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datatime: 2022-09-27 10:21:04 Author:gALAdiUh

Rosie turned, feeling one of his outstretched fingers skate over the zat's single shoulder-strap, and bolted.

Norman wrinkled his lips back from his teeth, making a grisly expression that wasn't a grin, and put one of Hump's boots on the first white stone. The moon sailed behind a cloud as he did. When it came out again, it caught Norman halfway across the little stream. He looked down at the water, at first just curious, then fascinated and horrified. The moonlight penetrated the water no more than it would have penetrated a flowing stream of mud, but that wasn't what took the breath out of him and brought him to a stop. The moon reflected up at him in that black water wasn't the moon at all. It was a bleached and grinning human skull.

The stone boy moved then. Its arms came down and seized Rosie's right wrist. Rosie screamed and beat fruitlessly against its two-handed grip. The stone boy was grinning, and as Norman watched, it stuck out its marble tongue and waggled it at Rosie suggestively.

She ran as she had when she was a girl, before her practical, sensible mother had begun the weighty task of teaching Rose Diana McClendon what was ladylike and what was not (running, especially once you were at an age where you had breasts bouncing in front of you when you did it, was definitely not). She went all out, in other words, with her head down and her fisted hands pumping at her sides. She was aware of Norman at her heels to begin with, less aware of his starting to slip back, at first by mere feet, then by yards. She could hear him grunting and blowing even when he had fallen behind a little, and he sounded exactly as Erinyes had sounded in the maze. She was aware of her own lighter breathing, and of the plait bouncing up and down and side to side on her back. Mostly, though, what she was aware of was a mad exhilaration, of blood filling her head until she felt it must burst, but bursting would be ecstasy. She looked up once and saw the moon racing with her, speeding through the starshot sky behind the branches of dead trees that stood here like the hands of giants who had been buried alive and had died struggling to disinter themselves. Once, when Norman growled at her to stop running and quit being such a cunt, she actually laughed. He thinks I'm playing hard to get, she thought.

'Coming, Rose,' he panted. Yes, and maybe soon he'd be coming in another way, as well. Coming as she was going, you might say.

Norman wrinkled his lips back from his teeth, making a grisly expression that wasn't a grin, and put one of Hump's boots on the first white stone. The moon sailed behind a cloud as he did. When it came out again, it caught Norman halfway across the little stream. He looked down at the water, at first just curious, then fascinated and horrified. The moonlight penetrated the water no more than it would have penetrated a flowing stream of mud, but that wasn't what took the breath out of him and brought him to a stop. The moon reflected up at him in that black water wasn't the moon at all. It was a bleached and grinning human skull.

She did it right, too, kissing the tip of it at him before running for the grove of dead trees ahead.

He hurried down to the stream, trampling the delicate prints of Rose's feet beneath Hump Peterson's square-toed boots, reaching the edge of the running water just as Rosie gained the top of the other bank. She stood there for a moment, looking back, and this time it was clearly him she was looking at. Then she did something that brought him to a dead halt, momentarily too amazed to move.

'Coming, Rose,' he panted. Yes, and maybe soon he'd be coming in another way, as well. Coming as she was going, you might say.

He hurried down to the stream, trampling the delicate prints of Rose's feet beneath Hump Peterson's square-toed boots, reaching the edge of the running water just as Rosie gained the top of the other bank. She stood there for a moment, looking back, and this time it was clearly him she was looking at. Then she did something that brought him to a dead halt, momentarily too amazed to move.

'No'

She ran as she had when she was a girl, before her practical, sensible mother had begun the weighty task of teaching Rose Diana McClendon what was ladylike and what was not (running, especially once you were at an age where you had breasts bouncing in front of you when you did it, was definitely not). She went all out, in other words, with her head down and her fisted hands pumping at her sides. She was aware of Norman at her heels to begin with, less aware of his starting to slip back, at first by mere feet, then by yards. She could hear him grunting and blowing even when he had fallen behind a little, and he sounded exactly as Erinyes had sounded in the maze. She was aware of her own lighter breathing, and of the plait bouncing up and down and side to side on her back. Mostly, though, what she was aware of was a mad exhilaration, of blood filling her head until she felt it must burst, but bursting would be ecstasy. She looked up once and saw the moon racing with her, speeding through the starshot sky behind the branches of dead trees that stood here like the hands of giants who had been buried alive and had died struggling to disinter themselves. Once, when Norman growled at her to stop running and quit being such a cunt, she actually laughed. He thinks I'm playing hard to get, she thought.

Did you see that, Norm old buddy? ze bool asked from its place inside his head. The bitch just flipped you off. Did you see it?

Norman wrinkled his lips back from his teeth, making a grisly expression that wasn't a grin, and put one of Hump's boots on the first white stone. The moon sailed behind a cloud as he did. When it came out again, it caught Norman halfway across the little stream. He looked down at the water, at first just curious, then fascinated and horrified. The moonlight penetrated the water no more than it would have penetrated a flowing stream of mud, but that wasn't what took the breath out of him and brought him to a stop. The moon reflected up at him in that black water wasn't the moon at all. It was a bleached and grinning human skull.

Then she came around a bend in the path and saw the lightning-struck tree blocking her course. There was no time to swerve, and if she tried to put on the brakes she would succeed only in being impaled on one or more of the tree's dead, jutting branches. Even if she avoided that, there was Norman. She had gotten ahead of him a little, but if she stopped, even for a moment, he would be on her like a dog on a rabbit.

'Want to do the dog with me?' the stone boy enquired of her in a grating, uninflected voice. The hands clamping her wrist were all angles and squeezing, bitter weight. She looked over her shoulder and saw Norman leap onto the bank, the horns of the mask he had on digging at the night air. He stumbled on the slick grass but did not fall. For the first time since realizing it was Norman in the police car, she felt close to panic. He was going to get her, and then what? He'd bite her to pieces and she would die screaming, with the smell of his English Leather in her nostrils. He would-

But he had no intention of charging wildly across the stream, and maybe falling in. There was something about the water Rose hadn't liked, and he'd do well to be very careful; to watch his step in the most literal sense. The damned brook might be full of those little South American fish with the big teeth, the ones that could strip a whole cow down to its skeleton on a good day. He didn't know if you could be killed by things in a delusion, but this felt less like make-believe all the time.

'Coming, Rose,' he panted. Yes, and maybe soon he'd be coming in another way, as well. Coming as she was going, you might say.

All this went through her mind in an instant. Then, screaming-perhaps in terror, perhaps in defiance, probably in both-she leaped forward with her hands out in front of her like Supergirl, going over the tree and landing on her left shoulder. She did a somersault, sprang dizzily up, and saw Norman staring at her over the fallen trunk. His hands were clutched on the fire-blackened stubs of two branches, and he was panting harshly. The breeze puffed and she could smell something besides sweat and English Leather coming^ from him.

Have a drink of this shit, Normie, the skull on the surface of the water whispered. Hell, take a goddamned bath, if you want. Just forget all this foolishness. Drink and you will. Drink and it will never trouble you again; nothing will.

All this went through her mind in an instant. Then, screaming-perhaps in terror, perhaps in defiance, probably in both-she leaped forward with her hands out in front of her like Supergirl, going over the tree and landing on her left shoulder. She did a somersault, sprang dizzily up, and saw Norman staring at her over the fallen trunk. His hands were clutched on the fire-blackened stubs of two branches, and he was panting harshly. The breeze puffed and she could smell something besides sweat and English Leather coming^ from him.

'Want to do the dog with me?' the stone boy enquired of her in a grating, uninflected voice. The hands clamping her wrist were all angles and squeezing, bitter weight. She looked over her shoulder and saw Norman leap onto the bank, the horns of the mask he had on digging at the night air. He stumbled on the slick grass but did not fall. For the first time since realizing it was Norman in the police car, she felt close to panic. He was going to get her, and then what? He'd bite her to pieces and she would die screaming, with the smell of his English Leather in her nostrils. He would-

'Coming, Rose,' he panted. Yes, and maybe soon he'd be coming in another way, as well. Coming as she was going, you might say.

She did it right, too, kissing the tip of it at him before running for the grove of dead trees ahead.

Have a drink of this shit, Normie, the skull on the surface of the water whispered. Hell, take a goddamned bath, if you want. Just forget all this foolishness. Drink and you will. Drink and it will never trouble you again; nothing will.

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