"Bugger the Beam, bugger the strangers, and bugger your good self," Tian said. "Let me be, Andy."
Andy stood where he was for a moment, surrounded by the rocks and weeds and useless knobs of Son of a Bitch, that thankless tract of Jaffords land. Relays inside him clicked. His eyes flashed. And he decided to go and talk to the Old Fella. The Old Fella never told him to bugger his good self. The Old Fella was always willing to hear his horoscope.
And he was always interested in strangers.
Andy started toward town and Our Lady of Serenity.
Zalia Jaffords didn't see her husband and sister-in-law come back from Son of a Bitch; didn't hear Tia plunging her head repeatedly into the rain-barrel outside the barn and then blowing moisture off her lips like a horse. Zalia was on the south side of the house, hanging out wash and keeping an eye on the children. She wasn't aware that Tian was back until she saw him looking out the kitchen window at her. She was surprised to see him there at all and much more than surprised by the look of him. His face was ashy pale except for two bright blots of color high up on his cheeks and a third glaring in the center of his forehead like a brand.
She dropped the few pins she was still holding back into her clothes basket and started for the house.
"Where goin, Maw?" Heddon called, and "Where goin, Maw-Maw?" Hedda echoed.
"Never mind," she said. "Just keep a eye on your ka-babbies."
"Why-yyy?" Hedda whined. She had that whine down to a science. One of these days she would draw it out a little too long and her mother would clout her right down dead.
"Because ye're the oldest," she said.
"But -- "
"Shut your mouth, Hedda Jaffords."
"We'll watch em, Ma," Heddon said. Always agreeable was her Heddon; probably not quite so bright as his sister, but bright wasn't everything. Far from it. "Want us to finish hanging the wash?"
"Hed-donnnn..." From his sister. That irritating whine again. But Zalia had no time for them. She just took one glance at the others: Lyman and Lia, who were five, and Aaron, who was two. Aaron sat naked in the dirt, happily chunking two stones together. He was the rare singleton, and how the women of the village envied her on account of him! Because Aaron would always be safe. The others, however, Heddon and Hedda...Lyman and Lia...
She suddenly understood what it might mean, him back at the house in the middle of the day like this. She prayed to the gods it wasn't so, but when she came into the kitchen and saw the way he was looking out at the kiddies, she became almost sure it was.
"Tell me it isn't the Wolves," she said in a dry and frantic voice. "Say it ain't."
"'Tis," Tian replied. "Thirty days, Andy says -- moon to moon. And on that Andy's never -- "
Before he could go on, Zalia Jaffords clapped her hands to her temples and shrieked. In the side yard, Hedda jumped up. In another moment she would have been running for the house, but Heddon held her back.
"They won't take any as young as Lyman and Lia, will they?" she asked him. "Hedda or Heddon, maybe, but surely not my little ones? Why, they won't see their sixth for another half-year!"
"The Wolves have taken em as young as three, and you know it," Tian said. His hands opened and closed, opened and closed. That feeling inside him continued to grow -- the feeling that was deeper than mere anger.
She looked at him, tears spilling down her face.
"Mayhap it's time to say no." Tian spoke in a voice he hardly recognized as his own.
"How can we?" she whispered. "How in the name of the gods can we?"
"Dunno," he said. "But come here, woman, I beg ya."
Copyright © 2003 by Stephen King.
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