NIGHT CORRIDOR by Joan Hall Hovey
At 17, Caroline Hill was torn from the boy she loved by her tyranical father. Then they took her child. Finally, her grasp on reality. Now, after nine years in Bayshore mental institution, once called The Lunatic Asylum, Caroline is being released. There will be no one to meet her. Her parents who brought her here are dead. They have found her a room in a rooming house, a job washing dishes in a restaurant. She will do fine, they said. But no one told her that women in St. Simeon are already dying at the hands of a vicious predator. One, an actress who lived previously in her building. And now, as Caroline struggles to survive on the outside, she realizes someone is stalking her. But who will believe her? She’s a crazy woman after all.
Then, one cold winter’s night on her way home from her job, a man follows and is about to assault her when a stranger intercedes. A stranger who hides his face and whispers her name
October 1973 He noticed her as soon as he walked into the bar. She was sitting with another girl, a blond; pretty, he supposed, but his attention was riveted on the dark-haired one. He ordered a beer and took a table in the far corner where he had a good view, while he himself was safe from watchful eyes. She had satiny hair to her shoulders, high cheekbones, was slender in a silk print top, black slacks, like a woman on the cover of a magazine. She was laughing at something the blond said, flashing perfect white teeth and his heart tripped. She’s the one, the voice told him.
Excitement surged through him as he recast her in the movie that for years now, replayed endlessly on the screen of his mind. When the two women rose to leave, he left his unfinished beer on the table and casually, so as not to draw attention to himself, followed them outside. She had put on a jacket and it shone bright white in the lights from the parking lot. After chatting briefly, the two girls gave each other a quick hug, then parted and went to their respective cars, parked a good distance from one another. There was a rightness to it. They might just as easily have come in one car, or parked closer to one another. But they did not. The stars were finally lining up in his favor. He came up behind her as she was fitting the key in the lock of the red Corvair. “I’m Buddy,” he said softly, so as not to frighten her.
Despite his best intention, she whirled around, eyes wide. “Jesus, you scared the shit out of me. What do you want?” He felt the smile on his face falter. A mask, crumbling. “I just want to talk to you.”
“Fuck off, okay? I’m not interested.”
With those words, her beauty vanished, as if he’d imagined it. Her mouth was twisted and ugly. Disappointment weighed heavy on him. Anger boiled up from his depths. “That was wrong of you to say that to me,” he said, still speaking quietly. Belying the softness of his voice, she saw something in his eyes then and he saw that she did, and when she opened her mouth to scream, he stuck her full in the face with his fist. She slid down the side of the car as if boneless. He caught her before she hit the ground, then dragged her around to the other side of the car, blocking her with his own body in case someone saw them. Not that he was too concerned. If anyone did see them they would just figure she was his girlfriend and that she’d had one too many. But there was no one in the lot. Even her friend had already driven off. He lowered her limp form to the ground while he hurried round to the driver’s side and got the key out of the door. He put on his gloves, and opened the passenger door.
After propping her up in the seat, he went back around and slid into the driver’s side. Then he turned on the ignition and the car hummed to life. Shifting the car into reverse, he backed out of the parking spot. He gave the wheel a hard turn and she fell against him, her hair brushing his face and filling his senses with her shampoo, something with a hint of raspberry. He pushed her off him and her head thunked against the passenger window. A soft moan escaped her, but she didn’t wake.
He drove several miles out of the city, then turned left onto a rutted dirt road and stayed on it for a good ten minutes. Spotting a clearing leading into the woods, an old logging road no longer used, he eased the car in, bumping over dips and tangled roots. He went in just far enough not to be seen from the road on the off-chance someone drove by, but also taking care he wouldn’t get stuck in here. The headlights picked out the white trunks of spruce trees, spot-lighting the leaves that seconds later receded into blackness, as if this were merely a stage set.
Beside him, the woman moaned again then whimpered, her hand moving to her face where he had struck her. Blood trickled darkly down one corner of her mouth and her eyes fluttered open. He knew the instant she sensed him there beside her, like the bogeyman in a nightmare. Except she was awake now. When she turned to look at him he felt her stiffen, could see in her eyes that she knew she was in big trouble. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
“Who are you?” she croaked, more blood leaking from the corner of her mouth, eyes wet with tears. “What does it matter?”
“Please…please don’t hurt me. I’m—I’m sorry for what I said to you. I shouldn’t have. If you want to… I mean, it’s okay. You don’t have to hurt…”
His fury was like lava from a volcano and his hand shot out, the back of it shutting off her words in mid-sentence. “Shut up, whore.”
She was crying hard now, heavy, hiccupy sobs, helpless, terrified. But her tears meant nothing to him. She was right to be afraid. He slid the knife from its sheath that hung on his belt and let her see it.
“Oh, God, no please…” She was choking on her tears, wriggling away from him, trapped, like a butterfly on the head of a pin. He smiled when she reached for the door handle on her side, and then drove the knife into her upper arm. She screamed and he wound his fingers into her hair. “Be quiet,” he said, while she held her arm with her other hand and wept like a child. As he had wept.
As he wept still. “You can’t get away,” he said. “There’s no place to go.”