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"I'm Colonel Matt Rhodes, United States Air Force" he said. "Who are you?" The silence stretched. He sensed a figure, standing just beyond the light. "God don't like naughty boys," the old woman's voice answered. "Don't like liars, neither. Who's the guardian?" It was the question that Vance had told Rhodes the Dodge Creech creature had asked, and now the colonel knew for sure it was no crazy old lady down there in the dark.

The singing had a metallic undertone, and it drifted past him like a half-remembered Sunday school song from a tinny record player. After a few more seconds, it stopped in midphrase, and the silence descended again.

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.

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.

The singing had a metallic undertone, and it drifted past him like a half-remembered Sunday school song from a tinny record player. After a few more seconds, it stopped in midphrase, and the silence descended again.

"What guardian?" Rhodes asked.

"What guardian?" Rhodes asked.

Rhodes could stand no more. His nerve snapped, and he fled.

Rhodes could stand no more. His nerve snapped, and he fled.

"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.

The singing had a metallic undertone, and it drifted past him like a half-remembered Sunday school song from a tinny record player. After a few more seconds, it stopped in midphrase, and the silence descended again.

"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.

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

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.

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

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

"Colonel?" It was Vance's voice, echoing through the tunnel from behind him. "You okay?" "You okay?" the awful voice in front of him mimicked. "Where you goin', Colonel Matt Rhodes United States Air Force? Love thy neighbor as thyself. Put out that hot wand of hell and let's have us a tea party." The flashlight, Rhodes realized. It's afraid of the flashlight.

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

And the light caught something: a figure, jerking in and then out of the beam, way down at the far end of the tunnel.

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

"I'm Colonel Matt Rhodes, United States Air Force" he said. "Who are you?" The silence stretched. He sensed a figure, standing just beyond the light. "God don't like naughty boys," the old woman's voice answered. "Don't like liars, neither. Who's the guardian?" It was the question that Vance had told Rhodes the Dodge Creech creature had asked, and now the colonel knew for sure it was no crazy old lady down there in the dark.

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

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

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