Home > The Rains (Untitled #1)(7)

The Rains (Untitled #1)(7)
Author: Gregg Hurwitz


“No,” Patrick said. “She was trying to take me captive.”

“For what?”

Instead of answering, Patrick halted abruptly. Touched his hand to the earth. When he lifted it to the moonlight, his fingertips were smudged with something dark.

Blood.

The kids emerged from the corn, nearly stumbling into us from behind. Patrick stood quickly and lowered his hand so they wouldn’t see his stained fingertips.

“What?” Rocky said.

“Just catching my breath,” Patrick said.

The blood trail continued forward, nearly impossible to make out in the darkness. Patrick’s eyes traced the direction it went, his head slowly tilting up. I looked where he was looking. A stream of particles flowed above us, luminous in the moonlight, like the trail of a magic carpet.

We traced the stream across the starry sky to its source.

The top of the water tower.

* * *

The giant tower rose like a spider on stilts. We stood at the base of the metal ladder leading up and up. I realized that my knee was jittering and told it to stop. The stream of particles looked to be growing thinner, a fire burning itself out.

“What do you think it is?” Rocky asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe your dad went up there, started a fire or something?”

“Please help him,” JoJo said. “Please bring him home.”

Patrick set his hands on a rung, the shotgun making a clang against the side rail.

“Shouldn’t I come up and get your back?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

I turned to the kids. “Stay here—right here. If you see anything or anyone, give a shout.”

Rocky nodded and drew his little sister in protectively.

Patrick was already twenty or so rungs above me, his progress punctuated by the steady knock of the shotgun against metal. I started up after him.

I will confess: I don’t love heights. This water tower was 150 feet high, which wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that the ladder rose in the space between the legs of the tower, unattached to anything else. It felt like scaling a magical beanstalk, the earth falling away, my fists and toes finding holds in thin air.

Patrick finally reached the tank itself, and he climbed the metal rungs welded to the side. I followed him, focusing on each handhold, not daring to look anywhere else.

I heard a final clank of the shotgun as Patrick got to the top, and then there was silence.

“Patrick?” I called up, panic finding its way into my voice. “Everything okay?”

His voice floated down from the darkness. “No,” he said.

I quickened my pace to the top and crawled onto the flat roof of the tank, still not risking a look up from my feet until I was a few paces off the edge. My legs felt wobbly, though whether that was from the altitude or the sight before me, I didn’t know.

There on his back lay what was left of Hank McCafferty.

His torso and stomach were gone. In their place was a crater. He’d been hollowed out, the cage of his ribs thrusting up in the eroded space. Deep in the gleaming cavern, I could make out the line of his spinal cord. That strange pollen streamed forth from the hole, his remains turning to particles and paying out like a ribbon riding the wind.

It took me two tries to speak. My voice came out reedy. “What the hell is that stuff?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Patrick said. “We need help. We need to tell someone.”

I followed the pollen’s course to the distant lights of town and felt something inside me go cold.

That’s when we heard Rocky and JoJo screaming.

 

 

ENTRY 6

I was closest to the ladder, so I was the first man down. Patrick clanked down above me, urging me to move faster, his boots skimming my fingers as I pulled them off the rungs. My descent was so fast that it felt like falling. I couldn’t tell how far we’d come or how much farther we had to go.

Below, the kids’ screams grew louder, louder, and I risked a glance down. Forty or so feet below, Rocky and JoJo sprinted by, around the base of the water tower. A figure flashed past, chasing them, nightgown fluttering like a ghost in its wake.

Mrs. Franklin?

Patrick’s tread crunched my fingers. I yelped and whipped that hand free, holding on with the other. I reeled away from the ladder. The ground spun dizzyingly below. My sweaty grip nearly slipped, but I swung around and clamped back onto the rungs.

“Move!” Patrick was shouting. “Movemovemovemovemove!”

I did, not looking down again until my heel jammed into the dirt and I tumbled onto my back.

I blinked away the pain. A menacing silhouette leaned over me. It was Mr. Franklin, an outline of solid black against the blackness. Except I could see right through the holes where his eyes used to be, the stars shining through the tunnels in his head.

Quick breaths misted the air by his mouth. He leaned over, his head twitching, those large farmer’s hands reaching for me.

I opened my mouth to scream when he was wiped suddenly from view. Patrick had barreled off the ladder and knocked him over. Patrick rolled to his feet, planted a boot in the middle of Franklin’s chest, and unloaded the shotgun right into the man’s head.

The boom made me recoil there in the mud. It echoed off the hills of Ponderosa Pass.

Terror had left my skin clammy. I pulled myself to my feet.

Mr. Franklin’s body lay inert. His head was mostly gone.

After the experience with Mrs. McCafferty coming back to life after the gut shot, Patrick had taken no chances, going straight for the head.

A high-pitched scream snapped us out of our daze. Rocky and JoJo sprinted around one of the legs of the water tower, Mrs. Franklin right behind them, a streak of white.

Patrick chambered another shell and stepped into the path of the kids. Rocky split in one direction, JoJo the other. They brushed the outsides of Patrick’s legs as he fired a blast through Mrs. Franklin’s face.

She flew back and landed, her dress hiked up, exposing her pale, smooth thighs.

The kids cowered behind Patrick. Rocky sobbed. JoJo clutched Bunny and didn’t make a sound, just stared at the woman’s legs.

Patrick’s shoulders rose and fell. Sweat glossed his neck. Though I was standing, I felt like I was falling, my foundation tumbling away. Seeing Mrs. McCafferty get tangled in the auger had been horrifying. This was worse. Standing there beneath the water tower over the corpses of our neighbors was one of those nothing-will-ever-be-the-same moments. In the space of an hour, Patrick and I had killed three grown-ups. And the stream of pollen just kept pouring out of Hank McCafferty overhead. I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with what was going on.

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