Lost Souls Page 27

Nummy stayed just inside the doorway, but Mr. Lyss took a step toward the dark-twinkling sacks. He said, “We have something very special here, boy, something big.”

“You can have them,” Nummy said. “I don’t want none.”

The cocoons were apart from one another, so when Mr. Lyss walked all the way around the first one, he had his back to the other two, which made Nummy nervous.

“They look wet, but they’re not,” Mr. Lyss said. “It’s something else happening on the surface.”

“I like movies where people they laugh a lot and nice things happen,” Nummy said.

“Don’t babble nonsense at me, Peaches. I’m trying to think this through.”

Jamming his hands in the pockets of his new blue coat and making fists of them to stop them from shaking, Nummy said, “I mean, I don’t like them movies where people they get eaten by anything. I shut them off or change the channel.”

“This is reality, boy. We only have one channel, and the only way we change it is die.”

“That don’t seem fair. Don’t get so close to it.”

Mr. Lyss edged closer to the cocoon, leaned his face in for a better look.

“I could say a bad word now,” Nummy said. “All six of them. I sure do have me an urge to.”

Mr. Lyss said, “The surface is crawling all over. Constantly moving, squirming like it’s a ball of the tiniest ants you’ve ever seen, but not ants.”

“There’s something in it,” Nummy said.

“Brilliant deduction, Sherlock.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means, yeah, there’s something in it.”

“I told you so.”

“Wonder what would happen if I poked it?” Mr. Lyss said, and he brought the barrel of the big gun close to the cocoon.

“Don’t poke it,” Nummy said.

“Spent my life poking anything I want to poke.”

“Please don’t poke it, sir.”

“On the other hand,” Mr. Lyss said, “this isn’t any damn piñata full of candy.”

The ceiling creaked as though the weight of the sacks pulled hard on the beams.

“That’s what I heard downstairs. And what you said to me is—you said it was just an old house, they creak.”

“They do creak. This happens to be another issue.”

When Mr. Lyss stepped back from the cocoon without poking it, Nummy sighed with relief, but he didn’t feel much better.

“I wish Norman was here.”

“Oh, my, yes, we’d be so much safer if we had a stuffed toy dog with us.”

The longer he stared at the sacks, the more Nummy thought they looked … ripe. All swollen up with ripeness and ready to burst.

“How is it,” Mr. Lyss asked, “the reverend and his wife have four children, but there’s only three cocoons, not six?”

For a moment, Nummy didn’t understand, and then he did but wished he didn’t.

“Maybe there’s three more of these suckers in another room,” Mr. Lyss said.

“We got to go.”

“Not yet, Peaches. I’ve got to check the other rooms up here. You watch these bastards and give me a yell if something starts to happen.”

Mr. Lyss moved past Nummy before Nummy knew what the old man was doing. “Hey, wait, no, I can’t stay here alone.”

“You stand guard right there, Peaches, you keep a close watch on them, or so help me God, I’ll use this shotgun. I will blow your head off and bounce it down the stairs like a basketball. I’ve done it before more times than I can count. You want me to play basketball with your head, boy?”

“No,” Nummy said, but couldn’t bring himself to say sir.

Mr. Lyss stepped into the upstairs hall and went away to poke in other rooms.

During the day, there had been times when Nummy wished that Mr. Lyss would go away and leave him alone, but now that it happened, he really, really missed the old man.

The bedroom ceiling creaked again, a series of creaks that made him think he would see cracks spreading across the plaster, but there weren’t any cracks.

No matter what happened on any particular day since Grandmama passed away, no matter what kind of awful problem there was, if Nummy just thought hard enough about it, he remembered something she told him that helped him get through the problem with no problem. But Grandmama never said anything about outer-space monsters that made giant cocoons.

In other rooms, Mr. Lyss opened and closed doors. He didn’t suddenly scream, which was a good thing.

When the old man returned, he said, “It’s just the three. You wait here while I go downstairs and find something to burn them.”

“Please, please, I don’t want to stay here.”

“We have a responsibility, boy. You don’t just walk away and leave something like this to hatch.”

“They won’t like being burned.”

“I don’t much care about the preferences of a bunch of alien bugs, and neither should you.”

“You think they’re bugs?”

“I don’t know what the hell they are, but I know I don’t like them one bit. Now remember—you yell for me if anything starts to happen.”

“What might happen?”

“Anything might happen.”

“What should I yell?”

“Help would seem a good idea.”

Mr. Lyss hurried into the hall once more and down the stairs, leaving Nummy alone on the second floor. Well, not exactly alone. He had a feeling that the things in the cocoons were listening to him.

The ceiling creaked.

Chapter 59

The pale brunette with the silver face jewelry sat two tables away from Carson and Michael. Her waitress was the same one who had served them, a perky redhead named Tori.

Carson could clearly hear Tori as she approached the woman: “Nice to see you, Denise. How’s it going this evening?”

Denise didn’t reply. She sat as before, stiffly erect, hands in her lap, staring into space.

“Denise? Is Larry coming? Honey? Is something wrong?”

When Tori tentatively touched the brunette’s shoulder, Denise reacted almost spastically. Her right hand flew up from her lap, seizing the waitress by the wrist.

Startled, Tori tried to pull away.

Denise held fast to the waitress and said, in a slow thick voice, “Help me.”

“Oh, my God. Honey, what happened to you?”

Carson saw a thread of blood unravel from the silver button on the brunette’s temple.

Even as Tori raised her voice and asked if anyone in the café knew first aid, Carson and Michael were on their feet and at her side.

“It’s all right, Denise, we’re here now, we’re here for you,” Michael assured her as he gently pried her fingers from the waitress’s wrist.

As if she felt adrift and desperate for a mooring, she gripped Michael’s hand as fiercely as she had held fast to Tori’s.

Voice trembling, Tori asked, “What’s wrong with her?”

“Call an ambulance.”

“Yeah. Okay,” the waitress agreed, but she didn’t move, riveted by horror, and Michael had to repeat the command to propel her into action.

Swinging a chair away from the table, sitting on the edge of it so that she was face to face with the brunette, Carson picked up the woman’s limp left hand and pressed two fingers to the radial artery in the wrist. “Denise? Talk to me, Denise.”

Studying the silver bead on her temple, from under which dark blood steadily seeped, Michael said, “I don’t know if it’s best to lay her down or keep her sitting up. What the hell is this thing?”

Carson said, “Her pulse is racing.”

A few people had gotten up from their dinners. Recognizing Carson’s and Michael’s competence, they hesitated to approach.

The woman’s eyes remained glazed.

“Denise? Are you here with me?”

Her empty gaze refocused from infinity. Her dark and liquid eyes brimmed with despair stripped so completely of any hope that her stare chilled Carson far more effectively than had the cold night air.

“She took me,” Denise said thickly.

“Help is on the way,” Carson assured her.

“She was me.”

“An ambulance. Just a minute or two.”

“But not me.”

A bubble of blood appeared in her left nostril.

“Hold on, Denise.”

“Tell my baby.”


“Tell my baby,” she said more urgently.

“All right. Okay.”

“Me isn’t me.”

The bubble in the nostril swelled and burst. Blood oozed from her nose.

A commotion drew Carson’s attention to the front door of the restaurant. Three men entered. Two were police officers in uniform.

The ambulance couldn’t have arrived already. The civilian wasn’t dressed like a paramedic.

He remained by the door, as if guarding it, and the cops crossed the room to Denise. The nameplates under their badges identified them as BUNDY and WATSON.

“She’s injured,” Michael told them. “Some kind of nail or something. I don’t know how far it penetrated.”

“We know Denise,” Bundy said.

“Extreme tachycardia,” Carson said. “Her pulse is just flying.”

Watson said, “We’ll take it from here,” and pulled at Carson’s chair to encourage her to get to her feet and out of the way.

“There’s an ambulance coming,” Michael informed them.

“Please return to your table,” Bundy said.

When Denise wouldn’t let go of Michael’s hand, he said to the police, “She’s scared, we don’t mind staying with her.”

To Denise, Bundy said, “Let go of his hand.”

She released Michael’s hand at once.

Watson said, “Now please return to your dinner. We’ve got this covered.”

Disturbed by the cops’ cool officiousness, Carson remained at Denise’s table.

“Time to go, Denise,” Watson said. He took her by one arm. “Come with us.”

“But she’s bleeding,” Carson objected. “There’s a brain injury, she needs paramedics.”

“We can have her to the hospital before the ambulance is even here,” Watson said.

Denise had gotten to her feet.

“She has to be transported carefully,” Michael insisted.

Watson’s eyes were pale gray, a pair of polished stones. His lips were bloodless. “She walked away, didn’t she?”


“She walked all the way here on her own. She can walk out. We know what we’re doing.”

“You’re interfering with police business,” Bundy warned them, “and with this woman getting the care she needs.”

Carson saw Bundy’s right hand cup the Mace canister on his utility belt, and she knew that Michael saw it, too.

In their room at Falls Inn, they had unpacked and loaded a pair of pistols. The weapons were in shoulder rigs, under her blazer, under Michael’s sport coat.

Montana being Montana, the law most likely respected licenses to carry concealed weapons that had been issued in other states, but she didn’t know that for certain. Before arming themselves in this new jurisdiction, they should have at least visited the local authorities to present their credentials and request accommodation.

If they were Maced and cuffed, she and Michael would be in jail for at least twenty-four hours. Their pistols would be impounded. In a search of their motel room, the police would find and confiscate a pair of Urban Sniper shotguns and other forbidden items.

Even if they were released on bail in a timely fashion, they would be unarmed in a town where Victor’s clone would then surely know of their presence. Considering Watson’s and Bundy’s attitude and curious behavior, she suspected that the police had either been corrupted by Victor or were creatures of his creation.

Raising both hands as if in surrender, Michael said, “Sorry. Sorry. We’re just worried about the lady.”

“You let us do the worrying,” Watson said.

“Return to your table,” Bundy warned them again.

“Come along, Denise,” Watson said.

As she began to move with the cop, Denise met Carson’s eyes and said with thick-tongued urgency, “My baby.”

“All right,” Carson promised.

As she and Michael returned to their table, Watson and Bundy escorted Denise across the restaurant. With her back as straight as a plumb line and her delicate chin raised, with the storklike step of a performer on a high wire, she moved with the obvious awareness that her situation remained precarious.

The civilian at the door took Denise’s free arm. Flanking their captive, he and Watson walked her out of the restaurant and into the now strange and threatening October night.

Bundy looked back at Carson and Michael as they reluctantly sat down at their table. He stared at them a moment, as if fixing them in their chairs, and then departed.

Chapter 60

The Ahern property in the Lowers proved to be a cottage on a wide lot, but not one in disrepair. The paint wasn’t peeling, and the front-porch steps didn’t sag. The lawn and shrubs appeared to be well kept, and no pales were missing from the picket fence. Scalloped barge-boards and simple fretwork along the porch eaves gave the little house some charm.

Controlled by a timer, the porch light had come on at dusk. Otherwise, the place remained dark.

Directly across the street from the cottage, snarls of crisp dead weeds surrounded the burned-out concrete-block foundation of a house destroyed by fire years earlier. On the same property stood a wood-frame, corrugated-metal storage shed from which the door had broken away.

Concerned that someone from the hospital might come here in search of Travis when it was discovered that he had gone missing, he and Bryce Walker stood sentinel from within the empty storage shed. When Grace Ahern appeared in her Honda, they would break from cover and stop her in the street before she parked in the carport. She could drive them to the friend of Bryce’s from whom he believed he could get the help they needed.

The canted shed smelled of rust and wood rot and urine, with the faint underlying odor of something that had died in here and had nearly finished decomposing. A cleansing draft would have been welcome, but no breeze stirred the night.

Wrapped in the hospital blanket, which seemed thinner than it had been when he’d stripped it off the bed and rolled it, Bryce was neither warm nor freezing. The cold air nipped at his bare ankles, however, and gradually a chill crept up his calves.

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