A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 32

Pine trees above the Wythop valley Pine trees ...

Just through these pines, on the little hill's bald crown, is where James and Hank camped out. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sara lunged for the door. She slammed it shut, locked it, then fell back as something rammed into it, snarling.

The windows!

She jumped to her feet and raced around the house, slamming every one shut and twice catching sight of the gray blur she’d seen earlier. Then she went to the broom closet in the kitchen and grabbed the .32 her Uncle Steve had given her. She loaded it and went peering out of various windows, trying to catch sight of the creature. While she stood looking out the porch-door window, the distant roar of an engine sounded; a bolt of apprehension struck her in the chest. She froze, listening, wishing even that her heart would stop beating for a minute so the sound of her pulse would stop coursing through her ears.

The engine was getting louder.

It’s coming this way.

Her mind insisted that it was her Uncle Vernon coming to finish her off – keep those refreshments handy – until a glimmer of hope availed itself.

MAYBE IT’S DARRELL.

Oh, please, Lord, let it be Darrell!

She ran to the livingroom window and fixed her gaze on the driveway. Louder the sound became, and then – with a train of dust skirting around its back end – Darrell’s truck skidded into the driveway and into view. Sara bolted from the house and into the driveway, oblivious to the scratch marks on her door.

“Whoa!” said Darrell as he cut the wheel hard to avoid cleaning her out. “Sara, you alright?”

“She’s got a gun?” said Wade.

“It was here, Darrell, it was here!”

“Get in, quick!”

Sara flung herself into the truck and Darrell stomped on it, his tires strafing the dirt all the way out of her yard.

* * *

Thanks to Hank’s quick recovery, he and James were making good time.

“We might just have enough light left to get out of hear tonight, Hank. Whaddaya think?”

Hank was sitting on a log, whittling a stick. “Well,” he said, looking at the sun’s position and considering where they were, “I think that– ”

Stay.

“– um, we should–”

Stay in the woods.

“– make camp tonight.”

“Really?”

Really? he asked himself. “Well, no. My ankle’s feelin’ good enough, I guess. I suppose we could prob’ly–”

Stay!

He paused. “– make it out.”

“You don’t sound too sure.”

“Well …” He scratched his head. “I mean, I guess we’d be cuttin’ it pretty close, is what I’m sayin’. It’s a toss-up, you know?”

“Well, we’re gonna hafta decide pretty soon. The afternoon’s wanin’ fast.”

“Yeah.”

Stay.

No.

Stay!

He whittled harder.

“You ready to move?” said James.

“Yeah.”

Hank brushed the shavings off his lap and tossed the pointy stick on the ground, then put his knife away and loaded his bag onto his shoulders. James started off, and Hank was standing to fall in behind him when his eyes fell on the sharp stick.

Pick it up.

Hank was confused.

Come on, pick it up.

Why–

Pick it up! You’re gonna need it.

I guess I might need it.

He made sure James wasn’t looking as he picked up the stick and tucked it into his back pocket.

* * *

“It almost got into my house, Darrell,” said Sara though a stream of tears.

“You’re alright now,” he said as they stormed towards his place. “But your house just so happens to be what we need to talk about.”

“What do you mean? And how did you know I was in trouble?”

“Well, kind of a long story, but we went up to the Silver Bells to check out the caves behind them, because those papers Mr. Schaeffer gave us said that that’s where your uncle keeps the creature. We saw your uncle there, and we thought he left the creature in one of the caves, but he fooled us – he actually took the creature with him; it was invisible.”

He paused, stealing a glance at her; confusion lined her face.

“So anyway, once we realized that, I looked through the papers some more … and I discovered that …”

“That what?”

There was no choice but to say it.

“That he made your house the conduit.”

For a moment she said nothing. She then tried to form words, but Darrell spoke before she could get any out.

“I know it sounds strange.” He sighed. “But it makes perfect sense.”

“How?”

“He uses mind control on this creature, which requires a connection between the two of them. If the connection is made through an ordinary object, like bodily fluids, he’d have to be right there maintaining the object all the time – constantly getting a fresh supply – or the connection would last only a short time. But that’s impractical. With your house, on the other hand, he has an object that’s constant – long-lasting to begin with, and more so because it’s well-kept.” He lowered his voice a bit, sorry to have to say what he said next. “Because you’re living there.”

She lowered her head. Dear, your aunt and I, we’ve got a surprise for you … a good piece of land … and a brand-new house. She could even see his smile – his wretched, creepy smile.

“Sara?”

Her chest was hollow; she felt like she’d just had everything sucked out of her.

NOT EVERYTHING. A gleam flickered.

Her mind jumped back to this world. The hurt was so great that it pinned her anger to the floor.

“Sara. You alright?”

“Um, no. But you may as well continue with your explanation. Judging by the speed at which we’re moving, I’m guessing that we have things to do and not much time for talking.”

“Not to push you aside, but yeah, we do have some business to get done.”

“Alright, then. What have we got to do?”

* * *

Dusk was drawing on as James and Hank topped a pine-studded hillock overlooking the stream.

“I think we should camp out tonight.”

Hank’s sudden disruption of the cooling, quiet air startled James; a warning went off in his heart.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I guess I don’t wanna overdo it.”

Overdo it? thought James. That’s not like him. “Alright. We might as well stop here, then. Good a place as any.”

The small hill’s crown was bald, perfect for a fire.

“Let’s build it big,” said James, and the words had no sooner left his mouth when a vision flashed in his mind: The domelike hillock, seen from across the stream, a raging orange bonfire on top and two men in a physical struggle with something. He blinked.

“What?” he said.

“I said, ‘Bigger than usual?’ ” said Hank.

“Yeah.”

“What for?”

“ ’Cause we’re in more danger than usual.”

* * *

 Sara sat at Darrell’s kitchen table, stunned.

“I’m sorry, Sara, but there’s no other way.”

“He’s right, Miss Kremshaw.”

“But you can stay with us until we build you another one.”

“An’ I’ll even skip weekend hikes for a while to work on it.”

“That’s very kind of you, Wade, very kind of you both. It’s just– ” She bowed her head and shrugged, a sheepish grin on her face. “I’ve come to like the place so much, you know? It’s my home.”

“And it’ll still be your home; you’ll live there again,” said Darrell.

“That’s the rub, though – I don’t know if I could go back there now, after … all this. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how I’ve even managed to stay there these last couple weeks.”

The sudden thought of Sara moving away from Foster’s Glen jarred Darrell.

“Well, things heal with time, Sara. Give it a chance.”

She nodded, but he figured it to be more out of politeness.

“When do you wanna go up there, Dad?”

“Pretty soon, before it gets dark.” He glanced at Wade, once again sorry for what he had to say. “But I’ll be going alone.”

“Aw, Dad, come on– ”

Darrell held up a hand, and Wade knew better than to speak whenever his father did that. Wade slumped back in his chair, the mirror reflection of Sara at the moment, and fired a look of disappointment at his father. Darrell caught it with his own.

“I want you to stay here with Miss Kremshaw; it’s important.”

Wade nodded without looking up.

“Besides, I don’t know what I’m gonna run into when I get up there.”

* * *

The fire was raging. James, his eyes alert, sat down against a tree and waited.

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