about as appealing as a twenty-four hour stomach bug. Add in the weird things they'd found and that made home seem even farther away. But Jamie was scared. Liz could tell. And she didn't want to venture on lonely country roads, even if it was with her mother.
“All right,” Liz said. “We'll spend the night.”
The waitress had been unusually friendly to Jacob Greene. Sandi – Sandi with an i – was how she'd introduced herself. She'd come to his table five or six times, each time patting his hand or standing just close enough to avoid entering his personal space. She smelled nice, wearing perfume that somehow made him think of the color purple.
He was in a little Italian place south of Buffalo, New York. Gino's. Not the most original name, but the marinara was good and the stuffed shells were the way he liked them. Firm, not mushy.
He sopped up the rest of the sauce on his plate with the homemade bread that had come warm in a basket. After wiping his mouth, he saw Sandi approaching.
She was pretty enough, with long dark hair and nice brown eyes. A little plump, but not enough to make her unattractive.
“Well?” she said, giving him a friendly nudge on the arm.
“Excellent marinara. Bread was kick ass.”
She laughed a little too loud and looked cute doing so. “Anything else, hon?”
“Just the check. You've been great.”
“It's nothing. I'll get that check for you.”
Maybe it was just his imagination. He was an average looking guy. Brown hair, brown eyes. Wore jeans, tees. Nothing special. He'd been doing hundreds of burpees, pushups, and chin-ups over the past year, running ten miles a week, and he'd learned enough Tae Kwan Do to hurt someone. So he supposed he had a decent build. Fuck, he was lonely. She wasn’t interested in him, was she?
Sandi brought the check to him. He took a look. It said THANKS. SANDI. She'd drawn a little smiley face over the i in her name.
As Jacob reached for his wallet, she said, “I usually don't ask this, but I'm off in ten minutes. Could you give me a ride?”
“Home. Car’s in the shop. Blown radiator. I walked here, but it's dark and all.”
So she was hitting him up for a ride the whole time. He thought about telling her no, but then the loneliness struck again, like a sharp stone in his chest. His wife and daughter were gone, and he'd been on his own for years. Company might be nice. “Why not?”
“Thanks hon. Wait here for me?”
Twenty minutes later, they were in his pickup truck, Zeppelin on the stereo, Sandi singing along with Robert Plant. She wasn't half bad.
She directed him to a side road that led off of Route Sixteen. He took it and ended up at a neat, white farm house with a wrap-around porch. Not at all what he'd expected, but he supposed you should never judge anyone. You were likely to make an ass out of yourself if you did.
“It belonged to my parents. They left it to me. Used to be a working farm before they bought it.”
“You like it here?”
“It's lonely. Too big for me. I don't like the nights.”
“I hear noises, keeps me up.”
“I'm sure it's safe enough.”
“It just feels so big. Like it’s going to swallow me up. Sometimes I go to sleep with the TV on, just to break up the silence.”
“I live alone, too. It can get to you.”
“You want to come in? I could put on some coffee.”
“I could use a cup.”
He parked in the driveway and they got out, Sandi leading the way. Jacob caught himself looking at her ass as she walked. He felt guilty. Jesus, how long had it been for him? Almost three years. That alone was depressing.
Sandi unlocked the front door and went in, Jacob sitting at the kitchen table while she put on a pot of coffee. While it brewed, she told him how her parents had died in a car wreck and she'd gotten the house and half-a-million dollars in life insurance money.
Jacob had left his peacoat on until now, and Sandi said, “You taking that off, or what?”
They went in her living room and he took off the coat. She was going to see the gun and hopefully wouldn't freak out on him.
“You a cop?”
“The gun, right?”
“Not a cop. It's for protection.”
“You're not going to go all Ted Bundy on me, are you?”
Jacob smiled. “Funny, my last victim asked me that. No, I carry it for a reason. I'm harmless, mostly.”
“Tell me,” she said, and sat down.
“I'm looking for some men.”
“Like a bounty hunter thing?”
“No. These men killed my wife and daughter. I'm trying to find them.”
“They were murdered?”
Jacob nodded. He told her the story of what had happened to Emily and Maddie, and as he spoke, she slid her hand on top of his. It felt electric.
“You poor thing. That's awful,” she said, now making little circles on top of his hand.
He leaned across and kissed her, the bitter taste of coffee on her lips. She moaned and her hand gripped the back of his neck, holding him in close.
They wasted no time getting undressed. They were naked, twisting, kissing. She was on top of him, breasts in his face, then turned around, her buttocks hovering over his face, using her mouth on him until he thought he might lose his mind. They finished face-to-face, chests heaving, a sheen of sweat on their bodies. Physically, he felt great. But also like a shit for doing this, like somehow he was being disloyal to Emily and their marriage.
She buried her head in his chest, her hair soft against his skin. He heard her say, “Stay tonight.”
Later, in bed, Sandi rested her head on Jacob’s chest, and again he felt as if he were cheating on Emily, even though she was two years dead. But the companionship felt good, even if this woman was a total stranger to him.
“What are you going to do if you find these men?”
“You mean it?”
“I mean it.”
“I have more guns in the truck. I've been preparing for this for a while.”
She paused before answering. “I guess I'd want to do the same thing.”
“I've thought about it. I'm set on it.”
“What about the police? If they catch you, you'll go to prison.”
He didn't answer her. Instead he was thinking the cops wouldn't catch him, and there would be no prison for him. Jake would see to that.
“Can I come with you?”
“Why on earth would you want to?”
“I hate it here.”
“What about your job?”
Sandi said, “It's a shit job. They're a dime a dozen. Plus I still have insurance money.”
“If I catch up to them. And if I kill them, what would you do?”
“Honestly? I hope you don't. Killing them will make you feel worse. You might feel better for it at first, but it'll eat at you, make things worse.”
He didn't want to admit that maybe she was right. “Fine. Come along. I could use the company. But realize I'm doing this.”
“I can't stay here anymore,” she said.
“Then come with me.”
Night descended on the woods, and with it came a ten degree drop in the temperature. It had been in the fifties during the day, and Liz suspected now it was around forty, maybe even a little cooler. She had put on a parka, wool hat, and gloves before joining the others around the campfire.
The whole group sat around the fire, Liz next to Jamie, with Hannah and Sonya paired to their respective mates. They'd cooked hotdogs, hobo pies, and s’mores. Liz had sampled a pizza hobo pie and two s’mores; her belly felt stretched out.
She was nursing her second Sam Adams of the night when Matt said, “Anyone want to hear a scary story?”
Jamie said, “The scarier, the better.”
“Fire away,” Sonya said.
“Matt's really good at these,” Hannah said, rubbing his arm.
Matt set his bottle of Corona down, leaned forward on his chair, and rubbed his hands. “This place has a history, you know. Anyone ever hear of the Hollow Massacre?”
“That's a cheesy name,” Jamie said.
“Shush. Twenty years ago, these cabins were occupied. A whole family here for a reunion. They'd had a campfire just like us, then they went to bed for the night. A few hours later, the mother in the first cabin heard a noise. She got up to investigate and found a masked man in the cabin. He stabbed her thirty-six times.”
“Matt, that's enough,” Liz said.
“There were two men. Wearing masks. The police had warned they might be in the area, but the family went camping anyway. But they weren't done,” Matt said, his eyes getting wide. He was taking pleasure in telling the story.
Liz looked at Hannah and Sonya, who had both closed up their jackets, as if to protect themselves from the night. She noticed Kevin had shifted over toward Sonya. Funny how the dark woods could magnify the effect of a spooky tale.
“They dragged the other family members from the cabin. But they didn't kill all of them. They dragged a few campers off screaming. Took them to a secret location. One of the women escaped, but not after hearing her family tortured to death.”
Jamie said, “Is this true?”
“The woman who escaped the killers led the police back to where she'd been held. They found body parts. Arms, legs, a severed head. The paper said the floor was slippery from human fat.”
Sonya said, “Now I really don't want anymore hot dogs.”
This elicited a nervous laugh from the group.
“But the worst thing? They never found the guys that did it. There was a huge manhunt, but they disappeared.”
“Quit trying to scare everyone,” Sonya said.
“It's true,” Liz said. “There were two serial killers operating in the area. They killed a total of nineteen people, including the Hollow Massacre. Then they disappeared.”
“That's creepy,” Jamie said.
“Don't worry,” Liz said. “They're either long gone, dead, or in prison for something else.”
“It was a good story,” Hannah said. “Matt always tells good ghost stories.”
Except these ghosts were brutal killers. And real, Liz thought. But she didn't say anything.
The big man shifts his weight, careful not to make the leaves crackle. He is perched on a hill above the cabins, and he can see the campers gathered by the fire. The other man, the older one, has crept closer to the campsite and watches them from the woods.
The boy is back at the truck, for they've told him to wait there. Tonight they are just watching the campers, sizing them up.
The big man licks his lips in anticipation. He has an array of weapons dangling from a belt: hunting knives, hatchets, a hand sledge. He feels if he is lucky, he will get to use them.
The campers are listening to one of the men talk. He can only hear a male voice from up here, all of the other campers being silent. There are four women and two men, and they are the same people he observed rolling down the road in their SUVs.
They don't have any idea what is going to happen to them. A chill rushes over him at the thought of it.
Matt swigged the rest of his beer and set the bottle next to his chair. “I've got to take a leak.”
Liz watched him get up and head into the woods, wondering why he didn't just go in the cabin and use the bathroom. Maybe it was a guy thing.
“So that was really true?” Jamie asked.
“I remember. Fall of 1990. I was dating your father. The Hollow killers had everyone in the Southern Tier and near the Pennsylvania line scared shitless.”
Sonya said, “My mother lived in the town where some kids got killed. Disappeared. Cops think it was the Hollow killers did it.”
“And they vanished?”
“Like ghosts,” Liz said. “But don't spend a minute worrying.”
“Why'd they reopen this place?” Jamie asked.
“They should've torn the place down,” Jamie said.
“Let's not talk about it. Uncle Matt was just trying to spook everyone.”
Liz finished her Sam Adams, set the bottle aside, and took one from the cooler beside the chair. “Bottle opener?”
Hannah had the opener, which they'd been passing around. She tossed it to Liz, who caught it and popped the cap off of her beer. She was halfway through her beer when she realized Matt still hadn't come back.
“Hannah, where's your hubby? He go on nature hike?” Liz asked.
“Maybe he decided to fertilize the leaves, too,” Hannah said.
“Nice,” Kevin said. “I'll take a look for him.”
“Tell him if he's playing a joke on us, he won't be getting any tonight,” Hannah said.
“I'll pass that along,” Kevin said, getting up.
Matt had walked twenty yards into the woods. Certain the women couldn't see him, he unzipped and peed on a pine tree. As he was zipping up, he heard a branch snap.
There was a trail that led up and away from the campsite, and the noise had come from that direction. He attributed it to a raccoon or maybe a deer and was about to return to the campsite when something caught his eye. Up on the trail, behind a pine tree, he could make out the shape of someone. Someone standing still.
He could make out the outline of a figure, maybe the arm and part of a shoulder. He loved the woods, having camped alone numerous times, and had never been scared out here. But he couldn't deny the chill that ran down his back.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
Maybe there wasn't anyone there, and he hoped that was the case. If the stranger in the woods had bad intentions, Matt was unarmed.
The figure slipped out from behind the trees and went deeper into the woods. No mistaking it now, it was a good-sized man.
Matt's first instinct was to get the hell out of here, go back to the campsite where it was bright and warm. But doing that might lose sight of the man, and he had a chance to deal with whoever it was. Besides, who said the guy was dangerous? Maybe just weird.
Matt bounded up the trail.