Praise Thee and fell unto our poisoned town.
Praise Thee and Fell
Sarah feels the boat coast to a slow stop a few minutes after her little chat with Chief Maxwell reduced her to a state of tears. She hears a splash from outside the cabin, likely an anchor being tossed overboard, and then Chief Maxwell is suddenly crouched down before her with one of his fat hands on her shoulder.
“You can die happy or die miserable,” he tells her in an attempt to… well, she’s not sure. Whatever he’s trying to do though, it isn’t working. “That’s a decision only you can make, Sarah, and it’s time for you to make it. You’re not very big, and I can lift you if need be.” Maxwell’s hand leaves her shoulder and rests on his chubby bent knee. “Now what’s it go’n’a be? You goin’ out there on my legs? Or are you goin’ out there on your own?”
Her tear ducts dry up, and she uses the white pajama shirt Maxwell gave her to dry her face. “My own legs,” she whispers, not meaning to. Trying again, this time in a louder voice, “I’ll go out there on my own legs.”
“Good,” Maxwell says, bracing himself with a hand so he can stand back up. Sarah stands too, with much less effort. “Good girl. Let’s go, then.”
They stand off for a moment, the hulk that is Daniel Maxwell towering over the defenseless Sarah Hammond like a kaiju standing next to a Barbie. She sees his eyes flash between her and something above her head a few times, but if he’s trying to drop her a hint she’s just not catching it. Then she realizes she’s standing with her back to the door.
“Can you back up?” she asks, not impolitely. “You’re too close.”
Maxwell is about to grumble how she’s too close to her death to be so adverse to him invading her space, but he decides it wouldn’t be right. Had The Tome not bared the girl’s name her life might not be even ten percent of the way through. She’s making a sacrifice – being forced to make the sacrifice, sure, but she’s still making it, and without putting up too too much of a fight, either, very commendable – that most folks wouldn’t even dream of being faced with, and so Chief Daniel Maxwell takes two steps back so Sarah can open the door comfortably and walk out to meet her destiny.
Four dark faces stare down at her with willing eyes held by baggy eyelids. Herm Billings, Gene Thorton, Billy Gene, and standing back behind them, Vern VanDunk. Heavy feet plod up behind her and hands – fat, chunky hands – fall on her shoulders. A moment of silence is shared by all, then Herm speaks.
“Well Chief, we’re here. We got the girl, we took her out to the middle’a Lake Atacama.” He folds his arms, the sleeves rolled up past the elbows. “Now what?”
Chief, looking up to the starry sky, says, “Now Rock comes and takes care of the rest. We just got’a wait.”
So they wait. Vern leans against the box attached to the back right wall, Gene and Billy pop squats against the side walls. Chief stays standing behind Sarah with his big hands clenching her tiny shoulders, and Herm stays standing in front of her, arms folded, head cocked up at the sky. There are a great many starts in that sky, Herm notices. He’s not one to go out and stargaze too often like some hippie who don’t have a job to wake up early in the day for; any time he’s out at night it’s behind the wheel of a police cruiser, doing everything he needs to do to go on living his life. What’s that life consist of? Some friends, some family, some video games and some alcohol. Some women, every now and then, though they’re few and far in between. Truth is, Herm Billings has always felt like something of a wandering soul, a sort of cosmic errand boy doing what he’s told and doing it well enough until he gets some time for rest and relaxation, all the while not really knowing why he’s doing it. He doesn’t know himself very well, Herm Billings, isn’t quite acquainted with the man in the mirror, but that’s never stopped him from doing what he needs to do. Didn’t stop him digging those holes in the woods off the side of Cannonball, and it didn’t stop him from filling them in after Bill and Gene dumped the bodies. Hell, Herm’s not sure anybody really knows who they are, what they’re doing here, if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. He does know one thing, though: his being inducted into The Fellers of Rock hasn’t been the worse experience of his entire life. Sure, it’s been gruesome – murder is always gruesome, whether there’s blood on the walls or not – but it’s also given him a sense of identity, a sense of purpose in the world that he’s never felt during any other part of his life. He’s a police officer, yes, and he should feel that sense of duty while he’s driving around town aimlessly looking for kids to give speeding tickets to or stuck at the station pushing pencils and filling out paperwork, but he just doesn’t. Anybody can become a cop, for Rock’s sake even Jim Hubert could become a cop, and while Jim Hubert also became a Feller, Jim was chosen to become a Feller. Jim’s name was printed in a book that appeared out of thin air in a brilliant flash of light, and so was Herm’s. Herm Billings was printed in The Tome of Rock, and that means something. Chief never let him see it for himself, but that’s just the thing: Herm doesn’t feel the need to see the book. Herm’s wearing the red sweater and the blue denim pants, Herm was complicit in the murdering and body disposal of two Earthen humans, and now Herm is floating on Atacama Lake with the four Fellers who were chosen to see Rock fell firsthand. Herm Billings isn’t just one of the chosen ones, he’s one of the chosen amongst the chosen ones. Herm finally has a purpose in his life, and while this isn’t the first time in his life he’s stood beneath the heavens and gazed up at the stars, this is the first time they’ve made sense to him. Everything in life happens for a reason. Those stars are where they are for a reason, and each of the six Fellers of Rock are where they are for a reason too, and that one star up there? That one star which dares to glow red when all the rest glow white, that single burning star which appeared out of the black smaller than a pinprick but now outshines all the rest of the stars in the infinite sky? Well that star’s doing what it’s doing for a reason, too. It’s finally all making sense.
“Chief…” Herm says, unable to help the giant smile on his face. “D–… d’you see that star, Chief?”
“That ain’t a star, Herm,” says Gene Thorton with a sense of awe in his voice.
“Whuh…” Billy Gene says before he swallows down what sounds like a sizeable pebble. “What is that?”
“It’s Rock,” Chief says, and a hot tear rolls down his right cheek. “It’s Rock, Fellers. Rock is felling unto Earth, and we summoned It. We did the work, and now we get our reward.”
The Fellers all stand, besides Vern VanDunk. In fact, Vern VanDunk isn’t even looking at the sky. He’s faced away from the other Fellers now, his feet are dangling through the space between the right and left back wall. His head is turned down towards the water, but it’s not the water he’s staring at. Vern VanDunk’s got something in his lap, something he’s almost done bringing himself to share with his fellow Fellers.
“I reckon we ought to say something,” Herm Billings says, unable to take his eyes off the burning red dot in the sky, that ever-expanding red dot. “This is a momentous occasion, Fellers, and I reckon we should say something to commemorate it.”
“I’ll say something,” says Sarah. Even she’s looking up at Rock getting bigger and bigger in the sky. “You’re all crazy. I know I’m going to die tonight, but I think you all think you’ll survive.” She takes a moment, swallows the lump of rage and fright in her throat. “I hope you all realize that you’re wrong before it’s ov–”
Herm cuts her off with a firm, open-hand slap across the cheek. The other Fellers look away from the sky with shocked eyes.
“How dare you,” Herm growls. “This is a special night, an important night. This might be the most meaningful night of your life, you little brat, and you have the nerve to talk such shit?! You’re lucky Rock is coming for you, because if It didn’t, then I’d…”
Herm trails off as the wind blows. The waves splash up against the hull. The wind continues to blow, and the waves continue to splash.
Then, quietly, “Then what, Herm?”
Herm turns around. It was Vern. He’s facing them now, looking at Herm. He’s got one hand behind his back, probably so he can keep his thumb jammed up his ass.
“What’d you say?” Herm snarls.
“I said, then what, Herm? If Rock wasn’t coming for Sarah, what would you do to‘er?”
Herm turns and looks at Billy Gene, at Gene Thorton, at Chief Maxwell. They all meet his gaze but offer him nothing. He turns back and faces Vern VanDunk like a ma–… no. Like a Feller.
“Well, I… I don’t know. I don’t need to know, don’t you see that, Vern? Rock is comin’, It’s fellin’ through the sky right now. Just look up, Vern.” Herm is smiling now. It’s a very toothy, pleading, borderline hopeless smile. Vern supposes he might find wet shit between those teeth if he flossed ‘em. “Just go’head and look up, see It for yerself.”
“I don’t think so, Herm,” Vern says. “Rock might be comin’, but It’s not go’n’a take Sarah.”
“And just what do you mean by that? ” Herm spits.
Vern takes his hand out from behind his back and shows Herm what he means by that. Gripped in his hand is a .44 revolver, a big six-shooter with its serial number engraved and the ghostly pale moonlight reflecting off its barrel. Vern thumbs the hammer back and takes a step towards Herm Billings while Chief Maxwell takes a dive backwards into the cabin, pulling Sarah with him.
“Vern,” Herm says in that pleading tone, but he’s not smiling anymore. Vern supposes he’ll never smile again. “Y-you don’t have to do this, Vern. Please.” He backs into the cabin door, which Chief Maxwell must have shut, and Vern just keeps on coming. Herm raises a shaky palm in front of him, as though he was miming a half-assed wall. “Think about what you’re doin’, Vern. Puh–… put the gun down.”
“Got no time to think, Herm. Rock’s on Its way.”
“I know It is, so you don’t have to pull–”
The big iron makes a deafening report which rides the wavy surface of the lake all the way to Jim Hubert’s ears. His pants get a little wet when the boom smacks his eardrums, but he doesn’t move an inch.
Herm, the shake in his hand migrated to the entirety of his body (aside from that large warm area in his chest; Herm can’t feel much of anything in that large warm area in his chest), slowly turns his palm towards his face and looks into the hole bored through the center of it. He can see Vern through that hole.
“B–…b-but… Vern…” Herm says, his struggle with the words the only true struggle he’s ever known, “w-we–… you… yer a Feller…”
“I am a Feller, Herm,” Vern drawls, “and tonight, I’m fellin’ you.”
Vern VanDunk thumbs the hammer back and blows him away. The body crumples to the floor, a bloody heap full’a holes.
“Vern, you sum’bitch!!”
Gene Thorton, snapped neatly out of his daze by the explosion of the second gunshot, advances towards Vern VanDunk. Vern blows him away. The body dances a jig and flips over the side wall, settling with a splash.
“For the love of God, Vern, please! I never wanted…”
Billy Gene, curled up in a little ball on the floor of the police boat, cowers and pleas for his life. Vern blows him away.
Vern VanDunk finally looks up at the stars and sees the growing red blob that is Rock. It’s the size of a golf ball now, maybe a smidge or two bigger. Doesn’t matter; all that matters is that It’s up there and Vern’s down here, and there are still two more Fellers on the boat.
“Chief,” Vern says calmly, knocking on the cabin door with the butt of the revolver. “Come on out now, Chief. I think we best have a little chat, y’hear?”
The door jiggles, but doesn’t open.
“I can’t open it, Vern. I think… Herm is in the way.”
Vern looks down and, sure enough, the bloody heap’a flesh full’a holes that used to be Herm Billings is blocking the cabin door. With his free hand, Vern grabs the wrist beneath Herm’s one full hand and drags his corpse away. When he gives the all-clear, Chief opens the door and walks out holding Sarah in front of him just like he was before Vern felled the Fellers.
“Let ‘er go, Chief. This ain’t goin’ down the way The Tome said.”
“You don’t have to tell me that, Vern,” the chief says, his voice firmly shaky. “I’m the one who read the damn thing.”
Vern thumbs the hammer back. “Let ‘er go now, Dan.”
Dan lets Sarah go, but she doesn’t walk away from him. Poor thing can hardly hear, her ears are ringing too loud from the gunshots.
“Sarah!” Vern says, loud enough to get her to look at him. “Can you swim, Sarah?”
“Oh you’re kidding, right?” Maxwell says in disbelief. “Earthen folks can’t swim, Vern! Come on, I ain’t a racist but even I know that! Enough a’this!”
“I asked the girl,” Vern explains, “not you. Sarah, can you swim?”
“Yes,” Sarah says, much louder than she means to. “I take swimming lessons at the whY. I was on my way there with my parents when you pulled us over!”
“And I’m awful sorry we pulled you over that day, Sarah,” Vern says, smiling down at her sadly. “I hope you know how sorry I am.”
Above them, Rock fells ever closer to Earth.
“How well can you swim, Sarah?”
“I’m one of the best swimmers in my class!” Sarah is crying again, but those aren’t tears of sadness. Not this time. Those tears express understanding and little else, and they flow like water through an unclogged pipe. “I’m a great swimmer!”
“Go ahead and jump in the lake, Sarah,” Vern says, unable to hide his smile. “You swim to the nearest shore and run to the nearest house, and you get yourself some help. Tell ‘em Vern VanDunk sent ya, they’ll know who I am. They’ll help you.”
Not needing to be told twice, Sarah sprints past Vern and dives gracefully into Lake Atacama. The splashes of her swimming away overpower, then level with, then are slowly drowned out by the sound of the waves hitting the hull. As the wind continues to blow past their ringing ears, Vern’s and Chief Maxwell’s eyes meet.
“You’re making a mistake here, Vern,” Maxwell says, his hands now up by his shoulders.
“No, I don’t think so, Chief Maxwell.” Vern VanDunk guides the hammer back to rest, then thumbs it down again for effect. “Earthen folk are good folk. I would know – my sister is marrying one. If our town really is being poisoned, the Earthen folk ain’t the source. Y’understan’ me? If there’s a problem in Wuester, they ain’t it, Chief.” He hocks and spits into the water. “No, I got all my ducks in a row, Chief Maxwell, all is present and accounted for. Found the gun in the box when I checked the boat, like it was left there for me. Six bullets chambered when we hit the water. Two left now, one for the both of us, and then… well, it’s like you said: Rock takes care of the rest.”
“That’s not what I mean, Vern,” Chief Maxwell says gravely, his voice the very essence of defeat. “I never even asked where you got the gun.” He clears his sinuses and launches it into the water. “You can kill me, Vern, and you can kill yourself right after just fine. Hell, you might even stop the eradication of the Earthen folk, but there’s still one Feller left.”
Vern’s eyes narrow, then widen like the felling Rock.
“Jim is still back on the docks, Vern.” Maxwell closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I thought Jim might be a danger, so I left him on the docks…”
They stand there, two of the three remaining Fellers, a big iron and two shells between them. The red glow of Rock coming down from above throws its first sheens of light and heat upon their pale faces. Won’t be long now. Time’s just about up.
“Well, Chief,” Vern says, his face devoid of emotion. “Let’s just hope Sarah avoids the docks.”
Police Chief Daniel Maxwell nods at the man holding the revolver. Vern blows him away, then turns the gun on himself as the body hits the floor and rolls, making the boat tilt.
“Praise thee, Rock.” Vern VanDunk thumbs down the hammer. “Praise thee and fell unto our poisoned town.”
Vern blows himself away. A minute later – twenty minutes exactly since the boat left the docks – Rock fells upon their poisoned town.
Hello Commons, this has been the sixth subchapter of the last 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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