Chapter 1: 1979
Michael couldn't remember the nightmare, but he knew it must have been a real son of a bitch because he was sitting bolt upright in bed, heart pounding like crazy, still scared shitless for no earthly reason. He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and looked at the clock. Too early to get up and too late to feel like he'd gotten a solid night if he fell back asleep.
There was something surreal about coming down from a big scare with nothing but comfort and familiarity in his surroundings. Terry was asleep beside him, for Christ's sake, keeping his left side toasty warm and making the very idea of fear seem alien. He planted an elbow on the pillow and propped himself up to watch him sleep. Hell, now he thought about it, Michael couldn't remember having a single bad night since he went to work in Mississippi and found out God had made the best protection, the best pillow, and the best friend a man could ever have all in one big country boy with a great piledriver and an even better laugh.
"Man, you were such a goody-two-shoes when we met," Michael said fondly, resting his chin on his fist while he played idly with Bam Bam's hair. He was dreaming, Michael could see his eyes darting around behind their lids. Maybe at least one guy in this bed would have a good one.
What got him tonight? Too much sour adrenaline from the match? That fucking suspect sausage gravy in that fucking suspect diner? Just ran out of luck? Shit, two years still wasn't a bad streak.
He felt the grip on his wrist before he saw it. It was dry and, though he felt something slide like cloth on cloth as he jerked his arm reflexively, it felt strong as iron. What he saw when he looked down didn't make sense. The fingers digging into his wrist were impossibly long, and the hand, there wasn't-
His head jerked up and his eyes opened. Fuck, if that was what he was dreaming before, no wonder he woke up like he did. He must have nodded back off without even realizing.
A soft grunt of distress made him look down. Terry's jaw was tense, his brow furrowed. He flinched against the pillow.
"Oh, hey," said Michael, alarmed. He smoothed Terry's hair back and kissed his forehead, then laid down and wrapped his arms around him. "Hey, shh, it's okay. It's okay, brother."
He knew, rationally, that poor Bam Bam was having his own damn nightmare, but the thought of that thing from his own dream - it was just fucking upsetting, was all.
"Shh, shh, shh." Should he wake him? Michael wondered, bouncing Terry slightly in his arms like a crying kid. He'd never seen Terry have a bad dream before either, he realized, not fucking once. If that shithole diner were a hundred miles closer I'd go back and burn it to the ground. "Shh, you're just dreaming, baby, you're dreaming and I'm right here."
Slowly, as he soothed and petted, the tension in Terry's muscles began to ease. His breath slowed as he settled into Michael's embrace.
Michael held on until they were both asleep. If he had any more dreams, he didn't remember them.
Maybe a little fear would have lingered in the dark, but the two of them were both up and at 'em sharply at the crack of noon - early to bed and all that jazz - and there were hardly any shadows to jump at. And then they were back on the road headed for the next town. One thing about this new gig, old man Watts sure kept them busy.
God, did he ever. It was no coincidence, either, Michael'd told Bam Bam that as soon as he figured out the old bastard's game.
"See, he knows he's got a couple of young, athletic stars on his hands, man, not like the nobodies he's used to lording it over, and if he don't keep us run down and worked to the bone we'll have those belts-" he snapped his fingers "-like that. That's why he's got the Freebirds working harder than any two men on the card - well, that and people will pay to see us, unlike him and the rest of the senior citizens' brigade."
Over the next few months, the schedule only got worse and Michael had an idea maybe it was the stress that had caused that nightmare, because it wasn't the last. When they won the titles, he finally found out what it was he'd dreamed about that first time and every time after.
It wasn't the night of the match, because they spent all of that night partying, and when they spent the next day in bed they sure as hell weren't doing any sleeping. But the night after, when he should have been too tired to dream, Michael found himself in a rotting corn field that seemed to stretch out in all directions. No trees, no buildings, no hills, the whole world was a featureless, sickly grey. Except for the scarecrow.
It hung in the center of what was almost a clearing - there was corn right up to the base of the scarecrow's pole, but the closer it got the further along it was in its putrefaction. At the point where the pole met the earth, the limp stalks littering the ground were little more than slime.
There were campfire stories about scarecrows that turned out to be built with human corpses, but that wasn't the vibe Michael got from this thing. It was shaped wrong. Its arms were too long and so were its spindly twig fingers, twisting off from its tattered sleeves with no hand in between. With an icy shock of gooseflesh, he recalled the unnatural grip he'd felt on his wrist that first night.
More than that it felt wrong. It seemed to emanate a palpable malevolence from the tattered hat perched jauntily on its burlap head to the ragged, empty ends of its pant-legs. If there was anything in there that used to be part of a human being, that wasn't what was sucking the life out of this corn field.
If there was anything in there that used to be part of a human being, it was something this thing had taken.
It felt like he stood in that dead landscape staring at the scarecrow for hours before awakening in a cold sweat with the image of it still clear in his mind. He wriggled free of Bam Bam's embrace to go splash some water on his face with all the bathroom lights turned on.
Leaning on the sink and waiting for the fear to wind down, he tried to laugh it off as typical dream bullshit, a scarecrow for a Freebird, paging Dr. Freud. But even under the lights it didn't feel very funny. The thing he saw in those dreams wasn't symbolic of jack shit, it felt too real to have any purpose except to... to get him. Yeah, sure, to get him. Even in the dream there wasn't any obvious harm it could do. Except for maybe that first dream, it had never touched him. Hell, it never moved. And yet....
And yet it set off screaming alarms in some animal part of him that couldn't be reasoned with. It creeped him out the same way spending the night in a morgue or being covered in daddy longlegs would.
He had the bathroom door open in a second. Terry was standing outside it looking half asleep and all miserable. Michael reached out and put an arm around him to guide him into the light. "What is it?"
"Another fucking nightmare," yawned Bam Bam, rubbing his eyes. "Fucking scarecrow. You okay, brother?"
"Yeah," said Michael, shutting the door on the shadows behind him, "yeah, same for me, another nightmare." He swallowed. He'd been stretching the truth a little saying he was okay, but he'd needed a second to work up to this. "And I mean the same." He was still trying to work up to it when Terry finished for him.
"Yours was the scarecrow too?" Not a scarecrow, Michael noticed, the scarecrow, like they'd dreamed about the same one.
Michael nodded stiffly. "Every time."
The way Terry was looking at him was serious, almost solemn, but not one bit shocked. "Michael, do you think people can be soulmates?"
"I don't know, maybe. If anyone was, we would be, and I guess us having the same goddamn nightmares at the same goddamn time doesn't exactly argue against it, huh?" Agitated, Michael ran a hand through his hair. "Fuck, Bam Bam, trust you to find something sweet to say at a time like this."
With a crooked little grin, Terry leaned in and kissed him, and they didn't do any more worrying for a while.
When they made love in the shower it was the sleepy, half-assed fumbling of a couple who've done it right before and know they'll have plenty more chances to do it even better again. Afterwards, they hadn't had to exchange a word to decide to leave the bathroom light on with the door ajar when they crawled into bed and cuddled up.
"I wouldn't mind the scarecrow dreams so much if we were together," Bam Bam said, warm breath tickling his shoulder. Michael mumbled some agreement and snuggled closer. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought that now they were tag champs, no longer under the stress of trying to get their hands on what they rightfully deserved, things should get better for them. He was wrong.
Chapter 2: 1980
Dear Penthouse, Buddy thought wryly, I never thought it would happen to me. It was a thought that occurred to him a lot lately. But here he was, tangled up in one very crowded hotel bed with two controversial young stars of the Mid South tag division, who just so happened to be his co-holders of the tag team titles. "Controversial," of course, being the wrestling mags' term for "the yokels start sharpening their knives when they hear your name." And Buddy would fucking know.
And why should such a lucky guy be lying awake at night when he had a rock 'n' roll sex symbol and a bona fide wrestling prodigy to tire him out? Why that was because Buddy Roberts had a theory to test.
The three of them had started running together around the time of Michael's neck injury, and there were some things Buddy would have had to be as blind then as the Dog was now to miss. That they were crazy about each other, for one thing. And the night terrors. He'd known just looking at them that didn't neither one see many full nights of sleep, and he'd found out why the first time he crashed in their hotel room.
It took him a little longer to notice that they always had them in synch, and it wasn't long after that that he got to find out the contents first hand, and why sometimes when they passed a scarecrow on the side of the road he'd see Michael flinch or Terry go deadly still. Truth be told, he hadn't had a full night of sleep since the first time he'd tagged with them officially.
Celebrating after their title win - and why shouldn't they celebrate? It wasn't their fault the Junkyard Dog was such a sore loser he had to go and put his hands on an injured man not even medically cleared to wrestle - once they'd all gotten pretty good and drunk, Terry confided his soulmates theory and Michael couldn't even manage to scoff without a sentimental smile at the both of them. And at that very moment, all the world over, lonely men and women shed a tear because that was the end of bachelor playboy Buddy Roberts, folks, he was hooked for life and he knew it.
Terry's idea stuck with him, though, and not just because it was sweet as all get out. Whatever the reason why, they did all have the nightmares at the same time. But what if one of them just... didn't sleep? There were three of them, if it worked, they could sleep in shifts.
Even if it didn't, well, Buddy was starting to think it might be better to have someone awake to watch over the other two. Things had been getting worse since this thing with the Dog started. Michael had started having nosebleeds, and not just little ones. The kind where he'd wake up with half his hair dyed orange like he'd just been in a cage match. It scared the hell out of Buddy, scared the hell out of all of them.
So here he was, playing sentry and hoping like crazy it would buy Michael and Terry one night of good sleep.
It felt like he'd been lying there forever, trying to keep himself awake without disturbing Michael and Terry, when he tried to look over at the clock on the bedside table and couldn't. He couldn't move a muscle, couldn't even breathe. And at the very edge of his peripheral vision, there was the scarecrow.
Buddy could feel the fucking malice coming off the thing in waves, and he knew that if he couldn't get farther away from it, it was going to make him rot like the corn in that fucking field. Still fast asleep, Terry whimpered and rolled half on top of him, hiding his face against Buddy's chest. Oh God, Bam Bam, wake up. Wake up and take Michael with you and run, baby, please. But even though his heart was pounding so hard he could feel it in his fingers, Bam Bam didn't stir.
His teeth were starting to feel loose, and he felt suddenly sure that if he could move his tongue to prod them they'd fall out. Like trying to pick a rotting pumpkin up by the stem, that's how it would feel.
Burning from his chest out, he tried desperately to tell his lungs to work, but the message wasn't getting through. He hadn't even been able to blink, he could feel his eyes drying out. And through it all, there it was in the corner of his eye. He couldn't look at it and he couldn't look away.
"Buddy?" Michael's face swam into view, white as paper except for the bloody mess under his nose. "Buddy, hey, man, you're scaring me." Michael's hands touched his face and it was like the warmth shocked him back to life. He gasped in a huge, gulping breath, eyes stinging as he blinked tears back into them. By this point Bam Bam was awake too, kneeling beside him and gripping his hand. Buddy twisted around to look into the corner, but he didn't really expect to see anything there. That feeling of being poisoned, of being fucking irradiated, was already gone.
He panted, squeezing Terry's hand. "I'm okay," he gasped, "I'm okay."
"Fuck," was all Terry could get out, face twisting up like a little kid who's about to bawl from overtiredness.
Michael scrubbed a hand over his eyes and Buddy realized how close both of them had been to crying. "I thought-" Michael broke off, grimacing.
"I'm okay," Buddy repeated, reaching out shakily to take Michael's hand too. "Fuck, that went bad."
"No shit it went bad," snapped Michael, then, "what went bad, Buddy Jack?"
"I tried to stay awake. Thought maybe if we weren't all asleep at the same time, you know, no synchronized nightmares, no nightmares at all." He laughed shakily, still so relieved to have the use of his lungs it felt like a luxury. "Fuck, I've never even been that scared fighting the crowd in Lake Charles. Like the fucking avenging spirit of the whole fucking JYD fanclub showed up in our hotel room to finish me off."
Terry and Michael dragged him up into a hug, sandwiched between them.
"Jesus, Buddy, don't try any more experiments," muttered Michael.
"I promise," said Buddy, hugging them both back. "I learned my lesson." But, he thought, they were going to have to figure something out somehow. They weren't going to last long this way.
Chapter 3: 1981
"It'll get better once we're out of here," was what Michael had said while they packed for Georgia, mostly just to make it feel more like they were leaving for greener pastures and less like they were getting run out of town on a rail. But it did get better, for a while. Until DiBiase and the Dog had to show up and turn the place nearly as sour as Louisiana.
That was a bad winter, and the rest of eighty one was even worse, but for a different reason. The nightmares stopped when Terry walked out on him. Michael wouldn't have made that trade for the world.
It had been a bad year, alright, and Buddy had spent the whole damn thing telling him it'd be okay. Michael hadn't believed him for a single minute. He wasn't going to mind the "I told you so" one bit.
"Happiest day of my life," Michael said for what had to be the thousandth time, slinging an arm around Terry's shoulder as they stepped out into the warm summer night. They'd gone out to the bar and Michael supposed it was part celebration, part first date on their second go around. "You coming home with me?"
Ever since they'd gotten back in the ring together he'd been walking on air, and it felt like everyone in the world was almost as happy as they were. The fans were happy for them. Gordon was next thing to beaming through their whole interview. Barnett even stopped them backstage to declare, "Oh, my boys, it's so good to see you smiling," with such warmth behind those coke bottle glasses that Michael didn't think he'd have it in him to bitch about payoffs for at least a month.
"Yeah." Terry leaned against him. "I'd go anywhere you wanted me to."
Michael ducked them into an alley to steal a kiss. "I missed you like hell, brother, you know that?"
"I missed you too. I know that was my own fault but-"
Cutting him off with another kiss, Michael backed him up into the wall and Terry let him. "Hey. Quit picking on yourself, Bam Bam."
That got him a little smile. "Okay."
"You remember that time in Gulfport, we'd just started going out and you still wouldn't come drinking with me, but-"
Laughing already, Terry spun them around, pressing him up against the wall. He grinned mischeviously. "Want me to return the favor?"
"Fuck," Michael groaned as Terry gave him a squeeze though his jeans, "it's gonna be a real faithful recreation, brother, I warn you now."
It was his thigh that got bopped with a play-punch, since Terry had already slid down to his knees with that uncanny grace of his. Bam Bam went to work with slow, methodical focus on getting his jeans open, or at least it felt that way when every brush of his fingers made Michael's legs shake.
Finally, finally, he was swinging free in the air and Bam Bam looked up at him with one radiant grin before swallowing him down. Michael jammed a fist against his mouth to keep himself quiet. Oh God, that felt good. And he could remember that night like it was yesterday, sucking Bam Bam off for the first time behind the Gulfport Armory. Michael'd just about creamed his own jeans he was so excited to get in his pants.
He looked down and stroked Bam Bam's hair back. Bam Bam was looking up at him with the same wide eyes as that first time, a little nervous but full of love and surprised delight. He came biting down on his knuckles to muffle his groan and felt like he didn't stop until Terry finished swallowing.
Michael just stood there panting while Terry kissed him on the thigh and tucked him back in his pants. When he saw Terry was getting ready to stand he pulled himself together and gave him a hand up.
"Thanks." Terry leaned in to kiss him while they both tried to fumble his pants closed again.
When he was finally as decent as he was likely to get, Michael kissed the spot under Bam Bam's jaw that always made him squirm and said huskily, "Come on, Bam Bam, let's go home before I do something to you that'll get us arrested."
They got themselves back to Michael's place like they were racing a count out.
"C'mere." It took about three seconds from when the door closed behind them to when he had Bam Bam on his bed and started pulling at his clothes. "Here, let me-" Terry lifted his arms obligingly and let Michael pull his shirt off.
"Fuck, Michael, please." He lifted his hips to let Michael peel down his jeans.
That didn't work so hot, seeing as Terry still had his damn shoes on. Michael cussed both pieces of offending footwear as he tugged them off impatiently and tossed them across the room, followed by jeans and underwear. By the time Michael had kicked his own shoes and pants off, Terry was pink cheeked and breathless from laughing at him.
Well, there was only one way to deal with that. Michael climbed right onto that bed and kissed that grin off his face. It took a lot of kissing. Terry was a real hard case like that.
He pressed his thigh between Terry's, getting a good feel of him. With a moan, Terry rocked up against him.
"You want it like this?" he asked breathlessly, leaning into the grind and hiking Terry's right leg up around his waist. His dick was starting to take an interest in round two as his hands wandered over Terry's thighs.
"Yeah." Terry tangled his hands in Michael's hair and gently urged him down for more kisses.
It didn't take long until the motion of his hips against Michael's turned to stuttering jerks. Michael gripped his thighs and bore down on him, kissing down to the juncture of his neck and shoulder and sucking hard enough Terry'd know he was going to have a hell of a hickey to show off tomorrow. He wanted to bring Bam Bam off hollering for more, and he found that a year apart wasn't so long he'd lost his touch.
Since Bam Bam was laying there on his back and panting, looking so sweet with come on his belly and roses in his cheeks, Michael just did what came naturally, which was to take himself in hand and get a real good rhythm going.
Bam Bam half opened his eyes and looked over at him, fond and unselfconscious. "Where d'you wanna?"
"Fuck, everywhere," laughed Michael. Terry snorted and flushed with obvious pleasure, which by that point was all it took for Michael to make it all over his chest.
Michael flopped down beside him and planted a kiss on his shoulder. "Let's take five and then hit the showers." He kissed the same spot again. "Think I'm gonna want you again."
Terry stretched contentedly and slung an arm around his shoulders. "Sounds good to me."
When they finally did go to bed in the sleeping sense, Michael woke up warmer and happier than he had been all year, with the sun glowing through the blinds and Terry blinking sleepily at him.
Michael propped himself up on Terry's chest and kissed him just for the pleasure of reminding himself he could. "What?"
"Is it morning?"
"Uh-huh." He kissed him again. "Maybe afternoon."
"Huh." Bam Bam looked honestly bewildered, but he smiled up at Michael anyways. "First time I slept through since, well, you know."
"I do know," said Michael slowly, "but, Terry, mine stopped."
There was relief for him in Bam Bam's expression, even as Michael could see the color draining from his cheeks. "It was when I walked out on you, wasn't it?"
He nodded without thinking before he realized why Bam Bam looked like his world was ending. Michael took his face in his hands, feeling how cold his cheeks had gone, and made Terry look at him. "And what that proves is that us dreaming the same thing at the same time wasn't never because of us being soulmates, because splitting up didn't change nothing for me or what I felt for you. You understand me, Bam Bam? Not even when I tried."
Terry nodded, lips pressed together, Michael knew, to stop the tell-tale contortions that meant he was dangerously close to tears. He slid his hands into Terry's hair and laid down cheek to cheek, giving him a chance to get himself together.
"Then is it coming from outside?"
Michael lifted his head at the sound of Terry's voice and saw that some of the color had returned to his cheeks.
"If we ain't sharing it between us," Terry continued, then trailed off, looking pensive.
"That's right," Michael said, feeling suddenly wide awake, "you got something there, brother. You remember how Buddy said it was the vengeful spirit of the pissed off fans, I mean he was kidding but, man, it don't sound like a joke right now."
Bam Bam nodded. "Man, that makes sense, you know? It left you alone and kept after me, 'cause everyone knew I deserved it."
He gave a sad, self-deprecating little try at a smile and suddenly Michael was furious. He wanted to have the nightmare again. The thought of touching the scarecrow had always filled him with dread but right now he'd gladly tear it apart with his bare hands. On his behalf, it had tormented Terry. Those bruised crescents under Terry's eyes, it had put there on his behalf. Even when things were at their worst between them, Michael would never have wanted that.
"Well, fuck it," he said vehemently. "Fuck what it thinks you deserved, it don't know either of us." He pressed their foreheads together, knowing he was probably gripping too tight on Terry's hair but not able to relax his hands. "I wish I could kill it for ever getting near you."
That very day, he called up Kevin Sullivan and, once it was established Buzz Sawyer hadn't left him dead in a ditch somewhere, asked him if any of his New Age witchy shit could get rid of demons. Or angels. Michael tried to cast a wide net, since all he knew about what it was they were dealing with was that it was some fucking bad mojo. Sullivan gave him a couple recommendations for keeping something like that away - line of salt, line of brick dust, burning sage, a few signs and pendants - but it didn't come back anyways. Not until Christmas.
Chapter 4: 1982
Texas was better. Fresh start, great fans, and not a single nightmare, for himself or Terry. Buddy planned to catch up as soon as he finished some singles dates, and he said he was sleeping fine too. The Von Erichs practically seemed to have adopted them as a part of the family, albeit the trashy part that everyone knew not to invite to weddings with open bars, if Fritz's disapproving looks were anything to go by.
That had its occasional downsides, if he was being honest about it. Like when they were stuck on yet another wholesome, boozeless fishing trip with a pair of all-American chaperones who didn't know when to buzz off. He and Terry didn't have to do this much sneaking around when they were teenagers, it was goddamn ridiculous.
One time, one time, they'd almost managed to get somewhere under cover of gathering firewood. They'd been grinding and groping through their clothes in a dense thicket a ways out of sight. Michael'd been riding Terry's thigh with his hands up Terry's shirt, getting to feel just about right, when they heard Kerry clomping their way up the trail. They scrambled apart and got their clothes in order in time he didn't notice a thing, but it was a close shave. Kerry was coming to help, of course. Wouldn't want them to have to do all that work alone.
And seeing as Mrs. Von Erich raised them scrupulously right, to be polite they weren't cliquing together, no sir, they'd split the tents up one host and one guest each, leaving Michael to spend the night in the company of Kevin Von Erich and his own monumental case of blue balls.
If Michael was being really honest about it, Michael didn't much care for Kevin anymore at the best of times. He could remember the things he'd said about Terry, the times they'd clashed in the ring and Michael'd seen Kevin bring up bruises on him. And maybe Michael had encouraged it at the time, but so what if he had? Families fought, couples fought, and anyone and everyone knew there was a line how far you could stick your nose in before you got it cut off. A guy who went around agreeing, "yeah, your wife sounds like a real bitch," every time anyone complained about a fight with his old lady was liable to get his teeth knocked out.
But sometimes the Von Erichs were alright. David was alright, he'd even subbed for Buddy in the the six man title match, when Buddy's plane had gotten stuck in Denver. Almost a week later, Buddy was still stuck, he having had the genius idea to drive through the mountains in a goddamn blizzard. Forget making Dallas, he was lucky he wasn't a human popsicle on some god-forsaken Colorado seasonal road. Now, Buddy was snowed in at some fancy bed and breakfast instead of the airport. "Admit it," Michael had teased over the phone last night, "you're just taking a vacation now, brother."
So, sure, David was alright. And Kerry, bless his heart, was alright too. He'd even showed up this morning with Christmas presents - some new records for him, a pair of sharp looking cowboy boots for Bam Bam, and even a bottle of Jack Daniels for Buddy. That last one had really made him smile.
"You ever bought hard liquor in your life before?"
Kerry just shook his head. "First time for everything," he'd said, grinning like he thought he was Dennis the Menace.
Michael had clapped him on the back, laughing. "Thanks, brother. You're a good guy, you know that?"
And he really was a good guy, that was why Michael was trying to help him here.
"Just pin him!" Michael found himself practically screaming in frustration.
But Mr. High and Mighty Kerry Von Erich could never just take a win when he had the chance, not even against the dirtiest player in the game. Mr. High and Mighty Kerry Von Erich was too good for that.
Terry was as exasperated as he was, and was hollering for him to just get out of there. Michael had half a mind to do just that, let Mr. High and Mighty see how he did without Michael's help.
He tried one more time, dumping Kerry bodily on top of Flair. See if he couldn't spoon-feed the man his victory. Well, that just got Kerry yelling at him now, like Michael wasn't on his side here.
That was it, he was done. Michael turned to walk out of there and wash his hands of the whole business. He was about to step out of the ring, when that motherfucking chickenshit traitor cheap-shotted him from behind. He went down hard at Bam Bam's feet, hard enough to set the world swimming before his eyes.
Half way on dream street though he was, he turned in time to see Terry get a shot in for him, and what a shot it was. Michael watched Kerry crumple with vicious satisfaction. That's what you get. Put your hands on me in front of Bam Bam, that's what you get.
The crowd, Texas homers all, didn't share the sentiment. Christ, he was no stranger to hostile crowds, crowds that wanted them dead, but this.... Woozy, Michael looked up at the ring. The ring that should have been empty. He moaned in horror, unable to tear his eyes from the scarecrow. It's not real, you're knocked out, it's not real.
But he had the nasty feeling as Bam Bam hustled him out of there that it was realer than it had been, real enough to see in a half-conscious state and maybe getting realer by the second as that crowd realized what a number they'd done on Kerry.
"Bam Bam, I think we might be in real trouble," he said, as they jumped in their trusty getaway van. Fuck, it hadn't been that for a while, had it?
Bam Bam put the pedal to the metal and they peeled out of the parking lot with a screech of tires. "He hit you. He hit you from behind, when you weren't trying to do nothing but help-" He broke off with a gasp, jerking the wheel hard enough they nearly fishtailed their way to a fiery death.
"What-" But Michael saw. Clear as day, on the side of the road, burlap head cocked to the side like its eyeless face was studying them, was the scarecrow. Little details seemed to embed themselves in Michael's mind as though he was studying a video in slow motion. The shadow it cast on the shoulder of the road, stretching over some unidentifiable heap of roadkill. The disturbed gravel where its post was planted in the ground. Oh, it was real this time, there was no denying that.
Terry got them righted on the road and they passed it by, just like any old scarecrow on the side of the road. Except that any old scarecrow didn't make his ears ring and his skin crawl when he passed too close.
"What do we do, Michael?" Terry's voice was shaky.
"I don't know. I don't know, let me think." Michael scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Okay. Okay, when I talked to Kevin Sullivan he said salt might keep it away."
"Yeah, like-" he gestured futilely "-like a barrier, if you put a line of salt on the ground things like that can't cross it. Same with brick dust. And burning sage is supposed to keep shit out too and, I don't know, man, some pendants or talismans but I don't know where we're supposed to get that shit."
Terry was nodding.
Down the road, Michael spotted a shape. It could be anything, he told himself. It could be anything, but- "Terry, I think I see it."
"By the mile marker up ahead."
Terry's eyes flicked to the growing shape jutting up beside the road. "Yeah."
They passed it in grim silence. With a sick flip of his stomach, Michael saw there was another twisted and splattered mess at its base. He remembered the dead fields in the nightmares and shivered.
And then it was on the horizon, once again commanding their attention and fear as it loomed closer. And again. And again. There was a slow, pulsing rhythm to it. Michael wondered in the back of his mind if this was what it was like to be hypnotized by a cobra.
When the road turned to gravel, Michael realized he didn't know where they were or how long they'd been driving for. Terry glanced at him and neither one of them had to say a thing to know what was what.
But Terry looked miserably furious with himself, so Michael said, "It had us both hooked, brother, it wasn't your fault." He stretched over to lay a steadying hand on Bam Bam's shoulder, cursing whoever it was invented bucket seats. "Just turn around when you see a chance, we only went straight down the road."
As the road wound on though, Michael was starting to worry that chance might not come. Here, there were deep ruts on either side of the shoulder. There, trees, bushes, deadfall, anything that would keep them corralled down this endless road. Off to their right, they could see the lights of a highway, close enough they could walk to it easily if, well, if they were alone out here. And then they entered the cornfield.
It was as withered as the one in the nightmare and Michael couldn't quite manage to convince himself that of course it was, it was December, it was natural. The road grew narrower still. Michael could hear a disquieting, hissing whisper and realized it was corn brushing against the windows.
"Should I just try to turn around?" Bam Bam's face was white and strained.
The corn was so dense there was no telling what the ground was like under there, and if they tried to turn now and got stuck... Michael shuddered. "No," he said, "just keep going, this can't go on forever."
He hoped he wasn't lying.
They kept driving, looking for anywhere they could turn. At one point Terry spotted what looked like a road, but it turned out to be a narrow dirt trail you couldn't even walk two abreast on.
Finally, though, finally, sane reality bore out and Michael saw the corn field beginning to open out and-
-and the road ended, in a clearing surrounded by endless corn. There was an abandoned husk of a building farther back, but no sign of life. And, at the end if the gravel road, between them and even that scrap of evidence that there was a world out there, a real world with people in it, was the scarecrow.
Beside him, Terry's face was grim and set. "Bam Bam-"
"Couldn't get past it any other way if I wanted."
"Yeah, okay." Michael reached across him to snag his seat-belt, buckled it, then secured his own. He gave Terry a nod.
Bam Bam could drive anything with wheels and he was no stranger to off-road bad ideas. Michael didn't see how fast he got them up to but it felt damn fast, the rotted wood of the scarecrow exploded like it was flesh.
"There's something wrong," said Bam Bam, and Michael saw he was trying and failing to turn the wheel. The van was still accelerating towards the one thing in the landscape solid enough to be a real fucking problem. The moments before they hit the wall seemed to run in slow motion. Michael could see in through the window - it looked like an old honky tonk, what the fuck was it doing here, he'd expected a farmhouse, but-
The crash hurt like a suplex he wasn't ready for, knocking the wind out of him and jolting his neck painfully. There was a shower of wood and chunks of brick and they sputtered to a stop in the middle of the dance floor.
Can I move my fingers? Can I move my toes? Michael ran through the bad-neck-checklist with automatic efficiency before he even remembered how to think, let alone how to talk.
"Bam Bam, you okay?"
"Yeah. You okay?"
Moving slowly, he unclipped his seat-belt, then reached over to help Bam Bam, who looked to be having a bad time with his. Michael looked at him with questioning concern.
"I'm okay," Terry insisted, "my hands're just shaking too bad to work it."
"Okay," Michael said.
Still shaking pretty damn bad, Terry opened the door and slid out, ducking down to look under the van. He stood up looking scared but not surprised. "Ain't a scrap in the undercarriage."
Michael ran a hand through his hair, thinking. "Okay," he said, "okay, there's gotta be salt in that bar."
"We smashed up some bricks on the way in too."
"Right, now, we can get a camp set up here for tonight, maybe find a way to call for help in the morning. If we can just get back to town, man, maybe we can find a priest or somebody who knows what the fuck to do about this."
They set about ghost-proofing the dance floor where their totaled van was permanently parked. Michael found an industrial sized box of margarita salt while Terry tried to cover the hole in the wall by hanging their space blanket over it.
"Is that gonna work?" asked Michael, carefully pouring a line of salt around the van.
"Well, all it's gotta do is be a windbreak." Terry grabbed a pair of dusty bar stools and planted them on the bottom edge of the blanket. After one last critical look at the makeshift tarp, he turned to scooping up bits of brick.
Finished with his line of salt, Michael set the box down - inside the circle - and took a look around. There was an open doorway to a little back kitchen, and Michael went over to take a quick peek. There was enough moonlight coming through the busted out windows he could see just fine, and he managed to find a jar of sage on one of the cobweb covered shelves.
He turned to head back to the bar and nearly jumped out of his skin at the sight of a figure in the doorway.
"Jesus, Terry, you scared the shit out of me."
"Man, how do you think I feel? I turn around and you go wandering off to fucking who knows where."
"Fuck, right, sorry." He gave Terry a quick hug. "I found some sage, don't know if we really need it. You done with the brick dust?"
"Yeah," said Bam Bam. "Come on, brother, we got it as safe as we can."
They retreated to their van, first sitting up on the mattress in the back, then laying down in the blankets to get warm. If it hadn't come yet, maybe their circle was working.
"Let's try to get some sleep, huh?" said Michael, stroking Terry's hair back and scooting up to kiss his forehead.
"Yeah." Terry kissed him right back and wrapped his arms around him. "It's gonna be okay, brother." He sounded so brave and determined to make it true that Michael could just about let himself believe it, at least until morning.
Chapter 5: The Gentle Rain
It took a long time for Michael to fall deep enough asleep to where Terry felt sure he could do what needed doing without waking him up. He slid off their old mattress carefully, then tucked all the blankets around Michael so he wouldn't get too cold if it turned out he had to spend the night alone. He left his keys and wallet on the console so Michael could find them, just in case. Pressed a goodbye kiss to Michael's hair. Just in case.
His zippo, he kept in his pocket. He grabbed the sage they'd salvaged and their supply of rolling papers. Buddy rolled better joints than him - Buddy rolled better joints than anybody - but Buddy was still snowed in at that bed and breakfast, where Terry told himself he was safe and sound and drinking in front of the fire. Terry rolled himself two dozen undoubtedly foul sage cigarettes and, after brief deliberation, pocketed seven and left the rest for Michael. He wasn't going far, and he only needed enough for one way.
He took an eighth in hand and opened the door carefully before stepping out onto the warped wood floor, just inside their protective circle. With one last look at Michael, he closed the door just as carefully as he'd opened it. Every sound was a risk, but he didn't want the cold getting in.
Keeping his eyes fixed on his shaking hands, he lit the first sage cigarette. It didn't taste as bad as he'd expected, but that wasn't saying much. When he was sure it wouldn't go out, he made himself look around the bar. Nothing. At least, nothing now.
There was no point wasting time. Either burning sage would keep the thing off him or not. If not, well, maybe it'd be satisfied with one.
Heart pounding, Terry stepped over the line. If it was coming, it didn't come instantly, and that was about all he needed. He couldn't resist making one last round with the box of salt, shoring up the perimeter where it looked thin. He made sure to leave the box inside, where Michael could get to it safely.
It was a longer route, but he went out the kitchen door in the back. No direct line to the bar, no chance of letting in a gust of wind to blow a hole in their circle.
The night was calm and bright. He couldn't have wished for better. A full moon. No wind to blow the sage away.
He should have no trouble making it to the crossroads.
Puffing nervously, Terry began to walk, setting a slow, steady pace. He rounded the bar and came to the washed out end of the gravel road they'd come on. His first sage cigarette was burning down and he pulled a second out of his pocket and lit it on the end. Six left. He started down the road, gravel crunching under his boots.
In this moonlit flatland, he ought to be able to see straight to his destination and a good ways in every other direction too. But the corn looming up on either side of the narrow road was too dense to see through and too tall to see over. Maybe a thousand yards down, there was a bend on the road. Another two hundred after that, the last road they'd passed. It had only been a dirt track, but Terry supposed - hoped - that it would do. What was the saying - that God marked the sparrow's fall? Surely anything watching crossroads at midnight would mark a summons even from this little nowhere road.
Something rustled in the corn to his left. He spun towards it, but all there was to see was the slight swaying of the corn that had been disturbed. For a minute he stood there frozen, staring and half expecting something to come out of the corn at him the instant he looked away.
Pain stung his fingers and Terry realized with a jolt that the sage stick in his hand had burned down to almost nothing while he stood there like a deer in the headlights. That broke the spell. He fumbled for his lighter and another joint. Five.
It wasn't even anything unusual that had happened, Terry scolded himself as he sucked on the joint, coaxing it to catch - animals ran around every night, they weren't about to take the night off for his sake.
Now, Flopsy, Mopsy, turns out we got Terry Gordy planning to walk through our field at midnight and we don't wanna scare him, so make sure to stay in your burrow and don't cause no disturbances.
A rabbit or a stray cat. Hell, a coyote. Whatever it was got spooked and ran, so it probably wasn't rabid. It didn't sound big enough to be a bear or a mountain lion, if they even had those around here. And if it wasn't either of those and it wasn't rabid, it wasn't anything he needed to give a damn about.
He was about to turn back to the path when something caught his eye. No movement, just a shadow at the edge of his peripheral vision. Slowly, forcing himself to keep breathing, he turned.
Hanging in the middle of the road, about twenty yards back the way he came, was the scarecrow. It swayed slightly, as if in a breeze. There was no breeze. Even the tiniest gust would have felt like an arctic gale with the cold sweat Terry was in. There was no breeze.
A sudden, terrible claustrophobia gripped him. He'd come far enough that all he could see in any direction was corn. Corn, and the scarecrow. It was waiting between him and the bar, though, and if he made a break for it, maybe-
The rotting burlap where a face would be drooped, elongated, like it was opening a hidden mouth impossibly wide. Terry spun in blind terror, meaning to sprint for the crossroads.
It was Kerry Von Erich who saved his life. He got about three steps before his boots, those stupid cowboy boots Kerry had given him for Christmas, slipped out from under him like he was trying to run on ice instead of gravel. It wasn't the worst landing he could've taken, he got his hands up to break his fall enough he didn't knock himself silly or bust his nose, but it still hurt like a son of a bitch.
The pain wasn't what worried him as he scrambled to his knees, the right one throbbing in protest. He'd lost his sage in the tumble and wherever it had landed he didn't dare waste time searching. He fished another joint out of his pocket and lit it as fast as his skinned hands could manage. Four.
And suddenly he realized what it had really been doing behind him in the road. It had wanted him to run - to run as fast as he could, right out of the protective cloud of sage smoke and into clear air. He looked over his shoulder. It was still there, still contorted into a grotesque silent scream, but no closer.
After a moment's deliberation, Terry sat down on his butt and pulled off the boots, tossing them aside. Those boots had proved themselves about as trustworthy as Kerry himself. This time the fall had been lucky, sure, but he didn't intend on a next time.
Slowly, shaking all over, Terry climbed to his feet, feeling the cool gravel through his socks. He couldn't let it get him like that again. He had to keep his wits about him. Almost guiltily, he snuck one more peek behind him to see if it was still there. It was gone. That was almost worse.
It can't get at Michael. It can't get at you. There's nothing can happen that should make you panic.
Easy to say, he thought grimly.
This time he counted his paces, keeping a deliberate rhythm. He was too scared to trust himself not to speed up if he didn't. Besides, it was hard to judge distance any other way. He thought he must be half way to the bend by now but all he could see was an endless corridor of corn.
A hundred paces in and everything looked just the same, like he hadn't made any progress at all. And wasn't that a nasty thought, that maybe he hadn't. For all he knew it was changing things on him. For all he knew he'd walk until he was out of sage without ever reaching that bend in the road.
Two hundred. His fear was making the road seem narrower, making the corn seem to lean in over him. The creepy touch of a spiderweb on his face made him flinch and swat it away, before the significance of it froze him in his tracks. We drove down this road.
His sage was burning down and he lit a new one absently. Three. If that even mattered anymore.
Think, think. If it made a new stretch of road, then it had to put them cobwebs up. Cobwebs on a new road don't make no more sense than cobwebs we drove right through. And that was something, wasn't it? Maybe it changed the road and maybe it didn't, but either way those cobwebs were there for one reason and that was to scare him, to make him sure the road had changed.
That got his feet moving again. The least he could do was call its bluff.
By four hundred paces, he could finally see where the corn closed over. It could be a dead end, part of his mind insisted, but as he got closer he could see that it was the turn, right where it should be. Relief flooded him.
As he rounded the bend, the feeling turned to miserable dread. It was waiting for him, planted between him and the crossroads. There was a small gash in the burlap of its head, just big enough that he could see rotting flesh inside.
Steeling himself, Terry lit his third to last sage cigarette. He'd need all the protection he could get.
"You might scare me, but you can't stop me," he said aloud, clenching his fists. He took one step forward, then another.
The burlap split further with a sickly ripping sound and Terry realized it was because the dead thing inside it was moving its jaw. He kept walking. It was staying at the same distance, he saw, it could put on whatever Texas Chainsaw Bullshit it wanted but it couldn't do a damn thing else.
The tear was wide enough now he could see the jaw fall lopsided, hanging by a slick gray tendon. And, spilling out beside it, a shock of yellow hair- Terry fixed his eyes on the moon. He didn't have to watch this show.
A garbled, awful moan, reached his ears. Pleading without a tongue. And there was something else about it, something worse. Terry clapped his hands over his ears, counting his steps aloud to drown out that familiar rasp.
Every twenty steps he looked down, just a glimpse, to check his position. He tried not to see the mangled shape hanging in front of him, changing and twisting. Why? he wondered bitterly. If it hasn't made me run yet, it can't think I'm gonna, so why?
Just to dish out whatever punishment it could, maybe. He could understand spite and malice plenty. He pushed on, checking and counting, counting and checking.
Finally, there it was, the little dirt track running right behind the base of the post. Terry sighed in relief as he stared up at the moon and counted out a last set of steps. He was here, it could go after his heart all it wanted but he was here. When he looked down a last time it was gone. Maybe it'd come to the same conclusion.
Shivering, Terry stepped into the center of the crossroads. He couldn't even feel the cold but he couldn't seem to stop shaking. There wasn't much left of his sage cigarette so he pulled out another and lit it with the ember. One left in his pocket. It would have to be enough.
All alone out here in the corn, it was hard to pretend the thing chasing them would be reasoned with. He would beg - not Michael, take me, I won't fight, just please not Michael - but it would never stop with its job half done. If nothing happened before the last joint went out, all this would be for nothing. Leaving Michael by himself would be for nothing. Being all alone out here when it came for him would be for nothing.
Terry stared up at the moon and waited, watching the wisps of sage smoke drift away with time and hope.
"Well, hello, Freebird." It was a pleasant, homey voice - Georgia, he thought, but that wasn't quite right.
Terry turned slowly, casually, wondering if the owner of that friendly voice could see his thoughts right now and know he'd noticed that whatever it was hadn't made any footfalls on the gravel road. "Hello."
A smiling man in white slacks and a Hawaiian shirt stood in the center of the crossroads, looking around serenely. "It sure is a peaceful night, isn't it? I was just out here, looking at the moon and the stars, enjoying how peaceful it is, when I saw you here at the crossroads. And I thought, ain't that something? One Freebird flown off all on his own, standing at the crossroads on a peaceful night like this."
Some people - Michael - could talk their way around the very devil himself as naturally as breathing. Terry kept his mouth shut.
"Maybe you're just-" the man paused to shrug "-walking around out here, enjoying the moonlight. But then you surely wouldn't be all alone." His knowing smile sent gooseflesh up Terry's arms. He shouldn't have let Michael cross his mind, not even for a second, not in front of this thing. Too late now, and maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyways. He didn't know what it was he was dealing with here, he was so far in over his head he couldn't see enough light to know which way was up.
With a casual ease that did nothing to help Terry's rising panic, the apparition continued, "No, you being a fugitive from justice, I do believe you came out here looking for mercy." He spread his hands in front of him, smile widening. "And mercy you have found."
Terry swallowed hard, mind racing. "Wouldn't think the devil would care for justice. Or the Von Erichs."
"Oh, maybe not," said the man agreeably. "But you got to think the devil, he knows what you boys got coming for you. And when it gets you, he just might enjoy that part." His eyes sparkled in the moonlight. "Sometimes justice got a way about it, you know what I mean?"
The shudder that ran through him wouldn't be suppressed. People threw around the phrase skin-crawling a lot but Bam Bam had never known it to feel so apt as now.
"I came here to make a deal."
"Of course you did." The man's grin seemed impossibly, unnaturally wide. "You came here to sell your immortal soul to stop what's coming for you and yours." He held up a hand as if to fend off a protest, but Bam Bam couldn't have said anything right then if he wanted to. He couldn't breathe, let alone make a peep.
"Now, I know that a romantic man, he might be tempted to say something like, 'Mr. Devil Man,'" the man said, accent sliding over to Chattanooga easy as anything, "'that ain't been mine to sell for going on half a dozen years now and I never did no deals with something belonged to another man.' But if that romantic man really believed his loving soul to be any sort of protection, why, I think he would be at home, sleeping in his bed with the one he loves, all nice and peaceful, instead of sneaked out to the dadgum crossroads like a thief in the night. You know what I mean?"
He'd already known it was reading his mind, Terry told himself. But it was one thing to know something could in all likelihood see his thoughts and it was another thing altogether to hear it read them aloud.
For a second he was sure it would be like in a nightmare, that he was so scared he wouldn't be able to make a sound. But his voice came out clear and he asked, "You got anything on sale?"
The man laughed like an old friend had surprised him with a new joke, slapping his knee with delight and holding his sides. "Oh, that's good, I like that. Something on sale." He shook his head, still chuckling. "Now, I don't usually do this, you understand, but you got me in such a good mood I may just have something in your price range tonight, Freebird. How do you feel about doing a little favor?"
His sage cigarette was nearly burnt out and Terry took the excuse not to answer. He pulled the last one from his pocket and lit it.
"That's real clever with the sage," commented the man mildly, "real clever way to do that. I just hope you brought enough of those so you won't run out before we can come to terms, Freebird." A vision of black spreading over the man's eyes like ink and his grin bulging out with multiple rows of teeth forced its way into Terry's mind. Shark, shark, shark. "Now, about that favor, I don't mean right this instant," he continued, when Terry didn't answer. "But one day I might send someone around your way in need of a little help teaching the children or digging a hole or some such odd job. And it wouldn't be nothing of any harm to you or your beau or your other one," he said, making a show of weary amusement. "I say that because I can see you're smart enough as to ask." He paused, looking at Terry with a gleam of interest in his eyes. "I wonder, do people give you credit for that?"
Smart enough as not to say nothing back to that, too, Terry thought, looking back at him with the same blank, nobody-home expression he put on when some promoter he didn't want to talk to no how tried to go behind Michael to negotiate with him. Then, Was that a trap to catch me or a trap to get me cocky?
The man's eyes crinkled a little more with his smile. "Well, like I was saying, one day somebody'd ask you for a favor. And it could be any time or anybody, but you'd know when it was the right one. So you'd do them that favor like we agreed and everything'd be square between us. Now, can you say fairer than that?"
It was exactly the kind of bargain you didn't want to make with anything you met at a crossroads at midnight, and this thing knew he knew it, and probably also knew he was desperate enough that it didn't matter. "And what would you do?"
"Well, you surely know it ain't some monster you can fight, else you'd be out burning cornfields instead of talking to me. I don't doubt that you would happily burn all of Texas if you thought that would protect your own. But it's been in your dreams. You can't fight some dream thing that's not real. I imagine that must be frustrating to you, being as you are." Bam Bam didn't nod, but he imagined that wouldn't have mattered even if this thing wearing a man-suit couldn't read his mind. "I could make it real, make it something that could be destroyed or stopped. Now, that don't mean you will stop it, or that it won't get you or your man first. But if you want me to stop it for you, well," he said, chuckling, "you know the price."
"If you make it real enough I can kill it, I'll do you a favor just like you said. And no bullshit, I ain't no lawyer but you been in my head this whole time and you know what terms I mean to agree to."
The man laughed again, ending in a sated sigh. "I wish we could have done bigger business, Freebird, I surely do. Maybe some other day."
"But we have a deal?"
The man spread his hands and smiled. "It's already done. Though if you wanted to stay and coversate a while, I wouldn't be opposed." It was night and he was scared, Terry told himself. But, God help him, for a second it looked like that smile had too many teeth. "I enjoy birds. Freebirds, whippoorwills, shrike birds, vultures.... But you surely want to fly on home to your nest," he continued, with an easy chuckle and a flash of smile. "I never did hear of a little margarita salt and brick dust keeping anything real away. You know what I mean?"
Terry was already running.
Chapter 6: Gimme Three Steps
Warm, but not as warm as he should be. That was what Michael's sleep muddled mind insisted. He couldn't move at first, his body ignored him like he was still half dreaming. But his mind was starting to come clear.
He was alone and that was bad, that was alarming, but what turned the dial all the way up past horror was that Michael was bundled up in all the blankets and there was no warm patch along his side.
He wrenched himself awake. "Bam Bam!" He scrambled to his knees, feeling a mad, sick loss as he broke the blanket cocoon. That could have been the last sweet thing he did for you, the last sweet thing, the last- "Terry!" he called again, more to interrupt the runaway train in his head than out of any hope of a response.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw Bam Bam's keys and wallet sitting on the dashboard, along with a mug full of joints and something - he scrambled to the front - that jar of sage they'd grabbed. The connection hit him like a jolt of electricity. Michael grabbed one of the joints and smelled it.
Hope welled up inside him along with a pride so fierce it was almost painful. Atta boy, Bam Bam. Where ever Terry had gone to do whatever stupid, noble thing he'd gotten it into his head to do, he'd improvised a portable shield to get himself there safely.
Now, where did you go, baby, and did you make the mistake of leaving me enough to follow you?
Michael thought he had. He thought Terry took the bare minimum for what he needed and left the rest for him.
No time to waste. He snatched up the rest of the joints and stuffed them in his back pocket, then threw open the side door and hopped out, careful to stay inside the salt line. There was enough moonlight coming through the window he could see well enough. In particular, he could see the silvery sheen of dust on the ground, cut through with their footprints all over the goddamn place. But one track, straighter than most, stuck out. No other prints cut across it - wherever they met, these were the fresher set.
Lighting up one of the sage sticks, Michael traced it with his eyes. Towards the kitchen and-
There in the doorway was the scarecrow, bulkier than before and leaking blood. He knew what it wanted him to imagine.
"Bullshit," Michael spat. "Bam Bam figured a way around you and that's gotta burn you up, don't it? That's gotta-"
The jukebox in the corner howled to life and Michael started, turning to look involuntarily. Flashing rainbow lights stole his night vision before he could look back at the scarecrow. It didn't matter, he told himself, it was just another trick to scare him, he was inside their circle, which had kept it out all night, and on top of that he was wreathed in sage smoke. It couldn't get to him.
He was assuring himself of that fact when he felt the dry touch of twig fingers on the nape of his neck.
Jerking away, Michael spun. He could see it in the glow of the jukebox light as he scrambled back. It was planted inside the salt and brick dust circle.
Not possible, his mind protested, and then, absurdly, that's cheating.
A very nasty thought followed. If it could cross their protective line of salt, what good would burning sage do? Hell, it was standing in a cloud of it now. Bam Bam-
He shoved the thought away. If he allowed himself to entertain the unthinkable possibilities that led to, he would lose his mind. It all came down to a coin flip, which one of them it had come for first. And if this was its first stop, then he had better find some way to get out of this alive because Terry needed to be warned. No salt, no sage. Think.
It still hadn't really moved while it was being watched. The burlap body of it jerked as if in pain and more blood pulsed out, as if to contradict the thought, but that wasn't what he'd really meant. Michael kept his eyes on it though he wanted to look away. Even when it put on gruesome little shows like this, it had never changed where it was posted or even reached out with its spindly arms while any of them were watching.
Michael was afraid to blink, he felt like he was locked in a deadly staring contest. Colorful lights danced over the burlap surface where its face would be as the jukebox played. Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, mister, gimme three steps towards the door-
"Michael!" The sound of Terry's voice - thank God, thank God - nearly made him turn, but he caught himself at the last instant and kept his eyes on the scarecrow.
"I'm here! It's here. It won't move while I'm watching but the salt and sage ain't working, man."
Bam Bam had run to his side while he talked and he clamped a hand on Michael's shoulder. His grip was painfully tight but such a comfort. "I know. Hold on, brother, just hold on."
It was a struggle not to look at what Bam Bam was doing. He'd opened the door of the van. Not looking away from the scarecrow was just as hard. The burlap was bulging out in places, like something was growing inside it. Michael hoped to God he wouldn't find out what.
"Brother, I hope you got a plan."
"I do." Michael heard cloth ripping, followed by the familiar sound of a new bottle of Jack Daniels being opened. "Where's the emergency gas?"
"Back by the tire jack." Michael understood now what Bam Bam was up to, he just hoped he would finish fast. There was a place on the thing's abdomen where the burlap was strained to the point of splitting, and he could see a greasy, grey something through the stretched cloth. "You're lucky Buddy ain't here," he said. It got a snort of laughter despite his shaky delivery.
He heard Bam Bam's feet hit the ground beside him. "You ready to run?"
"Yeah," said Michael, eyes glued to the growing fissure in the burlap. The thing was splitting open like a rotten orange. "Ready when you are, brother, let's blow this joint."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bam Bam light the molotov. He kept on staring through the impact and the bloom of fire, then Terry's hand found his and he found himself being half dragged away. That brought him out of it, and he ran the hell out through the hole in the wall with Terry at his side.
They stopped running at the edge of the corn field. Michael threw his arms around Bam Bam and hugged him hard.
"Fuck, man, when I woke up and you were gone, I- well, I just about lost my mind."
"Sorry, Michael." Bam Bam leaned his forehead against his and closed his eyes. God, he looked dog tired, and Michael could feel how bad he was shaking. He brought a hand up to cup the back of Bam Bam's neck with a firm grip.
He couldn't help but rest there a minute. Finally, glancing at the firelight glowing out the bar's windows, Michael asked, "Is that gonna work?"
"Yeah," said Bam Bam immediately, so confidently that Michael pulled back to look at him in surprise. "I made sure it would."
"You gonna tell me about that?" Michael asked, still studying his face curiously. Brother, what did you do out there?
Bam Bam seemed to consider for a moment, then nodded firmly. "Yeah, I will. We got time walking back to that big road we saw."
Michael nodded, satisfied. Then he noticed something else for the first time.
"Where the fuck are your shoes?"
His response was drowned out by the sound of the van's gas tank exploding and, with it, the bar.
"Well, fuck," Michael muttered as he watched the mushroom cloud of flame disperse. "I hope that took out the VIN numbers."
"That van was our van," said Terry reasonably. "If we wanna firebomb it, we'll firebomb it, and there ain't nothing anybody else can say about that."
"That's right," said Michael, brightening. Bam Bam was talking sense. Far as he knew, there wasn't any law against bonfires in Texas. "Now what do you say we walk on back to the highway and see if these pretty faces can't score us a lift into town?"
Bam Bam beamed at him. With his face lit by fire and moonlight, Michael couldn't help but kiss him. Hand in hand, they started down the corn-flanked road.