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"Not everything is a government conspiracy," I said.
She looked away from me to stare at the oval portrait which hung between twin strips of peeled and curling wallpaper strips. Once again I puzzled at the gray-blue tint to her skin. The lamp near the far wall did little to cheer the living room. Its stand was darkened brass, and the lamp cover looked like a worn doily stretched and sewn onto a wire cage. I wondered if the bulb was from a time when five to ten watts was considered normal.
My own hands appeared sepia tinged in the faint light. Without knowing why, I shuddered.
I looked up again at Emily and was shocked by how fragile she looked. She was past eighty, and her skin seemed not only pale-blue gray, but faintly translucent. Old age is both a crime and its own punishment. In that horrid lamplight, my skin looked older, but hers looked crinkled and clammy as used wax paper.
"Why'd you come here?" she said.
"You implied that your friend was murdered by the government, but you can't know for sure unless there's something you haven't told me. And I came here because you asked me, if you'll remember. I didn't call you, you called me. Look, I'm spending a small fortune testing your artifacts based on your claims that they're alien. I'm not rich enough to spend money on projects like this unless I think they could turn out to be real. Who's going to reimburse me for all that money if they're not real? So when you claim the government moved an entire town to destroy any clue that these artifacts exist and even killed a man to shut him up, I'm just saying I need proof. Or enough information to find my own truth. Whatever you know, I want to know, Emily."
She jerked her head toward the front porch window when something crashed into the bushes beyond the porch.
"What was that?" I asked. "A deer?"
Emily stared at the window, then stood up and took a step in its direction.
"I'll go with you," I said.
"Sit down," she said. "I can't look after you and me at the same time."
From a cabinet near the front door she took out a pump shotgun and a box of shells.
I was about to repeat that I would go with her when she jacked some shells into the gun, then turned around and pointed the barrel at me.
"I said sit down," she said.
She kept her eyes locked on mine while I considered my options. Sitting down was better than getting shot.
"I just want to help," I told her.
"Then do what I tell you."
I was about to protest, but right before I did, I closed my mouth and kept it shut. The barrel of her gun was steady. It was pointed right at the center of my body mass. I finally sat down, but she made no attempt to open the door. She stood there staring at it for eight or nine minutes.
"Aren't you going to go outside?" I finally said.
A flash of painfully bright light flared outside the curtain. I threw my hands up to my face and dropped to my knees. The air was filled with a rushing, gritty noise like a butcher's saw ripping through bone.
"Emily, what is it? What's out there?" I shouted.
She didn't answer me, but a few seconds later, I heard the first shotgun blast.