Chapter 19

“This just doesn’t make sense.” Cashman took a long drag on his cigarette, then puffed out three small smoke rings. “I mean, why you? What makes you so fucking special?”

I was still chained to the floor, staring up at the ceiling. Cashman had brought back another chainsaw and a flame torch. Both had failed, so he’d stepped on my arm to keep it in place and emptied an entire clip of his gun into my hand. Still nothing.

“You’re just a fucking kid. Not even eighteen years old. Why would the ring choose you?”

I blinked, turned my head to look at him. “Choose me?”

“What — you think it was just by accident you came across the ring and decided to put it on?” Cashman dropped the cigarette, ground it out with his boot. “Nah, it don’t work like that.”

“What is the ring anyway?”

“Too complicated to explain.”

“Who is the Shadow Man?”

He seemed to freeze in place. “What?”

“The Shadow Man. Why does he want the ring?”

“How the hell — ” He scrunched his face up suddenly, turned and kicked the wall. “Goddamn it! She sure does have a big mouth, doesn’t she?”

“Answer my question.”

“Fuck you, David.”

“What were those things earlier, the ones you saved me from?”

“Goddamn it!” he shouted again, this time kicking a broken piece of the chainsaw. It didn’t go very far, spinning across the concrete floor, and it looked like Cashman had hurt his foot in the process. “I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna fucking kill her.”

He limped across the room, disappeared up the steps, slammed the door shut.

A moment later the lights went off, drenching me in darkness.

I closed my eyes, stared into my own special darkness.

Time passed — a couple minutes, maybe an hour — and then the lights came back on. I could hear the bulbs buzzing in the ceiling.

I opened my eyes just as the door opened and footsteps came down the stairs.

I expected Cashman but it was Nancy.

She came to me, shaking her head quickly. “Why did I ever say anything to you? Why?”

Again I tried sitting up but the chains stopped me.

“Me and my stupid mouth.” She stuffed her hand into her pocket, brought back out a small ring of keys. “One of these days I’ll learn. One of these days … ”

She sorted through the keys until she found the one she wanted. Then she reached down, inserted it into the lock keeping my feet chained, turned the key. The lock popped open.

“What … what are you doing?”

“Freeing you,” she said, inserting the key into the lock keeping my left hand chained. “What does it look like?”

“But won’t Cashman … won’t he be angry?”

The lock popped open and she laughed.

“More than he already is? I doubt it. He’ll probably kill me for doing this, but I can’t let this go on. Not with the Shadow Man coming. That … that would be too awful.”

My legs and hand now free to move, they did nothing and acted like they were still chained.

“Come on now,” Nancy said, standing up straight and stuffing the keys back into her pocket. “Get up.”

I just stared back at her.

She sighed, stepped forward, leaned down so her face was only inches away from mine. For a moment nothing happened. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and her face changed — the skin looking like it was turning inside out, her white hair turning black as it grew shorter — and an instant later it was not Nancy that was staring back at me but myself.

“Get up, David,” this other me said.

My legs and hand found purpose again and I scrambled to my feet. I pushed myself against the cold cinderblock wall and just stared back at my sudden doppelganger.

“Run!” the thing shouted.

I ran.

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