(Inspired by a dream I had last night.)
"And it was just standing there, someone had just put it there right inside the door."
"A bucket? Really?"
"Yeah, a metal bucket."
Nick gave the other two an incredulous look, but didn't seem to have any more questions, so Terry continued.
"I took a look, and it had these things in it, like... some kinda insect."
"Wait, long worm things, lots of little legs?" Nick asked. "And sort of yellowish, it had some sort of skin?"
"Uh, yeah, you seen these things?"
"It's so weird. We had one of those in our garage just the other day. I've never seen anything like them."
"Maybe it got out of the bucket," said Stewart. "Maybe someone was collecting them."
"No, I mean the bucket. There was a metal bucket in my garage, those things were swimming around in it."
"When?" asked Terry.
"It's... I'm not sure, I just got home dropping off the kids, so it must have been Sunday."
"That's the same day."
The sprinklers on Henderson's lawn turned themselves on. Terry glanced across the street, then back at the others.
"So who the hell is putting these things in our homes?" he demanded. "Who even knows what these things are, if I hadn't seen it first my kids or my dog could have gotten there, those things could've been all over my house."
"What'd you do with it?" Nick asked.
"I just dumped Drano in it 'til those suckers were dead. Then I dumped them in the trash. What'd you do?"
"I poured gasoline in there. That seemed to kill them. Then I lit them up to make sure, and threw them out."
"Good. Glad that's taken care of. I don't know about you, but the whole thing had me kinda shaken. We don't usually lock the doors during the day, who knows what could'a happened? Tell you the truth, I had nightmares. I got kids in that house."
"Tell me about it, those things were nasty. Could have had some sort of disease."
The sprinklers stopped. Stewart cleared his throat.
"You know, Henderson put in cameras last week," he said. "He's been trying to catch those punks that keep stealing his garden gnomes. His house is right across from yours, maybe he got the bucket guy on tape?"
"OK, let's see. Not sure I got the– oh, there it goes." Henderson settled down in his chair, bony knuckles white where he held on for dear life to the remote. Terry stood beside him, arms crossed, and Nick hunched down in the sofa.
"Go back three days. Sunday."
The tape reversed, and they could see the past three days of their lives flicker by. There was Martha with the dog, there were Terry's kids, Terry's car. Nick blinked past, probably getting the paper. The weekday in the lower right corner ticked down to Sunday.
"Stop. Play it from here."
Sure enough, right after Nick's car left his driveway, someone carrying a bucket entered the screen. Nick leaned in closer to the TV.
"I can't see what he looks like, it's too far away."
"Yeah, it's not really set up to see your yard. Sorry."
"Looks like he has a green sweater, and probably jeans."
The figure opened Nick's garage door, put the bucket inside, closed the door and left.
"I can't even make out his hair color."
"It's OK," said Terry. "He's gotta come back, he was in my kitchen too. Maybe we'll get a better look, there's a pretty good view of my door there."
They watched and waited.
After several minutes and no movement, Nick's car pulled back into the driveway. The garage door opened, the car eased in and stopped. Nick got out, and seemed to spot the bucket almost immediately. The mystery man had set it down out of view from the camera, but they could see Nick warily approaching something and bending down to take a look. Then he was gone.
"OK," Terry said, drumming his fingers on his biceps. "Now what? Where'd you go?"
"To get the gas."
"You're taking your sweet time."
"Man, I don't know. We should at least see the flames though."
Minutes later, they could see Nick again, coming out of his garage, bucket in hand.
"Here we go, I'm throwing it out."
"That's not– Where are you headed? That's..."
They watched in silence as Nick walked over to his neighbor's house, opened the kitchen door and placed the bucket inside. Then he returned to his house and closed the garage door. Henderson raised his eyebrows, clasped his hands and looked quietly at the floor.
"Nick, what the fuck!"
"Terry, wait! Wait a second, that's not what happened, that's not how I remember it!"
"It's right there on the screen, man! What the fuck were you thinking?!"
"Take it easy! There has to be an explanation, I didn't do that! You know I wouldn't!"
"Then who did, huh? He looked an awful lot like you, Nick!"
"Let go, what are you doing? Stop! Look! Look at the screen!"
"Just look! It's you!"
On the screen, Terry was carrying the bucket across his own yard.
"I thought you said you threw it away."
"That's not what it looks like."
Instead, he walked past the garbage cans and across the cul-de-sac. To Henderson's house. The last thing they saw of him was Terry's face, clear as day, disappearing off the lower end of the screen.
"Jim, did you find a bucket somewhere in here? Jim?" Nick turned toward Henderson, who still had his eyes fixed on a point somewhere on the floor. "Mr. Henderson. Mr– oh shit. Oh shit!" A dark liquid flowed out of Henderson's nose, covering his shirt. "Is that blood?"
"Yeah. Yeah. Nick. Nick, I think we're screwed."
"Before you went to get the gas, did any of those little things, kinda, jump at you?"
Terry suddenly looked very calm and vulnerable. The rage had completely left him.
"At my face? Yeah." Nick shook his head, as if trying to dislodge something. "You?"
"Yeah. I would say my nose."
"When you... When you went to kill them, were you... dizzy?"
"The memory is kinda hazy."
"It... never happened, huh?"
"They got us."
"Man... What... what the fuck... happened to us..." Nick collapsed.
Terry had come halfway across the street before he'd lost control of his legs. All of his senses were numbing. He could barely see his front lawn through the blood and the tears. Part of him was thankful that he could no longer see the crumpled bodies of his wife and children. He could only pray that they were unconscious. Henderson's head had ruptured only seconds earlier, spewing forth the creatures Terry and Nick had both thought they had killed. Terry wanted to scream with guilt and anguish, but there was no voice, no energy left. He could feel a massive head ache coming on. He clenched his teeth and waited for the inevitable.
Behind him, Henderson's sprinklers turned on.