By the time he had come to, the charring was complete.
The wrecked skeleton of the house leaned in on its foundation on the hill against the fading light of the surrounding, remaining bits of inferno in the backyard. Chokes of smoke puked up brown from the flooded basement, becoming an intense, blood red in the sky that hung for a while like a thick ceiling.
He sat up and leaned on one elbow. At last, it was over, and there were only a few points of horror left to remind him of what had almost gone terribly wrong - the rusty 1986 F150 in the driveway with its windows sprayed in gore; flicked, gold casings from the shootout; the damned, dead dog, that loud, yipping bastard. What once looked like a calm house nestled in a hill by Rt. 12 now looked unbelievably like the cratered battlefield of some far-off military nightmare.
He adjusted himself and ran the side of his hand up his arm, blading some stinking mud off his soaked shirt. He winced and bit down hard as the ball of his palm bounced out and on past a bad bullet graze. He grabbed at it hard, surprised at the warmth that spread over his hand as fresh blood poured through the gaps in his grip. His eyes closed hard on themselves as his mouth formed an unnatural grimace that almost resembled an insane smile. He jumped to his feet and starting punching his head and chest while bringing his body into a tight clench. Beads of sweat and mud and blood ran down his forehead and into his eyes and he was furious.
"They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me! They almost got me!..."
At once, he froze in a snap, silent, hunched over, impossibly solid. His eyed popped open somewhere in the dark and widened into something terribly calm. His grimace seemed to melt downward in slow motion to form something horrible and insanely dangerous.
In a voice that almost resembled that of a raspy little girl, he whispered something demonic into the black treeline and sprinted quietly into the night.
Hours later, a faint and ungodly giggling could be heard somewhere horrible.
"Dave Andrews, abduction escapee"
"You look up into the night sky and you see...what? What do you see?
People do that, right? They look up into the sky and they watch for their favorite shapes, right? Look, there's the Big Dipper or that lion shit-for-brains, whatever his name is. Yeah, they do that. They do it, because they don't know what's gliding between those dots, the horribly silent minds that travel in straight lines to do horrible things with their sick lights. Hell, I used to do it, too. Won't catch me doing that anymore, though, not without a gun and a bullet.
Won't take me alive, again. Can't. They just can't.
Hit me again?"
"I...I don't know what you're asking, here..."
Mark adjusted his tie and gulped hard on the dry air of the train car. He was sweating. Looking around, he realized that no one else appeared to notice the small, chattering man to his right. Heads down. Earbuds pressed firmly into place. Heavy bestsellers resting pages-up in laps of people looking blandly across the cab into the windows at the attractive people sitting next to them.
Moments ago, the old woman in the seat had gotten up to wander out into the night, leaving this odd being with its strange fade and calm, ancient, red eyes.
Later, Mark would recall that it wasn't the insanity of the situation but the odd way the thing's lips seemed to jump around into crazy smiles and grins that had disquieted him the most. That odd way, of course, and the rows of horrible, horrible teeth.
He never had a chance.
"The Back Room"
After closing, the small shop, in the city of life, in the by-day-busy market now darkened and slicked with dew, swirled with hot twirls of the multicolored smokes of things that had been dried centuries ago and brought to burn in front of the future pictured in the orb. Nimble hands sliced quiet through the air around the radiant thing as entranced eyes stared into the humming red of the back room's decoration.
"Oh yes, I see it now. I seeeeeeeeee."
Outside in the sky, the moon, full and bright, seemed to intensify as it rose slowly into the night.
The hands of the wild soothsayer continued for much time before stopping abruptly. All light ran quickly from the room through the front door, and a room that had once been organic and alive with magic exhaled in the dark, empty and whistling with dust.