Home > The Rains (Untitled #1)(9)

The Rains (Untitled #1)(9)
Author: Gregg Hurwitz

We walked in silence for a time. The only sound was our boots crunching against the dirt. We emerged from the corn into the scrubby, tree-studded land between our place and the McCaffertys’. As we edged through a row of Gambel oak, the lights of our porch started to resolve.

“Even if they weren’t human anymore,” I said quietly to Patrick, “it still feels like we’ve killed people, you know?”

“If you were like that, would you want to keep living?” Patrick asked. “Would you want to know your body was still running around, terrorizing other people?”

I pictured myself doing awful things without knowing I was doing them. “No,” I said. “No way.”

“These spores float over everything,” Patrick said. “Like a crop dusting.”

“That’s right,” I said. “A dusting.”

“Then why aren’t we Hosts?” Patrick gestured back to Rocky and JoJo. “Or them? We breathed the same air as Mrs. McCafferty and the Franklins. If the spores turn people, why hasn’t it turned us?”

“Maybe we’re immune.”

“Or maybe,” Patrick said, “we’re already infected and it’s just a matter of time.”

I looked down at the backs of my hands, fish-white in the darkness. Was something already creeping beneath my skin, transforming me? I felt each breath, cool in my throat, filling my lungs.

The changing wind brought the barking of the dogs. An angry ruckus, full of snaps and snarls. As we drew nearer, the lights clicked on in our house, our living room lighting up as clear as day, a beacon in the darkness. Relief spread through me, a warmth in my chest. We were about a hundred yards away from home and safety.

Uncle Jim came into view inside, heading for the front door.

“Thank God,” I said.

Uncle Jim opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. I started to jog forward, but Patrick grabbed my arm. “Hang on,” he whispered.

Something in his voice scared me into stillness.

We stopped behind the big old ash tree with the rope swing. I rested my hand on the trunk, feeling beneath my palm the carving that Alex had made last year with Patrick’s folding knife: A.B.+P.R. in a heart. I remembered watching her work the blade into the bark, her brow furrowed with concentration, her teeth pinching that full lower lip. As usual I was the third wheel, grinding a stick into an anthill and doing my best not to notice the way Alex’s shirt rode up when she leaned forward, revealing a strip of tan skin at her lower back.

After all the things that had happened, the memory seemed like a glimpse into another world.

I felt JoJo clutching my side again, but I couldn’t move to comfort her. I was rooted to the ground, my eyes fixed on Uncle Jim.

He stood perfectly still in the middle of the porch, lit from the glow of the house.

“What’s he doing?” Rocky whispered, and Patrick hushed him.

We watched Uncle Jim do nothing.

And then he shuddered.

Not a shiver from the cold but a full-body shudder as if an electric current had passed through him. Then he was still once again.

A few seconds went by.

Fear clawed up my throat, and I swallowed it down.

“I’m gonna go to him,” I whispered to Patrick. “He’s fine.”

I started forward, but Patrick’s hand clamped down on my arm. I shook him loose and stepped into the open.

My brother’s voice came at me quietly from behind. “Chance,” he said. “Wait. Just wait.”

The grief in his voice made my denial melt away, and I halted. The wind blew through my jacket. The bitterness was still in the air, riding the back of my tongue. I felt a pressure behind my face. I didn’t keep on, but I didn’t retreat behind the tree either.

Uncle Jim had no way to see me in the darkness.

He was just standing there, frozen.

Then a blackness crept across his eyes until they looked like two giant pupils filling the space between the lids.

And then the blackness crumbled away like ash. The breeze lifted the bits of residue out of his head.

The lights of the house behind him showed in those two spots.

I tried to swallow, but my throat felt like sand. We watched as he stepped off the porch. He walked about fifty feet from the house, then halted. His head lowered, a smooth motion like a security camera autoswiveling. Then he walked a few steps, made a right-angle turn, walked a few more, and did it again. He walked a little bit longer each time, though the turns remained crisp. He seemed to be charting a rectangular grid, spiraling out from the center point. It made no sense at all, and yet there was some terrible cold logic to it, a logic I could not grasp.

Seeing him like that, all stiff as if under a hex, felt worse than if we’d come home and found him split open like Mr. Franklin. I realized I’d cupped my hand over my mouth, maybe to keep from crying out.

Uncle Jim, who’d played marbles with me when I was a kid. Uncle Jim, who made the best paper airplanes and taught me how to sail them across the barn from the hayloft. Uncle Jim, who’d helped me with my algebra homework, puzzling through the equations at my side.

He continued charting his course over the land in front of our house, his vacant eyes lowered. I remembered what Patrick had said about Mr. Franklin, how it seemed he’d been looking for something on the ground. Uncle Jim stumbled over a rock but then righted himself and kept on course.

I turned around and saw that Patrick was breathing hard, his grip firm on the shotgun. JoJo and Rocky had drawn back into the brush behind us, ready to run.

“We have to go to him,” I said to Patrick. “We can’t leave him like that.”

“I know,” Patrick said.

I stepped out and jogged for Uncle Jim, ignoring Patrick’s shouts for me to wait up. As I neared, I sprinted even faster. I had to see up close, to know it was true, because part of me wouldn’t believe it.

I got within talking distance, and Uncle Jim finally halted. His head tilted up, and then I was looking at his face and through it at the same time. Everything else seemed the same—the scuffed cowboy boots, his faded Wranglers, that worn Carhartt jacket. I felt an impulse to run to him and hug him—to shut my eyes and pretend he was okay.

But then his hands went to his buckle. He yanked his belt free of the loops on his jeans and came at me. At first I thought he was going to whip me. Then I remembered Mrs. McCafferty and her hank of long hair, and I realized he was going to restrain me.

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