Someone stood at the edge of the Christmas tree farm behind his half-acre lot--a man, partially obscured by branches, his shape a thick, dark slash beside a drenched and drooping fir.
Sean leaned forward, squinting into morning sunlight filtering through bland, efficient rows of conifers. He barely noticed cold water run over his hand. "Is he naked?" he whispered.
Yep, the bastard's naked. Sean flinched as branches shifted, leaving little obscuring coverage. Had to be his imagination, a relic from the nightmare--in all the years living in the neighborhood beside Hobson's farm, he'd seen no one but the farm's mowing crew there during the summer. This year had brought more rain than mowing, so much rain that some of the trees had drowned. Sean closed his eyes and counted to ten before opening them again.
Nope. Still there.
We have kids around here, he thought as he flicked off the water and rushed to the laundry room. Families. What kind of sick freak runs around a Christmas tree farm naked on Sunday morning?
He found Mare's aluminum softball bat in its corner by the dryer. Hefty assurance in hand, Sean strode to the back door and flung it open. Beads of sweat erupted on his skin; at not quite seven in the morning, it was already sweltering outside and reeking of hot, wet evergreen.
Sean silenced the fear inside his head and stomped across the yard, pausing at the edge of a rippling puddle that had grown to infect every yard on his side of the neighborhood. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he managed to bark at the man in the tree line. The guy was taller than he looked from the kitchen. As he slowly turned his gaze to Sean, Sean tightened his grip on the bat, steadying its tremble.
Before the man could respond, a plumpish young woman stumbled out a couple of trees away. She, too, wore not a stitch of clothes, and she let out a low, terrified moan as she blinked at Sean. She fought through shin-deep water and rubbed her ears, turning aside and shaking her head as if to cower from a loud noise only she could hear.