Seize the Night

Page 41



As the furniture struck Sasha, the possessed priest was already firing items off the vanity at me, at Bobby, at Roosevelt, and though bestial sounds continued to issue from him, he also snarled a few broken but familiar words, with a vicious glee, to punctuate his attack: a silver hairbrush, an oval hand mirror with mother-of-pearl frame and handle—“in the name of the Father”—a heavy silver clothes brush—“and the Son”—a few decorative enamel boxes—“and the Holy Spirit!”—a porcelain bud vase that hit Roosevelt so hard in the face he dropped as if he’d been smacked with a ball-peen hammer, a silver comb. A perfume bottle sailed past my head and shattered against a distant hulk of furniture, flooding the bedroom with the fragrance of attar of roses.


During this barrage, ducking and dodging, protecting our faces with raised arms, Bobby and I tried to move toward Tom Eliot. I’m not sure why. Maybe we thought that together we could pin him down and hold the pitiable wretch until this seizure passed, until he regained his senses. If he had any senses left. Which seemed less likely by the second.


When the priest fired the last of the clutter from the arsenal atop the vanity, Bobby rushed him, and I went after him, too, just a fraction of a second later.


Instead of retreating, Father Tom launched himself forward, and when they collided, the priest lifted Bobby off the floor. He wasn’t Father Tom at all anymore. He was something unnaturally powerful, with the strength and ferocity of a mad bull. He lunged across the bedroom, knocking over a chair, and slammed-jammed-crushed Bobby into a corner so hard that Bobby’s shoulders should have snapped. Bobby cried out in pain, and the priest leaned into him, punching, clawing at his ribs, digging at him.


Then I was in the melee, too, on Father Tom’s back, slipping my right arm around his neck, gripping my right wrist with my left hand. Got him in a chokehold. Jerked back on his head. Just about crushed his windpipe, trying to pull him away from Bobby.


He retreated from Bobby, all right, but instead of dropping to his knees and capitulating, he seemed not to need the air that I was choking out of him, or the blood supply to the brain that I pinched off. He bucked, trying to throw me over his head and off his back, bucked again and more furiously.


I was aware of Sasha shouting, but I didn’t listen to what she was saying until the priest bucked a fourth time and nearly did pitch me off. My chokehold slipped, and he snarled as if sensing triumph, and I finally heard Sasha saying, “Get out of the way! Chris! Chris, get out of the way!”


Doing what she demanded took some trust, but then it’s always about trust, every time, whether it’s deadly combat or a kiss, so I released my faltering chokehold, and the priest threw me off even before I could scramble away.


Father Tom rose to his full height, and he appeared to be taller than before. I think that must have been an illusion. His demonic fury had attained such intensity, such blazing power, that I expected electric arcs to leap from him to any nearby metal object. Rage made him appear to be larger than he was. His radiant yellow gaze seemed brighter than mere eyeshine, as if inside his skull was not merely a new creature becoming but the elemental nuclear fire of an entire new universe aborning.


I retreated, gasping for breath, stupidly groping for the gun that Manuel had taken from me.


Sasha was holding a bed pillow, which she evidently had jerked out from under the head of one of the suicides. This seemed as crazy as everything else that was happening, as if she intended to smother Father Tom or to batter him into submission with a sack of goose down. But then, as she ordered him to back off and sit down, I understood that the pillow was folded around her .38 Chiefs Special, to muffle the report of the revolver if she was forced to use it, because this bedroom was at the front of the house, where the sound might carry to the street.


You could tell that the priest wasn’t listening to Sasha. Maybe by this time he wasn’t capable of listening to anything except to what was happening inside him, to the internal hurricane-roar of his becoming.


His mouth opened wide, and his lips skinned back from his teeth. An unearthly shriek came from him, then another, more chilling than the first, followed by squeals and cries and wretched groans, which alternately seemed to express pain and pleasure, despair and joy, blind rage and poignant remorse, as if there were multitudes within this one tortured body.


Instead of ordering Father Tom to desist, Sasha was now pleading with him. Maybe because she didn’t want to be forced to use the gun. Maybe because she was afraid his crazed shouting would be heard in the street and draw unwanted attention. Her pleas were tremulous, and tears stood in her eyes, but I could tell that she would be able to do whatever needed to be done.


The shrieking priest raised his arms as if he were calling down the wrath of Heaven upon all of us. He began to shake violently, like one afflicted with Saint Vitus’ dance.


Bobby was standing in the corner where Father Tom had left him, both hands pressed to his left flank, as though stanching the flow of blood from a wound.


Roosevelt blocked the hall door, holding one hand to his face, where he’d been hit by the bud vase.


I could tell from their expressions I wasn’t alone in believing that the priest was building toward an explosion of violence far more fearsome than anything we had witnessed yet. I didn’t expect Father Tom to metamorphose before our eyes, from minister to monster in one minute, like a shape-changing alien in a science-fiction movie, half basilisk and half spider, slashing-snapping-stinging-ripping its way through the four of us, then swallowing Mungojerrie as if the hapless cat were an after-dinner mint. Surely flesh and bone couldn’t be transformed as quickly as popcorn kernels in a microwave oven. On the other hand, such a fantastic change, pastor to predator, would not have surprised me, either.


The priest did surprise me, however, surprised all of us, when he turned his rage against himself; though in retrospect, I realized I should have remembered the birds, the veve rats, and Manuel’s words about psychological implosion. The cleric let out a wail that seemed to oscillate between rage and grief, and though it wasn’t as loud as the preceding cries, it was even more terrifying because it was so devoid of hope. To this marrow-freezing lament, he repeatedly bashed himself in the face with his right fist, and also with the semblance of a fist that he was able to make with his deformed hand, striking such solid blows that his nose crunched and his lips split against his teeth.


Sasha was still pleading with him, though she must have realized that Father Tom Eliot was beyond her reach, beyond the help of anyone in this world.


As if trying to scourge the devil from himself, he began to claw his cheeks, digging his fingernails deep, and with those pincers, he went at his right eye as though to pluck it out of himself.


Feathers suddenly whirled through the air, spinning around the priest, and I was briefly confused, astonished, until I realized that Sasha had fired the .38. The pillow couldn’t have entirely muffled the shot, but I’d heard nothing other than Father Tom’s wail drilling my skull.


The priest jerked from the impact of the slug, but he didn’t drop. He didn’t bite off that skirling lament or stop tearing at himself.


I heard the second shot—whump—and the third.


Tom Eliot crumpled to the floor, lay twitching, briefly kicked his legs as if he were a dog chasing rabbits in his sleep, and then was motionless, dead.


Sasha had relieved him from his agony but had also saved him from the self-destruction that he believed would condemn his immortal soul to eternal damnation.


So much had happened since the priest had thrown the chair at Roosevelt and the vanity bench at Sasha that I was surprised to hear Elton John still singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”


Before dropping the pillow, Sasha turned toward the television and fired one more round, blowing out the screen.


As satisfying as it was to put an end to the inappropriately uplifting music and images of The Lion King, we were all alarmed by the total darkness that claimed the room following a shower of sparks from the terminated TV. We assumed that the becoming priest must be dead, because any of us would be worm food, for sure, with three .38 slugs in the chest, but as Bobby had noted the previous night, there were no rules here on the eve of the Apocalypse.


When I reached for my flashlight, it was no longer snugged under my belt. I must have dropped it during the struggle.


In my imagination, the dead priest had already self-resurrected and had become something that an entire division of marines couldn’t kill.


Bobby switched on one of the nightstand lamps.


The dead man was still nothing more than a man, and still dead, a ruined heap that didn’t bear close inspection.


Holstering the .38, Sasha turned away from the body and stood with her shoulders slumped, head hung, one hand covering her face, collecting herself.


The lamp featured a three-way switch, and Bobby clicked it to the lowest level of light. The shade was rose-colored silk, which left the room still mostly in shadow but bright enough to prevent us from succumbing to an attack of the brain twitches.


I spotted my flashlight on the floor, snatched it up, and jammed it under my belt again.


Trying to quiet my breathing, I went to the nearer of two windows. The drapes were a heavy tapestry, as thick as an elephant’s hide, with a blackout liner. This would have suppressed the sound of gunfire almost as effectively as the plush pillow through which Sasha had fired the revolver.


I pulled aside one drape and peered out at the lamplit street. No one was pointing or running toward the Stanwyk residence. No traffic had stopped in front of the house. In fact, the street appeared to be deserted.


As far as I can recall, none of us said anything until we were all the way downstairs and in the kitchen again, where the solemn cat was waiting for us in the light of the oil lamp. Perhaps we simply didn’t say anything memorable, but I think that we did, indeed, make our way through the house in numbed silence.


Bobby stripped off his Hawaiian shirt and black cotton pullover, which were damp with blood. Along his left side were four slashes, wounds inflicted by the cleric’s teratoid hand.


That was a useful word from my mom’s world of genetic science. It meant something monstrous, described an organism or a portion of an organism deformed because of damaged genetic material. As a kid, I was always interested in my mother’s research and theories, because she was, as she liked to put it, searching for God in the clockworks, which I thought must be the most important work anyone could do. But God prefers to see what we can make of ourselves on our own, and He doesn’t make it easy for us to find Him on this side of death. Along the way, when we think we’ve located the door behind which He waits, it opens not on anything divine but on something teratoid.


In the half bath adjoining the kitchen, Sasha found first-aid supplies and a bottle of aspirin.


Bobby stood at the kitchen sink, using a fresh dishcloth and liquid soap to clean his wounds, hissing between clenched teeth.


“Hurt?” I asked.


“No.”


“Bullshit.”


“You?”


“Bruises.”


The four cuts in his side weren’t deep, but they bled freely.


Roosevelt settled into a chair at the table. He’d gotten some ice cubes from the freezer and wrapped them in a dish towel. He held this compress to his left eye, which was swelling shut. Fortunately, the bud vase hadn’t shattered when it hit him, because otherwise he might have had splinters of porcelain in his eye.


“Bad?” I asked.


“Had worse.”


“Football?”


“Alex Karras.”


“Great player.”


“Big.”


“He run you down?”


“More than once.”


“Like a truck,” I suggested.


“A Mack. This was just a damn vase.”


Sasha saturated a cloth with hydrogen peroxide and pressed it repeatedly to Bobby’s wounds. Every time she took the cloth away, the shallow cuts bubbled furiously with bloody foam.


I couldn’t have ached in more places if I’d spent the past six hours tumbling around in an industrial clothes dryer.


I washed down two aspirin with a few sips of an Orange Crush that I found in the Stanwyks’ refrigerator. The can shook so badly that I drizzled more soda over my chin and clothes than I managed to drink—suggesting that my folks had been misguided when they allowed me to stop wearing a bib at the age of five.


After several applications of the peroxide, Sasha switched to rubbing alcohol and repeated the treatment. Bobby wasn’t bothering to hiss anymore; he was just grinding his teeth to dust. Finally, when he had ground away enough dental surface to be limited to a soft diet for life, she smeared the still-weeping wounds with Neosporin.


This extensive first aid was conducted without comment. We all knew why it was necessary to apply as many antibacteriological agents as possible to his wounds, and talking about it would only scare the crap out of us.


In the weeks and months to come, Bobby would be spending more time than usual in front of a mirror, checking himself out, and not because he was vain. He’d be more aware of his hands, too, watching for something…teratoid.


Roosevelt’s eye was swollen to a slit. Nevertheless, he still believed in the ice.


While Sasha finished wrapping Bobby’s cuts with gauze bandages, I found a chalk message slate and pegboard beside the door connecting the kitchen to the garage. Sets of car keys hung on the pegs. Sasha wouldn’t have to hot-wire a car, after all.


In the garage were a red Jaguar and a white Ford Expedition.


By flashlight, I lowered the rear seat in the Expedition to enlarge the cargo area. This would allow Roosevelt and Bobby to lie down, below window level. We might draw more attention as a group than Sasha would draw if she appeared to be alone.


Because Sasha knew exactly where we were going out on Haddenbeck Road, she would drive.


When Bobby entered the garage with Sasha and Roosevelt, he was wearing his pullover and Hawaiian shirt again, and moving somewhat stiffly.


“You be okay back here?” I asked, indicating the rear of the Expedition.


“I’ll grab some nap time.”


In the front passenger’s seat, when I slumped below the window line in a classic fugitive-on-the-lam posture, I became acutely aware of every contusion, neck to toe. But I was alive. Earlier, I’d been sure we wouldn’t all leave the Stanwyk house with beating hearts and brain activity, but I’d been wrong. When it comes to presentiments of disaster, perhaps cats know things, but Christopher Snow’s hunches can’t necessarily be trusted—which is comforting, actually.


When Sasha started the engine, Mungojerrie scrambled onto the console between the front seats. He sat erect, ears pricked, looking forward, like a misplaced hood ornament.

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