Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write for the SUSPENSE and/or THRILLER Genre (10/23/14)
TITLE: The Last Shivaree
By Anita van der Elst
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Ellen, tending to chores, forked hay to the cow. Under Ellen’s bed Bessie mooed appreciatively. Ellen shook her head; then opened her eyes. She rolled over in bed and nudged Grainger. “Honey, is there a cow downstairs?”
“Hey, Grainger!” came a shout. “You better get out here and show us your wallet. Or a few more heifers gonna be takin’ tea in your living room!”
Scuttling to the window, Grainger pulled on trousers. “Ellen, get your boots and warm coat on. I’m taking you somewhere safe. Darnell’s back, drunker’n a skunk, and the crowd in cahoots don’t look too friendly.”
“Grainger!” Darnell yelled. “How’d ya like to take a refreshin’ dip in the river? If ya don’t get down here pronto, we’re gonna come in and getcha! And that’s where we’re takin’ ya!”
“Horsefeathers!” Grainger growled.
“Would he really do that?” Ellen gasped.
“When Darnell’s ossified, there’s no telling. Quick!”
She followed Grainger to the bedroom at the rear of the house. He struggled with the window. The farmhouse, built in 1889, resisted with the strength of its fifty years, then screechingly let go. Sitting on the window sill, she swiveled onto her belly, legs dangling over the back porch roof. “Can’t reach it,” she squeaked.
“Hold my hands. I’ll lower you,” Grainger instructed.
“Okay…there, I’m there.” Her heart pounded.
“Snow’s slippery,” she cautioned.
Grainger lowered himself beside her, then from the roof to the ground.
“I hear Freddy trying to talk sense into Darnell,” Ellen whispered, finding footholds on Grainger’s shoulders. Reaching up, he swung her down lightly.
“Yeah, but we’re still gonna sneak across the field to Shankins’ abandoned house. Should be safe there.”
She glanced up. “Thank God, for cloud cover.”
From the front porch earlier that evening, shortly after returning from their honeymoon, they’d watched taillights diminish as automobile tires sprayed gravel and muddy February snow down the driveway. “That’s the last of ‘em, Ellen,” Grainger said, reaching for Ellen’s hand.
She pulled him in. “It’s freezing, honey, and I’m tired. Let’s go to bed.”
“Yeah,” he enveloped her. “Ol’ Darnell sure put the grind on me for a few more bucks. I already gave the crowd twenty smackers. Plenty enough for a couple tavern rounds. Not gonna shell out more but I think he went away mad. Horsefeathers! What a way to end our honeymoon, huh?”
Ellen led him inside. “Maybe a few extra dollars wouldn’t have hurt,” she said. “You know shivarees are traditional around here. We’ve been in on a few.”
Crossing the kitchen, their footsteps crackled on the dry rice and beans spread by the pranksters. “I’ll clean this up in the morning, while you wash the soap off the windows.”
Before crawling into bed upstairs, they wiped Vaseline off door knobs and shook cornflakes out of the sheets.
“Horsefeathers! Nothin’ like cornflakes in your underwear,” Grainger muttered, setting his bride off into giggles. But after their long day, sleep had quickly claimed them.
Now their boots scrunched in the snow outrageously. When Grainger helped her through the barbed wire fence, a barb caught at her coat. The ripping seemed to echo for miles.
“This place gives me the heebie-jeebies,” she said as they crossed the threshold into the empty dank-smelling three-story house. But knowing she could trust Grainger, she followed him. They crouched by a dirty, cracked window on the top floor.
“Oh, no!” He pointed.
Flashlights bobbed across the snowy pasture, accompanied by arguing voices.
“Stay here, Ellen. Showdown time.”
He kissed her. She shivered.
Two minutes later Grainger appeared below. A ring of men formed raggedly.
“Hey, Fred. Darnell. Kinda late, isn’t it, fellas?” he said.
“That’s what I was saying,” Fred replied, his left arm around Darnell’s shoulders, the other hand gripping the riled man’s right arm. “Trying to get ol’ Darnell ready for bed ain’t easy.”
Grainger shrugged. “Guess I should’ve gone with this solution from the beginning.” He pulled his wallet out. “Horsefeathers! Hate being a pushover but this double sawbuck’s a good lullaby, Darnell.”
Darnell crumpled the Jackson in his fist and staggered off. The crowd melted away.
“Sorry about the ruckus,” Fred said.
Weeks later, Grainger showed his wife a newspaper article. Someone had reported the potential violence of the incident to the police; the result, a ban on all shivarees.
“Passing of an era,” Ellen said, and shivered.
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