This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
"I'll feed you, give you some water," the old man offers. "I don't have much."
He cooks me cornbread and serves it with a thick pat of rationed butter and some rehydrated navy beans.
"Had some salt pork and cheese last month, but all the shops are closed now," he says.
"This is just fine," I assure him.
While he is washing up the dishes I open the guitar case and leave him one of the bricks of marijuana. I wrap the rest of the cornbread in a towel and steal out the front door.
In Kentucky, I pass military units heading north. These are fresh men. Army reserves and new conscripts. I pull the stinking blanket over my head to hide my face. None of them would recognize me, but a man in his thirties walking alone down the highway does not escape the army's attention. If they caught me I would be on my way back to the front as soon as they could get a rifle in my hands.
I beg a map from a gas station attendant and stick to the back roads. My boots are disintegrating, my feet are blistered, and I still have the mountains.
In Tennessee the sky is unraveling in a way I haven't seen since the front. Huge bleeds rend the blue and glow with terrible phosphorescence at night. The pulsing tone of the angels is everywhere. Scratching at the edges of my brain. It inspires vivid dreams that make sleep all but impossible.
They have returned from battle. The ones with us at Pleasant Plain. There is something different about the way their tendrils invade my mind, some pall over their presence. One of them has perished. So they are not invulnerable after all. Not gods, just monsters.
I thumb a ride from a trucker named Bernard. Life here is almost normal, except for the glowing tears in the heavens that are so painful to look at. Bernard offers me a cigarette. I...
I am with Kay and Spencer and Ryan on dad's boat. He has only just died and the boat is now mine. The waters of Lake Cook are smooth and dark. They remind me of something. Something...
Time is slow. So, so slow. Every detail, no shortcuts. No summaries.
The flesh is peeled back like a wetsuit padded with the dimpled yellow of fat. Muscles have been unraveled and twisted into looping patterns that wrap around the organs and sinews and the skeleton. Each bone is spread apart, the eyes turn terribly, the heart beats.
Thump, thump, thump, thump.
The tongue moves and loose teeth click together. The throat, a deflated, damp tube, works uselessly. The eyes, lidless spheres, staring, turning to look at me in the bloody grass. The-
I projectile vomit all over the trucker. He slams on the brakes and throws me out of the cab shouting obscenities.
"I ought to kill you, you little faggot," he bellows and roars away.
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