A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 29

“He says he might be around for two or three more days, and might drop in on me again,” said Sara as she played with the phone cord.

“You might need to keep to yourself for a few days, then,” said Darrell.

“That’s what I was afraid of, though I think it is the wise thing to do; he’s quite suspicious of you Daleys.”

“I’m not surprised. But what about you? Does he suspect you at all?”

“He was definitely suspicious of me – he asked if I knew you all, said the sheriff claimed to have seen me with you, but I lied and told him no, told him that I had Wade as a student but that I didn’t know you or Hank. I don’t know if he bought it, though.”

“Well, at least you made it through that. And we’ll keep our distance, just to be on the safe side.”

“There’s something else, though, Darrell.” Her voice was now quavering.

“What?”

“Somebody else got killed.”

“Who?”

“One of … one of his own workers.”

Darrell was silent for a moment. “Man. I can’t believe it.” He means business. “Listen, Sara. I know we just agreed to keep our distance, but if you feel like you’re in danger, you can come hide out here if you want. We can pretend you went away on vacation or something – whatever – we’ll make up something.”

“It’s alright– ”

“Just to get you out of danger.”

“Really, Darrell, I … I’m alright.”

“Sara, I don’t … . The more I think about this, the less comfortable I am with you being alone. I mean, he killed one of his own workers, so– ”

“So you think he might kill me.”

Darrell was silenced. Sara choked back tears.

“I’ve thought of that,” she said, “but … I don’t think he’d do that.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“He knows me. H-he didn’t know Molly, and I doubt he knew this worker of his; it’s a lot harder to kill someone you know, I would think, especially your own family.”

Not if you don’t care about anybody. “Alright, well … I’m not gonna force you. But if anything happens, call me right away.”

“I will. How did it go with you guys?”

“Well, we found exactly what Mr. Schaeffer said we would find – everything we need. I never thought anyone could be foolish enough – especially someone as obviously smart as your uncle. But pride comes before a fall: He put everything into writing – the plans for all the attacks, the outcomes – from nineteen years ago as well as recently.”

“So you have enough to have him sent to prison.”

“Oh yeah – for a good long time. We haven’t read through all the papers yet, but we could have him arrested right now, except that we still need to figure out what the conduit is and eliminate it, and we have to kill the creature.”

“No sign yet of James or Hank?”

“No. They’re still out there.”

* * *

Heavy breathing. Running. Scenery bouncing up and down. Branches slapping. Running, running. Looking back. Something coming. Run harder … harderharder!

“Hank. Hank, you with me?”

“Huh?”

“You havin’ a bad dream?”

Hank looked at himself, then all around. He was breathing hard, sweating, lying on the ground. Oh yeah. He remembered that they had stopped to rest, just for a few minutes.

“Yeah. How long I been asleep?”

“ ’Bout half an hour. We should get movin’.”

“Yeah.” He started to get up. “Sorry ’bout that.”

“No sweat, man – pardon the pun. Apparently you needed the rest.”

Instead of crossing the stream where James had, they’d decided to cross where Hank had two days earlier – it was farther away, but Hank said it was a much easier spot to ford. They still had a ways to go to get there, however, what with Hank slowing them down, and they figured they’d be doing good if they could reach the place before nightfall and make camp there.

One more night out here. Neither of them relished the thought.

* * *

“Phone call for you, Mr. Hallum, sir.”

The chauffeur handed him the phone.

“Hello. … Yes. … Yes. … I see. Thank you.”

Mr. Hallum hung up and handed the phone to his driver.

“Trouble, sir?”

“Hardly. My competition had one of his own workers killed by his so-called ‘secret weapon,’ or so he claims, but he has no idea what he’s up against.”

“Forgive me, Mr. Hallum, for sounding doubtful, but is everything going to be alright?”

“Oh, you wait and see – everything’s gonna work out just fine.”

* * *

Wade was reading more of Mr. Schaeffer’s papers while eating lunch.

“Hey, Dad! Did you read this yet?”

“What?”

“Page seventy-three.”

“No. I’m only up to fifty-five.”

“It says he keeps the creature penned at the Silver Bells – in the caves behind them.”

“What?!” Darrell read it. “Oh my word. … Hank and James might be out there in the woods for nothing.”

“Maybe not. If Sara’s uncle is still releasin’ the creature – which he must be, since someone else got killed – then it could be out in the forest at any time.”

“Could be, but not necessarily. But if it’s being kept at the Silver Bells, it’s guaranteed to be there at some point.”

“To think, we’ve been there before, several times, maybe even while that thing was there.”

“Maybe even today.”

“What?”

“Maybe it’ll be there today when we are.”

“We’re goin’ up there?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re actually gonna let me go near that thing?”

Darrell was scrambling to gather a few things. “You know that place better than I do. Besides, if I left you here, you’d just follow me anyway.”

“True.”

Darrell was fluttering around the kitchen. He stopped and looked at Wade. “You coming or not?”

“Oh … yeah.”

“Then let’s go. Get your stuff ready.”

“Oh. Now. Yeah, gotcha.” Wade jumped up from the table and ran to his room. He came out five minutes later with his bag packed.

“Wade, grab all those papers, will you, and put them in your bag.”

Wade did so.

“Alright,” said Darrell. “Let’s go.”

* * *

“Ooh!”

Hank collapsed to the ground, clutching his right ankle.

“Hank, you alright?” said James as he knelt beside Hank.

“Yeah,” Hank said with a grimace. “Or I will be in a minute.” He looked at the ground beside him. “I think I stepped wrong on that rock there.”

“Well, just give it a minute. You wanna soak it in the stream? Cold water would prob’ly help that swellin’.”

“That’s a good ide– ”

Hank’s eyes flinched at a gray blur behind James.

“Son of a …”

“What is it?” said James, turning to look behind.

“Get down!”

“What?” James turned back. Hank had a shotgun leveled at his head.

James dove to the side, screaming.

KA-BOOM! Cha-chink. KA-BOOM!

James lay on the ground with his arms over his head, not moving. Hank was breathing hard.

“I think I missed him.”

You’ll never get him.

Hank lowered his gun.

You’ll never get me.

He looked down at the gun, which was now in his lap.

You’ll never get rid of me.

Hank heard something. He looked up; James was stirring. He slowly uncovered his head, got up on his knees and turned towards Hank.

“What the heck was that?” James said, straining to keep his voice – and himself – steady.

“I saw it. It moved through those bushes right behind you.”

“You’re sure.”

“Yeah.”

“You could’ve made it a little less close to my head.”

“I didn’t have time to monkey around; the thing moves like lightnin’. Besides, I knew what I was doin’.”

James glared at him. I doubt that.

* * *

Darrell and Wade parked in a secluded turnaround a little ways from where Hank usually parked to go to the Silver Bells.

“You all set?” said Darrell.

“Yeah.”

“Here – you’ll want this.”

Darrell handed him a .32 rifle and a box of ammo. “Just remember to keep the safety on.”

“Right.”

They locked the truck and headed off up the road, keeping an eye and ear out for traffic, though it was rare to see vehicles up there. When they came near to the small parking area at the head of the Silver Bells trail, Darrell told Wade to hang back while he made a slow approach to check for visitors. There was none.

“Alright, Wade, I’ll stay in the lead, but you tell me anything I need to know as we go along, okay?”

Wade nodded.

“And keep a sharp eye out … for anything.”

They crossed the parking area and started up the narrow trail.

And never noticed the two sets of fresh tracks nearby leading in – one an adult workboot, the other a six-clawed paw.

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