Midnight Page 14


FOR: LOMAN WATKINS


SOURCE: SHADDACK


JACK TUCKER HAS NOT REPORTED IN FROM THE FOSTER PLACE. NO ONE ANSWERS RHONE THERE. URGENT THAT SITUATION BE CLARIFIED. AWAIT YOUR REPORT.


Shaddack had direct entry to the police-department computer from his own computer in his house out on the north point of the cove. He could leave messages for Watkins or any of the other men, and no one could call them up except the intended recipient.


The screen went blank.


Loman Watkins popped the hand brake, put the patrol car in gear, and set out for Foster Stables, though the place was actually outside the city limits and beyond his bailiwick. He no longer cared about such things as jurisdictional boundaries and legal procedures. He was still a cop only because it was the role he had to play until all of the town had undergone the Change. None of the old rules applied to him any more because he was a New Man. Such disregard for the law would have appalled him only a few months ago, but now his arrogance and his disdain for the rules of the Old People's society did not move him in the least.


Most of the time nothing moved him any more. Day by day, hour by hour, he was less emotional.


Except for fear, which his new elevated state of consciousness still allowed: fear because it was a survival mechanism, useful in a way that love and joy and hope and affection were not. He was afraid right now, in fact. Afraid of the regressives. Afraid that the Moonhawk Project would somehow be revealed to the outside world and be crushed—and him with it. Afraid of his only master, Shaddack. Sometimes, in fleeting bleak moments, he was afraid of himself, too, and of the new world coming.


24


Moose dozed in a corner of the unlighted bedroom. He chuffed in his sleep, perhaps chasing bushy-tailed rabbits in a dream—although, being the good service dog that he was, even in his dreams he probably ran errands for his master.


Belted in his stool at the window, Harry leaned to the eyepiece of the telescope and studied the back of Callan's Funeral Home over on Juniper Lane, where the hearse had just pulled into the service drive. He watched Victor Callan and the mortician's assistant, Ned Ryedock, as they used a wheeled gurney to transfer a body from the black Cadillac hearse into the embalming and cremation wing. Zippered inside a half-collapsed, black plastic body bag, the corpse was so small that it must have been that of a child. Then they closed the door behind them, and Harry could see no more.


Sometimes they left the blinds raised at the two high, narrow windows, and from his elevated position Harry was able to peer down into that room, to the tilted and guttered table on which the dead were embalmed and prepared for viewing. On those occasions he could see much more than he wanted to see. Tonight, however, the blinds were lowered all the way to the windowsills.


He gradually shifted his field of vision southward along the fog-swaddled alley that served Callan's and ran between Conquistador and Juniper. He was not looking for anything in particular, just slowly scanning, when he saw a pair of grotesque figures. They were swift and dark, sprinting along the alley and into the large vacant lot adjacent to the funeral home, running neither on all fours nor erect, though closer to the former than the latter.


Boogeymen.


Harry's heart began to race.


He'd seen their like before, three times in the past four weeks, though the first time he had not believed what he had seen. They had been so shadowy and strange, so briefly glimpsed, that they seemed like phantoms of the imagination; therefore he named them Boogeymen.


They were quicker than cats. They slipped through his field of vision and vanished into the dark, vacant lot before he could overcome his surprise and follow them.


Now he searched that property end to end, back to front, seeking them in the three- to four-foot grass. Bushes offered concealment too. Wild holly and a couple of clumps of chaparral snagged and held the fog as if it were cotton.


He found them. Two hunched forms. Man-size. Only slightly less black than the night. Featureless. They crouched together in the dry grass in the middle of the lot, just to the north of the immense fir that spread its branches (all high ones) like a canopy over half the property.


Trembling, Harry pulled in even tighter on that section of the lot and adjusted the focus. The Boogeymen's outlines sharpened. Their bodies grew paler in contrast to the night around them. He still could not see any details of them because of the darkness and eddying mist.


Although it was quite expensive and tricky to obtain, he wished that through his military contacts he had acquired a TeleTron, which was a new version of the Star Tron night-vision device that had been used by most armed services for years. A Star Tron took available light—moonlight, starlight, meager electric light if any, the vague natural radiance of certain minerals in soil and rocks—and amplified it eighty-five thousand times. With that single-lens gadget, an impenetrable nightscape was transformed into a dim twilight or even late-afternoon grayness. The Tele-Tron employed the same technology as the Star Tron, but it was designed to be fitted to a telescope. Ordinarily, available light was sufficient to Harry's purposes, and most of the time he was looking through windows into well-lighted rooms; but to study the quick and furtive Boogeymen, he needed some high-tech assistance.


The shadowy figures looked west toward Juniper Lane, then north toward Callan's, then south toward the house that, with the funeral home, flanked that open piece of land. Their heads turned with a quick, fluid movement that made Harry think of cats, although they were definitely not feline.


One of them glanced back to the east. Because the telescope put Harry right in the lot with the Boogeymen, he saw the thing's eyes—soft gold, palely radiant. He had never seen their eyes before. He shivered, but not just because they were so uncanny. Something was familiar about those eyes, something that reached deeper than Harry's conscious or subconscious mind to stir dim recognition, activating primitive racial memories carried in his genes.


He was suddenly cold to the marrow and overcome by fear more intense than anything he had known since Nam.


Dozing, Moose was attuned nonetheless to his master's mood. The Labrador got up, shook himself as if to cast off sleep, and came to the stool. He made a low, mewling, inquisitive sound.


Through the telescope Harry glimpsed the nightmare face of one of the Boogeymen. He had no more than the briefest flash of it, at most two seconds, and the malformed visage was limned only by an ethereal spray of moonlight, so he saw little; in fact the inadequate lunar glow did less to reveal the thing than to deepen the mystery of it.


But he was gripped by it, stunned, frozen.


Moose issued an interrogatory "Woof?"


For an instant, unable to look up from the eyepiece if his life had depended on it, Harry stared at an apelike countenance, though it was leaner and uglier and more fierce and infinitely stranger than the face of an ape. He was reminded, as well, of wolves, and in the gloom the thing even seemed to have something of a reptilian aspect. He thought he saw the enameled gleam of wickedly sharp teeth, gaping jaws. But the light was poor, and he could not be certain how much of what he saw was a trick of shadow or a distortion of fog. Part of this hideous vision had to be attributed to his fevered imagination. A man with a pair of useless legs and one dead arm had to have a vivid imagination if he was to make the most of life.


As suddenly as the Boogeyman looked toward him, it looked away. At the same time both creatures moved with an animal fluidity and quickness that startled Harry. They were nearly the size of big jungle cats and as fast. He turned the scope to follow them, and they virtually flew through the darkness, south across the vacant lot, disappearing over a split-rail fence into the backyard of the Claymore house, up and gone with such alacrity that he could not hold them in his field of view.


He continued to search for them, as far as the junior-senior high school on Roshmore, but he found only night and fog and the familiar buildings of his neighborhood. The Boogeymen had vanished as abruptly as they always did in a small boy's bedroom the moment the lights were turned on.


At last he lifted his head from the eyepiece and slumped back in his stool.


Moose immediately stood up with his forepaws on the edge of the stool, begging to be petted, as if he had seen what his master had seen and needed to be reassured that malign spirits did not actually run loose in the world.


With his good right hand, which at first trembled violently, Harry stroked the Labrador's head. In a while the petting calmed him almost as much as it calmed the dog.


If the FBI eventually responded to the letter he had sent over a week ago, he did not know if he would tell them about the Boogeymen. He would tell them everything else he had seen, and a lot of it might be useful to them. But this … On the one hand, he was sure that the beasts he had glimpsed so fleetingly on three occasions—four now—were somehow related to all the other curious events of recent weeks. They were a different magnitude of strangeness, however, and in speaking of them he might appear addled, even crazed, causing the Bureau agents to discount everything else he said.


Am I addled? he wondered as he petted Moose. Am I crazed?


After twenty years of confinement to a wheelchair, housebound, living vicariously through his telescope and binoculars, perhaps he had become so desperate to be more involved with the world and so starved for excitement that he had evolved an elaborate fantasy of conspiracy and the uncanny, putting himself at the center of it as The One Man Who Knew, convinced that his delusions were real. But that was highly unlikely. The war had left his body pathetically damaged and weak, but his mind was as strong and clear as it had ever been, perhaps even tempered and made stronger by adversity. That, not madness, was his curse.


"Boogeymen," he said to Moose.


The dog chuffed.


"What next? Will I look up at the moon some night and see the silhouette of a witch on a broomstick?"


25


Chrissie came out of the woods by Pyramid Rock, which once had inspired her fantasies of inch-high Egyptians. She looked west toward the house and Foster Stables, where lights now wore rainbow-hued halos in the fog. For a moment she entertained the idea of going back for Godiva or another horse. Maybe she could even slip into the house to grab a jacket. But she decided that she would be less conspicuous and safer on foot. Besides, she was not as dumb as movie heroines who repeatedly returned to the Bad House, knowing the Bad Thing was likely to find them there. She turned east-northeast and headed up through the meadow toward the county road.


Exhibiting her usual cleverness (she thought, as if reading a line from an adventure novel), Chrissie wisely turned away from the cursed house and set off into the night, wondering if she would ever again see that place of her youth or find solace in the arms of her now alienated family.


Tall, autumn-dry grass lashed at her legs, as she angled out toward the middle of the field. Instead of staying near the tree line, she wanted to be in the open in case something leaped at her from the forest. She didn't think she could outrun them once they spotted her, not even if she had a minute's head start, but at least she intended to give herself a chance to try.


The night chill had deepened during the time she'd taken refuge in the culvert. Her flannel shirt seemed hardly more warming than a short-sleeved summer blouse. If she were an adventurer-heroine of the breed that Ms. Andre Norton created, she would know how to weave a coat out of available grass and other plants, with a high insulation factor. Or she would know how to trap, painlessly kill, and skin fur-bearing animals, how to tan their hides and stitch them together, clothing herself in garments as astonishingly stylish as they were practical.


She simply had to stop thinking about the heroines of those books. Her comparative ineptitude depressed her.


She already had enough to be depressed about. She'd been driven from her home. She was alone, hungry, cold, confused, afraid—and stalked by weird and dangerous creatures. But more to the point … though her mother and father always had been a bit distant, not given to easy displays of affection, Chrissie had loved them, and now they were gone, perhaps gone forever, changed in some way she did not understand, alive but soulless and, therefore, as good as dead.


When she was less than a hundred feet from the two-lane county route, paralleling the long driveway at about the same distance, she heard a car engine. She saw headlights on the road, coming from the south. Then she saw the car itself, for the fog was thinner in that direction than toward the sea, and visibility was reasonably good. Even at that distance she identified it as a police cruiser; though no siren wailed, blue and red lights were revolving on its roof. The patrol car slowed and turned in the driveway by the sign for Foster Stables.


Chrissie almost shouted, almost ran toward the car, because she always had been taught that policemen were her friends. She actually raised one hand and waved, but then realized that in a world where she could not trust her own parents, she certainly could not expect all policemen to have her best interests in mind.


Spooked by the thought that the cops might have been "converted" the way Tucker had intended to convert her, the way her parents had been converted, she dropped down, crouching in the tall grass. The headlights had not come anywhere near her when the car had turned into the driveway. The darkness on the meadow and the fog no doubt made her invisible to the occupants of the cruiser, and she was not exactly so tremendously tall that she stood out on the flat land. But she did not want to take any chances.


She watched the car dwindle down the long driveway. It paused briefly beside Tucker's car, which was abandoned halfway along the lane, then drove on. The thicker fog in the west swallowed it.


She rose from the grass and hurried eastward again, toward the county route. She intended to follow that road south, all the way into Moonlight Cove. If she remained watchful and alert, she could scramble off the pavement into a ditch or behind a patch of weeds each time she heard approaching traffic.


She would not reveal herself to anyone she did not know. Once she reached town, she could go to Our Lady of Mercy and seek help from Father Castelli. (He said he was a modern priest and preferred to be called Father Jim, but Chrissie had never been able to address him so casually.) Chrissie had been an indefatigable worker at the church's summer festival and had expressed a desire to be an altar girl next year, much to Father Castelli's delight. She was sure he liked her and would believe her story, no matter how wild it was. If he didn't believe her … well, then she would try Mrs. Tokawa, her sixth-grade teacher.


She reached the county road, paused, and looked back toward the distant house, which was only a collection of glowing points in the fog. Shivering, she turned south toward Moonlight Cove.


26


The front door of the Foster house stood open to the night.


Loman Watkins went through the place from bottom to top and down again. The only odd things he found were an overturned chair in the kitchen and Jack Tucker's abandoned black bag filled with syringes and doses of the drug with which the Change was effected—and a spray-can of WD-40 on the floor of the downstairs hall.

Prev Next