Chapter 26

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A child's song...soft and sweet...almost like a lullaby. It was pure innocence, floating on a gentle breeze. It lingered in the air, then was driven away on a harsh wind as something evil, riding a tide of darkness, gave chase. The blackness was cut by a fine thread of red light.

            Gray bolted upright. The thick haze of sleep receded. The air was humid and heavy with the aroma of damp hay. He blinked and spun around to see large double doors open to the outside. He was in a barn. He heard the child singing.

            Annabelle.

            Two giant strides and he was at the doorway. He turned the corner to his left and saw Henry standing behind his sister, holding a pitchfork. The boy looked over at Gray.

            "I'm just keeping guard," he said, holding up the farming tool.

Annabelle glanced over and smiled. "You're awake!"

Gray didn't respond at once, scanning the surrounding land to gauge their position...to measure their degree of safety. He saw a ramshackle structure about two hundred yards away and his sluggishness lifted. He remembered where they were. "How long have we been here?" he asked.

Henry shrugged. "Since it first got light out." The boy pointed toward the structure. "That's where the man in the wall lives. You went in there to give him food, remember?"

Gray nodded, finally meeting their eyes. He did remember that. And avoiding the Machine, with help from the dog. It was a pity to lose the protection of the bunker, but he knew of a better place. "How long did I sleep?"

"A bunch!" laughed Henry.

Gray took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm sorry for that. I think I'm growing again. When that happens, I get tired."

The twins came closer to the giant. He motioned for them to go into the barn and he followed. They sat on the bare floor after Gray swept the hay aside with his foot. "Don't touch the hay, could be bad stuff growing on it." The children nodded.

"I could tell you were growing more," said Annabelle.

"Oh?" replied Gray.

She nodded, pointing. "Your thumb is gone."

Gray held his hammer-hand up and examined it. Indeed, the thumb, the last remaining digit, had finally been absorbed. "How about that." Henry got up and walked over to investigate.

"And," Annabelle continued, "your words are better."

Gray nodded. "I feel clearer up here," he added, tapping his skull. "Like thinking is a little easier."

"Wow," said Henry, still marveling at the thumb's departure.

"That's why you're so tired?" asked Annabelle.

"Think so," said Gray.

"Ooh!" shouted Henry. "It's like you're...molting!"

Annabelle frowned, seemingly contemplating her brother's statement. "You're right, Henry! It is like that!"

Henry's eyes were wide as he turned to Gray, then back to his sister. "Ha!"

Gray laughed. Then the smile on his face fell and his expression became one of great concern and then, dread. Bright sunlight squeezed through the spaces of the barn's lumber, painting vertical rows on the opposite wall. These rows were broken by a moving mass of shadow. Gray rose and turned toward its source. There was a loud WUMP! and he was launched backward, crashing through the structure and into the adjacent field.

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