Roosevelt couldn’t look at the needle. True, he scarce felt it when the young nurse slipped it into the vein at the bend of his elbow, but the mere thought of it made him queasy. So instead he looked across the street at a clown offering balloons to little children, at the SEED-N-FEED store’s exhibition of antique tractors set up in the parking lot of the First National Bank. Rebecca stood beside his lawn chair, Savannah asleep in her arms.
“Almost there,” the nurse said.
“I’m going to take him down to the pie-tasting booth as a reward,” Rebecca said.
“Oh, eat enough for me,” the nurse said.
Roosevelt wiped his forehead. “Too hot for this.”
And then some*thing*.
“What in the world?” Rebecca said.
Another scream. Another inhuman shriek, more like a howl.
“Get this out,” Roosevelt said. When the nurse didn’t respond fast enough, Roosevelt pulled the needle out himself. He bent his arm tight, stood up.
“You stay here,” he said to Rebecca. “I’m going to see what’s going on.”
“Be careful!” Rebecca said.
Roosevelt hurried along the sidewalk, pushing through the crowd. Most people were standing still, gawking. The screams had come from down by the train tracks.
Should’a worn my gun, Roosevelt chided himself. But there were uniformed officers in the crowd, the Volunteer Posse, as they were called. Unpaid patrolmen, looking to get hired on with the County. They carried guns. Besides, nothing ever happened at Miner Days that would require a firearm, anyway, except maybe the turkey shoot down at the Masonic lodge.
Roosevelt felt a little light-headed from his donation of blood and he walked with his left arm drawn up like a chicken’s wing.
“Excuse me,” he said to a cluster who seemed determined not to get out of his way. “I’m a policeman.”
“What’s goin’ on?” a woman with no make-up and no bra asked him.
“Probably nothin’,” Roosevelt said.
“But that awful howlin’?”
The next scream removed any room for doubt from Roosevelt Brewster’s mind. You couldn’t fake a scream like that. And Roosevelt had heard too many such to be mistaken. Whoever had made that sound had been in severe pain, agony.
*The sound of somebody dyin’.*
Roosevelt shoved his way out into the street to get a better view. What he saw almost made his knees buckle.
“Oh, Lord Jesus!”
He turned and ran back the way he had come. Catching sight of one of the County volunteers, standing with his hands on his hips and a look of irritation on his face, Roosevelt ran over to the man.
“We have a situation here!” Roosevelt said.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?” the middle-aged man asked, chewing on his mustache.
“I’m Junior Chief Brewster, City PD!” Roosevelt said. “We need to get everybody off the streets!”
“Huh? What’s the matter?”
“Get these people off the streets!” Roosevelt ordered. “And radio for back-up! There’s somethin’ runnin’ loose, some kind of animal or somethin’!”
“Move!” Roosevelt gave the man a shove to get him started, then headed back towards the white bus emblazoned with its Red Cross parked along the sidewalk. Rebecca met him in the street. Savannah started to cry. A man ran past them.
“What is it?” Rebecca asked.
“Get inside and stay inside!” Roosevelt said. “Now!”
“What’s going on, Roosevelt?!”
“Get inside!” he repeated.
“But where are you going?”
Roosevelt grabbed her by the arm. He half dragged her along.
“Roosevelt, what’s happening?!”
“I don’t know what it is!”
They stopped in front of the RED ROOF GRILL, a two-story restaurant. Customers and staff stood with faces pressed against the interior glass.
“Get in there and stay put!” Roosevelt ordered. “Upstairs!” He pushed her through the door.
Down the street, the Beast howled.
“Lord, help us!” Roosevelt ran. He knocked people aside, once again the football star plowing through the other teams’ defense.
The block of businesses ended at the PHOTO AND HOBBY SHOP. A standalone brick building, flanked by a couple of side streets, separated this block from the next row. Roosevelt headed for the front door of the single building: DOWNTOWN GUN AND TACKLE. An old man stood in the doorway. Roosevelt recognized the overalls and tattered baseball cap.
“Percy! I need a gun, fast!”
“Roosevelt?” The old man stepped back to let him enter. “What’s a’ matter?”
“You got a thirty-ought-six?”
“Huh? Yeah. Why?”
“Load me up!” Roosevelt said. “Hurry!”
“Yeah, okay.” The old man nodded, now with an expression of fear on his face. He turned towards one of the store’s gun racks.
“And give me a couple’a boxes of ammo, too,” Roosevelt said. “I got a bad feeling I’m gonna be needin’ every last shot.”
* * *