Hop slouched in the corner, in a large and clearly well used recliner. The only light in the room came from a television tuned to a news station. The sound was off. Hop’s eyes were only half open. Given the reek of marijuana in the room I assumed that he was very stoned. He nodded to indicate that he had noticed my presence. I said, “Tell me about it.”
He closed his eyes completely for a moment and then forced them wide. He said, “It’s fucked is what it is. I can’t leave this house. I can’t be ’round people. I can’t see no doctor. Not with the police looking for me.”
I nodded. “Skinny William says it ate his hand.”
Hop nodded slowly. He said, “The fucked up thing ’bout it? I got no control over it but I could taste Skinny’s fingers while it chewed. Skinny got filthy hands.”
Lavinia Cooper pointed at the streetlamp at the corner. She said, “I first saw him back around Christmas. I couldn’t sleep. At my age I don’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a spell. So I was sitting up. I was watching the snow come down. It was really pretty there when the light hit it. And I saw him come running down the block. Really running. Not that jogging thing I hear people are doing. He was running like the devil was on his tail. He passed under the light and vanished into the snow.”
She paused to drink a sip of her tea and to nibble a bite of her cookie. She said, “I thought it was strange but, honest, I wasn’t even sure I’d seen him that first time. It happened so fast I thought I might have nodded off and dreamed it. But then I saw him again. And again. I started staying up just make sure. He’s there. Every Thursday at 3 am. Running from something awful.”
Cyclone squared her shoulders and thrust out her chin. “I’m ready,” she snapped. “I’ve killed five of these fuckers. One more will be a piece of cake.”
I looked at the sway in her stance and the gray beneath her eyes. The smell of rum was faint but unmistakable. I said, “Eating cake would be dangerous enough. The fork might miss your mouth and find your eye. I will hunt this beast by myself.”
The determination in her face faltered. “I’m still good,” she whispered. “I just have a little so I can sleep. It’s no big deal.”
“It is three in the afternoon Cyclone. I have lived as long as I have by being careful.”
Her face tightened. She snarled, “You’ve lived so long by being a fucking witch.”
I nodded. “That also has its advantages.”
Although the hall was dark, the big man still wore his thick sunglasses. I walked to within twenty feet of him before he held up his hand in a gesture meaning, “stop”. So I stopped. “Where is Miss Jones?” I asked.
The man smirked. “Cyclone Jones?” he jeered. “We have her locked up somewhere safe and quiet. She’ll stay there until you and my directors finish your discussion.”
I shook my head. I said, “I have not agreed to meet with your directors. I do not plan to. Not on your terms. I am here to ask you to take me to wherever you are holding Miss Jones. Now.”
He laughed. He said, “If you’re threatening me, little lady, you better have brought an army with you. And if you were hoping to seduce the information out of me, you’re wasting your time. I prefer white meat.”
I launched myself at him.
“Why children?” Cyclone snapped. “I know shit happens to everyone. Shit happened to me. Bad shit. But was human shit. These fuckers could take on anyone. Why children?’
I kept my eye on the closet door. It remained open, just an inch. The matchbox stayed perched atop it.
I said, “Predators prefer to get their meals with the least amount of work. Wolves, lions, tigers – they all seek out the oldest, the youngest, the sick in order to get fed quickly. I have heard that described as ‘keeping the herd strong’ “.
Cyclone stared at the floor.
I heard the sound of the matchbox striking the floor.
There was something in the music. No, that was not correct. There was something behind the music, something hidden in the recording that did not register to the human ear. I looked around me. I seemed to be the only one who noticed. The eyes of the other guests grew wider. Their pupils dilated. I hope hear them taking deeper breaths. I could hear their breathing beginning to synchronize.
The song ended. All conversations ended at the same moment. For a few seconds, the room was silent. Then a languid voice from a couch in the corner said, “Play it again.”
“They are not children,” I said. “At least, they are not human children. They are the fledglings of beings from another world.”
Cyclone frowned. She said, “Like they’re Martians? Spacekids?”
I shook my head. “No. There are many worlds that exist alongside this one. Some of we interact with every day and simply do not notice because those interactions do not affect us in any significant way. Other worlds and the people that inhabit them require great effort to reach. And interaction with those worlds is often fatal for inhabitants of this one.”
Cyclone looked me up and down. She suddenly seemed unsure of herself. “Are you from another world?” she asked.
As the sun headed for the horizon, Mike began to drink more heavily. His demeanor did not seem to change. He remained cheerful and his smile did not dim. More and more, however, I observed him feeding the bonfire, keeping it large. He stayed on the ocean side of the flames and I noticed, when he did not think he was being seen, he would stare into the dunes as if expecting a late arriving guest.
Cyclone slammed the door. She grabbed a chair from the kitchen and wedged it under the knob. Only then did she look at me. Her eyes displayed a mix of fury and disbelief. She smelled of earth and mulch. Judging by the stains on her clothes she appeared to have been wrestling in the mud.
She snapped, “What the hell is with you and monsters? I wasn’t even looking for one today and there it was, out to kill me!”
I rubbed my eyes and drank another slurp of tea. I said, “I would suggest that dealing with monsters was a family tradition but, fortunately, most of the family seems to have avoided going into the monster business. It appears that only a select few of us are so lucky.”
The road had more twists than a licorice stick. Navigating it with only one headlight and a throbbing pain behind my eyes took all my concentration. “Do you see it?” I asked with more force than I intended.
Cyclone seemed not to notice my tone. She took a quick look behind us and said, “Not for a couple of miles. I think …”
She did not finish her thought. We both saw it at once, standing just before the next bend, red eyes glowing with internal light. I slammed my foot on the brakes.