Time to Kill
And who’s the little girl?
Never mind the girl…
A knock on the door brings Sarah into consciousness. At first she thinks she’s back at her house, that she had slept on her tummy with her face pressed into the pillow, that it’s her Mommy knocking on the door asking her if she wants any pancakes, telling her that if she does she better hurry downstairs because her Daddy is wolfin’ ‘em down like he doesn’t wan’a share. Then, as the stiffness in her back rudely makes itself known, she realizes the error in her thinking.
Then, she begins to cry. Whoever’s knocking on the door can wait.
And so they do. For a while, too; Sarah doesn’t know just how long this most recent crying fit lasts – all she knows for sure is that it will not be her last, she will cry at least one more time before she dies at the hands of the dusty white cops, these dirty cops who don’t seem to be guided by any apparent motive – but she’s pretty well spent when finally she dries out of it, despite having just woken up from a nap. Yet still when she’s done crying, at the very moment her forehead presses against the soggy comforter draped over the bedspring, as if it happens on cue, the knocker knocks again. Sarah takes a moment to gather herself as best she can before answering, quickly deciding it’s pointless to do so before letting go a weak, “Hello?”
“Hello yourself,” the knocker says. “All well in there?”
“I guess…” she says, having yet to open her eyes back up. “What do you want?”
A pause. “Well, it’s my turn to check in on you. I’m uh… it’s about twenty after four o’clock now, I’m the last one slated to poke my head in. Cool if I do so?”
“Sure,” Sarah says, lifting her head off the bed.
The knocker comes in. It’s a cop, of course, dressed in his standard blues. He’s got a dirty blonde haircut which refuses to conform to the standard police buzzcut and a trimmed brown moustache, bright azure eyes, a gentle smile; the guy looks kind enough, despite the situation. One of his hands are in his pocket, the other’s hanging onto a silver flask.
“What’s that?” Sarah asks, eying the flask.
The cop looks at it. “Booze,” he says plainly. “Yanked it from the chief’s stash when you were, uh… before you were ready to answer. I’m not sloshed or anything, don’t worry, just a little lighter on my feet is all.” He looks at it again for a moment, then holds it forward as if he was offering a drink to Sarah. Then, he says, “Wan’a sip?”
“No thanks,” Sarah says, although she kind’a does. “I wan’a know what’s going to happen to me tonight.”
The cop looks immediately uncomfortable. Takes a swig of the booze, swallows whilst avoiding eye contact. Takes another swig.
“Please?” Sarah asks. “I know I’m going to die tonight, but… I want to know how. I want to know exactly what’s going to happen to me but nobody else would tell me and I feel like…”
“What?” the cops asks softly, looking over at a very interesting blank spot on the wall.
“I feel like if I have to wait until your chief comes back it’ll be too late…”
The cop takes a swig long enough to make Sarah wonder if there’s anything left in the flask. Then he asks her what her name is, and she tells him, first and last.
“I’m Herm Billings,” says the dirty cop named Herm Billings. “I’m, eh… we’re really not supposed to tell you anything. We’re not really supposed to talk to you either, tell y’the truth. It’s all written in this book, uh, this book that the chief wouldn’t let us read, but…” Herm sighs and looks at the flask like an old friend who’s taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road and wound up on the other side of the tracks.
For a moment nobody says a thing. Then, Herm holds out the flask again. Sarah looks at it dubiously.
“Go on,” Herm says, giving the silver flask a little shake. “Don’t take too big a sip, just a little one.”
Hesitatingly Sarah takes the flask. She’s afraid to smell it because she knows what alcohol smells like – nasty; toothy and nasty – but then again she’s afraid to die at the hands of these dirty cops and she’s talking to this one well enough. Hell, she’s talked to all of them, even that weird one who found her under the bed. She puts the spout to her mouth and flicks the flask back. The firewater trickles down her throat, launching the girl into a coughing fit as it bites down. Herm takes the flask out of her hand before she’s done, and were her eyes open she would see a sad little smile on his face.
“What is that?!” she demands. “Eugh! It tastes like… eugh! ”
“Whisky,” Herm says, then knocks down another swig. “And pretty cheap, from the taste of it.” He shrugs then, caps the flask, and sits down with his legs folded beneath him.
This Herm guy isn’t humongous. He’s not exactly a toothpick, but yet he resembles one when compared with Sarah’s mental image of big Chief Maxwell. Everybody is resemblant of a toothpick when compared with Sarah’s mental image of big Chief Maxwell, though… regardless, now that he’s sitting Sarah can see the door, specifically how open it is, but she doesn’t make any moves to dash out. At this stage in the game, what’s the point? They have cars and guns, they would find her, and that’s if Herm didn’t snatch her by the ankle and remind her that she has the right to remain silent. Instead she wields that right and stares at Herm, letting him take the first step across the bridge hanging over the deep gully between them.
“You really wan’a know?” he asks, looking at her in a way that makes it seem like he’s looking up. “Because I’ll tell you, Sarah. I’ll give it to ya straight, but…”
“But what?” Sarah asks, her face neither smile nor frown.
“But… well, it’s strange, Sarah. This whole situation we’re in… it’s incredibly strange, very out of the ordinary. Certain things are supposed to happen, accordin’ t’this book the chief found, and most of them have happened, but…” He rubs the back of his head, looking at the floor. “But certain things don’t quite line up, and it’s makin’ me wonder…”
“What do you mean?” Sarah asks after a moment.
Herm looks up at her. “Nothin’, it don’t…” A sigh. “I s’pose it doesn’t really matter, not at this point. You’re go’n’a die tonight either way.”
Welp, there it is. Out in the open, confirmed as though it was a dirty rumor. Sarah knew it was the truth, she knew ever since that awful conversation with the old preacherman at the church, but still it hits her like an airborne brick. Suddenly she’s shivering, suddenly the room is filling with water, suddenly the pins and needles are back and she can’t breathe and her vision is clouding over with impenetrable black clouds and and an
“Sarah,” Herm says, bringing her back to the surface. “You… you’re not all right, anybody with eyes in their head and a heart beating in their chest would know that you’re not all right, but… are you all right?”
“Yeah,” she says without taking a moment to think about it. The less thinking Sarah does at the moment, the better. “Tell me what’s going to happen to me, please. Tell me everything.”
“I will tell you what I can, which is a lot more than I understand, but less than everything all the same. It… it, uh… it all started with the book. The chief found it in his backyard on the night back in August when that meteor crashed into Atacama Lake and took out those kids.”
“I remember that,” she says. “I thought it was called Lake Atacama, though.”
“It’s called both, don’t really matter,” he says, waving it off. “The book claims that the meteor which fell was a sort of omen, a warning that our town is being… well, poisoned.”
Sarah doesn’t look unconcerned. “What’s poisoning it?”
“Um… well… the book Chief Maxwell found says it’s the Earthen folk, meaning, eh… meaning the folks whose skin ain’t exactly white as starlight.”
The look on Sarah’s face suggests that she thought (but did not originally believe) this bullshit was a racial thing, but now she believes it. Oh, does she ever believe it.
“It’s the book, a’ight? It’s not me who believes this shit, nor do any of the other guys… except for Jim, maybe, but…” Another wave of the hand, as if to express that Jim’s not worth a passing thought. “The book says that white folks are children of the stars, that we’re higher, in a way, than folks with darker skin. It claims that folks whose skin is dark are the way they are because they’re closer to the Earth, they’re lower in a way that doesn’t exactly mean they’re less than or anything… to be honest, bein’ Earthen seems like a better way to be to me, more… realistic, but… anyway, for the longest time Wuester was a totally white town, no Earthen folks lived here, only us star children, and an energy vortex formed because of that. But as of late a bunch of Earthen folk been moving into town, and that vortex is becoming unstable. If that vortex spins out there’s going to be a crash, and… well, it ain’t go’n’a be pretty.”
Sarah stares gravely at Herm, but he’s got’a continue. She asked, after all, and so she’ll receive.
“So that meteor that crashed in August, that’s called The Precursor. It’s a sort’a signal that a bigger meteor, one called Rock, is coming, and when Rock comes, It’ll send out a shockwave of sorts that’ll… well, that’ll return the Earthen folk to the Earth, allowing the Wuester vortex to go on spiraling upwards. But, the thing is, Rock can’t just come here on Its own. Rock needs to be guided, sort of like a missile with laser targeting, and uh… well, Sarah, you’re the laser.
“Tonight we’re going to take you out to Atacama Lake and we’re go’n’a use you to bring Rock down from space. And… and you’re not going to survive the ordeal.”
Herm finally looks up at Sarah, looks into her eyes. What he finds makes him immediately look away. She goes on not saying a thing.
“Lis’en, you asked, I only–”
“You believe that?”
Herm doesn’t confirm nor deny what he believes.
“Herm. You believe all that?” She sounds angry. No, enraged. No, absolutely furious. “You believe that, that… that dusty white folk bullshit?! ”
“It ain’t bullshit!” Herm shouts, suddenly finding the strength to gaze into the little black girl’s eyes. “The chief threatened us at gunpoint, a’ight?! Daniel Maxwell is a good man, I’ve known him a long, long time, he’s not a racist and he’s not the type to just turn into one! The book appeared in his backyard in a flash of light, and so did our uniforms!” Herm unbuttons his blue shirt and opens it like Clark Kent revealing his hidden Superman costume underneath, revealing a red sweater with a blue blob in the center, the very same sweater she saw Chief Maxwell and Billy Gene wearing. “Make no mistake, Sarah, this is a cult you and I have been swept up into. We’re called The Fellers of Rock, and… for Christ’s sake, Sarah, I saw the chief get possessed! I know how idiotic it seems but it’s real, it’s all real and there ain’t shit we can do about it!”
Herm hurls the Chief’s silver flask across the room. It smacks against the wall next to the window without leaving a noticeable dent, then falls to the thinly carpeted floor. When Sarah looks back at Herm he’s hugging his knees to his chest, rocking slowly back and forth.
“It’s all kinds of fucked, Miss Hammond,” Herm says quietly. “It’s all kinds of fucked, but there ain’t shit we can do about it but see it through.” He looks up at her, not releasing his knees. “I’m sorry you’re involved in this. I’m sorry about your parents, I’m sorry about… I’m sorry your life has to end so everybody else’s life can go on.”
“Not everybody,” Sarah says, her voice colder than the water in which she’s drowning. “Just you. Just the dusty white folks of Wuester, New Jersey.”
“No,” Herm says. He puts a hand on the floor and stands himself up. Sarah watches him go. “Not just the whites, everybody. If the Wuester vortex spins out, Sarah, everybody dies. So it is written in The Tome, and so it shall be, unless we stop it. And I’m sorry, but… we’re going to stop it.”
Herm retrieves the flask, then turns and goes to the open door. He looks over his shoulder at the innocent child sitting cross-legged on the floor staring up at him like a lamb at a slaughterhouse worker. The look on her face drives a bone into his heart.
“The chief’ll be back real soon. We all will. Then we’ll head out to Lake Atacama, and… we’ll get started.”
Without another word Billings leaves and locks the bedroom door. Sarah stares at it like she’s reading her own gravestone. Here lies Sarah Hammond, the sacrifice which brought Rock down to save all the dusty white folks. You never know what the dusty white folks get up to when nobody’s lookin’ at ‘em. Sarah knows, though. Sarah knows because they made Sarah look at ‘em. Sarah took a good long look, and here’s where she ended up.
No more tears come. They can’t. The water is over Sarah’s face now. It would be like crying in a rainstorm.
Hello Commons, this has been the twelfth subchapter of the third chapter of Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox, a novel about a man who likes to eavesdrop on his neighbors.
Under the Hood: The Imprisonment of Jonathan Knox is the second book in the W-2222 series, a series of books which take place in Universe W-2222.
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