A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 30

Athirapilly, Chalakudy.

Three of the five Silver Bells, where Darrell and Wade found something other than what they were looking for. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hank drew down on James, his .45 aimed straight for his friend’s temple. James was asleep; he’d never know what hit him.

BANG!

“No!”

Hank stopped, leaning on his crutch, one hand on his forehead.

“Hank, what is it?”

“Just … a headache.” An’ these images I can’t get rid of.

“You need to stop for a minute?”

“No. It’s already clearin’ up. We should keep movin’.”

“Alright.”

So they walked …

I don’t want that in my head; I don’t want that to happen.

But it could.

No.

Yes.

Why?

Why not?

No; it can’t.

But it couuuuuld.

… but James held back a bit to keep Hank in view.

* * *

“So how far is it up this trail, Wade?”

“ ’Bout three-quarters of a mile. The trail ends at the falls.”

“So I guess we’ve been about a third of the way.”

“But it gets harder as we go.”

Sure enough, the trail got rockier, and they soon came to a narrow stretch that ran along the edge of a dropoff. Getting past that, they heard the first muted rumblings of the falls, then followed the trail around a long bend, after which the Bells exploded into view.

“Wait, hold on,” said Wade.

“You see somethin’?”

“No, but up ahead this trail leaves you exposed to whoever might be standin’ around the falls, or behind them.”

“There are five falls, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Is there a place we can hide where we can watch them all?”

“Yeah. Up on the left, at the end of the trail, there’s a high place, on top of a little cliff.”

“Do we have to walk the trail to get there?”

“I can get us there through the bushes.”

“Alright, lead on.”

They ducked into the bushes on the left side of the trail. Wade led Darrell through without any difficulty, the veil of leaves and the rush of falling water cloaking their presence. In two minutes’ time they were belly-down on the high place.

“This is a good view, alright,” said Darrell. “So there are five caves, one behind each waterfall?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve been in all of them?”

“Yeah, but it’s been a while. And I never saw anything in any of ’em.”

“Maybe he has some way of concealing the animal.”

“So are we just waitin’ to see if anyone comes out of one of ’em? Makin’ sure it’s clear?”

“Yeah. I mean, no one else was parked out there, but who knows? Maybe somebody walked here, or came in another way.”

“There is no other way.”

“Oh, there’s always another way, if you’re willing to look hard enough for it. And remember – this Pillsbury’s a deceptive guy, has a way of doing things without people noticing. I’d like to make sure he’s not down there before we make a move.” He sighed as he gazed at the falls once more. “But I don’t think we’re gonna know anything for sure until we get down there.”

“What do we do if he comes out of one of those caves while we’re out in the open?”

Darrell shrugged. “We’ll dive in the bushes.”

He started to get up.

“Dad! Get down!”

Darrell whomped onto the ground and looked out. Pillsbury had just emerged from behind the nearest fall.

“What’s he carrying, Wade? Your eyes are better than mine.”

“It’s a leash, a thick one.”

“Have to be, for that thing. He must’ve just brought it here.”

“And he saved us some work, too.”

“Indeed.” They watched Pillsbury disappear down the trail. “Door number one it is.”

* * *

The early-afternoon sun beat down on Hank and James as they rested in an open spot by the stream. Hank had his socks off, his feet dangling in the water.

“You’re missin’ out, man,” said Hank.

“This moss is comfortable enough for me, an’ just watchin’ that water is coolin’ me off.” James’s boots were still on, laced up.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON HIM.

James’s nod was imperceptible.

DON’T TAKE YOUR BOOTS OFF THE REST OF THE WAY.

“Those feet of yours,” Hank called over his shoulder. “You sure you don’t wanna cool ’em off?”

They must be burning.

“They must be burnin’ up.”

“I’ll make it. … I don’t wanna get too comfortable.”

Hank laughed. “I hear you, man. If it wasn’t for what’s out there, I’d spend all day right in this stream.”

James noted that Hank no longer called the creature “the creature,” but “what’s out there.”

“When I get back–” Hank began.

When you get back? Hahaha. You mean ‘If you get back.

“What’s that, Hank?”

“Uh, I was just startin’ to say, when I get back …” He paused, waiting for something that never came. “… I’m gonna buy one of those foot baths, see if I can simulate this stream.”

“I don’t think it would compare.”

Hank chuckled. “Maybe not.”

Maybe not?

“But I gotta try.”

You sound like a wimp.

Hank’s insides recoiled.

Compare? Compare yourself to him.

Hank sat still, his eyes darting.

He thinks he’s better than you. Cop, wife, kids, made you look bad by coming to rescue you.

I needed rescuin’.

Of course you did – you’re a wimp.

No I’m not.

Yes you are.

No.

Yes.

No.

Prove it.

Hank froze. He noticed his heart beating fast, his breathing deep.

Look at him.

Hank’s eyes darted, but his head didn’t turn.

Look at him!

Hank turned casually and peered at James out of the corner of his eye.

Look at how smug he is. Won’t even take his boots off – can’t even accept a favor when it’s offered to him.

Hank sneered.

You know you want to.

Hank’s mind paused, considering.

Yes. You do.

I want to … what?

You know.

No. I can’t.

Yes. You can.

No I can’t.

Yes you can.

No.

Yes!

Something pricked his heart.

No! He turned away, staring into the water. He gazed at his reflection, barely recognizing himself.

* * *

“Got your gun ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Safety off?”

“Yeah.”

“Flashlight?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay.” Darrell swallowed hard. “Let’s go.”

They crept onto a rock ledge, moved behind the waterfall, and stood gaping into the dark cavern, letting their eyes adjust.

“How far back does this go?” whispered Darrell.

“Fifty feet, maybe a bit more.”

“Any tunnels branching off it?”

“No.”

“Okay. Ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Lights.”

The flashlights popped on. Wade and Darrell scanned the cave, yellow light glinting off the rough, wet rock. No orange eyes stared back, though; the light beams stretched all the way to the rear of the cave but found nothing.

Maybe there’s a recess, thought Darrell.

He stepped forward, bit by bit, his son matching his every move.

Drip.

Darrell cast his light to the ceiling; waterdrops collected and fell from many places.

He shined his light down, continuing forward. Their feet made but the slightest sound on the damp rock, but every other noise caused Wade and Darrell to flinch, their flashlights following suit.

Soon they were at the back of the cave.

“Nothing,” said Darrell.

“I know I saw him come out of this cave.”

“And I’m sure you did.”

“So do we look through the rest of ’em?”

“Yeah. Stay on your toes, Wade; it’s gotta be in one of them.”

A while later they emerged from the last cave.

“This doesn’t make sense – it’s gotta be here,” said Wade. “We saw him carryin’ the leash – why else would he have that?”

Witchcraft. … Pillsbury’s a deceptive guy. Darrell’s eyes popped.

“Because he wasn’t bringing it here.” Wade looked at him. “He was leaving with it.”

“What?”

“He wasn’t just carrying a leash, Wade; the creature was hooked to it, invisible.”

“You mean … he knew we were watchin’ him?”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was just a precaution. Either way, we fell for it. Wade, get out those papers, quick.”

Wade dropped his bag and pulled them out.

“Lemme see them … please. … Thank you. … How far did you read?”

“To seventy-three, where these caves are mentioned.”

“And up until that point there was no mention of a conduit?”

“No, not that I saw.”

Darrell scanned through the remaining pages as fast as he could. Wade noticed his father’s hands shaking and was suddenly, truly afraid.

Darrell stopped in midscan; his eyes had caught something on a page he was about to flip over. Wade watched his father’s eyes move back and forth like pinballs above a mouth that hung open. Then they stopped.

“Get your bag, Wade. Let’s go!”

“What is it, Dad?”

“Sara’s house! The conduit is Sara’s house!”

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