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The Cuckoo Clock   By:

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THE CUCKOO CLOCK

BY WESLEY BAREFOOT

You know a murderer preys on your household lives with you depends on you and you have no defence!

Death wore the seeming of a battered Chevrolet.

The child's scream and the screech of rubber on concrete knifed through two seconds of time before snapping, like a celery stalk of sound, into aching silence. The silence of limbo, called into being for the space of a slow heartbeat. Then the thud of running feet, the rising hubbub of many voices.

"Give her air!"

"Keep back. Don't try to move her."

"Somebody call an ambulance."

"Yeah, and somebody call a cop, too."

"I couldn't help it." It was the driver of the ramshackle Chevvie. "She fell off the curb right in front of me. Honest to God, it wasn't my fault."

"Got to report these things right away," said the grey haired man beside him. "No cause to worry if you ain't to blame."

"Probably no brakes," said a heavily accented voice, and another spoke as if on cue, "Probably no insurance, neither."

"Let me through! Oh, please " The woman's voice was on the edge of hysteria. She came through the crowd like an automaton, not seeing the people she shoved and elbowed aside.

"D.O.A.," said the woman heavily. Her face was no longer twisted with shock, and she was almost pretty again. "D.O.A. Dead on arrival, it means. Oh, Jim, I never knew they said that." Suddenly there were tears in her blue eyes. There had been many tears, now.

[Illustration: Illustrator : Ernie Barth]

"Take it easy, Jean, honey." Jim Blair hoisted his lank six feet out of the old rocker, and crossed the room, running a nervous hand through his cornshuck hair. She's only thirty , he thought, and I'm three years older. That's awfully young to have bred three kids and lost them. He took her in his arms. "I know how tough it is. It's bad enough for me, and probably worse for you. But at least we're sure they'll never be bomb fodder. And we still have Joanna."

She twisted away from him, her voice suddenly bitter. "Don't give me that Pollyanna stuff, Jim. 'Goody, goody, only a broken leg. It might have been your back.' There's no use trying to whitewash it. Our kids, our own kids, all gone. Dead." She began to sob. "I wish I were, too."

"Jean, Jean "

"I don't care. I mean it. Everything bad has happened since Joanna came to live with us."

"Darling, you can't blame the child for a series of accidents."

"I know." She raised her tear stained face. "But after all Michael, drowned. Then Steve, falling off the water tower. Now it's Marian." Her fingers gripped his arm tightly. "Jim, each of them was playing alone with Joanna when it happened."

"Accidents, just accidents," he said. It wasn't like Jean, this talk. Almost His mind shied away from the word, and circled back. Almost paranoid. But Jean was stable, rational, always had been. Still, maybe a little chat with Doctor Holland would be a good idea. Breakdowns do happen.

They both turned at the slamming of the screen door. Then came the patter of childish feet on the kitchen linoleum, and Joanna burst into the room.

"Mommy, I want to play with Marian. Why can't I play with Marian?"

Jean put her arm around the girl's thin shoulder. "Darling, you won't be able to play with Marian for quite a while. You mustn't worry about it now."

"Mommy, she looked just like she was asleep, then they came and took her away." Her lips trembled. "I'm frightened, Mommy."

Jim looked down at the dark eyes, misted now, the straight brown hair, and the little snub nose with its dusting of freckles. She's all we have left, poor kid, and not even ours, really. Helen's baby.

He looked up as the battered cuckoo clock on the mantel clicked warningly. "Time for little girls to be in bed, Joanna... Continue reading book >>




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