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Mike didn’t wait for a harder blow. He rammed the stick backward into Eddie’s gut and was rewarded by a deep grunt of pain. Mike spun fast and brought the end of the stick around in a hard, tight arc like a soldier would do with the stock of his rifle and he caught Eddie under the chin. Blood sprayed from Eddie’s chin as he reeled back and went down hard on his rump.


Run! Again the voice screamed in Mike’s ear, but Mike didn’t run. Instead he stepped forward, and taking the stick in a two-handed grip, he swung it like a baseball bat, aiming for Eddie’s temple. All the fear from his fight with Vic, all the terrible awareness of what his mother had become, all of his own confusion and sense of abandonment by the whole world went into that swing and it was a killing blow.


But Eddie was just too damn quick. Despite the stars in his eyes, he brought up his hands and caught the stick in two callused palms. The abrupt stop to the swing sent shock waves up Mike’s arms and his hands spasmed open. Mike staggered sideways and went down to one knee.


With blood dripping freely onto his uniform shirt, Eddie got to his feet and loomed over Mike, hands clenching and reclenching, rehearsing the murder he ached to perform.


“I am the Sword of God,” he said in a voice that was eerily calm. He took the stick and broke it over his knee and tossed the jagged ends behind him.


He started to close in for the necessary kill when he saw something that jerked him to a stop as surely as his grab had stopped the boy a few seconds before. The boy was staring at him and as Eddie watched the child’s eyes changed. The pure and innocent blue darkened as red specks appeared and then instantly blossomed so that within the space of a few heartbeats those eyes were completely red. As red as hellfire and Satan himself glared out at Eddie through veils of blood.


Eddie gasped and any last shreds of doubt that had clung like cobwebs in his mind were blown clear. “You are the Beast of the Apocalypse!”


“Whatever,” Mike said and with one smooth movement he pulled the wire spool from his pocket and hurled it right at Eddie’s face; it struck square in the middle of his forehead and Eddie dropped like a felled oak.


Mike didn’t wait to see how badly the big son of a bitch was hurt; he just turned and ran.


4


Newton took Jonatha out to dinner, leaving the others behind in Weinstock’s office. For a while Weinstock himself went out, wanting to go down to the ICU to check on Terry. When he came back he was frowning deeply.


“I’m not sure if we should be happy about this or sad,” he said, “but the residents in ICU are all but throwing a party because of how well Terry’s doing. He’s still in a coma, but his bones are setting and his surgical scars are healing—all at remarkable rates.”


“Isn’t that a good thing?” Crow asked. “I mean…isn’t that some kind of sign that the bad times are passing.”


Val turned and stared at him. “Sometimes you’re even too much of a romantic fool for me, honeybunch.”


“What?”


“She’s right,” Weinstock agreed sourly. “Believe me when I say this, Crow, nobody heals that fast. Nobody. I ordered a full set of X-rays this morning and they show that his bones are nearly knitted. The femur, which was a compound fracture, looks like the tail-end of a healed hairline fracture. Two of the doctors are so pumped by this that they want to do a paper on it. They think this is an episode of House, but let me tell you, anyone who heals that fast is not doing so in a way covered by known science. End of story.”


Val touched her cross and closed her eyes.


After a moment, Crow said, “Sarah told you that she thought Terry was going to attack her. Then he throws himself out the window. Okay, benefit of the doubt, maybe Terry realized what was happening to him and tried to kill himself to save Sarah.”


“I can believe that,” Val said. “Terry loves her very much. Her and the kids.”


“Point is, Val, we have a victim of a you-know-what who has been having dreams of becoming a you-know-what who is now healing at an unnatural rate.”


“Then what do we do, Saul?” Val asked.


“I…” he hesitated. “Actually, I don’t know. He’s still in a coma, so we can’t mess with him too much or we could kill him. Comas are tricky.”


Crow looked past Saul at the door as if he could see all the way to the ICU. “What about when he wakes up?”


Weinstock shook his head. “As for that…I’m no longer sure that’s what I’m hoping for.”


5


Later Crow tried several times to get Mike on the phone. He called the store and got his own answering machine, then called a friend who had a shop near his, but was told that the Crow’s Nest had been closed all day. Strange. Finally Crow called Mike’s house, hoping to get the boy or, at worst, his mom, but Vic Wingate answered.


“Yeah.”


“Vic?”


“Yeah, who’s this?”


“It’s Crow. I’m looking for Mike. Just wanted to see if he was coming in to work tonight.”


“How the hell should I know?” Vic said, and hung up.


“Prick,” Crow mumbled. His next call was to BK to check on the security for the Festival.


“Everything’s fine, Crow,” BK assured him. “Stop acting like my Aunt Tessie. We got the whole thing under control.”


“Good…but listen to me for a minute here, okay? There’s a very, very remote chance that there might be some trouble this weekend. Not sure what, exactly, but tell your boys to stay on their toes. No one goofs off, no one slacks. Eyes open and combat ready.”


“Jeez, Crow, you getting twitchy in your old age or have you heard something?”


“Just a heads-up from local law enforcement,” Crow lied. “Been some sketchy characters in the area. You know how it is when there’s tourists.”


“Yep, it always draws the goon squad, too. Okay, chief, we’re on it. I got enough tough guys out there to kick any ass that needs kicking.”


“What I want to hear. Look, man, there’s one more thing. Big favor. I was supposed to host a dinner for the celebs, but with Val and all…. Can you and Billy cover for me?”


“Let me think…you got two gorgeous scream queens, movie stars, free food, and an open bar. Yeah, brother, I think things’ll go just fine. I’ll play host to them, but Billy’s gonna want a table all to himself with that Brinke Stevens and the other babe. He’s been talking about it all day.”


“Well, good luck to him. Just because they lose their clothes in the movies doesn’t mean they’re easy targets.”


“Have you met Billy? He could charm the britches off the Queen of England.”


“And on that truly, truly appalling thought, I’ll say goodbye.”


6


Mike Sweeney stood up from the weeds and scanned the road. No cars.


As soon as he’d fled from where he left Tow-Truck Eddie, he took a risk and went off the on the far side of the road just over the hill; it was lined with gravel and he would leave no tracks. There was a big Halloween display made from hay bales and a pair of scarecrows—male and female—holding a sign for the Haunted Hayride. Mike dragged his bike behind the bales and then flattened down to wait.


The cruiser came past slowly a few minutes later but didn’t even pause. Mike wasn’t fooled, though; he waited ten minutes and during that time the cruiser came past twice more. Finally it vanished over the hill and was gone, heading farther along A-32 toward the Black Marsh Bridge.


Mike was cold and scared, and his heart was a black ball of pain in his chest.


He looked up and down the road, weighing his options. There was no way he could risk going back to town, not even to try and find Crow. He wished he owned a cell phone. Tow-Truck Eddie knew where he worked and Mike didn’t think he’d be so lucky again if the maniac cornered him at the Crow’s Nest. Home was impossible. He knew he could never go there again.


Mom.


The thought of her was a knife in his gut. What had happened to her? There were words for what he had seen—after all Mike Sweeney lived in Pine Deep—but he could not bear to put those labels on his mother. Not now…not ever.


Mike wrenched his mind away from those thoughts as he turned and looked the other way. Black Marsh was just a couple of miles, but how could he reach the bridge without using A-32? Tow-Truck Eddie owned that road. Plus he was a cop. He could call for backup, make up some kind of story for the other cops. No, that way was closed to him, too. So, what did that leave?


He closed his eyes to try and orient himself, drawing a map in his mind. The Kroger farm was over the hill, and beyond that, on the left side of the road was the Guthrie place. On the same side as Kroger’s was the Carby place and the back roads that would take him to the fringes of the college campus.


“Mom,” he said aloud, without realizing the word was there.


He wrapped his arms around his chest and shivered, surprised at the loud sound his chattering teeth made. He didn’t even know he was that cold. His shirt was soaked with sweat and he zipped up his jacket and pulled the hood up, cinching it tight under his chin with the drawstring. He did not know enough about physiology to recognize the warning signs of shock, and simply cursed the cold air. Overhead, there was the long, drawn-out call of a nightbird.


“I’m gonna freeze,” he told himself. He bent to pick up his bike, and paused, cocking an ear to listen. “Oh, shit!” he said.


The breeze carried the distant drone of a car, still far away, coming closer.


Was it him?


He crouched down again and waited, but it was a tourist car. Another behind that, and another. Evening had fallen now and the tourists would be pouring in for the parties.


Still crouching, Mike turned and surveyed the field behind him, which was a pumpkin patch that lapped up against the wall of the State Forest. The black bumps of the pumpkins stretched away into infinite night, blending with the darkness of trees and hills and the lofty sky. The sky was marginally paler, washed to gray by the moon which, though not yet over the hill, still infected the whole of the sky with its own sickly pallor. It was too dark to ride fast without wrecking his bike, so Mike start walking slowly, heading into the field, aiming for the line of trees.

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