Amy was asking something, asking what was wrong with him, was he dead, should we go back. Neither I nor John answered. I just drove. Gotta push on, don’t even look back.
Something moved in my rearview mirror, a dark shape against the snow. I looked, thought I saw something, something moving fast. Not a person. Or maybe I didn’t see it.
WE FOUND THE inlet road in the snow, turned in and crept through the mall parking lot. We watched for other parked vehicles, saw none. Our light was fading fast.
We filed out and loaded up and marched across the lot, Molly in the lead, our heads on swivels. Visibility didn’t even extend to the edge of the parking lot, where a white curtain of snow hid the rest of the world. I had the gun in my hand, didn’t even remember pulling it out. A snowflake flew right up my nose. Just before we reached the door I saw John spin around, like he had seen something in the swirling mass of white. I squinted, could see nothing, and we both dismissed it as adrenaline. We should have known better.
We filed inside, using the same entrance John had used earlier that morning. Snow was pouring in through the skylight now, piling an inch high on the floor, drafts of chilled air flowing down from the gap. Once inside and out of the wind, John flicked the lighter that served as the pilot light for the toy flamethrower.
John said, “Drake’s foot. What was the deal with that? I thought he was trying to kick your head and he just missed.”
“He had that symbol, the little pi. Like Molly.”
“What do you think, it’s like a mark of some kind?”
Amy asked, “Wouldn’t it make it harder to do evil if they had to carry around a mark?”
John shrugged. “Once they’re barefoot and kicking you, it’s already too late. Follow me.”
We went into the maintenance room. To John and me, the big, decorative doorway stood in the center of the wall to our right, plain as day and as out of place as the face on Mars. Amy saw only a wall. Until, of course, she tried viewing it through the Scooby glasses. I let the little maintenance door close behind me. John looked at Amy and nodded his head toward the other door and said, “Ghost door.”
I said, “Please don’t call it that.”
Molly trotted past me and went right to the door and sniffed at it. Interesting. John said, “I feel like we should look for a save point.”
I saw a long, curved handle on the door. I let out a long breath and raised the gun. John raised the fire gusher. I reached out for the handle and watched as my hand passed right through.
“Shit,” said John. “It’s a ghost knob.”
I sighed and looked at John, was about to suggest heading back home and curling up in front of the fireplace. But then Amy stepped forward, the wet and wrinkled cardboard glasses askew on her face.
She reached out with her left arm, the arm that, in reality, didn’t have a hand. But with the hand that I could see, the ghost of a hand that was no longer there, she reached out and grabbed the door handle that was also not really there. The handle turned.
With a rumbling not unlike the sound in your head when you crunch ice, a vertical slit formed in the wall and then tore open, widening. John and I both crouched into a fighting stance and I felt my bladder loosen a little. The wall melted and peeled back like a curtain until there was a door- sized opening before us with a bunched seam around the edge, rolls of plaster and jutting splinters of wood. Beyond it was a tiny, round room that I somehow sensed was an elevator.
John stepped through the door and looked to his right. He pointed out a number on the wall, in black, that said “10.” After a few seconds, it switched to “9.”
I felt Molly brush past my legs and trot into the open doorway. I turned, put my hands on Amy’s shoulders.
“You’ve got money, from the insurance? When your parents—”
“Wait for us, wait someplace light. Give us an hour. Then if we’re not back take my truck and—”
“David, I can’t even drive.”
I dug in my pocket and pressed my cell phone into her hand.
“Then call a cab. I’m dead serious. If we’re not back in an hour, fly. Take the cab straight to the airport and fly away, get on a plane, go to Alaska. Stay far away from this place forever and ever and forget you ever knew me.”
“Because it’s always daytime there.”
“No it’s not!”
“Actually, Dave,” John said from behind me, “I think it’s always nighttime there.”
“It doesn’t matter,” squealed Amy, “because I’m not going anyw—”
“Amy, please. This is insane. When that door opened the only thought that went through my mind was that I would be damned for letting you die at the hands of whatever came through it. We’ve gone this far and you’re still okay and I want to do this one good thing while I’ve got the chance. For no other reason than because when I die—and I’m pretty damned sure now that I will within the hour—I want to be able to say I did this one last thing, this one unselfish thing before I went.”
I pulled the Smith & Wesson from my pocket and went to put it in her other hand, realized she didn’t have another hand, then shoved it into her coat pocket instead. Amy started to say something, but was interrupted when the metal door exploded.
The little maintenance door flew across the room and bounced off the opposite wall. We all ducked, and in a cloud of dust I saw something the size of a man but shaped all wrong, backward joints jutting into the air, a tiny brainless head, skin of notched alligator hide. There was a second of brain paralysis when I couldn’t register what I was seeing. But I had seen the thing before, in Jim’s basement. Only this one was moving, crouching low like a predator, turning to look at us.
Amy was on her knees and had opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, a column of flame poured past her face.
“DOWN!” screamed John, about a half second later than I would have preferred. Orange fire licked the creature and the floor and the wall behind it. I thought I smelled my own hair burning. The beast writhed and thrashed about, but apparently its skin wasn’t that flammable because when John let off there were only small tongues of flame licking at its shoulders.
It looked pissed.
John worked the shotgun- like pump on the squirt gun to build up the pressure and fire again. I flung my body aside and plunged my hand into my pocket to get the Smith—then remembered I had given it to Amy ten seconds ago. I pulled out my car keys instead and flung them at the beast; they bounced off its chest with a jingle.
The monster advanced on me, racing past Amy with quick, blurry little steps, moving like it was on fast- forward. I tried to stand but suddenly there were claws around my neck, and a second after that I was flying. A wall pounded my back and suddenly I was in the little round elevator looking up at John; the beast had thrown me like a child’s toy. I scrambled to my feet and this thing was on me again, filling the doorway, blocking us into the little round room. Molly was standing there next to me, sniffing at the monster’s foot and deciding it would be unpleasant to eat.
John was screaming something but then this thing had its claws in my shoulder, pain spilling down the whole side of my body. I leaned my head around the beast and screamed, “AAAAAMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!! RUUUUUUUNNNNNN!!!!!!”
She stood there behind the beast, petrified for a long moment. The beast was doing something with its other hand, rearing back, probably half a second from ripping my face off. I felt John’s hands clumsily prying at the monster’s claws, trying to get them off me. The beast’s face was two inches from mine, its little eyes twitching, and I could smell the thing and it smelled like Old Spice somehow. From the corner of my eye I saw that the number on the wall said, “2.”
Amy turned to go and suddenly I had a new mission, to keep the beast here, to make it take as long as possible to eat us.
A second beast appeared.
In the ruins of the maintenance doorway, another monster just like this one. As it advanced on Amy I had the crazy thought that the thing had clumps of snow stuck to its crotch.
The number on the wall vanished. The ghost door closed.
Everything stopped. The wall had melted back into place as if it had always been as solid as a, uh, wall.
Suddenly I was looking at the head and shoulders and claws of the monster emerging from the solid wall, as if it were a mounted hunter’s trophy. The ghost door had closed right on the bastard, half on this side and half on the other. After a second, the severed chunks clumped to the floor, leaving red stains behind on the wall. The clawed hand was still embedded in my shoulder, the severed arm hanging off and dripping red on the floor.
John muttered, “What the—I wonder how many employees they lose that way?”
“Amy!!” I screamed into the wall, tearing off the shorn limb and flinging it to the ground with disgust. The claws were still twitching on their own when it landed. Molly was at my feet, barking, yelping. I heard nothing from the other side. I pounded the wall with my palms, then felt the surface sliding under my fingers.
I punched the wall and thought I broke my hand. I felt motion and knew that we were moving upward, which was impossible because the mall did not have a second floor. I cursed again, put my hands on my knees, realized that every life that touched mine ended in utter horror.
Molly whimpered at my feet. John said something, something about reaching the top and being ready and I got the idea. I stood upright and took the chainsaw from John, trembling all over. I looked over the chainsaw, figuring out how to work it. Could I have gotten caught in this situation with a dumber weapon?
I glanced around and realized the boom box hadn’t made it into the elevator. Man, did any of it matter at this point?
Up and up and up we went. Was the elevator climbing in midair? John held the fire gusher at the ready. He was saying something about how there was nothing we could do and we just had to get in and out fast enough and that we had all the more reason to survive and blah, blah, blah. What ever.