Gary Brandner


It had begun again…


LOS ANGELES (UPI) — A fire of undetermined origin swept through a narrow valley in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles yesterday, virtually wiping out the tiny village of Drago. Firefighters from Los Angeles and Ventura Counties brought the blaze under control early this morning, and had it extinguished before it could threaten any of the neighboring communities.

As yet there has been no reported contact with any of the residents of Drago. Authorities refused to make an estimate on the number of casualties as crews were still sifting through the ashes for victims.

The only known survivors at this hour are Mrs. Karyn Beatty and a friend, Christopher Halloran, both of Los Angeles. Mrs. Beatty's husband was missing and believed to have perished in the fire. Halloran and Mrs. Beatty declined to speak with reporters.

According to U.S. Forest Ranger Phil Henry, the final death toll may never be known. Since Drago was not an incorporated town, no accurate records were kept of its population. It is estimated that between one hundred and two hundred people lived there. So intense was the blaze, which destroyed two hundred acres of timber in addition to the village, that searchers are finding it difficult to distinguish human remains from those of animals.


KARYN KNELT ON THE moist grass and worked with her fingers in the dirt around the roots of the rose bush. There were no flowers on the bush, and there should have been. Karyn felt she was somehow responsible. Although David had never mentioned it, she was sure his first wife had been a gifted gardener. That was the trouble with marrying a widower — the departed wife was always good at everything.

As for Karyn, except for her houseplants, which enjoyed a special place in her affections, she had little interest in or aptitude for gardening. Outdoor plants, she felt, ought to be able to take care of themselves. However, David and Dr. Goetz thought getting outside and working with her hands was good for her, and she did not want to disappoint them.

While she poked idly at the damp earth, Karyn let her mind wander. There was vacation time to be worked out for Mrs. Jensen, the housekeeper, and a Parents' Day coming up at Joey's summer school. She smiled, pleased at the commonplace concerns that occupied her mind these days. It was a healthy sign, she thought.

Karyn did not hear the soft approach of the padded feet behind her. The first indication she was not alone was the huff of warm breath on the back of her neck. She started to rise, lost her balance, and fell awkwardly to the ground.

She looked up and saw the other face staring down into hers. Its black lips were stretched in a canine grimace, the yellowed teeth bared. She tried to squirm away, but two heavy paws pinned her as the animal dropped its weight on her chest.

In that instant, all the horror of Drago flooded back from the closed-off portion of her mind. The wolfish face with its long, cruel teeth came at her. She screamed. The weight on her chest lessened for a moment, and she rolled away, curling herself protectively into a ball. She felt the animal prod at her, trying to turn her over. She screamed again.

The back door of the house banged open and a solid woman with graying, blond hair rushed out. She ran heavily toward Karyn, still lying on the ground by the rose bushes.

'Bristol, stop that!' the woman called. 'Come here, you bad boy.'

Cautiously Karyn opened her eyes. A few feet away, Mrs. Jensen stood with her hands planted on her hips. Sidling toward her, a don't-hit-me look in its eyes, was a coltish young German shepherd.

'Shame on you,' Mrs. Jensen scolded the dog. 'Frightening people like that.' She seized him by the collar and tapped him lightly on the nose. 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Richter. He's just an overgrown puppy. He wanted to play, that's all.'

The back door burst open again and David Richter hurried out. He was a man of forty-eight, with a strong, serious face. He wore a sweater and slacks, this being Sunday, but he never seemed really comfortable without the three-piece suit he wore daily to the brokerage.

Karyn rose unsteadily to her feet. David ran across the lawn to her side and took her arm.

'Are you all right?' he asked.

'I'm fine,' Karyn said, still out of breath. 'It's nothing.'

David turned on Mrs. Jensen, who was still holding the dog by his collar. The dog kept lunging up, trying to lick her face.

'What's that dog doing here?' David demanded.

'It's my sister's puppy,' Mrs. Jensen said. 'He didn't mean any harm.'

'You know we don't allow animals here,' David said.

'I was just watchin' the dog for an hour while my sister went to the dentist. She didn't want to leave him alone.'

'Well, get him out of here,' David ordered. 'And don't ever bring a dog to this house again.'

'David, it's not that serious,' Karyn said. 'The dog just caught me by surprise.'

'He didn't mean any harm,' Mrs. Jensen said again.

'Yes, yes, all right,' David said, softening his tone a bit, 'but I want him out of here right now.'

'Yes, Mr. Richter,' she said. And to the dog: 'Come along, you bad boy.'

As Mrs. Jensen led the dog around the side of the house, a dark-eyed boy of six dashed through the door and across the lawn to where Karyn and David stood.

'What happened?' the boy said, looking from one of the adults to the other.

Karyn ruffled his hair. 'It's all right, Joey. I was just startled by a dog.'

'A dog?' The boy looked around eagerly. 'Where is he?'

'Never mind,' said David. 'Mrs. Jensen took him away. You go inside now and wash up for dinner.'

Joey looked wistfully off in the direction the housekeeper had taken the dog. 'Can't I just go and see him? Just for a minute?'

'Inside, Joey,' said David. The boy trudged back across the grass and into the house.

'I feel so guilty because he can't have a pet,' Karyn said.

'It won't hurt him to do without one. Now let me help you inside. You're still shaking.'

'Really, David, I'm quite all right,' Karyn said, but she allowed herself to be led into the house.

'Sit down there in the big chair,' David said when they reached the living room. 'Put your feet up.'

Karyn did as she was told.

'Now wait right there and I'll get something to calm your nerves.' He went off to the kitchen, and returned a minute later carrying a tall glass.

'Here's a nice glass of milk,' he said.

A nice shot of Scotch would do her nerves a whole lot more good, Karyn thought, but she smiled her thanks and took the glass from David's hand.

He stood with his arms folded, studying her gravely as she sipped at the milk. 'You gave me quite a scare.'

Вы читаете The Howling II
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