The Passage Page 36

"We need a vehicle," Wolgast said.

Doyle ducked out the door. A minute later he returned, holding a set of keys. He'd gotten a gun from somewhere, too, a .45. He took Wolgast and Lacey to the window and pointed.

"The one all the way down, at the edge of the lot. The silver Lexus. See it?"

Wolgast did. The car was a hundred yards away, at least.

"Nice ride like that," Doyle said, "you'd think the driver wouldn't just leave the keys under the visor." Doyle pressed them into Wolgast's hand. "Hold on to these. They're yours. Just in case."

It took Wolgast a moment. Then he understood. The car was for him, for him and Amy. "Phil-"

Doyle held up his hands. "That's how it has to be."

Wolgast looked at Lacey, who nodded. Then she stepped toward him. She kissed Amy, touching her hair, and then she kissed him, too, once, on the cheek. A deep calm and a feeling of certainty seemed to radiate through his entire body from the place where she had kissed him. He'd never felt anything like it.

They stepped from the door, Doyle leading them. Together they moved quickly under the cover of the building. Wolgast could barely keep up. He heard more gunfire from somewhere, but it didn't seem aimed at them. The shots seemed to be going up and away, into the trees, at the rooftops; random shots, like some kind of sinister celebration. Each time it happened he'd hear a scream, a moment of silence, and then the shooting would start up again.

They reached the corner of the building. Wolgast could see the woods beyond it. In the other direction, toward the lights of the compound, lay the parking area. The Lexus waited at the end, facing away, no other cars around it for cover.

"We'll just have to make a run for it," Doyle said. "Ready?"

Wolgast, panting, did his best to nod.

Then they were up and racing toward the car.

Richards felt him before he saw him. He turned, swinging the RPG like a vaulter's pole.

It wasn't Babcock.

It wasn't Zero.

It was Anthony Carter.

He was in a kind of crouch, twenty feet away. He lifted his face and twisted his head, looking at Richards appraisingly. There was something doglike about it. Blood glistened on Carter's face, his clawlike hands, his sworded teeth, row upon row. A kind of clicking sound was coming from his throat. Slowly, in a gesture of languid pleasure, he began to rise. Richards put Carter's mouth in his sights.

"Open up," Richards said, and fired.

He knew, even as the grenade shot from the tube, the force of its ejection pushing Richards backward, that he'd missed. The place where Carter had stood was empty. Carter was in the air. Carter was flying. Then he was falling, down upon Richards. The grenade went off, taking out the front of the Chalet, but Richards heard this only vaguely-the noise receding, fading to some impossible distance-as he experienced the sensation, utterly new to him, of being torn in half.

The explosion hit Wolgast as a white sheen, a wall of heat and light that slapped the left side of his face like a punch; he was lifted from the ground and felt Amy fall away. He hit the pavement and rolled and rolled again before coming to rest on his back.

His ears were ringing; his breath felt like it was stuck in a tube, far down in his chest. Above him he saw the deep, velvety blackness of the night sky, and stars, hundreds and hundreds of stars, and some of them were falling.

He thought: Falling stars. He thought: Amy. He thought: Keys.

He lifted his head. Amy was lying on the ground a few yards away. The air was full of smoke. In the flickering light of the burning Chalet, she looked as if she might be sleeping-a character in a fairy tale, the princess who had fallen asleep and couldn't wake. Wolgast rolled himself onto all fours and frantically patted the ground for the keys. He could tell one of his ears was messed up; it was like a curtain had fallen over the left side of his face, absorbing all sound. The keys. The keys. Then he realized they were still in his hand; he'd never let them go to begin with.

Where were Doyle and Lacey?

He went to where Amy lay. The fall didn't seem to have hurt her any, or the explosion, as far as he could tell. He put his hands under her arms and hoisted her over his shoulder, then made for the Lexus as fast as he could.

He bent to ease Amy in, laying her across the backseat. He got in himself and turned the key. The headlights blazed across the compound.

Something hit the hood.

Some kind of animal. No: some kind of monstrous thing, throbbing with a pale green light. But when he saw its eyes, and what was inside them, he knew that this strange new being on the hood was Anthony Carter.

Carter rose as Wolgast found the gearshift and plunged it into reverse and gunned the engine. Carter fell away. Wolgast could see him in the lights of the Lexus, rolling on the ground and then, in a series of movements almost too quick for the eye, launching himself into the air, gone.

What in the name of-

Wolgast stomped the brake, turning the wheel hard to the right. The car spun and spun and came to rest, pointed at the driveway. Then the passenger door opened: Lacey. She climbed in quickly, saying nothing. There were streaks of blood on her face, her shirt. She was holding a gun in her hand. She looked at it, amazed, and dropped it on the floor.

"Where's Doyle?"

"I do not know," she said.

He put the car back into drive and hit the accelerator.

Then he saw Doyle. He was running toward the Lexus at an angle, waving the .45.

"Just go!" he was yelling. "Go!"

A concussive thump on the roof of the car, and Wolgast knew it was Carter. Carter was on the roof of the Lexus. Wolgast hit the brakes again, sending all of them lurching forward. Carter tumbled onto the hood but held on. Wolgast heard Doyle firing, three quick shots. Wolgast saw a round actually strike Carter in the shoulder, a quick spark of impact. Carter seemed barely to notice.

"Hey!" Doyle was yelling. "Hey!"

Carter turned his face, saw Doyle. With a compressive twitch of his body he launched himself into the air as Doyle got off a final shot. Wolgast turned in time to see the creature that had once been Anthony Carter fall upon his partner, taking him in like a giant mouth.

It was over in an instant.

Wolgast stamped on the accelerator, hard. The car shot over a strip of grass, the wheels digging and spinning, then hit the pavement with a screech. They barreled down the long drive away from the burning Chalet, through the hallway of the trees, everything streaming past. Fifty, sixty, seventy miles per hour.

"What the hell was that?" Wolgast said to Lacey. "What was that!"

"Stop here, Agent."

"What? You can't be serious."

"They will catch us. They will follow the blood. You must stop the car now." She put her hand on his elbow. Her grip was firm, insistent. "Please. Do as I ask."

Wolgast drew the Lexus to the side of the road; Lacey turned to face him. Wolgast saw the wound in her arm, a clean shot just below the deltoid.

"Sister Lacey-"

"It is nothing," Lacey said. "It is only flesh and blood. But I'm not to go with you. I see that now." She touched his arm again and smiled-a final smile of benediction, sad and happy at once. A smile at the trials of a long journey, now ended.

"Take care of her. Amy is yours. You will know what to do." Then she stepped from the car and slammed the door before Wolgast could say another word.

He lifted his eyes to the rearview and saw her running the way they'd come, waving her arms in the air. A warning? No, she was calling them down upon her. She didn't get a hundred feet before a swoop of light shot from the trees, and then another, and then a third, so many Wolgast had to look away, and he hit the accelerator and drove away as fast as he could without looking back again.




Come, let's away to prison;

We two alone will sing like birds i' the cage:

When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down

And ask of thee forgiveness.


King Lear


When all time ended, and the world had lost its memory, and the man that he was had receded from view like a ship sailing away, rounding the blade of the earth with his old life locked in its hold; and when the gyring stars gazed down upon nothing, and the moon in its arc no longer remembered his name, and all that remained was the great sea of hunger on which he floated forever-still, inside him, in the deepest place, was this: one year. The mountain and the turning seasons, and Amy. Amy and the Year of Zero.

They arrived at the camp in darkness. Wolgast drove the last mile slowly, following the beams of the headlights where they broke through the trees, braking to crawl over the worst of the potholes, the deep ruts left by winter runoff. Fingering branches, dripping with moisture, scraped the length of the roof and windows as they passed. The car was junk, an ancient Corolla with huge, gaudy rims and an ashtray full of yellowed butts; Wolgast had stolen it at a mobile home park outside Laramie, leaving the Lexus with the keys in the ignition and a note on the dash: Keep it, it's yours. An old mutt on a chain, too tired to bark, had watched with disinterest as Wolgast jimmied the ignition, then carried Amy from the Lexus to the Toyota, where he laid her across the backseat, cluttered with fast food wrappers and empty cigarette packs.

For a moment Wolgast had wished he could be there to see the owner's face when he awoke in the morning to find his old car replaced by an eighty-thousand-dollar sports sedan, like Cinderella's pumpkin turned into a coach. Wolgast had never driven anything like it in his life. He hoped that the new owner, whoever he was, would give himself the gift of driving the car once, before finding a way to make it quietly vanish.

The Lexus belonged to Fortes. Had belonged, Wolgast reminded himself, because Fortes was dead. Fortes, James B. Wolgast had never actually learned his first name until he read the registration card. A Maryland address, which probably meant USAMRIID, maybe NIH. Wolgast had tossed the registration out the window into a wheat field somewhere near the Colorado-Wyoming border. But he'd kept the contents of the wallet he'd found on the floor beneath the driver's seat: a little over six hundred dollars in cash and a titanium Visa.

But all that was hours ago, time's passage magnified by the distance they had traveled. Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, the last passed entirely in darkness, viewed only through the cones of the Corolla's headlamps. They'd crossed into Oregon at sunrise on the second morning, traversed the wrinkled plateaus of the state's arid interior as the day wore away. All around them the empty fields and golden, windswept hills were blooming with purple sagebrush. To keep alert, Wolgast drove with the windows open, swirling the interior of the car with its sweet perfume: the smell of boyhood, of home. In midafternoon he felt the Toyota's engine straining; they'd begun, at last, to climb. As darkness was falling the Cascades rose to meet them, a brooding bulk that sawtoothed the rays of the setting sun and lit the western sky in a fiery collage of reds and purples, like a wall of stained glass. High up, their rocky tips glinted with ice.

"Amy," he said. "Wake up, honey. Look."

Amy lay across the backseat, covered with a cotton blanket. She was still weak, had slept most of the last two days. But the worst seemed over. Her skin looked better, the waxy pallor of fever worn away. That morning she'd actually managed a few bites of an egg sandwich and some sips of chocolate milk that Wolgast had bought at a drive-through. One funny thing: she was acutely sensitive to sunlight. It seemed to cause her physical pain, and not just to her eyes. Her whole body recoiled from it, as if from an electric charge. At a service station he'd purchased her a pair of sunglasses-movie-star pink, the only ones small enough to fit her face-and a foam trucker's cap with the John Deere logo, to pull down over her eyes. But even with the hat and glasses, she'd barely peeked her head from the blanket all day.

At the sound of his voice, she rose against the tidal pull of sleep and followed his gaze out the windshield. Still wearing the pink sunglasses, she squinted into the sunlight, cupping her hands around her temples. The wind of the open car tossed the long strands of hair about her face.

"It's ... bright," she said quietly.

"The mountains," he explained.

He drove the final miles by instinct, following unmarked roads that took him ever deeper into the forested folds of the mountains. A hidden world: where they were going there were no towns, no houses, no people at all. At least that was how he remembered it. The air was cold and smelled of pine. The gas gauge was nearly on empty. They passed a darkened general store that Wolgast recalled vaguely, though the name was not familiar-MILTON'S DRY GOODS/HUNTING, FISHING LIC.-and began their final ascent. Three forks later he was on the verge of panic, thinking he'd gotten them lost, when a series of small details seemed to rise before him out of the past: a certain slope of the roadway, a glimpse of star-dressed sky as they rounded a bend, and then, beneath the Toyota's wheels, the expansive accoustics of open air as they crossed the river. All just as it had been when he was small, his father beside him, driving him up to camp.

Moments later they came to a break in the trees. By the side of the road stood a weathered sign reading, BEAR MOUNTAIN CAMP, and beneath that, hanging from a pair of rusted chains, FOR SALE, with the name of a real estate agency and a phone number with a Salem exchange. The sign, like many Wolgast had seen along the road, was pocked with bullet holes.

"This is the place," he said.

The camp's driveway, a mile long, traced the crest of a high embankment above the river, then hooked right around an outcrop of boulders and took them into the trees. The place, he knew, had been closed up for years. Would the buildings even still be there? What would they find? The charred ruins of a devastating fire? Roofs rotted and collapsed under the weight of winter snow? But then, out of the trees, the camp emerged: the building the boys had called Old Lodge-because it was old even then-and behind and around it, the smaller outbuildings and cabins, about a dozen all told. Beyond lay more woods and a pathway that descended to the lake, two hundred acres of glasslike stillness held in place by an earthen dam and shaped like a kidney bean. As they approached the lodge, the Toyota's headlights flared across the front windows, momentarily creating the illusion of lights coming on inside, as if their arrival were expected-as if they had traveled not across the width of the country but back through time itself, across the gulf of thirty years to when Wolgast was a boy.

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