He, it, struck one of the trees as it passed, tearing loose a strand of blinking lights. It leapt into the air.
Saint got off a shot but missed by a country mile. Maka’kahu hit him. Saint forced the breath out of his lungs as he went down, otherwise the impact when he hit the ground would have knocked the breath out of him and left him all but helpless.
He was helpless enough, as is.
Clark risked a shot, and put a bullet in Maka’kahu’s head. Icy blood and brain matter sprayed Saint’s face.
The shot did not kill the beast. It did earn Joe Clark the creature’s attention. It leapt off Saint and charged Clark.
Clark fired again, scoring another headshot. This one did not kill Maka’kahu either. Two more shots, both hitting the thin torso. Still Maka’kahu kept coming.
There were real screams now from the unseen people in the artificial forest. Afraid of the gunshots but not aware of the monster. Even amidst the screams and the wind and the far-off Christmas carols—“…echoing their glad refrain…!”—and the ringing of his ears from the gunshots, Saint heard the bones snap in Clark’s right forearm as Maka’kahu struck him. The little man fell down.
Saint, back up, put a bullet from the rifle straight into the base of the creature’s skull.
Maka’kahu spun around and, with a shriek that threatened to rupture Saint’s eardrums, charged him.
*Damnation! Why won’ this thing die?!*
No time to rechamber the rifle. Saint dropped it and lifted the sawed-off shotgun; holding it with both hands, he fired both barrels.
Maka’kahu staggered. Flailed at the air as if trying to swat away a swarm of hornets. But the hornets, little steel balls of ten-gauge buckshot, had already stung.
Saint emptied the six rounds from his revolver into the monster. More hornets. Saint grabbed up the rifle and swung it like a baseball bat. He slammed the stock again and again, right side and left side, into the creature’s head. The stock broke.
On its hands and knees, bent double like some grotesque giant stick insect, it started to get up.
Clark, holding his pistol in his left hand, shot it again. No visible effect.
Saint tossed the rifle aside.
Not thinking now. The thinking would come later. Thinking about how he had killed his stepfather while a boy. And about all the men he had murdered in the same way. About how each of those acts was in all likelihood some Freudian attempt to kill his stepfather over and over again, strangling this ogre that had haunted his psyche all these years by strangling surrogates. And how this, here and now, might constitute the biggest, grandest example of them all, might even serve as the ultimate purging of the ogre from his subconscious altogether—
But Saint wasn’t thinking when he grabbed up the string of blinking Christmas tree lights and jumped onto Maka’kahu’s back.
Looped them around the beast’s neck.
Wrapped the wires around both his hands and started to pull.
Maka’kahu reared up and slammed Saint back against a tree. Little lights and a rib shattered. Branches snapped. Saint held on. He pulled tighter.
Maka’kahu threw itself backward, trying to crush Saint against the ground. Another broken rib. Saint held on. Pulled tighter. He pulled with all his strength. The string of lights was cutting into his hands but he kept pulling.
Again and again Maka’kahu reared up, trying to dislodge Saint, throw him off. Saint wrapped his legs around the scarecrow torso and held on. He squeezed tighter.
He kept on pulling the string of blinking lights long after the monster had fallen and ceased to move.
“Saint,” Joe Clark said. “Saint. It’s dead.”
Saint didn’t let go.
“You got him, Saint.”
He didn’t let go.
He didn’t let go until the blaring of police sirens grew loud enough to drown out the wind and the distant holiday music and his own heartbeat throbbing in his temples.
“Got ya’, ya’ son of a bitch!” he muttered.