Nebraska Center for Writers

AT THE STROKE OF MADNESS
by Alex Kava

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13

Meriden, Connecticut

It was almost midnight and yet, Joan Begley continued to wait.

She tapped her fingernails on the steering wheel and watched for headlights in her rearview mirror. She tried to ignore the streaks of lightning in the distance, telling herself the approaching storm was headed in the other direction. Occasionally, her eyes darted across the front windshield. She barely noticed the spectacular view of city lights below, more interested in getting a glimpse at the side mirrors as if to catch something the rearview mirror may have missed. “Objects may be closer than they appear.”

The print on the passenger side mirror made her smile. Smile and shiver at the same time. Not like she could see anything in this blasted darkness. Probably not until it was right on top of her car.

“Oh, that’s good, Joan,” she admonished herself. “Freak yourself out.” She needed to think positive. She needed to keep a positive attitude. What good were all her sessions with Dr. Patterson if she threw out everything she had learned so easily?

What was taking him so long? Maybe he had gotten here earlier and had given up on her. After all, she was ten minutes late. Not intentionally. He’d forgotten to mention the fork in the road, right before the final climb to the top. It had taken her on an unexpected detour. It was bad enough that it was pitch dark up here, a canopy of tree branches so thick even the moonlight couldn’t penetrate it. What moonlight was left. The thunderheads would soon block out, or rather they would replace the moonlight with what promised to be a hell of a lightning show.

God, she hated thunderstorms. She could feel the electricity in the air. Could almost taste it, metallic and annoying like leaving the dentist with a fresh filling. And it only added to her anxiety. It pricked at her nerves as if a reminder that she shouldn’t be here. That maybe she shouldn’t be doing this ... that she shouldn’t be doing this, again.

Those stupid, distracting thunderclouds had even caused her loss of direction. Or at least that’s what she was blaming, though she knew full well all it took was getting into a rent-a-car. As soon as she closed the car door her sense of direction flew right out the window. It didn’t help matters that all these Connecticut cities were made up of streets that ran every which way except at right angles or in straight lines. She had gotten lost plenty of times in the last several days. Then tonight the entire trip up here, she kept taking wrong turns, despite telling herself over and over again that she would not, could not get lost again. Yet, if it hadn’t been for the old man and his dog, she would have been driving around in circles, looking for the West Peak.

“Walnut hunting,” he had told her, and she hadn’t thought anything of it at the time, because she was too anxious, too preoccupied. Now as she waited she remembered that he had no bag or bucket or sack. Just a flashlight. Who went w alnut hunting in the middle of the night? Odd. Yes, there had been something quite odd about the man. A lost, far-away look in his eyes, and yet, he didn’t hesitate in giving her animated directions to the top of this wind-howling, branch-creaking, shadowy ridge.

Why in the world had she come?

Reprinted with permission
from At the Stroke of Madness
Copyright © 2003
by Alex Kava


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