Chapter 13

The orderlies were surprisingly gentle.

They led me down to the first floor and toward the entrance past the front desk where the man was still reading this morning’s paper.

Neither of them spoke until we reached the doors, and one of them said, “How’d you get in here anyway?”

I looked at him, then at his friend, then turned and walked outside.

The morning traffic had picked up. The temperature had risen a couple of degrees. The sun was hot on my head.

I went to the edge of the sidewalk and closed my eyes and clenched my teeth and squeezed my fists and did everything I could not to scream out my frustrations.

After a moment I opened my eyes and looked across the street toward where I’d chained my bike.

A figure stood beside the pole, a short figure wearing a long blue robe and cowl. This figure didn’t have a face, at least not one I could see. Where a face should have been was just darkness. Yet somehow I had the distinct impression the figure was watching me.

I took a step back, pivoted to my left, thinking I’d walk around the block and come back and hopefully that strange figure would be gone.

I went only a couple feet before I stopped again.

Another figure — wearing the same long blue robe, the same cowl, the same darkness where a face should have been — was at the end of the block.

I now pivoted one-hundred and eighty degrees, toward the other end of the block.

A third figure stood there too.

Looking around wildly — at the first figure, at the second and the third — I felt that familiar pinprick and glanced down at the ring glowing on my finger.

I didn’t know what it meant, and when I glanced back up I saw the figures were approaching, all three of them, coming quickly, and without thinking I turned and sprinted back toward the nursing home’s entrance.

The two orderlies were still in the lobby, talking to the man behind the counter. They saw me, started to stand up straight, started to speak.

I ran past them down the corridor.

Now they yelled, telling me to stop, but I barely heard them. Instead I somehow heard the three figures as they gave chase, now in front of the nursing home, now inside, moving in a strange fluid motion as if propelled by something other than their feet.

At the end of the corridor were double doors. I went through them, continued through the back of a kitchen, past the dishwashers, past two women talking with their arms crossed, and then I came to one of the back doors leading into the alleyway behind the building and I crashed through that and kept running.

I paused, looked left, looked right, then started running again, knowing the three figures had somehow overtaken the orderlies, the now confused orderlies, maybe finally calling the police. Any moment now those figures would come out through the same exit door and see me and —

I reached the end of a block just as the man stepped out from around the corner, a shotgun in his hands, aimed right at my face.

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