Lost Souls Page 25

“All right. I’m ready.”

“You go first,” Bryce said. “When you get to the bottom, cross the pavement, go about twenty feet into the grass and lie down, so the darkness and the slope will hide you.”

“You’ll be right behind me?”

“I’ll wait till you’re in the grass. No sense both of us being in the open at the same time. Then we’ll get help from a friend of mine.”

Monkey-quick and confident, the boy descended without incident and hurried across the fire lane. When he sprawled in the grass and looked back toward the hospital, his face was a small pale oval.

The horizontal members of the ladder were more like rungs than like steps. The thin, pliable soles of Bryce’s slippers tended to slip off the steel, but he reached the bottom safely.

In the field, the boy rose to his feet as Bryce arrived. “We have to get to my house first. Mom will go there after work, before coming here to see me. She might be on the way home right now. We’ve got to stop her before she leaves there for the hospital.”

“They might be watching the house.”

“But we’ve got to stop her. Those people screaming. It can’t happen to her. It just can’t.”

“All right. We’ll go to your house first. But even if I weren’t dressed like this,” Bryce said, “we’d be smart not to parade down any main streets.”

“I know those trees,” Travis said. “The other side of them is the Lowers.”

The Lowers was the shabby neighborhood of Rainbow Falls, at a lower elevation than the rest of the town, streets of drab cottages and old house trailers and unkempt lawns.

“Our place is in the Lowers,” Travis said. “We can get there mostly unseen.”

The boy headed downhill toward the pines, and Bryce followed.

The grass was halfway to his knees. No dew had yet formed. The cold teeth of the night bit his bare ankles.

Chapter 54

Just before twilight, when Mr. Lyss climbed the porch steps and rang the bell at the spooky house at the end of the narrow lane, no one came to the door. He used his picks to open the lock.

Nummy said, “So now we been jailbreakers once, housebreakers twice, and thieves.”

As he opened the door, Mr. Lyss said, “We didn’t steal anything yet. And I’m the jailbreaker and the housebreaker, not you. You’re just my annoying entourage.”

“What’s that word?”

Stepping into the house, Mr. Lyss said, “Doesn’t matter. You’ll never need to use it.”

Following the old man, Nummy said, “We did too steal something. Mrs. Trudy LaPierre’s food.”

“You remember—she tried to hire her husband’s murder and pin it on you?”

“That don’t make her food our food for nothing. You want this door open?”

“Close it,” Mr. Lyss said. “And for your information, I intend to pay for the food.”

“That would be nice. When is it you’ll pay for it?”

Switching on the lights in the front hall, Mr. Lyss said, “When I win the lottery.”

“You’re gonna win the lottery?”

“I have the ticket in my wallet already. It’s just a matter of collecting the money after they announce the winning number.”

In the living room, Mr. Lyss clicked on a lamp. A lot of the furniture was flowery, and the wallpaper.

“When you win the lottery, is that when you’ll pay back the loan of three fives, ten ones, ten more ones, and three more ones?”

“That’s exactly when,” Mr. Lyss said as he turned in a circle to admire the room.

“What if somebody comes home?” Nummy worried.

“We won’t be here long. Nobody will come before we’re gone.” In the dining room, Mr. Lyss said, “Look at this.”

What caught his eye was a painting of Jesus riding a horse. Jesus was in white robes, as usual, but he wore cowboy boots instead of sandals, and his hat was a halo.

“What an amazing thing,” Mr. Lyss said.

Nummy didn’t see what was so amazing. Of course, Jesus could ride a horse if he wanted to. Jesus could do anything.

Nummy heard wood creaking, like a floorboard or something, in another part of the house.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“What’s what?”

“That creak.”

“Old houses creak. Nobody’s here.”

“You might be wrong about somebody coming home,” Nummy said.

“Peaches, you remember the mailbox out at the end of the lane, at the street, how it was painted so fancy?”

“I liked the pretty mailbox.”

“Part of what was on it were the words ‘Saddle up with Jesus.’”

“I can’t read nothing,” Nummy said. “Grandmama she used to read me good stories. Before she died, Grandmama she made tapes so I can hear her telling my favorites anytime I want.”

“You didn’t like it when I took the mail out of their box and went through it,” Mr. Lyss said. “But I’ve looked through their mail before, and I learned important things when I did.”

As they entered the kitchen, Nummy said, “Learned what things?”

“For one thing, the first time I came here, I saw the mail was addressed to the Reverend and Mrs. Kelsey Fortis, which confirmed they live here like I thought.”

“You mean we housebreaked a preacher?”

Mr. Lyss opened a door, said, “Cellar,” and closed the door. He said, “When I came to town, I got the local newsrag and read up on the place, with an eye toward learning what passes for social life in this pathetic backwater. Bad men like me need to know what good people are up to, so I know when it’s best to visit them.”

“When is it best to visit them?” Nummy asked.

“When they’re not home, of course.” He opened another door and looked over the shelves in a walk-in pantry. “In the local paper I read about the first-Tuesday-of-every-month social that the Reverend Fortis’s church holds at some shit-kicking roadhouse. Sorry about that, Peaches.”

“That’s good.”

“What’s good?”

“Being sorry for the bad word. Being sorry, that’s a start.”

“Yeah, well. So I found Fortis’s address and waited for a first Tuesday, which is tonight. Just a while ago, when I looked in the saddle-up-with-Jesus box, I saw the day’s mail still there, so I knew nobody had come home yet. And considering that the social begins in hardly more than half an hour, I’d bet my whole bankroll—by which I mean three fives, ten ones, ten more ones, and three more ones—that they aren’t coming home until after.”

“Betting is wicked.”

Closing the pantry door, Mr. Lyss said, “He probably keeps them in the study, if there is a study.”

“Keeps what?” Nummy asked.

“A minister needs a study to write his sermons,” Mr. Lyss said, and he found the study along the hall that led from the kitchen.

The room was all leather furniture, pictures of horses, statues of horses, and a big desk.

Nummy thought the desk was what Mr. Lyss wanted, so he could find and read the preacher’s sermons, but it wasn’t the desk at all. Along one wall stood a big cabinet with four tall doors that had glass in them. Beyond the glass were guns, and the sight of them made Mr. Lyss happy.

“A week ago, the first time I looked through the good reverend’s mail, there was a magazine from the National Rifle Association. So back at the LaPierre dump, I figured this was where I could weaponize myself to defend against the Martians.”

Mr. Lyss tried the cabinet doors, but they were locked. Instead of using his picks, he took a horse statue from the desk and used it to smash the four panes.

“You got to pay for that from the lottery,” Nummy said.

“No problem. It’ll be a lot of money.”

Watching Mr. Lyss take different guns and boxes of bullets from the cabinet, Nummy grew nervous.

Instead of watching, he went around the room, looking at all the photographs of horses. Some were just horses alone, some were people standing beside horses, and some were people sitting on horses, but none of the people was Jesus.

Nummy heard the creaking again.

“There it is,” he said.

“There what is?”

“You heard.”

“You spook too easy.”

“Now it’s stopped.”

Mr. Lyss was wearing a long heavy coat that he’d borrowed from Poor Fred, and after he loaded the guns, he put one in each of the two big pockets of the coat. He dropped bullets in other pockets, handfuls of them like they were butterscotch candies he was going to suck on later. He had a long gun, too, one that wouldn’t fit in a pocket, and you could tell he liked it because of how it made him smile.

“I’m scared,” Nummy said.

“As long as you don’t spook too easy, being scared is a good thing. There’s something meaner than Satan’s snot loose in this town. If you weren’t afraid, you’d be the biggest dummy in the world, and you’re not the biggest by far. Fact is, there are a lot of people who aren’t dummies at all, but they’re way dumber than you. The world is full of high-IQ, well-educated idiots.”

“I don’t know about that,” Nummy said.

“Well, I do. Come on, you need a coat.”

Following the old man out of the study, Nummy said, “What coat?”

“Whatever’s warm and fits.”

In the coat closet near the front door, Mr. Lyss found a blue coat quilted like a bedspread. It had a hood lined with fur that you could put up or down, and Nummy counted six zippered pockets.

“This here is a nice coat,” Nummy said.

“And it fits you well enough.”

“But I can’t steal me a preacher’s coat.”

“Will you stop accusing me of stealing? I’m going to write out an I-owe-you for the glass damage, the guns, the bullets, the coat, the use of the toilet before we leave, for breathing their house air, all of it, and put it right here on the reverend’s desk, promising to pay with my lottery money.”

“And you really will pay?”

“I’m more afraid by the minute that I likely will.”

“Thank you, sir,” Nummy said. “I like my coat. I like it better than any coat I ever did have.”

“You look handsome in it.”

Nummy looked down at the floor. “Well, no, I don’t.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t, because you do. And you even make the coat look better just by being in it. Now, come on.”

Mr. Lyss started up the stairs.

“Where you going?” Nummy asked.

“Upstairs to have a look around.”

Nummy didn’t want to go upstairs in the preacher’s house when the preacher wasn’t there. But he didn’t want to stay downstairs alone, either, with all the flowery furniture, with the hallway painting of cowboy angels doing rope tricks, with the broken glass in the study and the grandfather clock ticking like a bomb. Reluctantly, he followed Mr. Lyss.

“What is it you want to look around for?”

“For whatever I might want to buy from the reverend and add to my I-owe-you.”

“There’s just gonna be beds and stuff upstairs.”

“Then maybe I’ll buy a bed.”

“We can’t carry no bed, sir.”

“Then maybe I’ll just buy the stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“The stuff you said was up here with the beds.”

“I don’t know what stuff is up here.”

“Then why’d you get me all excited about seeing it? Now I’ll probably be disappointed.”

“I’m sorry to say it, but sometimes you don’t make no sense at all to me.”

Turning on the upstairs hall lights, Mr. Lyss said, “Sometimes I don’t make any sense at all to me, either. But I keep on keeping on. You know how many days of his life the average person wastes by making no sense?”

“How many?”

“Most of them.”

Mr. Lyss went into a bedroom, turned on the lights, and said the bad word again without the “kicking” part.

When Nummy went into the bedroom, he saw three big gray sacks hanging from the ceiling. They were kind of like the cocoons that moths and butterflies came out of, except any moths or butterflies that came out of these would be as big as people.

Chapter 55

Deucalion stepped out of Erika’s kitchen and into the park in the center of town. After nightfall, he could reconnoiter without drawing too much attention to himself.

He had studied a map of Rainbow Falls laid out on a grid of fractional seconds of latitude and longitude, which Erika downloaded from the Internet. Although he’d never been in this town before, he would be able from the start to navigate confidently from principal point to principal point. As always, the more frequently he traveled within a particular area, the easier and the more precisely he could transition from place to place. He would quickly acquire an intuitive awareness of the coordinates of every square foot in Rainbow Falls.

He started in the park because on a cold night it would be all but deserted. The footpath lamps revealed no one, and the benches that he passed were not occupied.

In the center of the park stood a statue of a soldier holding his helmet over his heart, his head tipped back, his eyes turned toward the sky. Inlaid on the granite base were bronze plaques bearing the names of young men and women, locals who had gone off to war and never come home.

Such monuments always moved Deucalion. He felt a kinship with these people because they had known, as he knew, that Evil is not just a word and that it can’t be casually redefined to comply with changing standards, that Evil walks the world and that it must be resisted at any cost. The failure to resist, any compromise with Evil, would eventually ensure a jackboot on the neck of humanity, the murder of every innocent, and an eternal darkness that every sunrise would fail to relieve.

By his unique means, he moved from point to point in the park. From the memorial statue to the reflecting pond, to the St. Ignatius Avenue gate, to the children’s playground with its swing sets and seesaws. He also walked here and there, under trees in which feral pigeons made sounds almost like purring cats, and he came eventually to the Bearpaw Lane gate, where he stood in the deep night shade of pine trees to watch the traffic in the street.

He was not consciously looking for anything. He allowed the town to impress itself upon him as it wished. If Rainbow Falls was largely a healthy place, where hope exceeded hopelessness, where freedom thrived, where virtue tipped the scales of justice against the weight of vice, he would eventually know it for the good town that it was. But if there was rot in its foundations, he would know that, as well, and he would begin to notice clues to the source of its sickness.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next