A Thing Greatly Feared, Postlude

Phi

Mr. Hallum began reading the new Gazette as he and his chauffeur cruised down Main Street. Mr. Hallum chuckled – a grim, rumbling chuckle.

“What is it, sir?” said the chauffeur.

“I love seeing my victories in print: My competition elimina

ted, his sheriff put in

prison, the land soon to be mine. My plan worked perfectly.”

“Just like you said it would, sir.”

The black chuckle rolled again as Mr. Hallum folded the paper and set it next to the large, shadowy, orange-eyed creature beside him.

“Yes. Just like I said it would.”

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A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 34

Explosive paintings

Darrell's encounter with Vernon ends in explosive fashion ... but does Darrell survive it? ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“It was a clever idea of you, Mr. Daley, coming up here. Too bad for you I thought of it, too.”

Jesus, please! “So what now?” said Darrell.

“Now – you’re going to throw your gun down onto the ground, as far as you can; then you’re going to climb down right where you are, and back away; then I’m going to climb down.”

“And then?”

“Then? Well, as they say, that’s all she wrote. Now throw the gun.”

Darrell started his windup.

Asfar – as you can … or else I’ll put a bullet through you right now.”

Why wait? thought Darrell, but as he reared back to throw his gun, he again took notice of the flames, which were spreading in their direction.

He hurled the gun.

“Good arm, Mr. Daley. Now climb down.”

Darrell did.

“Now move back. … Back. … More. … That’s good.”

Darrell was forty feet from the house – and so close to his truck yet so far away. Desperation coursed through his mind, panic swelling in his chest.

Lord, please help me.

Silence.

Lord. Please.

* * *

James looked up and saw Hank running towards him around the fire.

“James! It’s comin’!”

Hank swooped around by James, and then James’s attention was drawn above – two orange eyes came sailing into view over the top of the fire.

Scooching on one knee with a thick, flaming branch in his hands, James had but one simple move to make … and only one shot at it.

“Yaaahh!”

“Grrowrrrow!”

His quick upward thrust buried the torch in the creature’s chest.

* * *

“Alright. I’m coming down now; you just stay there.”

Pillsbury started to walk down from the roof’s ridge against a backdrop of billowing flames.

And a sudden, single thought was planted in Darrell’s mind.

Oil tank.

Darrell turned and dove to the ground in one motion.

FFWA-BOOOOM!

Sara’s house went sky high and in every direction. Bits of wood and glass shot everywhere, some raining down in broad arcs, others torpedoing across the yard. Darrell lay on the ground with his head covered, hoping desperately that no flaming shards landed on the gas cans in his nearby truck. A few seconds later, when there seemed to be a moment’s break in the hailstorm of debris, Darrell scrambled on hands and knees to a tree that was close by, its thick trunk providing a safety screen against the showering house … and his truck, if it should go.

* * *

James kept the shadowy creature balanced in midair on the end of the branch for a moment, then let it fall, shifting his grip on the stick as it went, and staked the creature to the ground with a hard stab. The creature writhed with desperation. James, though desperate enough himself, had all he could do to keep it pinned to the ground, and he knew he couldn’t hold it much longer. Amid the scrambling and growling, and his own grunts of exertion, James searched for an answer, disappointed and confused that the fiery stick hadn’t finished it off.

MORE FIRE.

He looked at theirs.

He shifted himself into position, leveraging the stick, and with a last mighty strain that took everything he had, James lifted the creature and lobbed it into the fire. It landed with a crash that brought half the pile down on top of it, and the screams it made were the most pain-filled and horrible that James and Hank had ever heard. Half a minute later, however, it was done. It was gone. It was finished.

* * *

The air had cleared of all shrapnel. Darrell rose from behind the tree and took in the sight as he walked across the driveway.

His truck was fine. What had been the house, though, was now nothing but a pile of splinters and ashes in the basement.

And if there was anything left of Vernon Pillsbury, it was going to take a microscope to find it.

* * *

Two flashlights shone through the trees; Hank and James were going home.

“James, I– ”

“I know.” They stopped. “Forget about it.”

* * *

Darrell let himself slide out of his truck, the warm yellow light of his livingroom making him eager to get inside, and Wade and Sara spilled out the front door, eager to bring him in.

“Dad!”

“Wade!”

He fell onto his son’s shoulder, arms wrapped around him.

“You guys alright?” said Darrell.

“Yeah. The sheriff came here but we got him.”

“You got him?”

“Yeah, I, uh … knocked him out with a shovel.”

Darrell’s eyebrows went as high as they could go.

“He kept his composure quite well,” said Sara.

“Where is he?” said Darrell.

“Tied up in the basement,” said Wade.

“Well … I guess I’ll say ‘good job’ and leave it at that.”

“How … how did it go with you?” said Sara.

Darrell tensed up and sighed.

“Your uncle was there when I got there, waiting for me. Or waiting for whoever showed up, which was me.” Darrell’s eyes met Sara’s. “He’s dead, Sara.”

She lowered her head and took a deep breath. Water glistened in their eyes.

“Come on,” said Darrell. “Let’s go inside.”

* * *

Sara, Darrell and Wade – all sleeping in the livingroom, where they had plunked themselves down hours earlier after locking the sheriff up in the jail – came to at the sound of thumping on the front steps. Darrell bounded to the kitchen in the dark and grabbed his gun, then stood to one side of the door and flung it open while flicking on the front light.

“Hank! James!”

“Hey, Darrell,” said Hank as James helped him up the steps.

“You guys alright?”

“Yeah,” said James. “Hank’s just got a sprained ankle, coupla bumps and bruises.” Hank gave him an inconspicuous glance. “Nothin’ more.”

James winked at Hank, who smiled in reply.

“Did you– did you get it?”

“Yeah. We got it.”

* * *

A week later …

“Congratulations, Wade.” Sara plunked his report down on the kitchen table. “You got an A.”

“Thanks, Sar– uh, Miss Kremshaw.”

“So how’d it go in town, Sara?” said Darrell.

“Oh – great. Mr. Schaeffer has agreed to rent me the space above his office.” She turned to Wade. “Only I’d better not see you climbing on my roof.”

They laughed.

“Well I hope you like it,” said Darrell. “Just remember: it’s only temporary. We’ll have your new house done before snow flies.”

The front door opened. It was Hank and James.

“Hey, good news, everybody,” said James. “We just got done talkin’ with the lawyer in town: Sara’s aunt doesn’t want any of it – none of the land, none of the business, just enough money to live on. Congratulations, Sara – you now own a loggin’ company, a pile of land, and a whole mountain right here in Foster’s Glen.”

Cheers erupted, and Sara’s mouth hung open, her hands on her face in disbelief. A wellspring of emotions bubbled out of her, manifesting itself in both tears and laughter.

While everyone else celebrated, Darrell merely smiled, remembering a conversation he had with Sara several days ago:

“My Aunt Hilda says she never knew about any of it, never even suspected anything.

“You believe her?”

“Yes. … She’s devastated. Moving back to England. But she might be leaving me the land.

“What land?”

“The land she and my uncle own – all of it.

“Wow.

“But I don’t … dare to hope too much, you know? There’s other people she could give it to. … And I’m happy with what I already have.”

“So how are we gonna celebrate?” said James.

“Ohh, let’s see” said Sara. “How about … dinner at the Friday Nite and then a movie at the Colonial?”

They laughed.

“That works for me,” said James. “So Hank – you don’t mind us sharin’ your date with you?”

“I don’t if she don’t,” said Hank as he looked at Sara.

“Not at all,” she said.

A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 33

Bonfire starting

With the aid of a bonfire, James and Hank made their big stand. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.”

“Yeah.”

“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?

BE STILL.

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?”

Darrell blinked.

“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.

KA-BOOM! FWOOOOM!

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.

BAWOOOM!

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.

He’s right.

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.

* * *

“Grealf!”

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.

KA-BOOM!

James looked; the creature was gone, but Hank lay motionless on the ground.

Oh no!

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.

What?

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.

“Rreowwll!”

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.

Oh no.

“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?”

Log cabin.

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.

No Pillsbury.

Cla-click.

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!

KA-BOOM!

The creature was gone.

What?! It was standing right there – easy shot!

“NOOO!”

James looked up; Hank was running straight at him.

What?

“Oof!”

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.

“Rrowwll!”

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.

Fire.

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.

“Yowr!”

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.

There’s one!

He kneeled, reached in and picked it up … and not a moment too soon.

“James!”

            * * *

“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.”

“Okay.”

“Go!”

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.

Sara turned.

“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!”

“I’m not.”

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– ”

WHAP!

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.

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.

A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 31

Birch, rowan, pine and dwarfen junipers on Krå...

The junipers, along with some small trees, as seen from Sara's kitchen window. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sara turned on the hot water at her kitchen sink and let it run a minute to get to the right temperature, piling her dirty dishes on the counter while she waited. When the water was ready, she let one side of the double-sink fill and added soap to it, then filled the other side with straight water and went to work. Plates, silverware, cups; sudsed, rinsed, stacked in the rack. Water dripping, dishes clinking. In five minutes Sara was on her last dish.

She pulled the plugs in the sink and wiped the counter, then her hands, with a dish towel, then reached for a bottle of lotion she kept on the window sill above the sink. She glanced out at her flower garden and the hills beyond and smiled.

She blinked, and her smile faded a bit.

What was that?

She looked again. Her tall flowers swayed with lazy ease in the gentle wind. Her smile returned.

She left the kitchen and went into her bedroom to straighten up some things. After bustling about for a minute, she grew a bit warm. She went to her large window and lifted it open. The breeze slipped in and curled around the bare skin of her arms and legs. Fresh. She could see the flower garden from here, too, and a patch of juniper bushes past the edge of her lawn. The junipers were decorated here and there with the skinny trunks of young poplars thrusting up, white poles in a sea of grayish-green. She turned away … then quickly back, gazing out over her yard, eyes intent, focused.

The stiff-bristled junipers wavered; the poplar leaves flickered.

Must’ve been a juniper. Calm down.

She finished up in her bedroom and went into the livingroom, plopped onto the couch and picked up her newest magazine, which she hadn’t yet had a chance to look at. One by one she flipped through the pages, thinking, at times giggling. She then looked up from her magazine. Through the open windows all around her the pleasant sounds of the birdsongs tickled her ears, and the pulsating essence of life mesmerized her. Sunlight beamed onto the carpet and her feet; the warmth was delicious. The fluttering shadows cast by the fluttering leaves outside lulled her into a happy trance. Their movement was unpatterned yet rhythmic, an endless number of possibilities within a well-defined boundary. She stared.

Another shadow flitted by.

Her eyes flicked to the window nearest her. Tree branches, leaves, her sunlit driveway. After a moment she stood and walked, barefoot, to the window. A small sigh passed her lips – a sweet sigh borne of the beautiful creation in which she was nestled.

Never do I want to move away from here, especially now that I have–

A brief clicking noise reached her ears from the porch. She looked towards the door, waited a moment – nothing. She stepped lightly to the door and looked out, then down.

A leafy stick was lying in front of the door – the breeze, no doubt, having carried it there from a nearby tree. She opened the door and stooped to pick up the stick.

The clicking noise again. She looked to her left as she grabbed the stick. The porch and everything on it was as still as could be. She stood, tossed the stick onto her lawn. She turned back into her house.

I drank too much iced tea at lunch.

She went to the bathroom and washed her hands, then looked at herself in the mirror.

I wonder what he thinks of me?

She played with her hair a minute, studied her eyes, the skin of her face. Something caught her eye – in the mirror, over one of her shoulders. She looked away from it, frozen.

No.

She looked again. The mirror reflected the window directly behind her; she swore that she had seen them peering through it.

Orange eyes.

There was nothing in the reflection now, though. She looked away, breathing a bit harder, then gathered her courage. She spun towards the window.

Just a window, her front yard beyond.

With halting determination she moved towards the window. With each step she could see more of her yard, nearer and nearer to her house. At last she was next to the window, looking out at the ground under the eaves. All clear.

She turned away from the window but then felt a tug inside her, pulling her. She glanced at the mirror, but the reflection of her head was blocking that of the window. She turned around. The window was still clear.

Yet the tug insider her persisted. She hesitated, considering. She inched closer to the window, moving in until her face was almost against the glass. She peered down.

“Aaaaahhh!”

She reeled back, panicked a second time when she ran into the sink counter, then threw herself against the wall, paralyzed.

A gasp escaped her. The windows!

She flew from the bathroom and down the hallway, then came to a sudden halt when the front of her house came into view; that’s when her guts wrenched.

The front door was ajar, and a steady click-click-click approached from outside.

* * *

Darrell ripped his way down a dirt road.

“I should’ve read through all those pages sooner,” he said.

Wade sat stiller than a knot on a tree, scared for Miss Kremshaw, scared for his own safety, scared at how angry his dad was with himself.

“Stupid! I can’t believe this! I should’ve known something was wrong when she told me her uncle wanted her to move out.”

Wade didn’t know what his father was talking about, but fear overrode his curiosity. He knew the gist of what was going on, anyway; in his hands he held the pages from Mr. Schaefer, the topmost being the one that had set Darrell off with the following lines:

“I have blessed it with your utmost blessing, my lord, a blessing that is fit for an object of your use. It will stand for many years, this house, and your blessing along with it, and she will be there to maintain it for me – for you – and be none the wiser, and so the great gift you have blessed me with, and my bond with it, will stand for many years and be used for your glory.

Wade shivered the first time he read it, and shivered again now as he thought about it. In his mind, whenever he thought upon that passage, an image appeared – terrible black and red, an impression of heat and discomfort, a despairing sense of separation pounding against him. He could not think long on it, yet he could not forget it.

* * *

Sara took a step towards the door.

I’ve got to close it.

Click-click-click.

I won’t make it in time.

YES YOU WILL.

Her fear abated. What?

GO NOW.

She looked at the door.

Click-click.

I can’t.

YES YOU CAN.

I want to, but–

YOU CAN.

She stood immobile, eyes locked on the door, ears fixed on the clicking sound.

GO.

* * *

“Dad?”

Wade bounced in his seat as they pounded their way along.

“Just pray, Wade.”

He stared at his father.

“Pray we get there in time.”

* * *

Hank and James marched along the stream. Hank’s ankle was doing better, his limp less noticeable. James stayed a couple paces behind him, feeling the need to conserve his energy, that he was going to need it later. It was warm, and he would’ve loved to jump in the stream – the cool liquid’s gurgle was a constant invitation –

JAMES. PRAY.

He flinched, almost coming to a stop.

Was that

YES.

What am I supposed to pray about?

SARA, DARRELL, WADE.

A moment of thought, then he began. Father, I come to you in Jesus’ name; please keep Sara, Darrell and Wade safe, Lord. Take care of them, and help them with whatever’s goin’ on right now. Give them wisdom, give them peace, give them strength, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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!”

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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