40. Closer

It was a dark and stormy night, and the rain fell in torrents. Outside the house the wind howled, wrestling with the trees, and the thunder rumbled with the sound of a thousand train carriages; but inside, tucked beneath warm blankets, they laid undisturbed – if not a little cold. She felt him shivering on his side of the bed, and put an arm around him.

“Come closer,” she said.

At high noon, the gunfighters were met outside the saloon, twitching hands hovering over the irons strapped into leather docks hung at their hips. There was no backing down now – honor or death. Murder or disgrace. Kill or be killed. There was no two-way about it. Holliday, the elder and sober one between the two, had a good bet that the red-faced youngster standing fifteen paces from him couldn’t hit him with a bullet from half this distance. The youngster brought his weapon up in a lazy, looping arc, and emptied all six rounds from his gun. The closest one put a hole in a barrel four yards off to Holliday’s side. The youngster cursed, and began to reload his weapon. Holliday spat into the ground, and regarded his opponent through dismissive eyes.

“Come closer,” he said.

The bell rang for the end of the school day, and the students emptied out of the classrooms and into the hallway. Parker got up from his seat and headed straight for the door, glad to be done with the lesson and the note-passing that had taken place all morning. He had only made it three steps out of the classroom and Lawrence’s hand came tugging at the back of his collar. He could just imagine that freckled face grinning as he spoke, just loud enough for Parker to hear: “Did she say yes?” Parker scanned his immediate environment and saw that no one was within earshot – but just in case…

“Come closer,” he said.

The beast lumbered past them, the ground trembling under its terrible weight. The open wound on its back was a deep crimson glistening in the moonlight, and through eyes dizzy with terror, she saw milk-white maggots spilling out of this open wound, bursting upon the linoleum floor in the beast’s wake. The ones that did not burst crawled about randomly, seemingly in confusion. Breath held, she backed away – silently as she could – until she was reunited with her son beneath the chemist’s table. She held her arms out, open for him.

“Come closer,” she said.

He broke free from the men in uniform, racing towards the fence. Lisa! He screamed, ignoring the fire kindling in his lungs. Lisa! She turned, saw him running, and for a moment did not know what to do with herself. He collapsed onto his knees at the fence. Behind him, he could heavy footfalls, black boots stomping into the wet mud. He raised his cuffed hands, pressing them against the fence. If he could just touch her for one last time, that would be enough. Yes, it would be enough. Lisa.

“Come closer,” he said.

Are you listening closely? Are you watching properly? Let me bring you into a world that no one has ever seen before, or heard about. A world that changes shape, bending and forming to the power of my will. A world where the rain will never get you; where gunslingers face each other down at high noon. A world with ordinary people, like you and I; a world where unimaginable, unspeakable horrors lurk in dark places; a world full of wondrous places and obsessive feelings as real to these people as the air is real to you – who are you to say otherwise? Let me ask you again: are you listening closely? Are you watching closely?

Come closer.

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