Suffer the Children - By John Saul Page 0,1

she could get, then watching in disappointment as it evaded her. The rabbit seemed to have no plan in mind, and for a long time it darted back and forth across the field, hiding first under one bush, then under another.

In the woods, the man watched the chase, his eyes never leaving the child. Occasionally he would see a grayish blur out of the corner of his eye, and he was half aware that it was a rabbit. But it didn’t matter to him.

What mattered was the child.

He raised the bottle to his mouth again, and then it was empty.

Suddenly the rabbit seemed to develop a plan. It began making its way toward the woods, still not in a straight line, but with a series of leftward-veering hops that was drawing it directly toward the spot where the man waited.

The child, now conscious only of the rabbit, followed along, quickening her pace. She was beginning to beable to anticipate the rabbit, to correct for its error even before it made its jump. As it leaped into the woods, the girl was only a few feet behind.

The man rose out of the bushes, the bottle held aloft, the knuckles of his right hand white as they gripped its neck. He brought the bottle down hard, crushing the rabbit’s skull just as it came to light at his feet. He straightened up in time to see the child step from the light of the field into the shadows of the forest. The wind seemed to pick up, and the roar of the surf grew louder.

She didn’t see the rabbit die.

Rather, her mind held impressions:

The rabbit bouncing out of the field into the woods.

A shape looming before her that hadn’t been there a second before.

A sound, not a crashing, but a sort of a dull crunching, and then the rabbit, the small animal that she had hoped to help, lying twitching at the feet of the man.

She looked up into his face.

The eyes were bloodshot, and a stubble of beard showed on his chin. His eyes, which might once have been the sparkling blue of an autumn sky, had gone dull, and the hair was a colorless tangle that made his features almost unrecognizable. A flicker of recognition crossed the child’s face, but disappeared as the beginning of a cry built in her throat when the man dropped the bottle and reached for her.

One arm snaked around her small body, and the hand that had held the bottle moved to cover her mouth before the cry could be sounded. Her tongue touched his hand, and recoiled from the taste of whiskey.

He picked her up effortlessly and swung around to carry her deeper into the wood. As she struggled in his arms, his grip tightened, and he began to feel a heat in his groin not caused by the liquor in his blood.

He did it silently.

Silently he set her down in a small clearing, and silently he pulled at his belt.

When it was free, he used it to bind her wrists, and when she broke the silence with her cries, he slapped her, hard. Her cries died away to a moan, and she stared up at him with the fear of a trapped animal. The sun disappeared behind a cloud.

He dressed slowly, then removed the belt from the girl’s wrists and replaced it around his waist Then he rearranged the child’s torn garments as best he could, and picked her up as gently as he knew how. He cradled her head against his shoulder as he carried her on through the woods, and then he was out of the woods once more, standing on the high bank, holding his child out to the sea, almost as an offering.

It began to rain.

For long moments he stood, as if waiting for a sign of some kind. Then, adjusting the child in his arms so that he would have one hand free, he began picking his way down the embankment, skirting the rocks with a sure step, his free hand steadying himself only when his weight tilted a loose stone.

When he was still fifty feet above the surf he began to make his way around a large boulder. Behind it, hidden from all but the most careful eye, the solid wall of the embankment was broken by a small opening. He pushed the limp form of the child into the opening; then he disappeared after it.

The sky seemed to open up as he emerged, alone, from the