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The walls here are a pale shade of gray, and the floors are white, the reverse of the color scheme on higher levels. He does not know why, nor does he care to know. He has no interest in those things that are produced by talent: decor, fashion, art, literature, music, dance, craftsmanship. Every kind of talent is a human aptitude. Victor Immaculate despises and scorns humanity, and every gift that men and women possess only reminds him of the one thing that he hates more than them.

On this deeper level, the walls hold no plasma screens to nag him with three-note alerts; the higher floors have been retrofitted with that communication system to facilitate his work. These rooms are not only deserted but also without equipment and furnishings. Thermal sensors detect his presence and switch on the lights overhead as he progresses; therefore, he moves forward always toward a blackness of liquid density that retreats from him as though the very darkness fears him. Here he can walk in true solitude and enjoy without interruption the infinite genius of his ceaselessly laboring mind.

He is not concerned that he will miss being informed of some crisis, for there will be none. Whatever problem might arise in the conquest of Rainbow Falls, it will be but another gnat, and there will be numerous contingency plans to cope with it and ensure the triumph of the Community.

Throughout the centuries, popes have claimed infallibility, only in matters of faith but infallibility nevertheless. Victor Immaculate knows with the certainty of genius that all popes are frauds, but he is not of their ilk. Victor Immaculate, Purified, Distilled, Victor to the nth degree, is infallible in all things. The war against this Montana town will inevitably proceed until every last man, woman, and child is slaughtered and processed into an army of new Builders who will be the shock troops of Armageddon.

Chapter 38

Nummy thought a snowmobile trip would be fun. He never rode one before, but often he watched other people zoom around on them, and he figured it must be like the best carnival ride ever.

The first thing that went wrong was his seat, not his backside but his seat on the machine. Mr. Lyss drove, so Nummy had to perch behind him and hold on for dear life. Some machines, two people could ride real cozy. But this one had these saddlebags that you couldn’t take off without tools and time, so Nummy sat part on the seat and more on the saddlebags, which wasn’t comfortable, especially when they flew off a little hill and bounced down.

Another thing that went wrong was how cold it was, even colder because of the wind they made, how it stung Nummy’s face where the wool scarf didn’t cover, how it almost right away began to bite his ears even through the toboggan cap he pulled over them.

This neighborhood was Nummy’s, and it was near one edge of town, and he knew the fields all around, where to find the stream and where you would go if you followed it for a while and where you would go if you turned away from it near Bear Rock. Mr. Lyss didn’t know the land in these parts. Nummy was supposed to hold tight to the old man’s coat—which was really not his coat but stolen—and look around Mr. Lyss to keep an eye on where they were going. Then if Mr. Lyss should bear left, Nummy was supposed to pull on the left side of his coat, on the right side if he was to go right. Mr. Lyss said he would be the pilot, and Nummy would be the navigator, and if they got lost, he would cut off Nummy’s peewee with a blunt knife and tie it on the handlebars for decoration.

The thing that was most wrong with the wind they made and with the cold was that Nummy didn’t have a helmet like Mr. Lyss did, so the cold wind stung his eyes, made them water. Even with headlights showing the way, Nummy found it hard to tell what was what in all the whiteness and the dark. When his eyes watered too much, getting lost got so easy that even he could do it without trying.

Another thing that went wrong was that Mr. Lyss didn’t drive a snowmobile as well as he drove a car. Worse, he must have thought he was a better snow driver than he really was, and he went dangerous fast. Or maybe he was scared that the noise of the machine and the headlights would draw the attention of the monsters, and he wanted to get as far from town as quick as he could. Nummy bounced on those saddlebags so much, he was afraid he might come down just the wrong way so hard that one of the saddlebags would get stuck between his butt cheeks.

So there they were, running flat-out into snow and dark, Nummy pulling hard left when he wasn’t even sure left was right, Mr. Lyss shouting curses that Nummy was grateful he could only half hear, and they came to a place where the land changed. The land dropped maybe three feet, and they were flying. The snowmobile wasn’t an airplane, so it didn’t fly far before it dropped, too, and if Mr. Lyss wasn’t giving the machine more gas even while flying, it sure sounded like he was. They came down so hard they both fell off, and the snowmobile slid maybe a hundred feet across the field before it came to a stop, all the falling snow sparkling pretty in its headlights.

Nummy was first on his feet, ready to run if Mr. Lyss pulled a blunt knife from a coat pocket.

If the snowmobile was broken, this was maybe even worse than getting lost, but almost at once, an even worse thing happened. Just as Nummy got off the ground, a thing whooshed overhead, its tail of flames blue and orange, and a second later the snowmobile went boom and for a moment disappeared in a ball of fire.

Even Mr. Lyss was left speechless by this development, and after a few seconds Nummy heard the engine purring overhead. He looked up and saw the pale plane not far above, like a ghost plane, gliding through the storm, big but not as big as the airplanes that people flew in. When it passed over the burning snowmobile, firelight throbbed across its belly, and then it hummed away into the dark.

On his feet near Nummy, looking after the plane that he couldn’t see anymore, Mr. Lyss said, “That sonofabitch was like one of those drones, those drones they send off to kill hard-core terrorists in Afghanistan and other hellholes. Predators, they call them. Armed with missiles. Must’ve been drawn by the engine heat. If we hadn’t just fallen off, we’d be charred meat for a bear’s dinner. What the Sam Hill is a Predator doing here, blowing up snowmobiles?”

Nummy didn’t have an answer, but he didn’t think Mr. Lyss would hold that against him. Mr. Lyss knew Nummy wasn’t an answer man.

The more the old man thought about his question, the angrier he became. “Nobody has the right to chase us down and try to make toast out of us, just blow a valuable snowmobile to smithereens. Yes, yes, Peaches, I know it’s not my machine, I stole the damn thing from a dead man who might want to ride it to his funeral, and now he can’t because of me and my thieving ways. But I’ve still got a perfect right to be offended by such an arrogant assault. I’m a citizen in good standing of the United States, after all, I’ve got my rights. I’m no damn terrorist. You’re no terrorist. We’re just a peaceable hobo and a dummy, trying to save ourselves from monsters, and these bastards blow up our transportation.”

The flames were less bright than at first, but all around the broken-apart snowmobile, the falling snow seemed to catch fire, too, a million sparks whirling down. Reflections of firelight spread and fluttered like gold-and-red wings across the white land, as if there were angels in the night.

Mr. Lyss grew so angry he couldn’t even finish his sentences. Everything he started to say ended in sputtering and spitting, and one group of words didn’t seem to belong with the next group. He did a wild dance of anger in the meadow, around in circles, kicking at the snow, punching the air with his bony old fists, shaking them at the sky.

Nummy was reminded of one of the stories Grandmama read to him a long, long time ago, about a princess who spun straw into gold and a mean little man who taught her how if she would give him her firstborn baby. Nummy couldn’t remember the name of the princess, but the little man was Rumpelstiltskin, a name that stuck with you.

At the moment, Mr. Lyss wasn’t being mean. He was just being angry, but he sure did look like the man in the story. He said he was so mad he could spit. He said it over and over again, and every time he said it, he did spit. Nummy couldn’t make sense of any of that, so he just stood and waited until Mr. Lyss at last burned himself out, which took almost as long as the snowmobile.

When the old man stopped muttering, spitting, and kicking, Nummy said, “I really, really don’t want to say this, but I got to.”

“Say what?” Mr. Lyss asked.

“We’re lost. I don’t know where this place is, all this white and dark, but it’s not my fault because the cold wind it stung my eyes and blurred everything. I don’t want my peewee cut off. Anyway there’s no handlebars to decorate with it anymore.”

“Relax, Peaches. I don’t blame you for this.”

“You don’t?”

“Didn’t I just say I don’t?”

“I guess you did.”

“Besides, we’re not lost.”

“We’re not?”

“You are, as usual, a dazzling conversationalist. No, we aren’t lost. We’ve only come a mile or so, maybe a mile and a half. I have this flashlight that I stole from the dead Bozeman.” He switched it on. “We just have to follow the trail the snowmobile left until we get back to his house, where I hope to God that piano-playing monster has got sick of that morbid music and is pounding out some ragtime.”

Nummy looked at the beam from the flashlight sliding over the snowmobile tracks, and he said, “Your being smart just saved us.”

“Well, saved might be too strong a word, considering that we’re going nowhere but back into the village of the damned.”

They trudged side by side along the tracks the snowmobile had left, and after a while, Nummy said, “I haven’t wished I was smart in a long, long time, but now I wish it.”

“Don’t,” Mr. Lyss said. “Being smart isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Besides, like I told you before, the world is full of educated smart people who are ten times dumber than you.”

Nummy’s nose watered from the cold, and the nose water half-froze on his upper lip. He wiped with his coat sleeve, but then he realized that was disgusting, so he just put up with the lip ice.

After another while, he said, “I wonder what it’s like to live with palm trees, a place like that.”

“It’s nice enough. I’ll take you someplace like that if we live through this.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Grandmama she’s buried here and all.”

“We can dig her up and take her with us, bury her where there’s sun and flowers year round.”

“I don’t know they’d let us do that.”

“Anything can be arranged for money.”

“I wouldn’t know how.”

“I would.”

“I guess you would.”

After another silence, Mr. Lyss said, “Good thing for us there’s no wind, or these tracks would smooth right over before we found our way back.”

“That’s another smart thing to figure out.”

“My brain is so big and still growing so fast, every couple years, they have to open my skull and take out a piece of brain so there’s room enough in there.”

“I don’t think that could be true,” Nummy said.

“Well, it is true. My medical bills are enormous.”

Chapter 39

When Carson, Michael, and Addison returned to the Samples house with Deucalion, she knew the Riders and Riderettes were going to need a lot of persuading to turn over their children to a menacing-looking giant with half his face broken and tattooed, even if the other half was rather handsome.

He would need to demonstrate his ability to move any distance that he wished in a single step. He would need to explain that he could take with him anything on which he placed his hands, including other people or—with a slightly different technique—an entire vehicle full of people.

But Carson worried that such a demonstration might have the opposite effect of the one intended. Considering his appearance, the occasional luminous pulses passing through his eyes, his deep voice with its rough timbre, and his strong hands that seemed to be as large as shovels, these people might find him downright demonic and refuse to entrust their precious children to him even if they might be safer out of Rainbow Falls.

Having Addison with them would be helpful. His late uncle Norris and aunt Thelma had been parishioners of the Riders in the Sky. He said that the Gazette had a few times reported on the church’s annual socials and on their charitable work, always with care not to write anything that might suggest that their faith was more colorful than the traditional denominations.

Just as Deucalion, reluctant to risk stretching his credibility to the snapping point, had not spoken the name Frankenstein to the people at KBOW, so Carson had avoided mentioning it to these folks. With the help of young Farley Samples, she talked them out of the alien-invasion theory and into an acceptance of the nanotechnology explanation, leaving them to imagine that the villains were part of some totalitarian faction of the government. If the Riders and Riderettes could not bring themselves to trust Deucalion, who might seem to have less in common with them than with the killing machines that attacked them in the roadhouse, she would at last have to speak Victor’s name and try to bridge their skepticism and guide them to a full understanding of the situation.

As Carson led the way through the front door into the living room, five men were finishing the window fortifications and the weapons preparations on which they had been engaged earlier. Behind Michael and Addison, Deucalion entered last, pushing back the hood of his coat as stepped into the house. The five churchmen looked up—and in every case froze at the sight of this man who, at various times in his long life, had earned a living as a sideshow freak in carnivals.

Although none of the Riders reached for a weapon lying near at hand, Carson felt the tension in the room, as though the barometric pressure had plunged in anticipation of a storm. Some men’s eyes widened, others’ narrowed, but they all seemed to have made up their minds about Deucalion on sight, as Carson had feared.

“This man is a friend of ours,” Carson said. “He’s a friend of Addison’s, too. He’s the key to victory for all of us and the best hope of saving the children.”

She was little more than halfway through that introduction when one of the five Riders hurried out of the room and thundered up the stairs toward the second floor, while another disappeared into the dining room.

When Carson began to warn them that their first impression of Deucalion was mistaken, one of the remaining three Riders raised a hand to silence her. “Ma’am, best wait so you won’t have to repeat yourself so much.”

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