The House of Mystery
What’s Another Ten Minutes?
by Martin Maenza
Two teenagers in love, trying to spend as much time with each other as possible one late evening, find out the hard way that parents give teenagers curfews for a reason, and sometimes it’s not a good idea to break them! The consequences could be deadly!
A long-nosed, bespectacled man gazed intently at his book. His wild brown hair came up in points on either side of his head, and his chin included a bushy beard. He was dressed in a wrinkled, musty suit. Just then, the old oak grandfather clock across the way chimed twelve times, signifying midnight. Just as the last tone finished echoing through the air, the keeper of this old mansion glanced up and noticed he was no longer alone in the room.
“Oh! Hello again,” Cain said with a smile. “Are you back at the House of Mystery for more? Me? I was just catching up on some reading.” He glanced at the clock again. “My word, time has gotten away from me once more. Hate it when that happens!”
He put down the large old musty tome and walked around the desk. Books were scattered all over the place, the dust with a thin and white layer on everything. “That reminds me of a story that I’d gladly tell you if you have a few minutes. It is about the difficulties teenagers face when they’re starting to date, but still have to live under their parents’ roof with their parents’ rules. It is a story I like to call ‘What’s Another Ten Minutes?’…”
A beat-up, blue pickup truck was parked atop Overlook Ridge. Down below the grassy hills was a small rural town, very few lit windows and streetlights twinkling in the distance. Atop the roof of the truck’s cab sat a small, black transistor radio that filled the air with the relaxing melodies of a doo-wop quartet.
Lying on a red blanket in the emptied bed of the pickup was a young couple, their bodies intertwined as they kissed passionately under the starlit spring night sky.
The girl had long dark hair and wore a simple blue dress that buttoned up the front. The boy had short brown hair, slicked back, and wore a white shirt and brown slacks. As the young couple continued to make out, their appearances became less and less groomed.
“I love you, Julia,” the seventeen-year-old muttered in her ear between kisses. His hands groped about her body in a hurried, eager fashion. He wanted to hold her as much as the throes of passion allowed.
“I love you, too, Bobby Joe,” she said in return. This had to have been at least the sixth time tonight they’d repeated this exchange of words, but the sixteen-year-old girl never tired of hearing it.
For a moment in time, all that mattered was their feelings for one another. That was enough to blot out the rest of the world around them. They continued their dance of lips and tongues and hands and legs.
“…and that was the Chandells’ latest,” a smooth-talking male disc jockey from the radio said. “It’s 11:55 here at WKTL radio, home of the Saturday night serenades…”
“Mmmmm… mmmmm?” Julia said, though her words were muffled by the boy’s kiss. She pulled away slightly from his face. “What did he just say? What time is it?”
“Don’t know,” Bobby Joe said. “I was a little preoccupied.” He smiled and leaned back in to kiss her once more.
“Wait,” Julia said, putting her hands between them and pushing him back slightly. “What time is it first? I need to know.”
Bobby Joe sighed. He wasn’t going to get any further until she knew the answer to her question. “Let me check.”
He pulled himself up and hopped over the side of the truck. Then he reached into the open driver’s-side window for his watch. He had taken it off and left it there when they parked; he didn’t want the metal clasp scratching his girlfriend while they were involved. Holding it up to the light of the full moon that was shining down from above, he adjusted it so he could make out the hands.
“Almost midnight,” Bobby Joe said as he prepared to hop back into the back end.
“Midnight?” Julia exclaimed as she bolted up right. “How close?”
“Couple minutes,” Bobby Joe said.
“Oh, no… oh, no!” the young girl panicked as the color drained from her face. She reached around the truck’s bed, trying to locate her shoes. “Where are they? Where are they?” She finally found the flats underneath one end of the red blanket. “This can’t be happening!” She hurriedly put them on, initially putting the left shoe on her right foot.
“What’s the rush?” Bobby Joe asked.
“You gotta get me home, now!”
“Why?” the boy asked.
“I got curfew!” Julia said as she climbed down from the bed and rushed to the passenger door. “I was supposed to be home by now!”
“What’s the big deal?” Bobby Joe said as he lazily slammed the tailgate of the bed closed. He worked his way around to the driver’s side, while Julia had rushed into the cab. “What’s another ten minutes?”
Julia shook her head. “You don’t know my stepparents!”
“I still don’t see what the big deal is,” Bobby Joe said as he drove his truck down the long dirt road that led to the farm where Julia lived. The house was a good ways out of town, and even then it was set back far on the property. He turned to look at her. He could see beads of sweat forming on her brow, and her eyes had a deep, worried expression. “So you’re a few minutes late.”
“You don’t understand!” Julia snapped.
A raccoon darted out into the middle of the road.
Julia saw it, but Bobby Joe did not. “Look out!” she screamed, grabbing the wheel. The truck swerved, missing the animal but catching a root that jut out near the side of the road instead.
“What? What?” he yelled as he jerked the wheel back, trying to keep the truck from running off the road into the ditch. The front wheels cut sharply, and the truck spun out. Dirt flew everywhere.
Bobby hopped out of the truck to see if there was any damage.
“What are you doing?” Julia said insistently. “You gotta get me home!”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Bobby said. He stared down at the right rear tire. The root they hit must have caught the rim, which in turn punctured the tire. “Gotta change the flat first.”
“No time!” Julia grabbed her purse and bolted from the cab. She started to run down the road toward home.
“Julia!” Bobby called out, his voice echoing in the country air. “Wait! Wait!” But the girl continued to run, never looking back. Bobby had half a mind to chase after her, but he didn’t want to leave the vehicle unattended. He waved his hand in her direction. She was close enough to home, anyway. If she was that fired up about getting home, he wasn’t about to stop her.
He went back to the cab to fish out the jack to change to the spare.
Julia stumbled as she ran across the soft ground, and she stepped out of one her flats because of it. Cursing, she bent down, snatched up the shoe, and placed the other in her hands as well. She’d run these roads barefoot a lot in recent years, so she knew she’d get there just as fast without the shoes. Time was not a luxury she could afford. Every second counted.
Turning up the long wooded path to the property, she was breathing quite heavily. Still, she knew she had to hurry — hurry before it was too late.
“Please, please, please…” she muttered, over and over. She hoped she’d get there in time.
Suddenly, something big barreled through the brush on her right as she approached the house. The branches and leaves shook as if hit by a heavy gust of wind.
Startled, Julia froze for a second. Her shoes and purse fell to the ground. She hoped it was a rabbit or something in the brush.
There was another rumbling in the bushes.
She stepped closer, trying to get a good look.
A pair of eyes peered back at her in the darkness. The look scrutinized her as she heard a low, feral growl.
“No!” Julia said under her breath. She hoped it was just her imagination.
She ran toward the house and rounded the east corner. Stopping fast, she saw the smaller barn thirty yards beyond, and its door was ajar. “No! No!” She ran back toward the front path. She knew it hadn’t been her imagination.
One of them was loose and angry.
Julia hurried back down the road that she had just run up a few minutes earlier. “Bobby!” she called out, her voice cracking with deep concern for his safety. “Bobby Joe!”
Maybe he had already left, fixed the flat, and drove home. He was pretty handy when it came to cars and such. He was always spending time working on the truck after school.
Oh, she prayed that was the case.
But when she got to the crest of the small hill in the road, she could see the blue pickup truck where it had skidded to a stop, exactly where she’d left it when she’d run off into the night.
“Oh, no,” Julia whispered, her eyes growing even wider in panic. “Please, no.” She ran down toward the truck.
She froze in her tracks less than ten feet away.
From underneath the truck, she could see Bobby’s shoes and his brown panted legs. But they were bloody near the top where they had been torn from the rest of his body.
Julia wanted to scream, but the horror of the situation gripped her throat in a tight vice and refused to let the air escape as sound.
Despite every instinct, she stepped around the side of the truck. “Uckkk,” was the sound that came from her throat. She began to retch at the sight of the rest of her boyfriend’s mutilated body, tossed about the side of the road like feathers from a damaged pillow from a pillow fight.
“No… no…” She broke down, weeping into her hands. Not even the tears could wash away the horrific image that her eyes had just looked upon.
It would be some time before she could pull herself together enough to leave the scene of the terrible tragedy. Even then, all she could do was turn and walk for home in a shocked daze.
The morning sun came much too soon. When she’d gone to bed, Julia hoped that, when she woke up, the nightmare of the previous evening would have been a bad dream. She washed her face in the basin and changed into her clothes for the day.
She stepped into the rustic kitchen area and sat down quietly at the table.
Her stepmother, a woman with dark hair tied up in a bun, stood before the stove with an iron skillet in her hand. “You was late last night, weren’t ya?” she said rather sternly as the bacon in the skillet sizzled.
Julia’s words were barely audible.
“What’s that you said, child? Speak up now!”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young girl said, hardly looking up from her lap.
The woman at the stove shook her head as she used a fork to remove the bacon from the pan. “Child, you know’s ya had curfew,” the woman lectured. “And you know’s why we give ya one, don’t ya?” She broke two white eggs on the side of the pan, the yolks then sliding down into the hot surface.
“Yes, ma’am,” Julia repeated again.
The kitchen was then silent for a minute or so, except for the sound of the bubbling eggs.
“Y’all have to do some extra chores today,” the woman finally said, “to make up for your being late. Besides, your paw, he needs his rest.” Using a spatula, she lifted the eggs onto a sky blue plate, added a few strips of bacon and placed it on the table before Julia.
When the girl hardly moved to touch the food, the woman said, “You eat up, now, hear! These is fresh eggs. Your paw picked them up from the Dollard’s farm.” The woman began to hum a merry tune as she went to clean up.
Julia glanced down at the plate. The sunny-side-up yolks stared back at her. And Julia knew exactly what she meant by her stepfather having picked them up. She was certain the Dollard’s were missing more than a few eggs this morning.
She pushed the plate away, untouched, and rose from her chair. “I’m going to get to my chores,” she said.
“Start with the barn,” her stepmother said. “You know how things git out there this time of the month.”
Julia knew all too well. She clutched the small charm that hung from the chain about her neck. It was a half of a heart. Bobby Joe had given it to her. A tear ran down her cheek at the mere thought of him.
Now, more than ever, she would remember how things got this time of the month. After last night, she’d never ever forget again.
“What’s another ten minutes?” Cain asked with a probing eye to his visitor. “It can make a great bit of difference, as old Bobby Joe could tell you if he still had his tongue, or as Julia can attest as she lives with his death for the rest of her life. Keep that in mind next time you think about blowing off an appointment or a deadline for something else. It just might come back to bite you in the end!”
And with that, Cain laughed in a wicked, eerie sort of way.