Darrell came around from the back of his house carrying two large gas cans. Wade, looking disgusted, was right behind him carrying two more.
What a raw deal, thought Wade. I can’t go with him, but he makes me do his stupid dirty work for him.
Darrell hefted the cans into the back of his truck.
“Alright; I guess that does it,” he said after loading the last one.
“Got a lighter?” said Wade, his tone far from civil.
“Yup – two of them, just in case.”
Darrell opened the door but then turned back to his son.
“Wade. You’ve been a big help, you know.”
Wade gave a small shrug and looked at the ground like he was mad at it, too.
“If anything happens,” said Darrell, “if you think you got trouble coming, you know what to do.”
“Alright. I’ll see you soon.”
Darrell got in his truck and left, headed for Sara’s, his face set. He was as anxious to get there as he had been the previous trip, only this time he wasn’t driving as fast, not making every effort to get there as soon as possible.
* * *
James had never been so on edge in his life. Not even during his police days. Hank rested against another tree several feet away, his eyes closed.
But is he sleeping?
James’s eyes bounced from Hank to the fire to the trees to his left to his right, over and over, one hand on the gun nestled out of sight beside him. The huge fire, roaring and crackling, cast a strong light several feet into the trees all around, but beyond that it was hard to see; should the creature show up, he’d have good cover up to that point. If he came any closer, he’d be seen.
But will it be too late by then?
He fingered the gun; it was all set, just had to click the safety off.
But will I be able to get the gun up in time? Get a shot off?
His mind-hopping stopped.
AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD.
* * *
Darrell clambered up the hill toward Sara’s house. When her yard came into view, he saw a car parked at the back of the driveway, behind Sara’s vehicle, a man leaning against it. He knew right away who it was, though he’d never seen him before.
Darrell made a slow turn into the driveway, stopped before going far, then shut the truck off and stepped out. He stood by his door.
“Well, well. You must be one of the famed Daley men.”
Darrell stared at him. “I guess I’m not surprised to see you here, but I am surprised to see you alone.”
A sly smile crossed Pillsbury’s face. “You must be referring to my friend.”
“Call it what you want. All I know is it does all your dirty work for you.”
Pillsbury smirked playfully. “Ah, well, I have him on another job at the moment, since you Daleys are all spread out.”
Darrell presumed he meant Hank, but his heart went into his throat at the thought – the possibility – of Wade.
“Besides,” Pillsbury continued, “some work I consider to be too important to be done by anyone but me.”
“Am I supposed to be flattered?”
“Well, I’m not one to brag, but– ” He shrugged. “– I don’t make many personal appearances.”
Darrell didn’t know what to do; he wanted to act, but he had no idea what this guy was capable of.
“So what makes me so special?”
“Oh, Mr. Daley – Darrell, is it? I think you underestimate yourself.” Pillsbury was pulling on a pair of black leather gloves. “You’re the real brains behind your little operation, and – how should I put it? – the most well-connected to the powers that be.”
Darrell scowled. What’s he talkin’ about?
“I presume you brought gasoline?” said Pillsbury. “To burn my house down?”
“I thought so. … But you already spoiled one of my missions today, and I can’t let you do that again.”
Darrell looked around. Daylight was almost gone, and he didn’t want to be tangling with this guy after dark.
“So, what are you, here to negotiate?” said Darrell. “You’ll scratch my back if I’ll scratch yours? What?”
Pillsbury chuckled and played with his gloves some more.
“I’m not all bad, you know – I came here with two plans prepared, one of which, in fact, is a deal.” He paused, but Darrell made no reply. Pillsbury grinned and shook a playful finger at him. “And that’s exactly why I was figuring on having to use the other plan. I know you, Mr. Daley – or I know your kind, at least; dealt with them before. You bend in the little things sometimes, but when it comes right down to it, there’s no doubt about your loyalties.”
Pillsbury’s face made a sudden change, and Darrell read it just in time: He dove behind his truck as Pillsbury pulled a handgun from his back pocket and blasted.
“Ha haa! What’d you think I was gonna do, turn you into a frog?! A little black magic has its uses, but there’s nothing like good ol’ American gun power to get the blood flowing!”
Darrell, lying on the ground, glanced around. Looking under his truck, he saw Pillsbury taking slow steps towards him. I can’t stay here, my only cover a bomb waiting to happen! He scrambled to his knees and reached up into the truck.
BOOM! BOOM! CRASHHHH! Pieces of glass scattered around the cab and down onto Darrell. He grabbed his shotgun and moved towards the back of his truck.
“Oh, come on, Mr. Daley. You’re not going to make this too easy for me, are you? I’ll give you a sporting chance– ”
Darrell stood, grabbed a gas can from the back of his truck. BOOM! BOOM! More glass exploded as he ducked back down.
“Ah, you see, that was better, Mr. Daley, keeping me on my toes a bit!”
Darrell thought it strange – though the thought was ever so brief – that this man kept fluctuating between American and British accents.
He looked under the truck again; Pillsbury was getting closer. Darrell cocked his gun, held it in his left land, and grabbed the gas can in his right.
Make this work, Lord.
Darrell stood and heaved the can up over his truck. As soon as it was out of his hand, he raised his gun and drew a bead on it, missing the look of horrified surprise on Pillsbury’s face.
Darrell ducked, and Pillsbury flung himself onto the ground. Darrell saw that Pillsbury was down, so he cocked his gun, grabbed another can of gas and bolted for the far end of the house. When he was halfway there he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Pillsbury getting up. Darrell pointed his gun in Pillsbury’s general direction and fired a running one-hander. Pillsbury threw himself down again, and Darrell ducked around the corner of the house. Fast as he could he popped the lid off the gas can, but when he peeked back around the corner, he saw Pillsbury running towards the back door.
He’s coming around the other side.
Darrell threw the gas can towards the back corner of the house; it landed near the end of the porch. He stepped back around his corner, leaned out and fired.
The explosion took out a large chunk of the porch and that whole corner of the house. Burning shards of wood cascaded all around as fire began to consume the rest of the house.
Guess he won’t be coming from that direction.
“Hey, Mr. Daley!” Pillsbury’s voice was coming from the front corner, near the driveway. Darrell stepped back around his corner, out of Pillsbury’s sight. “Congratulations on your fine work! I knew you were smart! … Well, it looks like I’m losing my house! But you still have a problem! I can build another one! So all I have to do is kill you, and the rest of your family, and my niece and that Mr. Morgan, and I can carry on with my operation, secret safe!”
Darrell had been feeling a bit good about himself, but no more.
And then an even more terrible thought struck him: He’d figured that if they could destroy the creature and the conduit, they were homefree – they had enough evidence to convict Pillsbury, so once they had his precious talismans out of the way, he’d give up, easy as that. But no – Pillsbury, Darrell now realized, would never let himself be taken alive.
* * *
James saw two orange eyes as the creature came out of nowhere, with no warning, sailing towards him through the air, bypassing Hank. James, purely out of instinct, drew his gun up.
James looked; the creature was gone, but Hank lay motionless on the ground.
But then Hank rolled over; he was fine, just taking cover. There was no sign of the creature, though.
James stood, gazing around.
“Did you see that?” he said.
“No, I was asleep; I only moved when I heard the gunshot. Was it him?”
“It. Yeah. I fired once, but it’s like it disappeared.”
Don’t let him do it.
Hank felt something squeezing his heart. He glanced at James, recalling the thought that had just come to him, and felt as though his very self was wilting.
Don’t – let him – do it!
Hank’s breathing accelerated, and he stared around like a madman. James took note of his condition, but didn’t know what to attribute it to – shock from the gunshot, fear of the creature … or madness.
James spun and ducked all at once, never looking, somehow avoiding the creature. He rolled to his knees with his gun raised.
The creature was ten feet away, glaring at him.
* * *
“So what are you gonna do now, Mr. Daley – kill me? Hahaha. I don’t think so! Somehow, I just don’t think you have it in you!”
Darrell was still hidden around the other corner, paralyzed with indecision.
Kill or be killed?
He looked to his right and saw the flames eating away at the house in his direction; he knew he’d have to decide soon.
Isn’t there another way, Lord?
* * *
Wade heard a vehicle coming. He ran to the picture window and looked out at the road.
“What is it, Wade?” said Sara.
“It’s the sheriff; he’s comin’ this way.”
“Do you think he would– ”
“Yes, I do. Grab your stuff. We gotta get outta here.”
* * *
“Well, Mr. Daley? What’ll it be?”
Darrell looked at the corner of the house beside him.
Yes! Why didn’t I think of that before?
He slung the gun over his shoulder and used the protruding butt-ends of the logs to climb to the roof. Once at the top, he tiptoed his way up the roof a bit and over towards the opposite corner where Pillsbury was. With great care he flattened himself and inched over to the corner of the roof, his eyes searching for Pillsbury’s figure below. At last he reached the edge; his gun at the ready, he peeked over.
Darrell’s heart failed him. He began to straighten up.
“Ah-ah. Careful now, Mr. Daley. You’re in a dangerous position.”
* * *
Now, James! Now!
The creature was gone.
What?! It was standing right there – easy shot!
James looked up; Hank was running straight at him.
James tumbled onto the ground, Hank rolling over him. Taking advantage of momentum, and using his gun for leverage, James managed to fling Hank away. James collected himself as fast as he could and got up onto one knee, ready to fire.
Hank was back-to to him, crouched in a fighting stance.
What? James lowered his gun a bit; it was like looking at one of those tricky M.C. Escher drawings where water is flowing up, yet looks normal, and you’re trying to figure out how it could make sense.
He peeked out around Hank, and then he understood: Hank was going after the creature; James had just been in his way.
James looked back to where Hank had been sleeping; Hank’s gun rested beside the tree. But he doesn’t even have his gun!
Then James remembered that he had shot the creature – twice – without inflicting any apparent damage.
So what do we do?
NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT.
His mind perked up.
I BAPTIZE WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT … AND FIRE.
The ears of his heart opened.
He looked to his right; their bonfire was still blazing. He reached down and leaned towards it, shielding his face from the heat, and pulled out a flaming stick. He gripped it tight, stepped to the side to get a good view of the creature’s eyes – that’s all he could ever see of it – and fired the hot poker at it.
The creature jumped back several feet. James was amazed.
“Hank! It doesn’t like fire! Bring it towards the fire!”
Hank made a slight glance at James over his shoulder and nodded.
James needed another stick, a good one. There didn’t seem to be anymore handy, though, so he moved around to the far end of the pile.
He kneeled, reached in and picked it up … and not a moment too soon.
* * *
“You got everything?” said Wade.
“Yes,” said Sara, her face spread with panic, her breathing quick and shallow.
“Okay, go for it – straight out the back and into the woods. You’ll see a trail – follow it; I’ll be only a second behind.”
She opened the basement door and bolted out onto the back lawn. Wade was about to burst through the door two seconds later when a voice from outside stopped him in his tracks.
“Hold it, missy!”
Wade saw Sara screech to a halt, her hands in the air. Wade peeked out the door; Sheriff Danscom stood on the small rise at the corner of the house, his gun drawn.
“Turn around!” he said.
“Where’s your friend – young Mr. Daley?”
“He-he’s already in the woods. He went ahead of me.”
“Reaaally? How chivalrous of him to leave you behind.”
Danscom shot a glance at the basement door; it was ajar a couple inches. Wade flinched back.
“You stay right there, girl! I’m gonna have a look inside.”
Danscom edged his chubby self down the bank and over to the door. Sara lowered her hands.
“Don’t move, girl!”
Danscom, peeking through the door window while keeping the gun pointed back at Sara, reached for the knob. He flung the door open.
“You stay right there!” he hollered back at Sara.
He stepped into the basement and did a quick visual sweep in every direction – nothing – then looked back at Sara. She hadn’t moved. Harvey switched his gaze back to the basement and tuned his ear. Not a movement. Not a sound. With one last wary glance around, he stepped back outside.
“Alright, Sara, let’s you an’ me take a– ”
Sheriff Danscom fell to the ground in a heap.
Sara looked on in shock; there stood Wade, fear in his face and a shovel in his hands.