A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 25

A harvest moon rising over the hills in Proven...

The moon that helped light James's way through the forest. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James made his way along the stream as fast as he could. A minute ago he heard more growling and snarling, closer than before.

The stream made a small bend to his right, so that James was now hurrying straight towards the moon. He switched his gaze back and forth between the ground at his feet and what lay just yards in front of him, to keep from tripping, once in a while stealing a longer glance farther ahead. It was during one of these longer looks that James saw his dream. It stopped him cold.

Straight ahead, but still a good distance off, a plateau ran out from his right, silhouetted by the moonlight, then plummeted to the very stream he stood by. A few trees on the edge of the plateau, a few more by the stream below, the hillside almost bare of growth. The moon above, shadows and silvery dimness all around.

Go.

He shook himself loose and bounded downstream.

* * *

“You want some coffee, Sara?”

“Oh, yes, please.”

She stood by the picture window in Darrell’s livingroom, peering into the night. The eyes behind her eyes, however, saw something else: A new realm, different from this one, tantalizing her with images of white hills and golden shores, a new heart and a new day. Life was now life; it had taken her 29 years to be born.

“Here you go,” said Darrell.

She turned and took the warm cup, then Darrell sat on the couch.

“So, what do we do now?” she said.

“I’m not sure how we’re gonna get Vernon. Wade’s got a good point: If he can just control other animals, creatures, whatever, after this one’s gone, then it’s an endless cycle in his favor. The only way we’re gonna stop him is to find physical evidence of his involvement – catch him in the act, so to speak – and there may not be any.”

“But what about my uncle’s note to Mr. Schaeffer, and the bidding records on that piece of land?”

“I think that’s enough to establish a motive, but motives alone don’t get people arrested and locked away. We need something concrete, that proves his involvement beyond a shadow of a doubt – and that, I think, might be hard to find.”

“Maybe we could do what you just said, Dad – catch him in the act. He’s comin’ tomorrow– ” Sara frowned at this reminder. “–so maybe one of us could follow him around.”

“Not a bad idea, but even if we saw him perform some ritual or something, there wouldn’t be any physical evidence to link that to the killings. Not unless he was fool enough to write it down.”

“Not my Uncle Vernon,” said Sara with a sigh. “I wish, but one of the things I’ve learned about my uncle – from overhearing conversations between my mother and Aunt Hilda – is that his habit – business and otherwise – is to be very tidy: A place for everything and everything in its place, no loose ends … and nothing known that he doesn’t want known.”

Darrell nodded. “I’m not surprised; successful businessmen – successful anything – aren’t lazy; they do their homework.” He tapped his fingers on his knee. “Well, I did have one idea before … and now I’m convinced: We need to have a talk with Mr. Schaeffer.”

“Tonight?” said Wade.

Darrell looked at his watch. “Mm. I’d like to – I’d really like to – but I think it’d be best if we wait til tomorrow. I don’t know Mr. Schaeffer that well, and it might seem a bit odd to him if I showed up at his house tonight asking to talk about real estate.”

“Real estate?”

“Of course. What else would I talk to a real estate man about?”

* * *

Hank lie still in his spot behind the big rock, listening to the stream away on his left and staring at the endless field above him.

REMEMBER ME?

Something nagged at him, but he couldn’t pin down what it was.

I REMEMBER YOU.

Was it an idea? Something he forgot to do? What?

REMEMBER ME?

The dark sky overhead – How deep is it? thought Hank. How far does it go?

ALL THE WAY TO ME.

Something nagged at him, but he couldn’t pin down what it was.

* * *

“So … Darrell,” said Sara a while after Wade went to bed. “Do you mind if I stay here tonight?”

“No, not at all. I was just wondering, though: What are you gonna do about your uncle tomorrow?”

“Well – and please tell me if I’m wrong – but I figured it would be best to just play along as the niece he knows.”

“I think that’s the right idea.”

“Though I can only imagine how scared I might be.”

“You won’t be alone.”

“I know.”

“I’d offer to have one of us there, but the sheriff knows that we Daleys have been poking around, which means your uncle probably knows about us, so as long as he’s here we should probably pretend like we don’t know each other.”

Sara nodded. “It really shouldn’t be that bad; he never visits me long when he’s here – he usually is quite occupied with business, gets done what he came to do and then leaves. I don’t think he’s ever spent more than thirty minutes at a time at my house–”

“Sara.”

She looked up at him.

“Are you gonna be able to handle it?”

She looked down, then spoke in a subdued voice: “Yes. Yes, of course.”

“It’s okay to be scared. … Sara, look at me.”

She lifted her head. Her eyes were filled with tears, her face lined with grief and worry.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Darrell drew near and embraced her, and whispered a prayer into her ear.

* * *

“Reawwl!”

Branches flying past, slapping his head, face, shoulders. Stumbling in the dimness of night. Moonlight casting deceptive shadows mistaken for anything but what they really were.

“Rowll!”

Flashlight bobbing about. Breathing getting faster, harder. Frequent glances with silver-dollar eyes at the high plateau. Getting closer, closer. Closer.

Gotta beat him there.

* * *

“Rowll!”

That’s twice in less than a minute, thought Hank. He fingered the triggers on his guns, eying the open boxes of extra shells beside him to make sure they were still there, ready to go. Hed pushed himself back, past the rock a couple feet, and propped himself up against his backpack – now he could see upstream and up the hill.

If it pokes out its head up there I’ll–

A funny scent caught his nose. He checked again. Gone. … No, there it was again. It lingered a moment this time.

Foul.

He checked the air direction.

Comin’ from somewhere upstream.

Just then he heard the faint rustling of leaves from somewhere in front of him. He cocked his shotgun.

It’s here.

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