Chet, grinning with his mouthful of fangs, just leapt at him and clamped black-taloned fingers around BK’s throat as he drove him back against the flatbed.
Film actor Ken Foree was nearing the end of his lecture about the allegory and social commentary in the George Romero Living Dead films when the drive-in’s big screen changed from an image of a younger Foree dressed like Philly SWAT shooting it out with a bunch of zombies at a rural shopping mall to a flat expanse of silver-gray emptiness.
“In Dawn of the Dead the consumerism of the American—” he said, and then his microphone cut out along with all of the lights throughout the drive-in’s big lot. Annoyed, he turned toward the projection booth mounted above the bunkerlike concession stand, but it, too, was dark. Instantly fifty cars started honking their horns and people began to grumble loudly.
Foree held up his hands to try and quiet the crowd. “People, people!” he called, pitching his theater-trained baritone above the din. “Let’s all calm down. Give the man a chance to fix the problem.”
As they quieted down, he continued talking, telling some jokes about mishaps on the sets of the monster movies and TV shows he’d worked on. Folks began to get out of their cars and draw closer, and Foree encouraged them with come-here gestures. Not surprisingly, many of the attendees were dressed in bloodstained clothes and made up to look like the living dead. Foree took it in stride. Star Trek conventions get Klingons, I get the walking dead, he mused.
He saw that more people were coming around from the far side of the concession stand, and these new arrivals seemed to be more in the vampire motif: fangs, bloody mouths, dark eyes, though they had the classic zombie vacant expressions and slow, shuffling gait down perfectly. He waved them in, too.
They’d put Tom Savini in the main house of the theater department and there were two sets of attendees. The general admission crowd sat in the theater seats while the MFA film students were onstage. One by one Savini was transforming them from ordinary college kids into monsters or victims of monsters.
The makeup effects man was a legend in the business and had pioneered many of the wound effects that were now standard in horror and action films. He was describing how latex and other materials were used to create the effect of a zombie tearing a chunk out of someone’s arm when the lights went out.
The theater went totally dark.
Savini sighed. The crowd immediately started getting restive, so he pitched his voice loud enough to carry and said, “Apparently the dean didn’t pay the electric bill.” It had the desired effect of getting the startled students to laugh with him rather than to panic. “Everyone sit tight. There should be emergency lights…ah, there we are.”
The lights came on. The screaming began a moment later. The blood that sprayed the walls was not stage blood.
The tingling ant-crawly feeling on the back of Mike’s neck intensified and just as the hospital emergency lights kicked on he turned away from Val and Weinstock and looked at the window for what seemed like an hour but was really a fragment of a second.
“Down!” he screamed as he spun and dove at Val, tackling her so that they collapsed between the bed and the bathroom wall; even before they landed Mike reached up and grabbed the front of Weinstock’s hospital gown and pulled him right out of the bed. Jonatha staggered back from them as they fell and she bumped into Newton, who tripped backward, dragging her with him—a clumsy move that saved both their lives because in the next fragment of a second a new blast ripped through the town and the big tempered-glass window imploded, sending thousands of flying glass daggers scything through the room. The window side of Weinstock’s bed was shredded, glass needles jabbed into the walls, and the shockwave swept the vase of flowers off the bedside table and smashed them against the wall. Then, as if drawing a deep breath after a scream, the hot air from the blast was sucked back out, leaving Weinstock’s room a darkened and glittering debris field.
There was glass everywhere. They all crouched where they had fallen, more terrified of all the glass than of the blast.
Val was the first to move, and she pushed back against Mike, who still lay half on top of her, his weight on her lower back, pressing her stomach into the floor. “Mike,” she said urgently, “the baby…”
He instantly arched up over her, balancing on fingers and toes while glass tinkled off his back; Val wormed carefully out from under him. Weinstock was tucked into a tight corner, his face contorted in agony as he clutched his wounded arm to his chest. Blood seeped through his bandages, evidence of ruptured stitches, and he curled his body up like he was stuffed into a box of pain.
“Is anyone hurt?” Val asked as she used the edge of the chair to pull herself to her knees.
Jonatha gasped as she sat up. “I think I’m cut.”
Newton scuttled out from under her and fished a keychain flashlight out, playing the tiny beam over her. There were at least a dozen small cuts on her arms, but nothing serious. Newton crunched over glass to the bathroom and returned with a thick wad of toilet tissue and began blotting at the cuts.
Val swept off the seat and sat down, wincing at the pain in her lower back and stomach. Mike helped Weinstock up and stood him against the wall. Weinstock was barefoot.
“What the hell is happening?” the doctor demanded, but nobody had any answers. Instead they each stopped moving and listened to the sounds coming through the empty window. The screeching of car horns. Gunshots. And screams. Lots and lots of screams.
The door opened and a nurse rushed in, her face smeared with blood, clothes littered with glass fragments, eyes wild. She had one hand pressed to her throat. “Doctor! Oh my God…they…they…” Then she sank to her knees and fell forward, her hand slipping away to release an arterial spray.
Behind her in the half-lit corridors, it was sheer pandemonium as patients and nurses and doctors staggered through the shadows, most of them bleeding from the shattered windows.
Jonatha tore the wadded tissues out of Newton’s hand, but as she bent to press it to the nurse’s throat the artery pumped a last feeble splash and then stopped.
“What the hell is going on?” she screamed, turning toward Mike. “What’s going on?”
Mike looked out the window. There was more light spilling into the room from the fires out there than from the emergency lights. “It’s what I was trying to tell you,” he said. “This is what Griswold and Vic have been planning all these years. The Red Wave.”
“But what is it? What does he want? Just to kill us?”
Mike turned. “Don’t you get it? This isn’t about us. It’s never been about us, not really. We’re just in his way. You said it yourself—Griswold is a psychic vampire. Every time someone is killed by those things he created, every time someone dies in pain and terror, he feeds on it. Every death makes him stronger. He’s been getting stronger and stronger all these years, and now with this…” He waved at the window. “With this, he’ll be strong enough.”
“Strong enough to do what?” demanded Val, rising.
Mike’s fiery eyes burned in the darkness.
“Strong enough to rise from the grave. That’s what this is all about. He’s using all this raw power to remake himself. He wants to come back, not as a ghost or as a psychic vampire, but with a new body.”
Weinstock stared at him, then looked out the window at the inferno that was Pine Deep. “What kind of body can he make by feeding on pain and death?”
Mike shook his head. “I don’t know. There’s never been anything like this. The Bone Man was sure of that, and I know it. Just like I’m the first of whatever I am…when Griswold rises he’ll be the first of what he is. Something really powerful.” He paused as if listening to voices in his head. “I think he wants to be a god.”
The others just looked at him, not getting it.
“This isn’t just about Pine Deep, either, any more than it’s been about us. The Red Wave is going to break Griswold out of the grave, but it’s also going to spread outward. The Bone Man told me that there are a lot of things that make Pine Deep what it is, and it’s what drew Griswold here in the first place. This place is like a battery for storing spiritual energy. I don’t really understand it, but it’s something about its geography. The Bone Man called it geo-something.”
“Geomancy?” Jonatha ventured.
“Yeah. Pine Deep’s surrounded on all sides by running water. That keeps the spiritual energy here in town, concentrated, and over time that energy just builds on itself. Griswold’s drawing on that just as he’s drawing on a release of energy from everyone who gets killed. When he rises, though, he’ll have enough power to cross the water boundaries and take all that energy with him because all of it will be him. The Red Wave is not another plague, it’s more like a tsunami, and when he rises everywhere he goes that power is going to be unstoppable.” Mike closed his eyes. “Griswold is going to destroy the world and we’re too late to do anything about it.”
“No…” Val said, touching her stomach.
Mike opened his eyes and laughed. “Welcome to the apocalypse.”
Missy, Crow’s old Impala, rocketed down the black road at seventy miles an hour. Crow was hunched over the wheel, his face set in a grim mask, his eyes intent on the road. Beads of sweat were scattered across his brow. Beside him, LaMastra was as rigid as stone. Only his big fist moved, pounding down repeatedly on his thigh as he muttered, “Go! Go!”
All Crow heard was Val’s name echoing in his head. He wanted to scream.
Several more explosions blew bright red holes in the night. Thunderous echoes buffeted the car as it crested another hill. Crow cried out and jammed on the brakes; the wheels screeched and the car slewed and fishtailed before finally coming to a stop at the top of the last hill before they reached the town proper. Crow and LaMastra felt their minds freezing with shock as they stared at the road and the town. Cars by the hundreds clogged the road, crowding both lanes, clawing along the shoulders as they fled from the town. Behind the mad exodus the town itself was ablaze. Fires whooshed upward from dozens of spots, and the undersides of the clouds writhed with red snakes of reflected fire. Buildings and trees burned vigorously; telephone poles flamed like torches all along Corn Hill.