When Kyle opened his eyes, it would have been such an easy thing to slip again into the comforts of sleep. Time had ceased to mean anything beyond an obligation his body observed, cycles remembered through years of practice. The wan face staring down at him was a depressing sight, for it belonged to the soft knees cradling his head.
Yet life was not kind to the girl. Whatever beauty she possessed decades ago was surely lost in those self-inflicted wounds acquired through her botched suicide. Rue, in his twisted kindness, had smoothed away the scar-tissue, disguised bones that never quite healed properly, and bequeathed an otherworldly aura—the attractiveness that drew Kyle like a hooked trout—but no more. There was some lingering semblance of that past allure, though her battered face tugged a pithy wince from Kyle, as if he'd seen his own future once his healing was done.
She had wept. Kyle could still see the trace of salty tears that sliced warm troughs through grime and soot lining her cheeks. She was a mess. She was radiant. His guardian angel.
His lips were cracked and dry. Thirst clawed at his throat like something wild—a wolverine disturbed from its den, awake and clamoring to rend. "Alive," gasped Kyle, straining his vocal chords.
Adriana placed two fingers over his lips, shushing him. "You're weak," she admonished. And though there was much to say, hours of conversation hinging on what came next, the apologies unspoken or accusations unsaid, she kept it simple. "I'm sorry. About Rue... I didn't know." To an adult, it would have sounded lame, contrived even. To Kyle, it was more than enough.
He shook his head weakly and tipped his head toward the window. Why aren't we outside? his gesture wondered.
Adriana frowned and closed her eyes, remembering the horrors outside. "We can't. They've all gone mad. We should wait."
Maybe it was for the best. Kyle thought of Jason then, of their shared exploration of that mysterious sewer that was no sewer, stocked with unspeakable terrors that would reduce grown men to trembling masses huddling on the floor in abject, mindless shock. He remembered the gruesome teeth cracking his bones, seeking the marrow... it was best to forget. But Kyle's exposure was relatively short. How many unfortunate souls had spent decades being tormented by Rue? How many were frightened to death, or simply killed outright, only to be resurrected for another day of the same? Without Rue to hide those memories, how many men and women honestly snapped, shredded minds no longer capable of coherent thought?
Such were the providence of a bored, omnipotent being striving to kill time. Suddenly, Kyle wasn't so eager to escape the crumbling manse. It was an idle thought, though; his vision had dimmed considerably since he awoke, and unconsciousness again galloped forth and stole him away. A raspy wheeze escaped his lungs, and he was still.
In the days and weeks that came later, not one person would claim to understand the mystery of Tammond Dale and Old Town. To Kyle's disbelief, Dr. Zibowitz had killed himself after school, and his body was discovered hanging from the classroom's ceiling the next day by an early custodian. Policemen asked Kyle about the teacher for over a week, concerned because the old codger had mentioned him by name in those last few hopeless pages of that immense stack of loose paper the man left behind. Could Kyle possibly tell the truth of the matter? That the esteemed English teacher had derived Tammond Dale's predicament early, and rattled the cages of their prison so long he despaired and quietly resolved to "retire?"
So the legacy of that respectable old man lay in ruins as he was chalked up as another one of the town's lost souls. But he was in good company.
Adriana had it right, in the gloom after Rue breathed his last, when she peered through the cracked window of her bedroom tower. Tammond Dale had fallen, and the few houses not aflame were surrounded by babbling mobs tearing at their own hair, scraping ragged gashes down ruddy cheeks, looking through unseeing eyes, not comprehending the devastation. Thankfully Kyle's parents were not among them; Frank and Jamie were too new; toys unopened by Rue, but saved for a later date which would never come.
Amidst it all, Adriana's house stood tall, if ancient and rotten. Kyle was right to immediately question the mansion's integrity, but for the wrong reasons. Rue had become so intent on visions he forgot houses required upkeep. Adriana's house had weathered unchecked for over fifty years. Not one window remained unbroken, one speck of paint not blasted away by the myriad of storms channeled through the gulch. The roof, once an inspiring collection of gables, spires, and Victorian splendor—sagged, fractured under dozens of harsh winters or fallen branches. The magnificent wrap-around porch was nothing but jagged ruin. Kyle could hardly imagine what befell the joists and crossbeams littering the sprawling crawlspace beneath them, but it hardly mattered. The home's eastward tilt proved mere icing.
In the end, Kyle's parents had come for him. They knew he was at Adriana's house, and though befuddled by weeks of conflicting memories, Frank understood enough to come to his son's rescue. Adriana followed, silent as death, yet welcome as one of the lost children who still lived.
Of those, there were few. Kyle remembered finding Zerb's journal among the detritus littering Old Town's smashed buildings, and knew the boy, like Adriana, was far older than nature would allow. Kyle never saw Jason again either. Or Lorelei, or Jim, or Karen, they were more ghosts reclaimed by the mists, forever lost to history.
Only Adriana seemed entirely cleansed of the ordeal. She remembered the fire that killed her parents, baby sister, and child unborn, but little else. She knew the year was no longer 1887, and seemed to accept it in stride, considering the insanity coursing through the others.
The State had swooped in almost immediately. After the fire-engines had dwindled, dirty steam coiled from ruined homes, and relative sanity restored, officials collectively declared the entire town condemned. In one night, the sleepy burg of Tammond Dale—like Old Town before—was erased from the map.
Of Adriana, there was no record. No official would believe she was the same Adriana Calloway who died in the badly chronicled fire which obliterated Old Town back in 1888, so it took little convincing that she was his sister, rendered confused and bloodied by the cataclysm. They were both, after all, found cowering, broken and unconscious, in an old abandoned house at the center of town.
Kyle kept waiting for Frank to object, but the old man stayed silent, not even winking the shared conspiracy at Kyle; Fantastic Frank was genuinely confused. Kyle wasn't going to argue. He doesn't believe it. Not one bit! The luckiest man on Earth finally lost a hand!
Months later, Kyle, Adriana, Frank, and Jamie had settled in a larger, but still rather mundane shit-hole—so far as Kyle was concerned—near Frank's current employer. After everything that had transpired, Frank still wasn't willing to move to something more enticing. Not yet, anyway. Kyle knew, like all cities, towns, and islands before, it was only a matter of time.
"Mommy! I chaseded away some cats, an' they randed away!" shouted the excited little girl.
Her mother laughed. "That's great, sweetie!" Her daughter always seemed intent on righting the world's wrongs, and that was just fine with her. "What were they doing?"
"They was tryin' to eat a bunny!" mourned the girl. And then then she presented her hands, which held a still-bleeding carcass, freshly wounded by the afore-mentioned pack of—likely hungry—felines. "He's hurted!"
The girl's mother nearly screamed, but her composure held, buffeted by dozens of similar incidents over the girl's four adventurous years. "Oh no!" yelled the mother. "I better get my thread before the poor thing dies! Treat it nice, and mommy will be right back!"
"It's OK Rue," whispered the girl's soothing voice. "Mommy will make you all better."