|For zombie dog lovers.
Sean and Crissy tapped their heels against the polished side of a boulder. The high-rises of Scarborough towered behind them and from their perch, they could see most of Bluffer's Beach. A neat line of poplars stood at the edge of the sand berm near the bottom of the rise. A stone's throw from the poplars the sand slipped under the light-green waves rocking in from Lake Ontario.
One of childhood's small daydreams carried like driftwood across Crissy's mind as she absently watched the transparent curls of water break to foam. Family troubles evaporated and the rush and rustle of the lake and leaves lifted her mood . . . but small worlds are always ephemeral and the best of life is a forgotten island until it lives again.
Crissy came out of her daydreams, noticing only the presence of Sean. Sean reminded her of a pestering little shark - he'd the same knack for spoiling a beach. Unexpectedly he punched her on the shoulder. She winced as she turned to his large attention-begging eyes.
“Look through the binoculars,” Sean said, his red hair sticking up in multiple cowlicks. “There's a green car parking down by the beach. I bet it's some of the people searching for me.”
Crissy took the binoculars. She saw a big man behind the car windshield. He had a hanging, leathery face and the intense lines of a nasty complainer around his slit eyes. A very frightened lady who resembled a plump rosy-cheeked doll sat next to him. His thin lips began to move - he'd found something to complain about.
“They're not looking for you,” Crissy said. “People park there to do things they're not supposed to do.”
“Yeah,” Sean said, snatching the binoculars. “Wow! He's roughing her up. I bet they're fighting over dope, just like my mom and dad.”
“You're supposed to call the police when you see a creep beating on a woman,” Crissy said, her face concerned. “I could whistle for Digger. He'll bite him.”
Sean gave her a cynical glance. “I beat-up on my sister yesterday and no one called the police; at least not before I ran away. Don't you whistle either, or he'll run up here. Besides, I know you don't have a dog. I've been over to see him twice and he's not been around.”
Crissy frowned. “Digger doesn't like you, that's all.”
Sean couldn't see enough, he ignored her and leaned forward. “He's getting out and limping around to her side. She doesn't want out, but he's pulling her out by the hair. Ha! She bit his hand. She's handcuffed. He must be a crazy policeman.”
“You're lying, Sean Williams, and you won't scare me. I bet they're smoking and drinking like the other people who park there.”
“Nope. He's roping her to a tree now, and she's not wearing a skirt - only her panties. That means he's a killer. Cops can beat you up but they can't drive around with naked girls.”
Chilling, almost gull-like screams broke the beach's harmony of sound. The truth of evil had found paradise. Crissy pushed off the boulder and held her dress against the breeze as she ran to the lip of the rise. She could make out the man down below. Sinister shadows coiled around him. He lifted a leather case out of the trunk and limped out of sight behind a berry bush.
“What's he doing?” she said, almost whispering.
Sean combed his hair with his fingers. “He's opening the case. It's full of murdering knives and hair from girls he scalped. I bet he's gonna cut her head right off. Killers from the French Revolution like to cut off heads. Dad says you don't die until about ten seconds after your head's been cut off. You feel your head bounce on the ground and while your brains are leaking out you wish you hadn't broke the law.”
Crissy shivered and whistled shrilly, startling Sean so that he almost dropped the binoculars. He slid off the boulder, stared open-mouthed at Crissy's paling face, then dashed over beside her.
“Now you've done it! That creep will turn us into shrunken heads if we don't scram!”
“Digger must be sleeping,” Crissy said coolly
“Yeah, and counting the burglars sneaking over his grave,” Sean said angrily. He raised the binoculars. A blurry mass of leaves filled the lenses; he used a baby birch to focus. Sweeping back to the car, he spotted the killer, and he seemed to be staring straight up at him - a fierce gleam lit his left eye, his right eye blurred by a cataract. The deep creases in his face were as dark as oil; his skin was abnormally weather-beaten, hanging like diseased folds on a sordid mask. Bluish lips formed an inimical, quivering grin. He brazenly walked through some thorn bushes, striking out when barbs tore at his sweat-stained tobacco shirt. Using his bad foot to brace himself he began limping up the rise in a very swift if clumsy manner. For certain he'd spotted them, and for certain he was a believer in the rejuvenating powers of dead slabs of young flesh.
Hand tugging hand, coronas of hair flying, Crissy and Sean ran behind the boulder and into the sumac growing on the east slope of the rise. Sean showed Crissy a hiding spot behind a decaying log, put a finger to his lips to warn her to keep silent and crawled away into deep weeds.
White knuckles and a scarred arm furrowed with muscle held a gleaming blade aloft under the crayon sun of childhood. The killer was coming over the steep edge of the rise. With his spindly legs, he pushed his distended midsection up over the last lip of earth. He stood stiffly on muddy feet, wheezing and gulping air -- his shirt and disarrayed gray hair covered with seeds and bark particles.
The killer's good eye collected a ball bearing's brightness as he searched for clues. Bare patches of sandy loam were embedded with bits of glass, candy wrappers and gum foil. There were no footprints or fresh trails in the tall grass. The only path ran from the side of the boulder and down the far slope. A burst of limping took him to the path, and then he began moving furtively like a hunter downwind of a deer.
The killer scanned the sumac with honed senses; his eye froze and a black pin prick dulled its gleam. There was movement -- it was a small, scuffed white sneaker poking out at the end of the log. A closer leer showed a white sock, a bare white leg and a hand hurriedly brushing away ravenous ants. The killer lurched ahead and tripped over a thistle clump, but he still managed to grab Crissy's leg as he crashed into the sumac.
Crissy kicked and howled like a scalded brat. She felt the handle of the knife knocking on her skull. Her surroundings fell out of proportion -- distorted fragments of speech were like birds filling the air, tumbleweeds of sumac flew like colored popcorn and the boulder had the face of a devilish man in the moon.
Dragging Crissy’s limp body, the killer was about to descend to his car and the other victim. A stone winged off his right shoulder blade. He swore, turned and saw Sean standing atop the boulder. Grinning like a wary crocodile, he dropped Crissy and took a couple of lizard-slow steps toward Sean. He ducked another stone, and didn't notice a fan of flying dirt that had appeared behind him -- the sod had burst open on the steep side of the rise.
Sean's blue eyes grew cat big as the killer stepped closer, then they looked beyond him -- a dark shape was pulling over the lip of the rise. A bearlike head showed beside limp Crissy, and a huge black-and-violet tongue slobbered on her face, causing her to stir. Fire-pit eyes smoldered beneath a wide ivory-spiked dog collar. Digger's tongue slipped back into his ample muzzle and he leapt over Crissy in almost slow motion, then he shook the loam from his ragged, floppy ears and huge decaying body.
Sean cartwheeled off the back of the boulder. The killer spun around and gaped; Digger's growl shook the ground. Knowing it wasn't safe to run, the killer jabbed and threatened with his blade, and this only served to antagonize the zombie dog.
Looking much paler and smaller the killer began to make his way along the lip of the rise, trying to circle around to the path. The dog toyed with him by crouching on his haunches, making to pounce, and then ducking back when the killer lashed out with his knife.
Crissy got to her knees and shook her foggy head. Digger wagged his shaggy tail and pranced over to lick her hand. The killer hurried to the path, a rock tossed by Sean hit his forehead and the dizzying blow keeled him over in the grass near the boulder.
Digger loped over, but the killer lashed out like a poisonous snake and connected with flesh and fur. Digger quickly backed off, a gash of pus and gore showing on his shoulder. The sight of a freshly opened wound raised the killer's spirits and put him fully on his feet; confidence uplifted his face with a tight spider web of white crevices, and he took an aggressive step toward Digger, thinking he could strike a fatal blow.
Digger merely sat and raised his huge right paw in a handshake gesture, then he dropped his paw and his spotted tongue came out as he began to pant stupidly.
The killer immediately lunged, intending to grab Digger’s ear and bury the blade in his neck. With uncanny swiftness, Digger drew his fist-sized paw up, flexed his haunches and struck out. The blow was so fast it was a blur and the paw was as hard as a clod of frozen earth. It cuffed the killer with a neck-breaking crack and force that swept on and ripped his head right off his shoulders. There was a thump as the head flew back and bounced off a boulder. Like rubber it shot high in the air, trailing twisting ribbons of muscle and blood. To Crissy it looked like a balloon rising on the summer wind.
The headless body did a short and crooked dance, and then it fell and sprayed glistening blood drops. They rained like ripe cherries on the blades of grass. The fallen body went limp as the head thumped beside it in the weeds. The head bounced on the soft turf and rolled face-up. The face was a ghastly, withered jack-o'-lantern, the frothing lips moved in a silent scream, and then the eyes began to flutter shut.
Crissy watched them close and felt pee dribbling down her leg. “I bet he's wishing he didn't break the law,” she said.
Sean didn't answer; he was petting Digger and thinking of running even farther from home.
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