The guy had bucket seats so John climbed into the bed and rode it out back there. I asked the guy if he was going by the old mall, he said he wasn’t, I asked him if he was going south close to my neighborhood, he said he was. I looked around for Molly, saw she hadn’t followed us, and climbed in. We drove.
“This be some snowy shit, yo!” he said. He had a little triangle of hair under his bottom lip. A soul patch, they call it. I said, “Yep.”
“It’s been hella slick drivin’ in this shit. I’m swervin’ and gettin’ stuck here and there. All the other drivers be hatin’ on me.”
I stared at the man.
“Are you Fred Durst? Of the band Limp Bizkit?”
He smirked and concentrated on the road.
Eventually he said, “Gettin’ hella dark out here. I’m thinkin’ you two don’t wanna be around when it gets fully dark, yo. Things be movin’ and suckin’ and hatin’ on everything. But you know that, am I right?”
I said, “And you’re saying that you’re not one of them?” I glanced in the rearview mirror at John, huddled against the wind in the truck bed. I gauged whether or not I could get the wheel away from this guy and shove him out if he should try to eat me or whatever.
Fred Durst said, “Well, I ain’t Fred Durst. You’ll see what you wanna see. If John were in here, he’d see somebody else. But the point is there’s darkness, yeah, but there’s light and it all balances out. Like them yin and yang fishes, forever bitin’ each other’s tails. You know how it be.”
I studied his blue eyes, said, “Why don’t you tell me who you really are before I punch you in the face?”
“Yo, I told you. You just didn’t listen. But I’m on your side. I been watching you. In fact, you could say that I’ve been ‘dogging’ you the whole time.”
“I have no clue what you’re talking about and I’m in no mood to be riddled. Talk straight or shut the fuck up. Are you the good witch? Some kind of angel? Are you Jesus, Fred Durst?”
“It don’t matter. You had a job to do and you did it, even if you didn’t know you had a job to do or that you were doin’ it. The blade that cuts out the colon cancer’s got an ugly job, right? I guess it’s gotta have faith in the surgeon to get it through while its head’s bein’ sliced through blood and impacted shit.”
“You know what? Fuck you. All this, this whole thing, is bullshit from top to bottom. I don’t even know what I believe but I know we killed some ugliness back there. And Amy’s dead because of it and she never hurt anybody. She’s born and she gets shit on for twenty years and then she dies for no reason and I’m still alive and I should have been killed a long time ago. Hell, I’ve considered killing me several times, as a favor to the world.”
Fred Durst said, “Yo, I know it’s hard. You know there was that boxer, back in the nineties, Evander Holyfield. You know he got to be champion and then he had that heart disease. Ended his career, was gonna end his life. He goes to this televangelist, one of those hairspray-and-polyester dudes. Dude prays and dances over him and Evander goes back to the doctor. Doctor says he didn’t have heart disease no more. Holyfield says it’s a miracle but it turned out they had diagnosed him wrong.”
“That could not have anything less to do with this conversation. You know what you people are like, Fred? You’re like the genie from the bottle in those stories. You get a wish and you wish for a million dollars and then it turns out the million is from an insurance settlement because your best friend died.”
“Yep,” said Fred, as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “He neeeever had the heart problem. Ain’t that somethin’? Turned out it was a smudge on his X-rays or some shit. Do you wish you had died instead of Amy? Like, if you could do it over again?”
“I’m asking the question, yo. Would you do it?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“You’d trade your life for hers? So tomorrow David Wong is dead, Amy Sullivan is alive?”
“Stop asking me, Fred. You’re making my head hurt.”
“I mean, what are you gonna do, shoot me? Shoot me and resurrect Amy? Or tell me that I’ve been dead the whole time like in that shitty Bruce Willis movie?”
“Dude, how would you have gone to work every day if you were—”
“Shut up, Fred. We’re here.”
We rolled to a stop and I saw my little house, all the edges rounded under snow. Fred said, “You know what, don’t be too afraid of the dark, yo. You got a watch on your back now. Okay, dude?”
I had nothing else to say to Fred so I jumped out and trudged to the sidewalk. I heard the truck pull away and John came up behind me. I got halfway to my door and stopped. Footprints. Fresh prints, leading from the front door around back. The back being where the toolshed was.
I had, incredibly, forgotten all about the toolshed and the body within. I went around, following the tracks and finding myself walking slower and slower, shuffling like a man on his way to death row.
I go around that corner, and everything will change. Everything.
I had put it off long enough, though. I should have done this two nights ago. I rounded the corner and saw the toolshed and was unsurprised to see the door was standing wide open. The lock was hanging there, unhooked, and that was no surprise, either. I had put the key back on the nail by the kitchen door and any cop with a warrant could have gotten it. I went to the door, swung it open and saw two things that could not register in my mind.
The first was Amy.
She was standing there, alive, arms wrapped around her parka. She was looking down at the corpse on the floor, seeming totally lost, like something absolutely did not compute. I could sympathize with her. She heard me, looked, had an expression of shock that was almost comical. She looked at me, then at the floor, then back at me.
I said, “It’s me, Amy.”
She didn’t respond. I moved toward her, wanting to squeeze her and take her inside and never let her out of my sight again. She backed away from me, bumping into the shelf full of glass jars. She looked like she was planning her escape. I understood that, too. And that was the second thing:
The body on the floor was me.
I know my own face pretty well, even blue and frozen like a meatsicle as this one was, nestled among the wrinkled tarp that Amy had thrown open. There was a big, bloody hole right in my heart. John stepped in behind me and looked down at the body and then over at Amy, going through the same tangled path of thought I had just tread.
John said to Amy, “Can I see your feet?”
Amy didn’t answer.
John said, “I know you don’t understand this, but you gotta realize that Dave and I saw you get killed not twenty minutes ago. So we got some confusion to sort through.”
Amy nodded and spoke for the first time, saying, “Okay.”
She left the shed and sat on the steps at my back door. With the snow pouring down on her she pulled off her little leather boot and her sock. I watched as John picked up her foot, examined it, then had her do the same with the other one.
He turned to me and said, “They’re clean.”
And with that, everything snapped into place for me. All the pieces of the puzzle. If you figured it out before now, well, go win a Nobel Prize, Mr. Genius.
I said, “They’re stocking the world with their own people, with replacements. Things that can bridge the world between the spiritual and physical, Korrok extending the shadows into our world like fingers, controlling his meat puppets. That’s what they were doing in there, making things that look like people. Monsters, under their control. His control. Like with Drake. So what happened to the real Drake? Dead?”
Amy looked up, eyes wide, understanding where this was going.
John said, “Dunno. Maybe they got him and all the other people locked away somewhere. But I doubt it. You know, these replacements, the copies, they gotta have all the memories of the real people. So who knows how they use the originals.”
I said, “That mark, then, on the foot. That’s their mark. And if we had looked on the other Amy—”
“We’d have seen a mark like the symbol for pi. It’s probably a brand logo.”
“So they made an Amy,” I said. “Probably when they took her. They made a new Amy and infected her—”
“Because they knew if we thought it was her, we would try to bring her back here,” we finished together.
John said, “And that would have been the end. We would have gotten infected when she, uh, hatched, then whoever was nearby when, you know, we hatched . . .”
“So North knew what he was doing,” I said. “When he shot her, he knew it was the right thing. Because that wasn’t Amy.”
I stood up, took a step toward the toolshed and was stopped. I had a redhead squeezing me. Amy was clamped on with all of her strength, her arms around my ribs, her face buried in my shirt. She was crying, saying she was sorry but I couldn’t figure out for what. I ran my hand through her hair and whispered in her ear that it was almost over, that it really was going to be okay this time and I just had to take care of this one last thing.
John put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her back toward him. A strange gesture, almost protective. But I was free from her and I stepped toward the shed.
I heard Amy behind me, saying through choking sobs that she had lost the gun, that she had shot the monster at the mall and ran and ran and lost the thing in the snow. And she called a cab and—
John shushed her and she went quiet. I moved toward the toolshed, my heart pounding, suddenly feeling lighter than air, a weight lifted from my shoulders. I looked up at the snow pouring down from the night sky and suddenly everything seemed all right. I said, “North knew what he was doing, and I knew what I was doing the other night. When I shot this thing in my toolshed.”