This is a cross post from The True Book Addict
He reached into his pocket and brought out the white chip he’d discovered inside the magnetic megalith.
“Do you know what this is?” Erik held it flat on his palm.
The old man looked at the object with a hint of recognition. Ivan rubbed his cheek with a rough hand. “I’ve never seen it before.”
“It’s fine if you don’t wanna explain. Don’t lie to me though.”
“That oughta be returned to where you found it. It doesn’t belong to you.”
“Sorry, can’t. I’d be arrested for trespassing.”
“Then give it to me.”
“I don’t think so,” Erik said.
The old man reached out with a swiftness that belied his advanced age. He tried to snatch the shell from Erik’s hand, but the young man was quicker and slipped it back in his pocket.
Ivan lunged for the object at the same moment the bathroom door opened and Allie appeared. The old man immediately straightened, the pair of them grinning innocently at her.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Erik said. “Just having a discussion.”
“Your bathtub’s beautiful,” Allie told the old man. “I want Erik to install a claw-footed tub in our master bathroom just like yours.”
“I’m partial to it myself,” Ivan said.
His demeanor had transformed in an instant. No longer was he the menacing figure he’d been seconds before. Now he played the jovial grandfather, pleasant and accommodating. The rapidity with which he switched those roles frightened Erik. He wondered which mask was the true visage of Ivan Hertz.
“We should be going,” Erik said. He now regretted accepting the old man’s invitation to dinner. If Ivan treated others the way he’d shown tonight, it didn’t surprise Erik that the old man hadn’t any friends or loved ones.
“If you must,” Ivan said. He retrieved their winter jackets from the coatrack, handed the red one to Erik while he held the blue one open for Allie.
The clock over the fireplace mantel chimed once . . . twice . . . thrice . . .
“Midnight,” the old man said in a sober tone. “December twenty-fifth.”
“Happy Christmas,” Allie told him as she zipped up.
The musical peals continued: four — five — six.
Ivan offered a weak smile, his face as white as his mustache.
Seven — eight — nine.
He went to the front window and peered into shrouded darkness.
“Thank you for the meal,” Allie said. “You can throw away the pie tin. I don’t need it for — ”
“Quiet.” Ivan turned on the porch light to better see the woods.
Ten — eleven — twelve.
The twelve strokes of midnight.
“Should we let ourselves out?” Erik asked. The Hernes were unnerved by the old man’s sudden erratic behavior.
Then they all heard it, low at first as it built to a thunderous crescendo that echoed throughout the whole of Holly Wood. It sounded like a powerful blast from some sort of instrument. Erik pictured a Swiss Alpine horn while Allie imagined a Jewish shofar being blown.
“Is that coming from town?” she asked. It seemed nearer than that. Wodanfield was four miles to the west; this came from somewhere much closer.
The old man grabbed the door handle and fumbled with the multiple locks. “I appreciate your visit,” he said and ushered them onto the porch. “Come anytime for a chat.” The words were as empty as his house.
“If you ever need help, we’re just a phone call away.” Allie amended her offer. “Well, you know what I mean.”
The woods were quiet after the apparent explosion. The snow had a natural muting effect; at present there was nothing to muffle, just absolute silence.
The old man’s gaze probed the perimeter surrounding his cabin. He went to close the door when he offered one final bit of advice to the newlyweds before locking them out. “Go straight home,” he said. “And get there quick if you hope to have a merry Christmas.”
Jared Sandman’s Blogbuster Tour 2011 runs from July 1st through August 31st. His novels include Leviathan, The Wild Hunt and Dreamland, all of which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. His latest book, The Shadow Wolves, has just been released. Follow him on Twitter (@JaredSandman) and be entered to win one of several $25 Amazon gift cards. See rules at www.jaredsandman.com for eligibility.