Midnight Page 37


He went to his room and took off his clothes. There was no blood on his shoes, little on his jeans, but a lot on his shirt. After he quickly washed up in his bathroom sink and sluiced all traces of blood down the drain, he dressed in fresh jeans and shirt. He carefully bundled his bloody clothes in an old towel and carried them into the attic, where he hid them in a corner behind a seaman's trunk. He could dispose of them later.


Downstairs he passed the living room without looking in at his dead mother. He went straight to the desk in the judge's study and opened the right bottom drawer. From behind a stack of files, he withdrew the judge's revolver.


In the kitchen he turned off the overhead fluorescents, so the only light was what came through the windows, which was bright enough but left some parts of the room in cool shadows. He put the butcher's knife on the counter by the refrigerator, squarely in some of those shadows. He put the revolver on one of the chairs at the table, and pulled the chair only partway out, so the gun could be reached but not easily seen.


He went out through the French doors that connected the kitchen to the patio, and yelled for Runningdeer. The Indian did not hear the boy over the roar of the lawnmower, but happened to look up and see him waving. Frowning, he shut off the mower and crossed the half-cut lawn to the patio.


"Yes, Thomas?" he said, because he knew that the judge and Mrs. Shaddack were at home.


"My mother needs your help with something," Tommy said. "She asked me to fetch you."


"My help?"


"Yeah. In the living room."


"What's she want?"


"She needs some help with … well, it's easier to show you than to talk about it."


The Indian followed him through the French doors, into the large kitchen, past the refrigerator, toward the hall door.


Tommy halted abruptly, turned, and said, "O! yeah, Mother says you'll need that knife, that one there behind you on the counter, by the refrigerator."


Runningdeer turned, saw the knife lying on the shadowed tile top of the counter, and picked it up. His eyes went very wide. "Little Chief, there's blood on this knife. There's blood—"


Tommy had already plucked the revolver off the kitchen chair. As the Indian turned toward him in surprise, Tommy held the gun in both hands and fired until he emptied the cylinder, though the recoil slammed painfully through his arm and shoulders, nearly knocking him off his feet. At least two of the rounds hit Runningdeer, and one of them tore out his throat.


The Indian went down hard. The knife clattered out of his hand and spun across the floor.


With one shoe, Tommy kicked the knife closer to the corpse, so it would definitely look as if the dying man had been wielding it.


The boy's understanding of the great spirits' message had been clearer than his mentor's. They wanted him to free himself at once from everyone who had more than a little power over him: the judge, his mother, and Runningdeer. Only then could he achieve his own lofty destiny of power.


He had planned the three murders with the coolness of a computer and had executed them with machinelike determination and efficiency. He felt nothing. Emotions had not interfered with his actions. Well, in truth, he was scared and a little excited even exhilarated—but those feelings had not distracted him.


After staring for a moment at Runningdeer's body, Tommy went to the kitchen phone, dialed the police, and hysterically reported that the Indian, shouting of revenge, had killed his parents and that he, Tommy, had killed the Indian with his father's gun. But he didn't put it so succinctly. He was so hysterical, they had to pry it from him. In fact he was so shattered and disoriented by what had happened that they had to work patiently with him for three or four tedious minutes to get him to stop babbling and give them his name and address. In his mind he had practiced hysteria all afternoon, since lunch with the Indian. Now he was pleased that he sounded so convincing.


He walked out to the front of the house and sat in the driveway and wept until the police arrived. His tears were more genuine than his hysteria. He was crying with relief.


He'd seen the moonhawk twice again, later in life. He saw it when he needed to see it, when he wanted to be reassured that some course of action he wished to follow was correct.


But he never killed anyone again—because he never needed to.


His maternal grandparents took him into their home and raised him in another part of Phoenix. Because he had endured such tragedy, they more or less gave him everything that he wanted, as if to deny him anything would be unbearably cruel and, just possibly, might be the additional straw of burden that would break him at last. He was the sole heir of his father's estate, which was fattened by large life-insurance policies; therefore he was guaranteed a first-rate education and plenty of capital with which to start out in life after graduation from the university. The world lay before him, filled with opportunity. And thanks to Runningdeer, he had the additional advantage of knowing beyond a doubt that he had a great destiny and that the forces of fate and heaven wanted him to achieve tremendous power over other men.


Only a madman killed without a compelling need.


With but rare exception, murder simply was not an efficient method of solving problems.


Now, curled up in the back of the van in Paula Parkins's dark garage, Shaddack reminded himself that he was destiny's child, that he had seen the moonhawk three times. He put all fear of Loman Watkins and of failure out of his mind. He sighed and slipped over the edge of sleep.


He dreamed the familiar dream. The vast machine. Half metal and half flesh. Steel pistons stroking. Human hearts dependably pumping lubricants of all kinds. Blood and oil, iron and bone, plastic and tendon, wires and nerves.


9


Chrissie was amazed that priests ate so well. The table in the rectory kitchen was heavily laden with food an immense plateful of sausages, eggs, a stack of toast, a package of sweetrolls, another of blueberry muffins, a bowl of hash-brown potatoes that had been warming in the oven, fresh fruit, and a bag of marshmallows for the hot cocoa. Father Castelli was pudgy, sure, but Chrissie had always thought of priests as abstemious in all things, denying themselves at least some of the pleasures of food and drink just as they denied themselves marriage. If Father Castelli consumed as much at every meal, he ought to weigh twice what he did. No, three times as much!


As they ate, she told him about the aliens taking over her folks. In deference to Father Castelli's predisposition toward spiritual answers, and as a means of keeping him hooked, she left the door open on demonic possession, though personally she much favored the alien-invasion explanation. She told him what she'd seen in the upstairs hall yesterday, how she'd been locked in the pantry and, later, had been pursued by her parents and Tucker in their strange new shapes.


The priest expressed astonishment and concern, and several times he demanded more details, but he did not once pause significantly in his eating. In fact he ate with such tremendous gusto that his table manners suffered. Chrissie was as surprised by his sloppiness as she was by the size of his appetite. A couple of times he had egg yolk on his chin, and when she got up the nerve to point it out to him, he made a joke about it and immediately wiped it off. But a moment later she looked up, and there was more egg yolk. He dropped a few miniature marshmallows and didn't seem to care. The front of his black shirt was speckled with toast crumbs, a couple of tiny pieces of sausage, flecks of potatoes, sweetroll crumbs, muffin crumbs… .


Really, she was beginning to think that Father Castelli was as guilty as any man had ever been of the sin of gluttony.


But she loved him in spite of his eating habits because he' never once doubted her sanity or expressed a lack of belief in her wild story. He listened with interest and utmost seriousness, and seemed genuinely concerned, even frightened, by what she told him. "Well, Chrissie, they've made maybe a thousand movies about alien invasions, hostile creatures from other worlds, and they've written maybe ten thousand books about it, and I've always said that man's mind can't imagine anything that isn't possible in God's world. So who knows, hmmmm? Who's to say they might not have landed here in Moonlight Cove? I'm a film buff, and I've always liked scary movies best, but I never imagined that I'd find myself in the middle of a real-life scary movie. He was sincere. He never patronized her."


Although Father Castelli continued to eat with undiminished appetite, Chrissie finished breakfast and her story at the same time. Because the kitchen was warm, she was rapidly drying out, and only the seat of her pants and her running shoes were still really wet. She felt sufficiently reinvigorated to consider what lay ahead of her now that she had reached help. "What next? We've got to call in the Army, don't you think, Father?"


"Perhaps the Army and the Marines," he said after a moment of deliberation. "The Marines might be better at this sort of thing."


"Do you think …"


"What is it, dear girl?"


"Do you think there's any chance … well, any chance of getting my folks back? The way they were, I mean?"


He put down a muffin that he had been raising to his mouth, and he reached across the table, between the plates and tins of food, to take her hand. His fingers were slightly greasy with butter, but she did not mind, for he was so reassuring and comforting; right now she needed a lot of reassuring and comforting.


"You'll be reunited with your parents," Father Castelli said with great sympathy.


"I absolutely guarantee that you will."


She bit her lower lip, trying to hold back her tears.


"I guarantee it," he repeated.


Abruptly his face bulged. Not evenly like an inflating balloon. Rather, it bulged in some places and not others, rippled and pulsed, as if his skull had turned to mush and as if balls of worms were writhing and squirming just under the skin.


"I guarantee it!"


Chrissie was too terrified to scream. For a moment she could not move. She was paralyzed by fear, frozen in her chair, unable to summon even enough motor control to blink or draw a breath.


She could hear his bones loudly crackling-crunching-popping as they splintered and dissolved and reshaped themselves with impossible speed. His flesh made a disgusting, wet, oozing sound as it flowed into new forms almost with the ease of hot wax.


The priest's skull swelled upward and swept back in a bony crest, and his face was hardly human at all now but partly crustacean, partly insectile, vaguely wasplike, with something of the jackal in it, too, and with fiery hateful eyes.


At last Chrissie cried out explosively, "No!" Her heart was pounding so hard that each beat was painful. "No, go away, let me alone, let me go!"


His jaws lengthened, then split back nearly to his ears in a menacing grin defined by double rows of immense sharp teeth.


"No, no!"


She tried to get up.


She realized that he was still holding her left hand.


He spoke in a voice eerily reminiscent of those of her mother and Tucker when they had stalked her as far as the mouth of the culvert last night:


"… need, need … want … give me … give me … need …"


He didn't look like her parents had looked when transformed. Why wouldn't all the aliens look the same?


He opened his mouth wide and hissed at her, and thick yellowish saliva was strung like threads of taffy from his upper to his lower teeth. Something stirred inside his mouth, a strange looking tongue; it thrust out at her like a jack-in-the-box popping forth on its spring, and it proved to be a mouth within his mouth, another set of smaller and even sharper teeth on a stalk, designed to get into tight places and bite prey that took refuge there.


Father Castelli was becoming something startlingly familiar the creature from the movie Alien. Not exactly that monster in every detail but uncannily similar to it.


She was trapped in a movie, just as the priest had said, a real-life horror flick no doubt one of his favorites. Was Father Castelli able to assume whatever shape he wanted, and was he becoming this beast only because it pleased him to do so and because it would best fulfill Chrissie's expectations of alien invaders?


This was crazy.


Beneath his clothes, the priest's body was changing too. His shirt sagged on him in some places, as if the substance of him had melted away beneath it, but in other places it strained at the seams as his body acquired new bony extrusions and inhuman excrescences. Shirt buttons popped. Fabric tore. His Roman collar came apart and fell askew on his hideously resculpted neck.


Gasping, making a curious uh-uh-uh-uh-uh sound in the back of her throat but unable to stop, she tried to pull free of him. She stood up, knocking her chair over, but she was still held fast. He was very strong. She could not tear loose.


His hands also had begun to change. His fingers had lengthened. They were plated with a horn-like substance—smooth, hard, and shiny black—more like pincers with digits than like human hands.


"… need … want, want … need …"


She plucked up her breakfast knife, swung it high over her head, and drove it down with all her might, stabbing him in the forearm, just above the wrist, where his flesh still looked more human than not. She had hoped that the blade would pin him to the table, but she didn't feel it bite all the way through him to the wood beneath.


His shriek was so shrill and piercing that it seemed to vibrate through Chrissie's bones.


His armored, demonic hand spasmed open. She yanked free of him. Fortunately she was quick, for his hand clamped shut again a fraction of a second later, pinching her fingertips but unable to hold her.


The kitchen door was on the priest's side of the table. She could not reach it without exposing her back to him.


With a cry that was half scream and half roar, he tore the knife from his arm and threw it aside. He knocked the dishes and food from the table with one sweep of his bizarrely mutated arm, which was now eight or ten inches longer than it had been. It protruded from the cuff of his black shirt in nightmarish gnarls and planes and hooks of the dark, chitinous stuff that had replaced his flesh.


Mary, Mother of God, pray for me; mother, most pure, pray for me; Mother most chaste, pray for me. Please, Chrissie thought.


The priest grabbed hold of the table and threw it aside, tool as if it weighed only ounces. It crashed into the refrigerator. Now nothing separated her from him.


From it.


She feinted toward the kitchen door, taking a couple of steps in that direction.


The priest—not really a priest any more; a thing that sometimes masqueraded as a priest—swung to his right, intending to cut her off and snare her.


Immediately she turned, as she'd always intended, and ran in the opposite direction, toward the open door that led to the downstairs hall, leaping over scattered toast and links of sausage. The trick worked. Wet shoes squishing and squeaking on the linoleum, she was past him before he realized she actually was going to his left.

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