Cawley handed him a glass of water and put two yellow pills in his hand. “These should do the trick. Knock you out for an hour or two, but when you come to, you should be fine. Clear as a bell.” Teddy looked down at the yellow pills, the glass of water that ‘hung in a precarious grip• He looked up at Cawley, tried to concentrate with his good eye because the man was bathed in a light so white and harsh that it flew off his shoulders and arms in shafts.

Whatever you do, a voice started to say in Teddy’s head...  Fingernails pried open the left side of his skull and poured a shaker of thumbtacks in there, and Teddy hissed as he sucked his breath in.

“Jesus, boss.”

“He’ll be fine, Marshal.”

The voice tried again: Whatever you do, Teddy...

Someone hammered a steel rod through the field of thumbtacks, and Teddy pressed the back of his hand to his good eye as tears shot from it and his stomach lurched.

•.. don’t take those pills.

His stomach went fully south, sliding across into his right hip as flames licked the sides of the fissure in his head, and if it got any worse, he was pretty sure he’d bite straight through his tongue.  Don’t take those fucking pills, the voice screamed, running back and forth down the burning canyon, waving a flag, rallying the troops.  Teddy lowered his head and vomited onto the floor.

“Boss, boss. You okay?”

“My, my,” Cawley said. “You do get it bad.”

Teddy raised his head.


His cheeks were wet with his own tears.

... take...

Someone had inserted a blade lengthwise into the canyon now.

•.. those...

The blade had begun to saw back and forth.

... pills.

Teddy gritted his teeth, felt his stomach surge again. He tried to concentrate on the glass in his hand, noticed something odd on his thumb, and decided it was the migraine playing tricks with his perception.  don’ttakethosepills.

Another long pull of the sawteeth across the pink folds of his

brain, and Teddy had to bite down against a scream and he heard

Rachel’s screams in there too with the fire and he saw her looking into

his eyes and felt her breath on his lips and felt her face in his hands as

his thumbs caressed her temples and that fucking saw went back and

forth through his head


•           and he slapped his palm up to his mouth and felt the pills fly back in there and he chased them with water and swallowed, felt them slide down his esophagus and he gulped from the glass until it was empty.

“You’re going to thank me,” Cawley said.

Chuck was beside him again and he handed Teddy a handkerchief and Teddy wiped his forehead with it and then his mouth and then he dropped it to the floor.

Cawley said, “Help me get him up, Marshal.”

They lifted Teddy out of the chair and turned him and he could see a black door in front of him.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Cawley said, “but there’s a room through there where I steal my naps sometimes. Oh, okay, once a day. We’re going to put you in there, Marshal, and you’ll sleep this off. Two hours from now, you’ll be fit as a fiddle.”

Teddy saw his hands draping off their shoulders. They looked funny—his hands hanging like that just over his sternum. And the thumbs, they both had that optical illusion on them. What the fuck was it? He wished he could scratch the skin, but Cawley was opening the door now, and Teddy took one last look at the smudges on both thumbs. :

Black smudges.

Shoe polish, he thought as they led him into the dark room.

How the hell did I get shoe polish on my thumbs?

THEY WERE THE worst dreams he’d ever had.They began with Teddy walking through the streets of Hull, streets he had walked countless times from childhood to manhood. He passed his old schoolhouse. He passed the small variety store where he’d bought gum and cream sodas. He passed the Dickerson house and the Pakaski house, the Murrays, the Boyds, the Vernons, the Constantines. But no one was home. No one was anywhere. It was empty, the entire town. And dead quiet. He couldn’t even hear the ocean, and you could always hear the ocean in Hull.

It was terrible—his town, and everyone gone. He sat down on the seawall along Ocean Avenue and searched the empty beach and he sat and waited but no one came. They were all dead, he realized, long dead and long gone. He was a ghost, come back through the centuries to his ghost town. It wasn’t here any longer. He wasn’t here any longer.  There was no here.

He found himself in a great marble hall next, and it was filled with people and gurneys and red IV bags and he immediately felt better.  No matter where this was, he wasn’t alone. Three children—two boys and a girl—crossed in front of him. All three wore hospital smocks, and the girl was afraid. She clutched her brothers’ hands. She said, “She’s here. She’ll find us.”

Andrew Laeddis leaned in and lit Teddy’s cigarette. “Hey, no hard feelings, right, buddy?”

Laeddis was a grim specimen of humanity—a gnarled cord of a body, a gangly head with a jutting chin that was twice as long as it should have been, misshapen teeth, sprouts of blond hair on a scabby, pink skull—but Teddy was glad to see him. He was the only one he knew in the room.

“Got me a bottle,” Laeddis said, “if you want to have a toot later.” He winked at Teddy and clapped his back and turned into Chuck and that seemed perfectly normal.

“We’ve gotta go,” Chuck said. “Clock’s ticking away here, my friend.”

Teddy said, “My town’s empty. Not a soul.”

And he broke into a run because there she was, Rachel Solando, shrieking as she ran through the ballroom with a cleaver. Before Teddy could reach her, she’d tackled the three children, and the cleaver went up and down and up and down, and Teddy froze, oddly fascinated, knowing there was nothing he could do at this point, those kids were dead.

Rachel looked up at him. Her face and neck were speckled with blood. She said, “Give me a hand.”

Teddy said, “What? I could get in trouble.”

She said, “Give me a hand and I’ll be Dolores. I’ll be your wife.

She’ll come back to you.”

So he said, “Sure, you bet,” and helped her. They lifted all three children at once somehow and carried them out through the back door and down to the lake and they carried them into the water. They didn’t throw them. They were gentle. They lay them on the water and the children sank. One of the boys rose back up, a hand flailing, and Rachel said, “It’s okay. He can’t swim.” Copyright 2016 - 2023