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Former Coroner Ron glanced away from the heap and the red sand beneath his feet became a pale and powdered gray speckled with tiny bits of gravel. Pavement. He looked up and he was standing on a quiet little street. Night was coming on and it was evident in the air. To his left was a little house with a little cement step leading up to the door. The lawn was green and sloped down onto the sidewalk where he stood.
And he knew precisely where he found himself. He’d never been to the house, but he’d carried its likeness in a folder of black and white stills for what seemed like forever. He was in front of the Cromwell bungalow, in the Little Gray Town. It was night and the Thelema Child was near. Former Coroner Ron settled his hands into the pockets of his trousers and turned to look up into the old black walnut tree across the street and smiled into its darkening branches.
Turning, Former Coroner Ron stepped onto the narrow cement step and seconds later was striding up the cement walkway to the bungalow’s front door. A simple wooden awning hung over the doorway to protect visitors from the weather. Former Coroner Ron felt gooseflesh run up his arm as he reached down to depress the doorbell.
From within, Former Coroner Ron heard sounds of gentle thumping and stirring; flatware giving off its gentle clinks against plates, chairs sliding back from a table, all followed immediately by the muffled chime of an eager little voice crying, “I’ll get it, I’ll get it!”
Former Coroner Ron braced himself as he watched the knob turn and the wooden door swing half open to reveal the face he so hoped and expected to see: the little dead girl, bright and shiny-alive—complete with the leavings of mac and cheese smeared over the front of her baseball jersey.
Dawn instantly recognized Former Coroner Ron, the big man who saved her from the monster in the red dunes. But he’d been naked at the time and now he was not. This time it was less embarrassing for them both.
Dawn stood, half her body pressed to the edge of the partially opened door and stared up at the great big man. “Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” said Former Coroner Ron. “It’s so very nice to finally meet you in person. Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, you’re the man who saved me in the dream place,” came her shy reply.
“Yes, I was…” And Former Coroner Ron looked the little living girl up and down, admiring the brown in her hair, the flecks of green in her eyes and the coy little way she half hid behind the door the way real living girls do.
Seconds later, the door swung wide and Former Coroner Ron’s eyes met those of Rusty Baimbridge. Goltry didn’t know what he’d expected, but it was most definitely something far more “Golden Age of Greece” than the lanky young man before him with sandy hair and filthy fingernails.
Rusty flipped a switch and the overhead porch light blazed to life.
“Can I help you?” Rusty asked.
Before Former Coroner Ron could reply, Carri drew up behind the young man. At the sight of the young woman, Goltry could only give a half-hearted nod. Nod, and feel the corners of his eyes start to burn.
The picture was complete, the owl woman, the living-dead girl and the minstrel boy. Everyone was here, including the monster lurking out there, just beyond the halo of the porch light.
Former Coroner Ron stood on the stoop looking into the little house and felt the weight of a hundred-pound rucksack drop from his shoulders.
“Can I help you?” Rusty asked again.
“Come in, Dr. Goltry,” Carri said gently shouldering past Rusty to take Goltry’s hand. “Come in, we’ve been expecting you.”
The interior of the little house was warm and calm. Not what Former Coroner Ron expected at all in light of the circumstances. His head began to reel. He’d stepped through space and time, got into a heated discussion about his own fate with a representative of dying gods and got to the doorstep of ten-year-old, unsolved murder in advance of a very nasty supernatural killer, only to be invited inside by the resurrected victims of the dwelling’s former residents.
Needless to say, Former Coroner Ron felt a bit dizzy. “Do you mind if I sit down?” he asked, taking hold of the only chair without a place setting at the little dining table.
The table was set for three, and he noted the leavings of macaroni and cheese still clinging to the inside of Granny’s old saucepan. Nearby hovered a depleted bowl of salad, now only containing one or two light green lettuce leaves. Beside it was a saucer supporting a few slices of bread accompanied by a plastic tub of margarine.
So normal, thought Former Coroner Ron.
“Yes, Doctor, please sit,” Carri said gesturing to the bentwood chair. “We have a lot to talk about.”
While Rusty and Dawn returned to their chairs, Carri made for the kitchen and poured Goltry a tall glass of water. She returned to the table and stood at Goltry’s side.
“Drink this,” she said. “You’ve come a long way.”
“I think we all have,” he said between brisk sips of cool water.
Rusty eyed the big man warily, hands in his lap. He was puzzled that Carri and Dawn were matter-of-fact over the stranger’s arrival.
“Are you alone?” asked Carri taking the empty glass from Goltry.
“I had company for a bit there,” he said, the thickness in his throat retreating. “I…took a short cut getting here and had to leave them in traffic.”
“The whats?” asked Rusty.
“The brothers. The halflings, Pollux and Castor.”
“Yes, the ‘demigods,’” Former Coroner Ron muttered. “Fat load of good they were.”
Carri smiled, returning with another fresh glass of water. Former Coroner Ron became puzzled. That thing was just outside their door and there was no sense of concern, no sense of urgency about her or the young man or even the little girl.
“They did you a great deal of good, but they have their limitations,” she sighed.
“They’re the children of gods and they couldn’t stop that thing, they couldn’t even get me down the road—they couldn’t route me around a traffic jam for god’s sake!”
“You’ve been on the red plain, you saw the tower and I can imagine you’ve spoken with the viceroy there.”
“Was that what that was? Useless, infuriating creature,” growled Goltry.
“I imagine so. He and his kind are impotent. They can only observe. They send their harbingers into the world — the Dioscuri, myself, my daughter — because they can no longer affect the actions of Man. They can only guide…and pray.”
Goltry’s brow furrowed. Now it all made sense, thought Goltry. The gods had become impotent parents watching their children stumble off down their own path. They could no longer direct the course of human events. Their world had slowly come apart, collapsing from within and a byproduct, like uranium leaking from a decrepit nuclear power plant, had been loosed upon the world, and The Gods-That-Were left all but powerless to stop it.
Former Coroner Ron looked across the table at the lean young man with the sharp blue eyes. He’s a good-looking boy, thought Goltry. He has a kind, open face and he’s probably naïve as hell and dumb as an old shoe.
Goltry reached his hand across the table. “Ron Goltry, Paranormal Investigator.”
Rusty took the big man’s hand. “Rusty Baimbridge…um, mechanic,” his voice ending on a higher note than it began.
“Glad to know you, Rusty.”
“You too, Mr. Goltry.”
“Call me, Ron.”
Goltry turned to Carri. She moved behind the young man and placed her hands on his shoulders. He looked the two over and then glanced at the ten-year-old girl to his right. Dawn speared one or two macaroni noodles with the tine of her fork and self-consciously poked them into her mouth. He then gave himself a moment to take in the scene. To see this woman in waking life, alive and full of color—her daughter in the same state, absent-mindedly forking little noodles—it should have been overwhelming, but it was not.
Indeed, he sat with the same calmness he’d practiced over years of examining bodies of the deceased as an ME. He sat with the same calmness he’d adopted each time he entered a purported haunted room. He sat with same calmness he’d used as his shield against a World of Hurt.
“Does he know…about you and Dawn?” asked Former Coroner Ron. “Does he know you were both dead?”
Carri smiled, “Yes, he does.”
The Razor Baby shivered, though it never felt cold. Glaring down over the little abode, it contemplated the response it would receive in simply leaping from its vantage point on the branch to the rooftop below. Would the surprise be enough to give it an advantage, catching them all unawares and making it that much easier to slice up the owl women, the fat man and the scrawny musician?
Not much of a surprise, it thought. The fat man and the bird women knew it watched from across the street. The Razor Baby knew they could sense it, knew they could somehow feel it. And the fat man knew the Razor Baby best of all, knew the inside of its head. How, it did not know.
Though it chafed the Razor Baby, it determined stealth to be the best option. Becoming transparent in the encompassing gloom of the tree, the Razor Baby began a cautious descent to the base of the tree, taking its time, its head full of pleasing recollections of the last visit here and the way its blade fingers raked through birdwoman skin, connecting to bone and that satisfying sound when bone gave way to the fruity clusters within.
Sitting in his chair, Former Coroner Ron felt a jagged tickle in the back of his brain. The sensation told him to look to the shaded window. He swiveled his head in unison with Carri and Dawn.
“It’s getting restless,” said Carri. “But now thanks to Rusty, it’ll be cautious,” she smiled.
“What did I do?” asked Rusty.
“You played for us,” chirped Dawn, “You played for us and it got scared away.”
“No, I think Rusty did more than scare it,” said Carri. “I think he may have done it physical harm.”
“What?” stammered Rusty. “How?”
“It’s your gift,” Carri was about to declare, but Former Coroner Ron interjected, “It’s damn near crawled onto the lawn. We need to do something.”
Carri looked at the opaque window shade, her eyes traveling back and forth over its surface as though nothing blocked her view of the world beyond.
“It’s afraid, but that won’t last,” Carri turned to Rusty. “I need you to play for Dr. Goltry. Dr. Goltry, I need you to listen to Rusty while he plays.” Goltry’s eyebrows began to rise. “He’s got a lovely voice and a pleasant turn of phrase. You’ll enjoy it.”
Rusty gave a little gasp. He couldn’t play for this stranger and besides, there was a monster just outside the door.
“Please, Rusty. Now.” Carri said, and Rusty rose and retrieved his guitar from where it rested on the sofa.
Turning, Carri stretched her hand out to Dawn. Scooting back her chair, Dawn rose and took her mother’s hand.
Leading Dawn out the back door, the owl woman and her daughter emerged into the dark backyard. Casting her eyes about, Carri spied the old, tired looking tool shed to her left and to its right the shallow barbeque pit. She had little recollection of the first time she visited this back yard. She could only recall patches; the skies alight with lightning, the rain streaming down in a torrent as she tumbling out of the ground, her owl body battered and nearly broken. Before that moment, all was darkness and before that, pain and blood and the sound of her own screams. She shuddered and turned to her little girl.
“What are we doing, Mommy?”
“We’re going to build a fire.”
Inside the bungalow, Rusty retreated cross-legged into the corner of the sofa, his beloved guitar resting comfortably upon his thigh. For once Former Coroner Ron curbed his urge to snark and bluster. This little caesura in the shadow of impending doom left him more confused than frustrated. Everyone seemed so damn calm, and this young lad just a bit clueless.
Former Coroner Ron bit his lip and glanced over his shoulder at the window. He could feel it now. He could feel it in his head. Cold thoughts, slick and clammy, like dipping his hand into a bucket of chilled earthworms. Former Coroner Ron’s guts began to churn and his eyes darted about in search of a receptacle, should he need to vomit.
His heart did a leap and for a second he could see the front doorstep of the bungalow clear and crisp. This was no memory of his arrival, for his vision moved in a bumping, loping rhythm. No, not a vision, he was seeing the world through the eyes of the Razor Baby and the thing was moving up the front walk.
Gritting his teeth, Former Coroner Ron rose and began to move for the door, intent of flinging it wide…
And then Rusty started to play and Former Coroner Ron felt the slimy, wretched sensation sliding against his brain retreat. As the boy’s voice rose over the gentle strumming of his guitar, Former Coroner Ron felt his twisting insides blanketed by something warm and comforting.
Some mountains are high
Some mountains are low
Some have stood longer than
We’ll ever know…
Some waves crest high
Some waves crest low
Some waves stretch farther than
We’ll ever know…
Returning to his seat at the table, Former Coroner Ron swiveled himself about in order to better see the boy. The young man was completely engrossed in his song. Eyes closed, lips forming each word like some sacred liturgy.
And on the pebbled concrete path outside, the Razor Baby dropped upon its back and writhed; its hide rippling with ripe and juicy boils. Rolling to its feet, the creature scrabbled for the edge of the path, tumbled down the short steps and into the empty street.
Crawling to the opposite sidewalk, it felt the lesions populating its hide cease their bubbling. Struggling up and onto the curb as though climbing a mountainside, the Razor Baby turned about, its chest heaving, its black eyes burning with hatred unknown to the world of man.