Barlow's red eyes rolled in their sockets, filling with a hideous life and mocking triumph. They locked with Mark's eyes and Mark gaped down into them, his own eyes growing blank and far away.
'Don't look at him!' Ben cried, but it was too late.
He knocked Mark away. The boy whined deep in his throat and suddenly attacked Ben. Taken by surprise, Ben staggered backward. A moment later the boy's hands were in his coat pocket, digging for Homer McCaslin's pistol.
'Mark! Don't - '
But the boy didn't hear. His face was as blank as a washed blackboard. The whining went on and on in his throat, the sound of a very small trapped animal. He had I! both hands around the pistol. They struggled for it, Ben trying to rip it from the boy's grasp and keep it pointed away from both of them.
'Mark!' he bellowed. 'Mark, wake up! For Christ's sake - '
The muzzle jerked down toward his head and the gun went off. He felt the slug pass by his temple. He wrapped his hands around Mark's and kicked out with one foot. Mark staggered backward, and the gun clattered on the floor between them. The boy leaped at it, whining, and Ben punched him in the mouth with all the stren2th he had. He felt the boy's lips mash back against his teeth and cried out as if he himself had been hit. Mark slipped to his knees, and Ben kicked the gun away. Mark tried to go after it crawling, and Ben hit him again.
With a tired sigh, the boy collapsed.
The strength had left him now, and the sureness. He was only Ben Mears again, and he was afraid.
The square of light in the kitchen doorway had faded to thin purple; his watch said 6:51.
A huge force seemed to be dragging at his head, com?manding him to look at the rosy, gorged parasite in the coffin beside him.
Look and see me, puny man. Look upon Barlow, who has passed the centuries as you have passed hours before a fireplace with a book. Look and see the great creature of the night whom you would slay with your miserable little stick. Look upon me, scribbler. I have written in human lives, and blood has been my ink. Look upon me and despair!
Jimmy, I can't do it. It's too late, he's too strong for me -
?LOOK AT ME!
It was 6:53.
Mark groaned on the floor. 'Mom? Momma, where are you? My head hurts . . . it's dark . . .'
He shall enter my service castratum . . .
Ben fumbled one of the stakes from his belt and dropped it. He cried out miserably, in utter despair. Outside, the sun had deserted Jerusalem's Lot. Its last rays lingered on the roof of the Marsten House.
He snatched the stake up. But where was the hammer? Where was the fucking hammer?
By the root cellar door. He had swung at the padlock with it.
He scrambled across the cellar and picked it up where it lay.
Mark was half sitting, his mouth a bloody gash. He wiped a hand across it and looked dazedly at the blood. 'Momma!' he cried. 'Where's my mother?'
6:55 now. Light and darkness hung perfectly balanced.
Ben ran back across the darkening cellar, the stake clutched in his left hand, the hammer in his right.
There was a booming, triumphant laugh. Barlow was sitting up in his coffin, those red eyes flashing with hellish triumph. They locked with Ben's, and he felt the will draining away from him.
With a mad, convulsive yell, he raised the stake over his head and brought it down in a whistling arc. Its razored point sheared through Barlow's shirt, and he felt it strike into the flesh beneath.
Barlow screamed. It was an eerie, hurt sound, like the howl of a wolf. The force of the stake slamming home drove him back into the coffin on his back. His hands rose out of it, hooked into claws, waving crazily.
Ben brought the hammer down on the top of the stake, and Barlow screamed again. One of his hands, as cold as the grave, seized Ben's left hand, which was locked around the stake.
Ben wriggled into the coffin, his knees planted on Barlow's knees. He stared down into the hate and pain?-driven face.
'Let me GO!' Barlow cried.
'Here it comes, you bastard,' Ben sobbed. 'Here it is, leech. Here it is for you.'
He brought the hammer down again. Blood splashed upward in a cold gush, blinding him momentarily. Barlow's head lashed from side to side on the satin pillow.
'Let me go, you dare not, you dare not, you dare not do this - '
He brought the hammer down again and again. Blood burst from Barlow's nostrils. His body began to jerk in the coffin like a stabbed fish. The hands clawed at Ben's cheeks, pulling long gouges in his skin.
'LET ME GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO - '
He brought the hammer down on the stake once more, and the blood that pulsed from Barlow's chest turned black.
It came in the space of two seconds, too fast to ever be believed in the daylight of later years, yet slow enough to recur again and again in nightmares, with awful stop?motion slowness.
The skin yellowed, coarsened, blistered like old sheets of canvas. The eyes faded, filmed white, fell in. The hair went white and fell like a drift of feathers. The body inside the dark suit shriveled and retreated. The mouth widened gapingly as the lips drew back and drew back, meeting the nose and disappearing in an oral ring of jutting teeth. The fingernails went black and peeled off, and then there were only bones, still dressed with rings, clicking and clenching like castanets. Dust puffed through the fibers of the linen shirt. The bald and wrinkled head became a skull. The pants, with nothing to fill them out, fell away to broom?sticks clad in black silk. For a moment a hideously ani?mated scarecrow writhed beneath him, and Ben lunged out of the coffin with a strangled cry of horror. But it was impossible to tear the gaze away from Barlow's last metamorphosis; it hypnotized. The fleshless skull whipped from side to side on the satin pillow. The nude jawbone opened in a soundless scream that had no vocal cords to power it. The skeletal fingers danced and clicked on the dark air like marionettes.
Smells struck his nose and then vanished, each in a light little puff: gas; putrescence, horrid and fleshy; a moldy library smell; acrid dust; then nothing. The twisting, pro?testing finger bones shredded and flaked away like pencils. The nasal cavity of the skull widened and met the oral cavity. The empty eye sockets widened in a fleshless ex?pression of surprise and horror, met, and were no more. The skull caved in like an ancient Ming vase. The clothes settled flat and became as neutral as dirty laundry.
And still there was no end to its tenacious hold on the world - even the dust billowed and writhed in tiny dust devils within the coffin. And then, suddenly, he felt the passage of something which buffeted past him like a strong wind, making him shudder. At the same instant, every window of Eva Miller's boardinghouse blew out?ward.
'Look out, Ben!' Mark screamed. 'Look out!'
He whirled over on his back and saw them coming out of the root cellar - Eva, Weasel, Mabe, Grover, and the others. Their time was on the world.
Mark's screams echoed in his ears like great fire bells, and he grabbed the boy by the shoulders.
'The holy water!' he yelled into Mark's tormented face. 'They can't touch us!'
Mark's cries turned to whimpers.
'Go up the board,' Ben said. 'Go on.' He had to turn the boy to face it, and then slap his bottom to make him climb. When he was sure the boy was going up, he turned back and looked at them, the Undead.
They were standing passively some fifteen feet away, looking at him with a flat hate that was not human.
'You killed the Master,' Eva said, and he could almost believe there was grief in her voice. 'How could you kill the Master?'
'I'll be back,' he told her. 'For all of you.'
He went up the board, climbing bent over, using his hands. It groaned under his weight, but held. At the top, he spared one glance back down. They were gathered around the coffin now, looking in silently. They reminded him of the people who had gathered around Miranda's body after the accident with the moving van.
He looked around for Mark, and saw him lying by the porch door, on his face.
Ben told himself that the boy had just fainted, and nothing more. It might be true. His pulse was strong and regular. He gathered him in his arms and carried him out to the Citro?n.
He got behind the wheel and started the engine. As he pulled out onto Railroad Street, delayed reaction struck him like a physical blow, and he had to stifle a scream.
They were in the streets, the walking dead.
Cold and hot, his head full of a wild roaring sound, he turned left on Jointner Avenue and drove out of 'salem's Lot.