The Passage Page 74

"Right. All eyes."

She listened to his footsteps receding down the hall, the sound abruptly muffled as the door to the Big Room sealed in his wake. Only then did Mausami realize that she had slid one of her knitting needles free and was clutching it in her fist. She looked around the room, which suddenly seemed too large, a place abandoned, empty of its cribs and cots. All the Littles gone.

The feeling touched her then, a cold shiver from within: something was about to happen.





Swift as a shadow, short as any dream

Brief as the lightning in the collied night,

That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,

And ere a man hath power to say, "Behold!"

The jaws of darkness do devour it up:

So quick bright things come to confusion.


A Midsummer Night's Dream


For ninety-two years, eight months, and twenty-six days, since the last bus had driven up the mountain, the souls of First Colony had lived in this manner:

Under the lights.

Under the One Law.

According to custom.

According to instinct.

In the day-to-day.

With only themselves, and those they had made, for company.

Under the protection of the Watch.

Under the authority of the Household.

Without the Army.

Without memory.

Without the world.

Without the stars.

For Auntie, alone in her house in the glade, the night-the Night of Blades and Stars-commenced like so many nights before it: she was sitting at the table in her steam-fogged kitchen, writing in her book. That afternoon she had taken a batch of pages off the line, stiff with the sun-they always felt to her like squares of captured sunlight-and had passed the remainder of the daylight hours preparing them: trimming the edge on her cutting board, opening the binding and its covers of stretched lambskin, carefully undoing the stitching that held the pages in place, taking up her needle and thread to sew the new ones in. It was slow work, satisfying in the way of all things that required time and concentration, and by the time she was finished, the lights were coming on.

Funny how everyone thought she had just the one book.

The volume she was writing in, by her closest recollection, was the twenty-seventh of its kind. It seemed she was always opening a drawer or stacking cups in a cabinet or sweeping under the bed and coming across another one. She supposed that was the reason she put them away like she did, here and there, not in a neat line on some shelf to look at. Whenever she found one, it felt like bumping into an old friend.

Most told the same stories. Stories she remembered of the world and how it was. Time to time a bit of something would sail out of the blue, a memory she'd forgotten she had, like television, and the silly things she used to watch (its flickering blue-green glow and her daddy's voice: Ida, turn that damn thing off, don't you know it rots your brain?); or something would set her off, the way a ray of sunshine drizzled over a leaf or a breeze with a certain smell in its currents, and the feelings would start to move through her, ghosts of the past. A day in a park in autumn and a fountain billowing water and the way the afternoon light seemed to catch in its spray, like a huge sparkling flower; her friend Sharise, the girl from down the corner, sitting beside her on a step to show her a tooth she'd lost, holding it with its bloody stump in her palm for Auntie to see. (Ain't no such thing as the tooth fairy, I know it, but she always brings me a dollar.) Her mama folding laundry in the kitchen, wearing her favorite summer dress of pale green, and the puff of scent from the towel she was snapping and folding against her chest. When this happened, Auntie knew it would be a good night of writing, memories opening into other memories, like a hall of doors her mind could walk down, keeping her busy till the morning sun was rising in the windows.

But not tonight, thought Auntie, dipping the nib of her pen into the cup of ink and smoothing the page flat beneath her hand. Tonight was not a night for these old things. It was Peter she meant to write on. She expected he'd be along directly, this boy with the stars inside him.

Things came to her in their way. She supposed it was because she'd lived so long, like she was a book herself and the book was made of years. She remembered the night Prudence Jaxon had appeared at her door. The woman was sick with the cancer, well on her way, much before her time. Standing there in Auntie's door with the box pressed to her chest, so brittle and thin it was like she could blow away in the wind. Auntie had seen it so many times in her life, this bad thing in the bones, and there was never any right thing to do except to listen and do like the person asked, and that was what Auntie did for Prudence Jaxon that night. She took the box and kept it safe, and it wasn't but a month before Prudence Jaxon was dead.

He has to come to it on his own. Those were the words Prudence had said to Auntie, true words; for it was the way of all things. The things of your life arrived in their own time, like a train you had to catch. Sometimes this was easy, all you had to do was step onto it, the train was plush and comfortable and full of people smiling at you in a hush, and a conductor who punched your ticket and tousled your head with his big hand, saying, Ain't you pretty, ain't you the prettiest girl now, lucky lady taking a big train trip with your daddy, while you sank into the dreamy softness of your seat and sipped ginger ale from a can and watched the world float in magical silence past your window, the tall buildings of the city in the crisp autumn light and then the backs of the houses with laundry flapping and a crossing with gates where a boy was waving from his bicycle, and then the woods and fields and a single cow eating grass.

But Peter, she thought; it wasn't the train but Peter she had meant to write on. (Only where had they been going? Auntie wondered. Where had they taken a train to that one time, the two of them together, she and her daddy, Monroe Jaxon? They had been going to visit her gramma and cousins, Auntie remembered, in a place he called Downsouth.) Peter, and the train. Because sometimes it was one way, easy, and sometimes it was the other, not easy; the things of your life roared down to you and it was all you could do to grab hold and hang on. Your old life ended and the train took you away to another, and the next thing you knew you were standing in the dust with helicopters and soldiers all around, and all you had to remember folks by was the picture you found in the pocket of your coat, the one your mama, who you would never see again in all the days of your life, had slipped in there when she'd hugged you at the door.

By the time Auntie heard the knock, the screen opening and slapping as the person who'd come calling let themselves in, she'd almost stopped her stupid old crying. She'd sworn to herself she wouldn't do it anymore. Ida, she'd said to herself, no more crying over things you can't do nothing about. But here she was, all these years gone by, and still she could work herself into such a state whenever she thought about her mama, tucking that picture in her pocket, knowing that by the time Ida found it, the two of them would be dead.


She'd expected it would be Peter, come with his questions about the girl, but it wasn't. She didn't recognize the face, floating in the fog of her vision. A squished-up narrow man's face, like he'd gotten it jammed in a door.

"It's Jimmy, Auntie. Jimmy Molyneau."

Jimmy Molyneau? That didn't seem right. Wasn't Jimmy Molyneau dead?

"Auntie, you're crying."

"Course I'm crying. Got something in my eye is all."

He slid into the chair across from her. Now that she had found the right pair of glasses from the lanyards around her neck, she saw that he was, as he claimed, a Molyneau. That nose: it was a Molyneau nose.

"What you want then? You come about the Walker?"

"You know about her, Auntie?"

"Runner came by this morning. Said they found a girl."

She couldn't say for sure what all he wanted. There was something sad about him, defeated seeming. Usually Auntie would have welcomed a bit of company, but as the silence continued, this strange, sullen man she only vaguely recalled sitting across from her with a hangdog look on his face, she began to feel impatient. Folks shouldn't just come barging into a place with nothing on their minds.

"I don't really know why I came by. There was something I think I was supposed to tell you." He sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over his face. "I really should be on the Wall, you know."

"You say so."

"Yeah, well. That's where the First Captain should be, right? On the Wall?" He wasn't looking at her; he was looking at his hands. He shook his head in a way that seemed like maybe the Wall was the last place on earth he wanted to be. "It's something, huh? Me, First Captain."

Auntie had nothing to say to that. Whatever was on this man's mind, it had nothing to do with her. There were times when you couldn't fix what was broken with words, and this looked like one of those times.

"You think I could have a cup of tea, Auntie?"

"You want, I make you one."

"If it's no trouble."

It was, but there seemed no escaping it. She rose and put the kettle on to boil. All the while the man, Jimmy Molyneau, sat silently at the table, looking at his hands. When the water began to thrum in its kettle she poured it through the strainer into a pair of cups and carried it back.

"Careful. It hot now."

He took a cautious sip. He seemed to have lost all interest in talking. Which was fine by her, all things considered. Folks came in time to time to talk about a problem, private things, probably thinking since she lived alone like she did and saw almost no one that she'd have nobody to tell. Usually it was women, come to talk about their husbands, but not always. Maybe this Jimmy Molyneau had a problem with his wife.

"You know what people say about your tea, Auntie?" He was frowning into his cup, like the answer he was looking for might be floating in there.

"What's that now?"

"That it's the reason you've lived so long."

More minutes passed, a weighty silence pressing down. At last he took a final sip of tea, grimacing at the taste, and returned it to the table.

"Thanks, Auntie." He climbed wearily to his feet. "I guess I better be going. It's been nice talking to you."

"Ain't no bother."

He paused at the door, one hand poised on the frame. "It's Jimmy," he said. "Jimmy Molyneau."

"I know who you are."

"Just in case," he said. "In case anybody asks."

The events that began with Jimmy's visit to Auntie's house were destined to be misremembered, beginning with the name. The Night of Blades and Stars was, in fact, three separate nights, with a pair of days between. But as with all such occurrences-those destined to be recounted not only in the immediate aftermath but for many years to come-time seemed compressed; it is a common error of memory to impose upon such events the coherence of a concentrated narrative, beginning with the assignment of a specific interval of time. That season. That year. The Night of Blades and Stars.

The error was compounded by the fact that the events of the night of the sixty-fifth of summer, from which the rest descended, unfolded in a series of discrete compartments with overlapping chronologies, no single piece being wholly aware of the others. Things were happening everywhere. For instance: while Old Chou was rising from the bed he shared with his young wife, Constance, propelled by a mysterious urge to go to the Storehouse, across the Colony, Walter Fisher was thinking the same thing. But the fact that he was too drunk to get out of bed and lace his boots would delay his visit to the Storehouse, and his discovery of what lay there, by twenty-four hours. What these two men had in common was that they had both seen the girl, the Girl from Nowhere, when the Household had visited the Infirmary at first light; but it was also true that not everyone who had encountered her firsthand experienced this reaction. Dana Curtis, for instance, was wholly unaffected, as was Michael Fisher. The girl herself was not a source but a conduit, a way for a certain feeling-a feeling of lost souls-to enter the minds of the most susceptible parties, and there were some, like Alicia, who would never be affected at all. This was not true of Sara Fisher and Peter Jaxon, who had experienced their own versions of the girl's power. But in each case, their encounters had taken a more benign, if still troubling form: a moment of communion with their beloved dead.

First Captain Jimmy Molyneau, lurking in the shadows outside his house at the edge of the glade-he had yet to appear on the catwalk, a cause of considerable confusion for the Watch, leading to the hasty deputizing of Sanjay's nephew Ian as First Captain pro tem-was trying to decide whether or not to go to the Lighthouse, kill whomever he found there, and turn the lights off. Though the impulse to perform such a grave and final act had been building in him all day, it was not until he had gazed into his teacup in Auntie's steam-fogged kitchen that the idea had crystallized into a specific shape in his mind, and if anyone had happened upon him standing there and asked what he was doing, he wouldn't have known what to say. He could not have explained this desire, which seemed both to originate from some deep place within him and yet not be entirely his own. Sleeping inside the house were his daughters, Alice and Avery, and his wife, Karen. There were times in the course of his marriage, whole years, when Jimmy had not loved Karen as he should have (he was secretly in love with Soo Ramirez), but he had never doubted her love for him, which seemed boundless and unwavering, finding its physical expression in their two girls, who looked exactly like her. Alice was eleven, Avery nine. In the presence of their gentle eyes and tender, heart-shaped faces and sweetly melancholy dispositions-they were both known to burst into tears at the slightest provocation-Jimmy had always felt a reassuring force of historical continuum and, when the black feelings came, as they sometimes did, a tide of darkness that felt like drowning from within, it was always the thought of his daughters that would lift him from his gloom.

Prev Next