John Kaine slumped to his knees as the last fleeting echoes of the gunshot reverberated back at him from the far wall of the canyon, his tortured eyes searching blindly for release.
“Why?” The sibilant whisper barely escaped from his lips as his life blood oozed from the hole in his chest, a hole that his wife had only seconds before created with the help of the Colt Python that now hung from her shaking hands. He knew that he was dying, but somehow didn’t seem too concerned by this revelation. As he felt his dying body rock slowly forward, his attention was riveted completely upon the smoking gunmetal barrel that wavered scant feet from his face. And then the beach was rushing up to meet his nose and blackness claimed him.
As she watched her husband pitch face first into the sand, Diane’s first (and at that point only) concern was the gun. She had bought it from a small, back street gun shop in Fresno a few days before the holiday, and even when she had paid the towering, obese store owner the hundred and fifty dollars he had wanted she had been sure that she wouldn’t actually use it. But now, looking down the dark, oil-black barrel at the remains of her ex-husband she realised that it was over. And she had never before felt as exhilarated as she did at that moment. Exhilarated, and at the same time, terrified.
Still shaking from the narcotic rush of adrenaline, she stumbled towards the water. For a moment she stood there, watching the rise and fall of little wavelets, reluctant to do what she knew she must, but then, with arms slowly turning to jelly she tossed the weapon as far out as she could. With a splash the revolver hit the surface of the river and vanished, greedily swallowed by the elements. With a last quick glance at where the gun had disappeared, she turned and walked quickly back to the tent.
Now that it was done, and the gun was no longer in her hands, she began to feel the cool mountain air on her body. As she gathered her own clothes from the sand, she remembered how she had felt that morning, when she had decided that it was time. The thought of putting an end to her husband’s life had made her feel ill, but she hadn’t let it show. Instead, she had used it, telling herself that it was his fault and that he deserved whatever he got. With that in mind, she had found it remarkably easy to turn on the charm, teasing him into following her onto the beach, seducing him into casually stripping off his clothes as she scuttled back into the tent for the gun. When she had pulled the trigger he had been watching her with a faintly bemused expression.
As she finished dressing, she watched the body for any signs of life. Finally convinced that he was truly dead, she walked over to where he lay cooling in the sun and, feeling a slight shiver of revulsion, prodded him with her foot. When he didn’t move, she turned and began to climb towards the main road and a phone. Only when she reached the edge of the trees did she take one last look over her shoulder. As she gazed down at the broken body laying haphazardly on the sand like a discarded rag-doll, she fancied that for a split second she heard, whispered by the wind through the trees, John asking “Why?”
The police listened to every word of her story with eyes full of sympathy. As she told them about the initial decision to come to Denver they nodded their heads, and as she went on to tearfully explain how she had awoken to the sound of a gun, they offered her equal measures of sympathy and coffee. The detective that offered her his handkerchief seemed almost apologetic when he asked to describe the man she had seen running off into the woods, and as she described maybe fifty percent of the male population of America, he had nodded sagely and suggested that he might have an idea who it could be. Within only a few hours she was climbing into the driver’s seat of her old Buick, wishing for all the world that they gave out Oscars for real-life performances.
That had been over an hour ago, and it was now late evening as she drove west through Colorado. On the distant horizon a warm orange sun lay close to the skyline, fringing the mountains ahead of her with crimson, the colour of blood. Despite her recent (tragic) loss, for Diane Kaine it was the perfect end to a perfect day and in six hours or so she would be home, ready to start a new life without John. Of course, the cops had offered to drive her themselves but she had declined that offer with tear filled eyes, claiming that she would be okay, that she needed time alone. Much to her surprise, the fools had believed her.
Rounding a bend in the road she was a little surprised to see a figure on the road ahead of her. As she drew nearer to him, the hitchhiker nonchalantly thrust out his arm, thumb pointed westwards. Entertaining thoughts about giving him a lift, she slowed her approach and tried to get a look at his face (good looks would have helped) but for some reason he kept his head hung low, his face hidden by long, dark shadows. With a shrug she drove on, casting a quick glance in the mirror as she passed him. The road behind her was empty, with no sign of the figure she had only that moment passed. Frowning to herself she barely gave this encounter a second thought.
It was almost midnight when she pulled into the all-night gas station. After filling the Buick’s hungry tank she sauntered into the small backwoods diner that hung onto the edge of the filling station like some kind of concrete and wood parasite, one leaching custom from the other. The place was fairly quiet in spite of the beaten old Wurlitzer in one corner that spewed out a scratched, almost inaudible rendition of Tutti Frutti. Crossing to the counter, Diane ordered herself a coffee, and after paying the woman that served her, made her way over to one of the empty tables. From the open doorway, a slight breeze raised goose bumps on her arms, sending an involuntary shiver through her which she followed with a wholly voluntary gulp of coffee. Feeling the bitter warmth of the brew spreading through her she risked a glance around the diner. She could almost feel a dozen pairs of eyes watching her as she took in the tasteless chipboard décor and fifties retro atmosphere.
Letting her eyes drift around the other customers she saw little to impress her, and she was about to return to her cup of coffee when she caught a flash of movement. In one darkened corner sat a single, shadow-wrapped figure, his face turned towards her, his eyes flashing with reflected light. For a second or two, Diane saw her husband’s features in that face and her heart jumped behind her ribs, but then the figure leant forward and the illusion passed. In place of that morbid flight of fancy there sat a young, fresh-faced biker smiling crookedly in her direction, a cold cigarette hanging from chapped lips.
Shivering again, though this time more out of nervousness than cold, she quickly finished her coffee and left. Climbing into the driver’s seat of the car her eyes were drawn by a glint of silver from her right. As she turned her head she had to cover her mouth to stifle the cry of fear that threatened to erupt. Beside her, sitting comfortably on the passenger seat, was a familiar looking revolver, it’s barrel aimed straight at her. Feeling a stab of panic she glanced furtively about, as if trying to catch sight of whoever could have placed the gun there, but there was no one. With a rush of distaste she reached over and was unnerved by the familiar feel of the butt in her hand as she rammed it deep into the glove box, locking it away from sight.
For a few more minutes she sat there, her head resting against the wheel while her heart stopped racing. The fear that she had been seen, that there had been an unseen witness to the murder of her husband played through her mind like a broken record, her thoughts constantly returning to the gun’s appearance over and over again. When she finally pulled away from the gas station she kept most of her attention on the road behind her and was relieved when nobody followed her.
With the road uncurling below her, Diane’s fear turned quickly to confusion and anger. Surely the gun in the glove box couldn’t be the same one that she had used on John, could it? Of course it couldn’t. She had thrown that one away herself, casting out into the river to disappear for eternity. In puzzled consternation she pulled into the side of the road and opened the glove compartment, praying silently that she had simply imagined the weapon’s existence. But no, the gun was still there, the dark, metallic barrel staring up at her like a single, accusing eye. With trembling hands she reached in to take it and was again struck by the familiar (friendly?) way that it nestled into her palm. With clumsy, fear numbed fingers she spun the chamber into it’s loading position and counted the bullets that she saw there. She wasn’t surprised to learn that one of the six cartridges was spent, telling herself that this wasn’t proof enough that it was the same gun. Of course, that didn’t stop her letting out a sigh of relief when she had once again hidden the weapon away in it’s previous resting place.
Lifting her eyes back to the road she was surprised to see a figure slouching in the shadows. Feeling that there was something disturbingly familiar about the figure, she was about to climb out of the car when the glancing headlights of a passing car illuminated the figure, albeit for only a second. With a start, Diane realised that the features revealed were those of her dead husband, and yet again feeling the grip of panic she slammed her foot on the gas, sending dust flying as shot back onto the road.
It wasn’t until five minutes later, when the panic had finally subsided, that she wondered how it could have possibly been John. John was dead! She had killed him herself, watched him die. With a silent oath she told herself to stop being so goddamned stupid.
Why what? That had been his last word, hadn’t it? Why? She knew why, why she had killed him. It had started when she had stopped loving him, but of course, that wasn’t cause enough to kill somebody, was it? But when she had found out about the affair, the absence of love had been enough for hatred to step in, and though she couldn’t admit it, it was the hatred that had killed John. It was the hatred that had pulled the trigger, punching a hole in his chest that was big enough for her to reach in and rip out what was left of his heart. And now, the hatred was sending her crazy. Now, the hatred was making her imagine guns and startling her with shadows.
Quickly biting off the thought that she might be going crazy she glanced at the glove box but couldn’t bring herself to reach over and open it. Hell, she was probably just tired, needed some sleep. Yeah, that was it, she was tired. Vowing to herself that she would stop at the next motel for the night, Diane Kaine drove on into the night.
By a half past one her route had taken her high into the steep sided slope of the Rockies and as she drove along she was aware of the looming rock face on one side, a drop into empty space on the other. In the play of the headlights the brusque, rugged cliffs seemed to leap out at her, giving them a violent, malevolent life of their own. This, added to the rain that was now bouncing angrily off of the wind shield was enough to convince Diane that the elements were conspiring against her.
It had been raining for close on half an hour, heavy sheets of rain sleeting out of a sky heavy with clouds. Behind the clouds, a pale, gibbous moon played gleefully at hide-and-seek, forcing her to keep her speed down and only occasionally casting it’s silvery light along the road. It was during one of these brief moments that Diane was startled by the appearance of a lone hitchhiker trudging resolutely along the road, head bent low, a glistening wet patch of darkness. She was almost past the hitcher before she took pity on him and slowed the car for him to catch up. With her warmest smile she turned to greet her new passenger as the rain sodden figure trotted eagerly forwards. The smile soon faded to be replaced by a rictus of terror as she recognised her ‘guest’. Leering at her through the now open door, vacant eyes rolling in sockets half- closed by the swollen flesh around them was a face she had never expected to see again, the face of her husband. Her dead husband. John Kaine!
Stifling a scream of fear she slammed her foot hard onto the gas pedal, coaxing a roar of anger from the car as it lurched drunkenly forward. Somewhere on the edge of her hearing Diane was aware of a wet, wrenching sound, damp, organic, but her attention was too much on her driving. For a second she half expected to go flying off into mid-air, but with her own heart loud in her ears she managed to regain control of the vehicle. As the car pulled back onto the road the passenger door, which had been swinging wildly, slammed shut with a bang, eliciting a low cry of panic from her. Hands clamped tightly around the wheel, she sped deeper into the Rockies.
Unwilling (unable?) to look in the mirror, she was just beginning to think that she had placed enough distance between herself and that thing (zombie? ghoul?) when she heard a dull scraping noise to her right. Eyes wide with fright (and perhaps a little madness, now) she turned her head. She caught a brief flash of pale, swollen fingers pressing against glass before the passenger door window imploded, showering her with the shrapnel. In her terror she barely felt the hot sting as shards of glass embedded themselves in her cheeks, her forehead, her temples. But she still screamed, a high piercing scream, the scream of a tortured animal. Reflexively she spun her head away from the flying pieces of window, and consequently did not see the edge of the road tearing towards her at near light speed.
The car left the road at over seventy miles per hour. In a split second Diane realised that she wouldn’t survive the four hundred or so feet to the valley floor. The vehicle seemed to hang in the air for an eternity before landing nose first amongst the twisted branches of the forest, but Diane didn’t care. With a final whump! the Buick exploded in a shower of burning gasoline and red hot metal, ending Diane Kaine’s final worry concerning her own sanity.
And in the darkness, heard only by the night and the trees, the wind whispered “Why?”
S. Naomi Scott (c) 1991, 1994