They had come from a Halloween party, having long shed the masks they’d worn. No one but Harold had been drinking, and he wasn’t driving, and he wasn’t so drunk he was blind. Just drunk enough he couldn’t sit up straight and was lying on the back seat, trying, for some unknown reason, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which he didn’t accurately recall. He was mixing in verses from “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Boy Scout oath, which he vaguely remembered from his time in the organization before they drove him out for setting fires.
Even though William, who was driving, and Jim, who was riding shotgun, were sober as Baptists claimed to be, they were fired up and happy and yelling and hooting, and Jim pulled down his pants and literally mooned a black bug of a car carrying a load of nuns.
The car wasn’t something that looked as if it had come off the lot. Didn’t have the look of any car maker Jim could identify. It had a cobbled look. It reminded him of something in old movies, the ones with gangsters who were always squealing their tires around corners. Only it seemed bigger, with broader windows through which he could see the nuns, or at least glimpse them in their habits; it was a regular penguin convention inside that car.
Way it happened, when they came up on the nuns, Jim said to William at the wheel, “Man, move over close, I’m gonna show them some butt.”
“They’re nuns, man.”
“That’s what makes it funny,” Jim said.
William eased the wheel to the right, and Harold in the back said, “Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon. Show them the Grand Canyon . . . Oh, say can you see . . .”
Jim got his pants down, swiveled on his knees in the seat, twisted so that his ass was against the glass, and just as they passed the nuns, William hit the electric window switch and slid the glass down. Jim’s ass jumped out at the night, like a vibrating moon.
“They lookin’?” Jim asked.
“Oh, yeah,” William said, “and they are not amused.”
Jim jerked his pants up, shifted in the seat, and turned for a look, and sure enough, they were not amused. Then a funny thing happened, one of the nuns shot him the finger, and then others followed. Jim said, “Man, those nuns are rowdy.”
And now he got a good look at them, even though it was night, because there was enough light from the headlights as they passed for him to see faces hard as wardens and ugly as death warmed over. The driver was especially homely, face like that could stop a clock and run it backwards or make shit crawl uphill.
“Did you see that, they shot me the finger?” Jim said.
“I did see it,” William said.
Harold had finally gotten “The Star-Spangled Banner” straight, and he kept singing it over and over.
“For Christ sake,” William said. “Shut up, Harold.”
“You know what,” Jim said, studying the rearview mirror, “I think they’re speeding up. They’re trying to catch us . . . Oh hell. What if they got the license plate? Maybe they already have. They call the law, my dad will have my mooning ass.”
“Well, if they haven’t got the plate,” William said, “they won’t. This baby can get on up and get on out.”
He put his foot on the gas. The car hummed as if it had just had an orgasm, and seemed to leap. Harold was flung off the backseat, onto the floorboard. “Hey, goddamnit,” he said.
“Put on your seat belt, jackass,” Jim said.
William’s car was eating up the road. It jumped over a hill and dove down the other side like a porpoise negotiating a wave, and Jim thought: Goodbye, penguins, and then he looked back. At the top of the hill were the lights from the nuns’ car, and the car was gaining speed and it moved in a jerky manner, as if it were stealing space between blinks of the eye.
“Damn,” William said. “They got some juice in that thing, and the driver has her foot down.”
“What kind of car is that?” Jim said.
“Black,” William said.
“Ha! Mr. Detroit.”
“Then you name it.”
Jim couldn’t. He turned to look back. The nuns’ car had already caught up; the big automotive beast was cruising in tight as a coat of varnish, the headlights making the interior of William’s machine bright as a Vegas act.
“What the hell they got under the hood?” William said. “Hyperdrive?”
“These nuns,” Jim said, “they mean business.”
“I can’t believe it, they’re riding my bumper.”
“Slam on your brakes. That’ll show them.”
“Not this close,” William said. “Do that, what it’ll show them is the inside of our butts.”
“Do nuns do this?”
“Oh,” Jim said. “I get it. Halloween. They aren’t real nuns.”
“Then we give them hell,” Harold said, and just as the nuns were passing on the right, he crawled out of the floorboard and onto his seat and rolled the window down. The back window of the nuns’ car went down and Jim turned to get a look, and the nun, well, she was ugly all right, but uglier than he had first imagined. She looked like something dead, and the nun’s outfit she wore was not actually black and white, but purple and white, or so it appeared in the light from head beams and moonlight. The nun’s lips pulled back from her teeth and the teeth were long and brown, as if tobacco stained. One of her eyes looked like a spoiled meat ball, and her nostrils flared like a pig’s.
Jim said, “That ain’t no mask.”
Harold leaned way out of the window and flailed his hands and said, “You are so goddamn ugly you have to creep up on your underwear.”
Harold kept on with this kind of thing, some of it almost making sense, and then one of the nuns in the back, one closest to the window, bent over in the seat and came up and leaned out of the window, a two-by-four in her hands. Jim noted that her arms, where the nun outfit had fallen back to the elbows, were as thin as sticks and white as the underbelly of a fish and the elbows were knotty, and bent in the wrong direction.
“Get back in,” Jim said to Harold.
Harold waved his arms and made another crack, and then the nun swung the two-by-four, the oddness of her elbows causing it to arrive at a weird angle, and the board made a crack of its own, or rather Harold’s skull did, and he fell forward, the lower half of his body hanging from the window, bouncing against the door, his knuckles losing meat on the highway, his ass hanging inside, one foot on the floorboard the other waggling in the air.
“The nun hit him,” Jim said. “With a board.”
“What?” William said.
“You deaf, she hit him.”
Jim snapped loose his seat belt and leaned over and grabbed Harold by the back of the shirt and yanked him inside. Harold’s head looked like it had been in a vice. There was blood everywhere. Jim said, “Oh, man, I think he’s dead.”
The noise made Jim jump. He slid back in his seat and looked toward the nuns. They were riding close enough to slam the two-by-four into William’s car; the driver was pressing that black monster toward them.
Another swing of the board and the side mirror shattered.
William tried to gun forward, but the nuns’ car was even with him, pushing him to the left. They went across the highway and into a ditch and the car did an acrobatic twist and tumbled down an embankment and rolled into the woods tossing up mud and leaves and pine straw.
• • • •
Jim found himself outside the car, and when he moved, everything seemed to whirl for a moment, then gathered up slowly and became solid. He had been thrown free, and so had William, who was lying nearby. The car was a wreck, lying on its roof, spinning still, steam easing out from under the hood in little cotton-white clouds. Gradually, the car quit spinning, like an old-time watch that had wound down. The windshield was gone and three of the four doors lay scattered about.
The nuns were parked up on the road, and the car doors opened and the nuns got out. Four of them. They were unusually tall, and when they walked, like their elbows, their knees bent in the wrong direction. It was impossible to tell this for sure, because of the robes they wore, but it certainly looked that way, and considering the elbows, it fit. There in the moonlight, they were as white and pasty as pot stickers, their jaws seeming to have grown longer than when Jim had last looked at them, their noses witchlike, except for those pig-flare nostrils, their backs bent like long bows. One of them still held the two-by-four.
Jim slid over to William, who was trying to sit up.
“You okay?” Jim asked.
“I think so,” William said, patting his fingers at a blood spot on his forehead. “Just before they hit, I stupidly unsnapped my seat belt. I don’t know why. I just wanted out I guess. Brain not working right.”
“Look up there,” Jim said.
They both looked up the hill. One of the nuns was moving down from the highway, toward the wrecked car.
“If you can move,” Jim said, “I think we oughta.”
William worked himself to his feet. Jim grabbed his arm and half pulled him into the woods where they leaned against a tree. William said. “Everything’s spinning.”
“It stops soon enough,” Jim said.
“I got to chill, I’m about to faint.”
“A moment,” Jim said.
The nun who had gone down by herself, bent down out of sight behind William’s car, then they saw her going back up the hill, dragging Harold by his ankle, his body flopping all over as if all the bones in his body had been broken.
“My God, see that?” William said. “We got to help.”
“He’s dead,” Jim said. “They crushed his head with a board.”
“Oh, hell, man. That can’t be. They’re nuns.”
“I don’t think they are,” Jim said. “Least not the kind of nuns you’re thinking.”
The nun dragged Harold up the hill and dropped his leg when she reached the big black car. Another of the nuns opened the trunk and reached in and got hold of something. It looked like some kind of folded up lawn chair, only more awkward in shape. The nun jerked it out and dropped it on the ground and gave it a swift kick. The folded up thing began to unfold with a clatter and a squeak. A perfectly round head rose up from it, and the head spun on what appeared to be a silver hinge. When it quit whirling, it was upright and in place, though cocked slightly to the left. The eyes and mouth and nostrils were merely holes. Moonlight could be seen through them. The head rose as coat-rack-style shoulders pushed it up and a cage of a chest rose under that. The chest looked almost like an old frame on which dresses were placed to be sewn, or perhaps a cage designed to contain something you wouldn’t want to get out. With more squeaks and clatters, skeletal hips appeared, and beneath that, long, bony, legs with bent back knees and big metal-framed feet. Sticklike arms swung below its knees, clattering against its legs like tree limbs bumping against a window pane. It stood at least seven feet tall. Like the nuns, its knees and elbows fit backwards.
The nun by the car trunk reached inside and pulled out something fairly large that beat its wings against the night air. She held it in one hand by its clawed feet, and its beak snapped wildly, looking for something to peck. Using her free hand, she opened up the folding man’s chest by use of a hinge, and when the cage flung open, she put the black, winged thing inside. It fluttered about like a heart shot full of adrenaline. The holes that were the folding man’s eyes filled with a red glow and the mouth hole grew wormy lips, and a tongue, long as a garden snake, dark as dirt, licked out at the night, and there was a loud sniff as its nostrils sucked air. One of the nuns reached down and grabbed up a handful of clay, and pressed it against the folding man’s arms; the clay spread fast as a lie, went all over, filling the thing with flesh of the earth until the entire folding man’s body was covered. The nun, who had taken the folding man out of the car, picked Harold up by the ankle, and as if he were nothing more than a blow-up doll, swung him over her head and slammed him into the darkness of the trunk, shut the lid, and looked out where Jim and William stood recovering by the tree.
The nun said something, a noise between a word and a cough, and the folding man began to move down the hill at a stumble. As he moved his joints made an unoiled hinge sound, and the rest of him made a clatter like lug bolts being knocked together, accompanied by a noise akin to wire hangers being twisted by strong hands.
“Run,” Jim said.
• • • •
Jim began to feel pain, knew he was more banged up than he thought. His neck hurt. His back hurt. One of his legs really hurt. He must have jammed his knee against something. William, who ran alongside him, dodging trees, said, “My ribs. I think they’re cracked.”
Jim looked back. In the distance, just entering the trees, framed in the moonlight behind him, was the folding man. He moved in strange leaps, as if there were springs inside him, and he was making good time.
Jim said, “We can’t stop. It’s coming.”
• • • •
It was low down in the woods and water had gathered there and the leaves had mucked up with it, and as they ran, they sloshed and splashed, and behind them, they could hear it, the folding man, coming, cracking limbs, squeaking hinges, splashing his way after them. When they had the nerve to look back, they could see him darting between the trees like a bit of the forest itself, and he, or it, was coming quite briskly for a thing its size until it reached the lower-down parts of the bottomland. There its big feet slowed it some as they buried deep in the mud and were pulled free again with a sound like the universe sucking wind. Within moments, however, the thing got its stride, its movements becoming more fluid and its pace faster.
Finally Jim and William came to a tree-thickened rise in the land, and were able to get out of the muck, scramble upwards and move more freely, even though there was something of a climb ahead, and they had to use trees growing out from the side of the rise to pull themselves upward. When they reached the top of the climb, they were surprised when they looked back to see they had actually gained some space on the thing. It was some distance away, speckled by the moonlight, negotiating its way through the ever-thickening trees and undergrowth. But, still it came, ever onward, never tiring. Jim and William bent over and put their hands on their knees and took some deep breaths.
“There’s an old graveyard on the far side of this stretch,” Jim said. “Near the wrecking yard.”
“Where you worked last summer.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. It gets clearer in the graveyard, and we can make good time. Get to the wrecking yard, Old Man Gordon lives there. He always has a gun and he has that dog, Chomps. It knows me. It will eat that thing up.”
“What about me?”
“You’ll be all right. You’re with me. Come on. I kinda know where we are now. Used to play in the graveyard, and in this end of the woods. Got to move.”
• • • •
They moved along more swiftly as Jim became more and more familiar with the terrain. It was close to where he had lived when he was a kid, and he had spent a lot of time out here. They came to a place where there was a clearing in the woods, a place where lightning had made a fire. The ground was black, and there were no trees, and in that spot silver moonlight was falling down into it, like mercury filling a cup.
In the center of the clearing they stopped and got their breath again, and William said. “My head feels like it’s going to explode . . . . Hey, I don’t hear it now.”
“It’s there. Whatever it is, I don’t think it gives up.”
“Oh, Jesus,” William said, and gasped deep once. “I don’t know how much I got left in me.”
“You got plenty. We got to have plenty.”
“What can it be, Jimbo? What in the hell can it be?”
Jim shook his head. “You know that old story about the black car?”
William shook his head.
“My grandmother used to tell me about a black car that roams the highways and the back roads of the South. It isn’t in one area all the time, but it’s out there somewhere all the time. Halloween is its peak night. It’s always after somebody for whatever reason.”
Jim, hands still on his knees, lifted his head. “You go down there and tell that clatter-clap thing it’s all bullshit. See where that gets you.”
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Grandma said before it was a black car, it was a black buggy, and before that, a figure dressed in black on a black horse, and that before that, it was just a shadow that clicked and clacked and squeaked. There’s people go missing, she said, and it’s the black car, the black buggy, the thing on the horse, or the walkin’ shadow that gets them. But, it’s all the same thing, just a different appearance.”
“The nuns? What about them?”
Jim shook his head, stood up, tested his ability to breathe. “Those weren’t nuns. They were like . . . I don’t know . . . Anti-nuns. This thing, if Grandma was right, can take a lot of different forms. Come on. We can’t stay here anymore.”
“Just another moment, I’m so tired. And I think we’ve lost it. I don’t hear it anymore.”
As if on cue, there came a clanking and a squeaking and cracking of limbs. William glanced at Jim, and without a word, they moved across the lightning-made clearing and into the trees. Jim looked back, and there it was, crossing the clearing, silver-flooded in the moonlight, still coming, not tiring.
They ran. White stones rose up in front of them. Most of the stones were heaved to the side, or completely pushed out of the ground by growing trees and expanding roots. It was the old graveyard, and Jim knew that meant the wrecking yard was nearby, and so was Gordon’s shotgun, and so was one mean dog.
Again the land sloped upward, and this time William fell forward on his hands and knees, throwing up a mess of blackness. “Oh, God. Don’t leave me, Jim . . . I’m tuckered . . . Can hardly . . . breathe.”
Jim had moved slightly ahead of William. He turned back to help. As he grabbed William’s arm to pull him up, the folding man squeaked and clattered forward and grabbed William’s ankle, jerked him back, out of Jim’s grasp.
The folding man swung William around easily, slammed his body against a tree, then the thing whirled, and as if William were a bullwhip, snapped him so hard his neck popped and an eyeball flew out of his skull. The folding man brought William whipping down across a standing gravestone. There was a cracking sound, like someone had dropped a glass coffee cup, then the folding man whirled and slung William from one tree to another, hitting the trees so hard bark flew off of them and clothes and meat flew off William.
Jim bolted. He ran faster than he had ever run, finally he broke free of the woods and came to a stretch of ground that was rough with gravel. Behind him, breaking free of the woods, was the folding man, making good time with great strides, dragging William’s much-abused body behind it by the ankle.
• • • •
Jim could dimly see the wrecking yard from where he was, and he thought he could make it. Still, there was the aluminum fence all the way around the yard, seven feet high. No little barrier. Then he remembered the sycamore tree on the edge of the fence, on the right side. Old Man Gordon was always talking about cutting it because he thought someone could use it to climb over and into the yard, steal one of his precious car parts, though if they did, they had Gordon’s shotgun waiting along with the sizeable teeth of his dog. It had been six months since he had seen the old man, and he hoped he hadn’t gotten ambitious, that the tree was still there.
Running closer, Jim could see the sycamore tree remained, tight against the long run of shiny wrecking yard fence. Looking over his shoulder, Jim saw the folding man was springing forward, like some kind of electronic rabbit, William’s body being pulled along by the ankle, bouncing on the ground as the thing came ever onward. At this rate, it would be only a few seconds before the thing caught up with him.
Jim felt a pain like a knife in his side, and it seemed as if his heart was going to explode. He reached down deep for everything he had, hoping like hell he didn’t stumble.
He made the fence and the tree, went up it like a squirrel, dropped over on the roof of an old car, sprang off of that and ran toward a dim light shining in the small window of a wood and aluminum shack nestled in the midst of old cars and piles of junk.
As he neared the shack, Chomps, part pit bull, part just plain big ole dog, came loping out toward him, growling. It was a hard thing to do, but Jim forced himself to stop, bent down, stuck out his hand, and called the dog’s name.
“Chomps. Hey, buddy. It’s me.”
The dog slowed and lowered its head and wagged its tail.
“That’s right. Your pal, Jim.”
The dog came close and Jim gave it a pat. “Good, boy.”
Jim looked over his shoulder. Nothing.
“Come on, Chomps.”
Jim moved quickly toward the shack and hammered on the door. A moment later the door flew open, and standing there in overalls, one strap dangling from a naked arm, was Mr. Gordon. He was old and near toothless, squat and greasy as the insides of the cars in the yard.
“Jim? What the hell you doing in here? You look like hell.”
“Something’s after me.”
“It’s outside the fence. It killed two of my friends . . .”
“It killed two of my friends.”
“It? Some kind of animal?”
“No . . . It.”
“We’ll call some law.”
Jim shook his head. “No use calling the law now, time they arrive it’ll be too late.”
Gordon leaned inside the shack and pulled a twelve-gauge into view, pumped it once. He stepped outside and looked around.
“Oh, yeah. Yes, sir. I’m sure.”
“Then I guess you and me and Pump Twelve will check it out.”
Gordon moved out into the yard, looking left and right. Jim stayed close to Gordon’s left elbow. Chomps trotted nearby. They walked about a bit. They stopped between a row of wrecked cars, looked around. Other than the moon-shimmering fence at either end of the row where they stood, there was nothing to see.
“Maybe whatever, or whoever it is, is gone,” Gordon said. “Otherwise, Chomps would be all over it.”
“I don’t think it smells like humans or animals.”
“Are you joshin’ an old man? Is this a Halloween prank?”
“No, sir. Two of my friends are dead. This thing killed them. It’s real.”
“What the hell is it then?”
As if in answer, there was the sound like a huge can opener going to work, and then the long, thin arm of the folding man poked through the fence and there was more ripping as the arm slid upwards, tearing at the metal. A big chunk of the fence was torn away, revealing the thing, bathed in moonlight, still holding what was left of William’s ragged body by the ankle.
Jim and Gordon both stood locked in amazement.
“Sonofabitch,” Gordon said.
Chomps growled, ran toward it.
“Chomps will fix him,” Gordon said.
The folding man dropped William’s ankle and bent forward, and just as the dog leaped, caught it and twisted it and ran its long arm down the snapping dog’s throat, and began to pull its insides out. It flung the dog’s parts in all directions, like someone pulling confetti from a sack. Then it turned the dog inside out.
When the sack was empty, the folding man bent down and fastened the dead, deflated dog to a hook on the back of what passed for its ankle.
“My God,” Gordon said.
The thing picked up William by the ankle, stepped forward a step, and paused.
Gordon lifted the shotgun. “Come and get you some, asshole.”
The thing cocked its head as if to consider the suggestion, and then it began to lope toward them, bringing along its clanks and squeaks, the dead dog flopping at the folding man’s heel. For the first time, its mouth, which had been nothing but a hole with wormy lips, twisted into the shape of a smile.
Gordon said, “You run, boy. I got this.”
Jim didn’t hesitate. He turned and darted between a row of cars and found a gap between a couple of Fords with grass grown up around their flattened tires, ducked down behind one, and hid. He lay down on his belly to see if he could see anything. There was a little bit of space down there, and he could look under the car, and under several others, and he could see Gordon’s feet. They had shifted into a firm stance, and Jim could imagine the old man pulling the shotgun to his shoulder.
And even as he imagined, the gun boomed, and then it boomed again. Silence, followed by a noise like someone ripping a piece of thick cardboard in half, and then there were screams and more rips. Jim felt light-headed, realized he hadn’t been breathing. He gasped for air, feared that he had gasped too loudly.
Oh, my God, he thought. I ran and left it to Mr. Gordon, and now . . . He was uncertain. Maybe the screams had come from . . . It, the folding man? But so far it hadn’t so much as made breathing sounds, let alone anything that might be thought of as a vocalization.
Crawling like a soldier under fire, Jim worked his way to the edge of the car, and took a look. Stalking down the row between the cars was the folding man, and he was dragging behind him by one ankle what was left of William’s body. In his other hand, if you could call it a hand, he had Mr. Gordon, who looked thin now because so much had been pulled out of him. Chomps’ body was still fastened to the wire hook at the back of the thing’s foot. As the folding man came forward, Chomps dragged in the dirt.
Jim pushed back between the cars, and kept pushing, crawling backwards. When he was far enough back, he raised to a squat and started between narrower rows that he thought would be harder for the folding man to navigate; they were just spaces really, not rows, and if he could go where it couldn’t go, then—
There was a large creaking sound, and Jim, still at a squat, turned to discover its source. The folding man was looking at him. It had grabbed an old car and lifted it up by the front and was holding it so that the back end rested on the ground. Being as close as he was now, Jim realized the folding man was bigger than he had thought, and he saw too that just below where the monster’s thick torso ended there were springs, huge springs, silver in the moonlight, vibrating. He had stretched to accommodate the lifting of the car, and where his knees bent backwards, springs could be seen as well; he was a garage sale collection of parts and pieces.
For a moment, Jim froze. The folding man opened his mouth wide, wider than Jim had seen before, and inside he could glimpse a turning of gears and a smattering of sparks. Jim broke suddenly, running between cars, leaping on hoods, scrambling across roofs, and behind him came the folding man, picking up cars and flipping them aside as easily as if they had been toys.
Jim could see the fence at the back, and he made for that, and when he got close to it, he thought he had it figured. He could see a Chevy parked next to the fence, and he felt certain he could climb onto the roof, spring off of it, grab the top of the fence, and scramble over. That wouldn’t stop the thing behind him, but it would perhaps give him a few moments to gain ground.
The squeaking and clanking behind him was growing louder.
There was a row of cars ahead, he had to leap onto the hood of the first, then spring from hood to hood, drop off, turn slightly right, and go for the Chevy by the fence.
He was knocked forward, hard, and his breath leaped out of him.
He was hit again, painfully in the chest.
It took a moment to process, but he was lying between two cars, and there, standing above him, was the folding man, snapping at him with the two dead bodies like they were wet towels. That’s what had hit him, the bodies, used like whips.
Jim found strength he didn’t know he had, made it to his feet as Mr. Gordon’s body slammed the ground near him. Then, as William’s body snapped by his ear, just missing him, he was once more at a run.
The Chevy loomed before him. He made its hood by scrambling up on hands and knees, and then he jumped to the roof. He felt something tug at him, but he jerked loose, didn’t stop moving. He sprang off the car top, grabbed at the fence, latching his arms over it. The fence cut into the undersides of his arms, but he couldn’t let that stop him, so he kept pulling himself forward, and the next thing he knew, he was over the fence, dropping to the ground.
It seemed as if a bullet had gone up through his right foot, which he now realized was bare, and that the tug he had felt was the folding man grabbing at his foot, only to come away with a shoe. But of more immediate concern was his foot, the pain. There hadn’t been any bullet. He had landed crooked coming over the fence, and his foot had broken. It felt like hell, but he moved on it anyway, and within a few steps he had a limp, a bad limp.
He could see the highway ahead, and he could hear the fence coming down behind him, and he knew it was over, all over, because he was out of gas and had blown a tire and his engine was about to blow too. His breath came in chops and blood was pounding in his skull like a thug wanting out.
He saw lights.
They were moving very quickly down the highway. A big truck, a Mac, was balling the jack in his direction. If he could get it to stop, maybe there would be help, maybe.
Jim stumbled to the middle of the highway, directly into the lights, waved his arms, glanced to his left—
—and there it was. The folding man. It was only six feet away.
The truck was only a little farther away, but moving faster, and then the folding man was reaching for him, and the truck was a sure hit, and Jim, pushing off his good foot, leaped sideways and there was a sound like a box of dishes falling downstairs.
• • • •
Jim felt the wind from the truck, but he had moved just in time. The folding man had not. As Jim had leaped aside, his body turned, through no plan of his own, and he saw the folding man take the hit.
Wood and springs and hinges went everywhere.
The truck bumped right over the folding man and started sliding as the driver tried to put on brakes that weren’t designed for fast stops. Tires smoked, brakes squealed, the truck fish tailed.
Jim fell to the side of the highway, got up and limped into the brush there, and tripped on something and went down. He rolled on his back. His butt was in a ditch and his back was against one side of it, and he could see above it on the other side, and through some little bushes that grew there. The highway had a few lights on either side of it, so it was lit up good, and Jim could see the folding man lying in the highway, or rather he could see parts of it everywhere. It looked like a dirty hardware store had come to pieces. William, Gordon, and Chomps, lay in the middle of the highway.
The folding man’s big torso, which had somehow survived the impact of the truck, vibrated and burst open, and Jim saw the birdlike thing rise up with a squawk. It snatched up the body of Mr. Gordon and William, one in either claw, used its beak to nab the dog, and ignoring the fact that its size was not enough to lift all that weight, it did just that, took hold of them and went up into the night sky, abruptly became one with the dark.
Jim turned his head. He could see down the highway, could see the driver of the truck getting out, walking briskly toward the scene of the accident. He walked faster as he got closer, and when he arrived, he bent over the pieces of the folding man. He picked up a spring, examined it, tossed it aside. He looked out where Jim lay in the ditch, but Jim figured, lying as he was, brush in front of him, he couldn’t be seen.
He was about to call out to the driver when, the truck driver yelled, “You nearly got me killed. You nearly got you killed. Maybe you are killed. I catch you, might as well be, you stupid shit. I’ll beat the hell out of you.”
Jim didn’t move.
“Come on out so I can finish you off.”
Great, Jim thought, first the folding man, and now a truck driver wants to kill me. To hell with him, to hell with everything, and he laid his head back against the ditch and closed his eyes and went to sleep.
• • • •
The truck driver didn’t come out and find him, and when he awoke the truck was gone and the sky was starting to lighten. His ankle hurt like hell. He bent over and looked at it. He couldn’t tell much in the dark, but it looked as big as a sewer pipe. He thought when he got some strength back, he might be able to limp, or crawl out to the edge of the highway, flag down some help. Surely, someone would stop. But for the moment, he was too weak. He laid back again, and was about to close his eyes, when he heard a humming sound.
Looking out at the highway, he saw lights coming from the direction the trucker had come from. Fear crawled up his back like a spider. It was the black car.
The car pulled to the side of the road and stopped. The nuns got out. They sniffed and extended long tongues and licked at the fading night. With speed and agility that seemed impossible, they gathered up the parts of the folding man and put them in a sack they placed in the middle of the highway.
When the sack was full of parts, one nun stuck a long leg into the sack and stomped about, then jerked her leg out, pulled the sack together at the top and swung it over her head and slammed it on the road a few times, then she dropped the sack and moved back and one of the nuns kicked it. Another nun opened it and reached inside the sack and took out the folding man. Jim lost a breath. It appeared to be put back together. The nun didn’t unfold the folding man. She opened the trunk of the car and flung it inside.
And then she turned and looked in his direction, held out one arm and waited. The bird-thing came flapping out of the last of the dark and landed on her arm. The bodies of William and Gordon were still in its talons, the dog in its beak, the three of them hanging as if they were nothing heavier than rags. The nun took hold of the bird’s legs and tossed it and what it held into the trunk as well. She closed the lid of the trunk. She looked directly where Jim lay. She looked up at the sky, turned to face the rising sun. She turned quickly back in Jim’s direction and stuck out her long arm, the robe folding back from it. She pointed a sticklike finger right at him, leaned slightly forward. She held that pose until the others joined her and pointed in Jim’s direction.
My God, Jim thought, they know I’m here. They see me. Or smell me. Or sense me. But they know I’m here.
The sky brightened and outlined them like that for a moment and they stopped pointing.
They got quickly in the car. The last of the darkness seemed to seep into the ground and give way to a rising pink; Halloween night had ended. The car gunned and went away fast. Jim watched it go a few feet, and then it wasn’t there anymore. It faded like fog. All that was left now was the sunrise and the day turning bright.
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