The Darkest Evening of the Year Page 15

The engine of the Land Rover had been switched off. Bobby probably had not left the keys in the ignition.

For a quarter of an instant, Vern considered running away among the buildings, but these guys knew the layout better than he did, and any cat-and-mouse game wasn’t likely to turn out well for him.

Instead, he sprinted west, directly into the low sun, because the glare would make him a harder target.

The plain offered no hiding place, but Vern was faster than he looked. Maybe fifteen years younger and thirty pounds lighter than Rosewater, he was confident of being able to outrun him.

If the shooter in the hut had not been wounded by the return fire, if he gave pursuit, Vern might be in trouble, but he didn’t glance back because he wanted to have hope.

He ran as fast as he had ever run, heart slamming, and then he demanded more of himself. In the still air, he created a wind of his own. Without realizing what he was doing, he had raised his arms, trying to get some lift.

But Vern Lesley didn’t have wings. Von Longwood had the wings, over there in Second Life, where he owned a car that could fly, too, and where he sometimes enjoyed sex four times a day.

Hope shaken, he glanced back and saw a guy closing on him. His pursuer looked as young as Bobby Onions but bigger and smarter.

Von Longwood didn’t take crap from anyone, and if Vern had to go down, he preferred to do it with Von’s style. He stopped, swiveled, and squeezed off all of the remaining rounds in his revolver.

The pursuer didn’t weave or dodge but came boldly through the deadly horizontal hail, as if he were the real Von Longwood.

Now Vern’s only hope was the Rapture, float straight up to Heaven without a change of underwear or breath mints, but that didn’t work out, either. A bullet burst his gut, another knocked the air out of him, and he rode a third round into oblivion.

Chapter 32

After coming up the stairs and through the door, the dogs did what dogs do: immediately went on a tour of the apartment, scouting the territory, by the nose alone taking in more information than did human beings with all five senses.

Brian was not surprised to see that Nickie, although the newest member of the pack, had already assumed its leadership.

Following the dogs through the door, Amy said, “What’s wrong?”

When he called her, he had not been entirely coherent. Now he said, “Come with me. The kitchen. I want to show you.”

Hurrying after him, she said, “Now you’ve really got bed hair. You look like you slept in a hurricane.”

“I was drawing. Hours and hours, drawing. I was exhausted. Laid down. Fell asleep. Had a dream.”

In the kitchen, he took her by the shoulders and met her eyes. “You know me. You know who I am.”

“You’re Brian McCarthy. You’re an architect.”


“Is this a test to see if I have Alzheimer’s?”

“Okay. Listen. Am I practical? Am I prudent? Am I levelheaded? Am I gullible?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. No.”

“Am I smart? Am I a bright guy?”

“Smart. Bright. Guy. Three for three.”

“I’m sober, right? I’m rational, right? I’m not given to wild superstition, am I?”

“Right. Right. No.”

“I never believe in stuff like Antoine.”

Clearly puzzled, she asked, “Antoine who?”

“Antoine,” he said impatiently, “Antoine, the blind driving dog in the Philippines.”

“Antoine isn’t blind.”

“You said he was blind.”

“Marco is blind, not the dog.”

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to Antoine and Marco.”

“The point is, I’m a skeptic.”

“Marco drives. Antoine directs him.”

“See? That’s nuts. Dogs can’t talk.”

“It’s a psychic thing.”

He took a deep breath. “Are you like this with everyone?”

“Like what?”


“Not with everyone. Mostly with you.”

He frowned. “Did you just tell me something important?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you did. What was it?”

“You’re a smart, bright, sober, rational, levelheaded, kinda cute architect. You figure it out.”

His head was spinning too much to crunch the meaning out of her words. He just kissed her.

“Too much is happening,” he said. “Let’s stay focused. Come here. Look at these.”

He led her to the kitchen table on which were stacked all of his drawings, in the order that he had executed them.

Smiling at the top picture, she said, “That’s Nickie.”

“Is that what you see?”

“Isn’t it Nickie? It looks just like her.”

“But is that all you see?”

“What more do you expect me to see?”

“I don’t know.”

“Sweetie, I’m no art critic.”

“There’s something about her eyes.”

“Something like what?”


When Brian set aside the top drawing, revealing the second, Amy said, “A closeup.”

“Closer and closer.” He paged through the stack of drawings.

“When did you do these?”

“After you dropped me off.”

“All these since then? Is that possible?”

“No. It isn’t.”

She looked up from the drawings.

“It isn’t possible,” he said. “Not this many drawings, this detailed, in so few hours.”

“What’re you saying?”

“Damn if I know.”

Extraordinary things had happened, were happening, but he lacked the frame of reference to articulate properly what he had experienced or what he felt about it. Until now he had led an ordinary life in which, with the principles of architecture, he had striven to impose order on the chaos of existence. Now chaos had overwhelmed him, and though he sensed a new order under it, he could not see through the tumult of the moment to the meaning beneath.

Glancing at the clock, at the drawings, at the clock, at Amy, he said, “This feeling. Like something stepped into me.”

“Into you. What something?”

“And took me outside of time. I don’t even know what I mean by that. I was here in the kitchen. But I wasn’t. I was drawing, but it wasn’t really me drawing. I saw something in Nickie’s eyes, and my visitor, whatever stepped into me, was trying to help me portray what I saw.”

“You saw something in Nickie’s eyes? What do you mean? What did you see in her eyes?”

“I don’t know. I felt it so strongly. Something.” He spread out the last four drawings, the most abstract of the images, so that they could be studied together. “What do you see, Amy? What do you see?”

“Light, shadow, shapes.”

“They mean something. What do they mean?”

“I don’t know. They’re beautiful.”

“Are they? I think so, too. But why? Why are they beautiful?”

“They just are.”

“You said ‘shapes.’ What shapes do you see?” Brian pressed.

“Just shapes, forms. Shadow and light. Nothing real.”

“It’s something real,” he disagreed. “I just can’t quite draw it. It’s almost there on the page, but it eludes me.”

“What else has happened, Brian? What’re you so agitated about?”

“I’m not agitated. I’m excited, I’m amazed, I’m mystified, I’m scared, but I’m not agitated.”

“Well, you’ve got me all agitated.”

“Hallucinations. I guess that’s what they must’ve been. Auditory hallucinations. Because I was exhausted. This terrible sound. I can’t describe it. Terrible but at the same time…wonderful.”

With the mention of hallucinations, he expected her to look at him askance, but she did not. Intuition told him that she had a story of her own to tell.

“And shadows,” he continued. “Quick shadows, passing and gone. And no apparent source. My eyes ached. I thought I needed sleep. Come on. I have to show you this.”

“Show me what?”

As he took her hand and led her out of the kitchen, into the hallway, he said, “The bedroom. The bed.”

“Whoa, whoa there, Mr. Hormones. You’re not going to agitate me between the sheets.”

“I know that. Who would know that better than me? This isn’t about that. This is astonishing.” He led her into his bedroom, to the foot of the bed. “See?”

“See what?”

“It’s perfect.”

“What is?”

“The bed. Perfectly made, neat and tidy, not a wrinkle.”

“Congratulations. If I had a merit badge, I’d pin it on you with a flourish of trumpets.”

“I’m not explaining this very well.”

“Give it another shot,” she suggested.

“I was born in Kansas.”

“That’s really starting at the beginning.”

“In Kansas, in a tornado.”

“I’ve heard the story.”

“I don’t have any memory of that night.”

“Birth was boring? You couldn’t pay attention?”

“I’ve heard about it, of course. A thousand times, from Grandma Nicholson and from my mother.”

On a windy night, a week before everyone’s expectations, Brian’s mother, Angela, had gone into labor. Her water broke shortly before midnight, and she woke Brian’s father, John. He was dressing to drive her to the hospital when sirens sounded a tornado warning.

Angela’s mother, Cora Nicholson, was staying with them, having traveled from Wichita to be of assistance after the birth. By the time she, her daughter, and her son-in-law stepped out of the house, heading for the car, the wind had escalated from gusts to gale.

The sky, as black and evil as a dragon’s egg, broke open and spilled sharp electric-white gouts of yolk. In an instant the dusty air reeked of ozone and oncoming rain.

“In the dream,” Brian said, “I was an observer. Not part of the action. Have you ever had a dream in which you weren’t part of it, you were just observing other people?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Come to think of it…maybe not.”

“I don’t remember having a dream like that before,” Brian said.

As Cora, Angela, and John reached the old Pontiac, shatters of rain rattled down on them with such force that the droplets stung the skin and bounced high off the hard earth.

“I wasn’t part of the dream, just the audience. I didn’t speak to anyone, didn’t interact with anyone, and nobody saw me. Yet I was immersed in it with all my senses. I felt the rain snapping against me, the wet of it, cold rain for such a warm night. Scraps of green leaves, torn off trees, kept slapping my face, sticking to my skin.”

Behind the crash of the rain rose a greater sound, not thunder, a continuous roar, growing in volume, like a score of passing trains.

“The wall of the tornado, the whirling wall,” Brian said, “out there in the blind dark, concealed, approaching, not on top of us yet but not far off.”

Their storm cellar was twenty yards from the house, and Cora, who had experience of these things back in Wichita, urged them to forget the car, to run for the shelter.

If Angela was going to deliver the baby in the storm cellar, John wanted clean towels, rubbing alcohol to sterilize the knife with which he would cut the cord, and other items. Cora argued against his returning to the house, but he said he’d be a minute, less than a minute, no time at all.

Brian said, “I ran with Mom and Grandma to an embankment. The grass was slick underfoot, not like in a dream. Intensely real, Amy. Sound, color, texture, smell. There was an open stone vestibule built into the slope. The shelter door stood at the back of it.”

Brian had turned to look toward the house, and surprisingly the windows had been still bright with light.

Suddenly lightning broke not in bolts but in cascades, did not step jaggedly down the night as usual, but lashed through the dark like broad undulant whips of chain mail.

Those celestial flares revealed the twister immediately beyond the house, towering over it, the immense black wall churning, like a living beast, as amorphous as any monster in myth, rising up and up and still up, so high into the night that the top of it could not be glimpsed.

All the windows burst at once. The house disintegrated. The funnel seemed to suck up every shard of glass, every scrap of wood, every nail, and John McCarthy, whose body would never be found.

“My mother and grandmother had gone into the cellar and closed the door,” Brian said. “I was outside, watching a tree being pulled up by the roots-such a sound that made, a creaking scream-and then I was somehow inside the shelter with them.”

At the last moment, Cora had looked back, had seen the house taken and no sign of her son-in-law. She had closed out the chaos and had driven home the six thick bolts that held every edge of the door to the header, jamb, and threshold.

Wind married thunder, birthing ten thousand clamorous off-spring. Previously Brian had heard a sound like a score of trains, but now all the trains in the world were converging on a single intersection of tracks directly over their bunker.

In that small refuge, brightened by one flashlight, the ceiling and the walls transmitted vibrations from the punished earth above, and dust sifted down, and the hordes of Hell howled at the door and tested the bolts that held it.

Perhaps accelerated by terror, Angela’s contractions brought her to the moment of delivery quicker than Cora expected. With the funnel having passed but with the storm still raging overhead, frightened for her unborn child, weeping for her husband, Angela gave birth.

Cora pulled a Coleman lantern from a shelf, lit it, and by that eerie gaslight, she delivered her grandson with a calm and skill that had not been lost with the generations of her family who had first settled the plains above.

“In the dream, I watched myself be born,” Brian said. “I was a wrinkled, red-faced, cranky little bundle.”

“Some things don’t change,” Amy observed.

Because not all twisters descend with suddenness, because some storm watches can last hours, the cellar had been furnished with two old mattresses on frames. Angela delivered her baby on one of these, and the cover was wet with amniotic fluid, blood, and afterbirth.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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