Home > The Rains (Untitled #1)(6)

The Rains (Untitled #1)(6)
Author: Gregg Hurwitz

Rocky finally answered, “Chance?”

I was closer with the McCafferty kids than Patrick was. They came over to play with the dogs. I even let them watch the litters being born if it wasn’t a school night. Rocky was ten years old, JoJo only eight, so they couldn’t afford being up late if they had school the next day.

“Yep,” I said. “Come on out now and let us help you.”

“Our stepmom,” Rocky said through the door. “She tried to kill us. Except…” His voice quavered.

I said, “Except it wasn’t your stepmom.”

A moment later we heard the click of the door unlocking. It swung in to reveal two tearstained faces. Rocky held a baseball bat, and JoJo clutched Bunny, her worn yellow stuffed animal, to her chest.

At the sight of me, JoJo held up her arms like a little kid wanting to be picked up. I let the baling hooks drop so they dangled from my forearms on their nylon loops, freeing my hands. When I lifted her, she clung to me and started crying again, her long brown hair brushing against my face.

Rocky peered up the hall behind us. “Where is she now?”

Patrick said, “You don’t have to worry about her anymore.”

Rocky nodded, clearly trying not to cry. “Good.”

JoJo’s face was hot where it touched my neck. She pulled back and looked at me. “Our daddy,” she said. “He wasn’t our daddy either. Not when he left.”

“When did he leave?” Patrick asked.

“Earlier tonight.”

“Where’d he go?” I asked.

JoJo lifted her arm and pointed through her bedroom window. Past the Franklins’ place, the water tower rose beneath the moonlight.

* * *

“He was hurt bad,” Rocky said as we headed downstairs. Black curls fringed his round face. Though he’d gone pale, circles flushed his cheeks. He looked even younger than his ten years.

Patrick chose his words carefully. “Like your stepmom?”

“No, not like her,” JoJo said. “His stomach was swole up, and he was all weird and stumbly.”

“And naked,” Rocky added.

Patrick looked like he wasn’t sure what to make of that, and I wasn’t either.

“Our stepmom, she went into shock after Dad left,” Rocky said. “She sat on the kitchen floor and couldn’t talk. She just cried and shivered. We didn’t know what to do. Then when night came on, she … she changed.”

As we passed through the kitchen, Patrick plucked the phone receiver from the wall and held it to his ear. Then he tapped the switch-hook a few times, gave me a little shake of his head, and hung the phone back up.

My stomach pulsed with alarm. Mrs. McCafferty must have cut the phone line, though it seemed crazy to me that she’d have thought to do something like that. By the time we saw her, it didn’t seem like she was thinking at all.

“We’re gonna head back to our place and rouse Jim and Sue-Anne,” Patrick said. “We’ve got to get some help.”

“I want him,” JoJo said. She still hadn’t come out of my arms. “I want my dad.”

“I understand that, Junebug,” I said, hoping her favorite nickname would calm her. “But we need to let the sheriff know what happened here.”

The sheriff happened to be Alex’s father, an added complication that neither Patrick nor I wanted to dwell on right now. Timothy Blanton had been a single father for five years, ever since his wife had driven off to the West Coast one crisp autumn morning, never to return. He was as strict as you’d imagine a single father/sheriff might be, and while Patrick was respectful to him, there wasn’t a lot of affection between them. There’d be even less once we told him about shooting Mrs. McCafferty in the gut, then shredding her in a sweep auger.

Shotgun in hand, Patrick stepped through the screen door onto the porch and scanned the darkness. The night wind gusted in our faces. JoJo sniffed the bitter air and wrinkled her nose.

“But he was hurt,” Rocky said. “What if he needs our help now? Your place is the opposite way. Can we help him first?”

JoJo started crying. “I want my dad,” she said again.

I looked at Patrick, and he nodded. “Okay. We’ll do a quick loop to look for him in case he’s in trouble, then head home and call the sheriff.”

I set JoJo down, careful not to snag her sweater on the baling hooks. “Keep behind us,” I said.

We headed off the porch and forged ahead into the crops. We came to that cleared field and noticed the little piles where the stalks had once been, the crumbled remains like ash.

I remembered the news frenzy following Asteroid 9918 Darwinia’s disintegration. All the statistics and gossip about what had landed where.

At the sight, Patrick made a noise deep in his throat, and then we continued on. Sweet corn rose on either side of us, the husks scraping our sleeves. On alert, we rasped through the darkness toward the Franklins’ land, Patrick and I keeping the lead.

“What was that in the silo?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” Patrick said. “But it wasn’t Mrs. McCafferty. Not anymore.”

“We killed her.”

“No,” he said. “You saw her. She was already dead.”

“Then what was she? And don’t say the Z-word.”

“I have no idea,” Patrick said. “It’s like she was sick with some crazy disease. Rabies or whatever.”

“Rabies doesn’t put tunnels through your head.”

“A new strain, then,” Patrick said. “Or some other killer virus.”

“But what disease does that?” I said. “It’s like something had … I don’t know, taken her over.”

Just saying it out loud made the back of my neck prickle. Our boots crunched the hard earth.

Patrick cleared his throat. “She was more like a … a … what’s the name for it? In biology? The opposite of a parasite?”

“A host,” I said.

We let the word hang there. Behind us we could hear JoJo sniffling and Rocky murmuring, “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

We reached the edge of the field, breaking through the stalks onto open ground.

“What was she trying to do?” I whispered. “The … host? Ripping out her hair, pinning you down, tying your wrists? Was she gonna eat you?”

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