Then he lunged at me again. And again. He seemed, amazingly, to have forgotten he was tethered to the beam.
“I’ll be back,” I said, more to myself than him. Hell, he wasn’t listening anyway.
I headed up to confront my brother.
* * *
I tried to treat Joe with more tenderness. Before unlocking the door, I called to him. “Joe?” Nothing. I tried again, raising my voice. “Joey?”
“Jack!” His tone was low. Guttural.
“Hey, Joey. I’m gonna come in, okay?” I waited again. “Back away from the door, Joey.” I heard movement. He was backing away.
As I drew out the old key, something occurred to me. My brother and his friend, if anything, were acting like rabid animals. Rabies. Yes, I’d seen a few such cases as a park ranger. Horrible to watch, the creatures always had to be put down. As much as I hated to believe it, I suspected that my brother might have something similar.
There was, of course, no cure for the fast-acting rabies.
How that fit in with the meteor, I didn’t know, but for now, I was going to treat my brother and his friend—as much as I hated to do so—as rabid animals.
My adrenaline was pumping when I steadied my hand enough to unlock and open the door. There he was, squatting in the center of the room, bloodied hands resting flat on the floor.
I had barely gotten his name out when he bared his teeth and, quicker than Mike, charged me. He hit me before I could respond and we crashed together into the hallway wall. We fell to the floor and I found myself pummeling him. He grunted and growled. I probably did, too. Fighting my brother in the silence of the house, I thought for sure our ruckus would wake the neighbors. It was probably a good thing the walls were so thick.
I kept punching him, but he didn’t back off. He scratched at my eyes. He kneed me where it counted. I doubled over on the hallway floor near the stairs. A hallway table was nearby, a table filled with Anna’s geode rock collection. Many beautiful rocks were lined up, from small to big.
I tore free of my brother’s grasp and picked the biggest geode. Joey was right on top of me again—and was just about to bite me when I brought the beautiful rock down on his head. Harder than I intended.
My brother dropped to the ground.
“Jesus,” I whispered, gasping.
My cut along my knuckles continued to burn.
* * *
Having worked with animals (and a few drunks), I knew how hard it was to move dead weight. It was difficult to be gentle. This is my brother, I thought, as his feet thudded down the stairs. My brother who tried to bite me. I couldn’t think of an illness that resembled these symptoms more than rabies. But I didn’t yet know what I was dealing with, did I? No. Not by a long shot.
In the basement, Mike only made matters worse. I had to maneuver myself and Joe past him to the other main beam. I should’ve thought of that before. I should have thought of a lot of things before.
Joe was starting to come around just as I got him cuffed. I ran up to the kitchen and brought back a glass of water. I cradled my brother’s head in my lap, not knowing what else to do. Water was always good, I thought.
When I poured a little into his mouth, he spat it out. He knocked the glass to the wall, shattering it. He tried to grab me again, but this time I was faster than him. His movements were slower now, closer to Mike’s speed. Slow. But strong.
I backed up against the furnace, which luckily was out of their reach. I switched it off anyway. When I was done, I turned to face who were now, by law, prisoners against their will. I was their kidnapper.
Both were as close to me as their cuffs allowed. They didn’t seem to notice each other. Just me. Lucky me.
I took a good look at my brother, then started up the stairs.
“Don’t leave!” Joe croaked.
“Please, Jack. I’ll be good, I swear.” He sounded like a scolded child. Still, I hesitated for a moment. Then he lunged again—and shook loose a little dust from the beams and ceiling.
I almost wept for my lost brother. I couldn’t believe I had to chain up my flesh and blood in my cellar. I moved again to the stairs toward the morning light in the kitchen. I tried to block their sounds and clumsy movements from my mind. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. So far.
It was fortunate that Anna was a good liar. It came easily to her and, although she tried her best not to, she could look someone straight in the eye and make almost anything up.
Her ability to lie so well was something, she knew, that her Daddy wasn’t exactly proud of.
So, when the Agents arrived at the zoo the next day, she was studying with Jared at a picnic table away from the main road. Anna and Jared had seldom spent a day apart from each other for the last month or so. Some people might call it puppy love, but she knew differently—and so did he. They were completely at ease together. Anna could talk to him about anything, and he never thought she was crazy.
So, when the strange men approached, Anna immediately put her guard up. Jared immediately sensed something was wrong, too.
“Who are they?” he asked as the two men in black suits approached their picnic table.
Anna smiled at Jared. “No one.”
“Right,” he said sarcastically.
Agent Number One, as Anna had already named him in her head, looked down at the two teens and smiled. “Are you Anna Carter?”
She frowned innocently. “Yes?”
Agent Number Two spoke. “Is your father Jack Carter?”
“Is there something wrong with him?” Anna perfectly feigned concern. She stood up and Jared stood with her.
“No, no,” Number One answered mildly. Anna took Jared’s hand as the two Agents sat down. “Your dad’s fine. We just want to talk to you for a minute, if that’s all right.”
Anna maintained her frown as she and Jared sat again. “What about?”
“You have an uncle, don’t you?” Number Two asked.
“Yeah. My Uncle Joe. He’s in the Navy. Is he okay? Who are you?”
Both flipped open official badges and closed them quickly, but not before Anna read the acronym: CREW.
Number Two was the friendlier of the two. “We’re trying to locate him. Have you seen him?”
She shook her head. “He’s on leave. I think he’s on vacation somewhere.” She was about to add that her Uncle Joe always sent her postcards, but remembered to say as little as possible.
“Well, we’re in the military, too,” Number One said. “And we’re trying to find your uncle. We have an important assignment for him.”