Midnight Page 32


Having recently brushed against death, she was more aware than usual of her mortality. Life was finite. In the business and the busyness of daily life, that truth was often forgotten.


Now she was unable to escape thinking about it, and she wondered if she was playing too loose with life, wasting too many years. Her work was satisfying. She was a happy woman; it was damned hard for a Lockland to be unhappy, predisposed as they were to good humor. But in all honesty she had to admit she was not getting what she truly wanted. If she remained on her current course, she'd never get it.


What she wanted was a family, a place to belong. That came, of course, from her childhood and adolescence in San Diego, where she had idolized her big sister, Janice, and had basked in the love of her mother and father. The tremendous amount of happiness and security she'd known in her youth was what allowed her to deal with the misery, despair, and terror that she sometimes encountered when working on one of her more ambitious documentaries. The first two decades of her life had been so full of joy, they balanced anything that followed.


The elevator had arrived on the second floor, and now, with a soft thump and a renewed hum, it descended. She was intrigued that Moose, so accustomed to using the elevator for and with his master, used it himself at night, though the stairs would have been quicker. Dogs, too, could be creatures of habit.


They'd had dogs at home when she was a kid, first a great golden retriever named Barney, then an Irish Setter named Mickey Finn… .


Janice had married and moved away from home sixteen years ago, when Tessa was eighteen, and thereafter entropy, the blind force of dissolution, had pulled apart that cozy life in San Diego. Tessa's dad died three years later, and soon after his funeral Tessa hit the road to make her industrials and documentaries and travel films, and although she had remained in touch with her mother and sister on a regular basis, that golden time had passed.


Janice was gone now. And Marion wouldn't live forever, not even if she actually gave up skydiving.


More than anything, Tessa wanted to re-create that home life with a husband of her own and children. She had been married, at twenty-three, to a man who wanted kids more than he wanted her, and when they had learned that she could never have children, he had left. Adoption wasn't enough for him. He wanted children that were biologically his. Fourteen months from wedding day to divorce. She had been badly hurt.


Thereafter she had thrown herself into her work with a passion she'd not shown previously. She was insightful enough to know that through her art she was trying to reach out to all the world as if it were one big extended family. By boiling down complex stories and issues to thirty, sixty, or ninety minutes of film, she was trying to pull the world in, reduce it to essences, to the size of one family.


But, lying awake in Harry Talbot's spare bedroom, Tessa knew she was never going to be fully satisfied if she didn't radically shake up her life and more directly seek the thing she so much wanted. It was impossible to be a person of depth if you lacked a love for humankind, but that generalized love could swiftly become airy and meaningless if you didn't have a particular family close to you; for in your family you saw, day to day, those specific things in specific people that justified, by extension, a broader love of fellow men and women. She was a stickler for specificity in her art, but she lacked it in her emotional life.


Breathing dust and the faint odor of mildew, she felt as if her potential as a person had long been lying as unused as that bedroom. But not having dated for years, having sought refuge from heartbreak in hard work, how did a woman of thirty-four begin to open herself to that part of life she had so purposefully sealed off? Just then she felt more barren than at any time since first learning that she would never have children of her own. And at the moment, finding a way to remake her life seemed a more important issue than learning where the Boogeymen came from and what they were.


A brush with death could stir up peculiar thoughts.


In a while her weariness overcame her inner turmoil, and she drifted into sleep again. Just as she dropped off, she realized that Moose might have come to her room because he sensed something wrong in the house. Perhaps he had been trying to alert her. But surely he would have been more agitated and would have barked if there was danger.


Then she slept.


2


From Peyser's, Shaddack returned to his ultramodern house on the north point of the cove, but he didn't stay long. He made three ham sandwiches, wrapped them, and put them in a cooler with several cans of Coke. He put the cooler in the van along with a couple of blankets and a pillow. From the gun cabinet in his study he fetched a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, a Remington 12-gauge semiautomatic pistol-grip shotgun, and plenty of ammunition for both. Thus equipped, he set out in the storm to cruise Moonlight Cove and immediate outlying areas, intending to keep on the move, monitoring the situation by computer until the first phase of Moonhawk was concluded at midnight, in less than nineteen hours.


Watkins's threat unnerved him. Staying mobile, he wouldn't be easy to find if Watkins regressed and, true to his promise, came after him. By midnight, when the last conversions were performed, Shaddack would have consolidated his power. Then he could deal with the cop.


Watkins would be seized and shackled before he transformed. Then Shaddack could strap him down in a lab and study his psychology and physiology to find an explanation for this plague of regression.


He did not accept Watkins's explanation. They weren't regressing to escape life as New People. To accept that theory, he would have to admit that the Moonhawk Project was an unmitigated disaster, that the Change was not a boon to mankind but a curse, and that all his work was not only misguided but calamitous in its effect. He could admit no such thing.


As maker and master of the New People, he had tasted godlike power. He was unwilling to relinquish it.


The rainswept, pre-dawn streets were deserted except for cars—some police cruisers, some not—in which pairs of men patrolled in the hope of spotting either Booker, Tessa Lockland the Foster girl, or regressives on the prowl. Though they could not see through his van's heavily smoked windows, they surely knew to whom the vehicle belonged.


Shaddack recognized many of them, for they worked at New Wave and were among the contingent of one hundred that he had put on loan to the police department only a few hours ago. Beyond the rain-washed windshields, their pale faces floated like disembodied spheres in the dark interiors of their cars, so expressionless that they might have been mannequins or robots.


Others were patrolling the town on foot but were circumspect, keeping to the deeper shadows and alleyways. He saw none of them.


Shaddack also passed two conversion teams as they went quietly and briskly from one house to another. Each time a conversion was completed, the team keyed in that data on one of their car VDTs so the central system at New Wave could keep track of their progress.


When he paused at an intersection and used his own VDT to call the current roster onto the screen, he saw that only five people remained to be dealt with in the midnight to-six-o'clock batch of conversions. They were slightly ahead of schedule.


Hard rain slanted in from the west, silvery as ice in his headlights. Trees shook as if in fear. And Shaddack kept on the move, circling through the night as if he were some strange bird of prey that preferred to hunt on storm winds.


3


With Tucker leading, they had hunted and killed, bitten and torn, clawed and bitten, hunted and killed and eaten the prey, drunk blood, blood, warm and sweet, thick and warm, sweet and thick, blood, feeding the fire in their flesh, cooling the fire with food. Blood.


Gradually Tucker had discovered that the longer they stayed in their altered state, the less intensely the fire burned and the easier it was to remain in subhuman form. Something told him that he should be worried that it was increasingly easy to cling to the shape of a beast, but he could not raise much concern about it, partly because his mind no longer seemed able to focus complex thoughts for more than a few seconds.


So they had raced over the fields and hills in the moonlight, raced and roamed, free, so free in moonlight and fog, in fog and wind, and Tucker had led them, pausing only to kill and eat, or to couple with the female, who took her own pleasure with an aggressiveness that was exciting, savage and exciting.


Then the rains came.


Cold.


Slashing.


Thunder, too, and blazing light in the sky.


Part of Tucker seemed to know what the long, jagged bolts of sky-ripping light were. But he could not quite remember, and he was frightened, dashing for the cover of trees when the light caught him in the open, huddling with the other male and the female until the sky went dark again and stayed that way for a while.


Tucker began to look for a place to take shelter from the storm. He knew that they should go back to where they had started from, to a place of light and dry rooms, but he could not remember where that had been exactly. Besides, going back would mean surrendering freedom and assuming their born identities. He did not want to do that. Neither did the other male and the female. They wanted to race and roam and kill and rut and be free, free. If they went back they could not be free, so they went ahead, crossing a hard-surface road, slinking up into higher hills, staying away from the few houses in the area.


Dawn was coming, not yet on the eastern horizon but coming, and Tucker knew that they had to find a haven, a den, before daylight, a place where they could curl up around one another, down in darkness, sharing warmth, darkness and warmth, safely curled up with memories of blood and rutting, darkness and warmth and blood and rutting. They would be out of danger there, safe from a world in which they were still alien, safe also from the necessity to return to human form. When night fell again, they could venture forth to roam and kill, kill, bite and kill, and maybe the day would come when there were so many of their kind in the world that they would no longer be outnumbered and could venture forth in bright daylight as well, but not now, not yet.


They came to a dirt road, and Tucker had a dim memory of where he was, a sense that the road would quickly lead him to a place that could provide the shelter that he and his pack needed. He followed it farther into the hills, encouraging his companions with low growls of reassurance. In a couple of minutes they came to a building, a huge old house fallen to ruin, with the windows smashed in and the front door hanging open on halfbroken hinges. Other gray structures loomed out of the rain: a barn in worse shape than the house, several outbuildings that had mostly collapsed.


Large, hand-painted signs were nailed to the house, between two of the second-floor windows, one sign above the other, in different styles of lettering, as though a lot of time had passed between the hanging of the first and the second. He knew they had meaning, but he couldn't read them, though he strained to recall the lost language used by the species to …which he had once belonged.


The two members of his pack flanked him. They, too, stared up at the dark letters on the white background. Murky symbols in the rain and gloom. Eerily mysterious runes.


ICARUS COLONY


And under that:


THE OLD ICARUS COLONY RESTAURANT


NATURAL FOODS


On the dilapidated barn was another sign—FLEA MARKET—but that meant nothing more to Tucker than the signs on the house, and after a while he decided it didn't matter if he understood them. The important thing was that no people were nearby, no fresh scent or vibration of human beings, so the refuge that he sought might be found here, a burrow, a den, A warm and dark place, warm and dark, safe and dark.


4


With one blanket and pillow, Sam had made his bed on a long sofa in the living room, just off the front hall downstairs. He wanted to sleep on the ground floor so he might be awakened by the sound of an intruder. According to the schedule that Sam had seen on the VDT in the patrol car, Harry Talbot wouldn't be converted until the following evening. He doubted that they should accelerate their schedule simply because they knew an FBI man was in Moonlight Cove. But he was taking no unnecessary chances.


Sam often suffered from insomnia, but it did not trouble him that night. After he took off his shoes and stretched out on the sofa, he listened to the rain for a couple of minutes, trying not to think. Soon he slept.


His was not a dreamless sleep. It seldom was.


He dreamed of Karen, his lost wife, and as always in nightmares, she was spitting up blood and emaciated, in the final stages of her cancer, after the chemotherapy had failed. He knew that he must save her. He could not. He felt small, powerless, and terribly afraid.


But that nightmare did not wake him.


Eventually the dream shifted from the hospital to a dark and crumbling building. It was rather like a hotel designed by Salvador Dali The corridors branched off randomly; some were very short and some were so long that the ends of them could not be seen; the walls and floors were at surreal angles to one another, and the doors to the rooms were of different sizes, some so small that only a mouse could have passed through, others large enough for a man, and still others on a scale suitable to a thirty-foot giant.


He was drawn to certain rooms. When he entered them he found in each a person from his past or current life.


He encountered Scott in several rooms and had unsatisfactory, disjointed conversations with him, all ending in unreasoning hostility on Scott's part. The nightmare was made worse by the variation in Scott's age Sometimes he was a sullen sixteen-year-old and sometimes ten or just four or five. But in every incarnation he was alienated, cold, quick to anger, and seething with hatred. "This isn't right, this isn't true, you weren't like this when you were younger," Sam told a seven-year-old Scott, and the boy made an obscene reply.


In every room and regardless of his age, Scott was surrounded by huge posters of black-metal rockers dressed in leather and chains, displaying satanic symbols on their foreheads and in the palms of their hands. The light was flickering and strange. In a dark corner Sam saw something lurking, a creature of which Scott was aware, something the boy did not fear but which scared the hell out of Sam.


But that nightmare did not wake him, either.


In other chambers of that surreal hotel, he found dying men, the same ones every time—Arnie Taft and Carl Sorbino they were two agents with whom he had worked and whom he had seen gunned down.


The entrance to one room was a car door—the gleaming door of a blue '54 Buick, to be exact. Inside he found an enormous, gray-walled chamber in which was the front seat, dashboard, and steering wheel, nothing else of the car, like parts of a prehistoric skeleton lying on a vast expanse of barren sand. A woman in a green dress sat behind the wheel, her head turned away from him. Of course, he knew who she was, and he wanted to leave the room at once, but he could not. In fact he was drawn to her. He sat beside her, and suddenly he was seven years old, as he had been on the day of the accident, though he spoke with his grown-up voice "Hello, Mom." She turned to him, revealing that the right side of her face was caved in, the eye gone from the socket, bone punching through torn flesh. Broken teeth were exposed in her cheek, so she favored him with half of a hideous grin.

Prev Next