A Nice, Quiet Town—chapter 4
Edna Sue hung up her apron and turned out the diner’s lights at one a.m. Jasper Wheeze, the diner’s owner and cook, walked her to her car and they drove off in opposite directions. He lived five minutes away. She had a half-hour drive to her trailer on the outskirts of Sutter’s Creek. Someday, she’d move the double-wide to the court where Jasper lived. He’d like that, had offered to let her move in with him, but for right now, she liked being close to her mama. Ma lived at the Crepe Myrtle Nursing Home. When she’d first gotten a room there, she could get around in her wheelchair. These days, she never left her bed. Her mind was still sharp, but her body was a thin layer of parchment over frail bones, and every time Edna Sue visited her, she was weaker.
Edna turned on the radio and flicked to the local channel as she passed fields of cotton, blanketed in darkness. It had been a busy night at work. Charlene never showed up, and the truckers still wanted their food in a timely manner. She needed to unwind. She hummed along to a Keith Urban song as the night air blew in her windows. At night, the temperatures were milder, and she liked having her windows down. She’d even opened her moon roof.
She was five minutes from home when the music was interrupted with an announcement. CITIZENS OF SUTTER’S CREEK, BE WARNED. DO NOT GO OUT AFTER DARK, ALONE. STAY IN GROUPS OF THREE AND HOLD HANDS. A DRAGON IS ATTACKING OUR TOWN, IT BURROWS TUNNELS UNDERGROUND. IT WAITS FOR PEOPLE TO FALL THROUGH THE HOLES IT DIGS TO EAT THEM. IF YOU NEED ASSISTANCE, OUR LOCAL WEREWOLF PACK HAS VOLUNTEERED TO ACCOMPANY YOU TO AND FROM THE PLACES YOU NEED TO GO. CALL THIS NUMBER . . . She grabbed her pen and wrote the number on her hand. Bless the werewolf pack. She knew every member and liked them. They’d fought off every rogue vampire who’d dropped into town to grab a few snacks on their way farther south. She’d heard that up north, people didn’t like supernaturals, but around these parts, people knew there were more good ones than bad.
She punched the number into her cellphone and recognized Cole’s voice when he answered. “Hey, Cole, this is Edna. I’m almost home. I’m beat. Is it safe for me to run to my trailer from my car?”
“No. I have two pack members on your side of town. They’ll meet you at your place. Wait for them. Don’t get out of your car until they get there.”
“Got it. Thanks.” She passed the sign that read WELCOME TO SUTTER’S CREEK. The flea market, dark in its circle of gravel, followed the sign. Then the cement block building that was part nursery and part farm stand. Wilbur Barlock’s house with its three junk cars in the drive flew by her window. And soon, she pulled into the trailer park. It was nothing to brag about. New trailers sat next to ancient models that had seen better days, but it had a laundromat next to the office, and there was a playground for kids.
She pulled next to her double-wide, cut the engine, and turned down her music so that she wouldn’t disturb her neighbors. Lordy, she was tired. She let her head fall back against the headrest. She couldn’t close her eyes, or she might not be able to open them when the werewolves arrived. A dog started barking at Wilbur’s place. Two dogs in nearby trailers heard it and joined in. She frowned, sitting up to look around. What was riling them? She didn’t see anything.
Old Mr. Roarke stepped out of his rundown trailer, but didn’t descend the three metal steps that led to his stoop. He pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and put it between his lips. His wife wouldn’t let him smoke inside. His hands shook so much, he had trouble holding the match to the cigarette’s tip. When the ground trembled, he had to grab hold of the railing to keep his balance. He stared at his tiny lawn, but everything was carpeted in shadow. He relaxed and took a long draw on his Marlborough.
The chihuahua in the trailer next to his jumped into the bay window to yap at him. It wouldn’t stop until Mrs. McGregor came to scoop the dog under her arm and carry him into her bedroom. He still didn’t settle down, but at least his barking was muted.
Edna turned off the radio. Except for the dogs, the night was too quiet. The hairs on her arms stood on end. She peered into the darkness. Clouds blanketed the sky. She couldn’t see anything out of place. The ground trembled again, this time closer to Roarke’s trailer. Fear slithered down her spine. She leaned out of the car window and called to him. “Roarke, go inside! Haven’t you listened to the radio? It’s not safe out here.”
He gave her a brief wave. “I’m keeping off the ground. Just need a quick smoke.”
He never made it quick. He savored each puff until he was down to the filter. She was about to argue with him when Fang Gnarl’s pickup pulled next to her. The window on the passenger side slid down, and Red Bushy said, “We’ll come to you. Stay there.”
“It’s Roarke I’m worried about.” But Red didn’t hear her. He’d already rolled up his window and he and Fang joined hands before he opened his car door, reached across the short space between their cars, and opened hers. He reached for her hand, too, and they all climbed out of their cars in a human chain. Once they were on the drive, Red scooted her between them and they started toward the three steps that led to her trailer. They got her on the bottom one when the ground opened beside Roarke’s stoop and a long, scaly head and body burst upward and smacked his thin metal rails.
Just as quickly, the dragon disappeared into the ground. Fang shoved Edna up another step and growled, “Hang on tight,” as Roarke groped for balance, then toppled sideways. He fell, head first.
Fang leapt to grab him, and Red sprang to grab Fang. Roarke’s upper body had already tumbled into the hole, but Fang grabbed his ankles before he completely disappeared. Red gripped Fang’s calves, and they started to pull Roarke toward them. All of a sudden, something heavy yanked on the other end, and both werewolves lurched forward. Red had to dig his heels into the ground and strain to keep them all from spilling after Roarke. And then, the weight dropped off and they sprawled backward. Fang landed on top of Red, gripping both of Roarke’s legs.
Edna clapped a hand over her mouth, trying not to get sick. Fang jumped to his feet and tossed the legs away from him. Red’s face turned a greenish color and he scrambled backward. “Quick! In the bed of the pickup.”
They both leapt into the back of the truck as the ground trembled again and opened under Roarke’s legs. They fell into the hole, and then the hole disappeared. Edna glanced back to Roarke’s stoop and blinked. That hole was gone, too. The ground was so patchy, with tufts of grass sprouting only here and there, that she wasn’t sure she’d know a hole had ever yawned open.
Fang’s hands were shaking as he reached for his cell phone. He called Cole. “We lost Zeb Roarke to the dragon. Two holes opened, but it’s hard to tell they were ever here. If you want to tell our friends, they might want to check out the property.” He listened, then said, “Red and I will wait here. We’re in the bed of my pickup. We’re safe.”
Red looked at Edna, still clinging to her step railing. “Go inside. Lock your door. And don’t come out until morning.”
“Why are you staying?” she called.
“Help came from River City. They’ve come to fight the dragon.”
She put a hand to her throat. “Are they nuts?”
“No, they’re powerful, but if they look at this and leave, I wouldn’t blame them.”
Neither would she. Her legs didn’t want to hold her, but she fought her way into the trailer. She went straight to her refrigerator and opened a bottle of wine. She didn’t drink often, only on special occasions or a glass when she couldn’t sleep. She poured herself a tumbler. It would probably take the whole bottle before her nerves calmed down.