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datatime: 2022-09-26 05:04:21 Author:PCNMZfHU

'You're not getting away that easy,' he breathed. 'I don't-'

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?

'Want to do the dog?' the stone boy spat. 'Want to get down, Rosie, do some low-ridin, put all four on the fl-'

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.

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.

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.

She swung with her left hand, not thinking of how much it was going to hurt to drive her fist into the face of a marble statue . . . and it did not, in fact, hurt at all. It was like hitting something spongy and rotten with a battering ram. She caught just a momentary glimpse of a new expression-astonishment replacing lust-and then the thing's smirking face shattered into a hundred dough-colored fragments. The heavy, pinching pressure of its hands left her wrist, but now there was Norman, Norman almost on top of her, head lowered, breath slobbering in and out through the mask, hands reaching.

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.

She swung with her left hand, not thinking of how much it was going to hurt to drive her fist into the face of a marble statue . . . and it did not, in fact, hurt at all. It was like hitting something spongy and rotten with a battering ram. She caught just a momentary glimpse of a new expression-astonishment replacing lust-and then the thing's smirking face shattered into a hundred dough-colored fragments. The heavy, pinching pressure of its hands left her wrist, but now there was Norman, Norman almost on top of her, head lowered, breath slobbering in and out through the mask, hands reaching.

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?

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.

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

'Want to do the dog?' the stone boy spat. 'Want to get down, Rosie, do some low-ridin, put all four on the fl-'

Norman saw her fall and laughed. She was going to get wet, it looked like.

'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-

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

'Want to do the dog?' the stone boy spat. 'Want to get down, Rosie, do some low-ridin, put all four on the fl-'

It sounded so plausible, so right. He looked up, perhaps to see if the moon in the sky looked as much like a skull as the one in the water, and instead saw Rose. She was standing at the place where the path entered a grove of dead trees, beside a statue of a kid with his arms up and his crank hanging out in front of him.

Norman saw her fall and laughed. She was going to get wet, it looked like.

'No'

She swung with her left hand, not thinking of how much it was going to hurt to drive her fist into the face of a marble statue . . . and it did not, in fact, hurt at all. It was like hitting something spongy and rotten with a battering ram. She caught just a momentary glimpse of a new expression-astonishment replacing lust-and then the thing's smirking face shattered into a hundred dough-colored fragments. The heavy, pinching pressure of its hands left her wrist, but now there was Norman, Norman almost on top of her, head lowered, breath slobbering in and out through the mask, hands reaching.

'Yes,' he breathed. 'I saw it. I'll take care of it, too. I'll take care of everything.'

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

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.

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

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