The avenging demon—or whatever it was—got the wrong car, barbecued the wrong guy. So they can make mistakes. They can confuse identities. The kid felt terrible about it and from then on spent every night on his knees, praying to God for another chance. For my own safety I pray that Brad Pitt doesn’t do anything to piss off the dark realms.
Eyes getting heavy. A shadow moved on the far wall, probably from passing headlights in the street. My eyes closed.
Open again. Darker. Had time passed? Shadow on the wall again, elongated figure of a man.
No, just the tree outside the window . . .
Another shadow, next to it. Another, a forest of shapes. Moving, slowly. Was I dreaming this? Suddenly there was darkness right in front of me, pitch-black. Two orbs of fire appeared right in the center of it, two burning coals floating right there, inches away.
I flung myself upright, my muscles on fire with adrenaline. The room was normal again. There was still a lone shadow on the far wall, which was in fact just a tree backlit from the front yard. I walked over to it, reached out, and touched it. The shadow didn’t react. That was good.
My watch: 11:43 P.M.
I pounded up the stairs and burst into Amy’s room, terrifying her. She was on the bed with the laptop, legs crossed under her, a handful of what looked like Cheetos frozen halfway to her mouth.
I caught my breath and said, “How can you eat those and type on your computer? Don’t you get that orange shit everywhere?”
“Uh, I . . .”
“Come downstairs. If this thing’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. But I want to be on the ground floor and near an exit.”
In case we have to run screaming out of this place.
“And put some shoes on. Just in case.”
The television was back to regularly scheduled programming, the basic cable package of somebody who doesn’t watch a lot of TV. No movie channels. I turned it off and turned to Amy, who was sitting stiffly on the stiff sofa, biting a thumbnail.
She said, “What are we waiting for?”
“Anything. And I do mean anything.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” I stalked around the walls of the room, stopping to peer out of the big bay window. Not snowing, at least.
As long as you don’t bring up your brother . . .
“You said yesterday that, like, most of what people say about you guys is true. So—there are some things that I’ve read that, you know . . .”
“What do they say, Amy?”
“That you guys have, like, a cult or something. And that Jim died because of something you guys were into.”
“If that were true, would I admit it?” I glanced at my watch, something that was becoming a compulsion with me.
“I don’t know. You were there, though, right? In Las Vegas?”
“And John says he didn’t die in an accident, the way the papers said.”
“What did John say?”
“He said a little monster that looked like a spider with a beak and a blond wig ate him.”
Awkward pause. “You believed him?”
“I thought I would ask you.”
“What are you willing to believe, Amy? Do you believe in ghosts and angels and demons and devils and gods, all that?”
“Okay. So, if they exist, then to them we’d be like bacteria or viruses, right? Like way lower on the ladder. Now the trick is that a higher being can study and understand the things under it, but not vice versa. We put the virus under the microscope. A virus can’t do the same to us. So if there are things that exist above us humans, beings so radically different and big and complex that they can’t fit inside your brain, we’d be no more equipped to see them than the germs are equipped to see us. Right?”
“I mean, not without special tools.”
“John and I have those tools. But just because we can see these things, these odd and weird and horrible things, it don’t mean we can actually understand them or do anything about them.”
“Now let me ask you something. Big Jim, he was into some things, he had unusual hobbies. He built model monsters. But he knew some people, too, didn’t he? Weird people? You know who I’m talking about, right? The black guy with the Jamaican accent?”
She said, “Yeah, I think we talked about that, didn’t we? He was homeless. They found that guy and I heard he, like, exploded. I always wondered about that. Do you think Jim was into something, too?”
There was no short answer to that, so I said nothing. Amy looked at the floor.
Amy said, “So what are we expecting?”
“Anything. Beyond anything.”
She looked very pale. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, rocking slightly.
“What time is it?”
“I’m scared to death, David.”
“That’s good because there’s lots to be afraid of.”
I glanced at Badly Drawn Jesus, then pulled the gun from my pocket. On Judgment Day, I’d be able to proudly state that when I thought the hordes of Hell were coming for a local girl, I stood ready to shoot at them with a small- caliber pistol.
I said, “Keep talking.”
“Um, okay. Let’s see. Keep talking. Talking talking talking, doo doo doo doo doo. Uh, my name is Amy Sullivan and I’m twenty- one years old and, um, I’m really scared right now and I feel like I’m going to pee my pants and my back hurts but I don’t want to take a pill because I think I’ll just throw it back up and this couch is really uncomfortable and I don’t like ham and—this is hard. My mouth is going dry. What time is it now?”
I held my breath, my heart hammering. Anything. Ridiculous, the idea that anything can happen. Impossible. But we should have known from the start. The Big Bang. One moment there was nothing and then, BAM! Everything. What was impossible after that?
I glanced back at Amy. Still there.
“Well,” I said. “They’re late.”
“Maybe they won’t come with you here.”
“Or maybe their clock isn’t the same as yours.”
Another good point.
She asked, “Are you scared?”
“Pretty much all the time, yeah.”
“Why? Because of what happened in Las Vegas?”
“Because I sort of looked into Hell, but I still don’t know if there’s a Heaven or not.”
That stopped her.
She finally said, “You saw it?”
“Sort of. I felt it. Heard it, I guess. Screams, bleeding over into my head. And I knew, I knew right then what it would be like.” I took a breath and knew I was about to spill a giant load of stark- raving lunacy.
“It was just like the locker room,” I said. “That day at the high school. Not Pine View where we went to school together, but before that, before they shipped me off there. Billy Hitchcock and four friends. Their hands on me like animal jaws, twisting me, pushing me to the ground. So easy. So fucking easy, the way they overpowered me, and that look, that look of stupid joy on their faces because they knew, they knew that they could do whatever they wanted and they knew that I knew. And that fear, that total hopelessness when I realized I wasn’t going to kick my way out of it and the coach wasn’t gonna come in and break it up and nobody was going to come to my rescue. Whatever they wanted to do was going to happen and happen and happen until they got bored with it and they got so high off that power . . .”
I felt the Smith’s plastic grip digging into my palm, knew I was involuntarily squeezing it.
“Before that, Billy’s neighbor had this little yappy dog, expensive thing. One day the old lady comes home and finds the little yapping thing in her backyard, only it’s not yapping because Billy has taken a hot glue gun and glued its jaws shut. He decided to do the eyes, too, and—look, the point is I think that people live on, forever, outside of time somehow. And I think people like Billy, they never change. And I think they all wind up in the same place, and you and I can wind up right among them and they have forever, literally forever, to do what they want with us. In whatever way people live, maybe you don’t have a body they can cut or bruise or burn but the worst pain isn’t in the nerve endings, is it? Total fear and submission and torment and deprivation and hopelessness, that tidal wave of hopelessness. They never get tired, they never sleep, and you never, ever, ever die. They stay on top of you and they hold you down and down and down, forever.”
I let out a breath.
She said, “Billy Hitchcock. He was the kid who di—”
Her words broke off and she let out an enormous snore, like she’d suddenly fallen into a deep sleep in midsentence.
I turned, and where Amy had been sitting there was now a human- shaped thing with jointed arms and gray rags for clothes, legs sticking stiffly out in front. Like a department store mannequin crafted by a blind man. The red hair looked to be made of copper wire. A hinged jaw clamped shut and the snoring sound was clipped immediately. Two seconds later the jaw yawned wide open again and the enormous snoring sound poured forth—a sound that was more mechanical than human. Artificial.
I got to hand it to them, I thought. I really wasn’t expecting that.
I heard a clump and realized the gun had fallen out of my limp hand. I also realized my jaw was hanging open. I tried to pull myself together, forced my legs to step forward. I reached out toward the thing—
The gun was back in my hand. Amy was back on the couch, sitting bolt upright, looking blankly into space. I immediately looked at my watch—
Amy slowly turned her head, coming to. She saw me, saw the look on my face. Realization washed over her and her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes suddenly wide.