The first time I ever saw Rod Drake was at my uncle Jim’s tin-roof garage on Poole Street, about ten miles down half-paved streets from the center of town. The auto shop was on a desperate looking plot full of rusted-out hulks up to their shattered windows in dead, scraggly grass, and the only other building in the area was a dilapidated shack which my uncle told me belonged to a man who used to be a gypsy.
I had been out of work at the time, and my uncle said he’d give me a job, despite my obvious lack of automotive prowess, but I could at least help with the tools and parts. Rod and Jim were the two mechanics, and there was also Alisha, the young blonde girl who answered the rare phone calls and handled the paperwork for the men, who either had hands covered in thick black oil, or were too drunk to do anything correctly. They drank when business was slow, which was about ninety percent of the time.
Rod was a man very similar to my uncle, which I suppose is why they had been “business partners” for so long; they were both well out of the middle-aged range, with sagging, loose bodies that had clearly seen too many drinks, too many cigars, and far too few visits to the doctor. Rod’s head seemed to get narrower towards the top, an effect which was amplified by what seemed to be the beginnings of jowls that hung and quivered under watery, bloodshot eyes framed with purplish bags.
My first day of work was in early October, and the humid New England weather had finally been replaced with a continuous chill, dry wind that howled in the night and made me feel as helpless as the multitudes of crisp leaves that were blown franticly about. Jim gave me a ride that morning in his old yellow Chevy pick-up, and after he showed me around the place, he got busy changing the oil on an old beater with only two good, working cylinders while I sat listening to the dusty radio on the other side of the garage. Rod was shuffling around in the back room, and Alisha was sitting in her chair in the side office, reading some drugstore magazine and slowly smoking a cigarette that unwound into thin curls of stinging smoke.
To this day I still ask myself what sort of misfortune or desperate last-ditch effort caused a girl like Alisha to accept a job with two lonely, aging alcoholics. She was young, maybe only two or three years older than I was at the time, and while she wasn’t traditionally beautiful, she was attractive in a tragic sort of way, and could at least get your heart going a little with a sideways glance and the flickering, half-hearted smile that I was accustomed to seeing from her on occasion. I’ll admit that eventually I would grow fond of her in my few short weeks working at the garage, but on that, my first day, I thought nothing of her as I listened to the radio.
I turned my head away from Alisha and saw Rod motioning to me to come to the back room. I figured he wanted to show me something about spark plugs or air filters or some such thing, so I got up and walked across the gritty, grease-spotted concrete floor. He led me into the room, away from the door, and turned to a pitted workbench where he fiddled with an old gearbox, not looking at me.
“You know Alisha?”
I thought he was trying to be funny, so I replied with a grin ,”I don’t know her, but I know who your talking about, yes.”
Rod didn’t stop what he was doing, or even look up at me. In fact, I’m not even sure if he really heard what I said. It must have been a rhetorical question, because he continued as if I hadn’t said anything at all.
“Is she like your sister or your girlfriend or something?”
Now I was really puzzled, and I still thought he might have been trying to be funny, so I cleared my throat and said ,”Well, if she was my sister, she couldn’t very well be my girlfriend, could she?”
This time Rod almost cut me off when he turned his head to me and started to speak.
“I would really, really like to see her naked.”
I stood rooted to the spot, trying to figure out where the hell that statement came from, and he must have seen the confused look on my face because he turned and walked out of the room without another word.
All afternoon I debated with myself about whether or not I should tell Alisha what Rod said, but I didn’t know her very well at all, and I didn’t want Rod to think I was ratting him out.
Around six o’clock that evening, I finally decided I would mention the incident to Jim, just so he could at least make some sense of it for me. After I recounted the experience to him, he simply shook his head a little and gave me a look that was half disappointed and half reassuring.
“Listen, Rod and I, we’re old men,” he explained ,”and old men deserve just a little bit of your pity.”
He wasn’t trying to scold me, but that was the last he said of the matter, and I figured it wasn’t the first time Jim had heard about Rod’s desire for Alisha. I looked over at Rod, who was trying to screw a cap onto a carton of oil, and his clumsy fingers slipped and sent the cap skittering onto the concrete. He swore under his breath and slowly bent down to pick it up, and at that moment, I decided Jim was right, Rod did seem like a terribly lonely old man, and deserving of at least a little bit of my pity.
Looking back on that day, I realize I shouldn’t have pitied Rod Drake. I should have hated him, I should have urged Alisha to run from that place, take a train to the farthest shores, and when she got there, sail away to distant lands, far from dark, lonely places covered in brown leaves slippery with decay. I can’t change the past, and that’s why it haunts me so.
It was a few weeks after my initial encounter with Rod Drake, and the late-fall wind was now hollow and heartless. It had been a long day at the garage, and we were getting ready to leave for the night. I had borrowed my father’s car that day, and Jim had already left to go home since he didn’t need to give me a lift. Rod sat on a stool in front of the big red tool box, seemingly organizing its contents, which didn’t seem odd at the time, and Alisha was carrying the trash out the back door to the dumpster behind the garage, which was about a hundred yards from the strange gypsy-man’s ramshackle house.
I decided it was safe for me to sneak out, so I did, and as I walked to my car, I heard the gypsy-man’s dogs start to bark and howl under the overcast full moon. Jim said they were a half-wolf breed that the man had picked up in his travels, and I had grown used to their barking every night. However, as I rammed the key into the slot on the car door, I thought I could barely make out Alisha’s voice over the howling of the wind and the dogs.
“-stop! Stop it-”
I left the keys in the lock and ran as fast as I could through the swirling grass around to the back of the garage.
There, in the pale moonlight, I saw Rod holding Alisha against the wall of the building, and he slapped her hard across the face to stop her struggling.
I yelled something imperceptible and charged at Rod. He let Alisha go and she slumped down to the ground like a boned fish. In a blur, my fist connected with Rod’s contorted face, and something snapped–I’m not sure if it was my hand or his jaw–and the blow sent him staggering back.
As he stumbled to regain his footing, he tripped hard over a decrepit tire and fell back into the tall grass, emitting a scream of pain and rage. I felt something wet hit my face, and it seemed to burn with warmth on my wind-lashed cheek.
That’s when the bone-white moon emerged from behind a cloud, and I saw Rod, laying there, with a foot-long shard of rusted scrap metal piercing through the artery in his leg. Blood sprayed everywhere, and in the gypsy man’s yard, I heard the wolf-dogs’ howls turn into frantic screams as they beat against the aged tin wall. I looked up in panic and saw the top half of the gypsy’s form over the fence, and he was muttering something while shaking some sort of rattle.
I stepped back, my mind racing, not knowing what to do, not even registering the sobs from Alisha as she sat against the garage. Surely Rod would bleed out in minutes, and even if I phoned an ambulance, he’d be dead before they got here.
Suddenly, the tin wall gave way, and four snarling, ferocious looking hounds pounded over the fallen metal towards us. They reached Rod in mere seconds and instantly began to tear at his face and gut.
I fell back against the wall next to Alisha in horror and we both shut our eyes tight, but it wasn’t enough to block out the gypsy man’s chanting, Rod’s dying screams, the snapping of torn sinew, or the wind that blew mercilessly against us all.
A year to the day after that terrible night, I was living with my friend Alex in his apartment downtown. The police had found Alisha and I both innocent of all charges, saying Rod’s death was a tragic accident. They hadn’t found the gypsy man or his dogs, and the case was closed after many fruitless attempts at finding them. I had certainly stopped working at the garage, and I had sometimes seen Alisha for coffee, as we both gave each other some small comfort knowing we had experienced the same horrifying event. Though I had phoned her several times in the last week, I couldn’t get a hold of her, and each time my call reached her machine, my stomach sank as my head swam with concerns for her safety.
Alex’s apartment was on the top floor of a six storey complex, and it was large enough to accommodate the both of us, though my only complaint was a boarded up crawlspace in the closet that leaked a chill breeze. The late-fall wind was back again, and now it seemed to freeze not only my body, but my soul also, as it reminded me of my awful experience.
That night, Alex was on a date with a girl he met at a concert, and I had the place to myself. I sat watching television on my bed, occasionally looking out the window to see the empty street below.
I watched the news and weather, for they were less sensational and readied me for sleep. A commercial for a cleaning product came on, and I turned off the TV with disinterest. In the silence that followed, I thought I heard a howling from outside, as from a dog or wolf, and my heart rate picked up a little. I looked out and saw nothing, and told myself it was probably that damnable wind.
Just for my own sake, though, I put on headphones and listened to some soft music before retiring for the night. As I slipped the ear-pieces onto my head, I heard a shuffling in the wall, back towards the closet. Alex had told me there was a small gap in the roof where raccoons often climbed into the crawlspace for some shelter from the wind, which is why the entryway in the closet was nailed shut. I cursed the raccoon for startling me, and lay back on the bed to enjoy my music.
As I lay there, I rested my leg against the thin wall and shut my eyes. Soon after, I felt a slight vibration in the drywall, and figured it must be a passing car blasting its subwoofers. However, the vibration continued for several minutes, and I sat up in agitation to look out the window at the street below.
There was no car in sight. I took off my headphones and listened carefully for any sound other than the blasting wind. I could hear a muffled voice, the same sound I felt in the wall with my leg. Yes, the walls of Alex’s apartment were thin, but he had no adjoining neighbors who could be talking loud enough for me to hear.
What frightened me more was the fact that the voice was coming from the closet.
I stood and frantically tore the headphones from around my neck. My heart was hammering in my chest, and I felt the prickle of adrenaline beneath my skin. Raccoons certainly couldn’t make noises like the ones I was hearing. I snatched a flashlight from the nighstand and crept to the closet door.
I slid the door open slowly and shined the light inside. The crawlspace was still nailed shut, but I could hear the voice more distinctly now. What was it saying? Who managed to slip into the attic undetected? Surely it must have been Alex. Surely he was trying to scare me.
I leaned my head against the boards over the opening to the crawlspace and listened carefully over the blood pounding through my ears.
I could hear the voice clearly now, and it sounded like someone who was trying to talk while continuously yawning.
“When will it find us? When will it see us? When will it find us?”
In a frantic rush, I grabbed the edge of the middle board and pulled on it. The nails came free from the drywall with ease, and I shined the light inside.
There, amidst the sawdust and insulation that filled the crawlspace, not five feet from where I stood in horror, my flashlight beam fell on the mutilated, putrescent, maggot-white corpse of Rod Drake as it sat clutching the freshly killed form of Alisha. Its sunken chest heaved with impossible breath, and ragged skin hung in shreds around the destroyed belly. The creature was missing its lower jaw, though tatters of purple-veined jowls hung like curtains from its face, quivering with each rattling gasp.
My eyes widened in sheer terror, and as I burst out of the apartment, down the stairs, and out onto the street, the only thing that gave my burning legs more desperate speed was the memory of the shuffling, stumping footsteps that followed me away from the closet.