The Hum

The Hum is a phenomenon, or collection of phenomena, involving widespread reports of a persistent and invasive low-frequency humming, rumbling, or droning noise not audible to all people. Hums have been widely reported by national media in the UK and the United States.

—Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  



The first time Lee Bennett stepped out onto his back deck and noticed the strange rumbling, droning sound, he had never heard of "the Hum." He had vaguely heard of people reporting a humming sound that couldn't be identified, but he had been left with the impression that those people had heard an electrical-type noise inside their homes, and since what he was listening to was more of a deep rumbling sound and it was outside, he didn't connect it to what he was hearing. Therefore he didn't attribute it to some phenomenon; he attributed it to the nearby Lockheed plant.

The large industrial airpark where Lockheed Martin was located was only about five miles away, so he immediately chalked it up to jet engine maintenance or testing and didn't think too much more about it.

Forty-five miles away at the house he and his wife would soon move to, he would hear it again and realize it wasn't the Lockheed plant at all.


* * *


They had used the first part of the advance to rent the house on Deer Creek Road (with an option to buy). There was a barnlike building in the back he'd be able to work in, and now that he'd quit teaching, he would finally be able to fully devote himself to his writing.

Luckily it was never hard to find a job if you were a competent practical nurse, and Shelby had been able to get on at a doctor's office not too far up the interstate from their new home. Her salary along with the rest of the money would be enough to tide them over until he got the first check for the new book. And then if the last one earned out its advance and continued to sell, he'd start receiving royalties, too.

Shelby shifted around in her seat, turning to look at him. She regarded him, her expression unfathomable. She was so beautiful. There was something about her—a kind of dark beauty. Even now as she stared at him, shrewdly assessing him, he could barely drag his eyes from her to watch the road.

"I don't see the point of buying this house if it's only going to be the two of us," she suddenly said.

Lee searched for the words to reassure her again and make her understand without committing to anything. If he could get her to wait a little longer, then they could start a family, after he was an established author when he was making money he could depend on and she could quit her job or they could at least hire some help.

"Bernie thinks she can get me a three-book deal the next time." Bernie, short for Bernadette, was his agent.


"So, that means I'll get a larger advance. The first payment would be a third for each book."

"And?" Your point?

"And that means real money. The other checks after that wouldn't be as much as the first one, but … It takes time to build a strong base, but we'll be well on our way."

Shelby stayed silent but he knew what she was thinking: If everyone waited until they had enough money, no one would ever have kids. Lord knows her Aunt Cleda had drilled it into her head enough. But Lee didn't look at it that way. He'd seen all too clear what having a baby early on without getting a good start in life could do. And right now, with money as tight as it was, there was no way they could afford decent daycare. Shelby would have to go back to work after having it and he'd end up the babysitter. One of the sore points in their marriage was Shelby's inability to understand that he couldn't write here and there. He had to have a continuous block of time to fully immerse himself in the story. And if it was coming, he couldn't hit the Pause button; if he didn't get it down, it was gone. With working full-time, it had taken him nearly three years to write his last novel. He could imagine what it would do to his productivity to constantly have to tend to an infant. The whole point of moving to this house was for him to have room to breathe and a quiet place to work so he could concentrate and get some real writing done. Having a baby now would completely ruin everything.

But that didn't mean he didn't ever want to have kids. He stole a glance at Shelby. She had shifted back around—turning away from him—and was now staring out the window.

The road leading to their two-story farmhouse came up sooner than he expected, and he almost passed it. He hit the brakes, instinctively throwing his arm out across Shelby, and barely made the turn, then immediately had to swerve to avoid a dog ambling along the edge of the road.

"Whoa, maybe we don't need to have kids," Shelby said.

Lee felt a pang, knowing what it must have taken for her to joke about it. She must love him. And she deserved so much more. Slowing down, he reached over and grabbed her hand. "I love you, babe."

She gazed back at him—resigned. "I love you, too."


* * *


Shelby pushed the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch as Lee went to start up the steps with the last box. Avery had already left after helping unload the heavy things from Lee's truck. It had taken eight loads over the past two days in all three vehicles to get everything, and he was exhausted. And he still had to set up the bed.

"Don't forget you have to at least put up the bedroom blinds, too," Shelby said.

And put up the blinds. Even though the nearest house to theirs was over a mile away and the only eyes peering in would belong to birds, squirrels, and deer.

He shifted the box, letting it rest on his hip. "Okay."

"And there's a cow in the backyard."

Lee blinked. "A cow."

"Yes, a cow."

"Well, Gary's pasture comes all the way down to the house."

A look of disgust flitted across her face. "Our backyard is one of Gary's pastures?"

"Well, no, there's a f—"

"It's on this side of the fence."

"Are you sure?"

She turned her head and gave an exaggerated sigh.

Good grief, was she going to make a whole big thing about some cow she saw across the yard?

Shelby turned back to him, her eyes catching on something behind him briefly before focusing in on him again.

"It's only a c—" he started saying, then fell silent at the peculiar expression on her face.

Shelby's chest heaved and she bit her lip.

"But I'll go check it ou—" Something slimy flicked across his elbow. "Aaurgh." Lee jumped and fell up the steps, catapulting the box onto the porch.

Shelby burst out laughing. Lee gaped down at the large brown cow now standing at the bottom of the steps.

The cow stood there for a moment longer, as if debating whether or not to climb on up there with him, and then swung its head around and started moving ponderously away.

"Where's it going?" Shelby asked.

"I don't know."

They watched as it slowly crossed the yard and stepped into the road.

"It sure looks like it knows where it's going," Lee said, relieved Shelby found the whole thing funny.

The cow picked up its gait and began moving briskly down the center of the old road. At least it wasn't heading toward the highway.

Shelby opened the screen door to go back into the house. "Should you call Gary?"

"Uh …"

"Because we can't have cows traipsing through the yard all the time. I mean, I know this is technically still his property, for now, but can you imagine the mess?"

"I'm sure it just got out. But I'll let him know."

"And Shelby?" he said as she stepped into the house. She looked back at him questioningly.

"Thanks for taking everything so well. And I don't mean the cow. I mean switching jobs and moving all the way out here like this. It means a lot to me."

Shelby gazed at him for a moment and then smiled wryly. "Moving was never what I had a problem with." She let the screen fall shut.


* * *


They both finally climbed into bed so tired they had nothing but rest on their minds, only to turn to each other as they were on the cusp of sleep, as they were sometimes wont to do.

"You unpack your pills?" he murmured.


"Your pills. Did you take your pill?"

"Yes, I took my damn pill, Lee."

"Sorry. I just know you haven't unpacked everything yet."

"I unpacked that box." She rolled away from him and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"To get some water." She paused in the doorway. "Would it be so horrible, having children?"

Lee could see the dim outline of her standing with her back to him, waiting for an answer. "No, but I think we should w—"

"Or is there some particular reason you don't want to make a baby with me?"

What? Lee sat up in bed. What was she getting at?

Shelby turned around to face him. "I think it's ridiculous the way you are so against having a baby. We're almost thirty! You say it's about money, but maybe it's not. Maybe it's about something else. Maybe I'm going to stay with you for years and years until I'm too old, and then I will have wasted—"

"Shelby …"

"—my whole childbearing life."

"Your 'childbearing life'?"

"You know what the hell I mean!" She stalked back over to the bed. "My child-bearing years! Stop being a damn writer!"

Lee stared up at her face looming over him, at a total loss. Then reason kicked in. She was tired. Exhausted. It had been a long day. And knowing her, she probably hadn't eaten much.

He switched on the lamp beside the bed and reached for her hand. "Come back to bed. You need some rest. I'll get you something, a snack or some milk to help you sleep."

She let him hold her hand for a moment and then pulled away. "Answer the question. Why don't you want to have a baby with me?"

"Shelby, you know why."

"I don't think it's all about money!"

Well, it wasn't all about money, but it was mostly about money. Most of the other reasons could be fixed if they had more money. Having a baby might be more feasible if they had more money. He gazed at the shape of her, standing over by the window now. Young, thin, healthy. Beautiful. Like Heather had been. Heather. No! Lee pushed the memories away, repeating in his mind don't think about it, don't think about it like he always did when he sensed the tidal flood of pain about to wash over him. He lay back down, turning his face into the pillow, and managed to stave off the onslaught of grief. Even now, after all these years, it could still creep up on him and surprise him in an instant. He would think he was okay, that the worst of it was over, and then something would set off a memory of those heady days with Heather when all seemed right with the world as long as they had each other, and it would all come rushing back and he'd feel the same gut-wrenching agony he'd felt at nineteen. Shelby knew, of course, that he'd had a girlfriend when he was young and that she had died, but she didn't really know. He'd loved Heather more than life itself and had wanted to die with her when she passed. He would probably never love anyone as much as he'd loved her. But a wife didn't need a shadow like that over her marriage, so he let Shelby think she was the love of his life, never, ever, letting on that this might not actually be the case.

He sat up and spent the next ten minutes trying to reassure her that of course it was about the money, about her being able to eventually quit her job, or at least be able to hire some help and afford decent daycare. But nothing he said worked, and when he came back to the bedroom after getting up to get a beer, which he sorely needed at this point, he found the bedroom door locked against him, something she had never done before.

Turning away from the closed door, he walked downstairs, cast a look at the sofa, and carried his beer out to his study.

He worked for a while doing halfhearted research for the new book while he drank it, and then rested his head down on the desk.


* * *


He awoke to darkness. Shit; he'd fallen asleep out in the building.

And something had awakened him. He blinked in the near-complete blackness. The weak illumination from the back light Shelby had thoughtfully turned on for him despite their earlier argument glowed faintly around the frayed edges of the old curtains.

He reached for the desk lamp, and the noise, the same noise he'd half heard in his sleep, came again. He froze, arm still outstretched, and slowly turned his head toward the sound coming through the window. He'd closed the curtains but had forgotten to shut it. He pushed his chair back and moved over to it.

Swaying tiredly, he replayed the scene with Shelby, listening for the sound, which had ceased again. Of course she wanted a baby. He did too. Didn't he? He pictured a miniature replica of Shelby with wild curly black hair. Yes, he decided, he did. But everything had to be done right. Or people could die. People could become overworked and unhealthy and have complications and die. Lee felt another niggle of grief, and then it was on him—wrenching pain and loss as though Heather had died yesterday. Oh God. Heather. Lee felt a sob rising up from him. It was too much. He reared back as if to knock the pain away—and the noise came again.

Wait. He'd heard that before. At the other house. That same sound. He tugged the curtains aside and pushed up on the window to raise it all the way. The noise rumbled through the air for another few seconds and then abruptly cut out.

What the hell? Lee listened for another minute. Hearing nothing, he left his study, crossing the wooden floor of the building's lower level, and pulled open the door.

He stepped outside. Other than the thin pool of illumination coming partway across the yard from the back light, it was pitch-black. There was barely any wind, so he didn't immediately register the cold, but after a few seconds he could feel it enveloping him, sapping his warmth. He looked up but could see only blackness and the diffuse glow of the moon behind a bank of clouds. He turned away from the house and walked around the side of the building, letting his eyes adjust further to the darkness. He could barely make out the shape of the ground and the shadow of woods beyond. Gary's cow pasture ran all the way down to the fence marking their property line, but over here on the side, it was nothing but forest all the way down to an old empty house, and then nothing again until you hit the highway.

It was eerily quiet. No barking of dogs or yipping of coyotes, no cows lowing, no night creatures rustling around. Nothing but complete silence.

He turned around to walk back to the house, and the unsettling sound once again cut through the still night air. The outside light flickered, seemed to grow brighter for a second, and then went out.

Lee stopped in his tracks. The distant rumbling noise seemed to reverberate from all directions at once. Ignoring the goose bumps breaking out on his arms, he turned in a circle, trying to pinpoint it.

It was hard to tell, but it seemed to be marginally louder over by the woods. But what was over that way? Surely not another Lockheed plant. But it was the same sound, he was sure of it.

So, not a jet engine being tested.

Then what the hell was it?

The deep hum coming through the night air increased in intensity. Definitely not a jet. He thought of the alien ships looming over the Earth in War of the Worlds and felt the hair stir on the back of his neck.

Something brushed against his leg, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. But it was only their cat, Cookie. She wound around his legs once and then bounded toward the porch steps, a white smudge in the blackness. He followed after the cat, feeling strangely comforted by her presence.

The distant roaring sound continued for another few seconds, and then as quickly as it started, the droning hum stopped, and the light by the back door flickered and then came on, burning steadily.

Slowly, as he made his way across the yard, the normal night sounds resumed—one of Gary's cows chewing across the pasture, and a deer blowing somewhere back in the trees.

He hurried up the steps and into the house, letting the cat in with him, accidentally kicking the catbox on his way through the enclosed porch, scattering litter across the concrete floor. He looked down at the pet door he and Avery had installed, stepped back out onto the porch, locked the outer storm door, and then went back inside and bolted the inner door.


* * *


The next morning Lee got up earlier than usual, partly because he wanted to make it up to Shelby, and partly because he could tell his restlessness was bothering her. He had found the bedroom door open once again when he come back in the night before and had crawled into bed beside Shelby a few minutes later and fallen asleep almost instantly. But then he'd awakened right before dawn, the fight with Shelby and the reemergence of the mystifying sound playing through his mind over and over, bringing him unwillingly to wakefulness.

He got the coffee pot going and went out onto the back porch while it perked and sat down at the old worn table they'd dragged out of the kitchen.

Through the windows that wrapped around and enclosed the porch, he watched as the sun rose—purplish-pink and then salmon, spreading out into the sky above the woods on the other side of the pasture. They'd never been able to see the sunrise over at the old place. The slope of the land and the trees around the little house they'd rented had completely blocked the sunrises and sunsets.

He considered waking Shelby up to see it and then decided to let her sleep. Even if she didn't mind him waking her, he knew what it would lead to. Beautiful sunrises would be another merit of living in this house out in the country, added to the mental list Shelby already had of things that would be great when they had children: the bucolic setting, which would give the kids a safe and idyllic place to grow up in; the large yard, perfect for growing children who needed space to run and jump and play; the clean air, free of pollutants and exhaust fumes; and of course, the two other bedrooms just waiting to be decorated in delicate pink and navy blue. When he'd first suggested taking the advance and moving to a bigger place out in the country, he'd been afraid she'd balk at living in such solitude away from the convenience of the city, but that hadn't been the case at all. If anything, she liked the idea too much. She saw way more in the house than he did. He simply thought of it as a place that would enhance his work and expedite his writing career, whereas she seemed to see if filled with the spirits of their future children.

Unbidden, a vivid memory reared up into Lee's consciousness. The look of delight on Heather's face at the crib he'd bought and put together as a surprise. He firmly pushed the image back down again.

His thoughts turned to the mysterious sound he kept hearing. He'd heard plenty of aircraft in his life, but that hadn't been what it sounded like. He stood up and went back inside to the coffee pot that was making its last gurgling hiss. Something atmospheric? No, no way. It hadn't been wind or thunder or anything like that. It had been too … mechanical, disturbing … almost frightening.

Lee shivered and realized he was staring off into space with his mouth hanging slack. He closed it, grabbed a coffee mug out of the cabinet, and filled it with the steaming brew. A weather balloon? Did weather balloons make noise? He added sugar and creamer. Maybe, but a couple of those days at the other house it had been clear out—near dusk, but clear with decent visibility—and he hadn't seen anything. Maybe some specific set of conditions allowing sound to travel from a great distance? But why only that sound? Why aren't I hearing other noises?

Shelby walked into the kitchen, startling him. He jerked slightly and took a big sip of his coffee to cover it up, burning his tongue in the process.

He took another smaller sip. He watched as Shelby got out a cup and filled it.

Ignoring the sugar and creamer, she leaned against the counter and gulped her coffee, not even wincing. Shelby liked hers black and hot, too hot, and drank it like it was medicine.

"I heard that sound again last night."

Blinking groggily, Shelby gulped at her coffee again before speaking. "What sound?"

"You know, from the other house. The sound from Lockheed. I heard it again."

She blinked at him some more, drained her cup, and refilled it. "But I don't think there's a Lockheed plant around here."

"I know."

"An airport or a … what do you call it … an aviator complex?"

"Aviation center."

"Yeah. Is there one of those close by?"

"I don't know of one." It was possible. But he didn't think so.

"Anyway," Shelby said, and Lee dragged his attention back to her. Whenever Shelby started a sentence with "anyway" he could be sure it would end with a litany of worries, complaints, and ultimately chores and errands he'd be expected to take care of.

"Anyway, I'm going to finish putting the curtains up, and then later Amber is coming by with Bella."

Lee barely restrained himself from groaning. But he had gotten up early determined to give her a good day, and he was going to try his best to make that happen, no matter what.

He forced himself to smile. "Oh, is she?"

"And I need for you to put what I have piled on the dining room table up into the attic—"


"—and take all the empty boxes off …"

Lee nodded attentively, letting her get it all out. Shelby relied on her daily dose of caffeine but sometimes it made her anxious, and he had learned the hard way to take special care with her in the mornings. He had once upset her about a year into their marriage when he'd ignored her as she tried to talk to him about a spider problem they'd been having. She'd been going on about spraying bug killer and plugging holes and cracks and replacing screens—he had planned on caulking everything up and all, one day, just not that day—and not wanting to deal with it right then, he hadn't really acknowledged her. The more Shelby talked and fretted and worried, the quieter he had become until finally she had gone silent and walked away.

And that had been the end of it—he thought. A few days later, in quiet frustration, she had somehow managed to capture a large spider. And she had taken that freakishly big arachnid, waited until he went to sleep, ripped back the covers, and shaken the nasty hairy thing right out onto his bare chest. And then while he shrieked and threw himself off the side of the bed, she had calmly walked out of the house—and refused to come back in until he captured and killed it!

A lot of people that lived in the Deep South claimed to have Native American blood in their veins, but with Shelby he was inclined to believe it. One of the branches of her family tree was supposedly Catawba. She sure looked like it, he thought, staring at her now. Almost black hair, straight, not wavy like his; brown eyes; and a darkish complexion. She was beautiful. And sexy. But as tough as she seemed, she could sometimes be incredibly vulnerable and sweet, too. He did love her.

But she wasn't Heather.

Stop it! he told himself mentally. It had been so fleeting. They had both been so young. Who knows what would have happened if … if she hadn't died. Maybe they wouldn't have even stayed together. Maybe they would have gotten married, had the baby, and ended up divorced. Maybe he was comparing what he and Shelby had to the idea of he and Heather—to what he had wanted and hoped for, not what he'd actually had with her.

"… and then I guess you could go finish unpacking your study out in the building, if you want."

"Yeah, I'd like to get back to work soon."

"But I'm not sure what to do about dinner, with Amber and Bella coming over."

"I'll take care of it," he immediately said. The magic words he'd learned since becoming a married man. If more men learned the use of and employed that one sentence, as he had, there would be fewer divorces.

Lee moved over to the dishwasher, nudging Shelby aside. "I'll run over to Gary's later and get us all some hot dogs." He opened up the dishwasher and began emptying it, taking clean dishes and silverware out and placing them in their proper places in the cabinets and drawers. "I'll put everything up into the attic, take the boxes off to the dump, and then I can work on my area out in the building while you and Amber visit."

"And Bella."

Yes, and Bella, of course. Lee held back a sigh.

Shelby's arms slid around him from behind. "You could get some beer. And maybe Amber won't stay too late. Maybe I'll make sure she doesn't stay too late."

Lee felt his mood, along with something else, rise a little at that. Maybe the night wouldn't be a complete bust after all.

He resumed putting the dishes away with renewed vigor as Shelby's arms dropped away from him and she left the room. He'd get everything done, get everything set up ready to get back to work, and then enjoy a few beers, and maybe something more, with Shelby.


* * *


Damn he was exhausted. Lee forced himself to sit up in the chair he'd been leaning back in. He picked up his phone and checked the time. Almost six. About time to go get those hot dogs. He rubbed his hands wearily over his face and felt the beginnings of stubble on his cheeks. He'd have to shave that off for Shelby.

He pushed himself away from his desk and left the walled-off area that had formerly been Gary's father's office where he'd taken care of the farm's business, that was now Lee's study, where he'd be spending a considerable amount of his time if things went according to plan. He walked across the floor of the lower level—the upper level, which they were going to use mainly for storage, was comprised of two lofts only accessible by ladder—thinking again how much he liked the old building: the quietness, and the slightly sad, eerie quality to it; the rough-hewn hardwood beams, darkened by time; and the lingering musty smell of livestock and hay. He reached the window that looked out onto the back of the house and parted the curtains. Amber's silver Camry was still parked behind Shelby's white Jeep. She and Bella had shown up as he was heading out to his study, and now, over three hours later, they were still here.

Not that he really minded Bella. She was pretty cute. As soon as she'd climbed out of the car, she'd ran over, long blond hair streaming behind her, and thrown herself into Lee, wrapping her arms around his legs and nearly causing him to topple over. He thought it was sweet how much she seemed to like him, but it also made him a little uneasy. Her attachment to him no doubt stemmed from her lack of a father figure and he wasn't sure he wanted the responsibility of filling the absent dad's shoes.

Not that he minded Amber all that much, either. But he couldn't seem to click with her. Whip-thin with long platinum blond hair and a pretty face starting to show the cumulative effects of hard living, Amber always seemed to regard Lee with a certain suspicion. Of what he couldn't be sure. Other than insisting on waiting until they were financially stable to start a family, he'd always tried to give Shelby everything she wanted, as much as he could. He tried to be a good husband. He didn't cheat or blow money or abuse her in any way. Not that Shelby would ever put up with any of that.

At least Amber had never hit on him. Not once had he ever seen even a spark of interest from her in that way. She genuinely seemed to care about Shelby. And Amber was family. And Shelby needed people. Already an only child (like Lee), when Shelby was fourteen years old, her mother had died in a car crash, completely devastating her, and then when she was sixteen, her father had gotten drunk one time too many, forgot who she was, and put his hands on her—and she had lost him too. She did have some distant cousins on her father's side, but they'd never been close and didn't associate, so her mother's sister, Cleda, and Cleda's daughter, Amber, and now Bella were all that Shelby had in the world besides Lee. She didn't even have any friends—only acquaintances she'd talked to at work, and at the old house a few neighbors she'd occasionally chatted with, but nobody close since he'd known her except for some friends from high school that she communicated with less and less as the years went by.

He let the curtain fall shut. At least he had his guy friends, such as they were. Although they hadn't exactly kept in touch like they should have either. He still saw Avery regularly—Avery who had stuck by him when he met and married Shelby, who had stayed in it for the long haul, visiting and cultivating a relationship with her, reaching out to her, trying to get to know her, always making sure she didn't feel excluded, and in the end, winning her over—but he rarely saw Eddie. Which was probably for the best. Eddie had a tendency to get way too drunk, and Shelby would never trust a drunk again.

He left the building and started across the yard. As for his childhood friend Rusty … she downright disliked him. Not that he blamed her. Rusty had made it clear, even after he was married himself, that he had zero interest in all of them socializing together. All Rusty had ever wanted to do was go out without the wives. Which might have had something to do with Rusty's divorce a couple of years later. Lee still occasionally saw Eddie out and about, and would probably be running into him even more now that they'd moved to this new place on the outskirts of Hickory Pond, the town where Eddie and Avery lived, where Lee had also lived for a short while with Heather, but he hadn't spoken to Rusty in years … not since Rusty once again refused an invitation from Shelby to come over for a cookout so they could meet his wife. Shelby had given up on him then, and so had Lee. They'd barely spoken since, and most of the time he was okay with that, but then at odd times, he would think of them as teenagers and picture Rusty as he'd looked then and he'd find himself missing him ferociously. But the ties that had held them in childhood had not held them into adulthood, and there was no place for Rusty in his life with Shelby.

By the time Lee reached the house, he was beginning to feel the cold. It had gotten up to about fifty degrees around lunchtime, but now the temperature was starting to drop again. Fall had long since departed, and Old Man Winter's icy fingers were closing in, increasing his grasp day by day. If they were going to get any snow this year, most likely it would be within the next two months.

Lee opened the door and then paused, remembering how the light had went out momentarily the night before. That noise had started up again when it happened. He stuck his hand inside and flipped the switch up. Nothing. He flipped it off and then on again. Still nothing. The bulb had finally blown out all the way or there was a short. He'd have to try replacing the bulb after he got back.

He found Shelby and Amber sitting in the dining room off the kitchen. They both fell silent as he walked in. Had they been talking about him? An ashtray half filled with crushed-out cigarette butts sat in the center of the table under a hazy layer of smoke. Lee squeezed by Shelby, moved over to the window closest to Amber, and lifted it up.

He turned back around, saw Shelby was giving him a look, and smiled at her. She seemed disconcerted for a second and then returned the smile. As he moved by her, he rested his hands on her shoulders, giving them a squeeze. "I'm going to shower. Then I'll head up to Gary's." Their landlord, Gary, not only raised cattle, he also ran a combination wrecker service and junkyard as well as a small store he'd named Gary's Cupboard located beside his house.

Leaving the kitchen, Lee moved down the hallway and into the living room, where Bella was sprawled across the couch, staring at the television, looking bored.

He paused on his way through to the staircase. "What are you watching?"


"Good choice. I like SpongeBob too."

"You wanna watch it with me?" she asked, shifting over.

"No," he said quickly. "I have to go get us something to eat."

"Watcha gonna get?"

"Hot dogs. And maybe some chips."

"Hot dogs!" she said, chortling. "And chips! Yay! I like hot dogs and chips."

Lee left her bouncing on the couch in happy anticipation. She really was frigging adorable, and so easy to please, too. Her father, wherever he was, was a fool.


* * *


There was one car in the store's small parking lot: a beige four-door Saturn that had seen better days. Wrecked at some point, the rear bumper was now being held in place by crisscrossing strips of black duct tape. It belonged to Peggy, a woman of about fifty or so with gray-streaked auburn hair who ran the place for Gary. Lee turned into the second entrance so he could get around the ancient-looking gas pumps in the center and parked his truck at a slight angle catty-corner to the store. He climbed out of his black F-150, slammed the door shut, and strode across the parking lot to the entrance.

A small bell tinkled overhead as he opened the door and stepped onto the wooden planks that made up the floor. The store had a few aisles running up and down to the left and a register on a long counter to his right, below a small raised kitchen area he could see through a shelved service window behind Peggy.

The cordless phone sitting on the counter beneath the window began to ring, and Peggy stepped over to answer it.

"There he is," came the unmistakable loud, faintly jeering voice of Gary, and Lee looked over to see him descending the step leading down into the store. Gary took off the cowboy hat he always wore and dropped it on the end of the counter, revealing still luxurious graying blond hair.

"How's it going?" Lee said. He still didn't know if he liked Gary or not. He had a big mouth, that's for sure, but Lee had yet to see any real meanness. He seemed pretty good-natured—merely a good ol' boy who liked to carry on. A fairly prosperous good ol' boy.

Gary opened his mouth to answer, but Peggy suddenly whirled around, holding out the phone. "TELEPHONE, GARY. It's Honey," she yelled, then reared her arm back and hurled the phone across the store at him.

Lee flinched and cringed as the phone hurtled through the air like a pass into the end zone, straight for Gary's face, but Gary moved his head out of the phone's trajectory just in time, nimbly hopping back up into the kitchen, and the phone banged harmlessly against the far wall.

Why you old dog. Looks like the old coot—he was sixty if he was a day—not only had something going with Peggy, but apparently also had something going with someone named "Honey." And from the sound of his receding laughter as he scooted out the side door at the back of the kitchen, he wasn't too worried about what Peggy thought about it.

A thin, balding man of indeterminate age came out of the back to see what all the commotion was about. He walked up to the front of the store. "Damn, Peggy," he said, going over to retrieve the phone. "We got customers."

Peggy shot a glance at Lee where he stood by the glass front doors. "This is Lee. He moved into the old place."

Lee walked farther in to the center of the store where the other man stood.

He turned to Lee. "Ah." He held out his hand. "Kenny Coleman. I take care of all the yard work and maintenance around here, among other things. Sometimes help out in the store."

Lee shook his hand. "Lee Bennett."

"Gary's cow staying inside the fence now?"

Lee laughed. "Yeah, so far." An hour or so after he'd called to report the wayward cow, Gary had come down and retrieved it, herding it back up the road with his pickup.

"That one has a mind of her own. If she decides she wants to head on over to the other pasture ..." Kenny gave his head a shake.

"Well I'll tell you if I see it out again."

Peggy moved down the counter to where they were. "You going to order anything?" she asked Lee. "I usually stop serving at seven." She pointed at the clock reading six fifty on the wall behind her.

Lee said he was and followed her over to the register, where she'd left her pad. She took down the order: slaw dogs all the way for him and Shelby and Amber, and two with ketchup and chili for Bella.

"This will take a few minutes. If you want to have a beer in the back while you wait"—she pointed to the rear of the store—"I'll let you know when they're ready."

He thought about it. Might as well. It was only one and he didn't have far to drive. He walked back to the refrigerated case and surveyed the selection of single beers. 22-ounce Coors Light; 22-ounce Bud Light; 24-ounce Heineken; and 12-ounce cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. That would do. He grabbed one of those and walked back up to the register.

"Oh," Peggy said over her shoulder, loading buns into a bread steamer, "you can pay for everything all at once after I finish the hot dogs."

Lee took his beer and headed once more to the back of the store, this time veering to the right down the narrow hallway Peggy had pointed to.

The hallway led to an area barely large enough to hold the two small booths sitting across from each other against the walls. Kenny sat at the far one, hands wrapped around a bottle of beer.

"You drinking on the job?" Lee teased as he slid across from him into the booth.

"Nah, I'm off duty." Kenny turned up the bottle in front of him, his expression almost defiant.

Maybe a little drinking problem there? That would explain the fact that the only employment he had apparently been able to procure was with Gary as his glorified yardman. "Well cheers." Lee popped the top of his beer and took a large slurp.

"You waiting on food?"

"Yeah. My wife's cousin and her daughter are over, so we have a big order."

Kenny sat back and placed a hand over his stomach. "I'm about to starve. Been doing things for Gary all day. I better get me something too before I head home."

"Where do you live?" Lee asked, wondering how much he'd had to drink and how far he had to drive.

"Oh, I live right here," Kenny replied, climbing out of the booth. "In that trailer Gary's got parked down by the junkyard. I keep an eye on the place at night." Again that challenging glint in his eye.

Lee nodded and took another swallow of beer.

Kenny started out of the little dining area. "I'll see ya. I need to find out what Peggy's got left."

Lee worked on his beer, finishing it, and then got up to select the rest of the items he needed. Peggy was sure to have his order ready by now.

"I was about to come get you," Peggy called out as he emerged from the hallway. A paper bag stuffed full of hot dogs was waiting by the register.

"Hang on," he said, and went over to the refrigerated case along the wall. He grabbed a six-pack of Coors Light (the girls would like it) and a big bag of chips off the shelf behind him and carried them up to the counter. He sat them down beside the sack of hot dogs Peggy had slid over to wait on Kenny—who was now paying for his own smaller, grease-stained bag of food along with another beer—and then walked back to the refrigerated case where the sodas were.   He chose a blue Nehi, something he had liked when he was a kid that he hadn't seen in years.

Exiting the aisle he was on, he started for the register again and then paused by a rack of candy bars. Kenny had finished paying and was leaving the store. Lee was still trying to decide what Bella might like, when the bell over the entrance tinkled again as someone came in.

Lee glanced over. It was a stocky guy of about forty with longish straight brown hair. Through the windows that ran down the front of the store, he could see the man's truck—a gray Ford Ranger. An older model and none too clean. But probably great for hunting.

"He's gone again," the man announced to Peggy.

"No," she said.

"Yep. Ain't seen his wandering ass since the day before yesterday."

The man glanced over his shoulder and noticed Lee. "Hey, you ain't seen my dog, have you?"

Lee shook his head, started to say no, and recalled the dog he'd nearly hit ambling along the side of the road. He tried to picture the dog again in his mind. It had been small with short legs and long ears. "Wait, what kind is it?"

"A basset hound."

"Yeah, I think I saw it a couple of days ago. Walking beside the road."

"Where at?"

Lee joined him by the register. "Right here at the beginning of Deer Creek Road."

"If you happen to spot him again give me a call if you don't mind." The man rummaged around in his pockets. Seeing him come up empty, Peggy handed him a pen and a slip of paper.

"My name's Clevie. Short for Cleveland, but everybody calls me Clevie." He wrote his name and number on the paper and handed it to Lee.

Lee pocketed it. "I'll keep an eye out for him."

"I appreciate that." He threw his hand up at Peggy, and went out the door.

Lee walked back over to the candy rack and chose a Kit Kat and a pack of Skittles. They seemed like something a little girl would like. He took them over to Peggy, paid for everything, and lugged it all out to the truck.

He had to set down the beer and the bag with the chips, soda, and candy while he shifted the hot dogs and dug for his keys.

He finally got them out, hit the unlock button, and opened the door. Leaning in, he carefully placed the sack of hot dogs on the passenger floorboard, and reached down to grab everything else. A cold wind was blowing steadily across the dimly lit parking lot, ruffling the plastic bag as he heaved it and the beer up into the truck.

The wind eased off as he climbed in, and in the near silence, he caught the sound of something in the distance. He stopped in the act of pulling the door shut.

The wind picked up for a few seconds and then died back down, and Lee heard it again—something droning in the sky. What. The. Fuck.

Should he get Peggy and ask her what it was? No, she would think he was crazy. There was surely a rational explanation for it. The last thing he wanted was to get a reputation for believing in UFO conspiracies or something. Being a writer, he already had a strike against him. They'd just think his imagination was working overtime.

He shut the door, started the truck, and headed for home, trying to put the perplexing noise out of his mind.


* * *


Lee jolted awake sometime in the middle of the night, not sure what had awakened him, feeling slightly sore … but pleasantly so. Shelby had been especially amorous, thanks in no small part to the candy and soda he'd brought back for Bella, which had seemed to thrill Shelby almost more than it had Bella. He lay still, listening, unwilling to let himself fall back asleep yet, and it came again—the noise he instinctively knew had awakened him. Their bed was situated near the room's double windows, and through them Lee could clearly hear the low hum of something. A jet crossing the night sky? An eighteen-wheeler up on the highway? He thought the country was supposed to be quiet, but so far, it had been anything but. But maybe that was why it was so noticeable here. There wasn't as much background noise for it to blend into. God, he had to stop obsessing over that stupid sound. Obviously there was a reasonable explanation for it.

He pushed back the covers and climbed out of bed, trying not to disturb Shelby. He padded over to the windows. For a moment he could still hear something, and then it stopped. Not fading into the distance, but suddenly ceasing. That strange noise again?

"Lee," Shelby said from the bed. "What are you doing?"

Damn, he'd woken her up. "I think I heard it again."


"That weird sound."

"Would you stop it with the sound." She flipped over to her other side. "Come back to bed."

Lee shook his head and shuffled back to bed.


* * *


"Let's take a walk," Shelby said the next morning, coming into the pantry area adjacent to the kitchen where Lee was getting a fresh light bulb for the back fixture. "It's supposed to get into the high forties today. That's pretty warm."

Lee was immediately suspicious. Shelby was not an outdoorsy person. Lee had always enjoyed the outdoors—hiking, camping, fishing, and occasionally hunting with Avery—but not Shelby. Maybe she still felt like she owed him for not complaining about Amber and Bella being over for so long the day before. And she knew he was getting out less now that he spent a lot of his time cooped up writing and would love to get some exercise before he got back to work in earnest.

Whatever the reason, he was willing to take her up on it. He was eager to explore the old back road and surrounding countryside, maybe get a look at that old empty house.

"All right," he said. "When do you want to go?"


"Now? Has it warmed up yet?"

"I don't know. I can wear a jacket."

Okaaay. Shelby not only wanted to take a walk in the country, she wanted to do it in the cold.

"Let me put this light bulb in," he told her, "then we'll go."

The new bulb worked, and they were out the door ten minutes later, both of them wearing coats since it was still cool out.

"You know," he said, "if we walk all the way to the highway and back, it's about three miles."

Shelby flicked her eyes at him. "I don't know if I want to go that far."

He laughed. "Just tell me when you want to turn around."

"I wonder if we'll get any snow this year." She was slightly breathless. They had taken off at a brisk pace in order to warm up.

Lee looked up at the sky. "Yeah, it kind of looks like snow with those clouds. Are you sure it's supposed to get up to nearly fifty?"

"I thought that's what they said."

"It would help if the wind would die down."

"I know. Let's go as far as that empty house and then head back."

"Whatever you want."

By the time they neared the old house, they had warmed up a little, and they slowed down.

"This is the only other house besides ours?" Shelby asked as they came up on the empty house to their right.


She looked down at the strip of ragged asphalt they were walking on. "I guess that's why they haven't paved this road in like a hundred years."

"I bet it was new when this house was built. Look at it."

The old house sat slightly uphill a little ways back behind a lawn of weedy dead grass. It was magnificent. Or had been at one time. Even decayed from time and neglect, there was still a ghostly beauty to the place. Two stories tall, the house was topped by a steeply pitched, hipped roof that flared out above a veranda supported by six formally white posts. Three gabled dormer windows jutted out from the sloping roof surface between two chimneys rising high above the house, and leading off the right side, a large enclosed balcony hung out over a ground-level patio.

They stepped off the road and started toward it. Lee tried to imagine the story of the people who had once lived there and what circumstances could have occurred to cause the place to be left crumbling into ruin.

The overgrown lawn soon gave way to brittle leaves and fallen branches as they got nearer. Stepping over blown-down limbs, roots, and thick, now dormant vines, they worked their way to the front.

Lee stopped at the base of the steps leading up to the long veranda, once again moved by the faded beauty of the abandoned home. Shelby stopped beside him, gazing up at it with him.

What had been magnificent at one time was now forlorn and decaying—a ghost of its former self, dark with neglect, windows broken. How sad for something that must have been so full of life to be left to fall into disrepair. A home once full of warmth now waiting to collapse into the past. He put his arm around Shelby's shoulders, and they stood there quietly, imagining another time when this had been a real home, where people had spent their lives, had walked on that ground, and across those boards, had cried and laughed. And then had died and been forgotten.

Lee realized he was close to tearing up. Shelby made a sound beside him and for a second he thought she was laughing at him, and then he looked at her and saw she had been nearly moved to tears as well.

"Come on," he said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. "Let's check it out."

He tentatively crossed the veranda and grabbed the doorknob. It twisted easily in his hand, and he pushed against the door. It scraped and then stuck, and he had to put his shoulder into it to get it the rest of the way open.

Shelby stopped behind him as he entered the old home and came to a surprised halt. The house wasn't empty. It was full of furniture and things that had obviously been there for a long time.

A tree limb had burst through one of the windows, allowing the rain in, and someone had been inside—kids partying and maybe a vagrant or two. A crumpled paper sack and a few bottles that looked fairly recent littered the floor, and Jordan is a pimp was scrawled across one wall. But other than that, it didn't seem to have been disturbed much. Not looted, anyway.

"Wow," Shelby said.

Lee moved farther into the room and saw that the floor was starting to go in places. "Look out. The floor's collapsing. Watch out for holes."

They slowly moved through the lower level, marveling at all the dusty furniture, faded pictures, and domestic clutter left in the house. An older, boxy CRT television sat in one corner of the main room, screen still intact, and in the kitchen, Mason jars containing fruit and vegetables long since turned lethal, canisters, and other decades-old products sat on the shelves above a discolored sink, where they had been placed who knew how many years before.

They made their way back to the staircase and started up it, Lee in the lead.

He tested each step carefully before placing his weight down on it and didn't have any trouble until he was at the top, and then the stairstep his foot came down on gave way, and he had to throw his arms out against the walls to shift his weight and keep his foot from punching through. "Don't step right there."

Shelby followed him on up, maneuvering around the busted step, and joined him on the landing at the top.

"Okay," Lee said, "it's too dangerous."

"We're already up here now, let's take a look."

"Be careful," he said as Shelby started picking her way down the hall. He sighed, and checking each step, moved into what had been a child's room. A boy's, he thought, looking around.

It was like the boy walked out one day and never came back. Banners, posters, and magazine pages adorned the walls, and model airplanes hung from the ceiling. A tin rocket ship rested on its base in a vertical position on the dresser, and all manner of other toys and athletic equipment were scattered on the bookshelves and the floor. A lamp with a dated drum-shaped shade sat on the nightstand beside a bed that was still made—slightly crooked like the boy had gotten up, hurriedly made it, and ran outside to play. Never to return. Lee walked over and opened the closet. Denim jeans, corduroy slacks, sweaters, sneakers, and leather shoes crowded the interior.

Lee moved away from the closet and bent down to read a yellowed newspaper clipping tacked to the wall with silver pushpins. It was dated July 12, 1967.


Meteorite spotted in skies over town of Hickory Pond. A meteorite was widely reported by residents in the town of Hickory Pond when a bright fireball was seen streaking across the sky moving westward toward Deer Creek Road, near it's approximate termination point just before sunset—


"I think an elderly man lived here," Shelby said, coming into the room. "There's a cane still leaning on the bed, and there's an old picture of a man and a woman on the nightstand. Probably his wife."

Lee straightened up, turning to face her.

Shelby was looking intently around the room, taking everything in.

Lee waited for her to figure it out. There could only be one reason why not one item of the boy's belongings had been removed. And they had obviously been there for years, much longer than some of the other things in the home. All the toys and clothes and possessions in this room were clearly from a different era. Circa 1967, would be his guess.

"The wife passed away," Shelby mused aloud, "a long time ago, I think, because the things I found of hers looked like they hadn't been touched in years. Almost everything sitting out and around the room is his." She looked at Lee, her brow wrinkling. "How long do you think this room's been like this?"

"Looks like since the 1960s."

"The boy died."

"Yes, I believe he did."

"I don't want to see anymore." She pivoted to leave. "Let's go."

Lee followed her out of the room and back down the stairs. The boy had died, and then the mother, and the father had kept it exactly like it was, while he waited to pass away too.

Shelby opened the front door and stepped out onto the veranda. Lee stepped out behind her, eager to get out of the lonely desolation that seemed to permeate the house. It seemed to hold sadness in its very walls.

He turned to pull the door shut.


He looked up. Gary's dark green truck was pulling over in front of the house. "Shit."

"Is he going to be mad? Does he even own this place?"

They started down the steps. "I don't know."

Gary had gotten out of his truck and was dawdling by the back, looking their way, obviously waiting to speak to them.

"Hey, Gary," Lee called out when they got near enough.

Gary straightened up from where he had been lounging against his truck and walked up to meet Lee. "Did y'all go in?" he asked in a low, earnest voice.

"Yeah, we went in," Lee answered truthfully, caught off guard by Gary's manner.

"Everything all right in there?" Gary's eyes searched Lee's.

"Yeah. I mean"—Lee glanced over at Shelby—"there's a tree branch through one of the windows and some graffiti."

"We didn't touch anything," Shelby put in.

"The door was unlocked," Lee said.

Gary waved away their explanations. "It's fine. I'll get Kenny to come check the locks."

"Oh, so you own this house too?" Lee watched Shelby moving slowly away from them, feigning interest in the plant life (what little there was, it being winter) in order to give them some privacy.

Gary shifted around, turning to face the house. "No. This was where my friend Reggie lived. We grew up together. Or we did until I was twelve … and then he died. July sixteenth, nineteen sixty-seven. I was there when it happened."

Lee had no idea what to say, so he stayed quiet.

Gary took his hat off, slapped it on his leg, and placed it back on his head. "Goddamn bunch of water moccasins. Got him down at the river in a hole we used to swim in."

"That must have been awful," Lee finally said.

"It was. And there wasn't a damn thing I could do."

"Damn." Lee shook his head, hating that his conclusions about the little boy had proven correct. "What happened after that? How did the house end up abandoned?"

"It's only been empty since Reggie's dad passed away. His mom killed herself after Reggie died, so his dad lived here alone after that until … about eighteen years ago when he died. I heard the house went to some distant relative in another state. But Reggie's father kind of let the place go there toward the end, so my guess is the repairs were going to be costly, and nobody was buying."

Lee did some fast calculations in his head. Eighteen years ago would have been 1998, and 1967 would have been thirty-one years before that, so that meant Reggie's dad had lived there alone in that house after Reggie and his mom died, with everything still in its place like a shrine, lost in his mementos and memories of his wife and son, for thirty-one years.

Gary moved a few steps closer to the house. He regarded it for a moment, hands on his hips. "I spent a lot of time here." He turned back to Lee. "A lot of time with Reggie. If I wasn't at his house, he was at mine, where you live now."

He started back to his truck, and Lee fell into step beside him.

"The damnedest thing was, we had never even seen a snake right there before. And that day, they were everywhere. Like something had stirred them up."

Shelby strolled over from where she had been standing on the remains of the driveway leading up to the house.

"All right, well y'all have a good one," Gary said as they reached Shelby and the truck. He opened the driver's-side door, climbed in, and cranked the engine. The window immediately began to lower.

Lee stepped over.

"I'll get Kenny to board the place up," Gary said. "I'd hate for somebody to get hurt."

Lee nodded. "That would probably be best. I damn near fell through the staircase."

Gary shook his head and put the truck in gear.

Lee and Shelby watched until he was out of sight and then turned around and started for home.


* * *


"Oh yeah," Shelby said as she started up the stairs when they got home. "We're supposed to take Bella to the Zoo on Sunday."

"On Sunday?"

"Yes, on Sunday." Her voice was nearly expressionless. "I was going to talk to you about it while we were gone, but then …"

"But that's your last day off before you start your new job." And mine, he thought. Shelby usually washed clothes, got things ready for work, and went to bed early on Sundays.

"Amber said it was better for her that day."

"Who cares if it's better for her? What about what's better for you?"

"I thought it would be fun." She stared down at him. "But I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? I mean, what's the point?"

We're all going to die anyway, Lee finished for her silently, knowing she was thinking about how things had turned out for Gary's friend Reggie and his family. As they were walking home, he'd filled her in, of course, on everything Gary had told him.

That old house had really done a number on Shelby. And on him. He tried to shake himself out of it. "Okay, we'll go to the zoo."

"Oh so you're going to go this time." She was still speaking with little inflection.

"Well, yeah," he said as she started ascending the stairs again. "I mean, I said I would, didn't I?"

She didn't bother to reply. She reached the top and turned the corner.

I need a beer, Lee thought. He tried to remember if there was one left, because it might only be noon, but it was definitely time for a beer.


* * *


Shelby seemed to feel better the next morning, and they had a pleasant day puttering around the house, having lunch together—she made tuna salad on beds of lettuce with tomato wedges—and then later, watching a movie.

That evening they lay down early to watch television in bed, and by a quarter to ten Shelby was asleep. Lee picked up the remote lying by her, lowered the volume, and changed it over to River Monsters. "Fish on," he mouthed silently.

He watched the rest of the episode showing and part of the next, Shelby sleeping quietly beside him, and then switched off the television and turned over. Might as well get some rest now while he had a chance. There'd be plenty of late nights once he had a deadline again.

Ten minutes later he was on the brink of falling asleep when he heard it.

His eyes flew open. Through the damn closed window he could hear it. That damn noise.

He drew the covers back and got up, hoping he wouldn't wake Shelby. He walked over and stood by the window, watching her and listening to the sound coming faintly through the glass. She lay motionless, breathing evenly, her hair a mass of tangled black on the pillow. He stayed there a few seconds more to be sure she was still asleep, then tiptoed over to the closet. He grabbed his shoes and then his pants where he had thrown them across the hamper and carried them downstairs.

After he had gotten dressed, he patted his pockets to make sure he had his keys and his phone, and then went into the kitchen and grabbed a flashlight out of the pantry.

He lifted his jacket off the coat rack, slipped it on, and pulled the front door open. He was being ridiculous. He should go back to bed. Was it even doing it anymore? He leaned out and heard the sound give a little hiccup, like the skipping of a large motor, and then resume, even louder than before, it seemed.

What the hell is it?

He pulled his head back in and went into the kitchen where Shelby kept a pen and a pad of paper beside the house phone. He tore off a piece, wrote Be right back, signed his nameand affixed it to the refrigerator with a butterfly magnet.

He stood on the porch for a second before closing the door behind him, fully expecting the noise to have stopped. But no, it was still going strong, louder than ever.

He descended the steps and walked across the yard to where his truck was parked, trying to pinpoint which direction the distant roar was coming from. He looked up at the night sky. Nearly a full moon, with no clouds. That would help. He opened the truck door and climbed in, tossing the flashlight onto the passenger seat. Now came the tricky part. He held his breath, stuck the key in, and turned the switch.

The truck roared to life. He kept a light pressure on the gas for a few seconds, revving the motor lightly to warm it up a little, and then put it in reverse and backed out of the driveway. He'd be getting a call any minute if she'd heard it.

But his phone stayed silent as he rode slowly up the road with his window down, straining to fix the location of the hum. He reached the end and couldn’t tell if it was louder there or not. He turned out onto 418, rode down a bit until he hit the next road, whipped it in and back out to turn around, and drove back up. He turned onto Deer Creek Road and started back down it, slowing when he got even with their house. No lights on, everything quiet. Except for the roar in the sky.

Was it louder?

It did seem to be louder. Lee brought the truck slowly to a stop, put his head out the window, and started rolling forward again. The noise seemed to peak about three quarters of the way down.

Right before he hit the highway, he detected a lessening of the sound. He performed a tight three-point turn and went back, listening on this side now. The noise seemed to swell and grow in volume, and Lee pulled the truck over. He grabbed the flashlight and got out, shutting the door just enough to make the dome light go off.

He switched on the flashlight and swept the beam across the road into the woods on each side. The beam flashed over a dirt track leading off to his left. He shined the light back on it, following it, and saw it connected to a cleared area up ahead. Gary's other cow pasture?

The sound seemed to be emanating from that direction as far as he could tell. He walked over to the entrance to see if his truck would go up it. He shined the flashlight across the ruts. Probably, but it would be better to come back in the morning and walk up, check for signs—

The sound abruptly ceased. It ended so swiftly the silence seemed to ring in Lee's ears.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and jerked the flashlight over. He played the beam around, ready to run back to the truck, and caught another flicker of movement. He shined the flashlight slightly ahead of where he'd seen it and saw something small and low to the ground. He held the light on it, following it with the beam as it moved, and realized it was a dog. The one he had seen before. The basset hound.

Why hadn't he gotten the dog's name? He tucked the flashlight under his arm and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Here boy." He tried to whistle, but it just sounded like he was trying to imitate wind. "Here boy," he called out again and then gave up.

He walked back over to the truck, reaching behind him to grab the wallet out of his back pocket, and climbed inside. He flipped the wallet open and dug through it until he found the scrap of paper the guy at the store had given him. Clevie.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket, absently noting it was two fifteen in the morning, and called the number.

The man picked right up, sounding wide awake despite the hour. "Hello?"

"Hey, Clevie?"


"Sorry to call at this hour. It's Lee. You gave me your number at the store? I believe I just saw your dog."


"Uh, over here by Gary's other cow pasture, I think."

"You talking about the road that runs behind the store?"

"Yeah, Deer Creek Road."

"All right, can you wait until I get there? Take me five minutes."

Lee told him he would, and leaned back in the seat to wait.

Clevie showed up eight minutes later. Lee was beginning to feel his lack of sleep by the time Clevie drove around and parked in front of him.

Clevie got out carrying a leash and walked back to where Lee was getting out of his truck. "Hey man."

"Hey." Lee tried to stifle a yawn. "I don't see him now, but he was heading up that dirt track earlier." He pointed to where he'd seen him.

Clevie turned toward where Lee was pointing and gave a short, sharp whistle. He called out the dog's name, breaking it up and drawing it out, "Rose … Bud!"

"Rosebud? Really?"

"Shut up." Clevie started up the track.

Laughing softly, Lee reached into the truck to grab the flashlight off the seat, and followed him up the ruts.

The dirt track ended at a closed gate leading into a large open pasture. "He could be anywhere by now," Clevie said. "Wish you had grabbed him."

"Sorry. I didn't have time."

"Stupid dog. He's more trouble than he's worth."

"Does he run away a lot?"

Clevie looked at him. The white T-shirt he wore under his flannel glowed faintly in the darkness. "Well I wouldn't say he runs away. More like wanders off and gets lost. Probably following some scent he picked up. I try to keep him put up but he keeps getting out."

Lee turned and pointed the flashlight at the trees on either side of them, then stepped over to the fence and shined the beam from one end to the other. The pasture was empty. It didn't appear to be in use at the moment.

Clevie moved down the fence line and started whistling and calling for the dog by a copse of trees.

Lee turned around to check back the way they had come to see if the dog was coming up behind them and heard Clevie cry out.

"There you are! Here boy!"

Lee hiked over to where Clevie was and shined the flashlight back into the trees. The basset hound was picking his way along the fence line.

"Shine that light for me and I'll go get him," Clevie said, and ducked into the trees.

Lee held the beam ahead of Clevie as he worked his way over to the dog, crunching through the dead leaves and pushing branches out of his way.

Clevie clipped the leash onto Rosebud's collar and started leading him out, scolding him all the while. Lee laughed to himself and held the beam of the flashlight in front of them until they made it out of the trees and back up to where he was standing.

"Let me get him in the truck," Clevie said.

Lee followed behind him as Clevie walked the dog down the dirt track and over to his Ranger. This ought to be interesting, he thought. The dog seemed kind of small at first glance because of its short legs, but he bet it weighed at least sixty pounds.

But Clevie was an old pro; he simply placed one arm between the dog's two front legs, curved his other arm under its belly, and lifted, hoisting him easily into the cab.

Clevie kept the door open, letting the interior light shine out onto the road. He held his hand out to Lee. "I sure appreciate it." Lee shook his hand, and Clevie went to get in, then turned back around. "Oh yeah, why were you out here in the middle of the night, anyway?"

As if Clevie had summoned it, the low-frequency humming started up again, droning in the night sky, sounded both distant and close at the same time.

Lee stared as Clevie tilted his head, obviously hearing it. "You hear it too?"

"Hell yeah, I hear it," Clevie said. "I been hearing it for years."

"No shit."

Clevie nodded, listening to the steady roar in the sky.

"Well what is it?" Lee asked a bit impatiently.

"That, my friend, is the million-dollar question."




 End of Sample


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