Hunter’s entire body writhed and squirmed.The side of his head was partly gone. A creature, like some monstrous melding of insect and eel, protruded from Hunter’s shoulder and as they stood there rooted in horror it took a vicious bite of Hunter’s flesh.Taylor was suddenly gone.Dekka’s face was grim, her eyes wet.“I tried . . . ,” Hunter said. He held up his hands, mimicked pressing them against his head. “It didn’t work.”“I can do it,” Sam said softly.“I’m scared,” Hunter said.“I know.”“It’s ’cause I killed Harry. God has to punish me. I tried to be good but I’m bad.”“No, Hunter,” Sam said gently. “You paid your dues. You fed the kids. You’re a good guy.”“I’m a good hunter.”“The best.”“I don’t know what’s happening. What’s happening, Sam?”“It’s just the FAYZ, Hunter,” Sam said.“Can the angels find me here so I can go to heaven?”Sam didn’t answer. It was Dekka who spoke. “Do you still remember any prayers, Hunter?”The insectlike creature was almost completely emerged from Hunter’s shoulder. Legs were becoming visible. It had wings folded against its body. It looked like a gigantic ant, or wasp, but silver and brass and covered with a sheen of slime.It was emerging like a chicken breaking out of an egg. Being born. And as the creature was born, it fed on Hunter’s numbed body.Jerky movements beneath Hunter’s shirt testified to more of the larvae emerging.“Do you remember ‘now I lay me down to sleep’?” Dekka asked.“Now I lay me down to sleep,” Hunter said. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”Sam raised his hands, palms out.“If I should die—”Twin beams of light hit Hunter’s chest and face. His shirt caught fire. Flesh melted. He was dead before he could feel anything.Sam played the light up and down Hunter’s body. The smell was sickening. Jack wanted to look away, but how could he?Sudden darkness as Sam terminated the light.Sam lowered his hands to his side.They stood there in the darkness. Jack breathed through his mouth, trying not to smell the burned flesh.Then they heard a sound. Many sounds.Sam raised his hands and pale light glowed.Hunter was all but gone.The things that had been inside him were still there.
Sam sent me to give you a message, Edilio. He said, ‘Tell Edilio I couldn’t kill the bugs.’”“The things that came out of Hunter?” Howard asked.Taylor closed her eyes. Tears squeezed out and rolled down her cheeks. “Yes. The things that came out of Hunter. Sam shot them, you know, with his light. But they’re like, reflective or whatever. Anyway, it didn’t kill them.
Sam, I know you’re upset over what happened with you and Drake,” Astrid began.“Upset?” Sam echoed the word with an ironic smirk.“But that’s no excuse for you keeping secrets from us.”“Yeah,” Howard said, “Don’t you know only Astrid is allowed to keep secrets?”“Shut up, Howard,” Astrid snapped.“Yeah, we get to lie because we’re the smart ones,” Howard said. “Not like all those idiots out there.”Astrid turned her attention back to Sam. “This is not okay, Sam. The council has the responsibility. Not you alone.”Sam looked like he could not care less about what she was saying. He looked almost beyond reach, indifferent to what was going on around him.“Hey,” Astrid said. “We’re talking to you.”That did it. His jaw clenched. His head snapped up. His eyes blazed. “Don’t push me. That wasn’t you with your skin whipped off and covered in blood. That was me. That was me who went down into that mine shaft to try to fight the gaiaphage.”Astrid blinked. “No one is minimizing what you’ve done, Sam. You’re a hero. But at the same time—”Sam was on his feet. “At the same time? At the same time you were here in town. Edilio had a bullet in his chest. Dekka was torn to pieces. I was trying not to scream from the…You and Albert and Howard, you weren’t there, were you?”“I was busy standing up to Zil, trying to save Hunter’s life,” Astrid yelled.“But it wasn’t you and your big words, was it? It was Orc who stopped Zil. And he was there because I sent him to rescue you. Me!” He stabbed a finger at his own chest, actually making what looked like painful impact. “Me! Me and Brianna and Dekka and Edilio! And poor Duck.
Hunter’s dead,” Taylor said without preamble. “It was these . . . these things. They came crawling up out of him and were eating him, oh God, I mean, it was like . . . I mean he was crying and Dekka prayed with him and he tried to fry his own brain just like he did with Harry only I guess it didn’t work, I guess he couldn’t do it, so Sam . . .” She swallowed. “Anyone have some water?”“What about Sam?” Astrid demanded.“He did it for him. Sam. I mean, he . . . Hunter was, you know . . . so Sam.” She pantomimed raising her hands, like Sam, like he would do when using his power.Astrid closed her eyes and crossed herself.“Rest in peace,” Edilio said and crossed himself as well.“Sam burned the boy?” Howard asked. Then, bitterly sarcastic said, “Yeah, you all pray to Jesus. Because Jesus is really providing a lot of help here. Sounds to me like Sam was the one doing what had to be done.