originally published in the june 1957 issue of desperate stories
illustrations by roy dismas
night was falling.
a train whistled in the distance.
it was time.
he had stayed in the shack for twenty years, as instructed.
and now it was time.
he walked out of the shack.
he closed the door behind him. he did not lock it, as he had no key.
the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon.
he started walking down the hill.
he had kept his part of the bargain. would they keep theirs?
even if they meant to, a lot could go wrong in twenty years.
he came to the old tree, which had marked the limit of his walks during his time in the cabin.
he passed the tree. he did not look back.
another two miles, and he should come to a big rock, and a curb and a dip in the road.
a car or truck should be waiting.
he made good time. the night was clear. the path was not too narrow.
his mind was a blank. he noticed the trees, the rocks, and the leaves and pine needles on the path.
it wasn't too cool or too warm. he took his jacket off and slung it over his shoulder.
suddenly, he was there.
and the vehicle was there. a station wagon, looking pretty much like the ones he would have seen twenty years ago.
a woman was leaning against it. in the darkness he could not tell her age or if she was good looking.
she didn't speak, but waited as he approached.
"you from jenkins?" he asked.
"of course." she had a husky, smoker's voice. "you got anything in that jacket?"
"the jacket. let us see the jacket."
us? he took the jacket off his shoulder and fanned it.
"throw it over here."
as he tossed her the jacket the rear door of the station wagon opened and another, bigger woman got out.
the big woman motioned for him to lift his arms, and she patted him down.
"i guess you can't be too careful."
they ignored this. "get in the front," the first woman told him. she handed the jacket back to him.
he relaxed. everything was going to be all right. why would they go to all this trouble, leave him up there for twenty years if they were not going to keep their end of the bargain?
he got in. the seat was pushed back, there was plenty of room. the first woman got in the driver's seat. there was a purse between the seats and she took her time getting a cigarette out of it and lighting it. the other woman got back in the back seat, behind him.
"want a drink?" the first woman asked.
"uh - i wouldn't object to a little one."
"there's a half pint in the glove compartment. help yourself."
sure enough, there was a half pint of dewar's in the glove compartment, unopened.
"um - you got a cup or something. i wouldn't want to -"
"just drink it. it's all yours. it's a present from jenkins."
"we're not whiskey drinkers anyway," said the woman in back. it was the first time she had spoken. "we're more beer drinkers. schlitz. we like our schlitz."
he broke the seal and opened the bottle and took a sip. as soon as the liquor passed his throat he knew something was wrong.
he heard the engine start up. it was the last thing he heard.