He leaned back, closed his eyes, and put his hands over them. There was something else, and in his mind he associated it with plastic. Why plastic? There were plastic toys and plastic utensils for picnics and plastic drop covers to put over your boat when winter came -
And suddenly a picture of a pool table draped in a large plastic dust cover formed in his mind, complete with sound track, a voiceover that was saying, I really ought to sell it before the felt gets mildew or something - Ed Craig says it might mildew - but it was Ralph's . . .
He opened his eyes. 'I know where he is,' he said. 'I know where Barlow is. He's in the basement of Eva Miller's boardinghouse.' And it was true; he knew it was. It felt incontrovertibly right in his mind.
Mark's eyes flashed brilliantly. 'Let's go get him.'
He went to the phone, found Eva's number in the book, and dialed it swiftly. It rang with no answer. Ten rings, eleven, a dozen. He put it back in its cradle, frightened. There had been at least ten roomers at Eva's, many of them old men, retired. There was always someone around. Always before this.
He looked at his watch. It was quarter after three and time was racing, racing.
'Let's go,' he said.
'What about Ben?'
Jimmy said grimly, 'We can't call. The line's out at your house. If we go straight to Eva's, there'll be plenty of daylight left if we're wrong. If we're right, we'll come back and get Ben and stop his fucking clock.'
'Let me put my shirt on again,' Mark said, and ran down the hall to the bathroom.
Ben's Citro?n was still sitting in Eva's parking lot, now plastered with wet leaves from the elms that shaded the square of gravel. The wind had picked up but the rain had stopped. The sign that said 'Eva's Rooms' swung and squeaked in the gray afternoon. The house had an eerie silence about it, a waiting quality, and Jimmy made a mental connection and was chilled by it. It was just like the Marsten House. He wondered if anyone had ever committed suicide here. Eva would know, but he didn't think Eva would be talking . . . not anymore.
'It would be perfect,' he said aloud. 'Take up residence in the local boardinghouse and then surround yourself with your children,'
'Are you sure we shouldn't get Ben?'
'Later. Come on.'
They got out of the car and walked toward the porch.
The wind pulled at their clothes, riffled their hair. All the shades were drawn, and the house seemed to brood over them.
'Can you smell it?' Jimmy asked.
'Yes. Thicker than ever.'
'Are you up to this?'
'Yes,' Mark said firmly. 'Are you.
'I hope to Christ I am,' Jimmy said.
They went up the porch steps and Jimmy tried the door. It was unlocked. When they stepped into Eva Miller's compulsively neat big kitchen, the odor smote them both, like an open garbage pit - yet dry, as with the smoke of years.
Jimmy remembered his conversation with Eva - it had been almost four years ago, just after he had begun practic?ing. Eva had come in for a check-up. His father had had her for a patient for years, and when Jimmy took his place, even running things out of the same Cumberland office, she had come to him without embarrassment. They had spoken of Ralph, dead twelve years even then, and she had told him that Ralph's ghost was still in the house ?every now and then she would turn up something new and temporarily forgotten in the attic or a bureau drawer. And of course there was the pool table in the basement. She said that she really ought to get rid of it; it was just taking up space she could use for something else. But it had been Ralph's and she just couldn't bring herself to take out an ad in the paper or call up the local radio 'Yankee Trader' program.
Now they walked across the kitchen to the cellar door and Jimmy opened it. The stench was thick, powering. He thumbed the light switch but got no response. He would have broken that, of course.
'Look around,' he told Mark. 'She's got to have a flashlight, or candles.'
Mark began nosing around, pulling open drawers and looking into them. He noticed that the knife rack over the sink was empty, but thought nothing of it at the time. His heart was thudding with painful slowness, like a muffled drum. He recognized the fact that he was now on the far, ragged edges of his endurance, at the outer limits. His mind did not seem to be thinking, but only reacting. He kept seeing movement at the corners of his eyes and jerking his head around to look, seeing nothing. A war veteran might have recognized the symptoms which signaled the onset of battle fatigue.
He went out into the hall and looked through the dresser there. In the third drawer he found a long four?cell flashlight. He took it back to the kitchen. 'Here it is, J - '
There was a rattling noise, followed by a heavy thump. The cellar door stood open.
And the screams began.
When Mark stepped back into the kitchen of Eva's Rooms, it was twenty minutes of five. His eyes were hollow, and his T-shirt was smeared with blood. His eyes were stunned and slow.
Suddenly he shrieked.
The sound came roaring out of his belly, up the dark passage of his throat, and through his distended jaws. He shrieked until he felt some of the madness begin to leave his brain. He shrieked until his throat cracked and an awful pain lodged in his vocal cords like a sliver of bone. And even when he had externalized all the fear, the horror, the rage, the disappointment that he could, that awful pressure remained, coming up out of the cellar in waves - the knowledge of Barlow's presence somewhere down there - ?and now it was close to dark.
He went outside onto the porch and breathed great gasps of the windy air. Ben. He had to get Ben. But an odd sort of lethargy seemed to have wrapped his legs in lead. What was the use? Barlow was going to win. They had been crazy to go against him. And now Jimmy had paid the full price, as well as Susan and the Father.
The steel in him came up. No. No. No.
He went down the porch steps on trembling legs and got into Jimmy's Buick. The keys hung in the ignition.
Get Ben. Try once more.
His legs were too short to reach the pedals. He pulled the seat up and twisted the key. The engine roared. He put the gearshift lever in drive and put his foot on the gas. The car leaped forward. He slammed his foot down on the power brake and was thrown painfully into the steering wheel. The horn honked.
I can't drive it!
And he seemed to hear his father saying in his logical, pedantic voice: You must be careful when you learn to drive, Mark. Driving is the only means of transportation that is not fully regulated by federal law. As a result, all the operators are amateurs. Many of these amateurs are suicidal. Therefore, you must be extremely careful. You use the gas pedal like there was an egg between it and your foot. When you're driving a car with an automatic transmission, like ours, the left foot is not used at all. Only the right is used; first brake and then gas.
He let his foot off the brake and the car crawled forward down the driveway. It bumped over the curb and he brought it to a jerky stop. The windshield had fogged up. He rubbed it with his arm and only smeared it more.
'Screw it,' he muttered.
He started up jerkily and performed a wide, drunken U-turn, driving over the far curb in the process, and set off for his house. He had to crane his neck to see over the steering wheel. He fumbled out with his right hand and turned on the radio and played it loud. He was crying.
Ben was walking down Jointner Avenue toward town when Jimmy's tan Buick came up the road, moving in jerks and spasms, weaving drunkenly. He waved at it and it pulled over, bounced the left front wheel over the curb, and came to a stop.
He had lost track of time making the stakes, and when he looked at his watch, he had been startled to see that it was nearly ten minutes past four. He had shut down the lathe, taken a couple of the stakes, put them in his belt, and gone upstairs to use the telephone. He had only put his hand on it when he remembered it was out.
Badly worried now, he ran outside and looked in both cars, Callahan's and Petrie's. No keys in either. He could have gone back and searched Henry Petrie's pockets, but the thought was too much. He had set off for town at a fast walk, keeping an eye peeled for Jimmy's Buick. He had been intending to go straight to the Brock Street School when Jimmy's car came into sight.
He ran around to the driver's seat and Mark Petrie was sitting behind the wheel . . . alone. He looked at Ben numbly. His lips worked but no sound came out.
'What's the matter? Where's Jimmy?'
'Jimmy's dead,' Mark said woodenly. 'Barlow thought ahead of us again. He's in the basement of Mrs Miller's boardinghouse somewhere. Jimmy's there, too. I went down to help him and I couldn't get back out. Finally I got a board that I could crawl up, but at first I thought I was going to be trapped down there . . . until s-s-sunset. . . . '
'What happened? What are you talking about?'
'Jimmy figured out the blue chalk, you see? While we were at a house in the Bend. Blue chalk. Pool tables. There's a pool table in the cellar at Mrs Miller's, it belonged to her husband. Jimmy called the boardinghouse and there was no answer so we drove over.'
He lifted his tearless face to Ben's.
'He told me to look around for a flashlight because the cellar light switch was broken, just like at the Marsten House. So I started to look around. I . . . I noticed that all the knives in the rack over the sink were gone, but I didn't think anything of it. So in a way I killed him. I did it. It's my fault, all my fault, all my - '
Ben shook him: two brisk snaps. 'Stop it, Mark. Stop it!
Mark put his hands to his mouth, as if to catch the hysterical babble before it could flow out. His eyes stared hugely at Ben over his hands.
At last he went on: 'I found a flashlight in the hall dresser, see. And that was when Jimmy fell, and he started to scream. He - I would have fallen, too, but he warned me. The last thing he said was Look out, Mark.'
'What was it?' Ben demanded.
'Barlow and the others just took the stairs away,' Mark said in a dead, listless voice. 'Sawed the stairs off after the second one going down. They left a little more of the railing so it looked like . . . looked like . . .' He shook his head. 'In the dark, Jimmy just thought they were there. You see?'
'Yes,' Ben said. He saw. It made him feel sick. 'And the knives?'
'Set all around on the floor underneath,' Mark whis?pered. 'They pounded the blades through these thin ply?wood squares and then knocked off the handles so they would sit flat with the blades pointing . . . pointing.'
'Oh,' Ben said helplessly. 'Oh, Christ.' He reached down and took Mark by the shoulders. 'Are you sure he's dead, Mark?'
'Yes. He . . . he was stuck in half a dozen places. The blood . . . '
Ben looked at his watch. It was ten minutes of five. Again he had that feeling of being crowded, of running out of time.
'What are we going to do now?' Mark asked remotely.
'Go into town. Talk to Matt on the phone and then talk to Parkins Gillespie. We'll finish Barlow before dark. We've got to.'
Mark smiled a small, morbid smile. 'Jimmy said that, too. He said we were going to stop his clock. But he keeps beating us. Better guys than us must have tried, too.'
Ben looked down at the boy and got ready to do some?thing nasty.
'You sound scared,' he said.
'I am scared,' Mark said, not rising to it. 'Aren't you?'
'I'm scared,' Ben said, 'but I'm mad, too. I lost a girl I liked one hell of a lot. I loved her, I guess. We both lost Jimmy. You lost your mother and father. They're lying in your living room under a dust cover from your sofa.' He pushed himself to a final brutality. 'Want to go back and look?'
Mark winced away from him, his face horrified and hurting.
'I want you with me,' Ben said more softly He felt a germ of self-disgust in his stomach. He sounded like a football coach before the big game. 'I don't care who's tried to stop him before. I don't care if Attila the Run played him and lost. I'm going to have my shot. I want you with me. I need you.' And that was the truth, pure and naked.
'Okay,' Mark said. He looked down into his lap, and his hands found each other and entwined in distraught pantomime.
'Dig your feet in,' Ben said.
Mark looked at him hopelessly. I'm trying,' he said.
Sonny's Exxon station on outer Jointner Avenue was open and Sonny James (who exploited his country-music name?sake with a huge color poster in the window beside a pyramid of oil cans) came out to wait on them himself. He was a small, gnome-like man whose receding hair was lawn-mowered into a perpetual crew cut that showed his pink scalp.
'Hey there, Mr Mears, howya doin'? Where your Citrowan?'
'Laid up, Sonny. Where's Pete?' Pete Cook was Sonny's part-time help, and lived in town. Sonny did not.
'Never showed up today. Don't matter. Things been slow, anyway. Town seems downright dead.'
Ben felt dark, hysterical laughter in his belly. It threatened to boil out of his mouth in a great and rancid wave.
'Want to fill it up?' he managed. 'Want to use your phone.'
'Sure. Hi, kid. No school today?'
I'm on a field trip with Mr Mears,' Mark said. 'I had a bloody nose.'
'I guess to God you did. My brother used to get 'em. They're a sign of high blood pressure, boy. You want to watch out.' He strolled to the back of Jimmy's car and took off the gas cap
Ben went inside and dialed the pay phone beside the rack of New England road maps.
'Cumberland Hospital, which department?'
'I'd like to speak with Mr Burke, please. Room 402.
There was an uncharacteristic hesitation, and Ben was about to ask if the room had been changed when the voice said: 'Who is this, please?'
'Benjaman Mears.' The possibility of Matt's death sud?denly loomed up in his mind like a long shadow. Could that be? Surely not - that would be too much. 'Is he all right?'
'Are you a relative?'
'No, a close friend. He isn't - '
'Mr Burke died at 3:07 this afternoon, Mr Mears. If you'd like to hold for just a minute, I'll see if Dr Cody has come in yet. Perhaps he could . . . '
The voice went on but Ben had ceased hearing it, although the receiver was still glued to his ear. The realiz?ation of how much he had been depending on Matt to get them through the rest of this nightmare afternoon crashed home with sickening weight. Matt was dead. Congestive heart failure. Natural causes. It was as if God Himself had turned His face away from them.
Just Mark and I now.
Susan, Jimmy, Father Callahan, Matt. All gone.
Panic seized him and he grappled with it silently. He put the receiver back into its cradle without thinking about it, guillotining a question half-asked.
He walked back outside. It was ten after five. In the west the clouds were breaking up.
'Comes to just three dollars even,' Sonny told him brightly. 'That's Doc Cody's car, ain't it? I see them MD plates and it always makes me think of this movie I seen, this story about a bunch of crooks and one of them would always steal cars with MD plates because - '
Ben gave him three one-dollar bills. 'I've got to split, Sonny. Sorry. I've got trouble.'
Sonny's face crinkled up. 'Gee, I'm sorry to hear that, Mr Mears. Bad news from your editor?'
'I guess you could say that.' He got behind the wheel, shut the door, pulled out, and left Sonny looking after him in his yellow foulweather slicker.
'Matt's dead, isn't he?' Mark asked, watching him.
'Yes. Heart attack. How did you know?'
'Your face. I saw your face.'
It was 5:15.
Parkins Gillespie was standing on the small covered porch of the Municipal Building, smoking a Pall Mall and looking out at the western sky. He turned his attention to Ben Mears and Mark Petrie reluctantly. His face looked sad and old, like the glasses of water they bring you in cheap diners.
'How are You, Constable?' Ben asked.
'Tolerable,' Parkins allowed. He considered a hangnail on the leathery arc of skin that bordered his thumbnail, 'Seen you truckin' back and forth. Looked like the kid was drivin' up from Railroad Street by hisself this last time. That so?'
'Yes,' Mark said.
'Almost got clipped, Fella goin' the other way missed you by a whore's hair.'
'Constable,' Ben said, 'we want to tell you what's been happening around here.'
Parkins Gillespie spat out the stub of his cigarette with?out raising his hands from the rail of the small covered porch. Without looking at either of them, he said calmly, 'I don't want to hear it.'
They looked at him dumbfounded.
'Nolly didn't show up today,' Parkins said, still in that calm, conversational voice. 'Somehow don't think he will. He called in late last night and said he'd seen Homer McCaslin's car out on the Deep Cut Road - I think it was the Deep Cut he said. He never called back in.' Slowly, sadly, like a man under water, he dipped into his shirt pocket and reached another Pall Mall out of it. He rolled it reflectively between his thumb and finger. 'These fucking things are going to be the death of me,' he said.
Ben tried again. 'The man who took the Marsten House, Gillespie. His name is Barlow. He's in the basement of Eva Miller's boardinghouse right now.'
'That so?' Parkins said with no particular surprise, 'Vam?pire, ain't he? Just like in all the comic books they used to put out twenty years ago.'
Ben said nothing. He felt more and more like a man lost in a great and grinding nightmare where clockwork ran on and on endlessly, unseen, but just below the surface of things.
'I'm leavin' town,' Parkins said. 'Got my stuff all packed up in the back of the car. I left my gun and the bubble and my badge in on the shelf. I'm done with lawin'. Goin' t'see my sister in Kittery, I am. Figure that's far enough to be safe.'
Ben heard himself say remotely, 'You gutless creep. You cowardly piece of shit. This town is still alive and you're running out on it.'
'It ain't alive,' Parkins said, lighting his smoke with a wooden kitchen match. 'That's why he came here. It's dead, like him. Has been for twenty years or more. Whole country's goin' the same way. Me and Nolly went to a drive-in show up in Falmouth a couple of weeks ago, just before they closed her down for the season. I seen more blood and killin's in that first Western than I seen both years in Korea. Kids was eatin' popcorn and cheerin 'em on.' He gestured vaguely at the town, now lying unnaturally gilded in the broken rays of the westering sun, like a dream village. 'They prob'ly like bein' vampires. But not me; Nolly'd be in after me tonight. I'm goin'.'
Ben looked at him helplessly.
'You two fellas want to get in that car and hit it out of here,' Parkins said. 'This town will go on without us . . . for a while. Then it won't matter.'
Yes, Ben thought. Why don't we do that? Mark spoke the reason for both of them. 'Because he's bad, mister. He's really bad. That's all.'
'Is that so?' Parkins said. He nodded and puffed his Pall Mall. 'Well, okay.' He looked up toward the Consolidated High School. 'Piss-poor attendance today, from the Lot, anyway. Buses runnin' late, kids out sick, office phonin' houses and not gettin' any answer. The attendance officer called me, and I soothed him some. He's a funny little bald-headed fella who thinks he knows what he's doing. Well, the teachers are there, anyway. They come from out of town, mostly. They can teach each other.'
Thinking of Matt, Ben said, 'Not all of them are from out of town.'
'It don't matter,' Parkins said. His eyes dropped to the stakes in Ben's belt. 'You going to try to do that fella up with one of those?'
'You can have my riot gun if you want it. That gun, it was Nolly's idear. Nolly liked to go armed, he did. Not even a bank in town so's he could hope someone would rob it. He'll make a good vampire though, once he gets the hang of it.'
Mark was looking at him with rising horror, and Ben knew he had to get him away. This was the worst of all.
'Come on,' he said to Mark. 'He's done.'
'I guess that's it,' Parkins said. His pale, crinkle-caught eyes surveyed the town. 'Surely is quiet. I seen Mabel Werts, peekin' out with her glasses, but I don't guess there's much to peek at, today. There'll be more tonight, likely.'
They went back to the car. It was almost 5:30.
They pulled up in front of St Andrew's at quarter of six. Lengthening shadows fell from the church across the street to the rectory, covering it like a prophecy. Ben pulled Jimmy's bag out of the back seat and dumped it out. He found several small ampoules, and dumped their contents out the window, saving the bottles.
'What are you doing?'
'We're going to put holy water in these,' Ben said. 'Come on.'
They went up the walk to the church and climbed the steps. Mark, about to open the middle door, paused and pointed. 'Look at that.'
The handle was blackened and pulled slightly out of shape, as if a heavy electric charge had been pushed through it.
'Does that mean anything to you?' Ben asked.
'No. No, but . . . ' Mark shook his head, pushing an unformed thought away. He opened the door and they went in. The church was cool and gray and filled with the endless pregnant pause that all empty altars of faith, white and black, have in common.
The two ranks of pews were split by a wide central aisle, and flanking this, two plaster angels stood cradling bowls of holy water, their calm and sweetly knowing faces bent, as if to catch their own reflections in the still water.
Ben put the ampoules in his pocket. 'Bathe your face and hands,' he said.
Mark looked at him, troubled. 'That's sac - sacri - '
'Sacrilege? Not this time. Go ahead.'
They dunked their hands in the still water and then splashed it over their faces, the way a man who has just wakened will splash cold water into his eyes to shock the world back into them.
Ben took the first ampoule out of his pocket and was filling it when a shrill voice cried, 'Here! Here now! What are you doing?'
Ben turned around. It was Rhoda Curless, Father Calla?han's housekeeper, who had been sitting in the first pew and twisting a rosary helplessly between her fingers. She was wearing a black dress, and her slip hung below the hem. Her hair was in disarray; she had been pulling her fingers through it.
'Where's the Father? What are you doing?' Her voice was reedy and thin, close to hysteria.
'Who are you?' Ben asked.
'Mrs Curless. I'm Father Callahan's housekeeper. Where's the Father? What are you doing?' Her hands came together and began to war with each other.
'Father Callahan is gone,' Ben said, as gently as he could.
'Oh.' She closed her eyes. 'Was he getting after whatever ails this town?'
'Yes,' Ben said.
'I knew it,' she said. 'I didn't have to ask. He's a strong, good man of the cloth. There were always those who said he'd never be man enough to fill Father Bergeron's shoes, but he filled 'em. They were too small for him, as it turned out.'
She opened her eyes wide and looked at them. A tear spilled from her left, and ran down her cheek. 'He won't be back, will he?'
'I don't know,' Ben said.
'They talked about his drinkin',' she said, as though she hadn't heard. 'Was there ever an Irish priest worth his keep who didn't tip the bottle? None of that mollycoddlin' wet-nursin' church-bingo-prayer-basket for him. He was more'n that!' Her voice rose toward the vaulted ceiling in a hoarse, almost challenging cry. 'He was a priest, not some holy alderman!'
Ben and Mark listened without speech or surprise. There was no surprise left on this dream-struck day; there was not even the capacity for it. They no longer saw themselves as doers or avengers or saviors; the day had absorbed them. Helplessly, they were only living.
'Was he strong when last you saw him?' she demanded, peering at them. The tears magnified the gimlet lack of compromise in her eyes.
'Yes,' Mark said, remembering Callahan in his mother's kitchen, holding his cross aloft.
'And are you about his work now?'
'Yes,' Mark said again.
'Then be about it,' she snapped at them. 'What are you waiting for?' And she left them, walking down the center aisle in her black dress, the solitary mourner at a funeral that hadn't been held here.
Eva's again - and at the last. It was ten minutes after six. The sun hung over the western pines, peering out of the broken clouds like blood.
Ben drove into the parking lot and looked curiously up at his room. The shade was not drawn and he could see his typewriter standing sentinel, and beside it, his pile of manuscript and the glass globe paperweight on top of it. It seemed amazing that he could see all those things from here, see them clearly, as if everything in the world was sane and normal and ordered.
He let his eyes drop to the back porch. The rocking chairs where he and Susan had shared their first kiss stood side by side, unchanged. The door which gave ingress to the kitchen stood open, as Mark had left it.
'I can't,' Mark muttered. 'I just can't.' His eyes were wide and white. He had drawn up his knees and was now crouched on the seat.
'It's got to be both of us,' Ben said. He held out two of the ampoules filled with holy water. Mark twitched away from them in horror, as if touching them would admit poison through his skin. 'Come on,' Ben said. He had no arguments left. 'Come on, come on.'
'Mark, I need you. You and me, that's all that's left.'
'I've done enough!' Mark cried. 'I can't do any more! 'Can't you understand I can't look at him?'
'Mark, it has to be the two of us. Don't you know that?'
Mark took the ampoules and curled them slowly against his chest. 'Oh boy,' he whispered. 'Oh boy, oh boy.' He looked at Ben and nodded. The movement of his head was jerky and agonized. 'Okay,' he said.
'Where's the hammer?' he asked as they got out.
'Jimmy had it.'
They walked up the porch steps in the strengthening wind. The sun glared red through the clouds, dyeing every?thing. Inside, in the kitchen, the stink of death was palpable and wet, pressing against them like granite. The cellar door stood open.
'I'm so scared,' Mark said, shuddering.
'You better be. Where's that flashlight?'
'In the cellar. I left it when . . . '
'Okay.' They stood at the mouth of the cellar. As Mark had said, the stairs looked intact in the sunset light. 'Follow me,' Ben said.
Ben thought quite easily: I'm going to my death.
The thought came naturally, and there was no fear or regret in it. Inward-turning emotions were lost under the overwhelming atmosphere of evil that hung over this place. As he slipped and scraped his way down the board Mark had set up to get out of the cellar, all he felt was an unnatural glacial calm. He saw that his hands were glowing, as if wreathed in ghost gloves. It did not surprise him.
Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. Who had said that? Matt? Matt was dead. Susan was dead. Miranda was dead. Wallace Stevens was dead, too. I wouldn't look at that, if I were you. But he had looked. That's what you looked like when it was over. Like something smashed and broken that had been filled with different-colored fluids. It wasn't so bad. Not so bad as his death. Jimmy had been carrying McCaslin's pistol; it would still be in his coat pocket. He would take it, and if sunset came before they could get to Barlow . . . first the boy, and then himself. Not good, but better than his death.
He dropped to the cellar floor and then helped Mark down. The boy's eyes flashed to the dark, curled thing on the floor and then skipped away.
'I can't look at that,' he said huskily.
'That's all right.'
Mark turned away and Ben knelt down. He swept away a number of the lethal plywood squares, the knife blades thrust through them glittering like dragon's teeth. Gently, then, he turned Jimmy over.
I wouldn't look at that, if I were you.
'Oh, Jimmy,' he tried to say, and the words broke open and bled in his throat. He cradled Jimmy in the curve of his left arm and pulled Barlow's blades out of him with his right hand. There were six of them, and Jimmy had bled a great deal.
There was a neatly folded stack of living room drapes on a corner shelf. He took them over to Jimmy and spread them over his body after he had the gun and the flashlight and the hammer.
He stood up and tried the flashlight. The plastic lens cover had cracked, but the bulb still worked. He flashed it around. Nothing. He shone it under the pool table. Bare. Nothing behind the furnace. Racks of preserves, and a pegboard hung with tools. The amputated stairs, pushed over in the far corner so they would be out of sight from the kitchen. They looked like a scaffold leading nowhere.
'Where is he?' Ben muttered. He glanced at his watch, and the hands stood at 6:23. When was sunset? He couldn't remember. Surely no later than 6:55. That gave them a bare half hour.
'Where is he?' he cried out. 'I can feel him, but where is he?'
"There!' Mark cried, pointing with one glowing hand. 'What's that?'
Ben centered the light on it. A Welsh dresser. 'It's not big enough,' he said to Mark. 'And it's flush against the wall.'
'Let's look behind it.'
Ben shrugged. They crossed the room to the Welsh dresser and each took a side. He felt a trickle of building excitement. Surely the odor or aura or atmosphere or whatever you wanted to call it was thicker here, more offensive?
Ben glanced up at the open kitchen door. The light was dimmer now. The gold was fading out of it.
'It's too heavy for me,' Mark panted.
'Never mind,' Ben said. 'We're going to tip it over. Get your best hold.'
Mark bent over it, his shoulder against the wood. His eyes looked fiercely out of his glowing face. 'Okay.'
They threw their combined weight against it and the Welsh dresser went over with a bonelike crash as Eva Miller's long-ago wedding china shattered inside.
'I knew it!' Mark cried triumphantly.
There was a small door, chest-high, set into the wall where the Welsh dresser had been. A new Yale padlock secured the hasp.
Two hard swings of the hammer convinced him that the lock wasn't going to give. 'Jesus Christ,' he muttered softly. Frustration welled up bitterly in his throat. To be balked like this at the end, balked by a five-dollar padlock -
No. He would bite through the wood with his teeth if he had to.
He shone the flashlight around, and its beam fell on the neatly hung too] board to the right of the stairs. Hung on two of its steel pegs was an ax with a rubber cover masking its blade.
He ran across, snatched it off the pegboard, and pulled the rubber cover from the blade. He took one of the ampoules from his pocket and dropped it. The holy water ran out on the floor, beginning to glow immediately. He got another one, twisted the small cap off, and doused the blade of the ax. It began to glimmer with eldritch fairy?light. And when he set his hands on the wooden haft, the grip felt incredibly good, incredibly right. Power seemed to have welded his flesh into its present grip. He stood holding it for a moment, looking at the shining blade, and some curious impulse made him touch it to his forehead. A hard sense of sureness clasped him, a feeling of inevitable rightness, of whiteness. For the first time in weeks he felt he was no longer groping through fogs of belief and unbelief, sparring with a partner whose body was too insubstantial to sustain blows.
Power, humming up his arms like volts.
The blade glowed brighter.
'Do it!' Mark pleaded. 'Quick! Please!'
Ben Mears spread his feet, slung the ax back, and brought it down in a gleaming arc that left an after-image on the eye. The blade bit wood with a booming, portentous sound and sunk to the haft. Splinters flew.
He pulled it out, the wood screaming against the steel. He brought it down again . . . again . . . again. He could feel the muscles of his back and arms flexing and meshing, moving with a sureness and a studied heat that they had never known before. Each blow sent chips and splinters flying like shrapnel. On the fifth blow the blade crashed through to emptiness and he began hacking the hole wider with a speed that approached frenzy.
Mark stared at him, amazed. The cold blue fire had crept down the ax handle and spread up his arms until he seemed to be working in a column of fire. His head was twisted to one side, the muscles of his neck corded with strain, one eye open and glaring, the other squeezed shut. The back of his shirt had split between the straining wings of his shoulder blades, and the muscles writhed beneath the skin like ropes. He was a man taken over, possessed, and Mark saw without knowing (or having to know) that the possession was not in the least Christian; the good was more elemental, less refined. It was ore, like something coughed up out of the ground in naked chunks. There was nothing finished about it. It was Force; it was Power, it was whatever moved the greatest wheels of the universe.
The door to Eva Miller's root cellar could not stand before it. The ax began to move at a nearly blinding speed; it became a ripple, a descending arc, a rainbow from over Ben's shoulder to the splintered wood of the final door.
He dealt it a final blow and slung the ax away. He held his hands up before his eyes. They blazed.
He held them out to Mark, and the boy flinched. 'I love you,' Ben said.
They clasped hands.
The root cellar was small and cell-like, empty except for a few dusty bottles, some crates, and a dusty bushel basket of very old potatoes that were sprouting eyes in every direction - and the bodies. Barlow's coffin stood at the far end, propped up against the wall like a mummy's sarcophagus, and the crest on it blazed coldly in the light they carried with them like St Elmo's fire.
In front of the coffin, leading up to it like railroad ties, were the bodies of the people Ben had lived with and broken bread with: Eva Miller, and Weasel Craig beside her; Mabe Mullican from the room at the end of the second-floor hall; John Snow, who had been on the county and could barely walk down to the breakfast table with his arthritis; Vinnie Upshaw; Grover Verrill.
They stepped over them and stood by the coffin. Ben glanced down at his watch; it was 6:40.
'We're going to take it out there,' he said. 'By Jimmy.'
'It must weigh a ton,' Mark said.
'We can do it.' He reached out, almost tentatively, and then grasped the upper right corner of the coffin. The crest glittered like an impassioned eye. The wood was crawlingly unpleasant to the touch, smooth and stone-like with years. There seemed to be no pores in the wood, no small imperfections for the fingers to recognize and mold to. Yet it rocked easily. One hand did it.
He tipped it forward with a small push, feeling the great weight held in check as if by invisible counterweights. Something thumped inside. Ben took the weight of the coffin on one hand.
'Now,' he said. 'Your end.'
Mark lifted and the end of the coffin came up easily. The boy's face filled with pleased amazement. 'I think I could do it with one finger.'
'You probably could. Things are finally running our way. But we have to be quick.'
They carried the coffin through the shattered door. It threatened to stick at its widest point, and Mark lowered his head and shoved. It went through with a wooden scream.
They carried it across to where Jimmy lay, covered with Eva Miller's drapes.
'Here he is, Jimmy,' Ben said. 'Here the bastard is. Set it down, Mark.'
He glanced at his watch again. 6:45. Now the light coming through the kitchen door above them was an ashy gray.
'Now?' Mark asked.
They looked at each other over the coffin.
'Yes,' Ben said.
Mark came around and they stood together in front of the coffin's locks and seals. They bent together, and the locks split as they touched them, making a sound like thin, snapping clapboards. They lifted.
Barlow lay before them, his eyes glaring upward.
He was a young man now, his black hair vibrant and lustrous, flowing over the satin pillow at the head of his narrow apartment. His skin glowed with life. The cheeks were as ruddy as wine. His teeth curved out over his full lips, white with strong streaks of yellow, like ivory.
'He - ' Mark began, and never finished.