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31. All His
Benjamin pushed Hobbs to the
roof of the car, where, as far as he could tell, the gimps would be
too stupid to find her. Maybe she’d be safe. He pulled the shotgun
from his shoulder and jumped from the car. He landed behind the back
bumper, dodged an incoming bone blade, and then he shoved the gun barrel
up under the closest gimp’s chin and blew the head clean off.
knew it was useless to glance at the keyhole of the Mustang’s trunk.
There would not be a key there. The key was inside the car, stuck in
the ignition, hanging from the key chain amassed with Nancy’s this
and that: mini-bobble heads, charms and trinkets, a tiny troll doll
with a glut of pink hair. He’d somehow gotten the trunk open earlier
without that key. Brenda had flung him through the air, oh yeah, he
remembered it clearly now. He’d slammed into the back fender, and
the impact of his body had popped open the trunk.
cocked the shotgun with an arm jerk, then he grabbed the face of an
attacking boneman and squeezed. Blue sparks erupted blindingly off the
monster’s charred skin. Benjamin could feel his fingers dig in through
the gimp’s skull like wet potter’s clay. He shoved his hand deeper
and grabbed the tough-skinned fruit that had leeched onto the dead man’s
brain. He popped the fruit open, pulled its mulched remains from the
skull, and then tossed the gelatinous morsel to the dirt.
him, from inside the trunk, he could just hear Brenda’s muffled yells,
the peeps of a chick under all the noise the speed gimps were making.
She was telling him she couldn’t open the trunk, that she’d tried
her brand-new skills, her magicks, but to no avail. Or something like
that. He’d already figured that much out. He knew Brenda, knew she
was not one to hide, to sit idly by as all hell broke loose around her.
And so there had to be some sort of complication, some defective equipment,
rusted up latch. Either that or she just couldn’t figure out how to
go about opening the trunk; if that was the case, maybe he’d tease
her about it later, and they’d laugh. Depending on her mood. Depending
on whether they lived through this.
had another gimp’s face in hand now, squeezing, and he’d jammed
the tip of the shotgun up under another boneman’s chin. It struck
him how, for someone who had little idea of what he was doing, he was
very aware of his surroundings, and he was extremely calm. He knew if
he thought about this too much his confidence would deflate, and his
actions would stumble into awkward, unfocused flailings, and then he’d
be dead. So he didn’t wonder at his control. He kept working at stepping
around to the rear fender, where he would then throw himself against
the metal hide of the car, the particular spot he’d slammed into earlier,
and the hood would pop open—he’d decided it was an impossibility
that once he hit the fender in the right spot the trunk would not pop
open, which he knew was the single most idiotic piece of selective reasoning
he’d ever come up with—and Brenda would have her chance to save
kicked a gimp out of the way, pulled the trigger of the shotgun, popped
another piece of bad fruit, and managed to step around to a spot where
he could throw himself against the fender. He elbowed a turned-around,
confused gimp out of his desired flight path, which was direct and only
a couple feet from liftoff to landing, and he readied himself, eyeing
the rear fender, willing it to comply with his desperate wish.
vines erupted from the ground surrounding Benjamin. They rocketed straight
into the darkening sky, forming a fibrous cage, entrapping him in a
tube hardly wider then he was. As this event developed, Benjamin saw
the white glint of a horizontally swung sharpened arm bone jetting his
way, about chest level, on his left. He crouched to avoid the gimp’s
attack, while his brain prattled on about a fender and throwing himself
at it and the release of the caretaker and how slow he was and something
about being a pussy. He squatted within the gloomy confines of the circular
vine cage that was rising around him, and his thoughts turned to death,
his own...and how the vine daughters must have somehow learned how to
sniff out their prey without the help of their furry little familiars,
the kittens. But, then again, they hadn’t actually skewered him, now
had they. And then he was shooting up into the air like a model rocket.
happened in the time span of an eye blink. It took him a bit longer
to figure out what had happened. As he’d crouched down to evade the
bone swing, his knees had pressed into one side of the rising vine-tower
interior, his back pressed against the opposite side, and his body,
wedged tightly in the tube like an oversized spit wad in a plastic straw,
had gotten stuck and risen up with the vines. The vines’ malleable,
twining cage had conformed to the shape of his body, binding his arms,
pressing the shotgun to his chest, constricting his shoulders and head,
and he couldn’t breathe. Where his bare flesh touched the leafy tendrils,
blue sparks danced crazily, and he had to close his eyes against the
electric storm, and he envisioned himself a stubborn turd in an astronaut’s
figured this must have been how Ibucus traveled in the vines. Benjamin
had been swiped up within the Lady’s cocooning roots, and they’d
been velvety compared to these brute cords. It was no wonder the Brini’
King wore the suit of armor. The pressure on Benjamin’s body, the
constriction of this sphincter, seemed enough to crush bone. A frantic
thought of Benjamin’s was that the vines might force his trigger finger
to tighten, and he might very well blow his head off, depending on where
the barrel was tucked and aimed. His body was going numb with the daughter’s
embrace. He focused on his trigger finger, straining to keep that one
tiny bit of him stalwart and unyielding.
vines went limp. He began to fall.
as they’d performed during Ibucus’s pompous arrivals, the few of
which Benjamin had been witness to, the vines were lowering him to ground
level. The sparks had calmed, had ceased to be, in fact, and Benjamin
opened his eyes to blackness. The daughter still had hold of him, curtaining
the early evening’s light from his eyes, but somehow she’d grown
immune to his touch. He’d be unveiled any second. The vines would
peel away from him and expose him like the unexceptional, droopy stamen
of an exotic flower. At that point, he’d be able to see what the hell
was going on. And he’d be open to attack. Lots of attack.
besides being cushioned within the intertwined tube of vines, slammed
into the ground with such force that he was sure he’d broken every
bone in his left side. Déjà vu, he thought, and then he knew he wasn’t
broken, that he wouldn’t be sitting this one out, that he’d have
to stand up and get back in the game. He should curb all this wishful
thinking, this fantasizing of being taken off the field on a stretcher.
Didn’t seem that that unlikelihood was in the cards today. The vines
had relaxed themselves, and he found he could move his arms and legs,
which were, once again, as he’d suspected, unbroken. Could he consider
himself lucky? He decided no, he’d rather not call this luck at all.
More like bullshit, he told himself. And no one’s ever come across
any good bullshit. It’s all bad.
a few seconds of limited fidgeting in the dark, the first thing Benjamin
did was move the tip of the shotgun barrel out from under his chin.
He pushed the gun away from him and clawed at the weave of vines in
front of his face. He pushed his head out of the vine tube and thirstily
sucked in air. His eyes flitted about, expecting the glint of sharpened
bone coming his way. What he did see didn’t make any sense. Then his
sluggish brain got to work sorting out what had happened and where he’d
vines hadn’t willingly lowered him to ground level. That swinging
bone sword that Benjamin had crouched down to avoid earlier had kept
right on coming after the vines had lifted him up into the air. The
stupid gimp had severed the daughter’s leafy, licorice-whip limbs,
its blade’s trajectory unstoppable, unalterable, following through
the exact spot Benjamin had been standing a split second before. And
that’s why the blue sparks had died. The vines had saved his life
by some dumb twist of luck. No, not luck, he reminded himself. Bullshit.
A dumb twist of bullshit.
landed only a few feet from where he’d been lifted up. Lying on his
left side, he was peering under the length of the wrecked Mustang. The
white bulk of the tree trunk and serpentine surface roots were just
up ahead. The vine tube had wedged up under the back bumper of the car.
He could see the crazed dance of charred gimp feet stumbling about around
the car, slowing their pace as he watched, tiny storms of dirt settling
back to the surface of Hog Hill’s crown. And he could see the dead
(the re-dead, Benjamin supposed) bonemen piled up around the car, their
hewed skulls dribbling embittered juice to the dirt.
did not want to leave the blanketing cover of the interwoven vines,
but he figured it was either that or keep still and quiet, and he was
in no mood to stay still or quiet. One of the bonemen might eventually
figure out he was hidden in the dead vines anyway. It’d be best to
get himself under the Mach 1 and act his part of the monster hiding
under the bed. The dumb gimps would never think to look for him under
the car. Once he got himself situated, he’d be able to sneak peeks
around the hilltop, see if he could spot William, try and figure out
the situation, dismal as it may be.
pulled himself from the vines, dragging the shotgun with him, moving
slowly so as not to attract too much attention from the walking dead
stationed around the car. He placed the shotgun in the dirt beside the
back tire, and then twisted his body until his back was in the dirt
and weed. It was dark under the car, couldn’t see much of the Mustang’s
under frame. He felt about, found something he could grab onto up in
the car’s guts, and pulled his battered body farther into the shadow
under the car’s trunk.
heard a voice. Sounded close. It was calling his name. He spotted a
rusted out hole in the flooring at the back of the trunk.
me your lighter, Albie,” Brenda said from above.
hole was small. He could see it dimly, a hint of dark depth in the shadowy
belly of the car, two inches wide, if that. Nancy should have had that
fixed, Benjamin noted. Best to catch rust early, before it spreads like
gazed up into the hole, wanting to see Brenda’s dark green eye, the
flecks of gold there, the soothing pool of calm she’d be able to pull
him into if only he could see her eye.
me your lighter,” she said, soft words, intimate teasings.
sure,” he said, digging in his pocket awkwardly in the confines underneath
the car. He pulled out his silver Zippo and poked it up through the
hole, feeling remorse as it was taken from him. And then he felt like
a dumb goat for doing it, for handing Brenda the fuel needed to blow
up the interior of the trunk in a fireworks show, something he wouldn’t
have done if he’d been in his right mind. She was going to end up
hurting herself, for sure. Had she spelled him? Turned him into her
lap dog, her funny little monkey? No, he was that already.
it, Bren,” he said up at the hole, knowing she’d worked her magic
on him all right, the magic she’d always worked on him ever since
they’d started going out. She’d always been able to manipulate him
into doing whatever she’d wanted him to do.
she whispered down at him. “Get away from the car, Albie. I don’t
think they know I’m—”
felt a vising grip around both his ankles. He was violently tugged from
under the car and lifted up into the air. The back of his head scraped
against a ribbon of Hog Hill’s surface rock and then bumped into something
that clinked and clanged, which, when he twisted around for a brief
second, he saw was a pair of armor-plated boots.
found me a rabbit, boys,” Ibucus said in his high birdsong voice from
above. “Pulled it right out of the briar patch, I did.”
was looking at the dead vines piled at the rear of the upside down car.
As the blood rushed to his head, setting up a tremendous pounding, he
wondered if Ibucus had arrived within the same vines that had lifted
him into the air. The Brini’ King could have been nestled within the
vine tube below the gimp’s amputating slash. If this was Ibucus’s
transport, then maybe the vines hadn’t learned how to sniff out human
blood independent of the kittens, and it’d been a circumstance of
being in the right place at the right time, or maybe the opposite, when
those vines exited the dirt and rose up and up and up.
not to call that luck. Good or bad. But still, he decided, he wasn’t
going to call it that.
couldn’t get William in view, but everything was upside down, and
he was getting dizzier with each beat of his heart. The tide of panic
was coming in fast. He pushed at the ground with his hands, tried to
kick his feet free from the Brini’ King’s grip, and he screamed,
stopped struggling, finding his plea for help overbearingly ridiculous,
a cry he’d kept buried for the last twenty-some hours, one that should
have sprang to his lips earlier but had been kept at bay. Who the hell
did he think was going to come running up to rescue him? For a second
he was afraid he was going to burst out laughing. He didn’t figure
that was the appropriate monster hunter tactic to use in this situation.
want my mommy,” Benjamin added, and then giggled madly.
efforts he’d made to release himself from Ibucus’s grip had been
weak, the last struggles of some poor thing caught between dying and
dead. He had exhausted himself. Awake too long. Battered and bruised.
He had nothing left in him. He was done. Finished. And this realization
was freeing in a way, and it made him laugh harder, uncontrollably.
a few penduluming moments of upside down, head-pounding merriment, Benjamin
felt the grip on his ankles relax, and he crumbled to the bloody, dead-strewn
ground, spasming with laughter. It felt good to laugh, and he couldn’t
do much about it, so he let it wring itself out of him, his body shaking
with it, his eyes flooding with tears.
a while he lay spent, his abdomen bewitched with quick twists of cramp,
threatening twists demanding he quiet down. He was pressed against the
muck layering the ground, weighed down by his exhaustion. He’d never
felt so heavy. He could hardly muster up the strength to turn his head,
but he finally managed it, and he looked at the metal boots of the monster
standing beside him. He grittily forced his eyes up the armored body
to the helmeted head. The helm’s faceplate had been lifted, and Ibucus
was looking down on Benjamin with his sparking, electric eye. His cartoon
lips were puckered in impatience.
laughter tried to escape through his nose this time, and that didn’t
feel all that great, so Benjamin opened his mouth to let it out, a crazy
burble of hysterical laughter, the likes of which he’d never experienced.
It was sort of like throwing up a quart of whiskey mixed with red table
wine—something Benjamin just happened to know about. His abdomen had
rebelled, twisted up like a dishrag. He struggled to sit up, got his
ass up under him, and leaned against the Mustang’s back bumper. He
lowered his head and slowly gained control of himself. He did not want
to laugh anymore, but, damn, the monster standing over him was one funny
heard an intake of breath above him, and he knew Ibucus was attempting
to utter words of some sort. Benjamin’s fit of unbound mirth must
have left the Brini’ King tongue-tied.
start laughing again, he told himself. Try and die with a little dignity,
landed between Benjamin’s outstretched legs, rocking back and forth
a few times on a slab of bloody surface rock. Benjamin lifted his head
and stared at it, refusing to recoil, too tired to recoil. It was Beanstalk’s
severed head, its cheeks bushy with blood-soaked beard. One cataract-filmed
eye was open and bulging from the torn socket.
closed his eyes. He figured he was done laughing.