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Michael's Wife

Michael's Wife

Автором Marlys Millhiser

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Michael's Wife

Автором Marlys Millhiser

1.5/5 (3 оценки)
294 pages
4 hours
May 5, 2015


In this modern twist on a Gothic classic, a woman awakens in the desert with no memory of who she is or how she got there 

A screeching hawk circling ominously above rouses a woman from sleep. She finds herself immersed in total darkness, with no idea of who she is or what she’s doing here. Only two things tether her to reality: the intriguing Westerner who gives her a ride into town, and a piece of paper tucked into the waistband of her trousers, containing the handwritten words Captain Michael Devereaux, Luke A.F.B.
Soon she discovers that her name is Laurel, and Michael Deveraux is the husband she abandoned two years ago, along with their newborn son. She has no memory of these missing twenty-four months, or of how she ended up in the Arizona desert. She also has no memory of Michael—now a bitter, volatile stranger—or of giving birth to their son. But she makes her way to the remote Devereaux estate, where she begins to believe that she is who everyone says she is.
As Laurel struggles to put together the missing pieces of her life, it gradually becomes apparent that the shadowy terrors of her past pose a very real danger to her present—one that threatens her life and the life of her child.
May 5, 2015

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Marlys Millhiser was an American author of fifteen mysteries and horror novels. Born in Charles City, Iowa, Millhiser originally worked as a high school teacher. She served as a regional vice president of the Mystery Writers of America and was best known for her novel The Mirror and for the Charlie Greene Mysteries

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Michael's Wife - Marlys Millhiser



A screeching cry made her roll over. The hawk circled above her in a light gray sky, swooped lower to take a final check, and then silently folded itself into a nest on top of a strange tree.

No. Not a tree.

She closed her eyes tightly and then opened them just enough to peer through dark lashes. It was a tall cactus, weird and distorted, with three spiny green arms reaching upward as if signaling a turn in traffic. Others like it were all around her, and still others without arms, that were short and stubby, shaped like barrels. She shut her eyes again trying to make sense of what she’d seen.

Something she couldn’t identify nagged at one corner of her consciousness.

Birds—it sounded like hundreds of them—trilled and chirped somewhere close and a light but heady sweetness scented the air. The pain at the base of her skull tightened the skin under her hair, spread to her forehead, pulling up on her eyelids, forcing them open.

The sky a lighter gray now.

Cold. She raised first one bare arm and then the other; both felt laden and prickly with sleep. Flexing numbed fingers, she examined her hands curiously and finally forced cold, stiff muscles to let her sit up.

Nausea. It pushed up from her middle to her throat and brought sickly sweat to her face. Shivering, drawing the sweet air into her lungs in deep measured breaths, she waited it out.

She sat in a miniature stream bed without water that twisted away through cacti, small trees, and clumped bushes until it was out of sight. Around her night shadows lingered still, but the edge of a red-orange sun peeked over a dark mountain range low on the horizon. It rose to sit on a mountain crest, bringing a strange world into sharper focus, drawing out the colors around her as she waited for the sense of it all to come to her.

She was sitting in a desert at dawn, but for the moment she couldn’t think why.

The tranquil, familiar sound of flies. Three buzzed past her to settle on a hardened cow pie nearby. A bee scuttled into an opening purple-red blossom crowning a small paddlelike cactus. The nagging something was growing stronger, creeping up through the haze of her thoughts.

Carefully now, not wanting to disturb her aching head more than was necessary, she got to her feet, placing her weight on one tingling foot and then the other. She searched the ground around her, not knowing exactly what she looked for—a purse, a jacket, some belonging. But there was nothing.

Her body had left no impression on the packed sandy earth. The desert stretched vast and endless in every direction, repeating the same scene over and over.

And then it hit her, with almost a physical blow. Fear, full-blown, unmistakable.

She was racing down the stream bed away from the mountains, blindly following its twisting course as if something monstrous were at her heels, one small part of her trying to analyze what it was she feared, the rest consumed with the fear itself till she was breathless with it, weak.

At one point the stream bed made a wide curve and she overran it just a little. Just enough to step into a nest of lime-green bristles beneath a lime-green bush that glistened in the strengthening sunlight. As she hurriedly stooped to extract the painful barbs from her sandals, exposed foot, and then from her fingers she saw the track, a double car track with a feathering of grass and short weeds in the middle just a few feet from the edge of the stream bed.

Rubbing a sore foot, she tried to push down the panic and to assemble her confused thoughts into a pattern that would help her remember what had happened. That momentary loss of being that sometimes comes in a dream or between sleeping and waking was still with her. But she was fully awake, had been for some time. She must know how she had come to be here and what caused her to be afraid, if only to know that she was running in the right direction.

The feeling of urgency, or danger about to rush around that curve in the stream bed, was strong, but she forced herself not to look over her shoulder, to walk and not run down the double track, to give herself time to think this out.

Only one coherent thought surfaced, and when it did it was a shock. The very first memory she had of her life was that hawk screeching above her, as if she’d been born that instant. And she was running again.

She didn’t notice the cattle guard that stretched across the track until it was too late. It caught her toe and she sprawled across it.

As she raised her head to spit the grit from her mouth she saw the paved road, undulating at first behind dancing transparent red and green splotches and then settling into a smooth ribbon-band of highway that stretched taut between either horizon. The early sun had washed away the night and left illusions of shimmering pools on its surface.

She couldn’t believe that in all that vastness she’d been less than half a mile from a highway even as she crossed it, felt its hardness under her feet, heard the rumble of an engine in the distance.

Except for the blue pickup that rattled toward her, the road was empty. She stood at the edge of it, a willowy figure swaying slightly with the tall grass and flowers of a desert spring that crowded up from the ditch behind her.

The pickup slowed and came to a stop. Its driver leaned elbow and head out the window and looked her over twice from bottom to top. Hey, you bummin’ a ride somewheres or out picking daisies? Blue eyes grinned over a swirl of cigarette smoke.

Please, I’d like a ride.

I’m just going to Florence. He pushed the door open and watched her climb in. Where’d you come from? He made no move to start the truck.

From there, she said, pointing past him to the double track that led to a break in the barbed-wire fence and began again across the shiny steel poles of the cattle guard.

There’s nothin’ up that road but a broken-down ranch house. That’s a long walk this early.

Oh. Well … I was lost. Despite the warmth of the truck she trembled with cold and fear. Or was it just reaction?

Your car back there? he asked, his expression good-natured, his curiosity obvious.

No, I was walking.

Squint lines deepened at the corners of his eyes, and he managed to broaden his grin without losing the cigarette from his lips. In sandals?

Can’t we just go, Mr.…?

McBride, Harley McBride.

They started down the road with a jerk, the truck smelling of raw gasoline and dust. There was a waiting silence as she tried to run her fingers through long matted hair and stared at the rip in her slacks.

You going to tell me your name?

A pleasant numbness began to dull the ache in her head, the insistent hunger in her stomach. The warmth and motion of the truck soothed the confusion in her mind. She studied the man next to her. Should she tell him? Ask for his help? Surely there was no danger here. Still she didn’t answer.

Harley McBride, in faded denim jeans and jacket and a T-shirt so stretched at the neck that the sandy hair on his chest curled over the top, slouched easily behind the wheel.

She was still wondering whether or not to confide in him when the truck braked to a halt so suddenly that she had to grab the dashboard to stay with it. And just that quickly her fear returned.

Harley turned to her, the easy slouch and grin gone. You a hippie? He finally removed the cigarette from his lips and blew the smoke between his teeth. Because if you are, little lady, you can get out right here.

Her eyes followed his down her dirty sleeveless blouse, the awful orange slacks and sandals. I’m not a hippie, she said quietly, wondering if she lied.

He studied her face and then threw the cigarette out the window and shifted the truck into gear. His grin returned. I heard they was squatting around here, looking to get some sun. Papers say they’re going to raise hell at the air bases. And he tapped the newspaper lying on the seat between them.

HIPPIES PLAN DEMONSTRATIONS FOR PHOENIX AIR FORCE BASES. HIPPIES FROLIC IN THE SUN—PICTURES, PAGE 12. She turned to page 12, more to fore-stall his questions than because she was interested in hippies. A tall, emaciated girl picked desert flowers, stringy hair hiding half her face. Another picture showed a rangy bearded boy with wire-rimmed glasses sitting on a sleeping bag. A full page of pictures was devoted to long-haired people eating, standing, sitting. She could see no sign of frolic.

Unwilling to face Harley or the alien world outside the truck, she hid behind the paper, wishing that this ride would go on forever.

You come back to haunt me, Doe Eyes?

His strange question brought her up from behind the paper to find him grinning at the tear in her slacks. Have you seen me before? Hope and fear mingled as she tried to adjust to this new thought.

Small even teeth gleamed behind his grin. I was huntin’ once, up north in the mountains. Stopped at a stream to get a drink. When I looked up, there was this deer, not ten feet away, so still I hadn’t seen her before.

Something inside her went very still, tense, as she pictured the deer standing in the sunlight, her head high, watching her hunter, her nose and ears quivering as she sensed the danger. And you shot her, I suppose?

Right between her beautiful blank brown eyes! More light curly hair escaped from the cuffs of his jacket and spread onto the back of his hands, and heavy blunt fingers.

But you know—Harley turned the truck onto a side road where cultivated fields replaced desert and trees grouped around buildings just ahead—… she’s haunted me ever since. Had eyes just like yours. His grin was conspiratorial. Never trust a hunter, Doe Eyes.

She decided to keep her problem to herself. Things would come straight any minute now.

On the quiet main street in early morning, the sidewalks sat at least a foot above the street; overhangs jutted from storefronts over the sidewalks forming an arcade and a shield against the summer sun.

Can I drop you someplace? Harley waved back at an old man in cowboy boots who leaned against a storefront picking his teeth.

Florence was small and they reached the end of the main street all too soon, pulling into a paved area in front of a tiny park where palm trees shaded picnic tables, sprinklers splashed carefully groomed grass and narrow sidewalks. A man in a tan shirt and trousers clipped casually at a bushy hedge. If Florence wasn’t exactly an oasis in the desert, this lovely park certainly was. Still she hesitated.

Look, lady, you must be going someplace.

She opened the door but couldn’t quite get up the courage to step out and had to wipe off her cheeks with the back of her hand. She didn’t even have a handkerchief.

Something tells me this is where I should ride off into the sunset, but.… Harley sighed and reached across her to close her door. You don’t know anybody in Florence, right?

Just you.

Uh-huh. And you weren’t going here, were you?

I … wasn’t going anywhere.

Yeah, well.… He rubbed his chin and considered her for a long moment over his hand. I got an errand to do here and then I’m going into Phoenix. I don’t suppose you know anybody there?

No … but I’d like to go with you. Time. Safe time to think, to plan. A reprieve.

But can you give me one reason why I should take you? Harley did his best to look serious, but the grin lurked in the corners of his eyes. He was enjoying this in spite of himself. I mean, look at it from where I’m sittin’. It’s plain you got trouble. You won’t tell me your name, where you come from. I find you on a road in the middle of a desert without a car, not even a purse. And you ain’t going no place. Now.…


Her appeal caught him in midsentence counting off his reasons on his fingertips. Another long look and then he shrugged. Oh, hell! Okay. You wait here and I’ll be back for you. There’s a head over there; you could clean up a little while you wait. He pointed to a small concrete building at the back of the park and handed her his comb.

You will come back for me?


She had to avoid glistening water from the sprinklers overspraying onto the sidewalks. The park seemed a lush green after the desert. She felt shaky, no headache now, just a frightening lightness.

The windowless building was clean and whitewashed. The hot water spigot was gone from a disappointingly tiny sink. Avoiding the mirror, she wrestled with long hair and did what she could to her hands and face with soap that would not lather in cold water.

The stool sat behind a partition without a door, giving off the prickly odor of disinfectant. It was there she found it, tucked into the tight waistband of her slacks. A slip of paper—Captain Michael Devereaux, Luke A.F.B. handwritten across it.

Captain Michael Devereaux. She waited for something to happen, to click into place. Nothing did. She knew she should be relieved, but the nagging fear was still there as she faced the mirror over the sink. Oval face. Large eyes. Brown hair. Long neck. The face didn’t reflect the confusion inside her, its expression stony, indifferent.

Sitting on the cold concrete floor, holding her head in her hands, staring at the slip of paper on her knee, she felt more lost than before because the name Michael Devereaux meant nothing to her.

When she finally stepped out of the concrete building, Harley McBride was waiting for her, arms folded, slouching against the truck.

Harley, where is Luke Air Force Base?

Glendale, just outside Phoenix. That where you’re going? He looked relieved.


Well, get in. Once in the truck he handed her a paper bag and a thermos. Thought maybe you hadn’t any breakfast. It was steamy coffee and a ham sandwich and tasted like a banquet after a fast.

They rode with the windows open, the air warming now, more heavily scented with the mingled fragrances of wild flowers. Patches of blue, red, yellow, and reddish purple waved in the ditches in rich shades that even a desert sun could not wash out.

Do you live around here, Harley?

I grew up here. Got a sister in Florence—that’s where the sandwich came from. And a brother in Phoenix. I sort of drift between the two. He drove with one elbow crooked out the window, squinting in the sun. A big man, with curly hair bleached by sunlight and long bristly sideburns.

Do you know a Michael Devereaux? A casual question, as if her whole world didn’t hang on his answer.

It came after a hesitation and a curious glance in her direction. I know a Devereaux family. Don’t know if there’s a Michael. Why?

I want to contact this Michael.

At Luke?

Yes, he’s a captain.

Well, the Devereaux I know live in Tucson. They lease some land around Florence. In fact they used to lease right where you say you got lost. There was something of the carefree high pitch of adolescence in his voice, but he appeared to be in his middle thirties.

That ranch house up the road where you picked me up. Who lives there?


Are you sure?

I was born there. You’re sure long on questions and short on answers. What’s your problem anyway?

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have … anything. Harley, please tell me about the Devereaux’.

I don’t think we’re talking about the same ones. I can’t see a Devereaux making a career of the service, too busy living off other people’s sweat. I should know—my old man ran a ranch for them for thirty years. And anybody getting stationed that close to his family has got to be related to the President. I’ve been in the Navy twice myself.

The sprawl of city soon displaced desert and the truck was immersed in heavy traffic. MESA, TACOS, LIQUOR, MESA NEW AND USED CARS, HAMBURGERS, DESERT PEACE MOTEL—the signs and buildings were somehow garish after the flowering desert.

That ranch house where you were born was a Devereaux ranch?

A Devereaux house on Devereaux land where I lived with two parents, four brothers, and one sister. Between dying and growing up and leaving, the help was gone and my dad was working it alone. It stopped paying and the Devereaux’ closed it down, and it broke my old man so he hung himself in that house he didn’t even own. His grin tightened to a grimace, his voice muffled by barely parted lips. The name Devereaux ain’t my favorite topic. I’m nice enough to give you a ride, so leave it alone, will ya?

It was no good alienating the only person she knew. She felt a strained, floating security riding with him, as though the panic followed somewhere behind the truck, as if it would catch up with her when they stopped, when he left her alone in Phoenix.

Her thoughts kept skirting reality and the impossibility of her situation, the growing dread of reaching Phoenix and Michael Devereaux. She knew she was deluding herself, that she would have to face things, and soon.

Where are we now?

Tempe. Next stop, Phoenix. It’s all grown together into one big mess. I have to stop at my brother’s. Then I’ll take you on to Luke. I don’t know why. It’s out of my way, but you don’t look long on cash.

I don’t have anything.

You said that. And that’s about all you’ve said.

A sign read WELCOME TO PHOENIX AND THE VALLEY OF THE SUN. The street was lined with pickup trucks and trailer home lots, with swanky motels where palms hovered over swimming pools and where lavish restaurants waited for the dressed-up evening trade.

The truck pulled into the SUNNY REST MOTEL, AIR-CONDITIONED, TV, PHONES, CAFÉ, VACANCY. It squatted in shabby pink stucco between two magnificent glass and brick motels that sported two stories, balconies, pools, and palms. The Sunny Rest sat like an embarrassed poor relation in unaccustomed surroundings.

Does your brother live here?

He owns it. Be back in a minute. Harley got out of the truck and went into the door marked CAFE, OFFICE.

The Sunny Rest was U-shaped, one story. The café sat at one end of the U, Venetian blinds drawn against the sun and a small handwritten sign, WAITRESS WANTED, stuck in the window. She sat looking at the sign seconds before she really listened to her thoughts. What she needed was a little more time to face her problem before she faced Michael Devereaux. She knew Phoenix was in Arizona, and she was almost sure she was seeing it for the first time. She hadn’t really forced her mind to cope with reality, and given a little time, she might be able to solve her problem herself. She still could remember nothing. Was it because she didn’t want to or really couldn’t?

Following Harley into the café, she was relieved to find there were no customers, only Harley and the heavy sweating man in a smeared apron behind the counter.

What can I do for you, ma’am?

She’s with me, Ray. Harley perched on a stool at one end of the counter.

Look, Harley, you ain’t shackin’ up with none of your dames in this place. I told you before.

"Raymond! Raymond! Now this gal got lost picking flowers in the desert and I just gave her a ride into town. Right, Doe Eyes? This is my nasty big brother. Sit down, might as well get a hamburger out of old Ray before we go to Luke."

Not unless you’re paying, you don’t.

Come on, Ray. Two hamburgers and two cups of coffee ain’t going to break you. Looks like you could use the practice.

Raymond McBride started to answer but then shrugged and disappeared into the kitchen. When he returned with the hamburgers, a small fleet of flies came with him. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she asked if she might have the waitress job for a room instead of wages for a day or two until he could find someone.

Raymond looked from his brother to her, his eyes interested but suspicious. Harley, if this is one of your schemes to get bedded in town tonight.…

This is her idea, Ray. I’m leaving, honest. Thought she wanted to go to Luke.

Well, I could use someone. What’s your name?

Her name’s Maggie, Maggie Freehope. Harley supplied this with a grin he tried to hide behind a napkin. Now that’s a good waitress name if I ever heard one.

I got somebody coming in for dinner, but you can have a room tonight and start in the morning. We’ll see how you work out tomorrow … but no men, understand? Tiny red veins stood out on the bulb at the end of his nose.


He means you shouldn’t share your room with one. You see, Ray? She’s all innocence. You don’t have any worries.

She’s with you, ain’t she? And you better mean what you say about leaving.

I’m going now. What room does she get? I’ll put her bag in.

Number Fourteen, right across from here. He handed Harley a key from the board behind the cash register. And, Maggie, bring your Social Security card with you in the morning.

Harley walked her to the truck and slammed the door on the far side. Keeping the truck between them and the café, they walked to Number 14, and he unlocked the door for her. You wouldn’t have got in without a bag. What made you change your mind anyway?

I wanted some time to think. Maybe I can call this Michael from here. Thanks for everything, Harley. Now if I only had a social security card.

Can’t help you there.

"At least I have a room for tonight. I don’t

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