An excerpt …
The boy was lost. Surrounded by dying elms, scraggled firs, red-orange maples and dense brush thick with itch weed, he’d looped around again to the point of decision. Twice he’d chosen the wrong path. Once more and he was certain to be out well past dark. Hungry. Cold. Afraid. He wondered if he would die.
Whatever lived out there in the dark would be watching. His Uncle James once talked of a bear that had wandered down from Minnesota all the way to Keokuk County before a farmer shotgunned it. There could be other bears, or even a cougar up from Osage County.
Randy had not wandered so far into the woods before. He had not been in the woods at all since that thing with his sister. It was so long ago that he could not remember where he had found her or what she had looked like.
That was Mamma’s voice, faint, distant.
He knew that the sun went down in the west and he imagined the points on his compass as he crossed himself. North, South, East, West. Father, Son, Holy, Ghost.
West must be that way, to his left now, toward the little bit of daylight that remained. West was where Mamma’s voice was calling him to dinner. He walked toward the voice until she stopped calling, then he just walked toward the quickly fading light.
The man with the boning knife stood in a doorway across the street, watching a window on the third floor of the apartment building. The light there had gone out a few minutes earlier. He stood almost perfectly still. If anyone had seen him there, he would have looked like a statue, but no one saw him.
It was well after midnight and the street was empty. He stood back far enough in the shadows that anyone driving by would have had to look at exactly the right moment, and even then he was almost invisible in the darkness.
His eyes stayed riveted on the window. He looked away only when an unexpected sound startled him or he heard a car approach. He flinched when something brushed against his leg, but he managed to stifle everything except for a quiet gasp.
He pushed away gently with his foot as he looked down. A stray she-cat took a few steps away, out into the light from a streetlamp. It stared at him, sitting on its haunches, then padded over and brushed his leg again. Once more, he pushed it away.
When the cat came back yet again, he ignored it and returned his attention to the window. There was no light and no sign of movement. The animal curled up on the concrete a few feet away and watched him as he watched the window. He felt the yellow eyes on him, and he looked down.
The cat was standing in the light now, pointing like a gun dog to the man’s hiding place in the shadows. It could give him away. He bent down slowly, crouching, and reached out with his left hand, keeping his right on the smooth, wooden handle of the knife concealed in a sheath in his pocket.
The cat stretched, then came slowly toward him to sniff the outstretched hand. The man stroked the top of the cat’s head, heard the low purr begin, then closed his hand quickly around its throat from behind, choking off a yowl. The blade plunged into the animal’s heart and the cat was still. The man pulled the knife free, tossed the lifeless creature back in the shadow of the doorway, and stood. He studied the blood-covered blade and shook with excitement.
Collecting himself, he looked around on the ground for something to clean the blood away. As he wiped the razor-sharp blade with a scrap of paper, a door opened across the street. An old man stepped out and stood on the sidewalk outside the apartment building. A light breeze rustled the bathrobe that he wore loosely over a stained T-shirt and tattered trousers. He called out, shaking and crinkling a small bag of kibble.
The old man walked slowly along in front of the building, supporting himself with a cane in his left hand. He passed the next apartment building and stopped at the corner, looking back and forth, still shaking the bag. He crossed at the corner and started back down the street, then slowed as he neared the first recessed doorway to peer inside.
He moved on again, shaking the kibble more softly now. He slowed again at the second doorway and looked inside as he shuffled by. At the third, he stopped, then cried out.
As he stepped toward the dead cat, something cold and sharp flashed across his throat. He grabbed at his neck as the cane and bag fell to the sidewalk. He felt something warm and wet on his fingers. Moments later, he felt nothing.
The man with the blade pulled him deeper into the shadows.