'Okay,' one of the orderlies said. 'You can turn off the siren now.'
Eva Miller had been dreaming.
It was a strange dream, not quite a nightmare. The fire of '51 was raging under an unforgiving sky that shaded from pale blue at the horizons to a hot and merciless white overhead. The sun glared from this inverted bowl like a glinting copper coin. The acrid smell of smoke was everywhere; all business activity had stopped and people stood in the streets, looking southwest, toward the Marshes, and northwest, toward the woods. The smoke had been in the air all morning, but now, at one in the afternoon, you could see the bright arteries of fire dancing in the green beyond Griffen's pasture. The steady breeze that had allowed the flames to jump one firebreak now brought a steady fall of white ash over the town like summer snow.
Ralph was alive, off trying to save the sawmill. But it was all mixed up because Ed Craig was with her and she had never even met Ed until the fall of 1954.
She was watching the fire from her upstairs bedroom window, and she was naked. Hands touched her from behind, r ugh brown hands on the smooth whiteness of her hips, and she knew it was Ed, although she could not see even a ghost of his reflection in the glass.
Ed, she tried to say. Not now. It's too early. Not for almost nine years.
But his hands were insistent, running over her belly, one finger toying with the cup of her navel, then both hands slipping up to catch her breasts with brazen knowledge.
She tried to tell him they were in the window, anyone out there in the street could look over his shoulder and see them, but the words would not come out and then his lips were on her arm, her shoulder, then fastening with firm and lustful insistence on her neck. She felt his teeth and he was biting her, sucking and biting, drawing blood, and she tried to protest again: Don't give me a hickey, Ralph will see -
But it was impossible to protest and she no longer even wanted to. She no longer cared who looked around and saw them, naked and brazen.
Her eyes drifted dreamily to the fire as his lips and teeth worked against her neck, and the smoke was very black, as black as night, obscuring that hot gun-metal sky, turning day to night; yet the fire moved inside it in those pulsing scarlet threads and blossoms - rioting flowers in a midnight jungle.
And then it was night and the town was gone but the fire still raged in the blackness, shifting through fascinating, kaleidoscopic shapes until it seemed that it limned a face in blood - a face with a hawk nose, deep-set, fiery eyes, full and sensuous lips partially hidden by a heavy mustache, and hair swept back from the brow like a musician's.
'The Welsh dresser,' a voice said distantly, and she knew it was his. 'The one in the attic. That will do nicely, I think. And then we'll fix the stairs . . . it's wise to be prepared.'
The voice faded. The flames faded.
There was only the darkness, and she in it, dreaming or beginning to dream. She thought dimly that the dream would be sweet and long, but bitter underneath and with?out light, like the waters of Lethe.
Another voice - Ed's voice. 'Come on, darlin'. Get up. We have to do as he says.'
His face looked over hers, not drawn in fire, but looking terribly pale and strangely empty. Yet she loved him again . . . more than ever. She yearned for his kiss.
'Come on, Eva.'
'Is it a dream, Ed?'
'No . . . not a dream.'
For a moment she was frightened, and then there was no more fear. There was knowing instead. With the knowing came the hunger.
She glanced into the mirror and saw only her bedroom reflected, empty and still. The attic door was locked and the key was in the bottom drawer of the dresser, but it didn't matter. No need for keys now.
They slipped between the door and the jamb like Shades.
At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair. There is no middle ground. At three in the morn?ing the gaudy paint is off that old whore, the world, and she has no nose and a glass eye. Gaiety becomes hollow and brittle, as in Poe's castle surrounded by the Red Death. Horror is destroyed by boredom. Love is a dream.
Parkins Gillespie shambled from his office desk to the coffeepot, looking like a very thin ape that had been sick with a wasting illness. Behind him, a game of solitaire was laid out like a clock. He had heard several screams in the night, the strange, jagged beating of a horn on the air, and once, running feet. He had not gone out to investigate any of these things. His lined and socketed face was haunted by the things he thought were going on out there. He was wearing a cross, a St Christopher's medal, and a peace sign around his neck. He didn't know exactly why he had put them on, but they comforted him. He was thinking that if he could get through this night, he would go far away tomorrow and leave his badge on the shelf, by his key ring.
Mabel Werts was sitting at her kitchen table, a cold cup of coffee in front of her, the shades pulled down for the first time in years, the lens caps on her binoculars. For the first time in sixty years she did not want to see things, or hear them. The night was rife with a deadly gossip she did not want to listen to.
Bill Norton was on his way to the Cumberland Hospital in response to a telephone call (made while his wife was still alive), and his face was wooden and unmoving. The windshield wipers clicked steadily against the rain, which was coming down more heavily now. He was trying not to think about anything.
There were others in the town who were either sleeping or waking untouched. Most of the untouched were single people without relatives or close friends in the town. Many of them were unaware that anything had been happening.
Those that were awake, however, had turned on all their lights, and a person driving through town (and several cars did pass, headed for Portland or points south) might have been struck by this small village, so much like the others along the way, with its odd salting of fully lit dwellings in the very graveyard of morning. The passer-by might have slowed to look for a fire or an accident, and seeing neither, speeded up and dismissed it from mind.
Here is the peculiar thing: None of those awake in Jerusalem's Lot knew the truth. A handful might have suspected, but even their suspicions were as vague and unformed as three-month fetuses. Yet they had gone un?hesitatingly to bureau drawers, attic boxes, or bedroom jewel collections to find whatever religious hex symbols they might possess. They did this without thinking, the way a man driving a long distance alone will sing without knowing he sings. They walked slowly from room to room, as if their bodies had become glassy and fragile, and they turned on all the lights, and they did not look out their windows.
That above all else. They did not look out their windows.
No matter what noises or dreadful possibilities, no mat?ter how awful the unknown, there was an even worse thing: to look the Gorgon in the face.
The noise penetrated his sleep like a nail being bludgeoned into heavy oak; with exquisite slowness, seemingly fiber by fiber. At first Reggie Sawyer thought he was dreaming of carpentry, and his brain, in the shadow land between sleeping and waking, obliged with a slow-motion memory fragment of him and his father nailing clapboards to the sides of the camp they had built on Bryant Pond in 1960.
This faded into a muddled idea that he was not dreaming at all, but actually hearing a hammer at work. Disorien?tation followed, and then he was awake and the blows were falling on the front door, someone dropping his fist against the wood with metronomelike regularity.
His eyes first jerked to Bonnie, who was lying on her side, an S-shaped hump under the blankets. Then to the clock: 4:15.
He got up, slipped out of the bedroom, and closed the door behind him. He turned on the hall light, started down toward the door, and then paused. An internal set of hackles had risen.
Sawyer regarded his front door with mute, head-cocked curiosity. No one knocked at 4:15. If someone in the family croaked, they called on the telephone, but they didn't come knocking.
He had been in Vietnam for seven months in 1968, a very hard year for American boys in Vietnam, and he had seen combat. In those days, coming awake had been as sudden as the snapping of fingers or the clicking on of a lamp; one minute you were a stone, the next you were awake in the dark. The habit had died in him almost as soon as he had been shipped back to the States, and he had been proud of that, although he never spoke of it. He was no machine, by Jesus. Push button A and Johnny wakes up, push button B and Johnny kills some slants.
But now, with no warning at all, the muzziness and cottonheadedness of sleep fell off him like a snakeskin and he was cold and blinking.
Someone out there. The Bryant kid, likely, liquored up and packing iron. Ready to do or die for the fair maiden.
He went into the living room and crossed to the gunrack over the fake fireplace. He didn't turn on a light; he knew his way around by touch perfectly well. He took down his shotgun, broke it, and the hall light gleamed dully on brass casings. He went back to the living room doorway and poked his head out into the hall. The pounding went on monotonously, with regularity but no rhythm.
'Come on in,' Reggie Sawyer called.
The pounding stopped.
There was a long pause and then the doorknob turned, very slowly, until it had reached full cock. The door opened and Corey Bryant stood there.
Reggie felt his heart falter for an instant. Bryant was dressed in the same clothes he had been wearing when Reggie sent him down the road, only now they were ripped and mud-stained. Leaves clung to his pants and shirt. A streak of dirt across his forehead accentuated his pallor.
'Stop right there,' Reggie said, lifting the shotgun and clicking off the safety. 'This time it's loaded.'
But Corey Bryant plodded forward, his dull eyes fixed on Reggie's face with an expression that was worse than hate. His tongue slid out and slicked his lips. His shoes were clotted with heavy mud that had been mixed to a black glue by the rain, and clods dropped off onto the hall floor as he came forward. There was something unforgiving and remorseless in that walk, something that impressed the watching eye with a cold and dreadful lack of mercy. The mudcaked heels clumped. There was no command that would stop them or plea that would stay them.
'Take two more steps and I'll blow your fucking head off,' Reggie said. The words came out hard and dry. The guy was worse than drunk. He was off his rocker. He knew with sudden clarity that he was going to have to shoot him.
'Stop,' he said again, but in a casual, offhand way.
Corey Bryant did not stop. His eyes were fixed on Reggie's face with the dead and sparkling avidity of a stuffed moose. His heels clumped solemnly on the floor.
Bonnie screamed behind him.
'Go on in the bedroom,' Reggie said. He stepped out into the hallway to get between them. Bryant was only two paces away now. One limp, white hand was reaching out to grasp the twin barrels of the Stevens.
Reggie pulled both triggers.
The blast was like a thunderclap in the narrow hallway. Fire licked momentarily from both barrels. The stink of burned powder filled the air. Bonnie screamed again, piercingly. Corey's shirt shredded and blackened and parted, not so much perforated as disintegrated. Yet when it blew open, divorced from its buttons, the fish whiteness of his chest and abdomen was incredibly unmarked. Reggie's frozen eyes received an impression that the flesh was not really flesh at all, but something as insubstantial as a gauze curtain.
Then the shotgun was slapped from his hands, as if from the hands of a child. He was gripped and thrown against the wall with teeth-rattling force. His legs refused to sup?port him and he fell down, dazed. Bryant walked past him, toward Bonnie. She was cringing in the doorway, but her eyes were on his face, and Reggie could see the heat in them.
Corey looked back over his shoulder and grinned at Reggie, a huge and moony grin, like that offered to tourists by cow skulls in the desert. Bonnie was holding her arms out. They trembled. Over her face, terror and lust seemed to pass like alternating flashes of sunshine and shadow.
'Darling,' she said.
'Hey,' the bus driver said, 'This is Hartford, Mac.'
Callahan looked out the wide, polarized window at the strange country, made even stranger by the first seeping light of morning. In the Lot they would be going back now, back into their holes.
'I know,' he said.
'We got a twenty-minute rest stop. Don't you want to go in and get a sandwich or something?'
Callahan fumbled his wallet out of his pocket with his bandaged hand and almost dropped it. Oddly, the burned hand didn't seem to hurt much anymore; it was only numb. It would have been better if there had been pain. Pain was at least real. The taste of death was in his mouth, a moronic, mealy taste like a spoiled apple. Was that all? Yes. That was bad enough.
He held out a twenty. 'Can you get me a bottle?'
'Mister, the rules - '
'And keep the change, of course. A pint would be fine.'
'I don't need nobody cutting up on my bus, mister. We'll be in New York in two hours. You can get what you want there. Anything.'
I think you are wrong, friend, Callahan thought. He looked into the wallet again to see what was there. A ten, two fives, a single. He added the ten to the twenty and held it out in his bandaged hand.
'A pint would be fine,' he said. 'And keep the change, of course.'
The driver looked from the thirty dollars to the dark, socketed eyes, and for one terrible moment thought he was holding conversation with a living skull, a skull that had somehow forgotten how to grin.
'Thirty dollars for a pint? Mister, you're crazy.' But he took the money, walked to the front of the empty bus, then turned back. The money had disappeared. 'But don't you go cutting up on me. I don't need nobody cutting up on my bus.'
Callahan nodded like a very small boy accepting a de?served reprimand.
The bus driver looked at him a moment longer, then got off.
Something cheap, Callahan thought. Something that will burn the tongue and sizzle the throat. Something to take away that bland, sweet taste . . . or at least allay it until he could find a place to begin drinking in earnest. To drink and drink and drink -
He thought then that he might break down, begin to cry. There were no tears. He felt very dry, and completely empty. There was only . . . that taste.
He went on looking out the window. Across the street, a teenaged boy was sitting on a porch stoop with his head folded into his arms. Callahan watched him until the bus pulled out again, but the boy never moved.
Ben felt a hand on his arm and swam upward to wakeful?ness. Mark, near his right ear, said, 'Morning.'
He opened his eyes, blinked twice to clear the gum out of them, and looked out the window at the world. Dawn had come stealing through a steady autumn rain that was neither heavy nor light. The trees which ringed the grassy pavilion on the hospital's north side were half denuded now, and the black branches were limned against the gray sky like giant letters in an unknown alphabet. Route 30, which curved out of town to the east, was as shiny as sealskin - a car passing with its taillights still on left baleful red reflections on the macadam.
Ben stood up and looked around. Matt was sleeping, his chest rising and falling in regular but shallow respiration. Jimmy was also asleep, stretched out in the room's one lounge chair. There was an undoctorlike stubble on the planes of his cheeks, and Ben ran a palm across his own face. It rasped.
'Time to get going, isn't it?' Mark asked.
Ben nodded. He thought of the day ahead of them and all its potential hideousness, and shied away from it. The only way to get through it would be without thinking more than ten minutes ahead. He looked into the boy's face, and the stony eagerness he saw there made him feel queasy. He went over and shook Jimmy.
'Huh!' Jimmy said. He thrashed in his chair like a swim?mer coming up from deep water. His face twitched, his eyes fluttered open, and for a moment they showed blank terror. He looked at them both unreasoningly, without recognition.
Then recognition came, and his body relaxed. 'Oh. Dream.'
Mark nodded in perfect understanding.
Jimmy looked out the window and said 'Daylight' the way a miser might say money. He got up and went over to Matt, took his wrist and held it.
'Is he all right?' Mark asked.
'I think he's better than he was last night,' Jimmy said. 'Ben, I want the three of us to leave by way of the service elevator in case someone noticed Mark last night. The less risk, the better.'
'Will Mr Burke be okay alone?' Mark asked.
'I think so,' Ben said. 'We'll have to trust to his ingenuity, I guess. Barlow would like nothing better than to have us tied up another day.'
They tiptoed down the corridor and used the service elevator. The kitchen was just cranking up at this hour ?almost quarter past seven. One of the cooks looked up, waved a hand, and said, 'Hi, Doc.' No one else spoke to them.
'Where first?' Jimmy asked. 'The Brock Street School?'
'No,' Ben said. 'Too many people until this afternoon. Do the little ones get out early, Mark?'
'They go until two o'clock.'
'That leaves plenty of daylight,' Ben said. 'Mark's house first. Stakes.'
As they drew closer to the Lot, an almost palpable cloud of dread formed in Jimmy's Buick, and conversation lagged. When Jimmy pulled off the turnpike at the large green reflectorized sign that read ROUTE 12 JERUSALEM 'S LOT CUMBERLAND CUMBERLAND CTR, Ben thought that this was the way he and Susan had come home after their first date - she had wanted to see something with a car chase in it.
'It's gone bad,' Jimmy said. His boyish face looked pale and frightened and angry. 'Christ, you can almost smell it.'
And you could, Ben thought, although the smell was mental rather than physical: a psychic whiff of tombs.
Route 12 was nearly deserted. On the way in they passed Win Purinton's milk truck, parked off the road and deserted. The motor was idling, and Ben turned it off after looking in the back. Jimmy glanced at him inquiringly as he got back in. Ben shook his head. 'He's not there. The engine light was on, and it was almost out of gas. Been idling there for hours.' Jimmy pounded his leg with a closed fist.
But as they entered town, Jimmy said in an almost absurdly relieved tone, 'Look there. Crossen's is open.'
It was. Milt was out front, fussing a plastic drop cover over his rack of newspapers, and Lester Silvius was stand?ing next to him, dressed in a yellow slicker.
'Don't see the rest of the crew, though,' Ben said.
Milt glanced up at them and waved, and Ben thought be saw lines of strain on both men's faces. The 'Closed' sign was still posted inside the door of Foreman's Mortu?ary. The hardware store was also closed, and Spencer's was locked and dark. The diner was open, and after they had passed it, Jimmy pulled his Buick up to the curb in front of the new shop. Above the show window, simple goldfaced letters spelled out the name: 'Barlow and Straker - Fine Furnishings.' And taped to the door, as Callahan had said, a sign which had been hand-lettered in a fine script which they all recognized from the note they had seen the day before: 'Closed until further notice.'
'Why are you stopping here?' Mark asked.
'Just on the off-chance that he might be holing up inside,' Jimmy said. 'It's so obvious he might figure we'd overlook it. And I think that sometimes customs men put an okay on boxes they've checked through. They write it on with chalk.'
They went around to the back, and while Ben and Mark hunched their shoulders against the rain, Jimmy poked one overcoated elbow through the glass in the back door until they could all climb inside.
The air was noxious and stale, the air of a room shut up for centuries rather than days. Ben poked his head out into the showroom, but there was no place to hide out there. Sparsely furnished, there was no sign that Straker had been replenishing his stock.
'Come here!' Jimmy called hoarsely, and Ben's heart leaped into his throat.
Jimmy and Mark were standing by a long crate which Jimmy had partly pried open with the claw end of his hammer. Looking in, they could see one pale hand and a darksleeve.
Without thinking, Ben attacked the crate. Jimmy was fumbling at the far end with the hammer.
'Ben,' Jimmy said, 'you're going to cut your hands. You - '
He hadn't heard. He snapped boards off the crate, regardless of nails and splinters. They had him, they had the slimy night-thing, and he would pound the stake into him as he had pounded it into Susan, he would - He snapped back another piece of the cheap wooden crating and looked into the dead, moon-pallid face of Mike Ryer?son.
For a moment there was utter silence, and then they all let out their breath . . . it was as if a soft wind had coursed through the room.
'What do we do now?' Jimmy asked.
'We better get out to Mark's house first,' Ben said. His voice was dull with disappointment. 'We know where he is. We don't even have a finished stake yet.'
They put the splintered strips of wood back helter?skelter.
'Better let me look at those hands, Jimmy said. 'They're bleeding.'
'Later,' Ben said. 'Come on.'
They went back around the building, all of them word?lessly glad to be back in the open air, and Jimmy drove the Buick up Jointner Avenue and into the residential part of town, just outside the skimpy business district. They arrived at Mark's house perhaps sooner than any of them would have liked.
Father Callahan's old sedan was parked behind Henry Petrie's sensible Pinto runabout in the circular Petrie drive?way. At the sight of it, Mark sucked in his breath and looked away. All color had drained out of his face.
'I can't go in there,' he muttered. 'I'm sorry. I'll wait in the car.'
'Nothing to be sorry for, Mark,' Jimmy said.
He parked, turned off the ignition, and got out. Ben hesitated a minute, then put a hand on Mark's shoulder. 'Are you going to be all right?'
'Sure.' But he did not look all right. His chin was trembling and his eyes looked hollow. He suddenly turned to Ben and the hollowness was gone from the eyes and they were filled with simple pain, swimming with tears. 'Cover them up, will you? If they're dead, cover them up.'
'Sure I will,' Ben said.
'It's better this way,' Mark said. 'My father . . . he would have made a very successful vampire. Maybe as good as Barlow, in time. He . . . he was good at everything he tried. Maybe too good.'
'Try not to think too much,' Ben said, hating the lame sound of the words as they left his mouth. Mark looked up at him and smiled wanly.
'The woodpile's around in the back,' Mark said. 'You can go faster if you use my father's lathe down in the basement.'
'All right,' Ben said. 'Be easy, Mark. As easy as you can.'
But the boy was looking away now, swiping at his eyes with his arm.
He and Jimmy went up the back steps and inside.
'Callahan's not here,' Jimmy said flatly. They had gone through the entire house.
Ben forced himself to say it. 'Barlow must have gotten him.'
He looked at the broken cross in his hand. It had been around Callahan's neck yesterday. It was the only trace of him they had found. It had been lying next to the bodies of the Petries, who were very dead indeed. Their heads had been crushed together with force enough to literally shatter the skulls. Ben remembered the unnatural strength Mrs Glick had displayed and felt sick.
'Come on,' he said to Jimmy. 'We've got to cover them up. I promised.'
They took the dust cover from the couch in the living room and covered them with that. Ben tried not to look at or think about what they were doing, but it was impossible. When the job was done, one hand - the cultivated, lac?quered nails revealed it to be June Petrie's - protruded from under the gaily patterned dust cover, and he poked it underneath with his toe, grimacing in an effort to keep his stomach under control. The shapes of the bodies under the cover were undeniable and unmistakable, making him think of news photos from Vietnam - battlefield dead and soldiers carrying dreadful burdens in black rubber sacks that looked absurdly like golf bags.
They went downstairs, each with an armload of yellow ash stove lengths.
The cellar had been Henry Petrie's domain, and it re?flected his personality perfectly: Three high-intensity lights had been hung in a straight line over the work area, each shaded with a wide metal shell that allowed the light to fall with strong brilliance on the planer, the jigsaw, the bench saw, the lathe, the electric sander. Ben saw that he had been building a bird hotel, probably to place in the back yard next spring, and the blueprint he had been working from was neatly laid out and held at each corner with machined metal paperweights. He had been doing a competent but uninspired job, and now it would never be finished. The floor was neatly swept, but a pleasantly nostalgic odor of sawdust hung in the air.
'This isn't going to work at all,' Jimmy said.
'I know that,' Ben said.
'The woodpile,' Jimmy snorted, and let the wood fall from his arms in a lumbering crash. The stove lengths rolled wildly on the floor like jackstraws. He uttered a high, hysterical laugh.
'Jimmy - '
But his laugh cut across Ben's attempt to speak like jags of piano wire. 'We're going to go out and end the scourge with a pile of wood from Henry Petrie's back lot. How about some chair legs or baseball bats?'
'Jimmy, what else can we do?'
Jimmy looked at him and got himself under control with a visible effort. 'Some treasure hunt,' he said. 'Go forty paces into Charles Griffen's north pasture and look under the large rock. Ha. Jesus. We can get out of town. We can do that.'
'Do you want to quit? Is that what you want?'
'No. But it isn't going to be just today, Ben. It's going to be weeks before we get them all, if we ever do. Can you stand that? Can you stand doing . . . doing what you did to Susan a thousand times? Pulling them out of their closets and their stinking little bolt holes screaming and struggling, only to pound a stake into their chest cavities and smash their hearts? Can you keep that up until November without going nuts?'
Ben thought about it and met a blank wall: utter incom?prehension.
'I don't know,' he said.
'Well, what about the kid? Do you think he can take it? He'll be ready for the fucking nut hatch. And Matt will be dead. I'll guarantee you that. And what do we do when the state cops start nosing around to find out what in hell happened to 'salem's Lot? What do we tell them? "Pardon me while I stake this bloodsucker"? What about that, Ben?'
'How the hell should I know? Who's had a chance to stop and think this thing out?'
They realized simultaneously that they were standing nose to nose, yelling at each other. 'Hey,' Jimmy said. 'Hey.'
Ben dropped his eyes. 'I'm sorry-'
'No, my fault. We're under pressure . . . what Barlow would undoubtedly call an end game.' He ran a hand through his carroty hair and looked around aimlessly. His eye suddenly lit on something beside Petrie's blueprint and he picked it up. It was a black grease pencil.
'Maybe this is the best way,' he said.
'You stay here, Ben. Start turning out stakes. If we're going to do this, it's got to be scientific. You're the pro?duction department. Mark and I will be research. We'll go through the town, looking for them. We'll find them, too, just the way we found Mike. I can mark the locations with this grease pencil. Then, tomorrow, the stakes.'
'Won't they see the marks and move?'
'I don't think so. Mrs Glick didn't look as though she was connecting too well. I think they move more on instinct than real thought. They might wise up after a while, start hiding better, but I think at first it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.'
'Why don't I go?'
'Because I know the town, and the town knows me - like they knew my father. The live ones in the Lot are hiding in their houses today. If you come knocking, they won't answer. If I come, most of them will. I know some of the hiding places. I know where the winos shack up out in the Marshes and where the pulp roads go. You don't. Can you run that lathe?'
'Yes,' Ben said.
Jimmy was right, of course. Yet the relief he felt at not having to go out and face them made him feel guilty.
'Okay. Get going. It's after noon now.'
Ben turned to the lathe, then paused. 'If you want to wait a half hour, I can give you maybe half a dozen stakes to take with you.'
Jimmy paused a moment, then dropped his eyes. 'Uh, I think tomorrow . . . tomorrow would be . . .'
'Okay,' Ben said. 'Go on. Listen, why don't you come back around three? Things ought to be quiet enough around that school by then so we can check it out.'
Jimmy stepped away from Petrie's shop area and started for the stairs. Something - a half thought or perhaps inspiration - made him turn. He saw Ben across the base?ment, working under the bright glare of those three lights, hung neatly in a row.
Something . . . and it was gone.
He walked back.
Ben shut off the lathe and looked at him. 'Something else?'
'Yeah,' Jimmy said. 'On the tip of my tongue. But it's stuck there.'
Ben raised his eyebrows.
'When I looked back from the stairs and saw you, something clicked. It's gone now.'
'I don't know.' He shuffled his feet purposelessly, want?ing it to come back. Something about the image Ben had made, standing under those work lights, bent over the lathe. No good. Thinking about it only made it seem more distant.
He went up the stairs, but paused once more to look back. The image was hauntingly familiar, but it wouldn't come. He went through the kitchen and out to the car. The rain had faded to drizzle.
Roy McDougall's car was standing in the driveway of the trailer lot on the Bend Road, and seeing it there on a weekday made Jimmy suspect the worst.
He and Mark got out, Jimmy carrying his black bag. They mounted the steps and Jimmy tried the bell. It didn't work and so he knocked instead. The pounding roused no one in the McDougall trailer or in the neighboring one twenty yards down the road. There was a car in that driveway, too.
Jimmy tried the storm door and it was locked. 'There's a hammer in the back seat of the car,' he said.
Mark got it, and Jimmy smashed the glass of the storm door beside the knob. He reached through and unsnapped the catch. The inside door was unlocked. They went in.
The smell was definable instantly, and Jimmy felt his nostrils cringe against it and try to shut it out. The smell was not as strong as it had been in the basement of the Marsten House, but it was just as basically offensive - the smell of rot and deadness. A wet, putrified stink. Jimmy found himself remembering when, as boys, he and his buddies had gone out on their bikes during spring vacation to pick up the returnable beer and soft-drink bottles the retreating snows had uncovered. In one of those (an Orange Crush bottle) he saw a small, decayed field mouse which had been attracted by the sweetness and had then been unable to get out. He had gotten a whiff of it and had immediately turned away and thrown up. This smell was plangently like that - sickish sweet and decayed sour, mixed together and fermenting wildly. He felt his gorge rise.
'They're here,' Mark said. 'Somewhere.'
They went through the place methodically - kitchen, dining nook, living room, the two bedrooms. They opened closets as they went. Jimmy thought they had found some?thing in the master bedroom closet, but it was only a heap of dirty clothes.
'No cellar?' Mark asked.
'No, but there might be a crawl space.
They went around to the back and saw a small door that swung inward, set into the trailer's cheap concrete foundation. It was fastened with an old padlock. Jimmy knocked it off with five hard blows of the hammer, and when he pushed the half-trap open, the smell hit them in a ripe wave.
'There they are,' Mark said.
Peering in, Jimmy could see three sets of feet, like corpses lined up on a battlefield. One set wore work boots, one wore knitted bedroom slippers, and the third set - tiny feet indeed - were bare.
Family scene, Jimmy thought crazily. Reader's Digest, where are you when we need you? Unreality washed over him. The baby, he thought. How are we supposed to do that to a little baby?
He made a mark with the black grease pencil on the trap and picked up the broken padlock. 'Let's go next door,' he said.
'Wait,' Mark said. 'Let me pull one of them out.'
'Pull . . . ? Why?'
'Maybe the daylight will kill them,' Mark said. 'Maybe we won't have to do that with the stakes.'
Jimmy felt hope. 'Yeah, okay. Which one?'
'Not the baby,' Mark said instantly. 'The man. You catch one foot.'
'All right,' Jimmy said. His mouth had gone cotton-dry, and when he swallowed there was a click in his throat.
Mark wriggled in on his stomach, the dead leaves that had drifted in crackling under his weight. He seized one of Roy McDougall's workboots and pulled. Jimmy squirmed in beside him, scraping his back on the low overhang, fighting claustrophobia. He got hold of the other boot and together they pulled him out into the lessening drizzle and white light.
What followed was almost unbearable. Roy McDougall began to writhe as soon as the light struck him full, like a man who has been disturbed in sleep. Steam and moisture came from his pores, and the skin underwent a slight sagging and yellowing. Eyeballs rolled behind the thin skin of his closed lids. His feet kicked slowly and dreamily in the wet leaves. His upper lip curled back, showing upper incisors like those of a large dog - a German shepherd or a collie. His arms thrashed slowly, the hands clenching and unclenching, and when one of them brushed Mark's shirt, he jerked back with a disgusted cry.
Roy turned over and began to hunch slowly back into the crawl space, arms and knees and face digging grooves in the rain-softened humus. Jimmy noted that a hitching, Cheyne-Stokes type of respiration had begun as soon as the light struck the body; it stopped as soon as McDougall was wholly in shadow again. So did the moisture extrusion.
When he had reached his previous resting place, McDougall turned over and lay still.
'Shut it,' Mark said in a strangled voice. 'Please shut it.' Jimmy closed the trap and replaced the hammered lock as well as he could. The image of McDougall's body, struggling in the wet, rotted leaves like a dazed snake, remained in his mind. He did not think there would ever be a time when it was not within hand's reach of his memory - even if he lived to be a hundred.
They stood in the rain, I trembling, looking at each other. 'Next door?' Mark asked.
'Yes. They'd be the logical ones for the McDougalls to attack first.'
They went across, and this time their nostrils picked up the telltale odor of rot in the dooryard. The name below the doorbell was Evans. Jimmy nodded. David Evans and family. He worked as a mechanic in the auto department of Sears in Gates Falls. He had treated him a couple of years ago, for a cyst or something.
This time the bell worked, but there was no response. They found Mrs Evans in bed. The two children were in a bunk bed in a single bedroom, dressed in identical pajamas that featured characters from the Pooh stories. It took longer to find Dave Evans. He had hidden himself away in the unfinished storage space over the small garage.
Jimmy marked a check inside a circle on the front door and the garage door. 'We're doing good,' he said. 'Two for two.'
Mark said diffidently, 'Could you hold on a minute or two? I'd like to wash my hands.'
'Sure,' Jimmy said. 'I'd like that, too. The Evanses won't mind if we use their bathroom.'
They went inside, and Jimmy sat down in one of the living room chairs and closed his eyes. Soon he heard Mark running water in the bathroom.
On the darkened screen of his eyes he saw the mor?tician's table, saw the sheet covering Marjorie Glick's body start to tremble, saw her hand fall out and begin its delicate toe dance on the air - He opened his eyes.
This trailer was in nicer condition than the McDougalls', neater, taken care of. He had never met Mrs Evans, but it seemed she must have taken pride in her home. There was a neat pile of the dead children's toys in a small storage room, a room that had probably been called the laundry room in the mobile home dealer's original brochure. Poor kids, he hoped they'd enjoyed the toys while there had still been bright days and sunshine to enjoy them in. There was a tricycle, several large plastic trucks and a play gas station, one of those caterpillars on wheels (there must have been some dandy fights over that), a toy pool table.
He started to look away and then looked back, startled.
Three shaded lights in a row.
Men walking around the green table under the bright lights, cueing up, brushing the grains of blue chalk off their fingertips -
'Mark!' he shouted, sitting bolt upright in the chair. 'Mark!' And Mark came running with his shirt off, to see what the matter was.
An old student of Matt's (class of '64, A's in literature, C's in composition) had dropped by to see him around two-thirty, had commented on the stacks of arcane litera?ture, and had asked Matt if he was studying for a degree in the occult. Matt couldn't remember if his name was Herbert or Harold.
Matt, who had been reading a book called Strange Disappearances when Herbert-or-Harold walked in, wel?comed the interruption. He was waiting for the phone to ring even now, although he knew the others could not safely enter the Brock Street School until after three o'clock. He was desperate to know what had happened to Father Callahan. And the day seemed to be passing with alarming rapidity - he had always heard that time passed slowly in the hospital. He felt slow and foggy, an old man at last.
He began telling Herbert-or-Harold about the town of Momson, Vermont, whose history he had just been read?ing. He bad found it particularly interesting because he thought the story, if true, might be a precursor of the Lot's fate.
'Everyone disappeared,' he told Herbert-or-Harold, who was listening with polite but not very well masked boredom. 'Just a small town in the upcountry of northern Vermont, accessible by Interstate Route 2 and Vermont Route 19. Population of 312 in the census of 1920. In August of 1923 a woman in New York got worried because her sister hadn't written her for two months. She and her husband took a ride out there, and they were the first to break the story to the newspapers, although I don't doubt that the locals in the surrounding area had known about the disappearance for some time. The sister and her hus?band were gone, all right, and so was everyone else in Momson. The houses and the barns were all standing, and in one place supper had been put on the table. The case was rather sensational at the time. I don't believe that I would care to stay there overnight. The author of this book claims the people in the neighboring townships tell some odd stories . . . ha'ants and goblins and all that. Several of the outlying barns have hex signs and large crosses painted on them, even to this day. Look, here's a photo?graph of the general store and ethyl station and feed-and?-grain store - what served in Momson as downtown. What do you suppose ever happened there?'
Herbert-or-Harold looked at the picture politely. Just a little town with a few stores and a few houses. Some of them were falling down, probably from the weight of snow in the winter. Could be any town in the country. Driving through most of them, you wouldn't know if anyone was alive after eight o'clock when they rolled up the sidewalks. The old man had certainly gone dotty in his old age. Herbert-or-Harold thought about an old aunt of his who had become convinced in the last two years of her life that her daughter had killed her pet parakeet and was feeding it to her in the meat loaf. Old people got funny ideas.
'Very interesting,' he said, looking up. 'But I don't think. . . Mr Burke? Mr Burke, is something wrong? Are you. . . nurse! Hey, nurse!'
Matt's eyes had grown very fixed. One hand gripped the top sheet of the bed. The other was pressed against his chest. His face had gone pallid, and a pulse beat in the center of his forehead.
Too soon, he thought. No, too soon -
Pain, smashing into him in waves, driving him down into darkness. Dimly he thought: Watch that last step, it's a killer.
Herbert-or-Harold ran out of the room, knocking over his chair and spilling a pile of books. The nurse was already coming, nearly running herself.
'It's Mr Burke,' Herbert-or-Harold told her. He was still holding the book, with his index finger inserted at the picture of Momson, Vermont.
The nurse nodded curtly and entered the room. Matt was lying with his head half off the bed, his eyes closed.
'Is he - ?' Herbert-or-Harold asked timidly. It was a complete question.
'Yes, I think so,' the nurse answered, at the same time pushing the button that would summon the ECV unit. 'You'll have to leave now.'
She was calm again now that all was known, and had time to regret her lunch, left half-eaten.
'But there's no pool hall in the Lot,' Mark said. 'The closest one is over in Gates Falls. Would he go there?'
'No,' Jimmy said. 'I'm sure he wouldn't. But some people have pool tables or billiard tables in their houses.'
'Yes, I know that.'
'There's something else,' Jimmy said. 'I can almost get it.'