SIGNALS • by JR Hume

“Snakes!” cried Kit. “Watch out, Angie! Watch out!” She pulled free of her sister’s hand and crouched beside the post at the top of the stairs.

“For God’s sake. Not again.” Angela stepped down to the sidewalk, stomping her feet on each step. “No snakes.” Her voice rose to a scream. “No damn snakes!”

Kit covered her eyes, but couldn’t banish the images of red-mouthed, yellow-eyed serpents writhing and coiling on the concrete walk, leering at her while they all twitched and jerked as if to tortuous, hellish music.

“Are you coming or not?” Angela’s voice was hard, demanding. Kit peeked through her fingers. The snakes were gone.

“Well?” Angela didn’t believe in the snakes any more than she believed in the voodoo doll that sometimes danced a jig on the back porch. “Come on, Kit. You can’t stay cooped up in the house forever. You have an appointment with Doctor Cabala.”

Kit flinched at the sound of that name. “N-no. No. I — I can’t.”

“God Almighty. You have an appointment. Come on.”

“No!” Kit pulled herself up and fled into the house.

“Hell.” Angela’s voice was flat, expressionless. Her real anger had run out a long time ago. She turned and headed for the car, cell phone in hand. Another appointment to cancel. So far the doctor’s office had been understanding.

Kit took refuge in her favorite chair. Doctor Cabala was a fool. He didn’t believe anything she told him about the snakes and the voodoo doll.

“Soon,” the voodoo doll would warn in a raspy voice laden with menace, like a miniature monster in a low-budget horror flick. The snakes just coiled around her knees and hissed, “Sssssooooon.” Neither of the things bothered to explain what would happen ‘soon’.

When her sister returned to the house Kit tried to make her understand. Again.

Angela wasn’t buying it. “Your paranoia needs scripting help. Soon what? There’s no context. No meaning. Why does that word frighten you so much?”

“It’s not the word,” replied Kit, in a low voice. She looked away. “It’s the — it’s like someone was pawing me in the dark. Like I was being violated. It’s a curse.”

“Right,” said Angela, shaking her head. “A curse.” She stared at her sister for a long time. “I’ll tell you who’s cursed. Me. Here I am in the prime of my life with a house and car and good job. But am I enjoying my success? No. Why? Because I have a crazy sister living in my house. It’s been a damn long time since I had a man pawing me in the dark.”

“I’m sorry, Angie. It’s not my fault. I don’t know what I did to deserve such punishment.”

“Punishment? What punishment? They’re just hallucinations.”

“No. I mean — ” Kit sank back in her chair. “I don’t know what I mean.”

“Look. Sis.” Angela held Kit’s hand. “Maybe your subconscious mind is sending messages to you. Have you thought about that?”

“God, Angie. I’d never send myself messages like that.”

“Why not. You’re nearly thirty years old. Maybe your biologic clock is sending alarms.” Angela cupped her hands like a megaphone. “Get out and find a man! Soon!”

“Oh, no.” Kit shook her head vehemently. “That isn’t it. It’s a curse.”

“Okay.” Angela sighed heavily. “Okay. I’m going down to the tavern. Maybe if I look desperate enough one of those slobs will take me home.”

“Angie — ” Kit frowned. “What’s that?”

“Sounds like a jet of some kind.” The harsh whine grew louder. “Listen to that. It’s close!” Angela started toward the front door.

Kit stood up. “Don’t. Angie — don’t.” Her words were drowned in a torrent of sound.

A solid thud shook the house. Glass shattered. Both women staggered, nearly falling. The grinding howl wound down to a low moan.

“Sounded like a plane crash,” shouted Angela. She reached for the door knob. It turned before she could touch it. The door swung open, admitting the stench of rotten eggs and the bright yellow glow of flames.

“Oh, my God!” cried Kit.

“For Christ’s sake, shut up! There’s been a plane crash! Call 9-1-1.”

“Oh, God.” Kit sank down on the floor, weeping.

A skinny, very short man in evening dress stepped inside. His face was narrow, with small yellow eyes, a beak-like nose and thin-lipped slash of a mouth. Skin, red, as if sunburned. Hands and bare feet too large for his body. Nails like claws. Taken all-in-all, he resembled a walking hatchet. Angela backed away, fetching up against a leather arm chair.

“Who — who are you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Mr. Hatchet Man. He nodded toward Kit. “What’s she wailing about?”

“Never mind her, she’s crazy. Who are you?”

“I said it doesn’t matter. The Boss sent me to collect his bride.”

Angela sagged into the chair. “Kit. The messages. Snakes. Dancing voodoo dolls.”

Hatchet Man stood aside. Two gnarled creatures tromped inside, grabbed Angela and hauled her out the door. She shrieked and blasphemed all the way.

Kit watched in stunned silence. As the thin dwarf turned to leave she came to her senses. “Wait! What are you doing? Angie never got any messages. No visions.”

“Rules say we got to inform the bride-to-be — or someone close to her. We sent warnings.”

“I thought you were coming for me!”

Mr. Hatchet managed a decent leer, considering the fangs. “Sorry, babe. Not this time.”

JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.

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