"He's hemorrhaging!" Jack stood up so fast his chair
crashed over. "Eric, call the emergency room!"
Cawthorn ran out to get to the telephone at Bobby Crisp's desk.
Jack crossed the room to the boy's side, saw Tim hitching as if
he couldn't draw a breath. Two more lines of blood oozed from
around the left eye, which was being forced out of its socket by
a tremendous inner pressure. The boy gasped, made a hoarse
moaning sound, and Jack struggled to loosen the straitjacket's
straps but the body began to writhe and jerk with such force that
he couldn't find the buckles.
Kay was on her feet, and Jack said, "Help me get this off
him!" but she hesitated; the images of the mangled corpses
in those photographs were still too fresh. At that moment Gil
Moon came in, saw what was happening and tried to hold the boy
from thrashing. Jack got one of the heavy straps undone, and now
blood was dripping from around the boy's eye and running out his
nostrils, his mouth strained open in a soundless cry of agony.
Tim's tongue protruded from his mouth. It rotated around, and
Tim's body shuddered so fiercely even Gil's burly hands couldn't
keep him still. Jack's fingers pulled at the second
buckle—and suddenly the boy's left eye shot from its socket
in a spray of gore and flew across the room. It hit the wall and
drooled down like a broken egg, and Kay's knees almost folded.
"Hold him! Hold him!" Jack shouted. The boy's face
rippled, and there came the sound of facial bones popping and
cracking like the timbers of an old house giving way. His cranium
bulged, his forehead swelling as if threatening explosion.
Cawthorn and Bobby returned to the room. The doctor's face was
bleached white, and Bobby pushed Jack aside to get at the last
"Emergency's on the way up!" Cawthorn croaked. "My
God ... my God . . . what's happening to him?"
Jack shook his head. He realized he had some of Tim Clausen's
blood on his shirt, and the dark socket of the boy's ruined eye
looked as if it went right down into the wet depths of the brain.
The other eye seemed to be fixed on him—a cold, knowing
stare. Jack stepped back to give Gil and Bobby room to work.
The boy's tongue emerged another inch, seemed to be questing in
the air. And then, as the tongue continued to strain from the
mouth, there was a sound of flesh tearing loose. The tongue
emerged two more inches—and its color was a mottled
greenish-gray, covered with sharp glass-like spikes.
The attendants recoiled. Tim's body shuddered, the single eye
staring. The head and face were changing shape, as if being
hammered from within.
"Oh . . . Jesus," Bobby whispered, retreating.
Something writhed behind Tim Clausen's swollen forehead. The
spiky tongue continued to slide out, inch after awful inch, and
twined itself around the boy's neck. His face was gray, smeared
with blood at nostrils and lips and empty eyehole. His temples
pulsed and bulged, and the left side of his face shifted with a
firecracker noise of popping bones. A thread of scarlet zigzagged
across his pressured skull; the fissure widened, wetly, and part
of his cranium began to lift up like a trap door being forced
Kay made a choking sound. Cawthorn's back thumped against the
Dazed and horrified. Jack saw a scuttling in the dark hole where
the left eye had been. The hole stretched wider, with a splitting
of tissues, and from it reached a gnarled gray hand about the
size of an infant's, except it had three fingers and three sharp
silver talons and was attached to a leathery arm that rippled
with hard piano-wire muscles.
The boy's mouth had been forced open so far the jaws were about
to break. From the mouth emerged spike-covered buttocks,
following its attached tail that had once been—or had
appeared to be—a human tongue. A little mottled gray-green
thing with spiky skin and short piston-like legs was backing out
of Tim Clausen's mouth, fighting free from the bloody lips as
surely as new birth. And now the creature on the end of that
muscular little arm was pushing itself out too, through the
grotesque cavity that used to be Tim Clausen's eyesocket, and
Jack was face-to-face with a scaly bald head the size of a man's
fist and the color of spoiled meat. Its other arm appeared, and
now a thorny pair of shoulders, the body pushing with fierce
energy and its flat bulldog nostrils flared and spouting spray.
Its slanted Chinese eyes were topaz, beautiful and deadly.
Gil was jabbering, making noise but no sense. The bald head
racheted toward him, and as its mouth grinned with eager
anticipation—like a kid presented with a roomful of pizzas,
Jack thought crazily—the close-packed teeth glinted like
And something began to crawl from the top of the boy's skull that
almost stopped Jack's laboring heart. Kay felt a scream pressing
at her throat, but it would not come out. A spidery thing,
gleaming and iridescent, its six-legged form all sinews and
angles, pushed its way from the skull's gaping trapdoor. Mounted
on a four-inch stalk of tough tissue was a head framed with a
metallic mass of what might have been hair, except it was made of
tangled concertina wire, honed to skin-slicing sharpness. The
face was ivory—a woman's face, the visage of a
blood-drained beauty. Beneath silver brows her eyes were white,
and as they gazed upon Jack and the body struggled out the
creature's pale lips stretched into a smile and showed fangs of
Cawthorn broke, began laughing and wailing as he slid down to the
floor. Out in the corridor, the buzzer shrilled; the emergency
staff had arrived, but there was no one to unlock the door on
The squatty spike-covered beast was almost out of the boy's
mouth. It pulled free, its webbed feet clenching to Tim's face,
and swiveled its acorn-shaped head around. The eyes were black
and owlish, its face cracked and wrinkled and covered with
suppurating sores that might have been Hell's version of acne.
Its mouth was a red-rimmed cup, like the suctioning mouth of a
leech. The eyes blinked rapidly, a transparent film dropping
across them and then lifting as it regarded the humans in the
Tim Clausen's head had begun to collapse like a punctured
balloon. The bald-headed, muscular thing—Adolf, Jack
realized—wrenched its hips loose from the eyesocket; its
chest was plated with overlapping scales, and at its groin was a
straining red penis and a knotty sac of testicles that pulsed
like a bag of hearts. As the creature's leg came free, Tim's
mouth released a hiss of air that smelled of blood and brains and
decayed matter—an odor of fungus and mold—and in the
scabrous sound there might have been a barely-human whisper:
The boy's face imploded, features running together like wet wax.
The spidery metal-haired demon—Mother, Jack knew it could
only be—scrabbled onto the boy's shoulder and perched there
as Tim's head turned dark as a wart and caved in. What remained
of the head—flaccid and rubbery—fell back over the
shoulder and hung there like a cape's hood, and whatever Tim
Clausen had been was gone.
But the three demons remained.
They were holding him together, Jack thought as he staggered
back. He bumped into Kay, and she grasped his arm with panicked
strength. After they killed the boy's parents and sister, Jack
realized, they were hiding inside him and holding him together
like plaster and wire in a mannequin. Shock settled over him,
freighting him down. His mind seized like rusted cogs. He heard
the insistent call of the buzzer, the emergency crew wanting to
get in, and he feared his legs had gone dead. My best friends,
the boy had said. I called them. They came.
And here they were. Ready or not.
They were neither hallucinations nor the result of psychotic
trance. There was no time to debate the powers of God or the
Devil, or whether Hell was a territory or a termite in the house
of reason: the demon Tim had named Adolf leaped nimbly through
the air at Gil Moon and gripped the man's face with those
three-fingered silver claws. Gil bellowed in terror and fell to
his knees; the demon's claws were a blur of motion, like a happy
machine at work, and as Gil shuddered and screamed and tried to
fight the thing off the demon ripped his face away from the
skeletal muscles like a flimsy mask. Blood spattered through the
air, marking the walls with the same patterns as at the Clausen
house. Adolf locked his sinewy legs around Gil Moon's throat, the
three toes of the demon's bare feet curling and uncurling with
merry passion, and Adolf began to eat the man's shredded face.
Gil's bony jaws chattered and moaned, and the demon made greedy
grunting noises like a pig burrowing in slop.
Bobby Crisp ran, releasing a shriek that shook the windows. He
did not stop to open the door, but almost knocked it off its
hinges as he fled into the hallway. Jack gripped Kay's hand,
pulling her with him toward the door. Mother's ashen, lustful
face followed him; he saw her tongue flicker from the pale-lipped
mouth—a black, spear-tipped piece of pseudo-flesh that
quivered in the air with a low humming sound. He could feel the
tone vibrate in his testicles, and the tingling sensation slowed
him a half-step. Kay's scream let go, with a force that rattled
her bones; once uncapped, the scream would not stop and kept
spilling from her throat. A form leaped at her head. She ducked,
lifting an arm to ward it off. The creature Tim had called Frog
hopped over her shoulder, its spiky tail tearing cloth from her
jacket just above the elbow. A whiplash of pain jarred her scream
to a halt and cleared her head, and then Frog had landed on Dr.
Cawthorn's scalp. "Don't leave me ... don't leave me,"
he was babbling, and Jack stopped before he reached the
doorway—but in the next instant it was obvious that help
was much too late.
Frog leaned forward and attached that gaping leech-mouth to
Cawthorn's forehead. The creature's cheeks swelled to twice their
size, its tail snaking around and around Cawthorn's throat.
Cawthorn gave a gutteral cry of pain, and his head exploded like
a tire pumped beyond its limits, brains streaking the walls. Frog
squatted on the broken skull, its cheeks becoming concave as it
sucked at flowing juices.
Jack pulled Kay out of the room. Up ahead, Bobby Crisp was racing
toward the locked security door, shouting for help. He tripped
over his own gangly legs and fell heavily to the floor, scrambled
up again and limped frantically onward. Now there was a pounding
on the other side of the door, and Jack could see faces through
the glass inset. Bobby was searching wildly through his ring of
keys as Jack and Kay reached him. He tried to force one into the
lock, but it wouldn't go. The second key he chose slid in but
balked at turning. "Hurry!" Jack urged, and he dared to
look over his shoulder.
Mother was scuttling along the hallway toward them, moving about
as fast as a prowling cat. Her mouth opened, and she made a
piercing shriek like claws scraped across a blackboard. As if in
response to her alarm, Frog bounded out of the conference room,
its ancient and wrinkled face smeared with Cawthorn's brains.
"Open it!" Jack shouted, and Bobby tried a third key
but his hand was shaking so badly he couldn't get it into the
lock. It was too large, and would not fit. It dawned on Jack with
terrifying force that if Gil had been on door duty, the proper
key would still be on the dead man's ring, and Bobby might not
have one. He glanced back again, saw Mother about twenty feet
away and Frog leaping past her. Adolf strode from the conference
room like a two-foot-tall commingling of gnarled man and dragon.
"Lord Jesus!" Bobby Crisp said as the fourth key
engaged the tumblers and turned in the lock. He wrenched the door
open—and Frog landed on his shoulder, sharp little talons
in the webbed feet digging through his shirt.
He screamed, thrashing at the demon. Jack could smell the reek of
Frog's flesh: a musty, cooked-meat odor. Through the open door,
two white-uniformed men from the emergency room stood wide-eyed
and astonished, a gurney table between them. Rosalee had seen,
and so had Mrs. Stewart, and both of them were too stunned to
Jack grasped Frog with both hands. It was like touching a live
coal, and the spiky tail whipped at him as he tore Frog off
Bobby's back. Most of the attendant's shirt and hunks of skin
ripped away. Jack's hands were pierced by the spikes on the
thing's body, and he threw the demon with all his strength
against the opposite wall. It folded into a ball an instant
before it hit, its head retracting into its body; it made a wet
splatting sound, fell to the floor and immediately reformed
itself, poising for another leap.
But Bobby was out the door and so was Kay, and Jack lunged
through and slammed the door shut behind him, leaving bloody
handprints against the white. There was the wham! of impact as
Frog hit the door on the other side. "Lock it! Lock
it!" Jack shouted, and Rosalee got her key in and twisted
it. The lock shot home, and the door was secured.
Bobby kept running, almost colliding with Mrs. Marion and Dave
Chambers. "What's your hurry?" Dave called. Bobby
reached the elevator, which the emergency staffers had left open,
got in and punched a button. The doors closed and took him down.
"Doris!" Rosalee hollered to Mrs. Marion. "Bring
some bandages! Quick!" She grasped Jack's wrists and looked
at his palms. There were four or five puncture wounds on each
hand, and much of the skin had been scorched raw. The worst of
the pain was just now hitting him, and he squeezed his eyes shut
and shuddered. "They got Cawthorn and Gil Moon. Tore them
up. Three of them. They came out of the boy. Out of the boy's
head. Tore them to pieces, just like the boy's family . .
."A wave of dizziness almost overcame him, and Rosalee
clamped her husky arms around him as his knees crumpled.
"What . . . what was it?" Mrs. Stewart had seen the
beast with the eyes of an owl and the body of a frog, but her
mind had sheared away from the sight. She blinked, found herself
watching drops of blood fall from the fingers of the red-haired
woman's right hand and spatter to the floor. "Oh," she
said, dazed. "Oh dear . . . you're hurt . . ."
Kay looked at her hand, realizing only then that Frog's tail had
cleaved a furrow across her arm. The pain was bad, but not
unbearable. Not considering what might have happened. The image
of Cawthorn's exploding head came to her, and she allowed the
fretting nurse to guide her along the corridor to a chair without
really knowing where she was going or why. One of the emergency
staffers broke open a medical kit and started examining Kay's
wound, asking her questions about what had happened; she didn't
even hear them. The other man swabbed disinfectant on Jack's
hands—which sent new pain through him that almost curled
his hair—and then helped Rosalee bind them in the bandages
Mrs. Marion had brought.
Something crashed against the door. It shivered from the blow.
"Docky?" Margie was standing next to him, her face
pallid and her eyes darting with fear. "Docky . . . what's
Another blow against the door. The floor trembled.
"God Almighty!" the man who'd helped bandage Jack's
hands said. "That felt like a sledge hammer!"
"Stay away from the door!" Jack warned.
"Everybody! Stay away from it! Rosalee . . . listen . . .
we've got to get the patients off the ward! Get them
There was a third impact against the door. The glass inset
"I told you, didn't I?" Dave Chambers stood in the
center of the corridor, calmly smoking a cigarette, his eyes
narrowed. "Told you not to go in there. Now look what you've
"Hush!" Rosalee snapped at him—and then Mrs.
Marion screamed, because the rest of the door's glass inset was
smashed out and a small gray claw with three silver talons
stretched through, swiping savagely at the air. "Oh . . .
Lordy," Rosalee breathed.
Jack watched, helplessly, while Adolf's arm, shoulder and head
squeezed through the opening. Margie made a croaking noise. The
cigarette dropped from Dave's fingers. The demon struggled to get
its hips free, then leaped to the floor and stood there grinning,
its baleful topaz eyes full of greedy expectation.
And now Mother was pulling herself through the opening, inch by
awful inch, her barbed-wire hair gleaming under the fluorescents.
They're going to kill us all, Jack thought; it was a surprisingly
calm realization, as if his mind had been pushed to its limit and
would accept no more panic. Everyone on the floor was going to
die—and then, most probably, the things would start with
the patients on the next floor down as well.
It dawned on him that if a hospital was indeed a universe all its
own, then this one had just been claimed for destruction.
Mother got her head through, and the spider's body plopped to the
floor beside Adolf.