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Authors: Tristan Egolf

Kornwolf (42 page)

BOOK: Kornwolf
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Yes. This was it.

He reached for a sack on the floor of the passenger's seat. Inside, there were ten pairs of handcuffs—as issued by Sheriff Highman that evening—one box of .45-caliber bullets, one canister of tear gas, a stun gun and Mace. Perching the load on his lap, he unpacked it. Everything snapped or slid into place.

Then he went for his cruiser's radio.

“This is Unit 4.” He gripped the receiver and waited. No answer came back. Again, he spoke. “Unit 4.”

Still nothing.

Annoyed, he checked the volume. All systems were go.

He didn't have time for this.

“This is Beaumont, Unit 4,” he growled. “I'm switching my handheld off …”

A glitch in the static came back in response. Rudolf stared at the radio's digital equalizer in puzzled annoyance. One of its ranges peaked abruptly. The speakers crackled. What sounded like laughter filled the cruiser. The officer flinched.

Hey, Rudy
—” An unfamiliar, oddly accented voice of a young man spoke. “
What are you doing out there in the bushes?

A twitter of laughter went up in the background.

The tone was insolent, thoroughly spiteful. Beaumont could scarcely believe his ears.

What do you call ten thousand cops at the bottom of a lake?
” the voice continued.

Dead air spanned the gap to the punch line. Then: “
A good start!

It howled uncontrollably.

Give me that thing!
” came another voice. “
What's up, Rude-oaf?
” More defiant: “
How long's it been since you slept with a woman?

made them laugh out loud—as though the idea were beyond preposterous.

How about a man, then?

They roared all the more.

Beaumont sat there, paralyzed, watching the figures double over around the fire.

Passing the mouthpiece again, someone else started in: “
You ought to be grateful for asthma. You wouldn't have lasted a week in boot camp


He'd be crying for his teddy bear


Rudolf could feel something twist in his bowels.

Rudy. Hey, is it true that your father wore women's clothing?

did it.

He grabbed the receiver and fired back. “You sons of bitches!” He squawked, overloading. Then: “I swear to Jesus, I'll kill every one of—”

He seized up, choking.

They crowed in triumph.

Again, Beaumont flew off the handle, but this time, he ended up puckering mutely.

Snapping at last, he reached for his keys. He was starting the engine just as the radio cut to silence. A moment later, a voice returned, unencumbered by static.

Calmly: “
Hey, Officer—look to your right

He froze.

It's coming

Cringing, he turned.

His cruiser was slammed on the passenger's side by what felt
like a hurtling fire hydrant. The vehicle went up on two wheels, lurching. Beaumont's head hit the ceiling. His scalp opened up, spraying blood all over the dash.

The cruiser teetered—wheels in the air and, suspended, leveling off, then—

Returning momentum and falling—
back down.

A chorus of wild cheering went up.

” came a call from across the field.

Coughing, blood-soaked and losing his vision, Beaumont reached for his door handle. Jammed. The entire frame of the car had been twisted.

He couldn't see ten feet ahead through the darkness.

Hog roast tonight!
” came a drunken holler.

Another round of cheers went up.

A shadow passed in the rearview mirror. He craned his neck for a look, but was stopped by a sharp, unbearable pain in his back. He gasped. The blood dribbled into his eyes.

He unholstered his .45. Something appeared to his right. It was coming. He pointed the barrel …

A mile and a half to the south and closing, over the hill, approaching on foot via Old 18, between Ronkers Lane and an overly active Stumptown Drive, Jonathan Becker had already been on the frayed end of calm when the shot rang out. Having opted to walk, as opposed to driving his buggy, for dread of police entanglement, he'd found out the hard way, and quickly enough, that the township police were completely outnumbered. In the past twenty minutes, he'd managed to elude one black bumper squadron—a five-man party from District Nineteen, well out of its loop—two security vans from the Sprawl Mart, and a couple of Redcoats spotting the ditches with a high-powered halogen lamp—eluding them all by dodging into the corn as their wagons or vehicles passed; an act which, in all probability, would have gotten him strung up and whipped, were he spotted. To add to the tension, an amplified hollering match between warring English camps down
the road was filling The Basin with hair-raising, overextended belches of feedback. The whole thing had put him on edge to begin with: fear of reprisal had kept him going. Ephraim's final admonishment (“
Midnight. Alone. No excuses
.”) still rang in his head. He knew to take that warning to heart. He knew they would seek him out, were he absent. Visions of Colin Graybill waking his family at midnight spurred him on.

Just as the fear of search and seizure had kept him on foot, so the traffic had frazzled him. Then came the gunshot, followed by a booming metallic SLAM that rang through The Basin, then something worse: a shrill, though equally deep-ended, wholly phantasmal howl. It carried across the fields in an echo. A haunting silence fell over the night. The English hollering match desisted. Everything seemed to rear up for a moment, as though to say, nervously,
… The calm to follow was thick with portent. Yes, this evening would come to pass, and all within it to resolution: but not without facing the music first. A purge was in order.

The moon was full.

Jonathan picked up his pace, moving nervously east at a shuffle, down the fleetingly empty stretch of Old 18, past where the end of the field on his left gave way to a jagged incline that grew to a high, craggy, barren escarpment, the bank of which shimmered with quartz in the moonlight. Ahead, maybe two hundred yards, an overgrown pathway led up and over the ridge. Jonathan focused on getting there quickly.

By morning, this nightmare would all be over.

The roar of a motor preceded the burst of movement from over the ridge by an instant: launching as quickly into the open air, on a downward angle and plunging, its engine a whining combustible blast in flight, the vehicle shattered the silence.

Terrified, Jonathan leapt in his tracks.

The Hornet's bumper tore into the downgrade, ripping through silt and gravel. It glanced off a boulder, upended, went over and flipped. It cleared the ditch and came down in the road on its side,
grinding across the asphalt. A shower of sparks went up underneath it. The tearing of metal on pavement resounded—and, lost in the rumble, a voice crying out.

Finally, the vehicle ground to a halt. Still on one side, it swayed momentarily, the driver's seat cocked toward the belt of Orion. Then it fell back to its base with a crash.

At once, hysterical laughter rolled out of it. Smoke wafted over the road from the engine. The road was now quiet. In place of the rattle and crash, there was Gideon's voice, in stitches: “
That's what I'm talking about!
” in Plain Folk. Colin joined in with a whoop of accord: “
I can't believe you fucking did that!
” A door came open. In English: “Ach! Let me out …” Still laughing. Gideon tried the ignition. “Hold on—” He coughed.

It started.

“Damn, this thing is incredible.”

“That's the

They got out of the car. From a distance, Jonathan watched them circle it. He didn't know whether or not they had spotted him. As such, he hung back in the shadows.

Gideon came up for air with a belch.

He dabbed his brow with a shirtsleeve and looked at it. “
Hey. I'm bleeding

Colin laughed. “
We ought to get back

They returned to the car.

Breathlessly, Jonathan watched them move. They had already climbed in, shut their doors and shifted into gear when they called to him.

Well, come on!
” Colin shouted impatiently. “
You're the fucking guest of honor

The back door opened. The engine rumbled and spat. They were waiting.

“Ach! Get in!”

Officer Kutay, who, so far, had spent his evening responding to noise complaints, received orders to check on the Bontrager kid
at the Hostler residence just before midnight. A few minutes later, he rolled down the gravel drive, feeling vaguely insulted by the order. While everyone else (some thirteen officers, along with a five-man squad from the city) was out and about—whether chasing a Holtwood van that was clocked running ninety in a thirty-mile-an-hour zone or responding to a rise in complaints re: rampant drunk driving along Route 21—Fatty had been assigned to check on a missing eighteen-year-old Dutchie.

He rounded a bend in the drive to spot someone, a hatless, bearded figure in black, wandering circles around the yard. As Fatty's cruiser slowed to a halt, the figure looked up, bathed in the headlights. The look on his face shone of tormented worry.

As expected, his name was Abraham Hostler. His wife, it followed, was named Grizelda. And no, they hadn't come home—neither she nor Ephraim, their nephew: Ephraim Bontrager. Both were a couple of hours late. A social worker had already come by to check the house and living conditions. Then a city policeman had come to install an electrical boundary network (the “bracelet line”) around their property. Ephraim was now in violation of house arrest, an annulment of same. And if Mrs. Hostler didn't appear in the next hour (by one a.m.) a warrant would go out on her, as well.

For the life of him, Abraham couldn't understand it. This was unlike his wife, he claimed. Normally, he would've had to assume, by now, that they'd gotten into an accident. But no reports of a crash had been filed, and the hospitals hadn't admitted them either. It didn't make sense. Half of their district was combing The Basin in search of an answer. The Hostlers' oldest daughter had set out to look for them only moments before, while Abraham himself, with two of their children, had been left behind to watch over the house. So far, no update—not one piece of news—had come back. It was driving him mad with worry.

Fatty was just beginning to feel for the man when a roar broke out from the west: what sounded at first like a chain saw at three hundred decibels, tearing and grinding in starts, soon to lead into
a gigantic trash can lid being smashed by a hundred-pound hammer, and on—to a ruptured fan belt slapping the underside of an engine hood …

Fannie was emerging from a narrow path through the corn to the edge of the Schlabach property the moment a scream pierced the deafening roar, like a thousand demons plummeting hellbound …

The first things she saw were the torches: what looked to be three different martin houses wrapped in gas-soaked bedsheets, burning on twenty-foot poles. An array of movement proceeded within their field of illumination below. Even from two hundred yards, she could make out the overturned cruiser, off to the left. Figures were gathered around it, thrashing in time with the music while beating the vehicle's underside with sticks and pipes. Their movements flared in a wash of red. They were baying like coyotes. One of them reared up and, hollering, shattered a passenger window.

Behind them, between a stack of boxes and what had to (appeared to) be a tractor, standing directly beneath a torch, someone (a young man) dressed in a flowing gown was spinning around in circles. Somebody else (a young woman) ran by with a sack on her head, trailing a parasol. Surrounding a second pile of lumber between the house and the barn stood a crowd. A couple of bare-chested young men were splashing the wood with pints of lighter fluid. Behind them, piles of assorted merchandise filled the clearing. On drawing nearer, Fannie discerned the outline of common garage appliances: rubber hoses and motorbike helmets, and plastic rakes—and everyone freely picking through them, throwing together unlikely costumes: a couple of girls in inflatable life jackets, bathed in the firelight, guzzling spirits—behind them, young men with pails on their heads, thrashing in time with the hellbound descent.

Fannie had never heard anything like it. The tempo was unbelievably furious. The instrumentation was truly unreal. It sounded like some kind of killing machine: a corn thresher vaulted by
nitrous oxide, storming the hills at a thunderous charge—visions of indiscriminate slaughter, a marching of thousands, unbridled savagery.

Fannie couldn't begin to conceive of it—even though, yes, it moved. It
. There was something so wholly malevolent driving every measure, it made her sick.

The young men, with cans of kerosene, gas or whatever it was they were splashing the wood with, backed away from the pile as a pair of headlights spilled from the opposite cornfield. A match was struck. The side of the barn flared up in a blaze of yellow and orange. The vehicle, badly beaten, a junker, slid into a fishtail, spinning mud. Over the amplified clamor of music, a buzz of cheering arose from the crowd. Several more people came out of the barn for a look of their own, stepping into the light. Most of the field was now glowing yellow. Fannie could make out the vehicle now—the one Colin had picked up her mother in while driving.

Something was wrong with her equilibrium. Suddenly, the world was stuck on an angle. Her legs felt weak underneath her, like she was slogging through quicksand. She struggled to keep her footing. The closer she drew to the gathering, the more she could feel herself drawn by the madness sustaining it. Just as, in turn, she felt strangely aware, as never before, of the glow of the moon—that atrocious music, damn it to hell, continued to pain and captivate her.

BOOK: Kornwolf
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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