1

Fall and spring came to Jerusalem's Lot with the same suddenness of sunrise and sunset in the tropics. The line of demarcation could be as thin as one day. But spring is not the finest season in New England - it's too short, too uncertain, too apt to turn savage on short notice. Even so, there are April days which linger in the memory even after one has forgotten the wife's touch, or the feel of the baby's toothless mouth at the nipple. But by mid-May, the sun, rises out of the morning's haze with authority and potency, and standing on your top step at seven in the morning with your dinner bucket in your hand, you know that the dew will be melted off the grass by eight and that the dust on the back roads will hang depthless and still in the air for five minutes after a car's passage; and that by one in the afternoon it will be up to ninety-five on the third floor of the mill and the sweat will roll off your arms like oil and stick your shirt to your back in a widening patch and it might as well be July.

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacher?ous ass as it always does one day sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he has been and things he has done since last he saw you.

It stays on through October and, in rare years, on into November. Day after day the skies are a clear, hard blue, and the clouds that float across them, always west to east, are calm white ships with gray keels. The wind begins to blow by the day, and it is never still. It hurries you along as you walk the roads, crunching the leaves that have fallen in mad and variegated drifts. The wind makes you ache in some place that is deeper than your bones. It may be that it touches something old in the human soul, a chord of race memory that says Migrate or die - migrate or die. Even in your house, behind square walls, the wind beats against the wood and the glass and sends its fleshless pucker against the eaves and sooner or later you have to put down what you were doing and go out and see. And you can stand on your stoop or in your dooryard at midafternoon and watch the cloud shadows rush across Griffen's pasture and up Schoolyard Hill, light and dark, light and dark, like the shutters of the gods being opened and closed. You can see the goldenrod, that most tenacious and pernicious and beauteous of all New England flora, bowing away from the wind like a great and silent congregation. And if there are no cars or planes, and if no one's Uncle John is out in the wood lot west of town banging away at a quail or pheasant; if the only sound is the slow beat of your own heart, you can hear another sound, and that is the sound of life winding down to its cyclic close, waiting for the first winter snow to perform last rites.

2

That year the first day of fall (real fall as opposed to calendar fall) was September 28, the day that Danny Glick was buried in the Harmony Hill Cemetery.

Church services were private, but the graveside services were open to the town and a good portion of the town turned out - class-mates, the curious, and the older people to whom funerals grow nearly compulsive as old age knits their shrouds up around them.

They came up Burns Road in a long line, twisting up and out of sight over the next hill. All the cars had their lights turned on in spite of the day's brilliance. First came Carl Foreman's hearse, its rear windows filled with flowers, then Tony Glick's 1965 Mercury, its deteriorating muffler bellowing and farting. Behind that, in the next four cars, came relatives on both sides of the family, one bunch from as far away as Tulsa, Oklahoma. Others in that long, lights-on parade included: Mark Petrie (the boy Ralphie and Danny had been on their way to see the night Ralphie disappeared) and his mother and father; Richie Boddin and family; Mabel Werts in a car containing Mr and Mrs William Norton (sitting in the back seat with her cane planted between her swelled legs, she talked with unceas?ing constancy about other funerals she had attended all the way back to 1930); Lester Durham and his wife, Harriet; Paul Mayberry and his wife, Glynis; Pat Middler, Joe Crane, Vinnie Upshaw, and Clyde Corliss, all riding in a car driven by Milt Crossen (Milt had opened the beer cooler before they left, and they had all shared out a solemn six-pack in front of the stove); Eva Miller in a car which also contained her close friends Loretta Starcher and Rhoda Curless, who were both maiden ladies; Parkins Gillespie and his deputy, Nolly Gardener, riding in the Jerusalem's Lot police car (Parkins's Ford with a stick-on dashboard bubble); Lawrence Crockett and his sallow wife; Charles Rhodes, the sour bus driver, who went to all funerals on general principles; the Charles Griffen family, including wife and two sons, Hat and Jack, the only off?spring still living at home.

Mike Ryerson and Royal Snow had dug the grave early that morning, laying strips of fake grass over the raw soil they had thrown out of the ground. Mike had lighted the Flame of Remembrance that the Glicks had specified. Mike could remember thinking that Royal didn't seem himself this morning. He was usually full of little jokes and ditties about the work at hand (cracked, off-key tenor: 'They wrap you up in a big white sheet, an' put you down at least six feet. . . . '), but this morning he had seemed exceptionally quiet, almost sullen. Hung over, maybe, Mike thought. He and that muscle-bound buddy of his, Peters, had certainly been slopping it up down at Dell's the night before.

Five minutes ago, when he had seen Cart's hearse coming over the hill about a mile down the road, he had swung open the wide iron gates, glancing up at the high iron spikes as he always did since he had found Doc up there. With the gates Open, he walked back to the newly dug grave where Father Donald Callahan, the pastor of the Jerusalem's Lot Parish, waited by the grave. He was wearing a stole about his shoulders and the book he held was open to the children's burial service. This was what they called the third station, Mike knew. The first was the house of the deceased, the second at the tiny Catholic Church, St Andrew's. Last station, Harmony Hill. Every?body out.

A little chill touched him and he looked down at the bright plastic grass, wondering why it had to be a part of every funeral. It looked like exactly what it was: a cheap imitation of life discreetly masking the heavy brown clods of the final earth.

'They're on their way, Father,' he said.

Callahan was a tall man with piercing blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. His hair was a graying steel color. Ryerson, who hadn't been to church since he turned six?teen, liked him the best of all the local witch doctors. John Groggins, the Methodist minister, was a hypocritical old poop, and Patterson, from the Church of the Latter-day Saints and Followers of the Cross, was as crazy as a bear stuck in a honey tree. At a funeral for one of the church deacons two or three years back, Patterson had gotten right down and rolled on the ground. But Callahan seemed nice enough for a Pope-lover; his funerals were calm and comforting and always short. Ryerson doubted if Callahan had gotten all those red and broken veins in his cheeks and around his nose from praying, but if Callahan did a little drinking, who was to blame him? The way the world was, it was a wonder all those preachers didn't end up in looney-bins.

'Thanks, Mike,' he said, and looked up at the bright sky. 'This is going to be a hard one.'

'I guess so. How long?'

'Ten minutes, no more. I'm not going to draw out his parents' agony. There's enough of that still ahead of them.'

'Okay,' Mike said, and walked toward the rear of the graveyard. He would jump over the stone wall, go into the woods, and eat a late lunch. He knew from long experience that the last thing the grieving family and friends want to see during the third station is the resident gravedigger in his dirt-stained coveralls; it kind of put a crimp in the minister's glowing pictures of immortality and the pearly gates.

Near the back wall he paused and bent to examine a slate headstone that had fallen forward. He stood it up and again felt a small chill go through him as he brushed the dirt from the inscription:

HUBERT BARCLAY MARSTEN

October 6, 1889

August 12, 1939

The angel of Death who holdeth

The bronze Lamp beyond the golden door

Hath taken thee into dark Waters

And below that, almost obliterated by thirty-six seasons of freeze and thaw:

God Grant He Lie Still

Still vaguely troubled and still not knowing why, Mike Ryerson went back into the woods to sit by the brook and eat his lunch.

3

In the early days at the seminary, a friend of Father Callahan's had given him a blasphemous crewelwork sampler which had sent him into gales of horrified laughter at the time, but which seemed more true and less blasphem?ous as the years passed: God grant me the SERENITY to accept what I cannot change, the TENACITY to change what I may, and the GOOD LUCK not to fuck up too often. This in Old English script with a rising sun in the background.

Now, standing before Danny Glick's mourners, that old credo recurred.

The pallbearers, two uncles and two cousins of the dead boy, had lowered the coffin into the ground. Marjorie Glick, dressed in a black coat and a veiled black hat, her face showing through the mesh in the netting like cottage cheese, stood swaying in the protective curve of her father's arm, clutching a black purse as though it were a life preserver. Tony Glick stood apart from her, his face shocked and wandering. Several times during the church service he had looked around, as if to verify his presence among these people. His face was that of a man who believes he is dreaming.

The church can't stop this dream, Callahan thought. Nor all the serenity, tenacity, or good luck in the world. The fuck-up has already happened.

He sprinkled holy water on the coffin and the grave, sanctifying them for all time.

'Let us pray,' he said. The words rolled melodiously from his throat as they always had, in shine and shadow, drunk or sober. The mourners bowed their heads.

'Lord God, through your mercy those who have lived in faith find eternal peace. Bless this grave and send your angel to watch over it. As we bury the body of Daniel Glick, welcome him into your presence, and with your saints let him rejoice in you forever. We ask it through Christ our Lord. Amen.'

'Amen,' the congregation muttered, and the wind swept it away in rags. Tony Glick was looking around with wide, haunted eyes. His wife was pressing a Kleenex to her mouth.

'With faith in Jesus Christ, we reverently bring the body of this child to be buried in its human imperfection. Let us pray with confidence to God, who gives life to all things, that he will raise up this mortal body to the perfection and company of saints.'

He turned the pages of his missal. A woman in the third row of the loose horseshoe grouped around the grave had begun to sob hoarsely. A bird chirruped somewhere back in the woods.

'Let us pray for our brother Daniel Glick to our Lord Jesus Christ,' Father Callahan said, 'who told us: "I am the resurrection and the life. The man who believes in me will live even though he dies, and every living person who puts his faith in me will never suffer eternal death." Lord, you wept at the death of Lazarus, your friend: comfort us in our sorrow. We ask this in faith.'

'Lord, hear our prayer,' the Catholics answered.

'You raised the dead to life; give our brother Daniel eternal life. We ask this in faith.'

'Lord, hear our prayer,' they answered. Something seemed to be dawning in Tony Glick's eyes; a revelation, perhaps.

'Our brother Daniel was washed clean in baptism; give him fellowship with all your saints. We ask this in faith.' 'Lord, hear our prayer.'

'He was nourished with your body and blood; grant him a place at the table in your heavenly kingdom. We ask this in faith.'

'Lord, hear our prayer.'

Marjorie Glick had begun to rock back and forth, moaning.                            I

'Comfort us in our sorrow at the death of our brother; let our faith be our consolation and eternal life our hope. We ask this in faith.'

'Lord, hear our prayer.'

He closed his missal. 'Let us pray as our Lord taught us,' he said quietly. 'Our Father who art in heaven - '

'No!' Tony Glick screamed, and propelled himself for?ward. 'You ain't gonna throw no dirt on my boy!'

Hands reached out to stay him, but they were belated.

For a moment he tottered on the edge of the grave, and then the fake grass wrinkled and gave way. He fell into the hole and landed on the coffin with a horrid, heavy thump.

'Danny, you come outta there!' he bawled.

'Oh, my,' Mabel Werts said, and pressed her black silk funeral hankie to her lips. Her eyes were bright and avid, storing this the way a squirrel stores nuts for the winter.

'Danny, goddammit, you stop this fucking around!'

Father Callahan nodded at two of the pallbearers and they stepped forward, but three other men, including Parkins Gillespie and Nolly Gardener, had to step in before Glick could be gotten out of the grave, kicking and screaming and howling.

'Danny, you stop it now! You got your Momma scared! I'm gonna whip your butt for you! Lemme go! Lemme go . . . I want m'boy . . . let me go, you pricks . . . ahhh, God - '

'Our Father who art in heaven - ' Callahan began again, and other voices joined him, lifting the words toward the indifferent shield of the sky.

' - hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done - '

'Danny, you come to me, hear? You hear me?'

' - on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us - '

'Dannneeee - '

' - our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us - '

'He ain't dead, he ain't dead, let go a me you miserable shitpokes

' - and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Through Christ our Lord, amen.'

'He ain't dead,' Tony Glick sobbed. 'He can't be. He's only twelve fucking years old.' He began to weep heavily and staggered forward in spite of the men who held him, his face ravaged and streaming with tears. He fell on his knees at Callahan's feet and grasped his trousers with muddy hands. 'Please give me my boy back. Please don't fool me no more.'

Callahan took his head gently with both hands. 'Let us pray,' he said. He could feel Glick's wracking sobs in his thighs.

'Lord, comfort this man and his wife in their sorrow. You cleansed this child in the waters of baptism and gave him new life. May we one day join him and share heaven's joys forever. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.'

He raised his head and saw that Marjorie Glick had fainted.

4

When they were all gone, Mike Ryerson came back and sat down on the edge of the open grave to eat his last half sandwich and wait for Royal Snow to come back.

The funeral had been at four, and it was now almost five o'clock. The shadows were long and the sun was already slanting through the tall western oaks. That frigging Royal had promised to be back by quarter of five at the latest; now where was he?

The sandwich was bologna and cheese, his favorite. All the sandwiches he made were his favorites; that was one of the advantages to being single. He finished up and dusted his hands, spraying a few bread crumbs down on the coffin.

Someone was watching him.

He felt it suddenly and surely. He stared around at the cemetery with wide, startled eyes.

'Royal? You there, Royal?'

No answer. The wind sighed through the trees, making them rustle mysteriously. In the waving shadows of the elms beyond the stone wall, he could see Hubert Marsten's marker, and suddenly he thought of Win's dog, hanging impaled on the iron front gate.

Eyes. Flat and emotionless. Watching.

Dark, don't catch me here.  

He started to his feet as if someone had spoken aloud.

'Goddamn you, Royal.' He spoke the words aloud, but quietly. He no longer thought Royal was around, or even coming back. He would have to do it by himself, and it would take a long time alone.

Maybe until dark.

He set to work, not trying to understand the dread that had fallen over him, not wondering why this job that had never bothered him before was bothering him terribly now.

Moving with quick, economical gestures, he pulled the strips of fake grass away from the raw earth and folded them neatly. He laid them over his arm and took them out to his truck, parked beyond the gate, and once out of the graveyard, that nasty feeling of being watched slipped away.

He put the grass in the back of the -pickup and took out a spade. He started back, then hesitated. He stared at the open grave and it seemed to mock him.

It occurred to him that the feeling of being watched had stopped as soon as he could no longer see the coffin nestled at the bottom of its hole. He had a sudden mental image of Danny Glick lying on that little satin pillow with his eyes open, No - that was stupid. They closed the eyes. He had watched Carl Foreman do it enough times. Course we gum 'em, Carl had said once. Wouldn't want the corpse winkin' at the congregation, would we?

He loaded his shovel with dirt and threw it in. It made a heavy, solid thump on the polished mahogany box, and Mike winced. The sound made him feel a little sick. He straightened up and looked around distractedly at the floral displays. A damn waste. Tomorrow the petals would be scattered all over in red and yellow flakes. Why anybody bothered was beyond him. If you were going to spend money, why not give it to the Cancer Society or the March of Dimes or even the Ladies' Aid? Then it went to some good, at least.

He threw in another shovelful and rested again

That coffin was another waste. Nice mahogany coffin, worth a thousand bucks at least, and here he was shoveling dirt over it. The Glicks didn't have no more money than anyone else, and who puts burial insurance on kids? They were probably six miles in hock, all for a box to shovel in the ground.

He bent down, got another spadeful of earth, and reluc?tantly threw it in. Again that horrid, final thump. The top of the coffin was sprayed with dirt now, but the polished mahogany gleamed through, almost reproachfully.

Stop looking at me.

He got another spadeful, not a very big one, and threw it in.

Thump.

The shadows were getting very long now. He paused, looked up, and there was the Marsten House, its shutters closed blankly. The east side, the one that bid good day to the light first, looked directly down on the iron gate of the cemetery, where Doc  -

He forced himself to get another spadeful of earth and throw it into the hole.

Thump.

Some of it trickled off the sides, creasing into the brass hinges. Now if anyone opened it, there would be a gritting, grating noise like opening the door to a tomb.

Stop looking at me, goddammit.

He began to bend for another spadeful, but the thought seemed too heavy and he rested for a minute. He had read once - in the National Enquirer or someplace - about some Texas oilman dude who had specified in his will that he be buried in a brand-new Cadillac Coupe de Ville. They did it, too. Dug the hole with a payloader and lifted the car in with a crane. People all over the country driving around in old cars held together with spit and baling wire and one of these rich pigs gets himself buried sitting behind the wheel of a ten-thousand-dollar car with all the accessories ?He suddenly jerked and took a step backward, shaking his head warily. He had almost - well - had almost been in a trance, it seemed like. That feeling of being watched was much stronger now. He looked at the sky and was alarmed to see how much light had gone out of it. Only the top story of the Marsten House was in bright sunlight now. His watch said ten past six. Christ, it had been an hour and he hadn't thrown half a dozen shovelfuls of dirt down that hole!

Mike bent to his work, trying not to let himself think. Thump and thump and thump and now the sound of dirt striking wood was muffled; the top of the coffin was covered and dirt was running off the sides in brown rivulets, almost up to the lock and catch.

He threw in another two spadefuls and paused.

Lock and catch?

Now, why in the name of God would anyone put a lock into a coffin? Did they think someone was going to try to get in? That had to be it. Surely they couldn't think someone would be trying to get out  -

'Stop staring at me,' Mike Ryerson said aloud, and then felt his heart crawl up into his throat. A sudden urge to run from this place, to run straight down the road to town, filled him. He controlled it only with great effort. Just the heebie-jeebies, that's all it was. Working in a graveyard, who wouldn't get them once in a while? It was like a fucking horror movie, having to cover up that kid, only twelve years old and his eyes wide open  -

'Christ, stop it!' be cried, and looked wildly up toward the Marsten House. Now only the roof was in sunshine. It was six-fifteen.

After that he began to work more quickly again, bending and shoveling and trying to keep his mind completely blank. But that sense of being watched seemed to grow rather than lessen, and each shovelful of dirt seemed heavier than the last. The top of the coffin was covered now but you could still see the shape, shrouded in earth.

The Catholic prayer for the dead began to run through his mind, the way things like that will for no good reason. He had heard Callahan saying it while he was eating his dinner down by the brook. That, and the father's helpless screaming.  

Let us pray for our brother to our Lord Jesus Christ, who said . . .

(O my father, favor me now.)

He paused and looked blankly down into the grave. It was deep, very deep. The shadows of coming night had already pooled into it, like something viscid and alive. It was still deep. He would never be able to fill it by dark. Never.

I am the resurrection and the life. The man who believes in me will live even though he die . . .

(Lord of Flies, favor me now.)

Yes, the eyes were open. That's why he felt watched. Carl hadn't used enough gum on them and they had flown up just like window shades and the Glick kid was staring at him. Something ought to be done about it.

. . . and every living person who puts his faith in me will never suffer eternal death . . .

(Now I bring you spoiled meat and reeking flesh.)

Shovel out the dirt. That was the ticket. Shovel it out and break the lock with the shovel and open the coffin and close those awful staring eyes. He had no mortician's gum, but he had two quarters in is pocket. That would do as well. Silver. Yes, silver was what the boy needed.

The sun was above the roof of the Marsten House now, and only touched the highest and oldest spruces to the west of town. Even with the shutters closed the house seemed to stare at him.

You raised the dead to life; give our brother Daniel eternal life.

(I have made sacrifice for your favor. With my left hand I bring it.)

Mike Ryerson suddenly leaped into the grave and began to shovel madly, throwing dirt up and out in brown ex?plosions. At last the blade of the shovel struck wood and he began to scrape the last of the dirt over the sides and then he was kneeling on the coffin striking at the brass lip of the lock again and again and again.

The frogs down by the brook had begun to thump, a night jar was singing in the shadows, and somewhere close by a number of whippoorwills had begun to lift their shrilling call.

Six-fifty.

What am I doing? he asked himself. What in God's name am I doing?

He knelt there on top of the coffin and tried to think about it . . . but something on the underside of his mind was urging him to hurry, hurry, the sun was going down ? -

Dark, don't catch me here.

He lifted the spade over his shoulder, brought it down on the lock once more, and there was a snapping sound. It was broken.

He looked up for a moment, in a last glimmering of sanity, his face streaked and circled with dirt and sweat, the eyes staring from it in bulging white circles.

Venus glowed against the breast of the sky.

Panting, he pulled himself out of the grave, lay down full length, and fumbled for the catches on the coffin lid. He found them and pulled. The lid swung upward, gritting on its hinges just as he had imagined it would, showing at first only pink satin, and then one dark-clad arm (Danny Glick had been buried in his communion suit), then . . . then the face.

Mike's breath clogged and stopped in his throat.

The eyes were open. Just as he had known they would be. Wide open and hardly glazed at all. They seemed to sparkle with hideous life in the last, dying light of day. There was no death pallor in that face; the cheeks seemed rosy, almost juicy with vitality.

He tried to drag his eyes away from that glittering, frozen stare and was unable.

He muttered: 'Jesus - '

The sun's diminishing arc passed below the horizon.

5

Mark Petrie was working on a model of Frankenstein's monster in his room and listening to his parents down in the living room. His room was on the second floor of the farmhouse they had bought on South Jointner Avenue, and although the house was heated by a modern oil furnace now, the old second-floor grates were still there. Orig?inally, when the house had been heated by a central kitchen stove, the warm-air grates had kept the second floor from becoming too cold - although the woman who had orig?inally lived in this house with her dour Baptist husband from 1873 to 1896 had still taken a hot brick wrapped in flannel to bed with her - but now the grates served another purpose. They conducted sound excellently.

Although his parents were down in the living room, they might as well have been discussing him right outside the door.

Once, when his father had caught him listening at the door in their old house - Mark had only been six then ?his father had told him an old English proverb: Never listen at a knothole lest you be vexed. That meant, his father said, that you may hear something about yourself that you don't like.

Well, there was another one, too. Forewarned is fore?armed.

At age twelve, Mark Petrie was a little smaller than the average and slightly delicate-looking. Yet he moved with a grace and litheness that is not the common lot of boys his age, who seem mostly made up of knees and elbows and scabs. His complexion was fair, almost milky, and his features, which would be considered aquiline later in life, now seemed a trifle feminine. It had caused him some trouble even before the Richie Boddin incident in the schoolyard, and he had determined to handle it himself. He had made an analysis of the problem. Most bullies, he had decided, were big and ugly and clumsy. They scared people by being able to hurt them. They fought dirty. Therefore, if you were not afraid of being hurt a little, and if you were willing to fight dirty, a bully might be bested. Richie Boddin had been the first full vindication of his theory. He and the bully at the Kittery Elementary School had come off even (which had been a victory of a kind; the Kittery bully, bloody but unbowed, had proclaimed to the schoolyard community at large that he and Mark Petrie were pals. Mark, who thought the Kittery bully was a dumb piece of shit, did not contradict him. He understood discretion.). Talk did no good with bullies. Hurting was the only language that the Richie Boddins of the world seemed to understand, and Mark supposed that was why the world always had such a hard time getting along. He had been sent from school that day, and his father had been very angry until Mark, resigned to his ritual whipping with a rolled - up magazine, told him that Hitler had just been a Richie Boddin at heart. That had made his father laugh like hell, and even his mother snickered. The whip?ping had been averted.

Now June Petrie was saying: 'Do you think it's affected him, Henry?'

'Hard . . . to tell.' And Mark knew by the pause that his father was lighting his pipe. 'He's got a hell of a poker face.'

'Still waters run deep, though.' She paused. His mother was always saying things like still waters run deep or it's a long, long road that has no turning. He loved them both dearly, but sometimes they seemed just as ponderous as the books in the folio section of the library . . . and just as dusty.

'They were on their way to see Mark,' she resumed. 'To play with his train set . . . now one dead and one missing! Don't fool yourself, Henry. The boy feels something.'

'He's got his feet pretty solidly planted on the ground,' Mr Petrie said. 'Whatever his feelings are, I'm sure he's got them in hand.'

Mark glued the Frankenstein m6nster's left arm into the shoulder socket. It was a specially treated Aurora model that glowed green in the dark, just like the plastic Jesus he had gotten for memorizing all of the 119th Psalm in Sunday school class in Kittery.

'I've sometimes thought we should have had another,' his father was saying. 'Among other things, it would have been good for Mark.'

And his mother, in an arch tone: 'Not for lack of trying, dear.'

His father grunted.

There was a long pause in the conversation. His father, he knew, would be rattling through The Wall Street Journal. His mother would be holding a novel by Jane Austen on her lap, or perhaps Henry James. She read them over and over again, and Mark was darned if he could see the sense in reading a book more than once. You knew how it was going to end.

'D'you think it's safe to let him go in the woods behind the house?' his mother asked presently. 'They say there's quicksand somewhere in town - '

'Miles from here.'

Mark relaxed a little and glued the monster's other arm on. He had a whole table of Aurora horror monsters, arranged in a scene that he changed each time a new element was added. It was a pretty good set. Danny and Ralphie had really been coming to see that the night when . . . whatever.

'I think it's okay,' his father said. 'Not after dark, of course.'

'Well, I hope that awful funeral won't give him nightmares.'

Mark could almost see his father shrug. 'Tony Glick . . . unfortunate. But death and grief are part of living. Time he got used to the idea.'

'Maybe.' Another long pause. What was coming now? he wondered. The child is the father of the man, maybe. Or as the twig is bent the tree is shaped. Mark glued the monster onto his base, which was a grave mound with a leaning headstone in the background. 'In the midst of life we're in death. But I may have nightmares.'

'Oh?'

'That Mr Foreman must be quite an artist, grisly as it sounds. He really looked as if he was just asleep. That any second he might open his eyes and yawn and . . . I don't know why these people insist on torturing themselves with open-coffin services. It's . . . heathenish.'

'Well, it's over.'

'Yes, I suppose. He's a good boy, isn't he, Henry?'

'Mark? The best.'

Mark smiled.

'Is there anything on TV?'

'I'll look.'

Mark turned the rest off; the serious discussion was done. He set his model on the window sill to dry and harden. In another fifteen minutes his mother would be calling up for him to get ready for bed. He took his pajamas out of the top dresser drawer and began to undress.

In point of fact, his mother was worrying needlessly about his psyche, which was not tender at all. There was no particular reason why it should have been; he was a typical boy in most ways, despite his economy and his gracefulness. His family was upper middle class and still upwardly mobile, and the marriage of his parents was sound. They loved each other firmly, if a little stodgily. There had never been any great trauma in Mark's life. The few school fights had not scarred him. He got along with his peers and in general wanted the same things they wanted.

If there was anything that set him apart, it was a reservoir of remoteness, of cool self-control. No one had inculcated it in him; he seemed to have been born with it. When his pet dog, Chopper, had been hit by a car, he had insisted on going with his mother to the vet's. And when the vet had said, The dog has got to be put to sleep, my boy. Do you understand why? Mark said, You're not going to put him to sleep. You're going to gas him to death, aren't you? The vet said yes. Mark told him to go ahead, but he had kissed Chopper first. He had felt sorry but he hadn't cried and tears had never been close to the surface. His mother had cried but three days later Chopper was in the dim past to her, and he would never be in the dim past for Mark. That was the value in not crying. Crying was like pissing everything out on the ground.

He had been shocked by the disappearance of Ralphie Glick, and shocked again by Danny's death, but he had not been frightened. He had heard one of the men in the store say that probably a sex pervert had gotten Ralphie. Mark knew what perverts were. They did something to you that got their rocks off and when they were done they strangled you (in the comic books, the guy getting strangled always said Arrrgggh) and buried you in a gravel pit or under the boards of a deserted shed. If a sex pervert ever offered him candy, he would kick him in the balls and then run like a split streak.

'Mark?' His mother's voice, drifting up the stairs. 'I am,' he said, and smiled again.

'Don't forget your ears when you wash.'

'I won't.'

He went downstairs to kiss them good night, moving lithely and gracefully, sparing one glance backward to the table where his monsters rested in tableau: Dracula with his mouth open, showing his fangs, was menacing a girl lying on the ground while the Mad Doctor was torturing a lady on the rack and Mr Hyde was creeping up on an old guy walking home.

Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.

6

Roy McDougall pulled into the driveway of his trailer at half past eight, gunned the engine of his old Ford twice, and turned the engine off. The header pipe was just about shot, the blinkers didn't work, and the sticker came up next month. Some car. Some life. The kid was howling in the house and Sandy was screaming at him. Great old marriage.

He got out of the car and fell over one of the flagstones he had been meaning to turn into a walk from the driveway to the steps since last summer.

'Shitfire,' he muttered, glowering balefully at the piece of flagging and rubbing his shin.

He was quite drunk. He had gotten off work at three and had been drinking down at Dell's ever since with Hank Peters and Buddy Mayberry. Hank had been flush just lately, and seemed intent on drinking up the whole of his dividend, whatever it had been. He knew what Sandy thought of his buddies. Well, let her get tightassed. Be?grudge a man a few beers on Saturday and Sunday even though he spent the whole week breaking his back on the goddamn picker - and getting weekend overtime to boot. Who was she to get so holy? She spent all day sitting in the house with nothing to do but take care of the place and shoot the shit with the mailman and see that the kid didn't crawl into the oven. She hadn't been watching him too close lately, anyway. Goddamn kid even fell off the changing table the other day.

Where were you?

I was holding him, Roy. He just wriggles so.

Wriggles. Yeah.

He went up to the door, still steaming. His leg hurt where he had bumped it. Not that he'd get any sympathy from her. So what was she doing while he was sweating his guts out for that prick of a foreman? Reading confession magazines and eating chocolate-covered cherries or watch?ing the soap operas on the TV and eating chocolate?-covered cherries or gabbing to her friends on the phone and eating chocolate-covered cherries. She was getting pimples on her ass as well as her face. Pretty soon you wouldn't be able to tell the two of them apart.

He pushed open the door and walked in.

The scene struck him immediately and forcibly, cutting through the beer haze like the flick of a wet towel: the baby, naked and screaming, blood running from his nose; Sandy holding him, her sleeveless blouse smeared with blood, looking at him over her shoulder, her face contracting with surprise and fear; the diaper on the floor.

Randy, with the discolored marks around his eyes barely fading, raised his hands as if in supplication.

'What's going on around here?' Roy asked slowly.

'Nothing, Roy. He just - '

'You hit him,' he said tonelessly. 'He wouldn't hold still for the diapers so you smacked him.'

'No,' she said quickly. 'He rolled over and bumped his nose, that's all. That's all.'

'I ought to beat the shit out of you,' he said.

'Roy, he just bumped his nose - '

His shoulders slumped. 'What's for dinner?'

'Hamburgs. They're burnt,' she said petulantly, and pulled the bottom of her blouse out of her Wranglers to wipe under Randy's nose. Roy could see the roll of fat she was getting. She'd never bounced back after the baby. Didn't care.

'Shut him up.'

'He isn't - '

'Shut him up!' Roy yelled, and Randy, who had actually been quieting down to snuffles, began to scream again.

'I'll give him a bottle,' Sandy said, getting up.

'And get my dinner.' He started to take off his denim jacket. 'Christ, isn't this place a mess. What do you do all day, beat off?'

'Roy!' she said, sounding shocked. Then she giggled. Her insane burst of anger at the baby who would not hold still on his diapers so she could pin them began to be far away, hazy. It might have happened on one of her afternoon stories, or 'Medical Center'.

'Get my dinner and then pick this frigging place up.'

'All right. All right, sure.' She got a bottle out of the refrigerator and put Randy down in the playpen with it. He began to suck it apathetically, his eyes moving from mother to father in small, trapped circles.

'Roy?'

'Hmmm? What?'

'It's all over.'

'What is?'

'You know what. Do you want to? Tonight?'

'Sure,' he said. 'Sure.' And thought again: isn't this some life. Isn't this just some life.

7

Nolly Gardener was listening to rock n' roll music on WLOB and snapping his fingers when the telephone rang. Parkins put down his crossword magazine and said, 'Cut that some, will you?'

'Sure, Park.' Nolly turned the radio down and went on snapping his fingers.

'Hello?' Parkins said.

'Constable Gillespie?'

'Yeah.'

'Agent Tom Hanrahan here, Sir. I've got the information you requested.'

'Good of you to get back so quick.'

'We haven't got much of a hook for you.'

'That's okay,' Parkins said. 'What have you got?' 'Ben Mears investigated as a result of a traffic fatality in upstate New York, May 1973. No charges brought. Motorcycle smash. His wife Miranda was killed. Witnesses said he was moving slowly and a breath test was negative. Apparently just hit a wet spot. His politics are leftish. He was in a peace march at Princeton in 1966. Spoke at an antiwar rally in Brooklyn in 1967. March on Washington in 1968 and 1970. Arrested during a San Francisco peace march November 1971. And that's all there is on him.' 'What else?'

'Kurt Barlow, that's Kurt with a "k". He's British, but by naturalization rather than birth. Born in Germany, fled to England in 1938, apparently just ahead of the Gestapo. His earlier records just aren't available, but he's probably in his seventies. The name he was born with was Breichen. He's been in the import-export business in London since 1945, but he's elusive. Straker has been his partner since then, and Straker seems to be the fellow who deals with the public.'

'Yeah?'

'Straker is British by birth. Fifty-eight years old. His father was a cabinetmaker in Manchester. Left a fair amount of money to his son, apparently, and this Straker has done all right, too. Both of them applied for visas to spend an extended amount of time in the United States eighteen months ago. That's all we have. Except that they may be queer for each other.'

'Yeah,' Parkins said, and sighed. 'About what I thought.'

'If you'd like further assistance, we can query CID and Scottand Yard about your two new merchants.'

'No, that's fine.'

'No connection between Mears and the other two, by the way. Unless it's deep undercover.'

'Okay. Thanks.'

'It's what we're here for. If you want assistance, get in touch.'

'I will. Thank you now.'

He put the receiver back in its cradle and looked at it thoughtfully.

'Who was that, Park?' Nolly asked, turning up the radio.

'The Excellent Caf. They ain't got any ham on rye. Nothin' but toasted cheese and egg salad.'

'I got some raspberry fluff in my desk if you want it.'

'No thanks,' Parkins said, and sighed again.

8

The dump was still smoldering.

Dud Rogers walked along the edge, smelling the fragrance of smoldering offal. Underfoot, small bottles crunched and powdery black ash puffed up at every step. Out in the dump's wasteland, a wide bed of coals waxed and waned with the vagaries of the wind, reminding him of a huge red eye opening and closing . . . the eye of a giant. Every now and then there was a muffled small explosion as an aerosol can or light bulb blew up. A great many rats had come out of the dump when he lit it that morning, more rats than he had ever seen before. He had shot fully three dozen, and his pistol had been hot to the touch when he finally tucked it back in its holster. They  were big bastards, too, some of them fully two feet long stretched end to end. Funny how their numbers seemed to grow or shrink depending on the year. Had something to do with the weather, probably. If it kept up, he would have to start salting poison bait around, something he hadn't had to do since 1964.

There was one now, creeping under one of the yellow sawhorses that served as fire barriers.

Dud pulled out his pistol, clicked off the safety, aimed, and fired. The shot kicked dirt in front of the rat, spraying its fur. But instead of running, it only rose up on its hind legs and looked at him, beady little eyes glittering red in the fire glow. Jesus, but some of them were bold!

'By-by, Mr Rat,' Dud said, and took careful aim.

Kapow. The rat flopped over, twitching.

Dud walked across and prodded it with one heavy work boot. The rat bit weakly at the shoe leather, its sides aspirating weakly.

'Bastard,' Dud said mildly, and crushed its head.

He hunkered down, looked at it, and found himself thinking of Ruthie Crockett, who wore no bra. When she wore one of those clingy cardigan sweaters, you could see her little nipples just as clear, made erect by the friction as they rubbed against the wool, and if a man could get ahold of those tits and rub them just a little, just a little, mind you, a slut like that would go off just like a rocket. . ..

He picked the rat up by its tail and swung it like a pendulum. 'How'd you like ole Mr Rat in your pencil box, Ruthie?' The thought with its unintentional double-?entendre amused him, and he uttered a high-pitched giggle, his oddly off-center head nodding and dipping.

He slung the rat far out into the dump. As he did so, he swung around and caught sight of a figure - a tail, extremely thin silhouette about fifty paces to the right.

Dud wiped his hands on his green pants, hitched them up, and strolled over.

'Dump's closed, mister.'

The man turned toward him. The face that was discovered in the red glow of the dying fire was high?-cheekboned and thoughtful. The hair was white, streaked with oddly virile slashes of iron gray. The guy had it swept back from his high, waxy forehead like one of those fag concert pianists. The eyes caught and held the red glow of the embers and made them look bloodshot.

'Is it?' the man asked politely, and there was a faint accent in the words, although they were perfectly spoken. The guy might be a frog, or maybe a bohunk. 'I came to watch the fire. It is beautiful.'

'Yeah,' Dud said. 'You from around here?'

'I am a recent resident of your lovely town, yes. Do you shoot many rats?'

'Quite a few, yeah. Just lately there's millions of the little sonsawhores. Say, you ain't the fella who bought the Marsten place, are you?'

'Predators,' the man said, crossing his hands behind his back. Dud noticed with surprise that the guy was all tricked out in a suit, vest and all. 'I love the predators of the night. The rats . . . the owls . . . the wolves. Are there wolves in this area?'

'Naw,' Dud said. 'Guy up in Durham bagged a coyote two years ago. And there's a wild-dog pack that's been runnin' deer - '

'Dogs,' the stranger said, and gestured with contempt. 'Low animals that cringe and howl at the sound of a strange step. Fit only to whine and grovel. Gut them all, I say. Gut them all!'

'Well, I never thought of it that way,' Dud said, taking a shuffling step backward. 'It's always nice to have someone come out and, you know, shoot the shit, but the dump closes at six on Sundays and it's happast nine now - '

'To be sure.'

Yet the stranger showed no sign of moving away. Dud was thinking that he had stolen a march on the rest of the town. They were all wondering who was behind that Straker guy, and he was the first to know - except maybe for Larry Crockett, who was a deep one. The next time he was in town buying shells from that prissy-faced George Middler, he would just happen to say casually: Happened to meet that new fella the other night. Who? Oh, you know. Fella that took the Marsten House. Nice enough fella. Talked a little like a bohunk.

'Any ghosts up in that old house?' he asked, when the old party showed no signs of hauling ass.

'Ghosts!' The old party smiled, and there was something very disquieting about that smile, A barracuda might smile like that. 'No; no ghosts.' He placed a faint emphasis on that last word, as if there might be something up there that was even worse.

'Well . . . gettin' late and all . . . you really ought to go now, Mister  - ?'

'But it's so pleasant, speaking with you,' the old party said, and for the first time he turned his full face to Dud and looked in his eyes. The eyes were wide-set, and still rimmed with the dump's sullen fire. There was no way you could look away from them, although it wasn't polite to stare. 'You don't mind if we converse a bit longer, do you?'

'No, I guess not,' Dud said, and his voice sounded far away. Those eyes seemed to be expanding, growing, until they were like dark pits ringed with fire, pits you could fall into and drown in.

'Thank you,' he said. 'Tell me . . . does the hump on your back discommode you in your job?'

'No,' Dud said, still feeling far away. He thought faintly: I be buggered if he ain't hypnotizin' me. Just like that fella at Topsham Fair . . . what was his name? Mr Mephisto. He'd put you to steep and make you do all kinds of comical things - act like a chicken or run around like a dog or tell what happened at the birthday party you had when you were six. He hypnotized ole Reggie Sawyer and Gawd didn't we laugh. . . .

'Does it perhaps inconvenience you in other ways?'

'No . . . well . . . ' He looked into the eyes, fascinated.

'Come, come,' the old party's voice cajoled gently. 'We are friends, are we not? Speak to me, tell me.'

'Well . . . girls . . . you know, girls . . . '

'Of course,' the old party said soothingly 'The girls laugh at you, do they not? They have no knowing of your manhood. Of your strength.'

'That's right,' Dud whispered. 'They laugh. She laughs.'

'Who is this she?'

'Ruthie Crockett. She . . . she . . . ' The thought flew away. He let it. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except this peace. This cool and complete peace.

'She makes the jokes perhaps? Snickers behind her hand? Nudges her friends when you pass?'

'Yes . . . '

'But you want her,' the voice insisted. 'Is it not so?'

'Oh yes . . . '

'You shall have her. I am sure of it.' There was something . . . pleasant about this. Far away he seemed to hear sweet voices singing foul words. Silver chimes . . . white faces . . . Ruthie Crockett's voice. He could almost see her, hands cupping her titties, making them bulge into the V of her cardigan sweater in ripe white half-globes, whispering: Kiss them, Dud . . . bite them . . . suck them. . . .

It was like drowning. Drowning in the old man's red?-rimmed eyes.

As the stranger came closer, Dud understood everything and welcomed it, and when the pain came, it was as sweet as silver, as green as still water at dark fathoms.

9

His hand was unsteady and instead of gripping the bottle the fingers knocked it off the desk and to the carpet with a heavy thump, where it lay gurgling good scotch into the green nap.

'Shit!' said Father Donald Callahan, and reached down to pick it up before all was lost. There was, in fact, not much to lose. He set what was left on the desk again (well back from the edge) and wandered into the kitchen to look for a rag under the sink and a bottle of cleaning fluid. It would never do to let Mrs Curless find a patch of spilled scotch by the leg of his study desk. Her kind, pitying looks were too hard to take on the long, grainy mornings when you were feeling a little low  -

Hung over, you mean.

Yes, hung over, very good. Let's have a little truth around here, by all means. Know the truth and it will set you free. Bully for the truth.

He found a bottle of something called E-Vap, which was not too far from the sound of violent regurgitation ('E-Vap!' croaked the old drunk, simultaneously crapping himself and blowing lunch), and took it back to the study. He was not weaving at all. Hardly at all. Watch this, Ossifer, I'm going to walk right up this white line to the stop light.

Callahan was an imposing fifty-three. His hair was sil?very, his eyes a direct blue (now threaded with tiny snaps of red) surrounded by Irish laugh wrinkles, his mouth firm, his slightly cleft chin firmer still. Some mornings, looking at himself in the mirror, he thought that when he reached sixty he would throw over the priesthood, go to Holly?wood, and get a job playing Spencer Tracy.

'Father Flanagan, where are you when we need you?' be muttered, and hunkered down by the stain. He squinted, read the instructions on the label of the bottle, and poured two capfuls of E-Vap onto the stain. The patch immediately turned white and began to bubble. Callahan viewed this with some alarm, and consulted the label again.

'For really tough stains,' he read aloud in the rich, rolling voice that had made him so welcome in this Parish after the long, denture-clicking peregrinations of poor old Father Hume, 'allow to set for seven to ten minutes.'

He went over to the study window, which fronted on Elm Street and St Andrew's on the far side.

Well, well, he thought. Here I am, Sunday night and drunk again.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

If you went slow and if you continued to work (on his long, solitary evenings, Father Callahan worked on his Notes. He had been working on the Notes for nearly seven years, supposedly for a book on the Catholic Church in New England, but he suspected now and then that the book would never be written. In point of fact, the Notes and his drinking problem had begun at the same time. Genesis I: I - 'In the beginning there was scotch, and Father Callahan said, Let there be Notes.'), you were hardly aware of the slow growth of drunkenness. You could educate your hand not to be aware of the bottle's lessening weight.

It has been at least one day since my last confession.

It was eleven-thirty, and looking out the window he saw uniform darkness, broken only by the spotlight circle of the streetlight in front of the church. At any moment Fred Astaire would dance into it, wearing a top hat, tails, spats, and white shoes, twirling a cane. He is met by Ginger Rogers. They waltz to the tune of 'I Got Dem 0l' Kozmic E-Vap Blues Again.'

He leaned his forehead against the glass, allowing the handsome face that had been, in some measure at least, his curse sag into drawn lines of distracted weariness.

I'm a drunk and I'm a lousy priest, Father.

With his eyes closed he could see the darkness of the confessional booth, could feel his fingers sliding back the window and rolling up the shade on all the secrets of the human heart, could smell varnish and old velvet from the kneeling benches and the sweat of old men; could taste alkali traces in his saliva.

Bless me, Father,

(I broke my brother's wagon, I hit my wife, I peeked in Mrs Sawyer's window when she was undressing, I lied, I cheated, I have had lustful thoughts, I, I, I)

for I have sinned.

He opened his eyes and Fred Astaire had not appeared yet. On the stroke of midnight, perhaps. His town was asleep. Except  -

He glanced up. Yes, the lights were on up there.

He thought of the Bowie girl - no, McDougall, her name was McDougall now - saying in her breathy little voice that she had hit her baby and when he asked how often, he could sense (could almost hear) the wheels turning in her mind, making a dozen times five, or a hundred a dozen. Sad excuse for a human being. He had baptized the baby. Randall Fratus McDougall. Conceived in the back seat of Royce McDougall's car, probably during the second fea?ture of a drive-in double bill. Tiny screaming little thing. He wondered if she knew or guessed that he would like to reach through the little window with both hands and grasp the soul on the other side as it fluttered and twisted and squeeze it until it screamed. Your penance is six head-knocks and a good swift kick in the ass. Go your way and sin no more.

'Dull,' he said.

But there was more than dullness in the confessional; it was not that by itself that had sickened him or propelled him toward that always widening club, Associated Catholic Priests of the Bottle and Knights of the Cutty Sark. It was the steady, dead, onrushing engine of the church, bearing down all petty sins on its endless shuttle to heaven. It was the ritualistic acknowledgment of evil by a church now more concerned with social evils; atonement told in beads for elderly ladies whose parents had spoken European tongues. It was the actual presence of evil in the con?fessional, as real as the smell of old velvet. But it was a mindless, moronic evil from which there was no mercy or reprieve. The fist crashing into the baby's face, the tire cut open with a jackknife, the barroom brawl, the insertion of razor blades into Halloween apples, the constant, vapid qualifiers which the human mind, in all its labyrinthine twists and turns, is able to spew forth. Gentlemen, better prisons will cure this. Better cops. Better social services agencies. Better birth control. Better sterilization tech?niques. Better abortions. Gentlemen, if we rip this fetus from the womb in a bloody tangle of unformed arms and legs, it will never grow up to beat an old lady to death with a hammer. Ladies, if we strap this man into a specially wired chair and fry him like a pork chop in a microwave oven, he will never have an opportunity to torture any more boys to death. Countrymen, if this eugenics bill is passed, I can guarantee you that never again  -

?Shit.

The truth of his condition had been becoming clearer and clearer to him for some time now, perhaps for as long as three years. It had gained clarity and resolution like an out-of-focus motion picture being adjusted until every line is sharp and defined. He had been pining for a Challenge. The new priests had theirs: racial discrimination, women's liberation, even gay liberation; poverty, insanity, illegality. They made him uncomfortable. The only socially conscious priests he felt at ease with were the ones who had been militantly opposed to the war in Vietnam. Now that their cause had become obsolete, they sat around and discussed marches and rallies the way old married couples discuss their honeymoons or their first train rides. But Callahan was neither a new priest nor an old one; he found himself cast in the role of a traditionalist who can no longer even trust his basic postulates. He wanted to lead a division in the army of - who? God, right, goodness, they were names for the same thing - into battle against EVIL. He wanted issues and battle lines and never mind standing in the cold outside supermarkets handing out leaflets about the lettuce boycott or the grape strike. He wanted to see EVIL with its cerements of deception cast aside, with every feature of its visage clear. He wanted to slug it out toe to toe with EVIL, like Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier, the Celtics against the Knicks, Jacob against the Angel. He wanted this struggle to be pure, unhindered by the politics that rode the back of every social issue like a deformed Siamese twin. He had wanted all this since he had wanted to be a priest, and that call had come to him at the age of fourteen, when he had been inflamed by the story of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who had been stoned to death and who had seen Christ at the moment of his death. Heaven was a dim attraction compared to that of fighting - and perhaps perishing - in the service of the Lord.

But there were no battles. There were only skirmishes of vague resolution. And EVIL did not wear one face but many, and all of them were vacuous and more often than not the chin was slicked with drool. In fact, he was being forced to the conclusion that there was no EVIL in the world at all but only evil - or perhaps (evil). At moments like this he suspected that Hitler had been nothing but a harried bureaucrat and Satan himself a mental defective with a rudimentary sense of humor - the kind that finds feeding firecrackers wrapped in bread to seagulls unutterably funny.

The great social, moral, and spiritual battles of the ages boiled down to Sandy McDougall slamming her snot-nosed kid in the corner and the kid would grow up and slam his own kid in the corner, world without end, hallelujah, chunky peanut butter. Hail Mary, full of grace, help me win this stock-car race.

It was more than dull. It was terrifying in its conse?quences for any meaningful definition of life, and perhaps of heaven. What there? An eternity of church bingo, amusement park rides, and celestial drag strips?

He looked over at the clock on the wall. It was six minutes past midnight and still no sign of Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. Not even Mickey Rooney. But the E-Vap had had time to set. Now he would vacuum it up and Mrs Curless would not look at him with that expression of pity, and life would go on. Amen.