The Halfback by Night (PG-13)

Rockford swayed and another set of hands caught him, smaller hands. Rockford’s head turned and his rapidly clearing vision was able to make out the form of Valerie Martin, clothed now in some kind of long, loose garment that he finally registered as being one of the cult’s robes.

“Valerie?” Rockford queried, “Are you okay?”

“No,” she answered quietly.

Kolchak was trying to usher them to the door. “But we’re all still alive and – for the moment – not incarcerated. I suggest we try to stay that way.”

Rockford made to ask a question but he heard them too – police sirens, still far off but echoing faintly through the quiet of the wooded neighborhood.

The trio made their way for the stairs but Rockford paused, his brain reassembling the facts and reasons behind his present location. With too many questions and no time, Rockford looked back into the chamber of horrors that he wished he’d never seen and found the body he was looking for. Stacker Shoemaker had moved some­how – but something was…wrong. He lay on his back with a piece of wood (like the kind of garden stake used for growing tomatoes) puncturing his chest, but where was his…? Rockford spotted the halfback’s messily separated head where it had rolled independently, Shoemaker’s eyes staring blankly into a cobwebbed corner of the room.

The sight just made his head hurt worse.

“I thought they turned to dust,” Rockford muttered as they hurried down the stairs.

“That only happens in the movies,” Kolchak said.

Kolchak was driving. True, Rockford knew he was in no shape to pilot his car, but it still made him anxious. They had rolled inconspicuously out of Wollam Street just as the first police cruisers made their appearance. Rockford felt sorry for them, knowing they were only sent to check up on their unresponsive fellow officers. They had no idea what was waiting for them at the end of the quiet street.

Rockford was in the back seat with a protective arm around Valerie’s shoulder. If anything she looked even worse in the staccato flashes of streetlight briefly illuminating the car. Kolchak first asked Rockford for directions to the nearest hospital, then began engaging Valerie in an interview about what had transpired over the course of her abduction. Rockford was inclined to tell Kolchak to lay off, but, as Valerie began to talk, his own curiosity kicked in and he was soon drawing answers out of the exhausted and traumatized girl. She spoke in fits and stops, relating a heartbreaking tale of terror.

Last night, after she’d snuck away from her cousin’s apart­ment to meet her boyfriend, she had wanted to know where Clay was taking her. He’d said he’d gotten a new place he couldn’t wait to show her. She asked him why everyone was saying he was dead. And Clay had answered, “Because I am.” She had started crying, getting hysterical, and he’d slapped her – hard. But he had told her everything would be fine, his voice sounding just like it used to after they made love.

The house was full of dead people and she had started screaming and wouldn’t stop no matter how many times he hit her. That’s when he tied the gag over her mouth. He told her to calm down, that these weren’t people anymore – they were food. He’d learned that from the whore, Cathy, the one who turned him. He’d seen her a few times and she was “a kinky chick,” she would bite and have him do the same to her.

In the back of Rockford’s Trans-Am, Valerie flatly reported, “And then he even apologized for seeing a hooker. He told me he only did it ‘cause she reminded him of me.”

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