I pumped the shotgun.
“This is not a conversation, Jim.”
Every muscle was tensed. We faced off that way, seemingly forever, the trigger pressing into the skin of my finger.
Shoot him. Shoot everybody.
John broke the moment. He sprinted up toward Fred’s prone body, grabbing and dragging it. “Get him to the truck!” Jennifer went to help him, but the two of them were making slow, halting progress pulling the deadweight through the sand.
John said, “Dave! These things are starting to come out of him!”
Jim stared me down a moment longer and then turned and walked toward them. John muttered something to him but Big Jim knocked both him and Jen aside. He dragged Fred’s body back to the wreckage of the SUV and laid him against the rear door. A familiar fuzzy cloud was emerging from the ragged stump that had been Fred Chu’s head.
Jim stomped toward me and, with a quick, impossibly strong motion, easily ripped the shotgun from my hands. He turned and aimed at the gas tank of the SUV.
I flinched from the expected explosion, had the sudden crazy urge for a ball of fire to spew out and reduce all of us to ash.
Nothing. Instead there was a patch of little holes in the metal, a heavy rain of gasoline splattering down the rear and onto the prone body of Fred Chu. John stepped up to his corpse, flicked open his lighter and tossed it down.
Fred Chu went up in a ball of flames. The fire licked up the trunk of the SUV, reached the gas tank and ignited the contents with a heavy, metallic THONK, sending us flopping to the ground, little bits of metal plunking softly into the sand around us.
Jim got to his feet and walked toward me again, the shotgun pointed at the ground. The adrenaline was draining from me so fast I thought I’d be sitting in a puddle of it soon. So tired. So tired.
Two feet away, Jim raised the gun.
Man, just do it. Just do it and let me sleep out here in the sand until the sun goes supernova and turns the whole world into a charred memory.
He threw the shotgun in my gut, and walked away. The barrel was warm. We all got to our feet and watched thousands of the little particles swarm out of Fred, burning like sparks over a stirred campfire. In my head, the concert of damned voices faded and died.
John said, “Do you think that’s all of them? The worms, whatever they are? Do you think we got all of ’em?”
I didn’t answer.
“Because I got a feeling that if just a few of them get away, hell, if just one of them gets out and gets into a body, they’ll multiply. Lay eggs and do what they do.”
Nobody answered. What was there to say?
It took us fifteen minutes to flag down a car. I convinced Jennifer to stand out by the road alone, shivering and mussed and looking victimized, one shapely leg coated in crimson. Soon a shiny new SUV pulled over, driven by a young guy and his wife, on their honeymoon or whatever.
As soon as their passenger door was open I sprinted out and put the gun in their face, forced them out while Jim apologized profusely, swearing we would bring it back. The five of us and the dog piled in and we drove into the night.
“I DON’T LIKE it,” said Jennifer softly, as if afraid the looming, dark thing on the horizon could hear us.
She was looking at the Luxor Las Vegas Hotel, a pyramid jutting into the night sky, big and black and geometric, like something from the year 3000. We were parked in the lot of a massive neon-lined steakhouse maybe a quarter mile away, all of us beaten and stinking of smoke and looking like war refugees.
We had ducked into a truck stop restroom just outside of the city and washed as much blood off ourselves as we could. Jim spat out two teeth. John was pretty sure he had a concussion and would still be vomiting if he had anything in his stomach. I had double vision in one eye, and in general I felt like I had been run through a wood chipper. We bought four first-aid kits and fixed ourselves up as best we could; Jennifer patched her thigh with a roll of Ace bandages and a tampon. We bought armloads of convenience-store food and sat eating as we drove around looking for the Luxor. This parking lot was as far as we got before somebody asked what the plan was.
“The Justin thing is in there. Right now,” Jim said, nodding toward the Luxor. “So what are we waitin’ for? This whole thing, it could be going down right this minute for all we know and we’re out here doing nothing.”
John said, “If he summoned Satan, we’d see it from here, right?”
This was the most any of us had spoken since the accident and the ensuing clusterfuck.
I said, “First problem is we got to get into this thing. Guy like Marconi, probably attracts a lot of nutjobs. Got to think the doors will be guarded and I don’t particularly feel like shooting my way in there.”
Jim said, “Think, David. The séance or whatever it is is happening inside a casino. You won’t get five feet inside the door with a gun before nine guys in suits tackle you.”
“And shove your head in a vise,” John added, helpfully.
I said, “Well, I don’t like our chances without the gun. Unless Jim wants to try to quote Bible verses at it.”
Jennifer put up her hands, said, “Guys, let’s not make this a dick-measuring contest, okay?”
There was silence for a moment, then John said, “That’s good, because it wouldn’t be no contest at all.”
“That is, I’m referring to my cock being bigger than either of yours.”
I sighed and said, “John, I don’t think anyone in this vehicle is in the mood to—”
“John, let me make one thing clear,” Jim said, cutting me off in his most stern, evangelical voice. “Every man is blessed with his gifts from the Lord. One of mine happens to be a penis large enough that, if it had a penis of its own, my penis’s penis would be larger than your penis.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, then I heard Jen start laughing so hard I thought she would choke.
“Fuck all of you,” John retorted. “You don’t even exist. We’re all just a figment of my cock’s imagination.”
Jim tried to suppress his laugher, and failed. One more victim, sucked in by John. You get in the room with him and you just fall into a warm pool of beer and video games and penis jokes, staring out at the universe with him and saying, “Do you believe this shit?”
I thought, not for the first time, that John could start a pretty fucking successful cult.
I looked down at the shotgun in my lap, a heavy, cold, hateful thing still coated in grit and blood. I noticed something else, a broad lump in my pants pocket. I dug into it and pulled out the folded envelope of cash I had gotten from the alley guy yesterday. I wondered if I wound up not using it if I should go find the guy and give it back to him. From behind me, Molly barked.
John was looking off across the parking lot now where a massive, customized RV sat like a beached whale. Behind it was an eighteen-wheeler, painted white with neon outlines, some kind of logo airbrushed on the side. He asked, “I wonder what’s in there.”
Big Jim said, “Shipment of fags probably.”
The asshole’s a comedian all of a sudden.
This seemed to anger Molly, who stared out the windshield and went into a barking frenzy. I reached back and, for the first time in my life, smacked a dog across the nose with an envelope full of cash. Jennifer said, “Thank you.”
John said, “There might be some clothes in that RV. We could change, look normal. Get Dave an overcoat to conceal the gun. Then charge into the Luxor, find Justin and open a can of kill-ass.”
“We can’t break into somebody’s RV,” I said.
John squinted at the logo on the side of the truck.
“That RV doesn’t belong to a person. It belongs to Elton John. You know, the band.”
Jen said, “Seriously?”
Molly retreated to the rear and started biting at the luggage the newlyweds had stacked in it. They probably had packed some sausages in there or something.
John said, “Yeah, look at the sign. I bet the truck is their concert stuff.”
Jim said, “Elton John is a guy, not a band.”
“Please, don’t get him started,” I said. “There was that one video where he was in different outfits and—”
“For the last time, those were all different guys, Dave. I looked it up. They’re brothers.”
“Oh, Jesus, forget it. Who cares.” I gripped the shotgun and considered shooting myself in the head.
A slow smile spread over John’s face. He turned to me and said the five most horrifying words he knows.
“Dave, I have a plan.”
IF THE ALIENS who helped the Egyptians build the pyramids returned to Earth and opened a casino, it would look like the Luxor Las Vegas. The thing was a massive, gleaming, black glass pyramid with a line of white lights that pulsed up its four corners.
We had just pulled into the Luxor parking lot and were watching two cop cars and a tow truck messing with Justin’s abandoned beer hauler, which had been carelessly run up onto the curb. The cops and tow guy all looked a little confused by the scene.
I said, “Let’s go.”
We filed out of the SUV and strode toward the front entrance, giving the cops a wide berth. Jennifer looked up at it and whispered to me, “I don’t like this place.”
“You already said that.”
“It looks like—like the end of the world. Somehow. Like those huge, scary future buildings in Blade Runner, black with the fire coming out the tops and all that.”
Big Jim said, “Yeah, yeah, and those gigantic big screens with huge Asian women on them. I watched that movie when I was a kid and I started cryin’.” Big Jim adjusted his cape.
The entrance was ahead, opened wide like a maw, the guts inside showing gleaming solid gold.
“You know what else scared me?” Jen said, reaching up to scratch where a bundle of black feathers was tickling her neck. “In de pen dence Day. That alien invasion movie. The first part, where the aliens come and they look up between the buildings and the sky is gone and, like, all they see is metal. Just as far as you can see, that steel ship looming up there. I remember thinking, that’s what the end of the world will look like. It won’t be wars or a meteor. It’ll be something we never could have thought of . . .”