A fat blond kid was standing over Tyler, looked like a bloated version of him and I realized this was Tyler’s brother or cousin or something. And the fat kid was saying see, see what happens when you run your fucking mouth, Tyler, that one day talking shit was gonna get him killed because he was gonna say the wrong thing and some nigger was gonna shoot him in the back. John turned and joined the group, and I was standing there in the parking lot by myself, lost, disoriented. Tyler outweighed me by seventy- five pounds and, where I spent my days shelving DVDs, he spent his days carrying roofs up ladders. But the strangest thing, the sickening thing, was the urge that flashed through my mind as I was standing over him—
—the urge to BITE—
—and I knew this was it again, that I had lost time, that I had lost myself. Then I felt a pull on my jacket and the unique sensation of a handless arm reaching around my midsection.
“Come on. Come on, David.”
Amy circled around, her hand on my sleeve.
“Come on. It’s okay. Come on.”
She started turning me back toward the truck and I felt everyone staring. She got behind me and started pushing me toward the Bronco.
“Come on, David. Take deep breaths. You’re fine.”
“Nope. Come on. Keep going. Vrrrooooommmm . . .”
That last part was Amy making an engine sound as she steered me toward the truck, like she was driving me. She reached around me and opened the door, then pushed me into the seat like you see cops doing with handcuffed suspects. She slammed the door, circled around and sat in beside me. We sat that way for a moment; I glanced out my window and saw the whole group watching. I reached up with a shaking hand to twist the key and realized the engine was already running. I tried to slow my breathing. I couldn’t keep my hands still.
Amy asked, “Are you okay?”
“Just, give me a second.”
“You kicked that guy’s ass.”
“Amy . . .”
“Come on, let’s go. Before he gets up and beats the crap out of you.”
WE GOT BACK to my house to find it ransacked. It was difficult to tell because I’m not the world’s greatest house keeper myself, but by the time I was in the kitchen I knew they had been here: I don’t normally keep the oven open. I whipped out the gun and prowled around the house, finding it empty. Amy asked what they were looking for. I dodged the question by pointing out what a pity it was they tossed the place because it was immaculate before they got here and that it was too bad she didn’t get to see it when it was clean. I went to the kitchen and ran water over my bleeding knuckles.
“Look,” Amy said, from behind me. “They threw laundry all over your floor in there.”
“Yeah. And they wore the clothes first, the bastards.”
“And what were they looking for again?”
A pause. I was on the verge of revealing what was probably our biggest and most dangerous secret to someone whom I had known for all of a day. I let out a breath and looked right into her eyes. The irises were too green, that was the thing. Like grass after a week of spring rain. And there was a piercing, electric intelligence in those eyes that I was too stupid to notice before. Seeing right through me. And I suddenly had the very dismaying realization that I probably could not lie to this girl, for one very simple reason. She was smarter than me.
I said, “They were looking for the soy sauce. I know they didn’t find it, though.”
I didn’t answer. I did a walk around the house, saw if anything was broken. It looked like they had taken the batteries out of my clock for some reason, and the glass fixture on my ceiling fan was cracked.
Amy followed me around, pestering me with questions, suddenly desperately curious. The truth was, I wasn’t sure how to explain it. After about the fifth time she turned the conversation to it, I held up a silencing hand, made a shushing sound, and put a single finger to her lips.
“All will become apparent in good time, sweet Amy.”
For a second, I seriously thought she was going to punch me. I went outside and did a walk- around of the house, glancing nervously at the toolshed and praying that the door wouldn’t be standing open.
What are you talking about, dipshit? If they came and took the body off your hands that’d be a blessing.
I noticed the flag was up on my mailbox. This was Sunday. I went over and opened it, found a palm- sized package inside. There was no name, no address, no postage. I stared at it with some trepidation, then peeled it open, thinking it might be the world’s tiniest mail bomb. Inside was a necklace, a little gold cross on a delicate chain. I had seen it before, though seeing it close I noticed that the cross was formed of two tiny nails, bound together by thread-like wire. There was a piece of paper inside, too, a folded piece of stationery bearing a cartoon puppy with a pencil in his mouth. The writing was in sparkly pink:
Hi! I had a dream
& an angel told me to
give this to you!
It’s always brought me
All of the I’s were dotted with big, friendly loops. Everybody wants to help.
When I went in, Amy was in the bathroom running water. She emerged, stuffing Altoids mints into her mouth from a tin. I went to the fridge and said, “You want something to drink? I have, uh, some fruity Leinenkugel’s beer and, uh, some kind of terrible plum- flavored liquor John’s friend from the Czech Republic sent him. It tastes like the juice from a single plum was squeezed into a fifty-five-gallon drum of paint thinner.”
The cans of Leinenkugel’s had masking tape on them with JOHN’S printed in ink. Amy looked around me and said, “John is protective about his beer, isn’t he?”
“I put that label on there. When company comes I want them to know the Leinie’s is his, not mine. Do you want it?”
“Uh, no. I don’t drink,” she said, shaking her head and brushing the hair from her eyes for the four hundredth time since yesterday. “I mean, I drink liquids. Not alcohol. I couldn’t mix it with the pain pills. So who do we tell about the monsters?”
“All this, everything we saw. Who do we talk to about this sort of thing?”
“I think the government has an eight hundred number but you just get one of those automated answering things. No. John and I are going to, uh, look into it. Today. Before they have a chance to come for you again.”
I closed the refrigerator and faced her, then told her an abbreviated and less retarded version of John’s story about the Drain Rooter site and the Mall of the Dead.
She said, “Why don’t we just go? To another town, or state, or Canada. When’s the last time you’ve heard of somebody exploding in Canada?”
I shook my head.
Because we’re under the eye, Amy.
“There are things you still don’t know. The shadow people . . . they’ve spoken to me. They know my name. It’s . . . personal somehow. With them. I think trying to get away from that by leaving—even climbing into a rocket ship and leaving the fuckin’ planet—would be laughable. To them it’d be like watching a hamster trying to escape by running on his little wheel really fast. I picture the rest of my life, running scared, forever. No. I can’t. I won’t. We’re gonna go in there, where they live. And we’re gonna go armed.”
“I wanna go.”
“No, don’t even try. I want to see. I have a right to.”
“Amy, we’re going into that place with the intention of leaving it as a smoking hole in the ground.”
Praise be to Allah!
“No, you think this is cool, I can see it in your eyes. It’s not cool. We do not have this thing under control. Let me tell you a story. When I was little we had our sewer line back up. Toilet overflowing and all that. So they had to come and root it out, and what they pulled out of the sewer line was a woodchuck. There was a break in the pipe somewhere, two joints that had pulled apart, and this thing had gotten in. Okay? I mean to a woodchuck, this had to be the adventure of a lifetime. Hidden tunnel, seeming to go on for miles. So he’s crawling and exploring and waiting to see the hidden treasure at the end. And then, he gets drowned. In our poo.”
Amy nodded and said, “Well, that’s sad.”
“The saddest. John and I, we’re the woodchuck. See, I can read it on you, that you think you’re really a part of something now, that we’re gonna do something really great today and change the world. Well Amy, understand what I’m about to say. There’s something terribly wrong with us. John and me. Amy, there are days when I’m sure—sure—that I’m stone- cold raving batshit insane. That none of this is happening, that I’m raving about it from a padded room somewhere. And do you know how I respond to that, to that knowledge that I may be delusional and dangerous? I arm myself. With a gun.”
“David, you’re not—”
“Listen. The only reason I’m standing up to these guys now is because I’m in a corner. I don’t have a choice. You do. And if you make the wrong choice, there is an excellent chance that these are your last hours on Earth. All the things you wanted to do with your life, they may not happen. All the things you like to do, all the things you thought you might like to do in the future, all gone. And it’ll be because of me. Because I led you into my turd pipe.”
She said, “Why do you, like, hate yourself?”
“If I knew me as somebody else, I would hate me just as much. Why have a double standard?”
“Well, that’s just stupid.”
I rubbed my eyes and sighed. I reached into my front pocket and pulled out the necklace and held it up.
“Here. It’s good luck. Or something.”
I went to Amy and reached around her neck, clasping the thin chain under her hair.