So all the stories were true.
Nathan stood trembling in the foyer, heart pounding a crazy tom-tom beat, staring at the space above his front door, where a millstone hung.
Nothing supported it. No shelf, no chains, no bolts. It stayed flush to the wall out of sheer willpower, a white disk of rock thick as a cinderblock and wide as the door it silently menaced.
He had read the histrionic news accounts, but never believed such a thing could happen in his own home. What had the fate of Herr Korbes to do with him? Chrissakes, he wasn’t even German!
Would he also find an egg in his towel, a pin in his favorite chair, a needle in his pillow?
“What an evil man I must be,” he breathed.
But wait. In the time he’d stood gawking and shaking, the stone had plenty of opportunity to spring down and crush him. Yet it remained in place, its errand of assassination still in check. It wasn’t here for him.
And why would it be? A quiet, no-fuss payroll clerk, he never strayed from the straight and narrow, much as he might sometimes wish for the courage to do so. All his energy went into minding his P’s and Q’s and decimal points, keeping his boss calm and tending to his family’s needs—
His family! Their faces flipped through his mind in a fold-out wallet photo cascade. Myra, with her sensible chin and wide glasses: sixteen years of domestic peace, if not quite bliss. Blond budding beauty Allison, the honeymoon baby, on the verge of dates and a driver’s license. Nathan Junior, nine years old, a bit on the pudgy side but good at math like his father.
What could any of them have done? (It could be any one of them – those old, grim stories held no special mercies for children . . . . )
None of them were home at the moment. He had time to stop the fairy tale from coming true.
Nathan locked and dead-bolted the door. He dashed through the living room and down the hall to his daughter’s bedroom, where he scrambled to find her big sketch pad and a fat black marker, a ten minute task, as Allison was not the neatnick her fashion sense implied. Then, into the kitchen for scotch tape. He spread the paper on the dinner table and wrote in big block letters:
DO NOT OPEN THIS DOOR!!
COME TO THE BACK DOOR!!!
DON’T ASK!! JUST DO IT!!!!
Grabbing up his warning sign, he saw with a twinge of dismay that marker ink had soaked through the paper and stained the table cloth. Well, Myra would forgive him when she realized he’d saved her life. He clomped downstairs, through the den, into the utility room, then the mud room. He had reached the back door proper when he heard the faint but unmistakable click of the deadbolt turning.
“No!” He dropped the sign and ran back the way he came, screaming the entire time, “No! Don’t come in! No!”
He arrived, wheezing, back at the foyer, just in time to find Myra standing inside, staring at him, her green eyes magnified by her thick glasses, her purse in one hand, her coat half off. He glanced at the millstone, which had not budged.
“Whew!” he sighed, panting. “Thank God you’re safe.”
“Of course I’m safe,” she said. “Mom and I just came from the shoe store. We’ve still got all our toes, I promise you.”
Nathan started. “What?”
“Honey, I told you I was going shopping with my mother this morning. She’s right behind me. Don’t you ever pay attention?”
“Oh!” Hope brightened Nathan’s eyes. “Well, by all means, tell her to come in!”
Mike Allen is president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and editor of the speculative poetry journal Mythic Delirium. With Roger Dutcher, Mike is also editor of The Alchemy of Stars: Rhysling Award Winners Showcase, which for the first time collects the Rhysling Award-winning poems from 1978 to 2004 in one volume. He has poems out in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons and Talebones, and stories upcoming in H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror and Weird Tales. His newest poetry collection, Disturbing Muses, just came out from Prime Books, and Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, a survey of 10 years of his poetry and fiction, is just around the corner.
Image: Albrecht Därer