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PHOENIX, ARIZONA, UNITED STATES
Front Matter Copyright Page
Also by T.F. Torrey: Winter Kills The Desert King
Copyright © 2000 by T.F. Torrey. Some rights reserved. Regarding the PDF file of this book: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoncommercialNo Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Regarding the characters, places, and events of this book: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. The above notice is intended to allow others to freely make derivative works involving the characters and such in these stories, but to restrict the redistribution of this book to the exact form produced by the publisher. Illustrations herein are in the public domain. This book is a work of fiction. People, places, and events are either lies of the author or have been used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, locations, or incidents is entirely coincidental. Third Edition Published by Provocative Press Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0-9713697-0-2 Casewrap hardcover ISBN: 978-0-9713697-1-9 110
Front Matter.........................................................................................2 Copyright Page...............................................................................2 Contents..........................................................................................3 Dedication.......................................................................................4 Acknowledgments..........................................................................5 The Good...............................................................................................6 Four Hours......................................................................................7 Indestructum................................................................................13 Keen Message................................................................................23 Make It Big....................................................................................26 No More Lonely Knights..............................................................32 Shecky...........................................................................................46 The Decent..........................................................................................49 The Deal.........................................................................................50 Dog Days........................................................................................61 The Monument.............................................................................65 New Shoes.....................................................................................68 Ninety-Two Percent Water..........................................................72 A Walk Down Main Street............................................................76 The Drivel...........................................................................................84 Blood and Gore.............................................................................85 Burned...........................................................................................97 Empathy......................................................................................100 Fear..............................................................................................105 Back Matter......................................................................................108 Behind The Lies..........................................................................108 About The Liar............................................................................112 About This Book.........................................................................113 The Desert King..........................................................................114
To my parents. You’ve always been my biggest fans. I’ll always be yours.
Many of my friends and family provided valuable encouragement and feedback about these stories when they were originally writ ten, and to all of them I owe my deepest appreciation. Pulling these stories together into a collection took quite a bit of work. Several had to be scanned and OCR’d, and a few had to be re-typed completely by hand. Many of these stories were trapped on 5 ¼ inch Atari floppy disks for several years, and a big thanks goes out to Bob Puff at New Life Electronics in Rochester, New York, who was able to work some magic to rescue them for me. Finally, I owe a great debt of gratitude to supporters of free software and free culture everywhere. Free software and the Cre ative Commons have made computing and creating fun and practical again, and without them this book might not exist at all.
“You did what?” “I added four hours to your life.” The short, dark-haired man opened and closed his mouth a few times, stunned. A few moments later he was able to speak. “You did what?” The blond man on the other side of the chessboard moved his white rook, then looked up at the shocked face of his opponent. “Kip, we’ve been friends for years, right?” The dark-haired man just nodded. The blond continued speak ing. “And we’ve had a great number of great chess games, right.” Again the man in control of the black pieces just nodded. The chessboard was set upon a card table put between two easy chairs in front of a brick and stone fireplace in the living room of a house. On top of the card table was a chessboard, a few chess pieces and two glasses of scotch and soda. A large clock on the mantle ticked loudly, and chimed on the hours and half hours. The two men were the same age, twenty-seven, but they were attired quite differently. The brunet wore a faded T-shirt and blue jeans, the blond wore sharp slacks and a new sweater. The brunet took a sip of his drink and continued. “So, I thought I’d extend your life by four hours so that we might enjoy one additional game. It’s your move.” The blond looked absently at his pieces. He pushed a pawn for ward. The brunet pushed his queen to the opposite edge of the
board. “That appears to be checkmate, Kip. Your endgame was defi nitely lacking that time …” “How, Caspar?” Caspar Thomas leaned back in his chair. “It was simple really. I’ll show you the book.” Caspar rose from his seat and strode through a door behind Kip Saunder’s chair. Kip shook his head a little, looked at his watch, drank some more scotch and soda, and began putting the chess pieces into a box under the table. Caspar returned after a minute, clutching a battered book. “I was skimming through this book one night, just reading the interesting passages, when I stumbled on a part that told how you could supposedly extend the life of a person by a number of hours.” Caspar laid the book on the table in front of Kip. Kip read the title and looked relieved. The book’s title was Necronomicon. “How?” “It was quite simple, really. After you had gone one night I looked on the upholstery of the chair you always sit in, and found a few strands of your hair. Following the instructions in the book, I took the strands into a tomato patch under a full moon at mid night and burned them in a ceremonial fire of oak twigs and tea leaves while reciting the proper incantations. Easy.” “Why four hours?” “It was automatically four hours because you were born in April. Had you been born in February, we only could have had half a game.” Kip thought about this for a few seconds. He took another drink of scotch and soda. “You don’t think it will really work, do you?” Caspar shrugged.
“I figured what could it hurt to try.” “Did you do yourself?” “Of course. And as you know I was born in May, so that means five extra hours for me.” “Did you do anyone else?” “No. I just read about the thing a few days ago. You and I are the only ones I’ve been able to get hair from.” It was eleven thirty-eight. Kip and Caspar finished their drinks and walked to the front door. They shook hands. “Nice game,” said Kip. “Drive safely.” Caspar turned on his porch light, and, when Kip had gotten into his car and driven to the end of the driveway, turned it back off and watched Kip drive down the long dirt road that led to Cas par’s house. When at last Kip’s taillights disappeared behind the trees, Caspar closed his front door and went back inside his com fortable one-floor ranch house. He looked at his mantle clock. It was eleven forty-three. He poured himself another scotch and soda, dressed for bed, and drank it while finishing a particularly good murder mystery. When he heard his mantle clock chime once at twelve-thirty he turned out his light and went to sleep. Just after one-thirty he awoke with a start. The full moon beamed into the window beside his bed, bathing his blankets in its soft glow. Again the knock sounded at his door. Caspar leapt from his bed and put on a dressing robe. He trot ted to his front door, scratching his head. At the door he turned his porch light on and looked out. His short driveway led from the dirt road to his garage, and it was devoid of vehicles. Caspar noticed that it had begun to drizzle lightly. A knock again thumped at the front door. Caspar jumped a lit
tle, then unlocked the door. Probably just a guy with a flat tire, Caspar thought. He opened the door. Kip stood on Caspar’s small front porch, hideous in the moon light and the porch light and the drizzle. The left side of his head was mangled horribly, the flesh ripped away in most places, bare bone gleaming in the dim light. His shirt was torn almost off his body, and a few of his ribs jutted out through the right side of his chest. The left side of his chest was deeply caved in. Kip’s head hung at a strange angle, and his neck twisted quite unnaturally. Kip opened his mouth to speak, and his voice was grating. “Care for a game of chess?” Caspar swayed a little. Kip lurched past him into the house. He took his usual seat in the easy chair and began putting the pieces from the box under the table back onto the chessboard. Caspar opened and closed his mouth several times before he could speak. “What … what happened? Where’s your car?” “Well, I guess that I underestimated that corner, you know, the one almost at the end of your road, and I kinda smashed into a tree. Car’s a wreck. I went through the windshield …” “You gotta get to a hospital. You’re really … really …” “I know how I am.” “Well, come on!” Caspar grabbed a pair of shoes and began putting them on. Kip rose from his seat and put a deformed hand on Caspar’s shoulder. “Caspar, I’m going to die.” Caspar turned and looked into the mangled face of his friend, who spoke again. “The only reason I’m here now is because you burned my hair in a tomato patch at midnight. You wanted to play a game of chess, so come on, let’s play. I looked at my watch just before I crashed. It said midnight.”
He looked at the clock on the mantle. “That leaves us just two hours and twenty-six minutes to play. Sit down and set up the pieces. I’ll get us some drinks.” He pushed Caspar back into his chair and lurched into the kitchen, leaving bloody footprints on the floor. Caspar watched him go, looked at the bloody handprint on his shoulder, then be gan dazedly setting up the pieces. Kip returned in a minute, carrying two glasses of scotch and soda. He put the drinks on the table and sat down behind the white pieces. Caspar finished ar ranging the pieces and spoke. “Does it … hurt?” “Ooooh, considerably.” Caspar flinched, and Kip pushed forward his king’s pawn, drip ping blood onto the board and smearing some on the pawn. They played for two hours and twenty minutes, and the board and pieces, as well as the chair and the floor and the drinking glasses, soon became a bloody wreck. Kip moaned increasingly throughout the game, rocking now and then from the pain. Cas par watched him in dreadful fascination. At three fifty-five Kip rose from his chair and grabbed a poker from the fireplace. Caspar’s eyes grew round. “What—what are you doing?” Kip swung the poker, hitting the surprised Caspar in the chest. Caspar stooped and wheezed. Kip swung again, smashing Caspar in the head. Broken skull bones jutted from the wound. Caspar fell onto his back and knocked over the card table, sending drinks and chessmen flying. Caspar lolled his eyes at Kip’s mangled frame. Kip stuck the point of the poker at Caspar’s throat, voice box level. As Caspar reached limply to block the poker, Kip heaved and forced it into Caspar’s jugular. Blood spurted up and onto the carpet beside the card table where Caspar lay.
Again Kip heaved, and this time the poker reappeared through the flesh at the base of Caspar’s skull. The clock on the mantle began to chime. Kip fell back into his easy chair. “Enjoy your next five hours,” he said.
“Please,” he interrupted, “call me Hack.” The voice on the other end screamed, then spoke again, rattling off words like there was no tomorrow. “Henry, you gotta help me. It’s trying to get—” Another scream. Henry “Hack” Hammond would have liked to have said, “What’s going on? Who is this? Are you calling to place a flower order?”, but he was a man of few words. Instead he just said, “Huh?” Click. Hmmmmm. After a few seconds Hack hung up the phone. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was nine o’clock. He still had to finish the ar rangement for the funeral tomorrow. Suddenly his eyes filled with the glow of recognition, and he smiled. “That was Kathy,” he said to himself. Kathy Kalloway was Hack’s girlfriend, a gorgeous blond who lived across town and liked to do full-scale clay sculp tures of men. She had met Hack when he had responded to her advertisement for a model. Hack wasn’t exceptionally big (about five eleven and one hundred sixty pounds), but all of his muscles were extremely well defined from his years of karate teaching and training, and Kathy liked that. Kathy liked a lot of things about Hack. He was a third degree black belt in karate, he owned his own business (a small flower shop which specialized in flower sales to funeral homes), he had a black Trans Am, and he had a great personality to boot.
“Uh-oh,” Hack said to himself, “Somebody’s trying to hurt Kathy!” Kathy had a house on some beachfront property on the south end of Sebastian, and it took Hack about five minutes to drive through the dark Florida night to her house. As Hack’s Trans Am raced up the street towards Kathy’s house, he noticed that all the houses in the neighborhood except Kathy’s were well lit, and all the streetlamps were lit. He jammed his car to a stop on Kathy’s lawn, digging large, long furrows with his tires. He jumped out of the car and raced up to the porch. “Kathy!” he yelled, twisting the knob of the front door. It was locked. Hack took three steps backwards. SMASH! The door toppled to the floor, splintered by the power of Hack ’s thrusting side kick. “Kathy!” Hack shouted again, then listened intently for any sound, standing in a back stance just inside the door. CUCKOO! CUCKOO!! SMASH! Hack’s powerful backfist sent tiny clock bits showering about the room, and the destroyed frame fell to the floor at his right. Uh-oh, Hack thought, Kathy’s gonna be mad. From upstairs: a whimper, low and high. Hack sprinted across the room, to the back of the small house where the stairs were located. Again the whimper, then a small thud, as of something light landing softly on the upstairs floor. Hack sprang up the stairs four at a time, nearly wrenching the railing away from the wall as his arms sought to help his legs up the stairs. At last he reached the top and— there it was. About Hack’s height, but more muscular, silhou etted against the night sky through the window at the far end of Kathy’s upstairs hall. Past it, in the doorway at the far end of the
hallway, in the faint glow cast through the window by the nearfull moon, Hack saw Kathy’s hair, just inside. Hack glanced to his left; the doorway there was closed. He stepped into the hall, facing the intruder squarely, lightly on his feet in a leaning back stance, veins full and hard with the fight hormone. “Get out.” Hack’s voice was calm and firm, commanding. The intruder made no move. “Get out,” Hack reiterated, “or I will destroy you.” A high, light laughter floated to Hack. SMACK! Hack leapt backwards, expecting to see the intruder topple over, clutching his throat and gasping from the power of Hack’s perfectly placed lunge punch. But the intruder remained motionless, unshaken by the force of the blow, and again the laughter drifted. Front kick round kick side kick, Hack’s feet just a blur. Again the intruder seemed unaffected, and again the laughter. Flying back roundhouse, a kick aimed at the head and so pow erful that it should have separated the intruders head from his neck and sent it smashing into the wall—and it did. The head bounced to the floor a little away from the wall, but the body remained erect, and the laughing prevailed. Hack stepped back in horror. With new fury, he attacked it. Lunge punch side kick rear leg round kick spinning back roundhouse footsweep rising back kick. Hack leapt to his feet. Back fist hammer fist crescent kick. Side kick to the chest. Hack, jumped back to observe the effects. The laughter subsid ed to silence. The overhead light in the hall snapped on. Hack took another step back, blinking in the brilliance. Seconds later,
his eyes were adjusted. What remained of a fresh clay statue stood in the hall between Hack and the far window, its body pocked with the dents of Hack ’s kicks and punches, its head resting a few feet away, a deep dent scoring its surface, giving it another smile—from nose to ear. But Hack paid it no attention. His eyes were steadied on the figure standing in front of the far window, next to the light switch, next to Kathy. Hack had minored in mythology at Florida State, and he instantly recognized his foe. Indestructum. One meter tall. Bipedal. Orange-skinned and bald except for a bright green Mohawk. Very, very evil. Thin and frail looking, but not to be underestimated. Bulging eyes and yellow smile. Capable of magic. Indestructum reached out a hand and flipped the wall switch, plunging the room into complete blackness. Hack stepped backwards into a defensive stance while he wait ed for his eyes to adjust. While he waited he thought. The cogwheels of his mind strained to assemble the data Hack had once studied for extra credit in a course in demonology. Indestructum. Something about electricity, and pentagrams, and midnight, and—and bagels. Of course. That was it. Hack had worked on his extra credit project with a Swedish Jewish guy from Baltimore who had always smuggled a bag of bagels into the library while they were researching. That’s right. No. Indestructum. Oh, yes. Indestructum. Hack thought so hard his nose scrunched, then he remembered. Indestructum was a native of one of the planes of hell. He drew his power from elec tricity, and when his power was gone, he was teleported back to his own dimension. He could only escape to the material plane through the electrical power of a pentagram. And, after midnight, until dawn, he gained ten times his normal power, making him very difficult to expel back to hell. In the past, before the days of
Edison and Faraday, Indestructum was only a threat during thun derstorms, and usually disappeared soon after them, but several dissertations by modern demonologists suggest that Indestruc tum in today’s megawatt world would be—devastating. Hack shuddered at the thought. He gritted his teeth, and set himself to the task of destroying Indestructum. The room to the right at the far end of the upstairs hall was Kathy’s workshop, and Hack knew it to be filled with some of Kathy’s finished projects as well as the unfinished ones and a few dozen of the plants Hack had given to her as gifts. He crept silent ly down the hall towards the room now, alert in a cat stance. His keen hearing picked up the low breathing and faint scratching and scraping sounds coming from the workshop. He reached the doorway, and the noises stopped. All was quiet. He clung to the law wall and began to ease around the corner. SMASH! A spray of fine dirt mushroomed into the hallway as Hack sprang back behind the wall. Inside the workshop the broken pot fell to the floor beside the door. The smell of petunias drifted into the hallway. “Hey!” Hack shouted. “I gave her that for Christmas!” Inde structum only cackled, his voice high and thin. Hack scrunched his nose, then he had an idea. Cautiously he stuck three fingers into the doorway. POW! The pot and plant crashed against the hall wall. Hack leapt into the doorway in a fighting position, ready for anything that Inde structum might throw at him. Hack strained his eyes into the darkness of the workshop. He was lucky, the large windows to his left let the moonlight spill into the room, giving everything a sil ver hue. Indestructum stood opposite Hack in the room, behind a table
upon which Kathy’s potted plants were lined. To Hack’s left, un der a window, catching the moonlight splendidly, was the clay chess set Kathy had sculpted. Hack saw that only five pawns were on the board—arranged in a pentagram, and an understanding entered his mind. Scorch marks radiated outward from the center of the pentagram (making a pretty star shape, Hack noticed), ending at the pawns, which looked as though fused in place. Indestructum’s arm moved, and the plant cut a silver arc through the air toward Hack. CRASH! Rose and shattered remains of earthen pot fell to the floor, stopped by the power of Hack’s reverse punch. “Hey!” Hack shouted again, moving toward Indestructum. “Quit throwin’ Kathy’s plants at me!” Indestructum only cackled. Indestructum snapped his fingers, and the room was filled with bright light. Hack blinked. POW! The fern caught him squarely in the chest, knocking him back wards slightly. “Ouch! I said to—” CONK! Another plant caught him just above his right eye. Hack fell to one knee. A daffodil whistled through the air towards Hack’s head. SMACK! This time Hack’s eyes had adjusted to the light and he punched the plant away with his left hand. Indestructum cackled some more and snapped his fingers once again. The room plunged into darkness. CRACK! A vine ripped some hide off Hack’s head. Hack blindly grabbed the clay chessboard from its pedestal under the window and held it in front of him as a shield. Plants and pots pounded against the
board as Hack advanced toward Indestructum. Finally Hack gath ered his strength and pounced at the fiend, knocking him down and pinning him underneath the board. Hack pressed his face close to Indestructum’s. “I told you not to throw Kathy’s plants at me,” Hack said, rais ing a meaty fist over Indestructum’s head. Indestructum stuck an arm out from under the board. Fire flew from his fingertips. Hack swung his fist. The fire struck Hack mid-swing directly in the chest, throwing him backwards onto the floor, his shirt flaming. Hack leapt to his feet, frantically beat ing at the flames on the front of his shirt. His efforts were futile, though, and the flames spread over his chest and around to his back. Fingers of flame licked up toward his face and hair. Inde structum’s evil laughter raced lightly through the house. Hack reached a hand to the neck of his shirt and fixed a grip on its col lar. Flames engulfed and destroyed it as he ripped it from his body and flung it to the floor. Hack stepped out the flames, then looked around. Indestructum was nowhere to be seen. “You ruined the plants I gave Kathy, and now you’ve gone and destroyed one of my best shirts,” Hack said, low, under his breath. “Get back here and fight like a man.” Another burst of cackling, and Hack realized its source. Eager feet carried him across the workshop to the stairs that led up to Kathy’s balcony. Hack saw from the bottom that the door at the top was open to the night sky. Silently he crept to the top of the stairs, then, in one quick movement, flung himself through the door, landing in a cat stance facing the open end of the balcony. And there was Indestructum, holding on to Kathy at the railing at the far end of the balcony. “Don’t come any closer, my athletic friend,” warned the fiend, “we wouldn’t want her to accidently fall over this railing, to be killed when she struck the rocks below, now would we?” Hack
knew that three stories below the railing was a very rocky beach. “No,” he agreed, “we wouldn’t want that, so why don’t you come over here and fight me like a man?” Indestructum looked pensive, considering. Finally he spoke. “No,” he said. “This is much more fun. But I’ll fight you in five minutes.” Hack looked at his watch. Eleven fifty-five. “No,” Hack said. “I have to fight you now.” “Okay, but you’ll be sorry.” He let go of Kathy and raised twist ed claws to his head, becoming the very picture of concentration. Kathy’s eyelids, closed until now, fluttered and opened, revealing Indestructum’s eyes behind them. “Kathy?!” Hack shouted. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” Kathy opened her mouth and the fiend’s evil laughter flew from her lips. Indestructum stood rock-still, hands pressed to his head, eyes tightly closed. “Kathy, RUN!” Kathy assumed a fighting posi tion. Indestructum’s voice kept time with Kathy’s lips. “Come on, Hack, fight me like a man,” the voice called. Sud denly Hack understood. He took a step toward Indestructum. “Let her go, or I’ll—” SWISH! Kathy pounced, fast as a snake, knocking Hack down and wrap ping her thin fingers around his throat. No, Hack thought, I won’t hurt Kathy. Kathy’s grip on Hack’s throat tightened steadily, but he made no move to hurt her. Indestructum’s laughter once again issued from Kathy’s mouth. Uh-oh, Hack thought suddenly, she’s gonna kill me! He scrunched his nose, then he had the answer. He gripped her wrists, gently but firmly, and pulled at them. He pulled hard, but Indestructum directed more and more of his power to Kathy, and her grip only strengthened. Hack concentrated, funneling his strength to his arms, then, with one mighty tug, pulled her hands
off his neck. Hack leapt to his feet. Kathy’s arms shot around his waist. Hack looked down, trying to pull her arm away. Then he caught sight of the luminous dial on his watch. It was eleven fifty-eight. Hack looked to Indestructum, who was still standing rock-still by the railing. Hack moved toward him, dragging Kathy. When Hack was just ten feet from Indestructum, Kathy suddenly launched herself against Hack, catching him by surprise and driving him to the railing at the edge of the balcony. Hack teetered, on the brink of falling off. Forty feet below him he saw moonlight riding the crests of waves in to pound the rocks on the beach below. Kathy pushed again, knocking Hack over the railing. Hack caught hold of the railing with his right hand, and for a second dangled by one arm over the rocks below, which were being slowly covered by the rising tide. Hack swung his left hand up, catching hold of the railing an the other side of Inde structum from Kathy, and just then she pried his right hand off the railing. Hack gripped the railing, hands side by side, and hauled himself back over, now on the opposite side of Indestruc tum. Lightning-quick, he grabbed Indestructum with both hands and lifted him over his head. Indestructum took his hands away from his head, and blue fire shot from his fingertips, scorching Hack’s bare chest. With a mighty heave Hack threw Indestructum over the railing into the ocean. As he hit the water he exploded with great force, filling the air with a bright blue light and the smell of ozone. Hack knelt down next to Kathy, who had fallen to the floor when Indestructum took his hands away from his head. “Kathy?” he said, almost fearfully. She opened her eyes, and they were her eyes. She looked around frightfully. “Is he—gone?”
Hack nodded. They embraced. “I guess he just short-circuited,” he said. “Oh, Henry, I knew you’d find a way to destroy him,” Kathy said. “That’s what I love about you, Henry, you’re so smart and so —” “Please,” he interrupted, “call me Hack.”
The year is nineteen hundred seventy. Welcome. You are a beau tiful baby girl. Get your rest now. You have a lifetime ahead of you. In the next few years you will learn to crawl, to walk. Your eyes will change from blue to brown. You will discover teeth. You will find warmth and security in the people whose names you first speak, mommy and daddy. And you will hear many, many stories about princesses and heroes. The year is nineteen hundred seventy-five. You are a fiveyear-old girl now. Everybody says you are the prettiest little girl they know. Everybody but your aunt, that is. Are you ready for school, pretty girl? Learn everything that you can, for later you will understand that knowledge is power. In the next few years you will learn to print your name and other names. You will learn to read about your princesses and your heroes. By the way, enjoy your mother and father now. In a few years your aunt will casual ly tell you that you aren’t really part of the family, because you’re adopted. And then they will just a bit become strangers. Princess es are sometimes adopted, aren’t they? The year is nineteen hundred eighty. You have learned to ride and to roller skate. You are learning much in school, but most re cently you learned the thrill of having an age with two digits. In the next few years many things will happen to you. You will hear ghost stories around a campfire. You will sell cookies door-todoor. You will fall and break your arm. But something else, per haps something more important, will not happen to you. Your
parents will go to plant flowers by a grave in the cemetery. To you that will seem dull and unexciting. I know that you won’t go, but I wish that you would. There’s a message there for you. The year is nineteen hundred eighty-five. You are an insecure child of fifteen, finding your feet, choosing your path to woman hood. In the next thirty-six months you will take major steps to becoming an adult. You will get your driver’s license. You will de cide on a career. And you will fall in love. Enjoy your innocence while you can. Bask in it. For in twenty months the person you love will rape you, and you will never have it again. He will tell you to enjoy it. He will tell you that you are his princess. The year is nineteen hundred eighty-eight. You are an inse cure adult, eighteen years old, plotting the course of the rest of your life. College is teaching you that the world is cold, but you found that out first-hand a little over a year ago. You wonder if perhaps everyone is so deep into himself that true and lasting re lationships are impossible. And you wonder how you can possibly find the fire and passion you crave for in your soul, when all around you the world is cold, and getting colder. The year is nineteen hundred eighty-nine. You are nineteen now. In college you’ve learned the basics of marketing and for eign relations, but everything seems pretty foreign now. You have learned that the person you love is leaving you, because you have learned that you are pregnant. In the next few months you will feel the life growing inside you. You will learn that college is not for you. You will wonder how you can give your child a good life, enough to write a story about, with no father and no college degree. You will learn who your friends are and who they aren’t, and you will wonder if they ever really knew you at all. You will have a beautiful baby girl, and you will call her Princess Hope. She will be your fire and passion, your love, your life. The year is nineteen hundred ninety. In the past few days you
have found your security, your serenity, your relief. You figured out how to get the best for your Princess Hope. Tonight you said goodbye to her and left her with friends. They didn’t see your tears. Tomorrow they will find your body. In the next few weeks your beautiful baby girl will be adopted by a loving couple. They will give her warmth and security, but they will not call her Princess Hope. When she is ten I will ask her to plant flowers at your grave. I hope she goes. I will write about your life, and when she is old enough I will ask her to read what I have written. I will try to make her see that life is brief, so that she can be happy. And I will try to show her that you loved her, because I know that you loved her. I will try.
Make It Big
The year is nineteen hundred sixty-seven. The date is August tenth. The weather here in the New York backwoods is balmy. Across the country, bands are forming and playing what will later be called “classic rock and roll.” None of that makes much differ ence to me right now, though. Today, in a very small town in upstate New York, I was born. My parents are thrilled. They want ed a boy and they got one. The year is nineteen hundred seventy-one. The date is Decem ber fifteenth. Here in New York, my parents are preparing me for my fourth white Christmas. They’ll be giving me wind-up toys and ugly plaid clothes. I’ll love them anyway, but the biggest gift of my life is across the country, in a suburb of Los Angeles. There, today, you were born. Your parents are thrilled. You are the girl they wanted for their green Christmas. Actually, though, you are my gift, my destiny. But radio stations will be playing classic rock and roll on the radio before we meet each other. The year is nineteen hundred eighty-five. The date is June six teenth. Today is supposed to be the biggest day of my life. Today I graduate from high school, and I am depressed. I am about to dis appoint a great many people, mostly my parents. I got excellent grades through high school, and that has led to a scholarship to a major university to study engineering. Today I decided to turn it down. I have realized (not decided) that what I want to do with my life, what I want to be, is not an engineer, but a writer. My de cision will disappoint a lot of people for a long time, but I will
never regret it. You understand my sadness. This year you finished the eighth grade. Already you know you true passion. You love music. You love to play the piano, and you love to sing. You can feel the tal ent, your power of music, burning in your soul. Your parents don’t share your enthusiasm. They see music as a fun hobby, and they see your flair for mathematics as your true calling. Through the next few years we will both feel very much alone, but we will both be separately confident that a very bright and brilliant future is ours. We will trust fate and follow our dreams. Greatness will be ours. The year is nineteen hundred ninety. The date is June twentyfirst. By coincidence, this is a big day for both of us. Today you graduate from high school, and I serve my last day in the army. Three years ago tomorrow I joined the army and decided to be come airborne. I wanted to meet different people and see new places, and I wanted to feel life at the edge of death. In North Car olina I had time to write, to refine my craft. Among the strangers living dangerously I found friends. Today, armed with experi ence, I resume my march to destiny. On this date you disappoint your parents as I disappointed mine four years ago. Despite their pressure to pursue a stable ca reer in mathematics, you decide to follow your heart. You will move into Los Angeles, into the music scene. You will support yourself as a waitress as you try to make others see the talent glowing inside you. For the next year we will both be struggling to survive, blindly following our dreams. We’ll be stung by con men. We’ll be la belled by the establishment. But we’ll continue our pursuit of excellence under the steady crush of mediocrity. We will feel that destiny is right around the corner. We are right. Today is April twenty-first, nineteen hundred ninety-one. For
both of us, this is our first trip to New York City. For both of us, this day is destiny. It has been from the start. I recently finished my first professional novel. Several publish ers rejected it completely, but one publishing house showed interest. I rode a bus to the city to meet with one of the publish er’s editors. She talked for a while about the strong suits of my book. Then, with a sad face, she told me that my book did not fit their “current image”. She urged me to keep them in mind for my future books, then sent me on my way. You also found a ray of interest in the dark night of rejection. All the major record labels on the West Coast rejected your demo tapes outright, but one here in New York City seemed interested. You flew into the city last night. After a day of waiting and talk ing to secretaries, they asked you to come back in the morning for a live audition. Our separate meetings last until the early evening. When we individually decide to take the subway back to our hotels, we (fi nally) wind up together. From the moment I first see you, I know you are the one. Though the subway car is empty except for us, I sit beside you. Conversation flows easily. Relating to each other comes as natu rally as breathing. I can feel the magic radiating from your body. I want to know everything about you. In those first few minutes we briefly recount our dreams and rejections. I feel a connection to you deeper than time itself. I am on the verge of asking you— Suddenly our blissful isolation is interrupted. Three little dark strangers enter the car. Hovering by the center support pole, they are menacing even before they speak. As the train begins moving again they close in on us. I stand up to defend us. You stand be side me. They tell us to give them our money. Before I can say anything you tell them no. You have only enough money to pay for your
hotel room and to buy a ticket home. Now one of them takes out a gun. He says we don’t have a choice. He demands our money now. Again you refuse. He comes closer now, so close we can smell his fear and anger. The train is slowing for the next stop. I know he has to act fast, to get our money and get away. He demands our money again. Again you shake your head. I see his finger tighten around the trigger. I know he will shoot you. Here is destiny. He is so angry at you, so furious at your refusal, he doesn’t even see me swing. My fist smashes down on his forearm. The gun swings down. He lifts it back up, his attention turned to me. His face is a mask of hatred, anger, frustration. I see the flash from the muzzle as the little gun fires, kicking his arm into the air. Through the smoke I watch the bullet screaming toward me in slow motion, and I know I was wrong. I was always wrong. And I was right. The bullet tears through my jacket and through the bus ticket in my shirt pocket. It easily shoves through my shirt, into my flesh. As the bullet enters my chest its power pounds my rib cage out of shape. Like a stone splashing in a pond, the force of the im pact punches a softball-sized hole through my ribs. My left lung collapses, turned to mush. The bullet rips off a chunk of my heart and continues on, shattering my scapula like a dinner plate dropped on concrete. The force throws me back against the wall. I fall to the chair and slip down onto the floor.
The train stops. I hear the hydraulic hiss as the doors fly open. I see the strangers flee, afraid now that they’ve proven their brav ery. You go to the door and look for someone to yell to for help. There is no one. You return to me alone. The doors hiss closed and the train accelerates again. I can feel the life flowing from my body. I can see it forming a red pool on the floor around me. I have no regrets. All along I was wrong. My purpose in life was not me. My purpose was not to write classic novels. My purpose was not to be an engineer. My purpose was to be here for you. In this one time, at this in stant, this is what I was born for. I lived for you. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I see your face as you kneel over me. God you’re beautiful. You are more in shock than I am. I feel at ease. I can see tears sliding down your face. You say I’m going to be okay. I smile weakly. I’ve never been better. I open my mouth to talk. I’m surprised that it has become such a difficult task. I whisper-ask you your name. You say Angela. I always knew it would be. I struggle for another sentence. It’s so hard. There’s one thing I want you to do for me, one thing I need you to do for me. You bend your head close to hear me. I can smell you, feel your hair softly on my face. It’s just three words. It’s so hard. I hope you can hear me. I say them, and you hear me. You sit back a bit and smile at me. You brush the hair off my forehead with your fingertips. I can feel the magic in your touch. Your eyes are shining wet, and I know you understand the mean ing of my words, finer than any three words I have ever written:
Make it big. Make it big.
No More Lonely Knights
I knew something was wrong as soon as he stepped into my room. It wasn’t the way he looked; he looked just as always, five ten, one hundred fifty pounds, dark complexion, dark hair. It was his overall impression that I found unfamiliar and strange. He car ried with him an aura, an aura which seemed familiar to me, but which I couldn’t quite place. Looking at him threw pictures of deer on a foggy highway into my mind. “Care for a game of chess?” he asked. “Well, I’ve really got a lot of things to do, I’m working on a the sis for Hack and—” “It can wait,” he said, “let’s play a game of chess.” He’d been extremely depressed for the past few days, but today he looked better. Maybe that was what was causing my senses to go awry. Maybe things were looking up for him. I hoped so. “You know where I keep the board, Clint, let’s play.” I swung my chair around to face the center of my dorm room as Clinton Irving grabbed the chess pedestal from the corner and put it be tween my chair and the other, careful not to upset the pieces, and took a seat. His hand shook a little as he moved his queen’s pawn forward. “You all right?” I asked. “Fine,” said he. He looked at his watch and then to the ceiling, eyes fairly squinting, calculating. Then he smiled. I moved my queen’s pawn forward to his. He stared at the board a long time before moving, then made a
move unworthy of such a thinking time, again with a faintly shaking hand. I glanced at the board and moved. Again he studied the board, and again he made a move that seemed senseless with a quivering hand. Then he sat back, leaned way back in his chair, wiped his fingertips across his brow, and closed his eyes. “You sure you’re all right?” I asked again. He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “but these lights are giving me a bit of a headache. Could we turn out a few?” “Sure,” I said, moving to turn out all the lights but one dim light to play by. “Would you like some aspirin for that headache?” “No thanks,” he said. “I took some Tylenol.” “Is it working?” He looked at his watch. “Yes. It’s working.” “When did you take them?” He looked at his watch again. “About two and a half hours ago.” “And you still have the headache? Maybe you should take some aspirin.” I moved to get them for him. “No,” he said, catching hold of my wrist with his hand. His palm was moist and cool. “My head feels fine with the lights down like this. Let’s just play chess.” His eyes were calm, but the hand on my wrist was shaking. “Are you sure you’re all right?” “Fine,” he said. “It’s your move, Denis.” I glanced at the board and moved, then he moved, then I moved again. He looked at the board for a long time, then he spoke. “Remember how we got to be friends?” he asked. I said I didn’t. “It was at the beginning of last semester,” he explained. “We were at Melody and Jesse’s party and everyone got talking about religion. You captured an audience by telling people your belief
in weird soul stuff, about how we live many lives here on Earth and elsewhere while our real life, the life we live as souls, exists in another dimension, remember?” I nodded. He looked intensely into my eyes. “You weren’t just talking, were you? Just telling stories to impress the girls?” “Clint, we’ve talked about this a hundred times, two hundred maybe—” “Not that many times,” he interrupted. “Well, at least twice. You know I believe in that more than I be lieve in anything else in the world.” “Good,” he said, and moved his knight into a precarious attack. I captured his knight with a pawn. We made another few quick moves in silence. He spoke again unexpectedly. “Remember at that party you were talking about what you believe about people, and you said that for every male there is one female who is exactly right for that male, who is his partner for eternity, his perfect match,” “His soul mate,” “Yes, that’s what you called her.” He paused and then contin ued. “Remember how you said that our first purpose in life is to find that soul mate, because the rest of the problems in life are better tackled by two?” I nodded slowly, wondering what he was getting at. We played a few more moves, then he continued, “And remember how you told us about being able to communicate with other people through our dreams—” “Astral projection,” I said. “While we sleep we travel to alter nate dimensions, where we can meet and communicate with other people of the past, present, and future. Some people, such as myself, believe these experiences to be reality, while most pre fer to think of them as—”
“Dreams,” he interrupted. “Most people think they’re just dreams. You believe that even now, don’t you? You believe in all those things, right? You weren’t just talking for the sake of talk ing, you really believe that, right?” He was nodding for me. “More than anything else in the world,” I said. “Good, then I’m not insane.” He made another bad move. I made a good one and started to doubt his last remark. He made another bad move and I finally couldn’t take it any more. “Why are you asking me all these questions?” “I’m just curious,” he said. “Curious?” I looked at my watch. “At ten-thirty on a Tuesday night you’re curious?” “Yes,” he said simply. “It’s your move.” He seemed quite a bit more cheerful. I looked quizzically at him and at the chessboard. He didn’t look drunk or smell of alcohol, but his pieces were staggered all over the board in what amounted to neither an attack nor a de fense. “Are you on something?” “Why do you ask?” “Don’t give me that. What are you on? Valium? Cocaine?” “I’m not on anything,” he said. “I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking the past week, and none of it was about chess.” “I can believe that,” I said, looking at the haphazard position ing of his pieces. “Why don’t we just finish the game, then I’ll go and leave you to your work.” That sounded like a good idea to me. We played a few more moves now. His concentration im proved, but I was too far ahead. Soon his king stood alone against my queen, knight, and king. I chased him around the squares a while, then pressed him to the edge of the board, threatening to
checkmate him with my queen and knight. He leaned down close to the board, studying the pieces. “With both queen and knight,” he announced, “checkmate is inescapable.” He nodded to himself, still watching the board. “But without the queen the knight could not force checkmate.” He looked up into my eyes. “A lonely knight can not mate. But,” he added, “the chances of you losing your queen are fictitious at best.” He extended a hand and knocked over his king, resigning. “Since I cannot hope to win, I have no logical choice but to make my loss a quick and painless one. Premature termination is better than a slow and painful death, especially when you can reset the pieces and start over again with your queen. Don’t you agree?” By now I knew what he was talking about. I stood up and moved a step toward the door. “You and I better go for a walk,” I said. “We’ve got some talking to do.” He didn’t get up, but leaned back in his chair, watching me, knowing what I intended to do. “I’ve found her, Denis,” he said. “What?” “I’ve found her,” he reiterated. “I know who she is, and I know where she is.” “Who?” “My soul mate.” Now I was really confused. I went back to my chair and sat down. I looked at him for a while, thinking. Finally I thought of a question. “Who—why—what—” I thought for another few mo ments and decided to start simply. “You found your soul mate?” “Yes,” he said, and from the look in his eyes I could tell he be lieved in what he had said. “Then why—what—” This line of questioning wasn’t getting anywhere. “Who is she. What’s her name?” There was a relevant, logical question. “Diane,” he said, and his eyes shined. “Diane Kraft.”
“How—how—” He smiled. “I’ll tell you how I met her,” he said, leaning back in his chair. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it, puffing for a mo ment in silence. Then he began: “I met her in a dream,” he said. I sat back in my chair too. This was going to require an unusual amount of open-mindedness. “Yes,” I said, not too convincingly. He blew a cloud of smoke into the air. “It was a strange dream,” he said. “It was quite incredible.” “I’ll bet it was.” “And you would win. I was walking down this road.” “Which road?” “I couldn’t tell, really. It was about eleven-thirty at night. I was alone. The moon hovered low on the horizon.” “When did you have this dream?” “About two weeks ago.” “Two weeks ago was a new moon. New moons don’t hover on the horizon.” “I know. This was a half moon, and it hung low on the hori zon.” “What kind of road was it?” “It was a slightly paved road.” “A slightly paved road?” “Yes. It was about wide enough for two cars, but was full of holes and patches and swept over in some places with gravel and dirt and the shoulders were rocky.” “OK. Where was this road?” “It was near here, I think. It was some kind of back road that wound through the hills in the countryside. The trees, pine trees and birch and kinds like that, pressed down to the shoulder of the road, but there were a few big clearings here and there, and the road kind of wound through the valley.” “And you were walking down this road.”
“Yes. I walked along; it was pretty chilly, so I was wearing a thin jacket, but I was swinging my arms at my sides.” “So your hands were getting cold.” “Well, not really. It wasn’t that chilly.” “Could you see your breath?” “No. I told you it was a strange dream.” “And you walked along and then …” “I came to a junction. The new road cut off to my right.” “Was it a good road?” “No, it was about the same as the road I was walking on.” “Did you take that road?” “I didn’t have to, because in the intersection was—” He took a long drag on his cigarette, blew the smoke up toward the ceiling. “—a car.” He looked at the ceiling, remembering. “What kind of car?” “A small, two-door car. Hatchback, I think.” “What color?” “Blue.” “Light blue? Dark blue?” “Light blue.” “Was the car moving?” “No. It was stopped. It had stopped cross-wise on the road. My road. It looked like the car had been driving towards me on the road, had almost missed the turn, had cut the corner sharply, and had stopped, a little better than perpendicular, across the right lane of my road.” “Pointed towards the pine trees or one of those clearings?” “No. Pointed towards the junction. They would have made it.” “Who’s ‘they’?” “Two guys—I couldn’t see them clearly, but I’m sure they were guys—were lying on their sides in the right lane of the other road —right before the junction.”
“Were they moaning and writhing, as if in pain?” “No. They weren’t moving at all. I could see them as black forms in the hazy edge of the headlights’ beams.” “How do you know they were the drivers of the car?” “Actually I don’t. They just seemed like they were the drivers.” “Why?” “Well, for one thing the car doors were open, and the dome light was on, so I could see that there was no one else in the car.” “Except for the two dark figures.” “No, the dark figures weren’t in the car. There was really no one in the car.” “So why were the figures in the road and not in the car?” “I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because standing in the open door of the passenger’s side of the car was a girl.” “A pig-faced dog blond?” “No,” he puffed again on the cigarette. “She was brunet, thin, pretty. I could tell, even in the dim light of the half moon, that she was a winner.” “And she was your soul mate?” “And she was my soul mate.” “How could you tell?” “It was a dream, but it was real, you know, and I could tell. I knew. I knew that she was the one I was meant for. I knew that she was my soul mate.” “Did she tell you?” “No. She didn’t say anything. She was standing in the open door looking across the hood at the dudes in the road.” “Was she cold ‘cause it was chilly?” “No. She was wearing a coat.” “What kind of coat?” “It was a light coat, like the kind a skier might wear, nylon with a band of corduroy going around it about halfway down.”
“What color was it?” “Gray?” he said, and puffed on the cigarette. “Gray.” “And then what did you do?” “I walked up to her, kind of unbelieving at first, you know, be cause I’d been looking for her for such a long time, and it was kind of hard to believe that I’d finally found her.” “And in a dream at that.” “Yeah,” he said, and looked positively into my eyes. “In a dream.” “So what happened when you got to her?” “I put my hands on her shoulders and turned her to face me.” “And what did she do when she saw you?” “Nothing. That’s where the dream ended.” “Did she even see you?” “No. The dream ended before she could see me.” “So you never got to talk to her?” “That’s right.” “So how do you know she was your soul mate?” “It was a dream, but it was real. I knew when I saw her she was the one for me.” “Lust at first sight?” “No! I knew she was the one I was looking for. Something deep inside me told me. Something unexplainable. Something …” “Is that the only time you ever saw her?” His eyes met mine; he smiled. “No,” he said. “I saw her again the next day.” “In another dream?” “No. In a newspaper.” “A newspaper?” “That’s right.” “Show me.” He rose weakly to his feet, clutching his stomach with one
hand and making a sour face, and I followed him out of my room and down the hall to his. I stood in the doorway while he crossed the dark room, turned on the bedside lamp, and took a seat re clining on his bed, his head leaning against the padded headboard, watching my reaction. I stood in the doorway blinking in the dim light, not because the light bothered my eyes, but because I had a hard time believ ing what they were seeing. What once had been an average college dorm room had been transformed into what could only be described as a shrine dedi cated to the worship of an intensely attractive girl. Pictures, some obviously cut from newspapers, others originals taken with a cheap camera, lined every wall, always of that girl. She was defi nitely a pretty brunet, and she definitely looked good in short skirts. She was a cheerleader, and I recognized the team colors as those of the local high school. He pointed to a clipping beside his headboard. “This is the first one I saw,” he said. “The day after I had the dream.” The picture was of a high school basketball player scoring a basket, but cap tured in the foreground was the cheerleader. The caption of the picture told the girl’s name: Diane Kraft. I noticed the date in the caption. “This was last Monday,” I said, “just eight days ago.” “I know,” he said. “How did you get all these pictures.” He lit another cigarette, playing the role of the great detective. “First, I went down to the newspaper archives that the college li brary keeps, and I looked at all the photo-coverage given to high school sporting events in the past three years.” “Three years?” “Yeah,” he said, taking a drag. “She’s a junior in high school.” “OK.”
“She had her picture in the paper quite a few times.” “I can tell,” I said, looking at the walls plastered with clippings and photos. “Her cheerleading group went to the state finals last year, took second.” I nodded, turning to look again at the walls. “What did you do after you found out she was so close?” “I went down to her school and watched for her.” “Was she there?” “Of course.” “What did you do when you saw her?” “At first my pulse went up to about one eighty.” “And then what?” “My head started to throb.” “And then?” He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out weakly in a nearby ashtray. “She got on a bus and rode away.” “And?” “Well, what do you think I did? What would you have done?” “I’d have followed her.” “And that’s precisely what I did. I followed that bus until she got off and went into her house, and then I parked my car and walked right up and knocked on her door.” “Did she answer it?” “Yes.” “Did she recognize you?” “No.” “No? Then what did you do? Try to pass yourself off as a guy selling subscriptions to a magazine?” “No, I told her straight out what was happening.” “What did you say?” “Something like, ‘Come with me, my darling. You’re my soul
mate and we are going to make beautiful sweet love together.’” “And she slammed the door in your face.” “And she slammed the door in my face.” His voice was getting breezy. “But,” he said, “I was undaunted. I knocked on the door again. Her stocky father answered.” “And then you were daunted.” “Yes,” he said. “But only for the moment, for I knew that she had to cheer for a basketball game on Friday.” “Four days ago, two days after her father daunted you.” “Yes.” “Clinton,” I said. “Didn’t all this hassle kind of make you think that maybe she wasn’t your soul mate?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because the day I saw her first in the flesh, at her school, and followed her home, she was wearing the gray coat from the dream.” I sighed a little, looked at the floor. “Isn’t it possible that you had the dream of the girl and the coat after you saw her picture in the paper, after you went to her school?” “No,” he said, as positively as a weak voice can. “The dream came first.” I looked at the pictures again, tried to think of something to say, some reason why this beautiful brunet cheerleading whiz couldn’t be Clinton Irving’s soul mate. I couldn’t. “Thursday I stayed here all day, trying to think of some way I could convince her that I was telling the truth, about being her soul mate.” “Did you think of ways to convince her father?” “No, but I decided that the best way to convince her that I was the one for her was to ask her out and show her what a great time we had together.”
“At least that’s a plan. Did it work?” “Well, kind of. I took my camera—” “—and about eight rolls of film—” “—and a few rolls of film to the game, so I could pose as a pho tographer for the campus paper and get right up next to the floor.” “Right up next to the cheerleaders.” “Exactly. And I stayed away from them in the first half, to get my courage up.” “And just in case her father was in the audience.” “They did this show at halftime.” “And you got some great pictures.” “After the game I went up to her. She recognized me and smiled.” “Her father was probably home sharpening his axe,” I said, but I don’t think he heard. “We talked for a while. She agreed to go out with me last night. To a movie.” “Then why?” I began, but he cut me off. My words were falling on deaf ears. “Just before she left she let me take a picture of her. The best of the bunch. It’s over the dresser.” I never saw the picture. My eyes stopped at the top of the dresser. “Why?” I cut myself off this time. On top of a clipping on the dresser were two empty Tylenol bottles, lying on their sides next to each other. “It would have been so nice,” his thin voice said. I pushed the bottles away and picked up the clipping, but I knew what it would say before I read it. I read as much as the headline, and put it back down on the dresser. Tragic Crash Claims Local Cheerleader.
I looked at Clinton Irving as he lay, barely breathing, on his bed, and I looked at the pictures on his walls, for what seemed to be several minutes, thinking. And I walked, closing the door behind me as I left, back down the hall, and sat in my dim room. After a while I reset the pieces on my chessboard.
It was August eleventh, ten days before my birthday, and I was working on the plotline of a suspense novel in the small but airconditioned office room in my apartment. I had left the front door open, so that Shecky, my nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel, could come in from where she was playing with the children in the downstairs apartment every now and then to get a drink from her bowl. I trusted Shecky to stay out of the street beside the long, thin front yard; she and I had spent many an afternoon playing catch with a Frisbee in that yard, and she never chased the disk into the busy street, instead waiting by the curb for me to retrieve it and throw it to her once again. So naturally I was somewhat surprised to hear the short squeal of brakes on the road outside. I never heard the harsh thud of impact, but I instantly knew what had happened. I felt it within me, in my heart, an indescrib able pinching sensation, followed immediately by the feeling of a sudden rush of blood. I sat, stunned, fingers frozen over the key board, not really wanting to believe that any of this was happening and real. I looked to Darwin, my muse, where he sat atop the monitor of my word processor. His eyes told me what had to be done. I swung my chair around to face the door of my office, planted my feet firmly on the floor in front of me, walked towards the door between my office and my kitchen. At the door of my office I paused, my head filled with an im age. Once, during one of our many 2 a.m. walks, Shecky and I
came across a butterfly flopping and struggling in the stark yel low glow of a streetlamp. It was on the other side of the road, but the traffic was almost nil. “Come on Shecky,” I said, “let’s see the butterfly.” We crossed the deserted street to within a few feet of the dying creature, which had evidently been caught in the wind of a passing truck and dashed against the ground, for it thrashed about as if one or more of its wings were broken. As we watched its struggles, a calm, entrancing sadness befell my dog and me. I spoke again to Shecky, explaining to myself as much as to her. “There is a creature which five hours ago frolicked in the set ting sunlight. It will never again see the light of day.” Not wanting to watch the agonies of the poor creature any longer, yet lacking the courage to end its misery, we turned and walked silently off into the moonlight. Once I looked back over my shoul der at the butterfly. It continued its vain struggle in the cold, indifferent light of the streetlamp. When Shecky and I passed the lamp about forty-five minutes later, the animal was dead. We passed without more than a compassionate glance, feeling un comfortably cathartic. Now I began to feel sad for Shecky, knowing that never again would she walk in the silver light of the moon. I lifted my head a little, took a deep breath and walked toward the open entrance door at the other side of the kitchen. Two steps later, I stood frozen in my tracks. Shecky stood in the door, virtually smiling at me, wagging her tail. She didn’t look as though she’d been struck by anything big ger than a flyswatter. At first I was relieved to see that she was OK, then I was shocked, thinking that one of the kids downstairs had been hit. I took a step toward Shecky and stopped again. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, when I opened my eyes again, I knew that the feel
ing in my heart had been correct. A faint aura of blue light surrounded Shecky, emanated from her. I noticed that the pads of her feet didn’t quite touch the floor. Her fur glowed a rich, healthy cinnamon color. Her eyes held the depth of eternity. “Shecky,” I said, and as I spoke her name she sprang, slowly and silently, across the room, landing in front of me, front paws against my upper leg, face looking up into mine. Her eyes told me an ephemeral goodbye, and I bent down and pressed my face against her head. “Hasta luego,” I whispered to her, ruffling her ears. Her fur was incredibly soft and warm. A moment later she lowered her front paws to the linoleum and turned to go. After a last loving glance back at me, she bounded out through my front door into the glo rious golden sunlight, and disappeared. I just stood where I was, reflecting. I felt strange inside, and it puzzled me. At last I figured it out. I felt happy. Happy for Shecky, and happy for the butterfly. Suddenly a small boy, one of the children with whom Shecky played in the front yard, scrambled through my front door. “Mister Grey!” he yelled, “Shecky’s been hit by a truck! She was running after Joey!” “Is Joey all right?” “He’s fine. Shecky pushed him out of the way. But Shecky— she’s—” “She’ll be all right,” I said. “No, Mister Grey, she’s laying beside the road with her side all smashed in horrible and she ain’t breathing—” I put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “She’ll be just fine.”
Warren Ross stomped on the brake pedal and his tires squawked as they bit into the pavement and brought his car to a stop. War ren grabbed his hat off the passenger’s seat and dashed across the parking lot to the front door of the hospital. He flung open the door and stepped into the empty waiting room. Across the room he spotted the receptionist’s window. The receptionist was there, typing something with her back to the room. Warren jumped over a row of padded chairs and ran up to the window. “What room is Kelly Ross in?” he shouted to the receptionist. She started and turned around, clutching her chest. After giv ing him a scolding look, she glanced at a chart taped to her desk. “Four sixty-six,” came her reply. “But you—” Warren didn’t hear the rest of her complaint. He had seen the elevators when he came in, and now he ran to them and firmly pushed the up button. The tone sounded, and the elevators slid smoothly open. Beads of perspiration dripped from his forehead into his eyes, so he took his handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow with it. He looked at the neat column of buttons beside the door and punched the one labelled “4: Maternity Ward.” The floor jolted as the elevator began rising. Warren stuffed the handker chief back into his pocket. The elevator stopped rising, and the plastic four above the door lit, the tone sounded, and the elevator doors slid open, revealing the blue tiled floor and two-tone yellow on green walls of the maternity ward hallway.
Warren stepped off the elevator, and the smell of clean Pam pers filled his nostrils. The instrumental of “Careless Whisper” drifted softly through the hall. He quickly located room 466. The anxiety which had been building in him for the past nine months collected in the top of his stomach as he burst through the door. His wife and newborn baby daughter lay on the bed next to the window. Both of them slept peacefully, Kelly lying on her left side with her daughter tucked protectively under her right arm. A sheet and pink blanket had been pulled up around both of them. A nurse who was making the other bed in the room looked up at him, but he didn’t notice her; his attention was focused on his daughter. He put his hat on the chair next to the door and started toward the bed. “Hold it,” began the dark-haired nurse. “You’re not allowed—” “It’s all right,” Warren said, without taking is eyes off his daughter. “I’m her husband.” He knelt beside the bed and pulled the covers back so he could examine his daughter. Kelly did not stir. Must be drugged, thought Warren. He began examining his daughter. “But sir, visiting hours end at four, and it’s eight o’clock now, so you’ll—” “Let him stay for a while, Miss Owen,” said a man who had just stepped in the doorway. “He hasn’t been able to see them yet. He just flew in today from Los Angeles. Let him have a few minutes with them.” “All right,” agreed the nurse. She smoothed the bedspread and smiled understandingly at Warren, who was closely looking at his daughter’s body. The nurse finished and left the room. The man who had spoken to the nurse crossed the room and put his hand on Warren’s shoulder. Warren was peering at his daughter’s forehead. He jumped up and spun around, fear melt ing off his face as he recognized the man. The man was about
fifty, with a short, thin body and a balding head. In one hand he held a pencil; the other grasped the edge of a clipboard. “Hello, Doctor Weatherly,” Warren panted heavily. Russell Weatherly chuckled, and the warm sound eased the knot of ten sion in Warren’s stomach slightly. Very slightly. “How—is she, Doctor?” Russell Weatherly took a deep breath and grinned. He enjoyed sharing good news, and he thought he understood the worry written across Warren’s face. His smile grew wider. “Well, Warren, I’ll be completely honest with you.” He felt good about his choice of words. “Cassandra—that’s what your wife named her—weighs seven pounds, is twenty inches long, and is the healthiest of all the babies I have ever delivered. There’s nothing wrong with her at all. The delivery was picture perfect. Your wife didn’t request a pain killer until after the delivery. And,” he glanced at Kelly, “it made her a little drowsy.” The worry did not disappear from Warren’s face. “Does Cassandra have any marks, Doctor?” he asked. Then, thinking quickly he added, “I read somewhere that if the mother has excessive vitamin C during pregnancy the baby could have abnormal birth marks, and Kelly always ate a lot of or anges.” Doctor Weatherly cast a doubtful glance at Warren, but the lat ter ignored the look. “Well, she does have a very small nevus on the back of her right hand, but it’s very small. And most birth marks disappear after a few years.” Warren took his daughter’s tiny hand into his own and exam ined it. He stared at the birth mark on the back of Cassandra’s hand, hate building in his heart. The birth mark was clearly divid ed into three smaller marks. “Thank you, Doctor,” Warren said, rising slowly. “I think I’ll go
home now and get some rest.” “Good idea, Warren. You can come back tomorrow at nine and watch the morning feeding if you like, but you really look beat and I think it would be best if you just went home and went to sleep for the night.” He followed Warren as he grabbed his hat off the chair and walked to the elevator. As they waited for the eleva tor doors to open, the hallway speakers whispered the instrumental version of Barry Manilow’s “This One’s for You.” Warren recognized the tune, and the knot of tension in the pit of his stomach tightened. The tone sounded, and Warren stepped onto the empty eleva tor. “Good night, Warren,” the doctor said, shaking his head as he walked away, but Warren was too absorbed in his own thoughts to hear him. Warren took the elevator back down to the lobby, and the receptionist didn’t notice him cross the lobby to the front door. He threw open the hospital’s front door and stepped out into the warm August air. He breathed deeply, and the thick smell of the warm tar and fresh paint of the parking lot filled his nose. Looking up, Warren saw the pale red remnants of a fiery sunset streaking the sky to the west. To the east, the full moon played tag with huge dark clouds. “Full moon,” he mumbled to himself. “Appropriate.” Quickly he crossed the nearly empty parking lot to his black Fiero. He found the key in his pocket, unlocked the door, and slipped behind the wheel, putting his hat on the passenger’s seat. He stuck the key in the ignition and gave it a quarter twist to the right. The engine purred into motion. His radio tuned to K108, started playing loudly. Michael Jackson was duetting “This Girl Is Mine” with Paul McCartney. Warren snapped off the radio in disgust.
So, he thought, the bastard intends to collect his half of the deal. Warren drove home as fast as he could, cursing the New York City traffic for being too slow. Still there was hope. All the way home he prayed that he would not be caught, that no one would find out who had taken the sacred relic until he had had the chance to use it properly, as the old priest had instructed on his death bed. There was no way he could be suspected. As president of Stan wick Importing Company, he frequently traveled to Los Angeles to inspect the newly imported items from Japan and Hong Kong. And he had had every reason to fly back in the middle of the night; his wife had gone into labor a week early. No one would ever suspect he had taken it. No one had seen him enter or leave the museum, and he had knocked the guard unconscious before the guard had spotted him. He had broken the glass with one quick jab of a gloved fist, and departed the premises before the police could respond to the alarm. It was the perfect crime, and there was no way in the world that he could be caught. He just had to get the stuff, then he could go back to the hospi tal and perform the ceremony. All he had to do was grab his Bible, the piece of paper on which the dying priest’s exorcism instruc tions were written, and that tiny piece of the Shroud Of Turin that he had stolen from that museum in Los Angeles. Finally Warren reached his driveway. His headlights played briefly on the wall of his house as he swung the car into the driveway, and the beams glimmered on the blue siding and the white trim around the window. Finally they came to a rest on his white garage door. Warren reached up and brought his hand down toward the button of the little white device on his dash board. He stopped before he hit it.
Better not, he thought. I’ll only be a minute. Leaving his hat on the seat, he exited his car. He closed the door and paused for a moment, looking up at the sky. The sun light had disappeared from the sky completely now, and the only light came from the full moon, dodging among the racing clouds. Warren fumbled in his pocket for the house key, and stuck it in the keyhole. The lock turned smoothly. He didn’t bother to take off his shoes, he just marched through the vestibule into the kitchen. There he paused for a moment, trying to remember where he’d put his Bible. He looked around the kitchen as he thought, his eyes drifting from the yellow-tiled, no-wax floor to the stack of half-washed dishes in the sinks. Apparently she had been washing the dishes when she had gone into labor. He looked more closely. Yep, the right-hand sink was half full of cold dish water, and a thin film of scum had settled on its surface. Then he remembered the location of his Bible. It was in his study. He quickly plodded across the plush brown carpeting of the living room to the door of the study, and threw it open. Then the tension that had been welling in Warren Ross exploded out his mouth, and he screamed. He screamed because he knew the name of the hideous creature sitting in the chair behind his desk, staring into his eyes. The thing had a humanoid form and a huge, powerful body. The creature wore no shirt, and its blue-black skin shone in the moonlight. Deep-blue talons ornamented the ends of its fingers. The thing was diabolical, for two horns as deep-blue as its talons, jutted from its forehead. Warren saw the creature’s deep-blue wings tucked between the chair and its body. The thing was smil ing; its fangs glowed in the dim light, and its eyes were pale blue with red irises and pupils. The full moon sat in the window over the creature’s massive right shoulder. Warren recognized the thing at once, though he had not seen
it since he was a pot-smoking cult member seven long years ago. It was Mephistopheles, and he had come to collect his half of the deal. “Greetings, Warren Ross,” came the devil’s voice, the sound of a whispering wind. “You have been to see my daughter?” “You can take back everything you gave me, just let me keep my daughter.” “I’m afraid that’s out of the question, Mr. Ross. You see, we made a deal. I kept up my part of the deal. I gave you an import ing company and the money and connections you needed to make it work. Now you are successful. Not rich, but successful. And suc cess is all you asked for. I’ve fulfilled my part of the deal, now you must fulfill yours. You must give me your first-born daughter.” Mephistopheles spread his hands out in front of him. “A deal’s a deal; there’s nothing I can do.” “But I’ve changed my mind. I was just eighteen years old. You can’t hold me to a promise I made while I—you can take back all the stuff you gave me. The company, the money, the people, all the stuff I got as a result of those things. Just let me keep my wife and my daughter.” Warren’s voice was softer now, and his eyes were glistening. Mephistopheles smiled cruelly. “But, Mr. Ross,” the devil whis pered, “if I take back everything I gave to you, then I have to take back your wife, too.” Mephistopheles rocked back in the chair and put his hands behind his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ross, but there’s nothing I can do.” There was a long pause as each waited for the other to speak. The moon ducked behind a cloud, and the room darkened. “Well,” the fiend began, “I’ve really got to be go—Oh, that’s right.” He snapped his fingers, and his talons made a horrible clicking sound. “You saw a priest in Los Angeles about an exor cism or something. Snap on that light for a moment, will you?”
Warren’s heart sank. Obediently he flipped the switch, and the glow from the overhead light softly lit the room. Mephistopheles reached down to the desk, and tossed something to Warren, who caught it. It was his Bible, and the paper with the instructions was right where he had left it, somewhere in Leviticus. “Your ‘exorcism’ won’t work,” Mephistopheles gloated. “You see, you’re missing one of the vital ingredients.” He pointed to ward an ashtray on the desk. A tiny pile of ashes and a bit of charred cloth were the only things in it. Mephistopheles laughed, a whisper of a laugh. “You bastard!” screamed Warren, hurling the Bible at the hideous fiend. Mephistopheles nimbly caught the heavy book, and it exploded in his hand, showering the room with flaming bits of paper. Warren lunged at the devil, but Mephistopheles, still laughing maniacally, disappeared in a puff of black smoke that stank of the grave. The smoke choked Warren, and he stumbled back into the living room. There he fell face-down on the floor and cried for a long time. When he finally stopped crying, he knew what he had to do. Mephistopheles would not have his daughter. He didn’t bother to turn out the lights, he just walked out the front door and climbed into the front seat of his Fiero. A note was stuffed between the sun visor and the ceiling. Warren took it down and held it under the dome light. “I know what you will try to do, so don’t bother, because it won’t work. I will have your daughter.” The letters were written in blood, and he didn’t have to read the signature to know who had left him the note. “Over my dead body,” mumbled Warren. He turned the key in the ignition and raced the engine. The radio was on again, still tuned to K108. This time the Beatles accusingly sang “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.” He turned the radio off, and backed his car
onto the road, the wheels spraying gravel into the lawn. Warren’s headlights cut into the darkness as he raced toward the hospital. Warren could have saved himself a lot of trouble if only he had known that Mephistopheles could never touch a real piece of the Shroud of Turin, no matter how small it was. If Warren had only looked between the mattress and box springs of his bed, he would have found the piece of the Shroud right where he had left it, and he would have been able to save his daughter. But Warren didn’t know. He shut off his headlights before he pulled into the hospital’s parking lot. He parked close to the door, and looked around. Ex cept for him and the cars of the doctors and nurses on the night shift, the parking lot was empty. Warren left the keys on the front seat. He no longer wanted the car. He crept through the shadows to the front door of the hospital. It was unlocked. Through the glass he saw the night receptionist still typing with her back to him. Silently he opened the door, and eased it closed behind him. He sneaked slowly along the wall to the elevator, firmly pushed the up button. Seconds later the tone sounded, and the doors opened. Warren leapt inside and pushed the button for the fourth floor. He held his breath as the doors closed, but the receptionist raised no alarm. The elevator stopped rising and the doors slid open with the customary tone. Warren stepped out into the dark hallway. The baby powder smell was still there, but the hallway speakers had been shut down for the night. Warren was thankful for the si lence. He padded softly down the hall, looking for the nursery. Soon he found it. The light spilled out from the observation window, making the floor look a sickly green color. Inside the room, War ren spotted the dark-haired nurse checking on the babies. He
watched until she finished, then ducked into a doorway when she left. He heard her heels softly thump the floor of the hallway. She walked in the other direction and turned a corner. He heard her footsteps grow steadily more distant, then the sound of a door closing. Warren tugged at the handle of the nursery door. It, too, was unlocked. He quickly located his daughter and scooped her up in his arms. She stirred, but did not awaken. He kissed her forehead, and after a short pause, he took her to the door, which was still open. He listened at the door. He couldn’t hear the nurse, so he stepped onto the tile of the hall and hurried toward the door above which the word “EXIT” glared in large, red letters. Three flights up the stairs ended in a door. Warren opened it, and a warm gust of wind slapped against his sweat-covered face. He stepped out onto the roof. The roof was dotted with air ducts, and here and there a sky light poked through like a huge, black eye. Low walls, about a foot wide, surrounded the roof. Warren stepped up onto the southern wall. All around him lights from buildings split the darkness. The Marine Midland Bank sign flashed the time and the temperature into the night. 12:47 A.M. 72 F 22 C. Headlights and taillights wan dered on the streets below, which were dotted with round pools of light from the streetlamps. Above him the moon shone bright ly, almost giving enough light to read by. He looked down, but the parking lot, seven stories below him, was completely black. A dim sound drifted up to him with the warm wind. Somewhere in the distance, someone was playing Van Halen’s “Jump.” Warren looked into his daughter’s face, and she opened her young eyes. In the moonlight they looked pale blue, with red iris
es and pupils. Tears slid down Warren’s face. “Please, God, forgive me for what I have done, and what I am about to do,” he prayed in a low voice. Then, holding Cassandra tightly to his chest, Warren Ross leapt into the darkness. The next day, after the paper boy had thrown the morning pa per up against the door of Warren Ross’s house, the door opened a crack, and a blue-black hand pulled the paper inside. The hand put the paper on the desk in the study, and a low, whispery laugh filled the room. The headline read: MURDER/SUICIDE ATTEMPT FAILS The article said that a local importer had leapt to his death, holding his newborn baby daughter, off the roof of an area hospi tal. The article went on to add that the mother thanked God that her daughter had miraculously survived unharmed. The laughter grew louder. God wasn’t the one who had saved Cassandra.
Conrad Warner would have no rest now; the dog days had set in. It was July seventh, and heat and humidity hung in stagnant clouds throughout the city. In spite of the heat, crowds mobbed the sidewalks, pressing this way and that in search of an air-con ditioned place to stop. The streets were packed with cars, their drivers panting out the opened windows. Lucky were the ones who rode in air-conditioned cars or worked in air-conditioned buildings. Conrad Wormer had no such luck. He was an air condi tioner repairman. Now he made his way among the other people walking over the gray-cracked sidewalk, toolbox under his arm, walking to an other building with another broken air conditioner. The people would crowd around to watch him while he worked, fanning themselves while he sweated. A dog walked across the sidewalk in front of him. It was a white poodle. To Conrad it looked comfortably cool. Conrad hated it. He swung out a heavy booted foot, and kicked the poodle out into the street. There was a brief squeal of brakes, then the truck passed over the poodle. After a brief yelp, it was over. Conrad was pleased. A few yards more down the street he saw another dog. This was a brown and white terrier. The dog sat in the shade of a door way, innocently watching the crowd wander by. The dog looked comfortable, and Conrad hated it. He kicked it, knocking it backwards into the doorway. The ter
rier splayed out its legs and skidded against the door. It looked up at Conrad, not hateful, not spiteful, with forgiveness in its eyes. It took Conrad by surprise. He stood in the doorway for a few sec onds, just blinking at the dog. Then he hated it again, for its forgiveness. He kicked it, knocking it hard into the door. Blood trickled from the wound just above the terrier’s right shoulder. Still it looked forgiving. He kicked again. More blood. The terrier’s brown and white fur was darkening with the blood, but still it looked forgiving. He kicked again. And again. And again. The dog never whined. At last, mercifully, it died, that forgiving look still frozen on its face. “Damn dog,” Conrad muttered, turning away. Three people had stopped around the doorway and were looking at him in as tonishment. Conrad pushed past them and headed once again up the sidewalk. The look on the face of the terrier haunted him, and the tried to push it from his mind, preferring instead to think of the heat. Parking had been rough today, and Conrad had been forced to park the repair company’s van two blocks from the building with the broken air conditioner. That meant he would have to cross Thirty-second Street. He could see the street now, through the undulating crowd. He looked toward it, eager to get on with his work and forget about the terrier. Suddenly the crowd parted slightly. Directly in front of him, about ten yards away, a black husky stood on the hot sidewalk, facing him squarely, unpanting. It was a small husky, and it looked comfortably cool. The crowd didn’t seem to notice the husky, and the husky didn’t seem to notice anything but Conrad Wormer. Conrad stopped where he was. Behind the husky a crowd gath
ered, waiting for the light. Hesitantly, Conrad continued toward the dog. A breeze ruffled the fur on the husky’s neck. Behind it, the crowd began to cross the street. The husky just sat there, watching him. Conrad decided he didn’t like this dog at all. He quickened his step, and kicked at the husky. It nimbly jumped back away from his foot just before impact. Conrad swung his arms to regain his balance, and dropped his toolbox. The dog stood a few feet away, its head cocked, its tail wagging. Again Conrad kicked, and again the dog moved away. Conrad broke into a run, chasing the dog. It trotted out into the street, and Conrad, tunnel-visioned in his fury, followed. The dog reached the median and turned around, looking into Conrad’s eyes and wagging its tail. Cars zoomed by behind the black dog. Someone in the crowd screamed. The bus struck Conrad midstride. After a brief yelp, it was over. The husky was pleased. Conrad picked himself up and looked around. The city was gone. He was in a seemingly limitless field of violets. The sky was bright blue, with a few scattered cirrus clouds. It was comfortably cool and unhumid. He was in a line, a single-file line that stretched out farther than he could see across the endless plain. Behind him in the line stood an elderly, short oriental man, an expressionless look on his face. “Where are we?” asked Conrad. The oriental man did not re spond, or even change his expression. Conrad reached out to grip the man’s shoulder, but something, some invisible unknown force, kept him from touching the man. Conrad withdrew his hand. He started to step out of the line to have a look around, but again something kept him where he was. The force didn’t take away the ability to move, but the will to move. Without knowing why, Conrad wanted to stay in the line. And so he did.
Gradually the line moved forward. The path was worn smooth. Now and then the path passed by shrubs with small heads of pink flowers, but Conrad didn’t know what they were called. After a while an object appeared in the distance, seemingly at the end of the line. As he got closer, Conrad could see the thing more clearly. It was creamy white. It grew larger, more distinct. It became gates. Finally Conrad could see the front of the line. The pearly gates were immense, about a hundred feet tall and at least forty feet wide at the base, and they slowly arched to a point. To the right of the gates was a desk, and to the right of the desk was a dark pit. The line ended in front of the desk. Some of the people walked away from the desk and were escorted through the gates. Others were led screaming to the pit, into which they were flung by winged guards. When at last there were only five people before him in, Conrad could see the face of the gatekeeper. His heart turned to ice in his chest. The gatekeeper had the face of the terrier.
It was August eleventh, and despite the heat, despite the humidi ty, despite the insects, despite the threat of rain, they flocked to the Little Grove Cemetery to see the monument. They knew that tonight there would be no rain. In Little Grove it never rained on the night of August eleventh. And tonight would be no exception. They brought blankets and lawn chairs and coolers filled with soft drinks and beer and they arranged these articles on the ground near their cars. Little Grove Cemetery is situated on sev eral hills, a small hill surrounded by several larger ones, and the monument sits atop the small central hill. A paved road winds through the cemetery, and the grass beside the road was by eight o’clock thick with parked cars and people sitting around sipping from cans. People talked in low voices while more cars made their way along the road looking for a place to sit. Some people began park ing their cars out of view of the monument and taking their things up on the broad empty south hill. Some young people climbed a few of the trees, to sit on the lower limbs, to watch the monument. At about eight-thirty the sun began to go down, creating a daz zling sunset of fiery orange. The sky was perfectly clear. Mercury and Venus became slowly visible with the setting sun. By nine the cemetery was getting pretty full. A policeman wan dered among the people to make sure that they were abiding by applicable laws. The cemetery was abuzz with the soft conversa
tion of the people. By nine-thirty the sun was gone and the stars were out. With the darkness a tense anticipation began to fill the cemetery. The people on the north hill watching the monument could see be hind the monument Mars and Jupiter blazing low on the horizon. The full moon crept above the trees to the east. A brilliant panorama of stars and constellations graced the sky. The air was tainted with the odor of freshly cut grass. At ten o’clock a representative of the cemetery who had been monitoring the flow of people into it closed the big iron-wrought gates across the entry road and put out a lit sign that announced that the cemetery could hold no more visitors. The sign made no one return home, though. Those refused entry to the cemetery made their way to the park downtown, where they still were al lowed an adequate view of the monument and the sky above. A few journalists were in the crowd, both in the cemetery and in the town’s park, and they spoke now and then in low tones into pocket cassette recorders or scribbled notes into note pads. Many scientists as well as journalists and laymen arranged photograph ic equipment around the monument. Some people produced telescopes or binoculars and prepared them for use. One man set up a directional microphone pointed at the tip of the monument. Everywhere people prepared for the main event. The monument is a smooth marble structure some forty feet high, two feet wide and square at the bottom, tapering to a point at the top. The monument stands erect toward Heaven. Surround ing the monument is a low concrete wall which forms a square, thirty feet along each side, with the monument in the exact cen ter. Inside the square are the graves of the old minister and his family. The monument and the square wall and the contained graves were first. The cemetery was built around them. At eleven forty-five a hush fell over the crowd. People began
watching the monument through their observation devices. Par ents called their children close by. The policeman stopped patrolling and tipped his cap back to watch the monument. Scien tists and journalists set their recording devices into action. All eyes were riveted to the monument. The crowd held its breath. At eleven fifty-five it began. A blue light appeared at the tip of the monument and moved Heavenward. The pure blue light followed a jagged path straight up, forking here and there, moving like slow blue lightning. There was no sound. Even the night animals were quiet. The si lence was deafening. The blue light glowed on the faces and shone in the eyes of all the observers. The slow blue lightning moved upward to eternity, forking and rejoining, irregular in its path, regular in its direction. The light flashed and hove, slowly streaking upward from the tip of the monument to infinity. For a full five minutes it continued, forming a brilliant spectacle in the sky above the monument. Then, at midnight, as abruptly as it had begun, it ended. The beam of blue light stopped appearing from the tip of the monument, and the already ejected lightning slowly moved upward, becoming smaller and shorter with the distance. Finally it was just a tiny line, and then only a blue point among the white points which were the stars. Then, at three minutes af ter midnight, it vanished completely, leaving the observers once again bathed in the light of the stars. A pair of hands broke the silence, applauding. They were joined by another and another and soon Little Grove was filled with the sound of clapping hands. Then the applause stopped, and the cemetery attendant opened the gates, and the policeman straightened his cap, and the people collected their things and went home.
“Look, Carol, new shoes,” I said, and pointed, beaming. Carol agreed, “Yes, new shoes.” She sipped her drink and sighed. I beamed around the doughnut shop at people in general, feel ing like a million bucks. “New shirt,” I said to Carol, turning to give her a better view, “silk.” “Yup,” she said, and bit a chunk off one of the powdered doughnuts she’d ordered. “Eat a doughnut,” she said. “I got them for us.” I was shocked. “No. I can’t. My new tie. I can’t take a chance on getting it dirty.” Carol sipped her orange juice while I straightened my tie and beamed around some more. “Bob,” Carol began. “I know what you’re going to say,” I interrupted, “and it’s not necessary. I already know I look great. Great.” She said something while I took a napkin off the table and buffed my new shoes gently. I dropped the napkin on the table and took a small, careful sip of my orange juice. “Bob,” Carol said again. “Huh?” “I was saying that since you graduated from med school you’ve been acting very, well, self-“ “Hey! Watch it!” I shouted, as a passing child bumped into my new shoes. The boy’s mother apologized and took the child on
down the aisle while I inspected the damage done. One long scuff mark ran down the edge of my left shoe. “Damn,” I muttered, picking up the napkin and buffing out the smudge. When I looked up again, Carol was gone. I stood up, walked to the door, and watched Carol’s car disappear slowly from the park ing lot into the busy street. Great, I thought, she drove me here, and now I’m going to have to walk home. After that rain last night. In my new shoes! My apartment was seven blocks away, and I had no money left for a taxi. Buying the new duds had left me short of cash-onhand. Leaving the doughnut shop, I walked alertly on the side walk toward my apartment, keeping a keen eye out for puddles and mud spots. I’d walked about a block when I heard a woman to my right scream. I looked up at her, and followed her pointing finger with my eyes. Up ahead, in the street, lay a girl. Just past her, facing me, on my side of the street, was a steaming taxi with a broken grill and dented hood. A crowd began to cluster around the girl. I caught myself before I could break into a run. The girl needed a doctor, probably many doctors, but I wasn’t the only doctor in the city. She’d make it with or without me. But everyone likes to play the hero now and then. I pictured myself as the dashing young doctor, revered by the surrounding peasants, rushing to the rescue of a young maiden. But I wouldn’t be rushing so fast that I messed up my new shoes or rumpled my silk shirt and tie. I walked, briskly but carefully, to her. I got there ninety seconds later, and pushed my way fastidi ously through the crowd, trying not to let anyone touch my silk or step on my shoes. “I’m a doctor,” I said. “Open a path for me.” The people didn’t seem to hear, so I nudged them out of the way and stooped down to the girl. She was a wreck. The impact had broken her right leg in sever
al places, and the white glint of bone stuck through her jeans just above her knee. The bone had severed her femoral artery. The blood sprayed low into the air in thick spurts, and I had to keep my distance to preserve my silk and shoes. She needed a tourni quet, and she needed it badly. “Give me your shirt,” I said to the man on the other side of her. “I need to make a tourniquet.” The man just sat there, in shock, looking at all that blood. A woman on my right had a shopping bag in her hand. “Do you have something in there I can make a tourniquet with?” I asked her. She, too, stood mesmerized by the blood and gore. “Take this,” said a gruff voice on my left. I looked, and a con struction-worker type was handing me his grubby T-shirt. I took it. After I rolled up my silk sleeves, I fashioned a tourniquet using a piece of the broken grill and the T-shirt. I finished the tourniquet and looked at the girl’s face. She looked like she wasn’t breathing. I listened at her chest and felt at her carotid artery. I couldn’t find a pulse. “Does anyone here know CPR?” I asked loudly. No one an swered. This shouldn’t have been happening. “Clear the way!” I said. “Everybody get back!” I hit her four times in the chest and again checked for a pulse. Nothing. Apprehension mounted in my chest as I began car diopulmonary resuscitation. I felt for a pulse again in a minute, and still finding no signs of life, resumed the resuscitative efforts. My arms got very tired very quickly. I asked a few times for help from the crowd, but no one knew enough CPR to help me. Soon my arms began to ache. By the time the ambulance got there my arms and mind had gone numb. As the two paramedics took my place with the CPR, a doctor from the hospital examined the girl. They loaded her into the ambulance with a sheet pulled up
over her head. I pushed back through the crowd to the sidewalk and began to run. After a couple of blocks I stopped, panting, and looked around. To my right the traffic was backed up because of the acci dent. Beat up yellow cabs fumed with their drivers and passengers in the spring heat. A woman in a light blue Subaru turned off her engine and lit a Marlborough Light 100 cigarette. A Greyhound bus driver a little ways up the street spotted the jam and turned right to avoid it. To my right, in the small park, a gold and brown finch with a ribbon in its beak alighted on the branch of a young birch tree. On the park bench a young, tired-looking mother tied her toddler son’s sneakers. A gust of fresh spring gust picked a wrinkled newspaper page up and tossed it into the street next to the Sub aru. Damn. Thinking about the doughnut shop, I wondered where Carol was. Her bright brown eyes and wide smile flashed into my mem ory. I had a lot of making up to do, maybe more than I could do. But I had to try. Sighing, I stuffed my hands in my pockets and trudged up the street to find Carol. I felt like about six bucks.
Ninety-Two Percent Water
“Doctor, the water in my body is keeping me awake at night.” Doctor Cane looked over his desk, staring calmly at Gloria Horner with his steel gray eyes. “The water in your body?” “That’s right.” “Mrs. Horner, how much water is in your body?” asked the doctor, his voice smooth and level. She brought her hands out from behind her back nervously. Her left hand clutched a volume entitled Body Trivia. “It says here,” she said, faintly offering the book, “that ninety-two per cent of my body is water.” “How does that ninety-two percent keep you awake?” asked Doctor Cane. “Well, it kind of, sloshes around, inside me.” “And the sloshing keeps you awake?” Gloria nodded fervently. “Yes, and sometimes there’s singing.” The doctor raised one eyebrow, slightly grinning. “Singing?” “Yes.” Her lower lip trembled a bit. “Who does the singing?” “I don’t know.” “Is this person singing on the street outside your window?” “It’s not a person. It’s more like a … a quartet. You know, like a barbershop quartet.” “Is this barbershop quartet outside your window, serenading you, perhaps?” “No. They’re inside me. Like right now, they’re inside my head.
But when I lay down it sounds like they’re in my shoulder, or in my hip.” The doctor folded his hands on the desk. “What do they sing?” She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. “I can’t tell.” “What does it sound like?” “German, I guess. But it’s inside my head and the acoustics get all messed up.” Doctor Cane’s smile twisted slightly bigger. “So the voices sound like they’re singing something in German inside your head?” She lowered her eyes and nodded. “What do you think it is, Doctor?” “I’m certain that it’s just a simple case of nerves,” he said, “I’m sure that it will go away.” Gloria raised her head quickly. “No! It’s not! The sloshing! Can’t you hear it?” The doctor shook his head. “I can’t hear a thing,” he said. “I recommend that you just take it easy at your house for a few days. Relax. I’m sure it will go away.” “No! It won’t go away! I’ve tried that already.” “You tried relaxing?” “Yes.” “For how long?” “I don’t know. Several days. It didn’t work. The water inside me just kept sloshing and those voices just kept singing.” “Mrs. Horner, the water inside you is mixed with many other things. It can’t slosh.” “It does.” The doctor sighed. “Mrs. Horner, does the water even slosh in your arms?” “Yes,” she said, uncertainly, her eyes burning bright but curi ously.
Doctor Cane’s smile twisted even more. He slid open his center desk drawer and lifted out an axe. Its edge gleamed in the office lights. “Mrs. Horner, would you like me to show you that the wa ter in your arm can not slosh?” She stood still for a long while. Then, slightly, she nodded. Doctor Cane rose from his desk and moved around it to her. He took the book from her hand and put it on the table. Slowly he grasped her forearm with his left hand and brought it down on top of the book. His left hand held her arm in place and he hefted the axe in his right. “Are you sure?” he asked her. Again she nodded. After a brief pause he smiled. Then he chopped the axe down ward through the tissue of her arm and into the book. A torrent of water gushed from the wound, flooding across the desk onto his chair. Gloria snapped her head back, face toward the ceiling, mouth open in a silent scream. Her head began to col lapse into itself. Doctor Cane let go of Gloria’s arm and stepped back a step. He watched, and his face twisted into a smile of satisfaction. Gloria’s head and neck and shoulders slowly collapsed into her torso as the water continued to flood out of her arm. Suddenly the air was filled with hollow voices, thick with German accents, singing. Then a tiny boat gushed out of Gloria’s arm. The three occupants stopped singing and furiously paddled to keep their craft straight in the current. The flow took them over the edge of the desk into the chair. By this time Gloria’s body had collapsed enough that it could no longer stand. It toppled over onto what was left of its side. When it hit the floor it split in the area of her hip, and water gushed out onto the floor. Within seconds all that remained of Gloria was her clothes around an empty shell of skin in a pool of water on Doctor Cane’s floor.
Doctor Cane stopped smiling after a minute and sighed. Kneel ing, he gathered what was left of Gloria into a ball and threw her into his trash basket. Reaching onto his desk he lifted the book Gloria had brought and looked at its cover. Laughing, he threw this book into his trash on top of the ball of Gloria.
A Walk Down Main Street
The day had started out great. The temperature had climbed through the forties straight into the middle fifties, so I, in my middle-aged foolishness (I’m twenty-two), had decided that I needed neither car nor coat for the nine block journey to my of fice. Around lunchtime, however, the temperature had plummeted back down to the low teens typical of the end of February in upstate New York. I looked around my office for something to wear. I am a writer, so my small rented office was cluttered with many papers and books, but no jackets or sweaters. I dismissed the thought of con structing a paper coat. I looked out into the parking lot to see if John Brensten, the importing agent who rents the office next to mine, had driven his car home yet. He had. I looked at my watch. Of course he was gone; it was after six on a Friday evening, and every Friday after noon by quarter of five John made a point of being in a bar working on his cirrhosis while his wife stayed home and worked on her ulcer. I dismissed the idea of hibernating until warmer weather be cause of hunger. I had skipped lunch to put down my latest flurry of ideas for my next novel. Just after five I had scrapped the novel in favor of a horror short story. I had just rented the office earlier in February, so I didn’t even have a phone yet to call a taxi. “Well, Denis,” I said to myself, “you’ve really done it for your
self this time.” I looked down at my clothes. I was wearing a pullover short-sleeve shirt and blue jeans. I looked to Darwin, my muse (small stuffed bear), where he sat my beside my word pro cessor. Darwin said to go ahead, brave the elements, be a man. Darwin always said things like that. I told Darwin that if he didn’t shut up I was going to leave him outside overnight. Darwin didn’t say anything more after that. I had left him outside once before when he had gotten too disrespectful. I locked the door behind me and set out through the cold air, stuffing my hands into my pockets as I walked. “You’ve won just what you’ve always wanted, Mr. Grey, an all expenses paid trip down Main Street of beautiful Gouverneur, New York. Yippie.” The buildings seemed to crawl by with gelid sluggishness. It was damn cold. The first house I passed, on my left, was mine. It is a big tan house with brown trim, three stories, two bathrooms and five bedrooms. My wife Amanda and I plan on having a large family, so we bought a large house, even though we now only have one child, Elizabeth, who is less than a month old. Amanda and I are still newlyweds. We will have been married for a full year on March tenth. Amanda and I have big plans. My job as a computer programmer is really paying off, because my company recently got a big contract to write all the software for a major computer company. I got a ten-thousand-dollar-a-year raise. Amanda and I are going to modify the basement of the house to make a play room for the kids. I only wish that our children’s lives will be unaffected by the lunatics out there who prey on kids these days. I don’t know what we’d do if the police knocked on our door one day to tell us that Elizabeth had been attacked as she played on the playground at school. I don’t know what I would do. Next I passed the apartment building where my girlfriend,
Sarah, lives with her parents. Sarah and I are serious; we have been for nearly two years now. We really dig each other. This June, after we graduate from high school, Sarah and I plan to get married and go south. I hear that jobs are more plentiful down there. Her parents think it’s a bad idea, so they’re not going to help us or anything. My parents keep telling me to go to college. They insist that when I get to college I will forget all about Sarah and find someone new. They just don’t seem to understand. They think we’re sleeping together now, but Sarah and I both want to wait until after we’re married. Of course, a little fooling around can’t hurt, can it? I mean, we’re getting married, so what can pos sibly go wrong? I hope we feel the same when we’re twenty-nine with four kids of our own. On the next block I passed a small green house, which was mine. I live there with my wife, Dawn. Dawn isn’t there now, though, she’s in the hospital with, well, a bad case of slit wrists. You see, back in November Dawn found out that she was preg nant. We had only been married for eight months at the time, and it was welcome news to both of us. But in January Dawn had a miscarriage, and learned that the same problem which had caused the miscarriage would never allow her to have any chil dren. We were both terribly upset. Futility is the greatest of sorrows. Dawn fell into a deep depression. Finally, two days ago, she cut her wrists with a paring knife. The doctors say she’ll be all right, but she’s still terribly depressed, and I just don’t know what to do. Soon she’ll be released in my care and I don’t have any idea what will happen. I don’t know how to treat her. I’m so scared that I will do the wrong thing. I’m so scared she’ll try again. I just don’t know what to do. The doctors provide little practical advice. No one I have talked to can provide any worthwhile information. All I can do is tell her that I love her, and that I will love her de spite anything that may happen, She’s alone during the day when
I’m at my office, and a used car salesman like myself can make no money by staying home. All I can do is tell her that I love her. I do love her. I hope she understands. I love her. I walked on. On the next block I passed the house where my ex-wife Fran lives with her new husband, Joe. Joe is a banker. I am the owner of the only pawn shop in Gouverneur. Fran left me sev en months ago. She said that I was too much of a bum to hang around any more. She complained all the time while we were married that I couldn’t support her the way she liked to be sup ported. She said that her father always gave her the best of everything, that since he died her life has not been the same. Af ter several months of this I suggested to her that, if she missed her father so much, perhaps she should join him. She was furious. She left that night and has not been back since. I’m glad to be rid of her, for though I once loved her very much, life is way too short to be spent with someone who only respects what you are worth. I crossed Seller Street and walked past a white house with black window frames and shutters, which was mine. I live there with my son and two daughters. We have been alone since Gloria died of lung cancer two years ago. I own a sporting goods shop on Main Street, the only sporting goods shop in Gouverneur. We used to be a very closely-knit family, Gloria and Charlie and Debo rah and Jessica and I. The sporting goods shop was a family owned and operated business. All my children worked in it, help ing with unloading and stocking the shelves and completing orders for the local high schools. Gloria was an excellent book keeper. Now she’s gone, and I have had to hire a bookkeeper. Deborah is already in college, in California, and her sister Jessica plans to join her there next year. While I can’t be disappointed with their success, I still find myself wishing for the old days when my sporting goods shop was run almost entirely by my
family. Two years from now Charlie will be leaving for Alabama, if all goes right. He is set on becoming an automotive engineer, and I wish him all the luck in the world, I really do. But I still look back lovingly on the old days, and I look with fear on the days yet to come. Fear not because my children will be succeeding, but be cause I will awake one day and find myself alone in the big white house, and Lord knows I hate to be alone. On the next block I passed the home of my fiancee, Heather O’ Donnell. My heart stepped up a beat as I walked past the light blue house of her parents. Heather and I are both the same age, twenty, and we met when we were both working at the MightyMart in downtown Gouverneur. We plan to get married in July, but we have told no one about it yet. We want to keep it a secret. For one thing, her parents would have a fit. They are rigidly Jew ish and I am not; I am Protestant, Lutheran to be precise. So our engagement is secret, but our dating is not. Every Saturday night we go out, and we don’t return until late. Her parents wait up for her, but she nimbly avoids their questions. They think that we just go to the movies or somewhere similar every Saturday. Little do they know. Littler do they suspect. It’s all right, though. After all, we are getting married, so even if we don’t go the movies and instead go back to my apartment (I’m an insurance agent, so I pretty much have my after-business hours free) and fool around a little. After all, what can a little fooling around hurt? We are going to get married. We do love each other. All that we do is not just an escape from the everyday hassles of bosses and parents. It’s not. Is it? It is a product of love. Isn’t it? I jammed my hands deeper into my pockets and walked a little more briskly. I moved on to the next block, and there I passed the small golden house where Jennifer is staying. Jennifer is my dream girl. She works down at the hot dog shop on Seventh Street, and every day I take an early lunch from my job as a shoe
salesman so I can get to the hot dog stand before she gets off duty. She’s so beautiful, with flowing brown hair, deep brown eyes, a smile that is the envy of the girls and the goal of the guys, and a figure that would put Cleopatra to shame. And I have a date with her tonight. That’s right, I, Henry Carven, shoe salesman for the famous Uptown Shoes in luxurious Gouverneur, New York, have a date with the beautiful Jennifer Hall, dream girl of the eighties. Finally today I got up enough nerve to ask her what she was doing this evening. She said she wasn’t busy, and the rest is history. I can’t wait! Jennifer is really gorgeous. She’s my age, twenty-two, and she’s staying with her uncle, who owns the hot dog shop, while she looks for a job as a nurse (she just got her nursing degree in December). I hope things work out between us tonight, so that after she finds a job elsewhere (she’s already looked at Gouverneur General Hospital) I won’t be out of place to go to where she lives to ask her for a date. I really hope things work out. I’m going to try my best. On the next block I passed a restaurant, the Gouverneur Grid dle. My daughter, Kristin, lives in the upstairs apartment with her boyfriend, Chuck. It makes me so sad. We used to be so close, so close. We could talk for hours about anything. We had the kind of father-daughter relationship that they write books about. Then, one day, I don’t know what happened. She started demanding more rights, more freedom. I tried to give her what she wanted. She seemed to push me away. Questions that once were all right were suddenly none of my business. It all started about three years ago, during her senior year in high school. She started go ing out with boys and staying out very late. I waited up for her— as all parents, I am concerned for the welfare of my children (I have three girls), and I only wanted to make sure she got home all right and that she was all right when she got home. She felt I was checking up on her. When I asked who she was with she refused
to give more than vague answers, and sometimes I found out that she had lied. Then, about a year ago, she told us that she had been going out for some time with Chuck Warner, a taxidermist who lives above the Gouverneur Griddle, but who works in a shop in Emeryville, a town not far south of here. She said that she met Chuck at a dance club her friends had been going to, and they had started dating after that. I tried to regain with her what we had once had. I tried to be supportive and loving. Two months ago I came home from work one day to find her packing her things into Chuck’s pickup truck. She announced that she was moving in with Chuck, and warned me not to try to stop her. What could I do? Before she left, I told her that I didn’t agree with what she was doing, but that I loved her anyway. Then she left and has only returned home to visit once. But, in spite of everything that has happened, in spite of everything that has been said and done, if she came up to me today I would give her a hug and tell her that I love her. And I am afraid that, for reasons perhaps even God doesn’t know, if I tried to she would push me away. But I love her anyway. My other two children, Samantha and Rosemary, are now in high school. I hope that what happened between Kristin and me doesn’t also happen between Samantha or Rosemary and me, and I hope that someday Kristin and I become as close as we were before, because I honestly love my girls. At last I reached the block on which I lived; that is, at last I reached the block on which I really lived. I took the key from my left pocket and fumbled with icy fingers to extend the one that would unlock the front door to my apartment. I unlocked it and it swung inward. Inside there appeared a flash of brown, and then Laura, my soft tawny malamute, jumped up and began licking my face. I laughed. Laura and I shared the apartment, by ourselves. “Not so good today, Laura,” I said. “I worked for five hours on a brilliant novel about a young couple of newlyweds during the
civil war, then scrapped the whole project at two o’clock in favor of a short story about vampires invading a town in Maine. Then I had to walk nine blocks in the terrible cold without so much as a stitch to keep me warm.” “Woof!” said Laura. She was always glad to see me, and I was always glad to see her, especially after a long day at the office. There was just something about her. I returned her sloppy kiss with a tremendous hug, and closed the door on the icy air behind us.
Blood and Gore
I sank my hunting knife to the hilt into his back, noting with de light the grating sound it made while cutting though the bones. Blood poured from the wound, staining his faded yellow sportshirt. He yelped a little and turned around. He had a shocked look on his face, as if he was surprised I’d stabbed him. I didn’t like that look, so I shot at him. My aim wasn’t good, so my shot missed his head to his left and only blew away a pyramid of tomato soup cans. I shot again, and this time I hit him directly in the face. He went over backwards, and his blood mixed with that of the toma to soup cans which were rolling around on the floor and spilling their innards. I must have been a hideous sight, standing there with my hunting knife in my right hand and my .44 magnum handgun in my left. My entire right forearm was red where the blood had poured down from the knife to my hand to my arm. My new skyblue pullover cotton shirt (out of the plastic no more than two hours ago) was splattered with tiny droplets of my victim’s blood. Though I couldn’t tell for sure, there must have been a crazed look on my face and a wild gleam in my eyes. Suddenly someone got a choke-hold on me from behind. Al most instinctively, I swung my right hand back up over my head. From behind me came the congratulatory sounds of a grunt and the knife-on-bone sound I was beginning to enjoy hearing. The grip on my neck loosened, and I threw the arm away and spun around. Here was a man in a tweed jacket, holding his hands to
the gash I had just cut into the top of his head. He fell to his knees, still making that awful groaning sound. I shot him once, and he flopped over backwards, sliding out into the cross-aisle. His breath oozed out of the extra hole I had just made in his chest. I didn’t want him to suffer, so I kneeled down next to him and slashed across his neck with my knife. His severed head rolled away, and a torrent of blood spurted from his cut jugular. I stabbed the knife into the bottom of his abdomen, and quickly drew the knife though his skin to his breastbone. His greenish in testines spilled out onto the tile floor. I admired their steaming form. Suddenly a bullet chunked into the tile at my feet. Another bullet ripped through a candy display to my right. I turned and fled across the hot desert sand. The gunman was behind me somewhere, but all I could feel was the hot air in my throat and the burning sand on my bare feet. A large boulder rose into view as I topped a dune, and I sprinted toward it, my feet screaming as I stepped on the small, sharp rocks near the boul der. I ducked and dove behind the boulder and as another bullet ricocheted off the boulder and dug into the sand at my feet. From the safety behind the boulder, I heard the horseman bring his mount to a halt. He knew I had a gun, too, and I quickly reloaded while I had the chance. I stuck my hunting knife back into its sheath and put the gun in my right hand. With my left hand I removed my hat and and slowly inched it around the side of the boulder. BLAM! A bullet ripped into the rock, showering my head with tiny pebbles. I withdrew the hat and stuffed it back onto my head. It seemed none the worse for wear. With me on one side of the boulder and the unnamed, armed rider on the other side, it seemed a standoff. It seemed to be the time to call into action my
superior powers of plot and plan. I sat back on my haunches and thunk. The sun beat down on the sand and the boulder and me. Pre sumably my unknown assailant on the other side of that boulder was engaging in the same head-wracking that I was. A finch alighted on the sand a few feet from me. I started and very nearly blew his head clean off. Only my concentration had given me the thinking time to realize that I was not actually being attacked. From this incident I drew my plan. I removed my hat once more, and put a handy rock inside it. I tested its weight in my hand. It seemed to be the right propor tions for throwing accurately. I stepped to the corner of the boulder and readied the hat in my right hand and the gun in my left. I paused for a moment, collecting my energies. I lobbed the hat up over the boulder towards the opposite cor ner. I heard it plop in the sand and leapt out from my hiding place, gun leading the way. Nothing. No gunman, no gun, no unknown assailant, no ene my, no nothing. Just sand. And my hat. That’s when I felt the gun in my back. Apparently this gunman had made a light-foot rush around they other end of the boulder when I had made mine. “Drop the gun,” a voice with thick Arab overtones command ed, and the gun thrust into my back to emphasize the point. I obediently and regretfully dropped my old friend into the sand in front of me. “And the knife.” Another gun thrust. I unsheathed the knife and kind of squatted as if to lay it gently on the sand in front of me. My hand was out of the sight of the gunman, so I flicked my wrist backwards, sending the knife spinning back up over my head. I hit the sand. The gunman apparently knew what was going down, because
he shot once at me. But I was safely on the hot sand, and his shot was too high. He shot again, but I think he was busy ducking the knife, for his shot whistled through the air and dug into a cactus about fifty yards in front of us. I spun around, on my feet but ducked low. The poor fellow never had a chance. I caught his arm, as he was bringing the gun down for another shot, with my left hand. Another bullet whistled harmlessly from his gun. My right hand flew though the air in the hardest punch I had ever thrown. I hit him squarely in the stomach. His breath all came out at once in a loud rush, and his eyes kind of rolled back in his head. Without a pause, I brought my right knee up into his groin with as mush power as I could muster. I think he would have yelped, but he had no air in his lungs. Instead his whole body went limp. He fell backwards onto the sand, but I did not loosen my grip on his gun holding hand. My knife, my old hunting friend, lay only inches away. Quick as a whip, I grabbed it off the sand and thrust it hiltdeep into his throat. The hand released the gun. Seconds later, it was over. His limp form lay motionless on the burning sand. I glanced around. We were alone in the desert, and I was the only living creature (apart from the horse and the finch) in sight. Just for fun (and to hear that sound I liked), I decided to cut his brains out. I had never seen human brains spill onto hot sand. Be sides, I was getting hungry. A dim sound pervaded my senses. I turned my head a little to better hear it. With a rush the sound grew in intensity and a motorcycle gang topped the dune I had crossed no more than fifteen minutes earli er. They slowed and stopped at the top. Then their leader spotted me. With a simple motion of his hand, he motioned his troops
into action, and the pack set after me. With a gasp, I leapt to my feet and sprinted toward the bike the unknown assailant had left in the sand, sheathing my knife and holstering my gun as I ran. I was in luck: the bike was idling and ready for action. I leapt aboard and raced the throttle, spitting sand at my followers. I quickly reached the end of the road that jutted out into the sand of the desert, and the chase was on. I got a little head start, because the pack was slowed by the sand until they reached the road, so I was about fifty yards in front of them at the start. I was in luck again that day: my bike was fast. Our speeding forms raced along the desert road, just tiny dots on the face of the desert. The air burned in our nostrils and our hearts raced in our chests and the road zipped beneath our feet and the wind whistled through our hair. The road didn’t go straight, but twisted through the desert as a meandering stream weaves through a country meadow. We all had to brake to take the corners, but I lacked the experience of my pursuers, and they slowly got closer to me. But not all of the gang members were of equal skill, so they became separated as they chased me. Our black forms formed a line on the gray road in the desert. We came to a long straightaway, and I opened the throttle wide. My bike was fast, but not as fast as some. One of the gang members pulled up alongside me to my left. I wonder what he thought he was going to do. He gave me a cruel smile. I smiled right back, pulled my gun out of my holster, and shot him. I guess that wiped the smile off his face. His bike went over on its side and tumbled along in the road. I turned my head to watch, and I saw his bike wipe out three other gang members who had been following him, their faces twisted in
fear as they realized what was happening and tried to avoid the accident. I smiled to myself and turned my eyes back to the road ahead. The straightaway continued to the horizon. I held the throttle wide open. Now and then I glanced back to check the condition of my pur suers. At first they hung back in a group, talking among themselves. Then two of them got brave and accelerated up to me, one on each side. The others still hung back. There were about twelve of them, more or less. The two who were accelerat ing to me drew long switchblades, and their blades glinted in the sunlight. I watched them closely, and when they got within five feet of me I drew my pistol and hung on to the handlebars tightly. Sud denly I jammed on the brakes for a second, then open the throttle wide again. Now my attackers were neatly one on each side and four feet in front of me. I shot each in the back, and had to swerve wildly to avoid their falling bikes. I did it, though, and, looking back, I saw that a few of their comrades had not been so fortu nate. The wreckage flopped and skidded along on the road, then lay still. The road was smeared with their blood, and the gang members lay quite still. Chuckling, I turned my eyes back to the road and raced on. Suddenly my engine coughed and sputtered. I looked down in horror at the fuel gauge. Its needle rested on the pin at the bot tom of the E end of the scale. I looked back; eight bikers still clung to my tail. Then I had an idea. They didn’t know I was out of gas. I once again turned to face my pursuers. I aimed the pistol at the middle of their group, and fired. The lead attacker fell, and took another pursuer with him.
My engine sputtered once more, and quit altogether. I fired again into the group, but my aim was high. The pur suers swerved anyway, but none of them went down. I fired again. A pursuer’s front tire blew out and he went over the handlebars and his face dug into the pavement. The bike flipped over on top of him, then cartwheeled down the road for a distance before skidding to a stop. The bike knocked no other at tackers out of commission. My bike was slowing at a good clip now, I fired twice more, blowing two more attackers off the road. I squeezed the trigger again. CLICK! The magazine had been emptied. The gang advanced rapidly. I reholstered my gun and drew my trusty hunting knife. This might be it. Five on one is not good odds, but I had El Trusto Kni fo. I decided the odds were in my favor. Suddenly I swerved off the road and braked to a stop in the sand. A scattering of rocks lay at my feet. I picked one of them up and heaved it at the crowd. One of the bikers swerved, fell on his side, and skidded along on the pavement, my rock buried into the front of his face. He lay still on the pavement. The remaining four gang members stopped up the road a ways. I turned away from them and hot-footed it towards the horizon. Ahead of me lay miles and miles of sandy dunes and cac tus plants. I laid tracks as fast as I could, but they put down tracks even faster. Soon I could hear breathing behind me. I sneaked a glance over my shoulder. The gang members, in their pursuit, had be come strung out, as they had when we had been racing on the twisting roads. The first was probably a full twenty yards ahead of the others. I don’t think he knew I had a knife. As soon as I could hear his footsteps right on my tail, I stopped
in my tracks, spun around, and plunged my trusty knife to the hilt into his stomach. I suspect the blade extended clear out the other side of his body. After all, the blade is nine inches long. I withdrew the knife and slashed at his neck. His jugular spat blood out onto the sand in heavy spurts. The three others closed in quickly. Each of them wielded a gnarly chain. They looked as though they had much experience with those weapons. Still I felt as though the odds were in my fa vor. I had my trusty knife; they didn’t. They were still a good ten yards away, and bearing down on me with fierce rapidity. I took off on a course perpendicular to theirs, and by the time they could change their courses I had a fifteen yard lead on them. I spotted a dying cactus and hot-footed it toward the plant. I reached the plant quickly, and saw what I had hoped to see. I picked up the dead branch, careful not to stab my hand with any of the spikes, and heaved it at the rushing throng. One of the at tackers cried out as the heavy branch stabbed its spikes into his chest. He fell into a pile and bled profusely on the sand. He strug gled, but the cactus was too embedded for him to remove it. One of the gangsters, probably only seventeen years old, at most, stopped to help his friend remove the cactus branch. I turned and ran away, and the other remaining member followed. HEE! I turned and stabbed the Trusty Knife at my foe. My blade caught only air. SMACK! His heavy chain found its mark, and the left side of my face screamed in agony. I fell to the sand on my right side. My foe once more closed for another swipe. POOF! I flung a handful of sand at him, and it found its way to his
eyes. He staggered back, dropping the chain and covering his eyes with his hands. That was all the break I needed. In a flash I leapt to my feet and plunged my Trusty Knife into his chest. The familiar knife-on-bone sound issued forth as my blade cut through his ribs. I still liked that sound, so I plunged the knife again and again, slashing his chest into shreds. His dead body fell to the sand—in several pieces. I turned my attention to the other two foes. They were still working on removing the cactus branch, and paid me no attention. I reached into my pocket, and my hand found only two shells left for my gun. The rest must have fallen out during my scuffles. No matter. I reloaded the magazine and cocked my pistol; the two still paid me no attention. I sat down and steadied the gun on my knee. BOOM! My first shot caught the young gangster right in the head, and blew away a great portion of his skull. He fell over and his grey brains spilled out onto the hot sand. BOOM! My second shot hit the last gang member in the side, and blood splashed up from his wounds. I sat down and took a breather on the sand, giving my bare feet a rest. After a while my strength returned, and I arose. I went over to the shredded body of the attacker I had sanded the eyes of. I hefted his weapon. It felt good in my hand. I removed my holster and left it and my useless-when-empty gun lying in the sand. I hung the chain on my belt where my holster had been, and resheathed my Trusty Knife. Then I closed my trench coat over the weapons, to keep them out of sight, but not out of reach. Then I stepped out of the alley and became a member of the New York City Rush Hour Throng.
The sun was bright and the day was windy, so I stopped for a moment to put on my dark sunglasses and to pull my hat down on my head. The crowd came thick and fast. Most of the pedestri ans walked in one direction. I walked against the tide. Soon I reached a small, deserted alley. I snagged the arm of a passer-by and ushered him into the alley. He wore the frown and the hat of a cabbie. He looked as though he didn’t appreciate be ing dragged into a lonely alley by a total stranger. “Do you love?” My words came out in a low, barely audible whisper. The cabbie looked at me strangely at first, then swapped that look for an annoyed expression. His voice was as thick as the wrinkles on his forehead. “Not weirdos like you, you f—” My knife caught him squarely in the center of the abdomen, and its blade plunged up through his diaphragm into the soft flesh of his lungs. He looked dumbstruck, as he bled all over my shoes. “What was that?” I asked sarcastically. “I didn’t catch that last word.” I drove the blade further into his chest, until I could feel his heart beating on the end of the knife. Then, all at once, I pulled the brand out of him and stepped back. He fell into a heap in a pool of his own blood. I glanced out at the street, but none of the passers-by had no ticed anything unusual. Or maybe they just didn’t love. At any rate, no one was coming. It seemed the cabbie was dead, so I kneeled down and cut a piece of his coat with my Trusty Knife. With that piece I wiped the blood off my shoes and cleaned my Trusty Knife. I looked at the face of the cabbie. His blank eyes studied the clouds through the tiny gap between the tops of the buildings. I dropped the cloth over his eyes. He didn’t love. I turned, left the alley, and once more became a part of the
rush hour mob. I walked several more blocks, not looking at anyone and not having anyone look at me. Presently I came to a block having many small alleys. The block also had an abnormally large quan tity of scantily clad, heavily made-up female human beings lingering on the street corners and in doorways. I approached a particularly comely one standing in the doorway of a place under a liquor store sign and motioned for her to follow me. Her eyes traced my height for a moment, then she followed me, spitting out her gum onto the sidewalk as she stepped off the single step. I went into one of the alleys I had passed, a deserted one. She followed. “Hey, buddy, isn’t it a little too bright to be doing it right here in—” “Do you love?” I asked, my face expressionless. “What?” “Do you love?” I repeated, reaching inside my trench coat with my right hand. People bustled by out on the street, not noticing us. “Sure, I love. I’m the best there is, but it’ll cost you—” She glanced out at the street. I caught her glancing. She didn’t love. My chain shone in the bright sunlight, a bright arc in the air. She didn’t love. None of them did. She didn’t love. SMACK! The chain caught her above her left temple. It bit through her flesh, reaching her with enough momentum to rip her left eye from her skull. Blood poured from the empty socket, and her eye ball rolled around on the dirt in the alley. She screamed a little after a second, after she realized that I hadn’t brought her here for the purpose of indulging in the car nal services her profession offered.
The first shot from the chain had knocked her face sideways, so that my second hit her on the back of the head. I timed and placed the chain well, though. The handle end of the chain hit the back of her head, while the business end wrapped around and shattered the pearly white teeth in the wide space the scream was beginning to issue from. I reached the chain back for another swipe. As I swung the chain, blood splattered from its once shiny surface, diagonally striping the wall of the building in front of me. The chain hit her on the top of the head with a dull thud. The harlot slumped un conscious to the ground. The chain hung limply from my right hand. I stared at it. I didn’t at all like the noise it made. Not one bit. My face twisted into a mask of hated.
George Cromwell guided his car into the narrow alley between the two warehouses. Slowly he drove the car to the end of the al ley, where it was blocked off by a wire fence. George shut off the car and stepped out, smiling, into the night air. George could still hear his boss’s words ringing in his ears. Mr. Cole had been so pleasant, so nice to him today. It was almost a shame that he had to burn down his warehouse. Almost, but not quite. Not after what he had done. The thought of it burned in George’s mind. He would pay, though, with the burning of this warehouse, as he had with the burning of the oth ers. As the anonymous note had said, “When the warehouses are gone, your house, your wife, your kids are next.” It didn’t matter that Cole had fire insurance. All that mattered was that Cole was running low on warehouses, and that he knew that his family would be burning soon. All George wanted was for Cole to be scared to death for his family. A car slowly driving past the alley pulled George’s mind back to his deed. Cursing under his breath, George ran to the mouth of the alley and peered out at the car. It continued slowly up the street and turned left at the next intersection. Breathing a sigh of relief, George crept to the side door of the warehouse. He dug a ring of keys out of his pocket and held them up to the dim light. Wrong keys. Quickly he got the other set of keys out of his pocket, found the right one, and opened the pad lock on the side door. A dog howled somewhere. Silently, George
removed the lock from the door and walked back to his car. He found another key on the ring and opened the trunk. After re turning the keys to his pocket, George dropped the lock into the truck next to the others. A quick glance up the alley assured him that it was still desert ed. George grabbed the five gallon can of gasoline and the flashlight from the trunk, hurried over to the side door, pushed it open with his foot, stepped inside, and closed it behind him. Pant ing, he snapped on the flashlight, and began laughing to himself. Cole had actually almost complimented him today. “Nice job, Cromwell,” he had said. “You’ll get what you deserve for this.” Forcefully, George turned his thoughts back to the job at hand. He began dumping gasoline in front of all the doors except the side door. That one he would get when he was safely on the other side of it. Setting fire to the doors would keep the firefighters out, thereby insuring a successful burn. George was careful not to allow a trail of gasoline to connect the doors; he wanted to be sure that he could get out. After he finished dousing the doors, he began soaking the furs in the warehouse with gas. George laughed. Cole had been so nice to him today. It only to his feelings of satisfaction. Now there was just enough gas left in the can to soak the side door. George returned to the side door and looked outside. The alley was still deserted. He left the gas can on the ground beside the door, and once again sneaked over to his car. From the trunk he took a thin board and an oily rag. Quickly he tied the rag around one end of the board. In the darkness a twig snapped. George jumped. Slowly, carefully he crept over to the pile of refuse from which the sound had come. After a minute of probing the refuse with his beam of light, George reentered the side door. “Must have been a cat,” he muttered. He took a book of matches from his shirt pocket and lit the
rag. It gave off thick, heavy smoke. George began lighting the gasoline-soaked doors. Soon the fires were burning well, and the heat pressed George back to the side door. His yellow teeth shone in the firelight as he smiled, leaning back against the closed door. Satisfied, George turned and grasped the handle of the door. Then, through the thick oak door, he heard the sound of the pad lock snapping closed. As he frantically yanked on the knob of the door, he could hear, over the crackling of the fire, Mr. Cole laugh ing.
I write these words, and I know that they will have the greatest effect on religion the world has seen in nineteen hundred and eighty-six years. Of course there will be doubters and nay-sayers, but the scientific evidence is there, and it cannot be denied. May doubt be dispelled, I speak the truth. It all began about three weeks ago, during a high school bas ketball game. Jack, my identical twin brother, went up for a jumpshot and got the ball smashed back into his face. Jack fell to his knees, holding both hands to his nose, and so did I. The crowd roared, they thought it was all very funny, but the pain was real for both of us. Jack’s nose was broken, but mine wasn’t, but the pain was still very real. For the next week they did tests on us at nearby UCLA, to de termine the nature of the power. They called it “Empathy.” They discovered that we had the power to feel each other’s pain, as if the stimulus causing the pain was present for both of us. The power was very exact. For example, if I was poked with a pin on my right arm, Jack could point to a spot on his own arm where I had been poked, within millimeters of the actual spot. And when Jack was poked I could do the same. We couldn’t detect each oth er’s heat or pressure or texture or anything but pain, but the power to receive the other’s pain seemed to transcend all dis tances. For the last two weeks we’ve been doing interviews. It seems that every magazine and newspaper and talk show in the world
wants an interview and demonstration from Jack and Paul Sheri dan, the amazing Sheridan twins. I wonder if my news will stifle the demand for interviews. At twelve-thirty this afternoon Jack and I walked out of the studios of KJRX, the local news station, after giving them an inter view for their news at noon. A small crowd had gathered at the door of the studio, waiting in the stuffy California air for a chance to get a glimpse of the Sheridan twins to tell their grandchildren about. We made our way toward our car, paying the crowd no atten tion. We had a party to prepare for. Suddenly an elderly woman thrust her way through the crowd to address us directly. “You don’t give God enough credit,” she said accusingly. “Huh?” Jack said. “In your interviews,” she elaborated, “you don’t give enough credit to God for endowing you with your powers.” I sized her up. She was about fifty-eight, with iron grey hair and blue eyes. A rosary dangled innocently from one of her hands. Jack argued. “Why,” he began, “should we give credit to Him when we have no evidence that He has given us anything?” “Have you not eyes?” she queried. “Can you not see the mar vels about you? He has given us everything. He has given you everything that you have, including your empathy.” “Show me some proof!” “Your very existence is proof. The ground you stand on is—” “If He’s so powerful, why doesn’t he prove it directly? Why doesn’t he come down here and—” “Because,” she ranted, face flustered, rosary swinging like a ball and chain, “there must be room for belief, there must be
room for trust, there must be room—” Jack faced her squarely. “I don’t believe a word of it,” he said. She steamed for a few seconds. I looked around. The crowd, sensing something noteworthy for the grandchildren, had circled round us as Jack and the old wom an argued. Looking toward the car, I spied Charley Graham, one of our friends who had been waiting for us in the car, pushing his way through the crowd to us. The woman spoke again. “I just want to warn you,” she said. “I want to make sure that you know what you are doing by refusing to believe that God has given you these special powers.” “And what exactly are we doing by refusing to believe?” “You are reserving a place for yourself in hell,” she said. Jack laughed right in her face. “Go and take your superstitions elsewhere,” he said. “I’ve had enough of faerie tales for one day.” “You have been warned,” said she. Then she turned and disap peared into the crowd, which parted for her like the Red Sea for Moses. Soon she was swallowed and gone. “Come on,” said Charley, “we’ve got a party to be getting ready for.” He was right. We left. The party began at six, at Charley’s house, because Charley’s parents were vacationing in Hawaii. By seven o’clock the party was going quite well, and the first half keg of Coors was nearly drained, most of it into Jack, who was now arguing with Charley in a corner near the keg. “All I’m saying,” said Charley, “is that maybe she had a point. I mean, you never know, maybe there is a God, and if there is and he has given you the powers you have then maybe you oughtta—”
“Aaaa blow it out your ear, Charley,” Jack said, motioning so violently that half his glass spilled out onto the concrete of Charley’s garage. “I don’t want to hear any more of this trash—I’ll believe it when I see it.” “I don’t think that that attitude is particularly healthy,” Charley said back. I watched the argument rather mournfully, I knew that Jack’s headache would be shared with me in the morn ing. I decided that any headache I felt should be at least partly my fault, so I moved to the other end of the garage, where another of our friends was serving up strong screwdrivers. Jack and Charley continued arguing in my absence. I drank half a screwdriver, and then I didn’t feel so good, so I exited the garage and went around behind it and sat down against the trunk of the palm tree there. From my position I had a good view of the driveway and the road, where about a half dozen of our friends’ cars were parked. I rested for a while, my stomach grateful. A few moments later the side door of the garage swung open and Jack staggered out. He slammed the door uneasily behind him and stomped off to our parents’ car, climbed in, started the engine, and put the transmission into drive. As Jack raced off down the road, Charley stepped out the side door and called for him to stop, but he was too late. Jack drove down the road and out of sight, leaving nothing but a swirling cloud of dust and (in my mind) an equally swirling memory. Charley walked steadily to his own car and followed in the di rection Jack had gone. Moments later, I felt it. Charley came back in a few minutes and told us what had hap pened, but I already knew. Jack had collided with a tree, and had died almost instantly. Everyone expressed his grief and sorrow, then I went home.
And the old woman’s words rang true. I’ve waited several hours, now. Waited for it to go away, hop ing, praying that it was somehow just a product of my intoxicated imagination. But the effect of the alcohol has long worn off, and still it persists, and I suspect that it may be the proof that Jack had asked for, just a little too late. You see, since a few minutes after Jack died all the neurons in my body have cried out in the savage pain of burning.
For the first time in his life, Harry Briggs was afraid. He had been scared before, sure, but never like this. Being under enemy fire in the war hadn’t caused the icy fingers of fear to clutch his stom ach. The unexplained creaks and groans he’d heard a few times during his years as a night watchman for the Lambert Toy Com pany hadn’t caused cool drops of perspiration to appear on his forehead. Not even working ninety stories up in the top of an un finished, wind-rocked skyscraper had scared him this much. Right now he was scared silly to walk fifty yards along the dark path to his pickup truck. Harry ran his fingers through his gray crew cut and reminded himself who he was. He was fifty-two years old, a veteran of the Korean War, and just thirteen years from retiring from the toy company. He weighed two hundred forty pounds and stood six feet two in his socks. He had been an all-star running back at Ok lahoma State, and right now he was scared to death to walk to his pickup truck in the dark. Harry looked at the path. He couldn’t see his truck, the path twisted through the dense woods between the road and his cabin. He listened. He could hear nothing but the usual peepers. It was not surprising, his cabin was more than two miles out along a dead-end road. He looked up at the full moon. The moon looked reassuring as it bathed the landscape in its soft glow. The night was comfortably cool and the air did not hold the smell of death, just hemlocks.
He looked at the path leading into the dark woods again, and knew that nothing was waiting to get him. Not quite confident, but at least steadier than before, Harry turned back to his cabin and locked the door. He turned around, facing the path once again, taking a deep breath and shuddering. The path was only fifty yards long, and his truck was waiting for him at the end of it. There was no sinister monster waiting to assault him in the darkness. Everything would go smoothly. He would walk quickly and confidently down the path. He would ar rive at his truck, climb in and drive off, chuckling at his foolishness. He took a deep breath and held it as he started walking hastily along the path. The woods seemed thicker than he remembered, and the un dergrowth seemed to grasp at his feet. Harry looked up, but the reassuring moon was lost behind a thick veil of summer leaves. The peepers had stopped peeping, and now the only sound was that of Harry’s heart thumping. It was alarmingly loud, and he tried to quiet it. He breathed uneasily and pressed on. The sound of Harry’s footsteps pierced the darkness, and he began to wish he were part indian. The path twisted, and he was completely surrounded by the woods. An animal fled from Har ry’s feet, and he scrambled a few feet back up the path, his heart in his throat and beating like bongos. He heard the thing slink back to its lair, and then all was again quiet. He looked up, trying to see the moon, but it was still hidden by a canopy of leaves. Har ry lowered his eyes to the path, and forced his feet to move along it once more. At every step Harry waited for a cold hand to dart from the un derbrush and latch on to his ankle. A thousand imaginary eyes peered out of the darkness at him. Illusionary voices whispered his name. Still he walked on.
He neared the end of the path, and quickened his pace to a run. At last he stood, panting and glancing nervously back over his shoulder, at the door of his truck. He looked in the back. There was nothing there but his fishing gear and the box with his canned goods in it. He unlocked the door to the cab and opened it. The seat was covered with imitation sheepskin, and a bundle of clothes rested on the passenger’s side. Harry slid onto the seat and closed the door, sighing with relief. He stuck the key in the ignition and turned it. The engine turned over. And over. And over. But it did not start. Harry was scared for the second time in his life. He opened the door and got out to have a look at the engine. Yes, once again Harry Briggs was afraid, and the very real crea ture hiding in the shadows under the front of Harry’s truck held Harry’s distributor cap in one of its icy hands, and knew he was afraid.
Behind The Lies
The Good Four Hours A wanna-be necromancer casts an unlikely spell, with re sults that are perhaps predictable. This was written a long time ago, and probably should have been abandoned. Indestructum This story is one of my favorites; it still makes me smile wide. Henry “Hack” Hammond went on to be a lead charac ter in the lost and recovered Paper Cuts. I wrote this while attending the State University of New York at Alfred, New York. The character Hack was modeled after my roommate, Rich Hufnagel. Keen Message A circular story that flirts dangerously close to making no sense whatever, I wrote this in 1991, inspired by a trip to a cemetery with Kara Michele. It probably had some signifi cance at the time, but that is all in the past. I wonder if she even remembers. Make It Big A young dreamer meets his match, and it doesn’t turn out quite the way he thought it would. I like this story. At the time, I was happy that I had finally found a place to use the explicit detail of what a bullet does to a human, something I learned from a newspaper in San Bernardino. No More Lonely Knights A chess aficionado plays his last game in this story, which has Denis Grey and mentions of many of the characters
from Paper Cuts. This story sprang from a “what if” session after reading The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach. The action takes place in the suite where I lived at the State University of New York at Alfred, New York. Shecky Shecky is surely the best dog I never had. This is another short story starring Denis Grey, who later became a protag onist of Paper Cuts. This was inspired by a real midnight walk with our dog Lucky, during which we found a butter fly or a moth like the one in this story. That, however, is where the similarity ends. In Denis Grey’s unwritten back story, he left the State University of New York at Alfred and went to Governeur, New York, where this story is set (though it isn’t stated).
The Decent The Deal A man tries to recant on a deal with the devil. (As a note, I know that the religious statements made in this story are inaccurate. Poetic license.) The description of the Devil in the story is based on the description of Mephistopheles in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. The hospital in the story is based on Olean General Hospital. Dog Days A vicious air conditioner repairman gets what’s coming to him. This story was originally published in Ergo, the artistic publication of the State University of New York. The gene sis for this story was imagining the worst possible job to have at the hottest part of the year, and then of course the twist on the term Dog Days. The Monument This is one of my first forays into flash fiction, wherein something strange happens in a cemetery. At the top of one of one of the hills in Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Portville,
New York, where my grandparents are buried, stands the obelisk that fascinated me when I was a kid and inspired this story. This … could happen.
New Shoes A self-absorbed young doctor makes a mistake that he probably regrets. (We never actually see him regretting his mistake, but it seems that he will.) I wrote this little story when I was in the army, and if it had some inspiration, it is long forgotten. Ninety-Two Percent Water People really like this strange little story about a woman with a very unusual problem. Unfortunately, I don’t re member where it came from. Sorry. Just as a note, I know that the title reference is inaccurate. A Walk Down Main Street This grew from a little writing exercise, featuring Denis Grey again, in that nice little life he never really had. I be lieve that this was my first story starring Denis Grey. It doesn’t really go anywhere, as a story, that is, but I like it. Ah, the bliss of youth.
The Drivel Blood and Gore What started as a writing exercise wound up being a fun and interesting piece of adventure. It takes a true fan to re ally appreciate this impossible bloodbath, which probably should have been torn up or deleted. Burned A quick story of double-dealing, this story shows the rough beginnings. Stories like this give drivel a bad name. Wretched.
Empathy Twins with a unique gift have the opportunity to be called liars. One will be called a liar more than the other. Preachy and dumb, with no significance. Fear For no particular reason, a guy is afraid. This is another ex ercise (albeit a weak one) in the flash fiction that I would later become quite fond of. The best of the drivel is still drivel.
About The Liar
T.F. Torrey was born in a small city in western New York State. He grew up in a tiny town directly south of Buffalo on the Pennsylvania state line. If you’ve never been there, you might refer to it as “upstate” New York. Out there, it was just like New York City, except that they had trees instead of people, hills rather than buildings, dirt roads rather than expressways, corn fields instead of shop ping malls, and deer rather than pigeons. It was a great place to be a kid, but he might be a redneck. Now, T.F. Torrey is part of the new revolution of publishing, combining classic narrative form and flair with contemporary, long-tail publication venues. His short stories and serial fiction have appeared both on- and off-line. He lives with his wife in Phoenix, Arizona, and his work can be found online at www.tftorrey.com.
About This Book
This book was originally published in a limited quantity by GreatUnpublished.com. This edition removes the Foreword, trims the Contents, updates the Acknowledgments and About The Liar sections, and adds this section (About This Book) and the preview of The Desert King. First Lies is a product of the free software/free culture move ment. This edition was composed and typeset using OpenOffice.org Writer on machines running the Debian and Ubuntu distributions of GNU/Linux. The front cover of the sec ond edition featured a photograph posted to Flickr under a Creative Commons license. The text is set in Victor Gaultney’s beautiful and versatile Gentium Book Basic font, which is provid ed under the generous SIL Open Font License, and the title font is Ray Larabie’s excellent Shlop. To carry on this spirit of free soft ware/free culture, First Lies itself is released under a Creative Commons license (see the copyright page for details). More information about this book’s many incarnations, as well as reviews, behind-the-scenes trivia, and other Internet-only goodies, can be found at its website: www.tftorrey.com/firstlies.
The Desert King
a novel by T.F. Torrey It’s 1985, and Jack Trexlor is fresh out of the Arizona state mental hospital. He’d like to simply tend bar, paint pictures, and lay low for a while, but his old friend Macy Barnes turns up, and things quickly spiral out of control. Macy introduces him to an enigmatic Navajo man named John Lupo and the high-adrenaline world of the desert. Thrilled by adventure, Jack accepts their invitation to a weekend fishing trip. By the cool water of the Verde River, deep in the heart of the desert, he thinks he just may find something he’s been missing. What he finds instead is trouble. The group grows to include John’s girlfriend and Macy’s wife, and snakes, scorpions, and the ghosts of Jack’s own past keep everybody on their toes. And when some poachers slink out of the sagebrush, things go from bad to worse. As their quiet fishing trip decays into a desperate ordeal of survival, Jack slowly comes to realize that, even if John Lupo can lead them out of the desert, nothing will ever be the same.
Get lost in the desert!