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The thing's other hand closed on his left wrist. Two metal nails winnowed into his skin, and he knew that if he lost the light he was finished. He heard himself scream; the hand had a terrible, crushing power in it, and his wrist felt as if it was about to break.

The flashlight's beam trembled. He aimed the rifle's barrel down the tunnel.

"God chews up liars and spits 'em out Who is it?" "I don't know," he said, and he began to back away again. The ooze squished underfoot.

He couldn't move, and he feared that if he did break his legs loose from their terror lock and start running, whatever was down there would be on him before he could make it the sixty feet back to where Vance waited.

He retreated, the light's beam spearing along the tunnel in front of him.

"Praise the Lord" "Step into the light," Rhodes said. "Let me see you." "Hot hot hot" It occurred to him that it might really be an old woman, fallen down here and gone crazy in the darkness.

There was silence, except for a slow dripping noise.

Something's down there, he thought. Watching me. I can feel the sonofabitch. Just beyond the light. Waiting.

The flashlight's beam trembled. He aimed the rifle's barrel down the tunnel.

"God chews up liars and spits 'em out Who is it?" "I don't know," he said, and he began to back away again. The ooze squished underfoot.

"Praise the Lord" "Step into the light," Rhodes said. "Let me see you." "Hot hot hot" It occurred to him that it might really be an old woman, fallen down here and gone crazy in the darkness.

And in the next instant there was the crack of earth splitting open and he whirled to see a flurry of dirt erupt in front of him and two gaunt arms with metallic saw-edged fingernails coming up from the floor. The thing scuttled up like a roach, white hair red with Texas dirt and flower-print press hanging in slimy tatters, the old woman's face slick and shining. Needle teeth glinted like blue fire in its mouth as Rhodes thrust the flashlight right into the dead and staring eyeballs.

The thing abruptly turned and, its eyes shielded and back bowed with a dowager's hump, scurried away from Rhodes down the tunnel. It flung itself to the floor, began to frantically dig itself down with feet and fingers, throwing damp dirt backward upon Rhodes. In about five seconds it had burrowed halfway into the earth.

There was silence, except for a slow dripping noise.

There was a distant rumbling noise, and a slight vibration in the tunnel floor. It ceased after a few seconds-and then there it was again, a rumbling like a subway train somewhere beyond the walls. Or a subterranean bulldozer, he thought grimly. Little scurryings of fear ran in his belly. The noise seemed to be coming from somewhere to his left. Maybe it was the sound of something digging, or the sound of a massive thing moving through an already-dug tunnel. Heading where, and for what reason? If Stinger was digging tunnels like this one under the entire town, then it was either wasting a lot of energy or preparing for a major assault. There was no way to know what its intent and capabilities were until Daufin explained why it was after her. And first of all, she had to be found-he hoped by himself and not by Stinger.

"Praise the Lord" "Step into the light," Rhodes said. "Let me see you." "Hot hot hot" It occurred to him that it might really be an old woman, fallen down here and gone crazy in the darkness.

Vance had heard an old woman's shout, the sound of rifle fire, and a scream that had made the hairs on the back of his neck do the jitterbug. Now he heard someone running down there-shoes squishing on that shit in the tunnel-and then the choked thunder of Rhodes's voice: "Get me out" The rifle was flung up, but Rhodes held on to the flashlight.

He kept backing away, moving faster now. The thing didn't speak again, and all Rhodes wanted to do was to get out of this tunnel, but he dared not turn his back and run. The light was holding it at bay; maybe something in the wavelength of electric light, he reasoned. If alien eyes had never been exposed to electric light before, then... He stopped. Why wasn't the thing still taunting him? Where the hell was it? He glanced over his shoulder, quickly shone the light behind him. Nothing there. A bead of sweat crawled into his eye and burned it like a torch.

He couldn't move, and he feared that if he did break his legs loose from their terror lock and start running, whatever was down there would be on him before he could make it the sixty feet back to where Vance waited.

There was silence, except for a slow dripping noise.

"What guardian?" Rhodes asked.

"Naughty, naughty boy" The thing sounded like a demented grandmother on speed.

"Naughty boy" the thing shrieked, throwing up one arm over its face and the other swinging viciously at Rhodes.

"Naughty, naughty boy" The thing sounded like a demented grandmother on speed.

Something's down there, he thought. Watching me. I can feel the sonofabitch. Just beyond the light. Waiting.

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