Page 74

“What’s going on?” Kent asked. The man didn’t stop or answer. He shoved a key in an office door and vanished inside.

People had abandoned their shopping carts, blocking the wide front aisle between the check stands and store aisles. In the crowd, women pressed their hands over their mouths. A few men stood at the front of the group, talking to whoever was down the aisle, their hands making calming gestures. Kent pushed through the crowd and looked down the freezer aisle.

A homeless-looking man had his arm wrapped around Wyatt’s shoulders, clasping him to the front of his body.

His knife’s blade dug into Wyatt’s throat.

Kent saw blood.

Wyatt’s wide gaze met Kent’s. “Dad!” he shrieked. The man tightened his arm and pressed harder with his knife. Kent watched blood flow from under his son’s jaw and run down the man’s arm. The man’s hair was long and greasy, his clothes dirty and his shoes torn and ragged. The stink of his body odor and fear filled the aisle. The man’s crazy eyes sought out Kent’s.

Kent stepped forward out of the group, and a man grabbed his arm. “Careful, look.” The shopper pointed past Wyatt at a male shopper propped up against a freezer case fifteen feet behind the knife-man. A smeared trail of blood led from the shopper back to the knife-man and Wyatt. The shopper had a hand clasped over his shoulder, blood oozing heavily between his fingers.

“He tried to pull the boy away,” the man said in a low voice to Kent. “The crazy guy slashed at his chest and was going for his face when he ducked out of the way and fell.” The injured shopper was very pale, and Kent estimated him to be in his seventies. Probably someone who shouldn’t be losing blood so quickly.

Kent stared at his son. Wyatt’s eyes were wide and terrified, pleading with Kent to get him away. His captor scanned the crowd of shoppers, yelling at them to keep back. Kent had no doubt that the man would slash Wyatt’s neck if he wished to.

“I saw the demon!” the knife-man screamed at the people staring at him. Every few seconds he glanced back at the shopper on the floor. Knife-man’s feet wouldn’t hold still, and his arm slid up to trap Wyatt by the throat. “The demon is in his eyes! He lives in his soul!”

Kent pulled his arm out of the other shopper’s grip and took a half step closer.

“Don’t move!” the knife-man shrieked at him. He pulled the knife from Wyatt’s neck and pointed it at Kent. “He has to die!”

Kent’s heart almost stopped. “He’s just a boy. He’s not a demon.”

“He is evil!” the knife-man shouted. “I’ve seen it!” He brought the knife back to Wyatt’s jawline.

“Someone went to call the police,” the man next to him said in a low voice. “We need to keep him distracted until they get here.”

Sweat pooled under Kent’s armpits. What could he do?

Wyatt’s lips moved, but Kent couldn’t make out the words. His boy was terrified.

“That’s not how you kill a demon,” Kent stated. “You need a priest to do it.”

“I am a priest!” the knife-man yelled. “God has commanded me to find and destroy his demons.” The homeless man’s eyes were wide with several levels of insanity.

Kent couldn’t reason with crazy.

Notes of “Silent Night” filled the grocery store, the utter wrongness of it sweeping through Kent. “You can’t kill a demon the night before Christmas,” he pleaded. “It doesn’t work.”

The knife-man blinked at him.

He’d gotten through to him.

“Put down the knife. The boy isn’t a demon. He’s a child.” Kent took another half step closer and held his hand out to the homeless man. A good twenty feet separated him from the two.

“Get back,” the knife-man shrieked. His limbs tensed as he gripped Wyatt tighter.

Kent stopped moving and slowly lowered his arm.

“Shoppers, for your safety, please leave the store,” came a voice over the loudspeaker.

The knife-man cowered behind Wyatt and scanned the ceiling of the grocery store. “Go away! Get back! Don’t speak to me!”

“Attention shoppers, please leave the building.”

“Shut up!” the knife-man screamed at the ceiling. “You can’t see me!”

“Oh my God,” breathed the man next to Kent. “He’s on drugs.”

Kent didn’t care if the man was on drugs or simply nuts. He had to get Wyatt away before he cut him deeper. So far, Wyatt’s cut didn’t seem to be too bad. The knife-man had smeared the blood on Wyatt’s face with his jerky movements, covering his cheek with red.

A murmur of voices behind him made him glance over his shoulder. The crowd of shoppers had diminished to himself and three other men. Two Oregon State patrol officers had stepped inside the store and were talking to an employee. The employee pointed toward Kent and the group, speaking frantically as the officers nodded, assessing the situation.

“Tell them not to use the loudspeaker anymore,” the man next to him said to one of the others, who nodded and darted away.

Good idea.

“I need you guys to leave the store,” said a cop behind them.

Kent shook his head without looking back. “That’s my son. I’m not leaving.”

“Stay away!” Knife-man pointed his knife at the new arrivals. “I hate cops!”

“Hey, Jerry,” said one of the cops in a soothing voice. “I thought you weren’t supposed to come in this store anymore.”