Tuesday, July 5, 1:01 p.m. Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
(Please read “Starknight” first! https://www.inkitt.com/stories/adventure/108406)
“Hi, I’m Brian Barnes with State Farm Insurance,” he said, extending his right hand.
Allison stared at the hand two feet away from her belly. It looked too…thin.
“Tell me this guy’s legit,” she said to Breyer in her mind.
“Unknowable,” Breyer hissed.
“What should I do?”
Before Breyer could answer, the man who had called himself Brian Barnes took a step forward, pushed Allison back into the house, stepped in himself, and closed the door.
“The Catcher!” Breyer yelled in her head. “Run! Up the stairs, into the attic!”
She turned tail, took two stairs at a time, and latched the attic door from the inside.
“What the hell is going on?” she panted. “Is this the same Catcher who has plagued us since you arrived?” she added in her mind, listening for footsteps, but everything was silent.
“It’s the same Catcher. Apparently he divided his promains. While most of them went into Greg Seidman, a third entered into this man. His name is Vincent Fullan, he’s twenty-one, he lives near the courthouse on North Allegheny, he has no job, and he lives off savings for the time being.”
Allison pressed her ear to the attic door…not a peep, not a creaking of floorboards, nothing.
“Why did the Catcher pick him?” she asked silently.
“He goes by Vinny.”
“Good to know. Did he get picked because he could be influenced more easily than someone with a more structured life?”
“I don’t know.”
“Sorry, I’m not feeling like my old self. I changed yesterday, like I told you.”
As Breyer’s silence went on and as the silence in the house went on, the hairs on the back of Allison Pritchard’s neck stood up. It had been a figure of speech to her before; now they actually stood up, a fact she verified by running her fingers on the back of her neck.
The blow to the attic door made her stagger back in surprise and fall to the floor. She clutched her right ear—it was ringing and hurting like never before. The second blow brought the door down. It slammed onto the floor and stirred up a cloud of dust.
The young man in the badly fitting suit stepped on top of the door and was eyeing her five feet away from where she lay on her back. Images of what Greg and friends had done to her and had planned to do to her the day before flitted through her mind. Her hands felt clammy, her mouth was dry, she fought for every breath, and her heart was hammering in her chest.
The man opened his mouth, then closed it; his right hand rose up to his face and his left hand swatted it down. He took a step forward with his left foot before he bent over, yanked the foot off the floor, lost his balance, and fell down.
“Breyer! Do something!” Allison screamed. She hoped her voice would be heard outside of the house. She wished someone would call the cops. “Breyer? What’s going on?” she yelled.
Something dark appeared on the man’s face. She didn’t know what it was until she checked her left-hand pocket and found it empty.
The man, Vinny, was writhing on the dusty wooden floorboards when Allison stood up. Breyer had flattened himself on the upper part of Vinny’s face so the forehead, eyes, and the bridge of the nose were covered, leaving the nostrils and mouth free.
“Braayy-err, Braayy-err, can’t do it, can you?” Vinny taunted.
Allison knew the voice belonged to the Catcher, not to the man whose body the Catcher had hijacked. A part of her felt sorry for Vinny and another part wanted to drive a two-by-four into his heart. Lumber of various lengths was stacked everywhere in the attic because Allan hadn’t cleaned up after himself when he’d gotten done with the multitude of projects he’d indulged in over the years, the majority of the projects not resulting in much improvement to the house.
The fact that Allison found herself thinking of Allan and his detritus when a man possessed by the Catcher was right in front of her, struggling with her rock, made her suspect the thoughts were a part of the Catcher’s tricks he was playing on her through her link with Breyer. She was glad she was still linked with the rock, although it made her angry she’d fallen for one of the Catcher’s tricks.
Allison dropped to her knees close to the writhing man. Breyer hadn’t yet gotten the Catcher’s promain particles out of Vinny like he’d gotten the particles out of Greg Seidman at the cemetery and she wondered how she could help Breyer.
The young man stopped writhing and chuckles were coming out of his mouth. Allison’s own mouth and eyes opened wide when she saw Breyer was flattening himself more and was close to covering the young man’s nostrils. This was not the Breyer she knew.
If Breyer covered Vinny’s nostrils, he wouldn’t be doing Vinny too much harm because the man could still breathe through his mouth, but even so, the Breyer she knew wouldn’t have caused anyone the slightest bit of harm. She kneeled beside the chuckling man and clapped a hand over Breyer’s elongated form.
“I’m here,” she said out loud, just to make sure he heard her. “I’m with you all the way. Use my energy, do whatever you have to do, but get the Catcher out of here.”
“He can’t do it,” the Catcher taunted them using Vinny’s mouth.
“Shut up,” Allison hissed and was surprised to see the man’s mouth clamp shut.
Nothing happened for fifteen seconds after that: Vinny lay quietly on the floor, Breyer was pancaked over the top half of his face (not covering the nose or mouth), and Allison kept her hand on Breyer. Then she felt a tiny drain on her energy and Vinny’s lips began to quiver.
“That’s it, Breyer, you can do it,” Allison said.
Vinny yelled at the top of his lungs, making her jump, although she had the presence of mind to keep her hand on Breyer. The yell contained words, although they seemed to be in a language she couldn’t understand. Then he sat up.
Breyer morphed into a ball and slid off Vinny’s face into his lap. Allison had let go of Breyer when he had balled up and she fell on her behind to sit on the dusty floor planks. Vinny stood up and Breyer rolled off the man’s thighs onto the floor where he continued to roll like a ball until he bumped up against a plastic storage bin.
“You are not through with me yet,” the Catcher pronounced through Vinny’s mouth. The words were slurred, as if the man was drunk, and he swayed from side to side, looking first at Allison, then at Breyer, before he turned on his heels and plodded down the stairs. Allison sat on the floor with her mouth open until she heard Vinny pull the front door shut behind him.
“Breyer?” she said softly, stood up, brushed dust off her rear end, and stepped over to where Breyer had rolled. She scooped him up with her right hand and cradled him there for a while without speaking. She gently prodded into his mind and emotions, enough to learn she shouldn’t delve into his mind any more than that if she wanted to keep her sanity.
Breyer’s thoughts were galloping, his emotions were climbing up the walls of his existence, and there was a dark mass at the core of his problems he wanted to ignore. She petted the balled-up rock with the tips of her fingers and the next thing she knew, she was singing a lullaby to him, one she’d used to sing to her children when they had been small.
“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird won’t sing, mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. And if that diamond ring turns brass, mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass….”
She couldn’t continue after the third verse. One reason was she wasn’t sure what came next, because she’d always made up the verses after the first three and had rarely sung the song the same way twice. The biggest reason, though, was that she was getting choked up.
“Breyer? Can you hear me?” she whispered. Her family was gone, Tracy was in the hospital, she had no one else in the world beside this rock, and he was in the worst condition she’d ever seen him in.
“I let you down.” The words were no longer audible only in her head—the entire attic reverberated with his lamentation.
Allison clutched the ball of a rock with one hand and looked around the attic. She wanted to make sure Breyer hadn’t somehow become a spirit, a genie, who could fill large areas with his essence.
“No, I’m still here,” Breyer responded to her thoughts, this time speaking only in her head. “I’ve never felt like this before.”
“Are you dying?”
“No, it’s nothing like that, not like yesterday before the grounding.”
“What is it, then? Tell me how I can help you and I will.”
Breyer said nothing for a long time. As the silence wore on, Allison paced around the attic, looking out of the one partially open window every time she was near it, listening to her own heart’s beating, wondering if Breyer had any sort of a heart.
That thought stopped her in her tracks.
“Breyer?” she ventured in her mind, seeking to draw out the space traveler from whatever funk he had sunk into. “Are you getting more human?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s human to want the host of your biggest enemy in the universe to suffer, even to die. It’s human to be out of sorts.”
“I’m not evil! I refuse to give in to my evil impulses!”
“You have evil impulses?”
Her question prompted another silence.
“You know what? If you’re going to be like this, I’m not waiting around in this oven of an attic for Your Highness to deign to speak to me. I’m going down.” She stepped over the fallen door and started going down the steps. “Is there a Brian Barnes coming in…forty-two minutes?”
“He’ll be here.”
“The phone call earlier today obviously wasn’t from Jennifer,” she said. “You picked up on it. You thought she had a cold. What tipped you off?”
“I don’t know. Only a feeling.”
“You’re kidding, right?” she said, laughing. “You don’t know how you knew? The last time I checked, you never operated on pure feeling alone.”
“That’s correct,” he said with a shaky voice. “My information gathering has heretofore been based on pure science. I…I don’t know what I have become.”
“Tell me more about these new feelings of yours.” She’d reached the first floor and she plopped herself on the ratty couch in front of the television where her eyes once again went to the family portrait. Family was supposed to be a person’s rock and the home a place of refuge, but the uninhabited house she found herself in contained too many bad memories for it to be anything but an unwanted piece of real estate.
His emotional instability notwithstanding, Breyer was still her rock and her refuge.
Breyer sighed, coughed, made a clicking sound, and buzzed in her hand. Then he resumed his normal shape.
“At least now I know where Vinny lives, even if I did let him escape.”
“You mean you let the Catcher escape. Vinny, that poor guy, is only the host, remember? Did you see how he tried to fight the Catcher, tripping himself up?”
“I apologize for the state of my mind. Of course Vinny is only the host, and I sensed his hatred and anger toward his parasite when I was trying to oust the Catcher.”
“It’s amazing the Catcher is still in play through the use of only a part of his proxy’s promains.”
“There is only one explanation I can think of for his staying power.”
“His body is closer than I thought.”
“You mean he might not be on the other side of the universe?”
“He could be on this planet.”
“Oh, no! If he’s here, where did Greg and his buddies go when they got sucked up in the whirlwind at the cemetery?”
“All those men would have gone to wherever the Catcher’s real body was.”
“Here I was thinking I’d gotten rid of Greg for good!”
“OK—let’s say the Catcher’s on the same planet as we are—where would he be? Cleveland? Hanoi? Sydney?”
“He’s far enough to use a proxy and close enough to make that proxy more powerful than any proxy I’ve come across before. I’d guess he’s in this country, maybe even in this state.”
“You can’t get a lock on his location?”
“Catchers are good at disguising their energy signatures.”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“No, you’re not.”
“You’re right, but I’m disgusted and terrified anyway. Uh, you said you at least knew Vinny’s location?”
“His place of residence, not his location. The Catcher should know I got a lock on that place. He’s most likely steering Vinny clear of his apartment. The Catcher’s on the run and there’s no telling where he’ll make Vinny show up next.”
“This is getting better every second. I’ll have to go to work tonight, too! What if he shows up there and we destroy half the newsroom trying to fend him off? I could lose my job! My boss wouldn’t believe I had to fight a being named the Catcher who was trying to imprison my pet rock.”
“Relax, you won’t have to worry about the Catcher at your workplace. He’ll stay here, in town, where the splinters of the Spirit are, to work with the evil spirit to keep us from completing our Quest.”
“That makes sense. Speaking of which, we have half an hour before the real Brian shows up. Should we check out Vinny’s digs, continue to go through the list of buildings on the Virtual Walking Tour of Bellefonte, or both?”
“I vote for both.”
“Excellent choice. I need to get out of this house, anyway. Oh, the Catcher’s not lying in wait for us nearby or at the apartment, is he?”
“No, he made Vinny drive his car somewhere outside of Bellefonte. The Catcher is exhausted and wants to keep away from us. I feel sorry for Vinny.”
“Me, too.” She went out the front door, locked it, and walked to her car. “What comes after the Bellefonte Academy on the walking tour?” She started the Civic and got out of the parking spot.
“Tour stop No. 32, the Meyers Residence, 140 West Bishop Street, at the corner of Spring and Bishop. It’s the birthplace of Jacob H. Meyer, the inventor of the voting machine.”
“The voting machine? So everybody should have blamed a Bellefonte boy for the infamous Bush-Gore Florida Butterfly Ballot?”
“Sorry, I’m trying too hard to be funny.” She took a left on Ridge and made the car climb up the hill. “I am learning all kinds of nifty details about my hometown, though. The voting machine inventor — who would have thought?”
“Yes, Bellefonte has a colorful history.”
“I doubt the Meyers Residence fits any of our clues, though.”
“You’re most likely correct.”
After going up a hill and down a hill, she turned left onto East Howard Street.
“What’s stop No. 33?”
“West Bishop Street. The website says the block of West Bishop between South Allegheny and South Spring is considered a municipal treasure reflecting pre-Civil War Bellefonte.”
She took a left on North Allegheny.
“Interesting. No descriptions of the individual houses, though?”
“I’m afraid not, but if you’d like, I could tell you all about them. In fact…”
“Don’t bother.” She pulled into a parking spot across the street from the rock shop where she’d gotten her crystals from. “If you can access the details, there are no splinters there.”
“I agree. Stop No. 34 is the 100 block of South Allegheny and Strychnine Corner.”
“Great, hold that thought. We’re here, aren’t we? I mean, I drove here and parked in this spot without thinking about it. Vinny lives here?”
“Indeed. I fed you the directions.”
“I see! Is it safe to go there? Is the place booby-trapped?”
“I don’t think it is.”
“I guess we’ll find out.” She stepped out of the car, locked it, and fed the parking meter with a quarter. “Where to?”
“Go in through that door; I can open it for you.”