Dragon Tears Page 39


Harry grabbed her by the arm. “Quick, the other stairs!”


They turned away from the railing and toward the opposite end of the loft from where the golem was ascending.


At the head of the second set of stairs stood a second golem identical to the first. Huge. Mane of tangled hair. Wild beard.


Raincoat like a black cape. He was grinning broadly. Blue flames flickering brightly in deep sockets.


Now they knew one more thing about the extent of Ticktock's power. He could create and control at least two artificial bodies at the same time.


The first golem reached the top of the stairs to their right. He started toward them, ruthlessly kicking a path through the tangled lovers on the floor.


To their left, the second golem approached with no greater respect for the Paused people in his way. When the world started up again, cries of injury and outrage would arise from end to end of the wide loft.


Still gripping Connie's arm, pulling her back against the railing, Harry whispered, “Jump!”


BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM, the thud of the twin golems' footsteps shook the loft, and BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM, the pounding of her heart shook Connie, and the two sounds became indistinguishable from one another.


Following Harry's example, she put her hands behind her on the railing, pushed up to sit on the handrail.


The golems kicked more viciously at the human obstacles between them and their prey, closing in faster from both sides.


She lifted her legs and swung around to face the warehouse. At least a twentyfoot drop to the floor. Far enough to break a leg, crack open her skull? Probably.


Each of the golems was less than twenty feet away, coming toward her with all the irresistible force of freight trains, gasflame eyes burning as hot as any fires in Hell, reaching for her with massive hands.


Harry jumped.


With a cry of resignation, Connie pushed with her feet against the balusters and her hands against the handrail, launching herself into the void -and fell only six or seven feet before coasting to a full stop in midair, beside Harry. She was facing straight down, legs and arms spread in an unconscious imitation of the classic skydiving position, and below her were the frozen dancers, all of them as oblivious of her as they were of everything else beyond the instant when they had been spellbound.


The deepening All in her bones and the rapid depletion of her energy as they fled through Laguna Beach had indicated that she was not making her way through the Paused world as easily as it seemed, certainly not as easily as she moved through the normal world. The fact that they did not create their own wind when they ran, which Harry also noticed, seemed to support the idea that resistance to their motion was present even if they were not conscious of it, and now the arrested fall proved it. As long as they exerted themselves, they could keep moving, but they could not rely on momentum or even the pull of gravity to carry them far when exertion ceased.


Looking over her shoulder, Connie saw that she had managed to launch herself outward only five feet from the loft railing, though she had shoved away from it with all her might. However, combined with a five or sixfoot vertical drop, she had gone far enough to be beyond the reach of the golems.


They stood at the loft railing, leaning out, reaching down, grasping for her but coming up only with handsful of empty air.


Harry shouted at her: “You can move if you try!”


She saw that he was using his arms and legs somewhat in the manner of a wimmer doing a breaststroke, angled toward the floor, pulling himself downward by agonizing inches, as if the air wasn't air at all but some curious form of extremely dense water.


She quickly realized she was unfortunately not weightless like an astronaut in orbit aboard the space shuttle, and enjoyed none of the motive advantages of a gravityfree environment. A brief experiment proved she couldn't propel herself with an astronaut's ease or change direction on a whim.


When she imitated Harry, however, Connie found that she could pull herself down through the gluey air if she was methodical and determined. For a moment it seemed even better than skydiving because the period of the dive when you had the illusion of flying like a bird was at comparatively high altitudes; and with features on the ground rapidly enlarging, the illusion was never fully convincing. Here, on the other hand, she was right over the heads of other people and airborne within a building, which even under the circumstances gave her an exhilarating sense of power and buoyancy, rather like one of those blissful dreams of flying that too seldom informed her sleep.


Connie actually might' have enjoyed the bizarre experience if Ticktock had not been present in the form of the two golems and if she had not been fleeing for her life. She heard the BOOMBOOM - BOOMBOOM of their heavy hurried footsteps on the wooden loft, and when she looked back over her shoulder and up, she saw they were headed for opposite sets of stairs.


She was still ten or eleven feet from the warehouse floor and “swimming” downward at an infuriatingly slow speed, inch by grinding inch through the colorful fixed beams of the spotlights and party lasers. Gasping for breath from the exertion. Getting rapidly colder now, colder.


If there had been something solid for her to push against, such as a nearby wall or roofsupporting column, she'd have been able to achieve greater propulsion. But there was nothing besides the air itself off which to launchalmost like trying to lift herself entirely by her own bootstraps.


To her left, Harry was about a foot ahead of her but making no better time than she was. He was farther along only because he had started sooner.


Kick. Pull the arms. Struggle.


Her sense of freedom and buoyancy swiftly gave way to a feeling of being trapped.


BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM, the foothills of their pursuers echoed flatly through the huge chamber.


She was perhaps nine feet off the floor, moving toward a clear space among the dancers. Kick. Pull. Kick and pull. Keep moving, moving.


So cold.


She glanced over her shoulder again, even though she was afraid that the act of doing so would slow her down.


At least one of the golems had reached the head of one set of stairs.


He descended the steps two at a time. In his cloaklike raincoat, shoulders hunched, burly head lowered, leaping down in the rollicking manner of an ape, he reminded her of an illustration in a long forgotten storybook, a picture of an evil troll from some medieval legend.


Struggling so fiercely that her heart felt as if it, might explode, she drew herself within eight feet of the floor. But she was angled headfirst; she would have to pull herself laboriously all the way to the concrete, which would provide the first solid surface against which she could regain her equilibrium and scramble to her feet.


BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM.


The golem reached the bottom of the stairs.


Connie was exhausted. Freezing.


She heard Harry cursing the cold and the resisting air.


The pleasant dream of flying had become the most classic of all nightmares, in which the dreamer could flee only in slow motion while the monster pursued with terrifying speed and agility.


Concentrating on the floor below, seven feet from it now, Connie nevertheless saw movement from the corner of her left eye and heard Harry cry out. A golem had reached him.


A darker shadow fell across the shadowlayered floor directly below her. Reluctantly, she turned her head to the right.


Suspended in midair, with her feet above and behind her, like an angel swooping down to do battle with a demon, she found herself face to face with the other golem. Regrettably, unlike an angel, she was not armed with a fiery sword, a bolt of lightning, or an amulet blessed by God and capable of knocking demons back into the fires and boiling tar of the Pit.


Grinning, Ticlctock gripped her throat. The golem's hand was so enormous that the thick fingers overlapped the fat thumb where they met at the back of her head, completely encircling her neck, though it did not immediately crush her windpipe and cut off her breath.


She remembered how Ricky Estefan's head had been turned backward on his shoulders, and how the ravenhaired dancer's slender arm had been ripped so effortlessly from her body.


A flash of rage burned away her terror, and she spat in the huge and terrible face. “Let go of me, shithead.”


A foul exhalation washed over her, making her grimace, and the scarfaced golemvagrant said, “Congratulations, bitch. Time's up.”


The blueflame eyes burned brighter for an instant, then winked out, leaving deep black sockets beyond which it seemed that Connie could see to the end of eternity. The vagrant's hideous face, writ large on this oversize golem, was abruptly transformed from flesh and hair into a highly detailed monochromatic brown countenance that appeared to have been sculpted from clay or mud. An elaborate web of hairline cracks formed from the bridge of his nose, swiftly spinning in a spiral pattern across his face, and in a wink his features crumbled.


The giant vagrant's entire body dissolved, and with a shattering detonation of techno music that resumed fullblast in midnote, the world started up again. No longer suspended in the air, Connie fell the last seven feet to the warehouse floor, facefirst into the moist mound of dirt and sand and grass and rotting leaves and bugs that had been the golem's body, cushioned from injury by the now lifeless mass but gagging and spitting in disgust.


Around her, even above the pounding music, she heard screams of shock, terror, and pain.


“Game's overfor now,” the golemvagrant said, then obligingly dissolved. Harry dropped out of the air. He sprawled on his stomach in the remains, which smelled strongly of nothing more than rich damp earth.


In front of his face was a hand formed entirely of dirt, similar t but larger thanthe one they had seen in Ricky's bungalow. Two fingers twitched with a residue of supernatural energy and seemed to reach toward his nose. He slammed one fist into that disembodied monstrosity, pulverizing it.


Screaming dancers stumbled into him and collapsed across his back and legs. He scrambled out from under the falling bodies, onto his feet.


An angry boy in a Batman Tshirt rushed forward and took a swing at him. Harry ducked, threw a right into the kid's stomach, planted a left uppercut under his chin, stepped over him when he fell, and looked around for Connie.


She was nearby, dropping a toughlooking teenage girl with a karate kick, and then swiveling on one foot to drive her elbow into the solar plexus of a musclebound youth who looked surprised as he went down.


He obviously thought he was going to polish his shoes with her and throw her away If she felt as rotten as Harry did, she might not be able to hold her own. His joints still ached with the cold that had seeped into them during the Pause, and he felt tired, as if he had carried a great weight on a journey of many miles.


Joining up with her, screaming to be heard above the music and other noise, Harry said, “We're too old for this crap! Come on, let's get out of here!”


For the most part, on every side, the dancing had given way to fighting, or at least to vigorous pushing and shoving, thanks to the tricks that Ticktock had played earlier on his way through the Paused crowd. However, not all of the partiers seemed to understand that the rave had devolved into a dangerous brawl, because some of the pushers and shovers were laughing as if they believed they had merely been caught up in a boisterous, relatively goodnatured slam dance.


Harry and Connie were too far from the front of the building to make it out that way before an understanding of the true nature of the situation swept the crowd. Though there was nothing as immediately threatening as a fire, the tendency of a panicked crowd would be to react to the violence as if flames had been seen. Some of them would even believe they had seen fire.


Harry grabbed Connie's hand to keep them from being separated in the turmoil, and led her toward the nearer rear wall, where he was sure there would have to be other doors.


In that chaotic atmosphere, it was easy to understand why the revelers would confuse real violence for makebelieve, even if they hadn't been on drugs. Spotlights swung back and forth and swooped across the metal ceiling, intensely colored laser beams slashed complex patterns across the room, strobes flashed, phantasmagoric shadows leapedtwistedtwirled through the energetic crowd, young faces were strange and mysterious behind everchanging carnival masks of reflected light, psychedelic film images pulsed and writhed over two big walls, the disc jockey pumped up the volume on the manic music, and the crowd noise alone was loud enough to be disorienting. The senses were overloaded and apt to mistake a glimpse of violent confrontation for an exhibition of high good spirits or something even more benign.


Far behind Harry a scream rose unlike any of the others, so shrill and hysterical that it pierced the background roar and called attention to itself even in that cacophony. No more than a minute had passed since the Pause had ended, if that long. Harry figured the new screamer was either the blackhaired girl coming out of shock and discovering that her shoulder ended in a gory stumr the person who had suddenly found himself confronted by the grisly detached arm.


Even if that heartstopping wail didn't draw attention, the crowd would not party on in ignorance much longer. There was nothing like a punch in the face to dislodge fantasy and snap reality into place. When the change in the mood penetrated to a majority of the ravers, the rush to the exits would be potentially deadly even though there was no fire.


A sense of duty and a policeman's conscience encouraged Harry to turn back, find the girl who had lost an arm, and try to administer first aid. But he knew that he would probably not be able to find her in the churning throng, and that he wouldn't have a chance to help even if he did manage to locate her, not in that growing human maelstrom, which already seemed to have reached the equivalent of hurricane force.


Holding tight to Connie's hand, Harry pushed out of the dancers and through the nowclamorous onlookers with their bottles of beer and balloons of nitrous oxide, all the way to the back wall of the warehouse, which was deep under the loft. Beyond the reach of the party lights. Darkest place in the building.


He looked left, right. Couldn't see a door.


That wasn't surprising, considering a rave was essentially an illegal drug party staged in a deserted warehouse, not a chaperoned prom in a hotel ballroom where there would be welllit red exit signs. But, Jesus, it would be so pointless and stupid to survive the Pause and the golems, only to be trampled to death by hundreds of dopedup kids frantically trying to squeeze through a doorway all at once.


Harry decided to go right, for no better reason than that he had to go one way or the other. Unconscious kids were lying on the floor, recovering from long hits of laughing gas. Harry tried not to step on anyone, but the light under the loft was so poor that he didn't see some of those in darker clothes until he'd stumbled over them.


A door. He almost passed by without spotting it.


In the warehouse behind him, the music continued to thump as ever, but a sudden change occurred in the quality of the crowd noise.

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