A thriller of a short story “Aloha Sweetheart” by Dorothy Bell

ALOHA, SWEETHEART

Hunkered forward, eyes peering through a narrowing arch of windshield into the blizzard, nerves frayed, Fain MacKay sang to herself , skipping words, then humming the tune “over the river and through the woods”.  She’d turned off the radio, refusing to listen to the ominous weather report and impending road closures. In her headlights, the highway, what she could see of it, was a fluffy blanket of white—like driving through cornstarch. No center-line, no fog line, all white on the roadway and in the air—she was in a snow globe—a true, honest to God white out.  Creeping along, her foot barely on the gas, she feared she’d missed the turn.

Her dear husband was off somewhere, the fool, the idiot. No doubt somewhere swank and expensive—off with his sexy, bubble-headed secretary. “Probably gone to Hawaii”, she grumbled to herself. “Wish I was in Hawaii. But no, Cory says we can’t afford it, can’t take the time off, can’t leave the business.  Promised me we’d go for our twentieth anniversary. Yeah, right, if promises were horses beggars would ride. One more year, just one more year, twenty years putting up with Cory McKay and I might’ve gotten my wish, I could go to Hawaii. Nineteen years, nineteen years of married life down the tubes. Maybe, I’ll take myself to Hawaii, that is if I don’t die out here in this blizzard.

“Thanksgiving—have to go to the old cabin on Lake Lea, it’s a MacKay tradition. Pam should’ve come up here with me, but no, she wants to spend the holiday with her buds on campus, not her sad-sack, wreck of a mother.

“Well Pam probably blames me for screwing up the marriage, tearing our family apart. So, this is my punishment; dying  in a blizzard—alone.  Never mind that it’s Cory, the dirty, rotten lecherous fool, who’s to blame for screwing up this marriage.

“I might be on the downhill side of forty two, but I’m far from being an old hag. Damn it, I’m in darn good shape—better than fair looking—holding  up nicely.  It’s my philandering husband who’s having the mid-life crisis; trying to reach back in time to hold on to his youth. I’m very comfortable with my age and my life, thank you. That is, until Cory took off on this flyer, then my life took a sharp downward turn, a nosedive right into the ditch.

Her rear wheels spun out, fishtailed, letting up on the gas she concentrated, trying not to over correct. It worked. Still moving forward, not sideways, not backwards or stopped dead against a tree.

“Ditch—I’ll end up in one, buried under three feet of snow!

“I’m  a masochist, that’s what I am. I should have my head examined. What was I thinking, coming up here alone on Thanksgiving, crawling off into the woods like some wounded critter to lick my wounds, nurse my bruised heart?

“Answer: I needed to get away from the lawyers…Cory’s lawyer—my lawyer, the bribes, the threats: sign now with 3.5 million and keep the house, don’t sign, and forfeit the business, the cabin—my mind!”

The snow, coming down in big, feathery flakes, stacked up on the wiper blades. Her fingers cramping on the steering wheel, eyes wide, Fain searched for the turnoff to the lake. She had to be close—she’d just passed the sign that pointed down to hot spring.

Spotting the snow-shrouded wooden sign to the MacKay Cabin, she hung on tight to the steering wheel and plowed through the middle of a three-foot deep barricade of snow. When the poof of snow cleared, she was on the narrow lane that lead down to the cabin. With her headlights on low beam, she thought she saw footprints going down the middle of the road, but they disappeared at the bridge that crossed Salt Creek. Probably a deer, maybe a bobcat; the night wasn’t fit for man nor beast.

The cabin stood dark and deserted in her headlights. She turned off the ignition, put the keys in her coat pocket and leaned back to watch the snow slide down the still warm windshield. Stupid little memories spilled across her mind in a kaleidoscope of colors, smearing together, the happy hues ruined by murky browns and grays. Like Cory’s obsession for murder thrillers, and his pranks. That New Year’s Eve, the temperature hovering at zero, when he’d poured water on the outhouse seat. “My version of a hot foot,” he’d gleefully explained as he’d dribbled hot water down her backside to unstick her poor bottom from the privy bench—funny, and yet cruel at the same time—that was Cory.

Resting her head on the steering wheel, she wept; she’d been crying for days.  Stopping herself, refusing to cry anymore, she screamed into the silent night, “God, I hate Cory MacKay’s guts!” then sobbed, “God, I miss the son-of-a-bitch.”

A gust of wind rocked the car. The windshield cleared. The cabin lit up. “Like a prairie shit-house!” Cory would’ve said.

Cory?

Cory! He’d come to his senses. Ditched his pubescent secretary!

Heart in her throat, tears streaming down her face, Fain raced to the cabin and burst through the front door, expecting wine, candles and Cory.

Even with the lantern on the fireplace mantel lit, and the fire in the fireplace crackling away, the pale yellow light couldn’t reach into the shadow filled corners of the sparsely furnished, one room cabin. A swirl of snow rushed in behind her. The wind grabbed the door, slapped it shut, then flung it wide, letting it smack back against the log wall. Fain squeaked, jumped and spun around. The gust blew out the lantern light and a flop of snow doused the fire in the grate, sending a cloud of smoke into the room.

Feeling her way to the stone hearth, she walked her fingers along the rough mantel to the box of matches. Striking a match, she faced her pale visage in the lamp’s glass chimney, and hardly recognized the hollow-eyed, owlish face looking back at her. She looked like a mad-woman.

She was mad, mad as a hatter, thinking Cory was here, waiting for her.  Stupid.  But there was a fire in the fireplace, and the lamp, someone had lit the lamp. Someone was here, or had been here.

A whisper of air, a sigh glanced her cheek and snuffed the match. Startled, sensing a presence, expecting to see Cory and his big smart-ass grin right behind her, she turned and chucked the box of matches across the room. The box hit the slate floor and burst into flame. For a few brief seconds the room was full of a hellish orange light. Pivoting, her eyes scanned all four corners. Catching sight of her reflection in the window, she screamed, her heart jumped, took off like a diesel engine. Shaking, teeth chattering, clutching her chest, the burst of flame extinguished as quickly as it flared, leaving her breathless, in the dark, the smell of sulfur and smoke in her nose.

“Get a grip, Cory isn’t here. No one’s here. All that snow… the weather’s got you imaging things, Fain MacKay. The Forest Ranger, what’s his name, Terry…he lit the fire, and the lamp. He’s a good guy. Expecting us, like usual. We’re here every Thanksgiving, come hell or high water. This year it’s hell, but I’m here. I didn’t see any lights when I drove in. The snow, all that snow on the windshield blocked my view, that’s all. Just the weather. ”

Backing away from the window, she found the spare matches in the drawer with the dishtowels, and despite her trembling fingers, and after fumbling around a bit, she relit the lamp. Holding it up, she made her way to the still-opened door—it wouldn’t close. Desperate, teeth clenched, eyes squeezed shut, she put her back to it. Without warning, the door shut with a slap. Her wet boots slid out from under her. In slow motion, her back against the door she descended to the floor, concentrating on holding the lantern steady to prevent it from smashing and setting the entire cabin on fire.

The slate floor beneath her bottom, cold and hard as a sheet of ice, she reasoned, it’s the storm. Giggling in spite of herself, working hard not to become hysterical, she realized she was being ridiculous. Cory would love this. The wind, the snow… and me scared out of my wits. Sleep deprivation, that’s it. It’s been weeks, maybe months, since I’ve slept through the night. I’m hungry. My nerves, shot to hell. Tea, there’s tea in the cupboard.

After getting up off the floor, she shed her coat then pumped water from the pump at the sink into the teakettle. Kneeling down before the hearth, she shoved aside the wet coals and laid a fire.

As the fire came to life memories of cozy nights spent before the hearth, wrapped in Cory’s arms, filled her head. Her throat tightened with unshed tears.

Practical. She needed to stay focused and practical. There was food in the car. She had two bags full of deli food out there—she was hungry, that’s all, hungry and tired. She needed her overnight bag, her fuzzy robe and slippers, a big chicken breast and a lovely cinnamon roll smothered with frosting, and maybe some popcorn—after that, she’d be right as rain, or maybe have a belly ache. Either way, she’d feel better than she did at the moment.

Giving a glance out the window, noting the snow blowing down from the roof, she opened the door, ducked her head and made a dash for the car, delivering a curse as the snow sifted down her neck, “Cory MacKay, I hope you burn in hell!”

Swiping away the snow from the door handle, she discovered the car door wouldn’t open. She hadn’t locked it. She didn’t even remember closing it. Maybe it had frozen shut. Behind her, the cabin door slammed and the lights went out inside.

Taking two steps toward the porch, the food and her overnight bag forgotten, Fain watched a small gold light pass before the big window. Someone was in there.

Pulse hammering, perspiration mingling with the snow on her upper lip, she prayed, “God help me.”

Looking back to the car, she deliberated, smash the window? Wouldn’t do you any good, no keys! she remembered. Walk back to the road? I’d freeze.

It was Cory. It had to be. He was in there. Oh, yeah, he was playing with her. There was a hatchet on the porch. Making up her mind, she was through playing games. Like hell she’d give up the business. She wasn’t going to give up anything! Not for 3.5 mil…not for a trillion! She’d teach Cory MacKay a lesson, and about time. Game time was over!

***

            The dawn came crisp with a clear blue sky. Terry Bottger, the forest ranger who stayed down at the hot spring year round, packed his snowmobile with a gas can, a chain saw and his rifle. After a storm, he made the rounds to check the roads for downed trees and property damage.

Pulling up to the MacKay place, he spied Mrs. MacKay’s blue BMW buried under a mound of new snow. The MacKays usually came up for Thanksgiving.  But, he’d heard about the split and wasn’t sure he’d see either one of them up here this year. As usual, his mind went on a lightning-fast fantasy ride with the beautiful Fain Mackay as his leading lady, then he noticed the cabin door hanging by a single hinge.

With rifle at the ready, he approached the cabin. Inside, the furniture looked more like kindling. Bloodied stuffing from the daybed was everywhere. Broken glass from the window crunched under his boots. There were lines of dried blood on the floor, the walls and the fireplace.

Lying in a mangled heap near the fireplace lay Fain MacKay…beautiful, luscious Fain.  In her lifeless hand, she held a bloody hatchet. Her face gray, she was covered with cuts and dried blood. A large splinter of glass poked out from the cornea of her left eye.

Shaking, Terry backed out of the room. Air, he needed fresh air. Using his cell phone, he dialed 911.

***

            As the EMTs  hefted Fain MacKay’s body into the ambulance a black Hummer drove in. Terry groaned, it was Cory MacKay. Terry didn’t have much use for the man, he hadn’t deserved a woman like Fain.

Looking like a model out of Winter-fest’s best-dressed ski bum catalog in a black and glow-in-the-dark chartreuse snow jacket, and pants with black and green ski boots to match, Cory, the arrogant bastard, demanded to know, “What’s going on? What’s happened?”of the ambulance attendants, slamming the door of the Hummer behind him.

Terry stepped back to allow the sheriff, who had responded to the 911 call, apprise Mr. MacKay of the situation, “Looks like she just went berserk—went on some kind of wild rampage, busting up the place,” the sheriff answered. “It snowed all night, so there’s no way to tell if there was anyone else up here or not; everything is buried in at least three feet of new snow. But I’d say no one else was up here, other than Mrs. MacKay. If there had been anyone else in that cabin with her, they’d be all cut up.  But there are no fingerprints, other than your wife’s in there, on the door and the lamp. Could be she had a stroke.  Emotions running high—you know that kind of thing sometimes happens.”

“No! ”  Covering his face with his gloved hands, Cory slumped into a heap on the steps. “I called Pammy, our daughter. She told me Fain had come up here. Said her mother sounded desperate and upset. Going through a divorce, all that crap of sorting it out brought me to my senses. I tried to get up here last night but the damn weather stopped me. The highway closed.” Cory gulped and swallowed down a sob. Eyes brimming with tears he raised his head to the sheriff, “I came up here to beg Fain to take me back.  I’m an ass. My fault…put her through hell, my fault. Start over…tickets to Maui in my pocket. Second honeymoon.  Fain, oh, Fain, God no…”

***

            The ambulance headed down the road with the forest ranger leading the way. With his back to the sheriff’s car, Cory struggled to his feet and tried not to wince, reminded of the cuts on his back and shoulders.  His bandaged hand in his coat pocket, he clutched the envelope that contained the two airline tickets to Maui. A smile twisted his lips into a sneer, and he whispered, “Aloha, Sweetheart,” then remembered he was the grieving husband and squeezed a tear out to let it slide down his cold cheek.

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