Dusty had felt it too, but everyone’s eyes had been on Arlene at the time. She’d swooned, but luckily, the stool had been right behind her and she’d just sat down. The feeling immediately after, though, had been akin to the first time she’d gotten high. It was sick and sweet at the same time, like a copper knife to the center of her brain. Dusty’s vision had gone dark and for a moment the swimmy-spinning feeling was the only sensation at all.
She’d come to herself and immediately felt things out of place. The salt and pepper shakers and napkin dispenser that had just been a few inches away from her hand on the counter were pushed back several inches. Dusty knew without knowing why that she had done that. She’d felt a muscle on the verge of clenching and suppressed it momentarily while she explored this new… thing. Across the counter and down to the floor, she could feel the air itself playing across the different surfaces. She felt the grout between the tiles as if she were pinching it between her fingers, the corner of unswept dust behind the men’s room door.
Dusty could feel the mass of people standing and sitting a few feet away from her and was surprised at how many feet were shifting even though most of them appeared to be still. Her teeth felt like chips of concrete and when she put her hand to her mouth, her lip felt paper thin to the touch. The skin of her fingers felt like it would split if she made a firm fist. The bones beneath were like iron. The two opposing sensations in one body served to make Dusty feel like a stranger inside herself. Or maybe she was inside a strange body.
Her eyes shook in her head the same as when she stared into her laptop’s screen too long. Dusty was on the verge of a panic attack if she couldn’t break out of this extra sense. She understood what it was—feedback. She had turned this new ability inward and her and it was doing a circular reference across her nerve endings. Understanding it was one thing, but making not feeling as though her flesh was about to shred off her body was another.
What finally broke this vapor-lock of her senses was a body crashing to the floor. It wasn’t Arlene—Dusty knew without looking she was sitting down. Whoever it was was away from the crowd. It took a moment, but her new sense trickled to where the person was and then up and across the legs, arms, torso, and head, making an intricate latticework, mapping the person’s body until Dusty could tell who it was as clearly as if she were laying eyes on her.
“It’s Gladys!” she said, rocketing to her feet.
Dusty felt feet turn in her direction and for a moment, the world spun. Dusty grabbed onto the counter and was able to orient herself. She was rapidly gaining the ability to ride this new sense and pulled back from it slightly.
“What’s Gladys?” Fred said, pushing through a few people.
“She’s hurt.” Dusty pointed toward the back. “She’s back there.” Several bodies surged forward and around the counter. For a moment, the feet slapping against the tile was again overwhelming, but this time in the space of blinking a few times, she was able to adjust to it.
Guthrie stayed behind, but about a half dozen of his men went ahead, along with Fred, Arnie, and Wes Nichols. Wes was a burly, farmer-type, always in overalls even in this summer heat. She’d blown him in the cab of his F-150 a year ago, but she couldn’t remember the circumstances leading up to said blowing. But he’d been nice enough and she hadn’t held it against him for not calling. The Evil Motherfucker had always called and where had that gotten them?
She didn’t trust her feet enough to go after them, in truth, she didn’t want to. Dusty had begun to feel a connection apart from this new sense. One that had told her it was Gladys who’d been hurt, but significantly more quiet manner. She stood there, listening to it, her mind tracing along its spider-silk line veering off in two entirely different directions. The one to Gladys was almost silent, a thread of a pulse that was the older woman’s heartbeat. The other went to Arlene, the teenager feeling there and not there, but her pulse was steady and strong. Dusty knew just as she could feel the two women along this line they could also feel her in much the same way.
Arlene didn’t feel the way she expected, but that could have been because the girl was experiencing some other new sensation just like Dusty was. And what about Gladys? Could she feel something beyond human sensation like the two of them? Dusty suspected so, but who knew how badly hurt she was?
Curious to see Arlene with her own eyes and not through ESP or whatever this was, Dusty took a step. Her foot felt solid and strong beneath her. In fact, it felt so good she decided to take a second. For whatever reason, the weak feeling that had coursed through her a moment ago was completely gone and she hadn’t felt this refreshed since… well, since the Evil Motherfucker had motherfuckered her.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d craved nothing more than clean air and had an absolutely full feeling within her. She vowed at this very moment—if it was only a moment of clarity—that she would fight to keep this pure feeling. To never take it for granted or forget it. She would never take a drug into her body or a man in order to get them.
One of the bikers passed her by with a glass-eyed expression, muttering something. It sounded like ‘water’. He couldn’t have been going to get a glass for Arlene because she had one in front of her. She pressed past a couple other people and sat down in the empty spot next to the girl.
Dusty was worried about Gladys, but for the moment she was even more worried for Arlene. Perhaps it was how close they were, physically, but she had sensed in the last few seconds that the girl had dimmed somehow. She and Todd were holding hands and staring at each other dreamily, which was weird because it was Todd. Arlene had passed by many a hottie over the last few months. Rugged trucker types, yuppie I-need-direction types, black guys, Asians, latinos—you name it. If ninety-nine percent of male types had sat down for a cuppa in the Spoon and Arlene hadn’t batted an eye, what did Todd of all people possess?
Dusty let her stare slide over Todd. He was tall, slender, and blond. She’d never cared too much for plain old white guys and hey, let’s go ahead and say it—mentally disabled. She supposed if a girl could ignore the slopey look at the corners of his eyes and mouth he might have been handsome in a kinda way, but it would have been obvious to anyone within two seconds of looking what was wrong with him.
But what were the two of them up to? Dusty could feel something happening, like heat from a flame. She reached over to put a hand on Arlene’s wrist and felt the air push back like two magnets repulsing each other. Dusty forced her hand through it and clasped Arlene’s skin and a flood of images flashed before her mind’s eye.
She pulled her hand away, her palm burning despite Arlene’s cool skin. Dusty held on to a few brief images, all of them with Arlene dressed up like a princess with a blond-haired little boy with a cardboard sword and shield. There was some large, scaled creature she couldn’t see all of, clearly lying dead with several wounds across its hide. The boy was obviously Todd, but who was the dragon supposed to have been and why was Arlene helping him slay it?
“Hey, who is his guy?” Kevin nudged her shoulder and she turned.
“Cat!” Dusty leapt from the seat, relieved to be away from the very creepy Toddlene. She wrapped her arms around the skinny black man and squeezed as if she hadn’t seen him just three hours ago. He’d been on morning prep and cooked breakfast before Fred came on shift, but what was he doing here now?
“Ay, baby girl,” Cat said, patting her back. “Woo, you this glad to see me?” He pulled back and looked at her. “What’s different about you?”
Cat was somewhere between fifty and seventy, with gray hair as closed shaved to his scalp as possible without being bald. Everyone had taken to calling him ‘Cat’ because of his feline-like green eyes and ability to get away with just about anything he wanted. He’d never taken advantage of Dusty like so many other men (well, if she were honest with herself, she’d either allowed herself to be used or put herself in those positions to get drugs or something else she wanted). They’d gotten high together on more than one occasion and she’d even let him crash at her place a few times.
She suddenly felt worried for the man. “Wait—why are you here? Your shift ended hours ago.”
He looked sheepishly at her. “Fell asleep on the WC.” Despite the situation, she smirked. ‘Fell asleep on the WC’ was code for got high in the men’s room and passed out. He’d done it a few times before, but so far as she knew, she’d been the one to find him each time and made sure nobody else caught him. Cat liked the needle on occasion, but Dusty never shot up. That was probably the only line she’d had left to cross.
“He’s cool, Kevin,” she said to the man who’d brought him over. Cat shot him a look as he walked away and rotated his arm, rubbing the spot where the man had death-gripped him with his other hand. And just like that she remembered Kevin. Backseat Kevin. Cousin of the Evil Motherfucker. Dusty had never been in the backseat with him, she’d only met him the one time. In the back of the Evil Motherfucker’s ’84 Mustang. The four of them were on a double date; Dusty with the Evil Motherfucker, Kevin with… with…
Now that was odd. They’d been best friends at the time, but suddenly Dusty had absolutely no recollection of the girl’s name. She stared after Kevin with refreshed familiarity. Why was he here? Why now? And did he remember her? Most of all, she wanted to know if he knew why the Evil Motherfucker had done what he did. It had never been a question why her life had gone into a tailspin after that year. It had been because of him. But despite the shit that had happened today—was still happening—Dusty had seen the light at the end of that particular tunnel and had no intention of ever turning back.
Which brought her back to Cat.
Dusty clasped his wiry bicep, wanting to tell him everything that had happened over the last—what—two hours by osmosis.
“Something very bad is going on,” she said rapidly. She could tell by his eyes Cat was still coming down. It wouldn’t matter what she said to him right now, nothing was going to stick. Dusty rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Look, just stick with me. Do whatever I say, okay?” He rubbed a dry palm over his stubbled cheek. She gave him a small shake. “Okay?”
“Yeah, okay. Whatcha want?”
“I want you to stay inside with us. You can’t go home yet.”
“Got a lot of people in here. Need me on the grill?”
At the mention of Cat’s cooking, Dusty’s stomach groaned. The man was a maestro in the kitchen. It was strange how they were working with the exact same materials, but what Cat cooked and Fred cobbled together were two entirely different things.
“Guthrie?” Dusty asked, turning to the man. He sauntered over and looked Cat up and down. “This is my friend Cat. He works mornings on the grill. He’s really good. If we’re going to be here for a while, it may be a good idea to start cooking. Food may just make everyone easier to deal with. He’s really good too.”
Guthrie eyed him, stroking either side of his mustache with his thumb and middle finger.
“Yeah. You do that.” He took a step back and addressed everyone. “All right, listen up, people. We’re gonna fire up the grill and have early supper.”
Dusty didn’t know where that had come from, exactly. But she’d had the notion Cat was going to be in trouble if she didn’t have something for him to do, something to distract Guthrie from feeling like he had to deal with him.
“I’m gonna keep my eye on you.” He smiled at Dusty. “Trust, right?” Cat looked between the two of them.
“Crazy white people,” he mumbled, headed for the kitchen. “I’m off my shift.” Dusty and Guthrie followed and as soon as they stepped in the kitchen they ran into a crowd of people gathered at the other end. Dusty reached out with her new sense and felt all of them, including Gladys, prone on the floor. She didn’t know how to tell a good pulse, but suspected the older woman’s was slower than normal. Dusty pressed through the bodies, her extra sense creating feedback. She quickly switched off, bodies naturally parting as she knelt.
“Gladys? Gladys can you hear me?”
“She was sayin’ somethin’ a moment ago,” the goateed man kneeling across from her said. “I dunno,” he shook his head. “It wasn’t makin’ any sense.”
“What she say?” Kevin said from behind her. She’d recognized him from his voice just as much as his body weight and how he balanced it between his feet.
“Something about a survivor. She just kept saying it over and over again. I told ya—it was garbage.”
Dusty didn’t know what that meant, but she was certain it meant something. The thought of what she was about to do chilled her, but she didn’t stop from grabbing a hold of Gladys’ arm. A single images shot into her brain of Father, standing over her, smiling as he reached into her, pulling something out—
—She snatched her hands away, shaking. Kevin was there, his arm around her shoulders, squeezing her close.
“What’s wrong? What is it?” he said, pulling her into a hug. It took a moment before she realized the high-pitched scream was coming from her.
“It was him,” Dusty said. “It was Father. He’s going to kill us all.”
“Who the hell is your father and why does he want to kill us too?” Kevin pulled back from her.
“No. Father.” She shook her head. “The thing outside.”
“That thing is your father?”
“No. That’s what it is. I-I don’t know what it means, exactly.”
“What the hell is going on with the old lady?” Guthrie busted into the kitchen and asked. Dusty looked around, realizing all eyes were on her, save for Cat. He was grilling something and despite being two steps removed from complete hysteria, it smelled delicious.