Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Scary Movies

Hey, loyal Alone at Nighters. Hope you're all staying safe and loving life. We're a little low on stories at the moment, so we thought we'd change things up a little bit and ask you to share your favorite scary movies. Here is a small list of ours.

The Shining: a Stephen King classic with terrific directing and acting.
Paranormal Activity: The first one. Starts slow but gathers speed like a runaway freight train.
Session 9:  A little known film about about an Asbestos cleaning crew working in an abandoned mental hospital (cliche, I know, but it doesn't detract from the film).
28 Days Later:  Brought fast zombies into the mainstream. That shot of the protagonist walking through the abandoned streets of London is a classic!
Shaun of the Dead:  Not very frightening, but Pegg is the kind of actor you can immagine being best friends with.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Pranksters

So on fridays evenings everyone is out of the house and it's left to just me and my mum where we sort of make a tradition of watching movies together. 

So we had spent the evening catching up on The Walking Dead and its about 10pm when the phone starts ringing. My mum goes to answer it and I listen in and shes's asking who it is, what they want things like that. 

She hangs up the phone and I can see shes a bit freaked and she goes straight to the window in our living room, looking outside, it's dark but thes a street light right outside out house. She then tells me that whoever was on the phone said that they were outside our house, watching us and that they wanted to come in. 

I'm fairly nervous at this point and I join her looking out the window and of course theres no one there. I go around locking all the doors, shutting the blinds and everything just in case but for the rest of the night nothing happened. 

So yeah, it was kind of freaky, just what they said to my mum and that we were alone watching something horror related but I know it was a prank after because what my mum didnt tell me at the time was that she could hear people laughing and giggling in the background. So, yeah, good job pranksters. You got us.


The Neighbor Downstairs

When I was about 17 years old we lived in a basement flat in a tenement building. There was also a lower basement flat below us that my mum's friend lived in. She lived there with her husband and 3 sons. Her eldest son was about 20 at the time, and for years he'd suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He was always getting into fights at bars, and he'd actually nearly killed a man when he'd stabbed him with a bottle. He didn't do time for it as he wasn't caught but his mum had told my mum of the crime and my mum had just stayed silent about it because it was her friend's son and she didn't want to get involved (wouldn't be my choice but I understood my mum wanting to stay out of it). 

Anyway, eldest son also had a crush on me. He had done for years at this point and it really freaked me out. 

So this one night I'm lying in my bed. My bedroom had glass patio doors which led into the back garden we shared with his family. I'm just lying there trying to sleep and the movement sensor light turns on, indicating there is someone/thing near the back door. I figured maybe it was just a cat or something. The next thing, there's some gentle tapping on the glass and the eldest son starts saying my name over and over and asking me to let him in, whilst pulling the handle down and shaking the door to try to open it several times. I was absolutely frozen to the spot. Then he starts counting down from 10 and I'm panicking at what will happen when he gets to 0. I can see his outline standing there behind the drapes as I'm lying there terrified in my bed, unable to to move. 

Thankfully, after counting down he just said he was leaving and he'd be off now. I heard him leave, still counting as he went.


Monday, November 5, 2012


Myself and two friends, N & G lets call them, were 14 and N's sister R was with us who was 11 at the time. We'd been shopping in town and were going back to N & R house for the afternoon; to get to their house you had to walk out of town down to the train station, cross the station/tracks and essentially walk through the "bad part of town". The place they had moved to not long ago was known as a rough area and they moved closer to me just 3 years later. So this Saturday we had just crossed past the train station and we're entering the rough area, we talking and laughing, just generally having a good time when suddenly R walks closer to us and says some guy is following us. We turn to look and a good few feet away is this rough looking guy, maybe in his 40's, walking behind us with this dirty coat on and a baseball cap and his head low. Straight away he gave me a creepy feeling buy I didn't want to scare R so I said it was probably nothing but a few minuets later he was till following us and R was starting to get a bit scared now.

I noticed the street we were walking down had this small car park coming up to our left side which was for a little pub we'd be passing just before it. So I leaned towards R & my friends and said that when we came to the car park to just suddenly cut into and across the car park to see if he followed or not. They agreed and when we approached we quickly cut to the left and started walking across the car park; I look behind me and there the guy is following us. Everyone else noticed and R started getting upset, we saw a alley coming up and we looked at each other and I nodded, we looked behind us and noticed he seemed to be quicken his pace so I yelled RUN and we took off towards and down the alley way. We were running as fast as our legs could carry us and we could hear him behind us although we had a bit of a head start on him, it was a very windy alley and as we'd come to the end of one part he would be at the start of it. R started to get a stich and she stopped running an was crying, saying she couldn't run anymore so my friends and I picked her up and helped her run and at this point now he was really close behind us. Eventually we saw the end of the alley and it opened out to a street just a street away from their house so as soon as we got out we just kept running until we got to a corner shop around the corner from their house. We turned around and waited but there was no sign of the man, it looked like we'd lost him.

We went into the shop and got some sweets just to see if he appeared as we didn't want him following us back to N & R house but there was still no sign of him so after making our purchase we quickly made our way back to their house. We told her parents what had happened and they told us we were never to walk back from town to their house again and to ring their father and he'd pick us up. We then proceeded to watch movies, go over what we bought and play with their dogs but I still think about that day sometimes and think how lucky we were. That guy could have been anyone and could have done anything to us!

C. Morgan

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Cop Next Door

About 7 years ago my husband and I lived in a nice, older neighborhood with lots of charming, well-kept colonials built in the 1930s. The homes were very close together and the neighbors on the street were relatively friendly. We had a sheriff and his wife who lived two doors down from us. My husband had known them a little bit previously so they'd talk to us once in a while. The husband always made me a little uneasy. He was one of those people who would compulsively stare at your chest while he spoke to you and it was very distracting.

 I hate to admit this but most of the time cops make me uneasy as it is because they have to have certain traits, one of them being that they pay more attention to you than other people do. Its part of their job, I understand, but many times their job experience brings a dark side and I don't like the combination of the dark side and over intrusive behavior. 

One evening in the summer, we had a sprinkler set up in the backyard to water some new grass we'd planted. My husband was at the gym and I was upstairs - we had our front door open but we had a screen door that was shut. I'm in the bathroom at the top of the stairs and I just hear my screen door open and I hear some guy go "hello!". (He hadn't knocked or rang the doorbell first, just came walking in).

 I walk to the top of the stairs and still can't see anything (we had a circular staircase so you had to walk half way down to see the entry way). So I walk down the stairs and the sheriff neighbor is standing there RIGHT at the bottom of the stairs, where I can't walk down the stairs all the way without walking right into him. He is blocking my way to the front door. He tells me that our sprinkler fell off the pole it was on and that the hose was just spraying water straight up in the air. So I said "oh ok let me get outside", and I sort of pushed past him and went out to fix it.

 He followed me to my back yard where the sprinkler was, did his usual staring at my chest, standing WAY too close to me the whole time he spoke to me and eventually after I fixed the sprinkler he left. 

Cut to winter. Husband is at the gym again but it's dark out now because of the time of year. I didn't feel well so I was laying on the sofa in our living room, watching tv. Our living room and the sofa were right next to the entryway where the front door was. We'd had to do so much work to the house we'd just finished painting the living room and I didn't have any curtains up, so anyone on the street could have seen that I was in there. 

I hear a knock at the door, and I ignore it. (I just don't answer the door when I'm home alone and not expecting anyone, especially at night). I hear a harder knock a second time and the doorbell rings. I still ignore it but I'm aware that whoever it is knows I'm there because they can see the tv on and probably saw me on the sofa from the street. However, I don't care, I still don't answer. 

Suddenly the person at the front door starts trying to OPEN it. (REALLY?). THIS startled me and got my heart pumping and I got up and grabbed a heavy object with which to protect myself in case whoever it was got in. I was surprised this was happening because it was a street where there were lots of neighbors and many used to walk a lot, so I was thinking the person would be seen trying to come in and it would look odd. I just felt trapped too, because I felt like whoever it was could see me standing there through either the living room windows or the sidelight windows (which did have a sheer over them but when it's dark outside and there are lights on inside you can still be seen).

 I decide not to take chances so I pick up the phone and call the police. I hear the person try to open my front door again and i hear some scratching at the door as well as if there were a dog jumping on it. I then hear the screen/storm door shut and the person appears to walk away. Then, I hear them trying to open my side door outside of the kitchen (which opens out to our driveway). They didn't even try to knock, just tried to come in. Thankfully I had THAT locked as well and they gave up. 

A few minutes later two patrol cars show up with two officers in each (we don't live in a very high crime area so I'm sure they had nothing to do at that moment). Two officers knock on my door right as my husband drives up. He had no idea what was going on so he talked to one of the officers in the driveway for a moment and came in and I explained what had happened. The officers on my front porch said "well here are some footsteps and some dog prints and they do go out to your driveway and to your side door, then out to the sidewalk."

 They checked around and said they couldn't find anything but that I was smart to call anyway and that we can call any time. (SO different from how the cops where I grew up in Los Angeles behaved, but that's another story). 

 Here's the shady part of all this. My husband tells me "it must have been [sheriff neighbor], because he was outside with the dog when we all drove up". I said "did he stop to talk to you or the cops?". He said "no, he just looked over and went inside". 

Now, if you were a cop and you had just innocently come to talk to a neighbor, then saw the cops drive up a few minutes later, wouldn't you go over to see if anything had happened? If you had innocent intentions knocking on my door and TRYING TO ENTER MY HOUSE, and I'd called the cops because it scared me, wouldn't you come try to explain what was so urgent that you were trying to get my attention? 

Cops talk to cops all the time. What was this person up to (and with his dog with him)? The whole thing was just strange. Thankfully we moved out that spring so we didn't stick around to find out. I'd hate to be pulled over by this guy on a dark night.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We Need You!

For numerous reasons we at Alone at Night have not been able to dedicate nearly as much time to the site as we used to be able to. THis means that we aren't able to find as many true scary stories across the web, and we rely even more on YOUR submissions! So, if you enjoy the page, please share your scary and true stories! It's you that make this site happen. Thanks for visiting, keep coming back, and share a story!

Don't have a story of your own? Feel free to share a friend's story or that of a family memeber.

Stay Scary,

Alone At Night
{This story was a submission by Kent. Thanks, Kent. Don't forget, folks, that it's your submissions that make this site run! We haven't had nearly as much time to find stories, so it's all the more important that you submit your scary stories!}

 This happened when me and my girlfriend were staying at a hotel in the city of Melbourne, which is in Australia.

 We had gone there for a few days and we were coming home on the 31st of October - Halloween. I know pretty scary already. Well anyway on the last night I woke up in the hotel room to a buzzing sound. Almost like a mosquito. I opened my eyes and couldn't see anything. So I closed my eyes and tried to forget it. And when I did it started again.

 I opened my eyes and this huge moth like bug flew towards my head from the top of the hotel room window. I immediately ducked under the covers to avoid it hitting me. I then looked around expecting it to be on the wall behind me but there was nothing.

 In the morning I checked all the windows and cupboards trying to find this weird bug but found nothing. Freakiest thing of all is when I told my girlfriend she told me that on that same night she heard noises coming from the bathroom and something knocking over next to her. Thinking it was me she just ignored it. Then in the morning she told me a wine glass that was sitting on her bedside table was lying a few feet away on the floor. I didn't go to the bathroom or even leave the bed that night since my bug episode. So we just tried to forget about and left that morning. What a way to start Halloween.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Scary Camping Stories Series

It's the first of June and that means it is officially camping season. There is something primordial about sleeping outdoors. It's like we're trying to touch our ancestral roots. For us at Alone at Night, nothing makes us feel more alive than sleeping under the stars. But a nice night by the fire can turn terrifying when the fire dies out. Join us for this series of true stories involving wild animals and even more wild people.

Throwing Rocks

I was horse packing in the Sierra's one summer back in the late 70's. It was one of those brutally hot California days where you just put your head down and try to soldier on. Should really have stopped but was trying to do another 10 miles to Lake Almanor.

I was leading my horse up a trail when he started acting up; stopping, pulling, and rearing. I was hot, thirsty, pissed and in no mood for silly games. As I was trying to calm him down, he suddenly charged past me, knocking me flat and heading up the trail. I was recovering, when I heard a thump near me, looked over, and saw a mountain lion crouched and ready to take the next leap right on me. He was about 10' away.
Time froze, my mind went blank, and all I could think of was the rifle in the scabbard on my horse's saddle... that was rapidly disappearing up the trail. I started to get my legs under me, and he snarled, and started to gather himself for a leap.

Without thinking about it, I grabbed a rock and nailed him right between the eyes. He snarled again, and I nailed him with another one. And another. As fast and as hard as I could throw them while on my ass. I hit him on the nose with a 4th rock and he took off up the trail, veering left up the mountain. I threw a couple more as he scrambled up the hill and then he was out of sight... I could hear him moving off so I picked myself up and started moving up the trail after my horse.

About 30 minutes later, I found the horse tangled up in some brush. I got him free and then suddenly started shaking uncontrollably. I couldn't stop for at least another half-hour.

I've been in the mountains many, many times, and that's the only time I've ever really been in serious danger. I've seen bears, mountain lions, had a lynx prowling my camp, been in a major thunderstorm with lightning strikes all around me and no place to hide, winter camped in a surprise storm, etc. But that encounter with a mountain lion was the one that was really dangerous. Turned out ok, as you say, but only because of luck.

Bad Campers Make Bad Bears

I  was on a trek at Philmont Scout Camp in NM. On day 9, I went back to our camp in the middle of the day to get my water bottle I had forgotten. I walked up to our cook fly and picked up my bottle. When I stood up, I saw the bear. Only 6 feet away, standing up, just looking at me. She was about 5 feet tall. I backed away slowly (after looking around really quick for other bears). I started banging pots and pans, throwing rocks, etc. She didn't care. In all, she ripped the sump pipe out of the ground, pulled a pack off of a tree and removed a packet of oatmeal (without damaging the pack!). She pushed on 5 tents, including mine, on which she broke a fiberglass pole, and put gashes in the door, window, and rainfly. She then went to our bear ropes, which were hanging all the smellables, and she started pulling on the ropes. She knew what she was doing and wasn't scared of people. After that, she moved on from our camp, and I imagine to other campsites in the area.

That evening, two rangers came past our camp and told us they had put her down. Turns out she did the same thing the summer prior. The rangers trapped her and sent her 600 miles away to southern CO. Over the winter, she came back. Once a bear does that, they have to kill the bear. I was bummed my tent was ruined, but I was more bummed in the end. I was in her house, not the other way around. Bad campers make bad bears, but at a scout camp, they can't have a bear that isn't afraid of people.

She was in the area with another bear - a male. The rangers were hoping that the male would move on after the female was killed. As far as I know, they didn't have to kill the male bear. I hope they didn't.....

Wandered into Drug Country

I was going backpacking in Los Padres National Forest in California and I show up to the fire station where I'm parking my car. I ask a ranger if I can park there and the first words out of his mouth are "Ya'll lookin' for plantations?" Of course we weren't, and were kind of like 'wtf is he asking us,' so he said "never mind." And we set off.

We did 15 miles basically into desert brushland that day and realized we were about 4 miles off the main trail (poor markings) that evening. We were too tired to turn around and had to camp right there, off the main trail, in possible drug territory. We went to sleep and at some point in the night my buddy and I woke up and kept hearing footsteps around our tent. We were scared shitless. I swear to God it sounded just like footsteps walking around us at about 10 paces. One time it sounded like they walked straight up and stopped on our front flap. I bolted up and said "Hello? What do you want?"

Nobody ever said or did anything outside, and we as hell weren't going to instigate anything, so we eventually fell asleep and got back on trail in the morning. Later, we get off the trail (they were not maintained at all) and end up walking down the middle of a river for 4 days. The first sign of humanity we see is a short road going up to a fucking airstrip in the middle of the mountains. One end ran into a mountain, the other had a dangerously close ridge. We had no choice but to walk up and try to find where the hell we were. As we were on the other side of camp, which looked like a small cluster of military barrack-type cabins, one flying an American flag and one with a military insignia, we had to walk straight down the runway to get there. That was the second time I was scared shitless in 4 days.

We found some guy doing some carpentry who didn't seem to live there, but was visibly distressed with our appearance until we explained ourselves and he told us how to find the road. When we find the gate, it is covered in signs that said stuff like "City justice is kinda iffy, Mountain justice gets it done in a jiffy" with a shotgun in the middle of it. We got the hell outta dodge.

A Storm and the Imposters

My girlfriend and I were backpacking various nature preserves in Florida a couple of years ago. We arrived at one particular park, with a huge tropical storm chasing us (if you have ever camped in Florida, you know how intense those storms can get). Take note that we were the only car in the lot. We were with Boston Terrier, bookin it about 3 miles to the first good camp spot, trying to beat the storm.

The first mile or so from the parking lot, all you can do is wade through a very sandy road until you get to a better trail. When were were about halfway through this part, an old 90's model Chevy diesel pickup rolled by us. They had a very, very generic magnet on the door that said something like "Game Control." No actual government markings, these were definitely just random guys. They kept asking where we were headed, how long we were going to stay, if we were alone, things like that. We were as vague as possible, even lying about a few details.

Eventually we shook them off and hiked on (we had no choice by this point). We got to the first camp, and decided to set up our tent around the bend a ways, not where the designated spot was. It was nearly dark, and we were racing to get the tent setup before the storm hit. Her dog started freaking out and ran off. This is a very trained and obedient dog, so this was strange. This dog NEVER runs off. My girlfriend started chasing after the dog into the darkness with no light, so I chase after her to keep everyone together. Eventually we find the dog, get back to camp, and get in the tent about 30 seconds before an intense storm started.

Around 2am, we heard a diesel truck pull up very near our camp. I'm a big time car guy - I can tell you it was definitely that same Chevy diesel. I was clutching my 6" buck knife, ready to slash through the tent and initiate all murder/rape prevention sequences. About 10 minutes later, the truck took off. I assume they couldn't find our tent.

I don't know for sure that they were looking for us, but I am fairly certain. We were the only hikers in that park, and they could definitely assume we were at the first camp, because of the previous pending storm we were clearly trying to beat. Also, my girlfriend is a looker. I pretend like I didn't see the dirty looks in their eyes when we first encountered them, but I know I did. Had we set up camp at the designated spot, it might have gotten ugly. Still gives me goosebumps thinking about that night.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I still can't believe the way this happened. I've watched horror films my entire life and even while it was happening I couldn't believe how similar it was.

It was 1992, I was 15 (I'm female). The house we lived in was a house built in the 30's with a detached garage in the back yard where the washer and dryer were.  It was CA so the entire back yard was fenced in with a privacy fence, but the back fence/gate (approx 6 feet high) lead to the alley that ran behind all the houses on our street.

It was early evening - not completely dark out but the sun was starting to set. We had a family room right inside the back french doors where my father was sleeping on the couch. I tried NEVER to do laundry at night because walking out the the garage always creeped me out, so I was walking out to the garage to take some of my clothes out of the dryer before it became dark.

When you went into the garage, there was a window right over the washer/dryer facing the portion of our yard where there was a woodshed and the gate that lead out to the alley.
I went in and bent down to take my clothes out of the dryer. When I stood up, a man was standing on the outside of the window looking in at me. He was standing inside our yard and the gate behind him was shut. Because I hadn't heard it shut (it was loud when you shut it) while I was out there, he had already been in the yard and had to have been looking straight at me, practically right in front of me while I was walking to the garage. I was clearly just so oblivious I hadn't noticed. He started to say something to me and all I thought was "I have to get OUT of this garage before he comes around to the door and traps me in here." So I ran out of the garage back into the back yard where he was. It was my only option. He began to walk toward me and the only thing that kept me from going in the house was being afraid he'd get in behind me before I could slam and lock the back door behind me and that he'd trap me in THERE (forgetting my 6'3" father was sleeping on the sofa, but he worked odd hours and was an extremely heavy sleeper so many times when he was sleeping it was like being alone).

I wish I could tell you more about his demeanor or the look on his face, but I was so frantic I was trying to focus more on the fact that this man was physically moving toward me in haste, which no person with innocent intentions has any business doing. My 2 second plan was to run around the side of the house toward the front - stay outside and run so I could go screaming down the street where people could hear me and it would make a scene, but I was so frightened I just stood there like an ass.

Before I could do anything our little Fox Terrier ran outside and started barking at the guy ferociously, so he stopped walking toward me. My father shortly followed and said "Hey, who the fuck are you?". Then he looked at me and said "What the fuck are you doing standing there without a goddamn weapon????!".

The guy became flustered and told him he had seen some garbage cans knocked over in the alley so he stopped to see if they were ours. My Dad, who is 6'3" tall and huge, followed this guy, who was no more than about 5'10", out to the alley where there were NO garbage cans knocked over and his car was parked a few houses down. He basically chased him out of the neighborhood. When my dad returned he hollered at me for a good 5 minutes, showing me all the potential weapons (including a large hatchet and crow bar) that had been hanging in the garage that I should have grabbed on my way back into the yard. We didn't call police which, in hidsight was a huge mistake. I can't stand thinking about what he did after this to anyone else. I still feel incredibly guilty about that.

To this day, I sleep with a giant crow bar under my bed.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Day I Met a Serial Killer and Lived

I was at a gas station in a small town near Wichita Kansas  filling up my old Mazda one autumn evening several years ago. I'd just finished with the gas and was on my way inside to pay when a car pulled in behind mine, obviously waiting to use the pump.
Inside the gas station, there was a line at the cashier, so I go grab a bag of chips and a Mt. Dew. I head up to the counter, which now has no line, and pay for my gas and snack.  As I'm paying, I glance outside and see the guy from the car that had pulled in behind me is standing outside my car.
I walk outside and head toward my car and the man standing there is giving me the glare of death. I get 10 feet from my car and he starts yelling, "Didn't you see there was someone waiting to use the pump?!" At first I'm too shocked to react. So, he yells, "What are you a fucking retard." That snaps me out of it. I'm an adult, and I behave like an adult, so I held my temper in check and responded calmly, "All I did was go inside to pay for the gas. You have no reason to be upset."  Wrong move on my part.
The man goes crazy. He's screaming about me taking hours to buy snacks, while he's going to be late for work. He breaks down into stuttering swears and spits hateful words at me. By this point I'm starting to get worried and angry. I'm a big man and I'm fairly tough, but you never know when crazy people are carrying guns, and I was completely unarmed. I'm ready to get in my car, but he's blocking my car door. I don't know what to do.
Luckily, I guess another gas station customer said something to the employee at the counter, because he opens the door and yells out, "Do I need to call the cops?!" The irate guy turns his attention on the employee for a second and takes a couple steps forward to yell at him, and I make my move. I slip behind the guy, get in my car, and get the hell out of there.
About a year later Wichita is in the news. Police think they've found the infamous BTK killer. I'm at home with my wife watching the news when I first see a photo of Dennis Rader, the man suspected and later convicted of being BTK. To my shock and horror, it's the same man I argued with at the gas station a year ago. I told my wife, and she asked if I was sure, and I was. It's not every day a crazy person yells at me for no reason. I remembered that day and his face very well, and I think I will until the day I die. It was the day I ran into a serial killer and lived.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates

{Ladies and Gentlemen, we offer you a rare treat today. We're providing you in its entirety, Joyce Carol Oates "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"  It is a terrificly written tale of suspense and intensity.  Do yourself a favor and read it when you're alone, during the day, with the front door open and the radio on softly in the background. As always, stay safe. -Alone at Night Staff}

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
by Joyce Carol Oates

Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. "Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you're so pretty?" she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.
"Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don't see your sister using that junk."
Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn't bad enough—with her in the same building—she was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother's sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cookedand Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn't bother talking much to them, but around his bent head Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over. "She makes me want to throw up sometimes," she complained to her friends. She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.

There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections. The father of Connie's best girl friend drove the girls the three miles to town and left them at a shopping plaza so they could walk through the stores or go to a movie, and when he came to pick them up again at eleven he never bothered to ask what they had done.

They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists; they would lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if someone passed who amused or interested them. Connie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone's eye to it, and she wore part of it pulled up on her head and puffed out and the rest of it she let fall down her back. She wore a pull-over jersey blouse that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these evenings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—"Ha, ha, very funny,"—but highpitched and nervous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.

Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive-in restaurant where older kids hung out. The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on its cap was a revolving figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with daring, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn't like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him. They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright-lit, fly-infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. They sat at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.
A boy named Eddie came in to talk with them. He sat backwards on his stool, turning himself jerkily around in semicircles and then stopping and turning back again, and after a while he asked Connie if she would like something to eat. She said she would and so she tapped her friend's arm on her way out—her friend pulled her face up into a brave, droll look—and Connie said she would meet her at eleven, across the way. "I just hate to leave her like that," Connie said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn't be alone for long. So they went out to his car, and on the way Connie couldn't help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn't help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, "Gonna get you, baby," and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing anything.

She spent three hours with him, at the restaurant where they ate hamburgers and drank Cokes in wax cups that were always sweating, and then down an alley a mile or so away, and when he left her off at five to eleven only the movie house was still open at the plaza. Her girl friend was there, talking with a boy. When Connie came up, the two girls smiled at each other and Connie said, "How was the movie?" and the girl said, 'You should know." They rode off with the girl's father, sleepy and pleased, and Connie couldn't help but look back at the darkened shopping plaza with its big empty parking lot and its signs that were faded and ghostly now, and over at the drive-in restaurant where cars were still circling tirelessly. She couldn't hear the music at this distance.

Next morning June asked her how the movie was and Connie said, "So-so." She and that girl and occasionally another girl went out several times a week, and the rest of the time Connie spent around the house—it was summer vacation—getting in her mother s way and thinking, dreaming about the boys she met. But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July. Connie's mother kept dragging her back to the daylight by finding things for her to do or saying suddenly, 'What's this about the Pettinger girl?"

And Connie would say nervously, "Oh, her. That dope." She always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls, and her mother was simple and kind enough to believe it. Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much. Her mother went scuffling around the house in old bedroom slippers and complained over the telephone to one sister about the other, then the other called up and the two of them complained about the third one. If June's name was mentioned her mother's tone was approving, and if Connie's name was mentioned it was disapproving. This did not really mean she disliked Connie, and actually Connie thought that her mother preferred her to June just because she was prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them. Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up—some vexation that was like a fly buzzing suddenly around their heads—and their faces went hard with contempt.

One Sunday Connie got up at eleven—none of them bothered with church—and washed her hair so that it could dry all day long in the sun. Her parents and sister were going to a barbecue at an aunt's house and Connie said no, she wasn't interested, rolling her eyes to let her mother know just what she thought of it. "Stay home alone then," her mother said sharply. Connie sat out back in a lawn chair and watched them drive away, her father quiet and bald, hunched around so that he could back the car out, her mother with a look that was still angry and not at all softened through the windshield, and in the back seat poor old June, all dressed up as if she didn't know what a barbecue was, with all the running yelling kids and the flies. Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the back yard ran off into weeds and a fence-like line of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos ranch house that was now three years old startled her—it looked small. She shook her head as if to get awake.

It was too hot. She went inside the house and turned on the radio to drown out the quiet. She sat on the edge of her bed, barefoot, and listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with, interspersed by exclamations from "Bobby King": "An' look here, you girls at Napoleon's—Son and Charley want you to pay real close attention to this song coming up!"

And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of slow-pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest.

After a while she heard a car coming up the drive. She sat up at once, startled, because it couldn't be her father so soon. The gravel kept crunching all the way in from the road—the driveway was long—and Connie ran to the window. It was a car she didn't know. It was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fingers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, "Christ. Christ," wondering how bad she looked. The car came to a stop at the side door and the horn sounded four short taps, as if this were a signal Connie knew.

She went into the kitchen and approached the door slowly, then hung out the screen door, her bare toes curling down off the step. There were two boys in the car and now she recognized the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her.
"I ain't late, am I?" he said.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Connie said.

"Toldja I'd be out, didn't I?"

"I don't even know who you are."

She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or pleasure, and he spoke in a fast, bright monotone. Connie looked past him to the other boy, taking her time. He had fair brown hair, with a lock that fell onto his forehead. His sideburns gave him a fierce, embarrassed look, but so far he hadn't even bothered to glance at her. Both boys wore sunglasses. The driver's glasses were metallic and mirrored everything in miniature.

"You wanta come for a ride?" he said.

Connie smirked and let her hair fall loose over one shoulder.

"Don'tcha like my car? New paint job," he said. "Hey."


"You're cute."

She pretended to fidget, chasing flies away from the door.

"Don'tcha believe me, or what?" he said.

"Look, I don't even know who you are," Connie said in disgust.

"Hey, Ellie's got a radio, see. Mine broke down." He lifted his friend's arm and showed her the little transistor radio the boy was holding, and now Connie began to hear the music. It was the same program that was playing inside the house.

"Bobby King?" she said.

"I listen to him all the time. I think he's great."

"He's kind of great," Connie said reluctantly.

"Listen, that guy's great. He knows where the action is."

Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for her to see just what this boy was looking at. She couldn't decide if she liked him or if he was just a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn't come down or go back inside. She said, "What's all that stuff painted on your car?"

"Can'tcha read it?" He opened the door very carefully, as if he were afraid it might fall off. He slid out just as carefully, planting his feet firmly on the ground, the tiny metallic world in his glasses slowing down like gelatine hardening, and in the midst of it Connie's bright green blouse. "This here is my name, to begin with, he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the side, with a drawing of a round, grinning face that reminded Connie of a pumpkin, except it wore sunglasses. "I wanta introduce myself, I'm Arnold Friend and that's my real name and I'm gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car's Ellie Oscar, he's kinda shy." Ellie brought his transistor radio up to his shoulder and balanced it there. "Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey," Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn't think much of it. The left rear fender had been smashed and around it was written, on the gleaming gold background: DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER. Connie had to laugh at that. Arnold Friend was pleased at her laughter and looked up at her. "Around the other side's a lot more —you wanta come and see them?"


"Why not?"

"Why should I?"

"Don'tcha wanta see what's on the car? Don'tcha wanta go for a ride?"

"I don't know."

"Why not?"

"I got things to do."

"Like what?"


He laughed as if she had said something funny. He slapped his thighs. He was standing in a strange way, leaning back against the car as if he were balancing himself. He wasn't tall, only an inch or so taller than she would be if she came down to him. Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pull-over shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carrying things. Even his neck looked muscular. And his face was a familiar face, somehow: the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn't shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.
"Connie, you ain't telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it," he said, still laughing. The way he straightened and recovered from his fit of laughing showed that it had been all fake.

"How do you know what my name is?" she said suspiciously.

"It's Connie."

"Maybe and maybe not."

"I know my Connie," he said, wagging his finger. Now she remembered him even better, back at the restaurant, and her cheeks warmed at the thought of how she had sucked in her breath just at the moment she passed him—how she must have looked to him. And he had remembered her. "Ellie and I come out here especially for you," he said. "Ellie can sit in back. How about it?"

"Where what?"

"Where're we going?"

He looked at her. He took off the sunglasses and she saw how pale the skin around his eyes was, like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way. He smiled. It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him. "Just for a ride, Connie sweetheart."

"I never said my name was Connie," she said.

"But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of things," Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still leaning back against the side of his jalopy. "I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you—like I know your parents and sister are gone somewheres and I know where and how long they're going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend's name is Betty. Right?"
He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he were reciting the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fine. In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not bother to look around at them.

"Ellie can sit in the back seat," Arnold Friend said. He indicated his friend with a casual jerk of his chin, as if Ellie did not count and she should not bother with him.

"How'd you find out all that stuff?" Connie said.

"Listen: Betty Schultz and Tony Fitch and Jimmy Pettinger and Nancy Pettinger," he said in a chant. "Raymond Stanley and Bob Hutter—"

"Do you know all those kids?"

"I know everybody."

"Look, you're kidding. You're not from around here."


"But—how come we never saw you before?"

"Sure you saw me before," he said. He looked down at his boots, as if he were a little offended. "You just don't remember."

"I guess I'd remember you," Connie said.

"Yeah?" He looked up at this, beaming. He was pleased. He began to mark time with the music from Ellie's radio, tapping his fists lightly together. Connie looked away from his smile to the car, which was painted so bright it almost hurt her eyes to look at it. She looked at that name, ARNOLD FRIEND. And up at the front fender was an expression that was familiar—MAN THE FLYING SAUCERS. It was an expression kids had used the year before but didn't use this year. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know.
"What're you thinking about? Huh?" Arnold Friend demanded. "Not worried about your hair blowing around in the car, are you?"


"Think I maybe can't drive good?"

"How do I know?"

"You're a hard girl to handle. How come?" he said. "Don't you know I'm your friend? Didn't you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?"

"What sign?"

"My sign." And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart. After his hand fell back to his side the X was still in the air, almost visible. Connie let the screen door close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music from her radio and the boy's blend together. She stared at Arnold Friend. He stood there so stiffly relaxed, pretending to be relaxed, with one hand idly on the door handle as if he were keeping himself up that way and had no intention of ever moving again. She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn't want to put into words. She recognized all this and also the singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy, and she recognized the way he tapped one fist against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him. But all these things did not come together.

She said suddenly, "Hey, how old are you?"

His smiled faded. She could see then that he wasn't a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound faster.

"That's a crazy thing to ask. Can'tcha see I'm your own age?"

"Like hell you are."

"Or maybe a couple years older. I'm eighteen."

"Eighteen?" she said doubtfully.

He grinned to reassure her and lines appeared at the corners of his mouth. His teeth were big and white. He grinned so broadly his eyes became slits and she saw how thick the lashes were, thick and black as if painted with a black tarlike material. Then, abruptly, he seemed to become embarrassed and looked over his shoulder at Ellie. "Him, he's crazy," he said. "Ain't he a riot? He's a nut, a real character." Ellie was still listening to the music. His sunglasses told nothing about what he was thinking. He wore a bright orange shirt unbuttoned halfway to show his chest, which was a pale, bluish chest and not muscular like Arnold Friend's. His shirt collar was turned up all around and the very tips of the collar pointed out past his chin as if they were protecting him. He was pressing the transistor radio up against his ear and sat there in a kind of daze, right in the sun.

"He's kinda strange," Connie said.

"Hey, she says you're kinda strange! Kinda strange!" Arnold Friend cried. He pounded on the car to get Ellie's attention. Ellie turned for the first time and Connie saw with shock that he wasn't a kid either—he had a fair, hairless face, cheeks reddened slightly as if the veins grew too close to the surface of his skin, the face of a forty-year-old baby. Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her at this sight and she stared at him as if waiting for something to change the shock of the moment, make it all right again. Ellie's lips kept shaping words, mumbling along with the words blasting in his ear.

"Maybe you two better go away," Connie said faintly.

"What? How come?" Arnold Friend cried. "We come out here to take you for a ride. It's Sunday." He had the voice of the man on the radio now. It was the same voice, Connie thought. "Don'tcha know it's Sunday all day? And honey, no matter who you were with last night, today you're with Arnold Friend and don't you forget it! Maybe you better step out here," he said, and this last was in a different voice. It was a little flatter, as if the heat was finally getting to him.

"No. I got things to do."


"You two better leave."

"We ain't leaving until you come with us."

"Like hell I am—"

"Connie, don't fool around with me. I mean—I mean, don't fool around," he said, shaking his head. He laughed incredulously. He placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he were indeed wearing a wig, and brought the stems down behind his ears. Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn't even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.

"If my father comes and sees you—"

"He ain't coming. He's at a barbecue."

"How do you know that?"

"Aunt Tillie's. Right now they're uh—they're drinking. Sitting around," he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie's back yard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. "Yeah. Sitting around. There's your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother's helping some fat woman with the corn, they're cleaning the corn—husking the corn—"

"What fat woman?" Connie cried.

"How do I know what fat woman, I don't know every goddamn fat woman in the world!" Arnold Friend laughed.

"Oh, that's Mrs. Hornsby . . . . Who invited her?" Connie said. She felt a little lightheaded. Her breath was coming quickly.

"She's too fat. I don't like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey," he said, smiling sleepily at her. They stared at each other for a while through the screen door. He said softly, "Now, what you're going to do is this: you're going to come out that door. You re going to sit up front with me and Ellie's going to sit in the back, the hell with Ellie, right? This isn't Ellie's date. You're my date. I'm your lover, honey."
"What? You're crazy—"

"Yes, I'm your lover. You don't know what that is but you will," he said. "I know that too. I know all about you. But look: it's real nice and you couldn't ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word. I'll tell you how it is, I'm always nice at first, the first time. I'll hold you so tight you won't think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you'll know you can't. And I'll come inside you where it's all secret and you'll give in to me and you'll love me "

"Shut up! You're crazy!" Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she'd heard something terrible, something not meant for her. "People don't talk like that, you're crazy," she muttered. Her heart was almost too big now for her chest and its pumping made sweat break out all over her. She looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching. He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts.

"Honey?" he said. "You still listening?"

"Get the hell out of here!"

"Be nice, honey. Listen."

"I'm going to call the police—"

He wobbled again and out of the side of his mouth came a fast spat curse, an aside not meant for her to hear. But even this "Christ!" sounded forced. Then he began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he were smiling from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down to his throat but then running out as if he had plastered make-up on his face but had forgotten about his throat.

"Honey—? Listen, here's how it is. I always tell the truth and I promise you this: I ain't coming in that house after you."

"You better not! I'm going to call the police if you—if you don't—"

"Honey," he said, talking right through her voice, "honey, I m not coming in there but you are coming out here. You know why?"

She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn't good enough, wasn't going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you'd probably feel something sticky there.

"You listening, honey? Hey?" "—going to call the police—"

"Soon as you touch the phone I don't need to keep my promise and can come inside. You won't want that."

She rushed forward and tried to lock the door. Her fingers were shaking. "But why lock it," Arnold Friend said gently, talking right into her face. "It's just a screen door. It's just nothing." One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn't in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle. "I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend. If the place got lit up with a fire, honey, you'd come runnin' out into my arms, right into my arms an' safe at home—like you knew I was your lover and'd stopped fooling around. I don't mind a nice shy girl but I don't like no fooling around." Part of those words were spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt, and Connie somehow recognized them—the echo of a song from last year, about a girl rushing into her boy friend's arms and coming home again—
Connie stood barefoot on the linoleum floor, staring at him. "What do you want?" she whispered.

"I want you," he said.


"Seen you that night and thought, that's the one, yes sir. I never needed to look anymore."

"But my father's coming back. He's coming to get me. I had to wash my hair first—'' She spoke in a dry, rapid voice, hardly raising it for him to hear.

"No, your daddy is not coming and yes, you had to wash your hair and you washed it for me. It's nice and shining and all for me. I thank you sweetheart," he said with a mock bow, but again he almost lost his balance. He had to bend and adjust his boots. Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller. Connie stared out at him and behind him at Ellie in the car, who seemed to be looking off toward Connie's right, into nothing. This Ellie said, pulling the words out of the air one after another as if he were just discovering them, "You want me to pull out the phone?"

"Shut your mouth and keep it shut," Arnold Friend said, his face red from bending over or maybe from embarrassment because Connie had seen his boots. "This ain't none of your business."
"What—what are you doing? What do you want?" Connie said. "If I call the police they'll get you, they'll arrest you—"

"Promise was not to come in unless you touch that phone, and I'll keep that promise," he said. He resumed his erect position and tried to force his shoulders back. He sounded like a hero in a movie, declaring something important. But he spoke too loudly and it was as if he were speaking to someone behind Connie. "I ain't made plans for coming in that house where I don't belong but just for you to come out to me, the way you should. Don't you know who I am?"

"You're crazy," she whispered. She backed away from the door but did not want to go into another part of the house, as if this would give him permission to come through the door. "What do you . . . you're crazy, you. . . ."

"Huh? What're you saying, honey?"

Her eyes darted everywhere in the kitchen. She could not remember what it was, this room.

"This is how it is, honey: you come out and we'll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don't come out we're gonna wait till your people come home and then they're all going to get it."

"You want that telephone pulled out?" Ellie said. He held the radio away from his ear and grimaced, as if without the radio the air was too much for him.

"I toldja shut up, Ellie," Arnold Friend said, "you're deaf, get a hearing aid, right? Fix yourself up. This little girl's no trouble and's gonna be nice to me, so Ellie keep to yourself, this ain't your date right? Don't hem in on me, don't hog, don't crush, don't bird dog, don't trail me," he said in a rapid, meaningless voice, as if he were running through all the expressions he'd learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style, then rushing on to new ones, making them up with his eyes closed. "Don't crawl under my fence, don't squeeze in my chipmonk hole, don't sniff my glue, suck my popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers on yourself!" He shaded his eyes and peered in at Connie, who was backed against the kitchen table. "Don't mind him, honey, he's just a creep. He's a dope. Right? I'm the boy for you, and like I said, you come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald-headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. Because listen: why bring them in this?"

"Leave me alone," Connie whispered.
"Hey, you know that old woman down the road, the one with the chickens and stuff—you know her?"
"She's dead!"
"Dead? What? You know her?" Arnold Friend said.
"She's dead—"
"Don't you like her?"
"She's dead—she's—she isn't here any more—"

But don't you like her, I mean, you got something against her? Some grudge or something?" Then his voice dipped as if he were conscious of a rudeness. He touched the sunglasses perched up on top of his head as if to make sure they were still there. "Now, you be a good girl."
'What are you going to do?"

"Just two things, or maybe three," Arnold Friend said. "But I promise it won't last long and you'll like me the way you get to like people you're close to. You will. It's all over for you here, so come on out. You don't want your people in any trouble, do you?"

She turned and bumped against a chair or something, hurting her leg, but she ran into the back room and picked up the telephone. Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it—the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fingers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it. She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house.

After a while she could hear again. She was sitting on the floor with her wet back against the wall.
Arnold Friend was saying from the door, "That's a good girl. Put the phone back."
She kicked the phone away from her.
"No, honey. Pick it up. Put it back right."
She picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped.
"That's a good girl. Now, you come outside."

She was hollow with what had been fear but what was now just an emptiness. All that screaming had blasted it out of her. She sat, one leg cramped under her, and deep inside her brain was something like a pinpoint of light that kept going and would not let her relax. She thought, I'm not going to see my mother again. She thought, I'm not going to sleep in my bed again. Her bright green blouse was all wet.
Arnold Friend said, in a gentle-loud voice that was like a stage voice, "The place where you came from ain't there any more, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out. This place you are now—inside your daddy's house—is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down any time. You know that and always did know it. You hear me?"

She thought, I have got to think. I have got to know what to do.

"We'll go out to a nice field, out in the country here where it smells so nice and it's sunny," Arnold Friend said. "I'll have my arms tight around you so you won't need to try to get away and I'll show you what love is like, what it does. The hell with this house! It looks solid all right," he said. He ran a fingernail down the screen and the noise did not make Connie shiver, as it would have the day before. "Now, put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better. Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?—and get away before her people come back?"

She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn't really hers either.

"You don't want them to get hurt," Arnold Friend went on. "Now, get up, honey. Get up all by yourself."
She stood.

"Now, turn this way. That's right. Come over here to me.—Ellie, put that away, didn't I tell you? You dope. You miserable creepy dope," Arnold Friend said. His words were not angry but only part of an incantation. The incantation was kindly. "Now come out through the kitchen to me, honey, and let's see a smile, try it, you re a brave, sweet little girl and now they're eating corn and hot dogs cooked to bursting over an outdoor fire, and they don't know one thing about you and never did and honey, you're better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you."

Connie felt the linoleum under her feet; it was cool. She brushed her hair back out of her eyes. Arnold Friend let go of the post tentatively and opened his arms for her, his elbows pointing in toward each other and his wrists limp, to show that this was an embarrassed embrace and a little mocking, he didn't want to make her self-conscious.

She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.

"My sweet little blue-eyed girl," he said in a half-sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him—so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.