Moses Todd, his eyes, his lips behind that dark beard, the barrel of the gun, the finger on the trigger, the twitch, the moment—there.
She lunges down and forward, the gun exploding over her where her head was a millisecond before. She drives her head into his belly hard, buckling the big man in two, and she grabs the pistol by its barrel and twists so it comes lose from his grip. But before she can turn it on him, he uses the back of his hand to smack it across the room, where it thuds against the floral-papered wall and drops behind the nightstand.
Damn it, little girl.
Moses Todd catches his breath and pushes her back against the chair and gets his hands around her neck, his thick thumbs digging into her windpipe. She grabs his wrists and tries to squirm out from under his grip, but his arms are heavy and dense as the freshly cut limbs of trees.
You gotta die by my hand, little girl, he is saying, his voice full of something other than anger. That’s all, you just have to. Otherwise none of it makes any goddamn sense. You know it. You and me, we got vision.
Her eyes are filled with stars on the insides of her lids, and her head feels like it will float away, and her throat can’t swallow, and all she hears through the sound of her own heart pounding is his voice saying words like the advice of a sage man.
We got vision, he says again.
She kicks out with her foot and gets him hard between the legs, and the hands are gone from her throat, and she’s choking and coughing, and her lungs are filling with air, and her head is still pounding—but she no longer feels weightless, she has gravity and force, and she gets up and runs past him out the door.
Behind her there’s a throaty bellow of pain that deepens halfway through into a snarling fury. Moses Todd crashes against the doorjamb and throws his limping body forward just as she comes to the head of the stairs at the end of the hallway.
Lead him away from Maury, is what she’s thinking. Lead him away from Maury. Outside. Whatever’s gonna happen can happen outside the house. Maury don’t need to see it nor hear it. Maury’s seen enough in his time.
She bounds down the steps and swings the front door open.
Then everything slows.
She looks behind her quickly. She can see Maury’s face, in the dark, peeking at her from around the corner of the dining room where he still sits, quietly holding the crystal ball with the flower in the middle of it.
Maury. His name repeated in her mind. Maury. Maury. Maury. As if to affix it there for good. As if to emboss it on the old leather of her weary brain. And then it mixes with another name. Malcolm. Again Malcolm. Always Malcolm. So many things stored up for later. So many things to look at and think about when it’s quiet.
Then she turns away and runs out the front door, one, two, three, four full steps before she sees the girl standing in front of her.
It doesn’t register until it’s too late.
It’s Millie. Mutant girl. Inheritor of the earth. Millie with teeth like shovels, a grotesque overgrown child, like a doll grown taller than Temple herself, her skin ripped at the joints and peeled back entirely from one hand—as though her insides were growing faster than her outside.
She’s still wearing the same checkered dress as the last time Temple saw her. And her voice, huffing and inarticulate, groaning and bovine:
I’m gon kill you.
She’s holding something in her hand, pointed in an awkward underhand at Temple.
Only after Temple hears the shot does she realize it’s a gun.
Temple stops and falls to her knees on the still wet and overgrown grass of the front lawn.
Something’s wrong. It’s the kind of wrong you feel all the way through you. She feels it in her toes, and behind her eyes, and in her knees, which are already wet from the moisture absorbing through her pants, and in deeper places still.
Something’s wrong, and when she puts a hand to her chest and looks at her fingers, she knows what it is. There’s blood. She’s leaking out life through a hole. Here in the ghost town suburb of Point Comfort, Texas, she’s leaking away.
There is no pain—just travel.
On her knees, she stays still as a supplicant ready for communion. It is very quiet. All of a sudden, there is no hurry. There will be time for everything. For the breezes that blow and for the rainwater drying in the gutters, for Maury to find a place of safety in the world, for Malcolm to come back from the dead and ask her about birds and jets. For the big things too, things like beauty and vengeance and honor and righteousness and the grace of God and the slow spilling of the earth from day to night and back to day again.
It is spread out before her, compressed into one single moment. She will be able to see it all—if she can keep her sleepy eyes open.
It’s like a dream where she is. Like a dream where you find yourself underwater and you are panicked for a moment until you realize you no longer need to breathe, and you can stay under the surface forever.
She feels her body falling sideways to the ground. It happens slow—and she expects a crash that never comes because her mind is jumping and it doesn’t know which way is up anymore, like the moon above her and the fish below her and her in between floating, like on the surface of the river, floating between sea and sky, the world all skin, all meniscus, and she a part of it too.
Moses Todd told her if you lean over the rail at Niagara Falls it takes your breath away, like turning yourself inside out—and Lee the hunter told her that one time people used to stuff themselves in barrels and ride over the edge.
And she is there too, floating out over the edge of the falls, the roar of the water so deafening it’s like hearing nothing at all, like pillows in your ears, and the water exactly the temperature of your skin, like you are falling and the water is falling, and the water is just more of you, like everything is just more of you, just different configurations of the things that make you up.
She is there, and she’s sailing out and down over the falls, down and down, and it takes a long time because the falls are one of God’s great mysteries and so high they are higher than any building, and so she is held there, spinning in the air, her eyes closed because she’s spinning on the inside too, down and down.
She wonders will she ever hit the bottom, wonders will the splash ever come.
Maybe not—because God is a slick god, and he knows things about infinities. Infinities are warm places that never end. And they aren’t about good and evil, they’re just peaceful-like and calm, and they’re where all travelers go eventually, and they are round everywhere you look because you can’t have any edges in infinities.