Trying my hand at a short story based on the urban legend of “the hook.”
Barbara Roeder was finally getting her first date with Cliff Matheson and nothing in the world was going to stop it from happening. The fates had already made them miss two opportunities to go out and even if her appendix was rupturing, Barbara was getting into his Camaro and spending the evening with the most popular and handsome boy at Springfield High.
This is going to be my lucky night!
Although her mother nagged her to finish her research for her term paper and her father asked her a million questions about her date, Barbara somehow managed to get dressed in an outfit Cliff hadn’t seen at school, did her hair silky straight and her makeup just the right amount to make her eyes look huge and her lips full and plump. With a sigh, she internally patted herself on the back for managing the task while her little brother taunted her in the mirror the whole time.
“I don’t feel good about this at all.” Her father shook his head as she descended the stairs.
Barbara glanced at her jeans and top and found nothing he could complain about.
“The news just flashed a warning on the screen. Some lunatic escaped from the mental ward. He’s a killer.”
She sighed. “Dad, we’ll be just fine. Besides, Cliff’s a linebacker. You don’t need to worry. We’ll be out in public. It’s not like we’ll be on some back road where a crazy person would hide.” Sometimes, she felt like she was the parent and voice of reason in her worrisome family. Thankful she didn’t get the sourpuss gene, Barbara gathered up her purse and dropped her mints and lipstick inside.
“Seems like a bad idea. Maybe you two should plan it another night.” Her father insisted as the doorbell rang. “You be sure you don’t stray from his side.”
“Dad.” She cautioned.
“They said he has a hook for a hand.” Her little brother taunted as she reached for the doorknob.
“Then I’ll send him after you, Joey. Maybe he can pick your nose better than you can.” She stuck her tongue out at the 8-year-old who proceeded to toss a pillow at her. Used to dodging such missiles, Barbara threw the door open, relieved to see a face she’d been admiring across the cafeteria for three years of high school.
“Ready?” He asked.
Her father cleared his throat and Barbara sighed, yet again, and introduced the two. Her father made some comment about the last home game and his brilliant plays, slapped him on the back, and sent him out with his “baby girl” without any rules or warnings. Barbara looked back at her dad still smiling and waving to Cliff. Her father was star struck. She would have chuckled if it weren’t for that darned story about the crazy man with a hook on the loose. She hated scary stories and even changed the channel during Halloween commercials. If a hint of anything frightening crossed her path, Barbara had to hurry and turn on a happy song to distract herself.
Once inside Cliff’s car, she immediately tried the CD to find Hip Hop playing. She turned on the radio and started fussing with the channels until she found something adequately cheerful.
“You like that stuff?” He snorted.
“I just wanted something not too distracting so we can talk.” She lied.
“So, you wanna hit Peco’s Pizza and maybe go for a drive?”
She nodded breathlessly. When she had his full attention on her, Barbara’s stomach fluttered.
It took no time at all for him to start talking about his plans for the upcoming summer break and all his accomplishments as if he were reading off his resume. Barbara tried to remember the details for the future. Her mind was buzzing as they pulled up to the pizza parlor where she knew everyone from school would be. It would now be official he was dating her. That he picked this place was a good sign.
He took her hand and pulled her along to the door, not noticing her distraction. A man stood in silhouette in the shadows near the dumpster. His cigarette glowed as he inhaled. He turned his head towards her and she felt a strange knot in her stomach. Though the details of him were unclear, his right hand was tucked under his left armpit as he used his left hand to smoke the cigarette. The pose was awkward and his stare unsettling. Barbara rushed inside after Cliff.
Strangely, she wasn’t able to be fully present for the gathering. It was more or less an opportunity for him to boast with his buddies, play foosball, and bond with the boys.
Barbara remained in the background with the beautiful girls; the top four cheerleaders who had the monopoly on looks, money, and boyfriends. They attempted to draw her into conversation, but Barbara couldn’t keep her eyes from the door when that man stepped inside.
His jacket was wet. It must have been raining. His narrow eyes squinted against the light of the pizza parlor and he studied the contents of the room, his stringy wet hair dripping water into his dark beady eyes. He locked his gaze on her and Barbara choked on her Coke. His right hand tucked in his pocket now, he lifted a cigarette to his mouth awkwardly with his left hand as if it weren’t natural for him. He reached into his pocket with the cigarette in his mouth and fumbled for a lighter. He looked up at the shiny "no smoking" sign and turned, exiting out the door, still using only his left hand.
The conversation distracted again to the discussion of the new clothing store at the mall. Barbara wondered how the girls even finished their homework with their short attention span. She looked around the room for the comfort of Cliff’s smile and found him laughing with his buddies against the pool tables. As if he sensed he was getting attention, he scanned the room and nodded to her with a handsome dimpled grin. Suddenly, Barbara felt better. She was his date. They were going for a ride in his car soon. Really soon, she wished. The girls were giving her a headache and the creepy man with the cigarette and the weird manners made her feel unsafe.
Before she knew it, Cliff came over, swept her up, and escorted her out before she could barely say goodbye. His two buddies came with him. They stepped into the dwindling dribble of rain, the ground slick and wet, the air clean. With a click of the remote, he unlocked the door and opened it for her. Barbara slipped in, wondering if his shadowing friends were joining them. Instead, he went around and opened the trunk. Barbara heard their muffled voices and then something big was hoisted from the back. They came around to the front of the car and she saw the big friend holding an ice chest. They talked some more and took off through the parking lot. Cliff opened the door and slipped inside, his hair damp and curly.
“Sorry about that. The guys had a plan for a party this weekend and it took me a week of sneaking beers here and there to get them enough supply.” He smiled sheepishly. “I’m not a drinker myself, but I have a dad who drinks beers by the case, so it’s not too hard to get them a supply.”
“That was nice of you.” She offered.
He leaned forward and kissed her lips. His own lips were icy cold but the surprise and spontaneity made her shiver with pleasure. He started the purring engine and they were off on the rain-slick roads.
“So, where to?” He asked.
She shrugged. “You have the car, you pick.”
He chuckled. “Okay.”
They passed by the last of the town and down the scenic route. Barbara knew the place. Admittedly, she had never been taken there by a guy before, but she had summer picnics with her family at the historic park. It also made a very private place to park cars and all the local kids knew it. If he wanted to take her there, it meant he wanted to make out. If he wanted to make out, he must find her attractive. Suddenly, Barbara was fussing with her long hair, trying to find something to do with her sweating hands.
The car headlights lit up a picnic table as they pulled into the large cul-de-sac. He pulled into a spot and turned off the lights.
“No one’s here.” He smiled. “This is rare. Must be the weather.”
With the radio playing and the engine still going, he turned to her and put his hand along the seat. His fingers played with her hair and she felt a rushing anticipation of need to be desired by him. He licked his lips lightly and studied her mouth.
“You have lips like Angelina Jolie, you know.” He told her in a low voice.
This made her lick her lips.
As he leaned into her, the car shook.
“What the hell was that?” He looked around them, turning on the car lights. Everything looked in place. Cliff flicked the rearview mirror and studied the area behind them. “Look at that. The wind must have hit my trunk. I left it open the whole drive. Jeez!” He snorted. “Just a minute, okay?”
Barbara felt once again the fates were trying to stop her from having this monumental conquest of winning his heart. He slammed the trunk shut and came back inside as the rain began to pick up again.
“It’s coming down now.” He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it more. “Now, where were we?”
The radio announcer cut into the song. “The escaped man from the Asylum for the Criminally Insane was thought to be headed directly to Springfield.”
“Crazy, huh?” Cliff reached for the knob, but Barbara stopped him.
“Wait.” She begged.
“He’s described as 5’10” tall, lean, brown eyes, brown hair, in his early 40s. This criminal will not be hard to identify. He has a hook for his right hand.”
“I thought my brother was kidding.” She marveled. “That’s creeping me out, Cliff.”
He put his arm around her and pulled her towards him. “I’ll protect you.” He promised as his mouth captured hers. Barbara wanted to be present for the kiss, but her mind was filled with the reality of the pitch black park, the pinging rain on the rooftop, and how truly alone they were.
“What’s up?” He pulled back. “You do know how to kiss, right?”
She nodded. “Yes, I’m just…” She grasped for something legitimate as an excuse other than her silly anxiety. "It's uncomfortable.”
“Oh.” He looked down at the console. “Let’s go in back, huh?”
Before she could express her anxiety, he reached for the door handle.
“No!” She shrieked.
The frown on his handsome face told Barbara this was not going right. Why had the entire evening gone against her? That stupid announcer cutting into her big kiss opportunity and leaving her with a trembling fear, that shadowy man at the restaurant, her father’s concerns…
“Look, I’m not saying I want to bang you, Barbara. I just think we could cuddle up and kiss a little easier without the console digging into you. Come on. I have a blanket back there.”
Why does he keep blanket there?
Suddenly, the evening was over for her. Barbara was not leaving the car to climb in back and she wasn’t going to lay on a blanket some other girl used. No doubt, he hadn’t washed it. That thought made her as sick as the man with the hook.
“Cliff, I think I’m ready to go home now.”
“Barbara.” He took a deep breath.
She startled when the sound of something metallic clicked along the side of the car.
“What is that?” She gasped, looking out into the darkness, rain dripping down the glass in front of her.
“Probably a tree limb. Dammit! I can't scratch the car up. I just got it.” He reached for the handle.
“No! Please! Cliff, let’s just leave.”
He turned on the lights, pulling the car around quickly. Something banged against her side of the car and Barbara cringed.
“If my car is beat to hell, I’m going to be a lot of trouble.” He growled as he drove her silently home.
The rain started to let up as they reached the town’s center. Barbara felt ridiculous for being so spooked. It was just a dark park, a lot of rain, and scary stories. She really was a big baby. It seemed that the fates had conspired to ruin her date before it began and she somehow managed to finish it off on her own.
“I’m really sorry.” She told him as they pulled up in front of her house.
“Yeah.” He nodded but wouldn’t look at her as she opened the car door.
“Wait.” He reached over and grasped her arm. “I’ll get it.” He conceded and shoved open his door and came around to open hers.
When the door didn’t open, Barbara looked over to see him standing on her sidewalk, the streetlight shining on his face as he his mouth remained unhinged, his eyes fixed on the side of the car. Cold fear crept into her belly.
He scratched his car. I just know it. Now, he'll always associate me with a botched date and his own financial ruin.
She grasped her door handle and rushed from the car to share in his misery. When she did so, something clanked to the ground. She stumbled back and Cliff caught her.
“Is that…?” She choked, scrambling to get away from the shining metal creation.
“A hook. It was caught in your door handle.”
She choked at the sight of the cold prosthesis.
“Jesus, you know, if you hadn’t have told me to leave when you did…”
She shook her head and cowered in his side. Cliff tightened his grip on her.
“I saw him.”
“You did?” He asked.
“At the pizza place. I know it was him. Just like they described. He was hiding his right hand.”
“How the hell did he get on foot all the way to the park?” He asked. Cliff studied the car and then the hook. “He could have climbed into my open trunk and rode there with us.”
She shivered uncontrollably as he pulled her away from the sight and towards her house. Calls to the police and terror aside, Cliff managed to leave Barbara’s home three hours later without one word of a future date or attempt at a kiss. His cold manner showed her just what she suspected. It was the fates intervening for a reason. Even the horrifying escaped lunatic kept her from another sort of terrible fate, being one of Cliff’s conquests.
The last policeman left her house and met her on the curb.
"You're lucky, miss. We got a call they caught him in the park. If that man you saw at the pizza place was the escapee, he might have been targeting you."
"Me? Why?" She cringed.
"Seems he had a hangup about people looking at him. If someone stared and made eye contact, he'd kill `em. He killed four people at his work place who stared at him after his hand got caught in the gears. Killed two women in Upton for staring at him too. Your boyfriend said the doors weren't locked. He could of had you before your boyfriend could have done a thing." He shook his head. "Yes, this was your lucky night."