I was struck by a sudden fear . . . was that why her apartment had been ransacked? Because the man she’d been involved with had known she’d kept a journal and searched for it, too? If so, was I too late?
It had taken me too long to think of it as it was. I wasn’t about to waste another second. I tossed down some bills, grabbed my journal and purse, and dashed for the door.
It was standing there—just standing there in the darkness; how the heck was I supposed to have known?—when I hurtled around the corner.
I was sprinting in my haste to get to Alina’s place so I could find her journal and prove to myself that it was a perfectly normal man—albeit a homicidal maniac—who’d killed her, not some mythical monster. If I had rounded the corner and crashed into a person, it would have startled me. As it was, I slammed into something that made the Gray Man look like someone I might have considered taking to Senior Prom. My double vision lasted less than a heartbeat, from the instant I saw it to the moment I hit it.
I tried to dodge but didn’t react fast enough. I crashed into it with my shoulder, bounced off it, and slammed into the side of a building. Dazed, I stumbled to my hands and knees on the sidewalk. I crouched there, staring up in horror. The glamour the thing cast was so faint it required no effort on my part at all to penetrate it. I couldn’t see how it would fool anyone.
Like the Gray Man, it had most of the right parts. Unlike the Gray Man, it had a few extra ones, too. Parts of it were underdone, and parts of it were horrifyingly overdone. Its head was huge, hairless, and covered with dozens of eyes. It had more mouths than I could count—at least that’s what I think the wet, pink leechlike suckers all over the misshapen head and stomach were—I could see the flash of sharp teeth as the moist puckers expanded and contracted in the gray, wrinkled flesh with what sure looked to me like hunger. Four ropy arms hung from its barrel-like body, two puny ones drooped limply at its sides. It stood on legs like tree trunks and its male sex organ was distended and grotesquely oversized. I mean, as big around as a baseball bat and hanging past its knees.
To my dismay, I realized it was leering at me—with every one of those eyes and all of those mouths. To my horror, it reached down and began stroking itself hard.
I couldn’t move. It’s something I’m still ashamed of. You always wonder how you’ll handle a moment of crisis; if you’ve got what it takes to fight or if you’ve just been deluding yourself all along that somewhere deep inside you there’s steel beneath the magnolia. Now I knew the truth. There wasn’t. I was all petals and pollen. Good for attracting the procreators who could ensure the survival of our species, but not a survivor myself. I was Barbie after all.
I barely managed to choke out a squeak when it reached for me.
This is becoming a habit, Ms. Lane,” Barrons said dryly, glancing briefly up from the book he was examining when I burst into the store.
I slammed the door behind me and began locking it.
He raised his head again at the sound of dead bolts ratcheting home and dropped the book on a table. “What’s wrong?”
“I think I’m going to be sick.” I needed to wash. With scalding water and bleach. Maybe a hundred showers would be enough.
“No, you won’t. Concentrate. The urge will pass.”
I wondered if he was really so sure about that, or if he was just trying to condition me with constant denials, to keep me from puking on his precious sofa or one of his priceless rugs.
“What happened? You’re white as a sheet.”
I glanced at Fiona behind the cashier’s counter.
“You may speak freely in front of her,” he said.
I moved to the counter and sank back against it for support. My legs were shaking, my knees weak. “I saw another one,” I told him.
He’d turned with me as I’d moved. Now he stopped with his back to the end of a heavy, ornate bookcase. “So? I told you you would. Was it so hideous? Is that what this is about? It frightened you?”
I took a deep breath, fighting tears. “It knows I saw it.”
Barrons’ mouth fell open. He gaped at me a long moment. Then he turned and punched the end of the bookcase so hard books went crashing to the floor, shelf after shelf. When he whirled back around, his face was drawn with fury. “Bloody hell!” he exploded. “Un-fucking-believable! You, Ms. Lane, are a menace to others! A walking, talking catastrophe in pink!” If gazes could scorch, his would have incinerated me where I stood. “Didn’t you hear a thing I told you last night? Weren’t you even listening?”