The full moon made Billy Sun nervous. He tried hard not to think of the thing in the box, but knowing it was back there made cold sweat run down his back. He didn’t want to be out here, he especially didn’t want to be driving in this weather and he definitely didn’t want to be responsible for the box. But he was, and he kept his hand on the wheel and tried to keep the truck on the road.
He was barely going fifteen miles an hour, crossing the mountain at a crawl. He could see, at best, maybe fifty feet ahead, and at some points he was essentially making an educated guess at where the road actually was. The plows hadn’t come through, and every turn felt like he was in danger of sliding off the road.
It wasn’t that Billy was uncomfortable driving in bad conditions, or even that he was bad at driving under stress. He’d spent the last four years driving Humvee around the desert while people tried to alternately shoot him or blow him up. Stress was okay, under normal circumstances, but this was different.
For one thing, there was absolutely no way that moving it, under these conditions, was even half way advisable. Most of the time, it was harmless, or as close to harmless as something like that could reasonably get. But tonight, well, tonight was not a good night to be doing what Billy was doing, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. It had to be moved, and it had to be moved now.
Billy’s father, Big Bill, had barely managed to get the box moved out of the basement before the house burned. The box had been there, under the watchful eye of the Sun men, for as long as anybody in Billy’s family could remember.
But one of the consequences was that the house didn’t get as many upgrades as it should, and it had an electrical system cobbled together by the dubious talents of Billy’s grandfather and his uncles. It was only a matter of time before something bad happened, and it was just bad luck that something bad happened when the moon was full.
Billy wiped sweat from his brow and shook the cramps out of his fingers. He was squeezing the wheel hard enough that he expected it to have grooves where his fingers were. He knew that this wasn’t helping his ability to get his cargo from point A to point B, but he couldn’t help it. He had the fight the urge to glance through the tiny window into the back of the panel truck and make sure the box was where it was supposed to be.
The biggest problem was the snow. Billy wasn’t sure how much snow qualified as a blizzard, but he figured that this was probably there. The thing in the box was most dangerous at night, and he really, really didn’t want to be traveling with it, but when the snow started coming down, he didn’t have much of a choice.
Risk. It was all about balancing risk. Billy’s Dad insisted that Billy stay to the background, where Billy would be lucky if he passed another car at all. This minimized the chance of an accident and damage to the box. It also, to Big Bill’s way of thinking, meant that if the unthinkable happened, that the box was opened and it got out, that the number of people at immediate risk would be minimized as well.
Which had all sounded reasonable enough to Billy when his dad, still sucking oxygen in a hospital bed, had told him what he needed to do. Billy had checked his route, double checked the truck and triple checked the weather. But once he was on the road, he didn’t know.
The snow was completely unexpected. Billy figured that once he got done with this particular fool’s errand, he might well have to find the weatherman who said that it would be a crisp clear night in southern Pennsylvania and force feed him his own teeth.
As it was, the snow meant that Billy was committed to the haul. If he pulled over, he was not going to be able to get out again, and that would be a problem. His cell service in this area was spotty at best, and he figured it would go out entirely once he crested the mountain. He had to ride it out and hope for the best. But that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
The snowfall was getting heavier, and Billy slowed the truck down even more, gearing down to let the engine take some of the strain of holding back. He tried to keep his mind on the road and not think about the steep grade on the other side. He’d tried turning the radio on, but every time he did, he kept imagining he heard something from the back. He wished his dad was here. Or anyone else. He didn’t want to be driving, and he definitely didn’t want to be driving alone.
The deer hopped down off the hill and skittered in the snow, black eyes reflecting in Billy’s headlights. Billy hit the breaks, not hard enough to skid, not really, but he felt the back end of the truck fishtail.
He tried to drive into the skid, but the downhill grade and the snow was preventing it. The deer leapt gracefully off the road as the truck slid slowly sideways. He fought the wheel and imagined he heard the chains holding the box in place strain.
He lost it. The steering turned uselessly in hand as the truck slid over the bank. There’s was a moment, just a half a heart beat, where the truck was balanced, but then Billy was tumbling. Everything spun and there was just a blur of slowed down images, time speeding up and slowing down, before it stopped.
Billy’s head hurt. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there before his fingers touched his head and found blood. The window beside him was gone, and Billy head dripped sluggish red into the snow on the ground. He released the seat belt and slid down into his side.
The gun. He needed the gun. The truck was lying on its side, smashed up against a tree, well down over the bank. Everything in it had been tossed and Billy Sun really need to find the damn gun. Where was the fucking gun.
It took him a few seconds to feel the reassuring weight of it in his pocket, He pulled it out, flipped out the cylinder and looked at the bullets. Six shots, four speed loaders in the pocket if they hadn’t fallen out.
Billy kicked the front windshield until it dropped out into the snow. It didn’t make a sound. Nothing did, the world wrapped in falling snow and silence. Billy could hear his heart beating in his head. The autopilot was on. The box, He needed to check the fucking box. His body was working in its own years of army training and a life time of being a Sun kicking in, but somewhere deep inside, Billy Sun was praying.
Cameron Coyle waited in the car, the engine running but the headlights off. He looked idly at snow and smiled a bit. Luck was on his side. It usually was. Time wasn’t, though, and Coyle was growing impatient. This was taking far longer than it should have, and Coyle sighed when he heard the gunshot. Typical.
He wasn’t worried about the gunshot, in and of itself. Most people, even people out here in the boondocks, won’t recognize a gunshot out of context. Especially not when it was muffled by coming from inside a bank. But it meant that something had gone wrong, which meant that Coyle was going to have to bat clean up. He glanced at his watch and then out the window, waiting.
The bank wasn’t much of one. It was barely bigger than a mobile home, if it was bigger at all, and it sat beside what could loosely be considered a convenience store, albeit one of the home grown variety. Its main charm, in fact, was that it was more forty miles in either direction from any kind of real town, and the towns that were at the forty mile border had less than twenty thousand people.
Which meant that any kind of police response was a good half an hour off, unless they had the very bad luck for there to be a State Police cruiser somewhere in the area. The snow would actually slow that down even more, with the added benefit of making the car harder to spot. That made these kind of rural banks easy pickings. It did not mean that there should be guns going off.
Coyle watched the door open and the little old lady who was watching the counter at the store step out on to the concrete steps. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. She had that look on her face. Coyle pull a black watch cap over sandy hair and stepped out of the car.
“You heard it too, I guess?” he said.
She looked at him, faintly startled.
“Sounded like someone was shooting.”
“It was my car. Backfire. I need to fire my mechanic.”
She looked at him. She frowned. She was starting to say something else when Coyle put a bullet through her chest. She stumbled back and set down hard, mouth working, and Coyle put a bullet through her forehead. She kept the gun on her for a second. Even with headshots, even with old ladies, death could be tricky sometimes. She just sat their, eyes open but not seeing.
The doors to the bank opened, and Coyle’s partners ran out and stopped. They were young, dumb and in love. They thought, Coyle suspected, that robbing bank was something kind of romantic. Dangerous but sexy. They’d probably think of themselves as a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, if they’d ever heard of Bonnie and Clyde. They jogged to the car as Coyle slid behind the wheel. They both got in the back. Gym bags with case beside then.
“What the fuck?” the Girl, delicate as ever, stopping short at the sight of the dead old lady as they pulled away.
“What happened in there?”
“What happened out here?” the Boy, this time.
Coyle shrugged. No explanation would be worthwhile.
“This fucking thing went off.” Despite patient instruction, the Boy had still not grasped the basics of gun safety.
“Give it to me. Was anyone hurt?”
“No, no Casey had the zipties on them. Are they going to be okay?”
The Boy and the Girl handed their guns forward. Coyle, as carefully as he could while driving the car, checked the safeties and dropped them onto the front seat.
“They’ll be fine.”
“Why did you shoot that old lady?”
Coyle looked in the rearview mirror. They were a couple of miles out from the bank, but out here that meant they were in the middle of nowhere. Coyle pulled off into an access road, far enough from the road that in the near dark and with the increasing snow fall that he figured they wouldn’t be seen.
“We need to get this stuff in the trunk.”
“Here is fine.”
He stepped out of the car and pulled his gun out of his pocket. He kept it down by his legs as Bonnie and Clyde got out of the car. He half expected and half hoped they’d slide out on the same side.
The Boy said “I don’t see –“ and Coyle shot him in the back of the head. He dropped down hard, cracking the taillight as he fell. Coyle expected the Girl to scream or shout or breakdown, but she took off running immediately, without a glance behind. So much for true love. She didn’t make it ten steps before Coyle cut her down. He shot the Boy again to make sure he was dead and walked around the car to the Girl.
She was trying to crawl, without much success. Coyle rolled her over with his boot. She was crying.
Coyle shot her twice in the head. The snow was picking up, and the Boy already had a light covering by the time he walked back around. He considered dragging them into the woods, but it didn’t seem like it was worth the effort or the time. Coyle dropped the gun beside the girl. No need to be carting around more evidence than necessary. He wanted to get over the mountain before the snow really kicked in. It looked like it was going to be a big one.
Billy listened, his back against the top of the truck. Nothing. He wasn’t sure how long he been stunned when the truck rolled, and that worried him. He didn’t feel like he’d lost time, but he wasn’t sure. He knew firsthand that your brain could do weird things when it got rattled, and he was definitely rattled.
He worked his way slowly along the roof of the truck, keeping his back pressed against the hard metal. He stepped around to the back of the truck, breathing slow and steady, shooter’s triangle.
The door was open, dug into the snow. No footprints. Billy bit his lip and took a deep breath. He scanned the perimeter, standing in one place but covering a tight three sixty. He didn’t see anything, but he wasn’t sure that meant anything at all.
He stepped forward and crouched, looking in the back of the truck. He saw nothing but darkness. He swore to himself and fished around in his jacket pocket for the flashlight. He clicked it on and stuck in his teeth and moved forward. He couldn’t see through the snow.
He moved in closer, almost in the truck before the light finally cut through the snow enough to see inside. He didn’t like what he saw. He really, really didn’t like it. The box, solid steel, was on its side. The chains around it were broken.
It was loose.
He moved in closer, stepping onto the door in the snow, slipped slightly. He listened again, and imagined that he heard something breathing. He shined the light into the interior of the truck.
Warm breath tickled the back of his neck.
Billy pulled back so hard that he landed on his ass in the snow, skidded up against a tree. He fired all six shots into the closed door, the .357 rounds punching neat black holes in the white painted metal.
The revolver clicked on an empty chamber and he popped the cylinder and dropped spent shells into the snow. He saw the glint of red eyes reflected in the flashlight beam as it came out of the truck, a huge black shape silhouetted against driving snow. He twisted the speedloader. Slapped the cylinder shut and it was almost on him.
Its teeth snapped together inches from his face, and he pulled the trigger again, blood splattering his face. It grunt and was gone. Billy scrambled to his feet and turned. Nothing but darkness.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He reloaded the revolver and looked at the snow. The huge tracks the thing left were quickly filling in, and the fresh snow was covering the blood trail. Billy looked at the tracks. Billy followed.
Emmerson Swift was glad that he took the four wheel drive out. The police department had tried to save money on the police cars, all three of them, and as a result they’d purchased cars that were fuel efficient and cheap, and about as good in the snow as a fish on the highway.
Which would be fine, if Em were still in SoCal. In Pennsylvania, it displayed a serious lack of forethought and was, to Em’s way of thinking, a near perfect example of what was wrong with the county commissioners. There wasn’t much he could do about it, aside from lodging protests and making sure the commissioners were given parking tickets as often as humanly possible.
That did not mean that Em himself had to drive the damn things, so he had his blazer fitted with lights and he took it out whenever the weather was bad. The forecast for the day hadn’t called for snow, but the dull ache in Emmerson’s shoulder was a lot better than Accuweather, as far as he was concerned.
He watched the snow fall, insulated coffee cup balanced on his gut. He was warm and comfy in the Blazer, but the snow was coming down so fast that he needed to have the wiper on just to see out the windshield. He wasn’t sure how much longer it was going to pay to be out here.
Em was waiting for John Mattingly, who was dangerous enough on a good night and was more or less guaranteed to hurt somebody on a night like this, if only himself. It wasn’t that Mattingly was a bad man, in the usual sense.
Em liked the guy, as far as that went. He was funny, in his was, a tiny little guy with red hair and a grey beard, how reminded Em of leprechaun, minus the Irish accent. He’d been a janitor at the local elementary school for forty years, going pretty much straight from student to hired help.
He wasn’t a janitor now, for precisely the same reason that Em was waiting for him outside of town; he liked to drink. No, he loved to drink. Alcohol was the deep and abiding passion on John Mattingly’s life, and Em didn’t figure the man had a dry day since high school. He was an alcoholic, even he knew that, but he was unrepentant. He loved to drink, and he did.
Which would probably be alright, in Em’s world, if John could keep it at home. But John drank all the time, and he wasn’t a homebody. He’d drank at work, and while the school had given him a lot of rope on the issue, they’d eventually canned him for it. He also liked to come into town and drink with his buddies.
Which was why Em was sitting in his truck at the outskirts of town, at the very edge of where his jurisdiction stretched. He’d be waiting in Mattingly’s driveway if he could, but this was as good as it was likely to get. Em leaned forward and looked up at the sky through the windshield. No sign of the full moon, and it wasn’t even that late. They’d had mild winters the last few years, and they were due a big one. He hoped Dani was home but suspected she wasn’t. Once again, he wished they had some kind of cell phone coverage.
The problem here was that Mattingly had gotten in the habit, as of late, of driving into town to drink after having spent the entire day drinking. He had managed, barely to skirt losing his license, but he was a danger to the community. Emmerson had tried to reason with the guy, and for a while it looked like it had worked.
Mattingly had either walked to the bar or caught a ride with someone. His girlfriend, a big bellied big breasted woman named Nelly who loved smoking nearly as much as Mattingly loved drinking, usually picked him up after he closed the bar or the Legion down.
The problem started when the weather went cold and Nelly’s car broke down. For the last week or two Mattingly had taken to driving to and from the watering holes in a state of massive intoxication, although he did some nights manage the fairly impressive feat of ending the evening more sober than he started without actually stopping drinking.
This was a small, small town, so when Mattingly drove Jenny Moore’s flowerbed one night, word had gotten back to the chief of police. Em had made sure the deputies were aware of this and they were looking for them, but the limitations of having a six person police force had allowed Mattingly to avoid getting picked up.
That good luck streak of Mattingly’s was going to end tonight if Em had anything to say about it. He about half hoped that Mattingly was going to do the sensible thing and stay home, but he didn’t have much faith that would happen. In his experience, men like that didn’t let a little thing like a blizzard get in their way. He just hoped he didn’t run out of coffee before he did.
He needn’t have worried. Em was halfway through pouring a cup of coffee when Mattingly’s old battered truck swung by, going faster than he should have in the weather. Emmerson swore to himself, chugged the cup of coffee and half scalding himself in the process. He put on the lights and pulled out.
Tried to pull out, anyway. The wheel spun, despite the four wheel drive.
“Ah, come on you piece of crap.”
He held down on the gas until the wheels ground down through the snow and found purchase on the solid ground. He jerked out into the road, Mattingly’s truck lost in the snow, not even the glow of the headlights visible.
“Damn it Johnny.”
He leaned over the wheel and sped up. He wasn’t sure this was a good idea. The problem with chasing someone in a car was that you ran a fair to middling chance of creating the accident that you were trying to stop. Em remembered that everytime his shoulder creaked. He wanted to catch Mattingly and stop an accident, not cause one.
His Blazer was gripping the road fairly well, but he had no good way of knowing whether or not he was actually gaining on Mattingly until he actually caught the little bastard. Em slowed down his breathing and that continue to pick up speed. If he was going to catch Mattingly, it would be on the straight stretch before town.
He saw, or thought he saw, a dim red glow ahead. The dim glow grew a little brighter, and Em was definitely catching up to someone. As the road straightened out, he sped up even more. He saw the red lights ahead of him wobble a bit. Mattingly was fishtailing in the snow, but not too badly. It was enough to make Em sure of who he was following.
Emmerson gripped the wheel and sped up even more, focused on the tail lights in the distance.
Note to readers: This is rewritten version of Until Dawn, so this bit has been here before. Just in case you were thinking that one of us had some sort of stroke.