Rick handed me the police report. The name of the survivor: Tina Dee. Again. I said, “This is the third massacre that Tina has survived.”
Rick nodded. He laid four photographs onto the table. He said, “That is, this is the third massacre that I was able to get a police report for. I’ve got evidence of other incidence that I’m still trying to track down. This is Tina in 1982. This is her in 1983. 1986. 1987. She has the same hair style in all the photos. It’s the same length. The same color. It’s got to have the same amount of hair spray holding it up.”
Stacy clenched her hands together. She said, “I’ve survived more than three massacres.”
Rick nodded again. “I know. I’ve heard of you. You’re not famous, at least not among the mundanes, but in the circles I run, people know your name. This Tina Dee? No one has heard of her. I can’t find a social security number. No phone number. No address. She’s the girl who survives and disappears.”
“I didn’t choose this. It fucking chose me. It killed my family. My mother. My father. My older sister and my little brother. It knew where I was hiding. It looked directly at me and put its finger to its lips and let me live. Maybe that was its idea of a joke. Or maybe it wanted to me to grow up and hunt it down. Hunt down all its kind.”
I said nothing. I had no comforting words. What she needed now was an ear, a listener who knew she was not crazy. Tonight we would drink her beer and scotch. I would make sure she drank enough water to dull the hangover. Tomorrow we would go hunting. She would provide the drive and the anger. I would keep her alive. We were both daughters of spiders. Hers had been a species that parented with evil.
I turned off the lights and the wipers but I left the motor running in order to keep the windows defogged. I hoped the exhaust would not be obvious from a distance. Stacy handed me one of the coffees.
“We called her Sister Blister,” she said. “We called her a lot of other, nastier things too. She carried a ruler up her sleeve. If she thought you were out of line – whack! on the arm or the hand or the leg. She’d pop the thing out and slip it back up so fast you’d never see it. You’d just feel the pain.
She stopped and thought for a moment. She shook her head. She said, “I just realized I started learning to conceal weapons from that bitch.”
“Every city has such predators,” I said. “The bigger the city, the more numerous the predators. And the greater variety. These creatures are new to me.”
The girl gave me a version of look that all the young seem to have for their elders now. She closed her eyes for a moment and inhaled deeply. Eyes still closed she found the shot glass and drained it. Eyes still closed she began to reassemble her pistols. She said, “I don’t care if they’ve been around forever. A few bullets to the head will still kill one. I think they even like it. The last fucker I took down was smiling when I shot out his teeth.
The soldiers raised their rifles and fired. The bullets simply passed through the body as if through traveling through mud.
Clearly understanding that their weapons were useless, they attempted to flee. Xiǎo měinǚ reached out and caught a soldier each liquid hand. I heard the sound of cloth and flesh burning in her acid grasp. She held them only long enough to slam them into the walls of the tomb. She lunged forward again.
Tarni sniffed at the wind. She looked at me with upraised eyebrows. I nodded. There was an animal smell in the air. It was the reek of something, probably some things, large. I held up a single finger. She shook her head and held up four fingers. I mimed a snarl and clawed hands to indicate a predator. She shrugged.
I struggled to focus. Whatever drug they had given me was wearing off but the world was still blurry place. I knew that I lay on sand but I could only feel it as a memory of having lain on sand in the past. I heard a voice and looked to my right.
A large woman leaned into my view. A name floated up to my memory. Charlotte Brown. Yes. Mrs. Arthur Brown.
Mrs. Brown smiled. Was that sympathy? She said, “Please don’t take this personally, Dearie. We don’t have anything against you. We just can’t be letting anyone into our business. We’d be more merciful but that would leave the sort of evidence we don’t need. I hope you there’s not too much pain before the end.”
I shook my head in an attempt to dislodge the fuzziness. In the process I saw my legs for the first time. There was bend in my right leg below the knee that seemed out of place.
I spidered down the cliff until I came parallel to the cave. I listened. Below and above me I heard the calls of birds. From the cave I heard nothing. I felt a warm breeze passing from the west.
I inched closer to the opening. I still heard nothing from inside but my nose caught the smell of old meat. That boded ill. I had hoped that the creature had taken the children out of a protective instinct. If it simply saw them as food I was probably too late.
From behind the seat Smith pulled a furled umbrella. He handed it to me. It felt like it weighed at least thirty pounds. He pulled out a second for himself. While he loaded his rifle I checked my umbrella’s construction. It was heavy canvas, waxed, over a thick aluminum frame. Smith said, “When we get into the forest, pop it up. There are a dozen mesh panels that will let you see up to the canopy. You won’t get the best view but it’s better than having one of the buggers land on your shoulders.”
Frank popped the tops of the beers with the blue metal opener attached to his keyring. He handed the first to me and the second to Will. He kept the third for himself. Jake not drinking was apparently an expected thing. Frank and Will clicked their bottles and each took a quick gulp. I followed suit.
Frank said, “My dad made the movie. He’d directed some commercials and some TV cop shows back when he was in California. He was a hustler but the kind who actually liked the people he was working on. He was the sort of guy who could start up a conversation with anybody and they’d still be talking to him ten minutes later. He’d been in town for about six months when he got the idea of making a movie here. He had a couple of scripts that he’d tried to sell before. He just rewrote the settings to fit our town.”
“Both the movies were horror films?” I asked.
Frank nodded. “Dad liked other kinds of movies but he knew that horror films usually turned a bigger profit. Dad spent his whole life trying to get rich. I learned a lot watching him try. Mostly I learned that chasing money was a good way to not have either it or happiness.”