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Meghan lived in the suburbs of a modest city in the desert. Her friends called her Meg, and she lived with Greg. She rose from the couch in the morning, as she had for the last five mornings, and confirmed that the light switch still did not work. She emerged from the den into the living room and went to the kitchen, where she discovered that the faucet did not work either. That was new. She went upstairs, past the photo of Greg, Greg at the office party, Greg at the wheel of his new Audi Quatro, Greg shooting his .454 magnum, and Greg with his big muscular arm thrown lazily around her neck, almost eclipsing her almost-new Chevette behind them.
Meg rapped on Greg's bedroom door. "Greg," she called out, "the water's out." She opened it. Greg was gone. She glanced at the dresser, and confirmed that the keys to the Audi were there. She stepped back into the hall, and saw that the door to the bathroom was closed. "Greg, I said, the water's out." She turned the knob; the door was latched. That was when she heard the thumping.
It was strikingly regular, one thump, a pause, and another thump, repeated, over and over. Meg pressed her ear to the door, and listened. Now, she could hear an unmistakeable swishing between thumps, and a hint of momentary scuffling: "Thump- swish- scuff- swish- thump..." She thought of a pendulum, and at that very moment, she heard the creaking, a sound just like some metal fixture, bending under considerable weight. "Greg," she said flatly, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against the door.
Meg's eyes opened at a change in the rhythm of the sounds: "Thump- swiishh- thump- swish- thump- swish- rrriiiiippp..." She lurched back at the crash and jingle of the shower curtains being torn down. The creaking grew louder, and then there was a tearing screech exactly like the shower head being wrenched right out of the wall and a crash exactly like a body falling into the tub. For a moment, she stood completely still. Then she backed up to the bedroom.
She found the magnum and two boxes of ammunition, exactly where she knew they would be. She scooped them all into her old overnight bag, shoved out of sight in the closet. On a whim, she grabbed the key to the Audi. She was gathering things in the den when she heard another crash. She scurried back into the living room and looked up the stairs.
The bathroom door had been knocked open with single blow, forceful enough to splinter the wood and lodge the knob in the plaster. At the top of the stairs stood Greg, in his business suit, with the shower head hanging from Meg's nylons around his neck. His face was almost black, and his head lolled like a badly stuffed scarecrow's. Yet, his gaze seemed to turn directly toward Meg, and with strides as stiff and even as a windup tow, he began to descend the stairs. She drew the magnum as she backed up to the door, and took aim, no doubt badly, at Greg's face as she reached the bottom. She held her aim, as best she could with a gun whose weight alone was enough to strain her wrist, while Greg turned ponderously toward her. He stood there, seeming to stare, with his head lifted just a little higher and straighter. Finally, Meg put the gun back in the bag. "Okay," she said, "you can keep the Audi." She cast the keys at his feet, and as she made her exit, she saw him bend over to pick them up.
Meg had to cover some distance to reach the carport where the Chevette was parked, past two cul de sacs of identical two-story, two-unit townhomes and through a little park. On the way, she saw three wrecked cars and a dozen shuffling figures, one of which definitely turned in her direction before she went around a corner and out of sight. She used a shortcut that required vaulting over a low wall and dropping another foot to the asphalt. The only car in sight besides her little reddish-orange hatchback was a station wagon with a crumpled, blood-stained hood and the driver's-side door torn halfway off its hinges. No bodies were in sight.
Meg dropped her keys trying to unlock her car, at the unset of sudden shakes. Her hands steadied as she put the key in the ignition, but began to tremble worse as she turned the key again, and again, and again. The first time, nothing happened. The second produced an abortive rattle. At the third try, the engine gave an apologetic cough before falling silent. Meg's hands were shaking hard enough to make the key rattle in the ignition as she turned it yet again. The engine rumbled to life but then died with a protracted wheezing. She looked out the window, at the station wagon, The window frame of the door was bent. Her hand went still. She turned the key, and kept her hand on the ignition as the engine started, began to cough, and then worked back up to a steady rumble.
Meg made a tight U-turn in reverse, scraping the station wagon in the process and bumping into a support beam. Then she accelerated, approaching top (though still modest) speed as she peeled out of the parking lot and around a corner onto the street. She swerved to avoid a shuffling figure, only a child, but there was no taking chances with such a small car. As the car rounded another corner, the child turned belatedly and reached out for where the car had been. Its head lifted, as if staring, but any observer who met its eyes would have seen clouded lenses in no shape to see much of anything.
The Chevette was closing on 80 miles per hour as it roared toward the gates of the townhome complex. It braked and finally swerved for Greg, who stood in the middle. The showerhead was gone, but the torn nylons were still around his neck. His darkened face had lightened to a reddish purple, enough to make his features readily discernible. As Meg gazed out, her hands began to shake. It seemed to her that what she saw was indeed the Greg she knew. It occurred to her that his expression, especially, was the same he had worn on the night she made a discrete trip to the emergency room. As Greg reached for the door handle, the window went down, and a perfectly level gun barrel slid out. "Selfish ass," Meg said. She had no awareness of firing the gun. She only felt the wrenching ache of recoil, and saw Greg drop with a half-inch red spot on his forehead and a substantial hole in the back of his scalp. As he struck the asphalt, the keys to the Audi tumbled from his hand.
After a moment's pause, Meg opened the door and scooped up the keys.
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