I felt the gun twist out of my fingers. With a huge effort I turned my head enough to look up and see Krissy holding the gun on me while she inspected John. He shifted and moved, sitting up.
He took off his flannel shirt and pressed it against a wet wound on his scalp, his hair matted with blood.
She helped him to his feet. They towered over me, Krissy with the Taser in her hand.
I strained to move a limb. Random muscles started to flex under my command again, but I couldn’t organize them.
John, bloody rag pressed to his skull, looked me right in the eye.
“David, if you’re still you at all, you know why I’m doing this. Are you in there?”
I met his gaze. I tried to talk, tested a few words to get my lips moving.
“John . . . John, I understand, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me just now. Really. But I’m thinkin’ clear now. It’s me. Don’t let her shoot me, okay?”
He studied my face. I grasped the situation, with growing horror.
“John,” I said, eyes pleading. “Please.”
All I needed was for him to turn his back. I had the utility knife. Just hide it in my hand and, with a quick and decisive move, I could slit his throat. Use him as a shield, get the pistol away from the girl. After that, then she’d do whatever I wanted under the barrel of a gun.
Everything would be fine.
John took Krissy aside. They whispered to each other while she kept the gun on me, the barrel tipping up and down in her delicate hand.
I tried to move my legs. I could feel them but couldn’t make them obey me. I ground my teeth so hard I felt like they would shatter.
Gotta stay cool. I couldn’t hear, but the girl was doing all the talking now, the bitch trying to convince John to do something. He finally agreed, and came back to face me.
“Dave, here’s what I think. I think the thing that was in Wexler was in you. Maybe it still is, maybe it isn’t. Now, we’re gonna do something here. Krissy’s gonna give me the gun and I’m gonna put it on you, it’s nothin’ personal. And on top of that, she’s gonna press the zappy thing against your skin while she does this. So do not move. You know I won’t kill ya, Dave, but you jump or grab for her or anything, she’ll zap you and I’ll shoot you in the thigh. Then I’ll come over there and kick you in the crotch repeatedly.”
I showed no emotion, just nodded.
Get the arms moving, get them moving now. You get the Taser away from the girl and immobilize John with it. Move move move . . .
Feeling rushed into my right arm, I could flex the muscles all the way up. I was sure I could get it to respond.
I focused everything on readying the limb for a quick, violent move. A chop to the throat, make her drop the Taser.
Krissy handed the pistol to John. She came around me, pressed the Taser against my shoulder with her left hand.
With her right, she reached around her neck and took off her gold necklace, the one with the dangling cross.
She dropped the necklace over my head at the exact moment I swung my fist—
My stomach clenched, my hand frozen in midair.
It’s poison. They’ve coated it with some kind of toxin that can seep through my skin like a nicotine patch, into my bloodstream, eating through my lungs and liver like acid . . .
I thrashed away from her and got my hands up, but my coordination was even more screwed now than from the Taser. I fought like a toddler. My body convulsed, organs thrashing around inside like they were making a jailbreak from my gut.
I fell, hard.
Hands on my arm.
Soft hands. The girl.
The seizure, or whatever the hell it was, ended abruptly. I was tired, confused. I blinked, trying to take in my surroundings.
I sat up and saw the girl stumbling as if she had been cracked over the head with a pipe, dazed, out on her feet. She bent down at the waist, breathing hard. She vomited on the floor.
I felt like doing the same. I had this greasy feeling like I was rid of something unclean, like I had just passed a tapeworm. And there was this lingering, sick shame, the feel of a man who sobers up just enough to realize he’s been making out with his best friend’s mother.
John stared at Krissy, terrified. He turned on me, questioning, suspicious.
“What are you looking at me for?” I shouted. “Go help her, you ass!”
John nodded, apparently convinced that I was fine. Krissy was not fine. Krissy was screaming. She went to her knees, then thrashed onto her back. I scrambled to my feet, moved toward her. John grabbed my jacket, holding me back.
“No!” I screamed. “It’s in her! The thing is in her! Let me touch her, let it pass back into me and then shoot me in the temple.”
“It’s killing her!”
“No. It’s not. She’s killing it.”
Krissy looked up at us with eyes that had turned bloodshot pink, sweat-soaked hair hanging down in strands. There was a deep, black hatred in that stare so profound that it was like a punch in the gut.
I had never seen anything approaching that look on a human face before. The intelligence behind it was so hateful it was alien, unfeeling, unreasoning, infinitely terrible.
I serve none but Korrok.
A blue eye, in the darkness.
He controlled you just like the cockroaches.
I wanted to curl up into a fetal position and start sucking my thumb, let my tears and dripping saliva pool under me.
Sorry. I tried living, tried being sentient. Can’t do it. Can’t live in the same universe with that.
She screamed again, loud. Opera-singer loud. Impossibly loud. She clutched at her hair and pressed her eyes closed. A sound erupted in the air around us, a long roar like an ocean wave crashing against a dock. Flecks of glass smacked me in the cheek.
A hundred panes of glass skylight exploded at once, a circular wave of airborne shards overhead, spreading like a ripple in a pond. Glass poured down around us, a high-pitched ringing as shards pelted the floor, raining down on our heads and shoulders.
Silence. She lay still.
Whoa. She’s dead.
No . . . chest moving. Breathing.
John, pulling at my sleeve, lifting Krissy to her feet.
A metal beam crashed down behind her.
The room was coming apart. We ran, half dragging her out of the food court. Ceiling trusses and light fixtures and cables and boards and glass came down in an avalanche.
We tumbled through the gate and into the hall, falling on our asses. The entire food court ceiling collapsed behind us, debris piling in front of the door, a wave of compressed air and dust rushing past us like a sandstorm.
Krissy tried to sit up, looking utterly exhausted. She wiped grit from her eyes.
I took the necklace from around my neck and handed it to her. She took it without hesitation, put it on.
“She broke it,” John said. “Like a fever. It passed from you into her, but it couldn’t live in her.”
He turned his attention to the girl.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I could sleep for a thousand years.”
MY BULLET HAD creased John’s scalp and he said he was okay but, damn, did it bleed a lot. The wad of shirt he held against it was soaked.
We wandered around the mall looking for Molly and any additional monsters. Nothing on both counts.
Krissy stayed with Wexler, calling for an ambulance on her cell. She insisted he was alive, though we could see no sign of it. Then, as the first sirens faded in from the distance, Wexler climbed into consciousness long enough to smile at Krissy, brush a strand of hair out of her face with his fingers. He said something to her that we couldn’t hear and wasn’t any of our business anyway.
Paramedics arrived, with many, many questions. John told them the truth. And I mean he literally told them I was possessed and that killing the demon destroyed the food court. He refused treatment.
After the ambulance left we made our way out to Krissy’s car. She asked John, “Are you going to get your head looked at?”
“Nah, it’s just a cut. I was gonna shave my head anyway. Are you gonna go see Danny in the hospital?”
“Yeah. But . . . there’s something I’m supposed to do first. He asked me if I had watched the tape. Do you know what that’s about?”
I said “no” and John said “yes” simultaneously.
“The video he was shooting,” John said. “In his apartment.”
A HALF HOUR later, Krissy sat down on the couch in Wexler’s apartment while John rewound the tape and let it play. Wexler, looking tired and beaten, appeared on the screen as before.
“Hi, honey. Are you there? Answer me if you’re there.”
Krissy looked at us, confused. We had no answers. She turned her eyes back to the screen, waiting.
“Come on. It’s okay. Just say hello.”
“Um, hello,” said Krissy, looking embarrassed. A tear ran down her cheek. “Danny. You look awful . . .”
“I know. It’s been a rough couple of weeks,”
Danny said, replying to the camera a full three hours before Krissy made that comment.
“Baby, I’ve done somethin’ really stupid. I’ve gotten wrapped up in something. Something you can’t imagine.”
“What?” Krissy said, sobbing. “What did you get into?”
“If I told you the details, you would wish I hadn’t. But you know by now that I’m not myself. I come and go, and right now I’m fine, but I have to fight for every second of control. It’s draining. Baby, it takes so much energy to keep myself on top, on the surface, at the wheel. As soon as I relax, he’ll take over. It will take over. And I’ll just be a spectator. Helpless.”
He broke down into sobs. So did Krissy, sounding utterly drained.
“Are you okay?”
he asked, through hitching breaths.
“Were you hurt in all of this?”
“I’m fine. I’ll be fine. This is so strange.”