Cold Fire Page 40


Jim had to be part of his own cure. She could not track down the truth and make him believe it. He had to see it himself.


She loved him.


She was afraid of him.


She couldn't do anything about the love; that was just part of her now, like blood or bone or sinew. But almost any fear could be overcome by confronting the cause of it.


Wondering at her own courage, she drove back along the graveled path to the foot of the windmill. She pumped three long blasts from the horn, then three more, waited,a few seconds and hit it again, again.


Jim appeared in the doorway. He came out into the gray morning light, squinting at her.


Holly opened her door and stepped out of the car. "You awake?" "Do I look like I'm sleepwalking?" he asked as he approached her.


"What's going on?" "I want to be damn sure you're awake, fully awake.”


He stopped a few feet away. "Why don't we open the hood, I'll put my head under it, then you can let out maybe a two-minute blast, just to be sure. Holly, what's going on?" "We have to talk. Get in.”


Frowning, he went around to the passenger's side and got into the Ford with her.


When he settled into the passenger's seat, he said, "This isn't going to be pleasant, is it?" "No. Not especially.”


In front of them, the sails of the windmill stuttered. They began to turn slowly, with much clattering and creaking, shedding chunks and splinters of rotten vanes.


"Stop it," she said to Jim, afraid that the turning sails were only a prelude to a manifestation of The Enemy. "I know you don't want to hear what I have to say, but don't try to distract me, don't try to stop me.”


He did not respond. He stared with fascination at the mill, as if he had not heard her.


The speed of the sails increased.


"Jim, damn it!" At last he looked at her, genuinely baffled by the anger underlying her fear. "What?" Around, around, around-around-around, aroundaroundaround. It turned like a haunted Ferris wheel in a carnival of the damned.


"Shit!" she said, her fear accelerating with the pace of the windmill sails.


She put the car in reverse, looked over her shoulder, and backed at high speed around the pond.


"Where are we going?" he asked.


"Not far.”


Since the windmill lay at the center of Jim's delusion, Holly thought it was a good idea to put it out of sight while they talked.


She swung the car around, drove to the end of the driveway, and parked facing out toward the county road.


She cranked down her window, and he followed suit.


Switching off the engine, she turned more directly toward him. In spite of everything she now knew-or suspected-about him, she wanted to touch his face, smooth his hair, hold him. He elicited a mothering urge from her of which she hadn't even known she'd been capable-just as he engendered in her an erotic response and passion that were beyond anything she had experienced before.


Yeah, she thought, and evidently he engenders in you a suicidal tendency. Jesus, Thorne, the guy as much as said he'll kill you! But he also had said he loved her.


Why wasn't anything easy? She said, "Before I get into it. . . I want you to understand that I love you, Jim." It was the dumbest line in the world. It sounded so insincere.


Words were inadequate to describe the real thing, partly because the feeling ran deeper than she had ever imagined it would, and partly because it was not a single emotion but was mixed up with other things like anxiety and hope. She said it again anyway: "I really do love you.”


He reached for her hand, smiling at her with obvious pleasure.


You're wonderful, Holly.”


Which was not exactly I-love-you-too-Holly, but that was okay. She didn't harbor romance-novel expectations. It was not going to be that simple. Being in love with Jim Ironheart was like being in love simultaneously with the tortured Max de Winter from Rebecca, Superman, and jack Nicholson in any role he'd ever played. Though it wasn't easy, it wasn't dull either.


"The thing is, when I was paying my motel bill yesterday morning and you were sitting in the car watching me, I realized you hadn't said you loved me. I was going off with you, putting myself in your hands, and you hadn't said the words. But then I realized I hadn't said them either, I was playing it just as cool, holding back and protecting myself Well, I'm not holding back any more, I'm walking out on that highwire with no net below-and largely because you told me you loved me last night. So you better have meant it.”


A quizzical expression overtook him.


She said, "I know you don't remember saying it, but you did. You have problems with the L' word. Maybe because you lost your folks when you were so young, you're afraid to get close to anyone for fear of losing them, too. Instant analysis. Holly Freud. Anyway, you did tell me you loved me, and I'll prove it in a little while, but right now, before I get into this mess, I want you to know I never imagined I could feel about anyone the way I feel about you. So if whatever I say to you in the next few minutes is hard to take, even impossible to take, just know where it comes from, only from love, from nothing else.”


He stared at her. "Yeah, all right. But Holly, this" "You'll get your turn." She leaned across the seat, kissed him, then pulled back.


"Right now, you've got to listen.”


She told him everything she had theorized, why she had crept out of the mill while he'd been asleep-and why she had returned. He listened with growing disbelief, and she repeatedly cut off his protests by lightly squeezing his hand, putting a hand to his lips, or giving him a quick kiss. The answer-tablet, which she produced from the back seat, stunned him and rendered his objections less vehement.


BECAUSE HE LOOKS LIKE MY FATHER WHOM I FAILED TO SAVE. His hands shook as he held the tablet and stared at that incredible line. He turned back to the other surprising messages, repeated page after page-HE LOVES YOU HOLLY. HE WILL KILL YOU HOLLY-and the tremors in his hands became even more severe.


"I would never harm you," he said shakily, staring down at the tablet.


"Never.”


"I know you'd never want to.”


Dr. Jekyll had never wanted to be the murderous Mr. Hyde.


"But you think I sent you this, not The Friend.”


"I know you did, Jim. It feels right.”


"So if The Friend sent it but the The Friend is me, a part of me, then you believe it really says I love you Holly.'" "Yes," she said softly.


He looked up from the tablet, met her eyes. "If you believe the I-love-you part, why don't you believe the I-will-kill-you part?" "Well, that's the thing. I do believe a small, dark part of you wants to kill me, yes.”


He flinched as if she had struck him.


She said, "The Enemy wants me dead, it wants me dead real bad, because I've made you face up to what's behind these recent events, brought you back here, forced you to confront the source of your fantasy.”


He started to shake his head in denial.


But she went on: "Which is what you wanted me to do. It's why you drew me to you in the first place.”


"No. I didn't" "Yes, you did." Pushing him toward enlightenment was extremely dangerous. But that was her only hope of saving him.


"Jim, if you can just understand what's happened, accept the existence of two other personalities, even the possibility of their existence, maybe that'll be the beginning of the end of The Friend and The Enemy.”


Still shaking his head, he said, "The Enemy won't go peacefully," and immediately blinked in surprise at the words he had spoken and the implication that they conveyed.


"Damn," Holly said, and a thrill coursed through her, not merely because he had just confirmed her entire theory, whether he could admit it or not, but because the five words he had spoken were proof that he wanted out of the Byzantine fantasy in which he had taken refuge.


He was as pale as a man who had just been told that a cancer was growing in him. In fact a malignancy did reside within him, but it was mental rather than physical.


A breeze wafted through the open car windows, and it seemed to wash new hope into Holly.


That buoyant feeling was short-lived, however, because new words suddenly appeared on the tablet in Jim's hands: YOU DIE.


"This isn't me," he told her earnestly, in spite of the subtle admission he had made a moment ago. "Holly, this can't be me.”


On the tablet, more words appeared: I AM COMING. YOU DIE.


Holly felt as if the world had become a carnival funhouse, full of ghouls and ghosts. Every turn, any moment, without warning, something might spring at her from out of a shadow-or from broad daylight, for that matter. But unlike a carnival monster, this one would inflict real pain, draw blood, kill her if it could.


In hopes that The Enemy, like The Friend, would respond well to firmness, Holly grabbed the tablet from Jim's hand and threw it out the window.


"To hell with that. I won't read that crap.


Listen to me, Jim. If I'm right, The Enemy is the embodiment of your rage over the deaths of your parents. Your fury was so great, at ten, it terrified you, so you pushed it outside yourself, into this other identity. But you're a unique victim of multiple-personality syndrome because your power allows you to create physical existences for your other identities.”


Though acceptance had a toehold in him, he was still struggling to deny the truth. "What're we saying here? That I'm insane, that I'm some sort of socially functional lunatic, for Christ's sake?" "Not insane," she said quickly. "Let's say disturbed, troubled.


You're locked in a psychological box that you built for yourself, and you want out, but you can't find the key to the lock.”


He shook his head. Fine beads of sweat had broken out along his hairline, and he was into whiter shades of pale. "No, that's putting too good a face on it. If what you think is true, then I'm all the way off the deep end, Holly, I should be in some damned rubber room, pumped full of Thorazine.”


She took both of his hands again, held them tight. "No. Stop that.


You can find your way out of this, you can do it, you can make yourself whole again, I know you can.”


"How can you know? Jesus, Holly, I" "Because you're not an ordinary man, you're special," she said sharply.


"You have this power, this incredible force inside you, and you can do such good with it if you want. The power is something you can draw on that ordinary people don't have, it can be a healing power.


Don't you see? If you can cause ringing bells and alien heartbeats and voices to come out of thin air, if you can turn walls into flesh, project images into my dreams, see into the future to save lives, then you can make yourself whole and right again.”


Determined disbelief lined his face. "How could any man have the power you're talking about?" "I don't know, but you've got it.”


"It has to come from a higher being. For God's sake, I'm not Superman.”


Holly pounded a fist against the horn ring and said, "You're telepathic, telekinetic, tele-fucking-everything! All right, you can't fly, you don't have X-ray vision, you can't bend steel with your bare hands, and you can't race faster than a speeding bullet. But you're as close to Superman as any man's likely to get. In fact, in some ways you've got him beat because you can see into the future. Maybe you see only bits and pieces of it, and only random visions when you aren't trying for them, but you can see the future.”


He was shaken by her conviction. "So where'd I get all this magic?" "I don't know.”


"That's where it falls apart.”


"It doesn't fall apart just because I don't know," she said frustratingly.


"Yellow doesn't stop being yellow just because I don't know anything about why the eye sees different colors. You have the power.


You are the power, not God or some alien under the millpond.”


He pulled his hands from hers and looked out the windshield toward the county road and the dry fields beyond. He seemed afraid to face up to the tremendous power he possessed-maybe because it carried with it responsibilities that he was not sure he could shoulder.


She sensed that he was also shamed by the prospect of his own mental illness, and unable to meet her eyes any longer. He was so stoic, so strong, so proud of his strength that he could not accept this suggested weakness in himself He had built a life that placed a high value on self control and self reliance, that made a singular virtue out of self imposed solitude, in the manner of a monk who needed no one but himself and God. Now she was telling him that his decision to become an iron man and a loner was not a well-considered choice, that it was a desperate attempt to deal with emotional turmoil that had threatened to destroy him, and that his need for self control had moved him over the line of rational behavior.


She thought of the words on the tablet: I AM COMING. YOU DIE.


She switched on the engine.


He said, "Where are we going?" As she put the car in gear, pulled out onto the county road, and turned right toward New Svenborg, she did not answer him. Instead, "Was there anything special about you as a boy?" "No," he said a little too quickly, too sharply.


"Never any indication that you were gifted or-" "No, hell, nothing like that.”


Jim's sudden nervous agitation, betrayed by his restless movement and his trembling hands, convinced Holly that she had touched on a truth. He had been special in some way, a gifted child. Now that she had reminded him of it, he saw in that early gift the seeds of the powers that had grown in him. But he didn't want to face it. Denial was his shield.


"What have you just remembered?" "Nothing.”


"Come on, Jim.”


"Nothing, really.”


She didn't know where to go with that line of questioning, so she could only say, "It's true. You're gifted. No aliens, only you.”


Because of whatever he had just remembered and was not willing to share with her, his adamancy had begun to dissolve. "I don't know.”


"It's true.”


"Maybe.”


"It's true. Remember last night when The Friend told us it was a child by the standards of its species? Well, that's because it is a child, a perpetual child, forever the age at which you created it-ten years old.


Which explains its childlike behavior, its need to brag, its poutiness.


Jim, The Friend didn't behave like a ten-thousand-year-old alien child, it just behaved like a ten-year-old human being.”

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