The trip back to Laurel took longer, with the kids and merchandise weighing things down. Cody volunteered to pull a Kidd Hauler, and Caitlin insisted on being his passenger (to Sondra’s continued amusement, and Cody’s continued embarrassment). The kids acted almost relieved to have adults — any adults — around again, and peppered their drivers with conversation.
“I don’t live far from here,” Ben Crawford told Palmer as they turned into the entrance to Laurel. “Keep going and take the third right. Or fourth.”
“What’s your address?” Palmer said.
“4573 Mary Street. Do you think we can go and see if my parents are there?”
“In a little while. But if they’re at home…” Palmer thought better of finishing the question and let it trail off.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “I guess they’re not. But we should check anyway. When we can.”
The white pickup was still sitting near the gate. Cody glared at the thing as he held the gate for everyone else, then stomped over to the truck and flung the driver-side door open. “Look, you —” He stopped a moment, braced against the pull, then slammed the door (it made a hollow chuff sound) and stomped back. Everyone else had stopped to watch.
“What was it?” someone asked.
“Nothing,” Cody said. “The damn thing’s empty.”
“It’s waiting for a driver,” Charles said.
“Well, it can wait until I get back,” Cody growled. “I’m getting a cutting torch, I can see what makes it go and it can wait here in pieces until hell freezes over for all I care.” He rode off, leading the pack to the clubhouse.
“I wanna come with you,” Caitlin said as he disconnected the Kidd Hauler in front of the clubhouse.
“I need to use a regular trailer,” Cody said. “I’m getting a cutting torch, and it has a couple tanks for the fuel, so there won’t be room for a passenger. I’ll be back in twenty minutes or so.”
“Well… can I watch you cut it up?”
“Sure, if you stay inside the fence. I guess everyone else is gonna come watch.”
Indeed, everyone was at the gate before Cody returned, carrying the torch, tanks, and a crowbar on the trailer, a welding mask dangling off the handlebars. Ben had his camera rolling once again, standing off to one side. Sondra and Charles volunteered to help, and convinced everyone else to stay inside the gate. Cody left the crowbar sitting on the trailer as the three of them carried the torch and tanks over to the truck. He opened the valves on the tanks and scraped a sparker in front of the torch until it caught. He put on the welding mask, adjusted the flame to a thin, intense blue pencil and walked over to the truck.
“Awright, you SOB,” he said, his voice muffled by the mask, “let’s make you a hood and then we’ll see what’s under it.” He brought the flame down to the truck. “Whoa. That’s whack.”
“What?” Charles asked.
“The flame. Look at it.” Charles and Sondra walked over; Sondra rubbed her arm without seeming to notice.
“Why isn’t it cutting?” she asked.
“Damn if I know. But the flame isn’t even splashing… it looks like it’s going right through the sheet metal. Watch.” He lifted the nozzle up, then down. “But it ain’t cutting.” He pulled the flame away, touched the metal, then laid his hand on it. “Not even warm.”
“Wow. Is there anything you can do about that?”
“Quit?” Cody cut off the torch and pulled the mask off his head. “It’s not life or death. ” He coiled up the hose and they rolled the tanks back onto the trailer. “Waste of time anyway —” Suddenly, Cody snatched up the crowbar and threw it at the truck. “Bite me!” he yelled, as the crowbar went through the window —
Without breaking. And clattered to the pavement behind the truck.
Everyone stood gaping, then started talking at once. “What the hell?” Johnny Latimer said, for all of them.
“It’s like… like it wasn’t even there,” Charles said.
Cody reached under the back of the pickup and retrieved the crowbar. “It’s there,” he said, “I guess.” He kicked the rear fender. “Ow. It feels like it’s there.” He reached out with the crowbar; it thumped against the rim of the bed. “It’s there if we hit it with something.” He tossed the crowbar into the bed, and it clanged to the pavement again. “But if you’re not touching that something… it goes right through.”
Everyone stood quiet for a moment. “Are they real, then?” Ashley Harbin (one of the kids) asked.
“It’s one h— heck of a hallucination if it’s not,” Tim said.
“I guess that’s how they stay so clean,” Tina suggested. “The dirt doesn’t stick to them. It’s not there for the dirt.”
Cody ducked as a yellow jacket flew by his head and landed on the truck. “I think it’s only there for living things. Or whatever they’re holding.”
“We need to discuss this,” Charles said.
“We need to experiment,” Cody replied, tapping the bed with his crowbar. He shifted to a two-handed grip and took a hard sideways swing at the side of the truck. The crowbar bounced back and Cody let it go; it tumbled up the pavement, away from the others.
Cody shook his hands. “That stung. Good thing I was expecting it.” He squatted down. “Not even a mark, let alone a dent.” He stood. “Hey Ben, bring that camera over here. I’m gonna do it again, but I want you to tape it.” He retrieved the crowbar while Ben slipped around the truck. “Yeah, stand over here, next to me. I’m gonna whack the taillight this time.” Ben zoomed in and Cody took his stance. “Ready, Fire, Aim!” He swung again, and once again let the crowbar bounce away. “Okay, come see what I did. Or didn’t do… that’s where I hit it, but you can’t tell. If that was really plastic, it would be all over the place right now, huh?”
Charles joined them, and tapped the sheet metal next to the taillight with a knuckle, then tapped the taillight itself. “Doesn’t feel any different,” he said. “They sound the same, too, don’t they?”
Cody rapped the door — thunk — then the side window, then the roof. “Yeah. Same sound each time. Same feel, too. What are these things made of, anyway?”
“Voodoo,” Tim said, not smiling. Several people nodded.