The Darkest Evening of the Year Page 10

He had passed into an altered state of consciousness, into a trance of delight.

At times he swore that he saw the point of the working pencil pass through the paper without puncturing it, laying down its graphite beyond the page, as if constructing an image down, down, down through an infinite number of surfaces.

Any good artist can create the illusion of three dimensions; but as these many-petaled patterns were refined, they blossomed toward him and simultaneously invited him to fall away within them. His pencil seemed to be a key to dimensions beyond a third.

The meaningful hieroglyphics that earlier he’d glimpsed embedded in the drawing began to glow again in his imagination if not in fact, brighter than they had been previously. Then, as the drawing appeared to flower toward him, he became aware of some secret at its center, a shimmering amazement that might ultimately be beyond understanding, that could never be adequately drawn, yet his pencil worked, worked-

Through the room swept a sound so terrible that Brian flung down the pencil and thrust to his feet, knocking over the chair.

Not a simple sound but many noises simultaneously: hiss, whizz, soft clicking, rustle and flump, deep throb and ruffle, crumpcrump-crumpcrump. Loud, but not a blast. Not heavy like the hard crash of thunder, but heavy like the subsequent roll.

He felt as if he had been folded into the sound-as if it were a great blanket-folded into it and shaken out, folded in, shaken out.

Concussion waves thrummed in his ear drums, quivered through his teeth, traveled the hollows of his bones.

Sudden silence surprised him. The alarming resonance had seemed as if it would escalate and endure until everything in sight had been shaken apart, like the voice of an earthquake speaking deep within the breaking earth, but it lasted only three or four seconds.

For a moment he was paralyzed, throat tight, waiting for the phenomenon to repeat.

After a hush had held the kitchen for half a minute, Brian went to the window and peered out, half expecting to see a column of smoke rising in the distance, evidence of an explosion. The sky was clear.

The attraction of the unfinished image on the art paper remained powerful. His perception of a pending revelation returned.

He set the fallen chair upright and settled at the table once more. He picked up the pencil.

As his hand moved and the pencil point whispered against paper, further detailing the abstract image, the sound came again, but not loud this time. With rustle and flutter, something approached in the kitchen behind him.

Chapter 20

After play, the dogs happily lapped at the large water bowls lined up just outside the kennel, in the shade of the enormous oak.

A come command brought Fred, Ethel, Nickie, and Hugo back to the blanket on which Amy sat with Renata.

The six breeder dogs settled on the lawn at a distance, as they had been before the games. They trusted other dogs implicitly, but they were still wary of people, even of those who had rescued them.

After a while, Renata opened a bag of wheat-free cookies. She gave treats to Ethel and Hugo, while Amy rewarded Nickie and Fred.

The prospect of cookies brought the six ghost dogs to their feet. They approached hesitantly, tails swishing.

Amy’s kids made her proud as they eased away-albeit somewhat reluctantly-to allow the newcomers to receive treats.

Gently, with lips and tongue, the breeder dogs finessed the cookies from Amy’s fingers. She felt not the slightest contact with a tooth, and none of the six tried to snatch away the bag of goodies.

“Ever been bitten by a puppy-mill breeder?” Amy asked Renata.

“Nope. They come here covered in sores, some half-blind from untreated eye infections, spent their lives in cages hardly bigger than them, never knew a human being wasn’t a greedy hateful bastard, never knew a gentle touch or any kindness. They ought to savage us. But they have the softest mouths, don’t they? The gentlest hearts.”

Some nights, Amy lay sleepless, unable to stop thinking about the hell of some dogs’ lives, feeling angry and helpless.

Most puppy farms had ten or twenty breeder dogs, but some big operators kept a thousand or more in cruel conditions. These animals did not truly live, merely existed, and in perpetual black despair.

Their litters had a hope of a real life, but not the breeders. And because mill owners had no interest in maintaining the quality and improving the genetics of the breed, many of the puppies would suffer diseases and joint conditions that would shorten their lives.

Responsible pet stores like Petco and PetSmart had adoption programs for homeless dogs, but didn’t sell puppies.

Other stores, Internet merchants, and newspaper advertisers who claimed to have puppies from small breeders and loving farm families were usually selling animals produced by brutalized breeder dogs.

An American Kennel Club registration specified that the dog was a purebred, not that it had been bred humanely. Every year, hundreds of thousands of puppy-mill products, sired and whelped by dogs living in desperate conditions, came with the “proper papers.”

Amy gave talks at schools, at senior centers, to any audience that would listen: Accept a rescue dog. Or buy from a reputable breeder recommended by the parent club for each breed, such as the Golden Retriever Club of America. Go to animal shelters. Each year, four million shelter dogs die for lack of a home. Four million. Give love to a homeless dog, and you’ll be repaid tenfold. Give money to the puppy-mill barons, and you’ll be perpetuating a great horror.

Her audiences were always attentive. They applauded. Maybe she reached some of them.

She never imagined that she was changing the world. It couldn’t be changed. So many people’s indifference to the suffering of dogs was proof, to her, that the world was fallen and that one day there would be-must be-judgment. All she could do was try to rescue a few hundred dogs a year from misery and premature death.

When she and Renata finished dispensing treats, three breeder dogs shied away after a few minutes of cuddling. Two lingered longer before retreating, but one-Cinnamon-settled beside Renata as if to say Okay, I’m going to take a chance, I’m going to trust this.

Renata said, “Cinnamon’s gonna be one of your soul-savers.”

Amy believed that dogs had a spiritual purpose. The opportunity to love a dog and to treat it with kindness was an opportunity for a lost and selfish human heart to be redeemed. They are powerless and innocent, and it is how we treat the humblest among us that surely determines the fate of our souls.

Cinnamon turned to look at Amy. She had the eyes of a redeemer.

The geometry of judgment is a circle. Hate is a snake that turns to consume itself from the tail, a circle that diminishes to a point, then to nothing. Pride is such a snake, and envy, and greed. Love, however, is a hoop, a wheel, that rolls on forever. We are rescued by those whom we have rescued. The saved become the saviors of their saviors.

When Amy left the Last Chance Ranch with her three kids, she turned slowly onto the county road, hesitating long enough to read the license plate on the Land Rover.

As she headed west, the other vehicle shed the shade of the jacarandas and followed. Maybe the driver thought she was too naive to recognize the existence of a tail. Or maybe he didn’t care that she knew she was being followed.

Chapter 21

The rustle and hiss and crumpcrump-crumpcrump rose behind Brian, quieter than the first time, almost stealthy. He turned in his chair to look, but he remained alone in the kitchen.

When the sound repeated, he glanced at the ceiling, wondering if wind might be troubling something on the roof. But the window revealed a morning as still as that on an airless world.

As he worked obsessively on the center of the current drawing of the dog’s eye, he broke a lead point. A second. A third.

While he sharpened the pencils, only the crisp scraping of the X-acto blade punctuated the expectant hush.

At its loudest, the unidentified sound had seemed terrible not because it struck fear in him-which it did, a little-but because it suggested an immense and humbling power.

Born in a tornado, Brian had considerable respect for the chaos that nature could spawn and for the sudden order-call it fate-that was often revealed when the apparent chaos clarified. This strange sound of many parts had a chaotic quality; but he sensed in it his fate.

Pencils sharpened, he returned to the drawing.

Moments later, when the sound occurred yet again, he was pretty sure that it had come from overhead. Perhaps from the attic.

The drawing had reestablished its hypnotic hold on him, however, and again he felt an impending revelation. Discovering the source of the sound was a less urgent task than completing the petal-over-petal pattern of light and shadow at the center of the image.

He bent forward. The drawing seemed to fold open to fill his field of vision.

After he’d been working for a few minutes, a shadow swept across the page. Although shapeless and swift, it inspired in him an alarm akin to what he’d felt at the first-and loudest-of the sounds, and he startled up from the chair.

Because it had one curtained window, the kitchen would have been gloomy without the overhead light.

A moth might have arced around the ceiling fixture, casting down an exaggerated silhouette. Nothing but a moth could have swooped so silently.

Brian turned in a circle, searching the room. If the insect had come to rest anywhere, he could not spot it.

To his right, at the periphery of vision, he glimpsed another shadow shiver up the wall. Or thought he did. He turned his head, raised his eyes, saw nothing-

– and then fleetingly caught sight of a sharkish shadow darting across the floor. Or thought he did.

His gaze descended to the unfinished drawing. His hands were trembling too badly to make good use of a pencil.

Alert, Brian stood in the center of the room. No more shadows took flight, but the strange sound issued faintly from elsewhere in the apartment.

He hesitated, then stepped out of the kitchen.

His reflection in a hallway mirror dismayed him. His face was pale except for the ashy look of the skin under his bloodshot eyes.

At the end of the hall, he stood under a trapdoor to the attic. To reach the recessed handle, he would need a stepladder.

The longer he stared at the trap, the more he became convinced that something crouched in the higher chamber, or hung upside down from a rafter, listening.

Exhaustion whetted his imagination even as it dulled his mind. Reason had deserted him. Nothing but dust waited in the attic, dust and spiders.

He’d had only one hour of sleep in the past thirty-six. Hour after hour of compulsive drawing had further drained him.

In the bedroom, without undressing, he stretched out on his disheveled bed, from which Amy’s phone call had roused him nearly twelve hours previously.

The blinds were closed. A fan of gray light spread through the open doorway, from the hall.

His eyes were hot and grainy, but he did not close them. On the ceiling, none of the mottled shadows moved.

From memory rose the crystalline voice of the child singing in Celtic.

Her eyes, a purple shade of blue.

Carl Brockman’s eyes like shotgun barrels.

The word pigkeeper on his computer screen.

Desperate for rest, Brian dreaded closing his eyes. He had the crazy idea that Death waited to take him in his sleep. In dreams, a winged presence would descend on him, cover his mouth with hers, and suck the breath of life from him.

Chapter 22

After more than five hours of sleep, Harrow wakes past noon, not in the windowless room where they have sex, but in the main bedroom of the yellow-brick house.

The draperies are shut, but he can tell that Moongirl is already gone. Her presence would have imparted an unmistakable quality to the darkness because her mood, that of a perpetually pending storm, adds significant millibars to the natural atmospheric pressure.

In the kitchen, he brews strong coffee. Through a window, he sees her in the pocket yard, that small pool of grass so green in a sea of rock.

Carrying his mug of steaming brew, he steps outside. The day is warm for late September.

The yellow-brick house is anchored in a landscape of beige granite. Rounded forms of stone, like the knuckles of giant fists, press up against the perimeter of the sun-washed brick patio.

Harrow crosses fissured slabs of weather-smoothed rock to the yard. Over the ages, wind had blown soil into a deep oval declivity in the granite, and later had seeded it.

From the center of the grassy oval rises an eighty-foot Montezuma pine, its great spreading branches filtering the midday sun through tufts of gracefully drooping, ten-inch-long needles.

In feathery shadows and plumes of sunshine, Moongirl sits upon a blanket, aware that she is a vision. Even in this dramatic landscape, she is the focus and lodestar. She draws his gaze as irresistibly as gravity pulls a dropped stone down a well, into the drowning dark.

She is wearing only black panties and a simple but expensive diamond necklace that Harrow gave her. She is ripe but lithe, with sun-bronzed skin and the self-possessed air of a cat. Dappled with shadows and golden light, she reminds him of a leopard at leisure, fresh from a killing, fed and content.

Men have given her so much for so long that she expects gifts in the same way she expects to receive air every time she inhales: as a natural right. She accepts every offering, no matter how extravagant, with no more thanks than she expresses when she turns a spigot and receives water from a tap.

Beside her is a black-lacquered box lined with red velvet, in which she keeps an array of polishes, scissors, files, emery boards, and other instruments for the care of her nails.

Although she never visits a manicurist, her fingernails are exquisitely shaped, though shorter and more pointed than is the fashion these days. She is content to spend hours at this task.

Her fear of boredom turns her inward. To Moongirl, other people seem as flat as actors on a TV screen, and she is unable to imagine that they possess her dimension. The outer world is gray and empty, but her inner world is rich.

Harrow sits on the grass, a few feet from her blanket, as she does not encourage closeness in moments like this. He drinks coffee, watches her as she paints her toenails, and wonders what occupies her mind when she is in such a reverie.

He would not be surprised to learn that no conscious thoughts whatsoever trouble her right now, that she is in a trance.

In an effort to understand her, he discovered a condition called automatism. This is a state during which behavior is not controlled by the conscious mind, and it may or may not apply to her.

Usually, automatisms last a few minutes. But as with all things, there are atypical events, and Moongirl is nothing if not atypical.

In the grip of automatism, perhaps she can spend hours on her toenails without being aware that she is grooming herself. Later, she would have no recollection of trimming, filing, and polishing.

Conceivably, she could kill a man during such a spell, never be conscious of committing violence, and have no memory of murder.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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