The Passage Page 76

Which was when the dream took its last, sinister turn into the realm of nightmare. Teacher had seized Jane by the wrists, forcing her down onto the bed. Up close, Jane saw that a piece of Teacher's neck was missing, like a bite snatched from an apple, and there were thready things hanging there, a collection of dangling strips and tubes, wet and glistening and gross. Only then did Jane understand that all the other Littles had indeed been eaten, just as Teacher had said; they'd all been eaten by Mister Bear, bite by bite by bite, though he wasn't Mister Bear anymore, he was the glowing man. I don't want this, Jane was screaming, I don't want this! But she had no strength to resist, and she watched in helpless terror as first her foot and then her ankle and then the whole of her leg were swallowed into the dark cave of his mouth.

The dreams bespoke a range of concerns, influences, tastes. There were as many dreams as there were dreamers. Gloria Patal dreamed of a massive swarm of bees, covering her body. Part of her understood these bees to be symbolic; each bee that crawled upon her flesh was a worry she had carried in her life. Small worries, like whether or not it would rain on a day when she had planned to work outside, or whether or not Mimi, Raj's widow, her only real friend, was angry with her on a day when she had failed to visit; but larger worries, too. Worries about Sanjay, and about Mausami. The worry that the pain in her lower back and the cough that sometimes woke her at night were harbingers of something worse. Included in this catalog of apprehensions were the worried love she had felt for each of the babies she had failed to carry to term, and the knot of dread that tightened inside her each night at Evening Bell, and the more generalized worry that she-that all of them-might just as well be dead already, for all the chance they had. Because you couldn't not think about it; you did your best to carry on (that's what Gloria had told her daughter when she'd announced her intentions to marry Galen, crying all the while over Theo Jaxon; you had to carry on), but the facts were the facts: someday those lights were going out. So perhaps the greatest worry of all was that one day you would realize that all the worries of your life amounted to one thing: the desire to just stop worrying.

That's what the bees were, they were worries large and small, and in the dream they were moving all over her, her arms and legs and face and eyes, even inside her ears. The setting of the dream was contiguous with Gloria's last moment of consciousness; having tried without success to rouse her husband, and having fended off the inquires of Jimmy and Ian and Ben and the others who had come to seek his counsel-the matter of the boy Caleb had yet to be determined-Gloria had, against her better instincts, dozed off at the table of her kitchen, her head rocked back, her mouth hanging open, soft snores issuing from deep within her sinuses. This was all true in the dream-the sound of her snoring was the sound of the bees-with the singular addition of the swarm, which had, for reasons that were not entirely clear, entered the kitchen to settle in a single mass upon her, like a great quivering blanket. It seemed obvious now that this was the sort of thing bees did; why had she failed to protect herself against this eventuality? Gloria could feel the prickling scrape of their tiny feet on her skin, the buzzing flutter of their wings. To move, she knew, even to breathe, would arouse them into a lethal fury of simultaneous stinging. In this condition of excruciating stasis she remained-it was a dream of not moving-and when she heard the sound of Sanjay's footsteps descending the stairs, and felt his presence in the room, followed by his wordless departure and the slap of the screen door as he stepped from the house, Gloria's mind lit up with a silent scream that launched her into consciousness while also erasing any memory of what had happened: she awakened having forgotten not only about the bees, but about Sanjay.

On the other side of the Colony, lying on his cot in a cloud of his own smell, the man known as Elton, a lifelong fantasist of splendidly ornate and erotic flights, was having a good dream. This dream-the hay dream-was Elton's favorite, because it was true, taken from life. Though Michael did not believe him-and, really, Elton had to admit, why would he?-there had been a time, many years ago, when Elton, a man of twenty, had enjoyed the favors of an unknown woman who had chosen him, or so it appeared, because his blindness guaranteed his silence. If he didn't know who this woman was-and she never spoke to him-he couldn't say anything, which implied that she was married. Perhaps she wanted a child with a man who wasn't able, or had simply wished for something else in her life. (In self-pitying moments, Elton wondered if she'd done it on a dare.) It didn't really matter; he welcomed these visits, which always came at night. Sometimes he would simply awaken into the experience, its distinctive sensations, as if the reality had been called forth out of a dream, to which it would then return, fueling the empty nights to come; on other occasions the woman would come to him, take him silently by the hand, and lead him elsewhere. This was the circumstance of the hay dream, which unfolded in the barn, surrounded by the whinnying of horses and the sweet dry smell of grass, lately cut from the field. The woman did not speak; the only sounds she made were the sounds of love; and it ended much too quickly, with a final shuddering exhalation and a mound of hair brushing over his cheeks as the woman released herself, rising wordlessly away. He always dreamed these events just as they'd occurred, in all their tactile contours, up to the moment when, lying alone on the floor of the barn, wishing only to have seen the woman, or even just to have heard her speak his name, he tasted salt on his lips and knew that he was crying.

But not tonight. Tonight, just as it was ending, she bent to his face and whispered into his ear:

"Somebody's in the Lighthouse, Elton."

In the Infirmary, Sara Fisher was not dreaming, but the girl appeared to be. Sitting on one of the empty cots, feeling brightly, almost painfully awake, Sara watched the girl's eyes flickering behind her lids, as if darting over an unseen landscape. Sara had pretty much convinced Dale to keep his mouth shut, promising that she would tell the Household in the morning; for now the girl needed sleep. As if to support this claim, that was precisely what the girl had done, curling on the cot in that self-protective way she had, while Sara watched her, wondering what the thing in her neck had been, what Michael would find, and why, looking at the girl, Sara believed she was dreaming about snow.

There were others, quite a few, who were not sleeping either. The night was alive with wakeful souls. Galen Strauss, for one: standing at his post on the north wall-Firing Platform Ten-squinting into the pooling glow of the lights, Galen was telling himself, for the hundredth time that day, that he wasn't a complete fool. The need to say this-he had actually caught himself muttering the words under his breath-meant of course he was. Even he knew that. He was a fool. He was a fool because he'd believed he could make Mausami love him, as he loved her; he was a fool because he'd married her when everyone knew she was in love with Theo Jaxon; he was a fool because when she'd told him about the baby, spouting her stupid lie about how many months it was, he'd swallowed his pride and plastered an idiotic smile on his face, saying only: A baby. Wow. How about that.

He'd known damn well whose baby it was. One of the wrenches, Finn Darrell, had told Galen about that night down at the station. Finn had gotten up to take a leak and, hearing a noise from one of the storage rooms, had gone to check it out. The door was closed, Finn explained, but you didn't have to open it to know what was happening on the other side. Finn was the kind of guy who took a little too much pleasure from giving you news he thought you needed to hear; from the way he told the story, Galen guessed he'd stood outside the door a lot longer than he needed to. Jeez, Finn said, she always make noises like that?

Fucking Finn Darrell. Fucking Theo Jaxon.

And yet, for a hopeful moment, Galen had entertained the notion that maybe a baby would make things better between them. A dumb idea, but still he'd thought it. But of course the baby only made them fight more. If Theo had returned from that ride down the mountain, probably they would have told him right then; Galen could pretty much imagine the scene. We're sorry, Galen. We should have told you. It just kind of ... happened. Humiliating, but at least it would have been over by now. The way things stood, he and Maus would have to live with this lie between them forever. Probably they'd end up despising each other, if they didn't despise each other already.

He was thinking these things while also dreading the morning to come, when he was supposed to ride down to the station. The order had come from Ian, though Galen had the feeling it wasn't his idea, that it came from somewhere else-Jimmy, probably, or maybe Sanjay. He could take a runner with him, but that was all; they couldn't spare the hands. Box it up and wait for the next relief crew, Ian had said, three days tops. Okay, Galen? You can handle this? And of course he'd said he could, no problem. He'd even felt a little flattered. But as the hours passed, he'd found himself regretting his quick compliance. He'd been off the mountain only a few times before, and it was awful-all those empty buildings and slims cooking in their cars-but that wasn't the worst of it, not really. The problem was that Galen was afraid. He was afraid all the time now, more and more as the days went by and the world around him continued its slow, hazy dissolving. People didn't really know how bad his eyesight was, not even Maus. They knew, but they didn't really know, not the full extent, and every day it seemed to be getting worse. As things stood, his field of vision had shrunk to less than two meters; everything beyond that quickly faded into a gassy blankness, all lurching shapes and formless colors and halos of light. He'd tried a variety of eyeglasses from the Storehouse, but nothing seemed to help; all he'd gotten for his troubles were headaches that felt like someone sticking a blade into his temple, so he had long since stopped trying. He was pretty good with voices and could generally aim his face in the right direction, but he missed a lot of things, and he knew this made him seem slow and stupid, which he wasn't. He was just going blind.

Now here he was, a Second Captain of the Watch, riding down the mountain in the morning to secure the station. A trip that, considering what had happened to Zander and Arlo, pretty much felt like suicide to Galen Strauss. He was hoping he'd have a chance to talk to Jimmy about it, maybe make him see some sense, but so far, the guy had not shown up.

And, come to think of it, where was Jimmy? Soo was out there someplace, and Dana Curtis; with Arlo and Theo gone, and Alicia off the Watch for good, Dana had come out of the pits to guard the Wall like everybody else. Galen got along with Dana, and the fact that she was Household now, he reasoned, might give her some sway with Jimmy. Maybe the two of them should talk about this whole go-down-to-the-station thing. Soo was on Nine, Dana on Eight. If he was quick about it, Galen could be back to his post in a matter of just a few minutes. And in point of fact, wasn't that sound he was hearing-a sound of voices nearby, though noises traveled well at night-wasn't that Soo Ramirez? And wasn't the other voice Jimmy's? If Galen could round up Dana too, might it be just a matter of a few right words to get Jimmy to see a little sense? Maybe get Soo or Dana to say, Well, sure, I can go down to the station, I don't see why Galen should be the one?

Just a couple of minutes, Galen thought and, taking up his cross, he began to make his way down the catwalk.

At the same time, hidden away in the old FEMA trailer, Peter and Alicia were playing hands of go-to. With just the light of the spots to see by, the game had an unfocused quality, but both had long since stopped caring who won, if they'd ever cared in the first place. Peter was trying to decide what he should tell Alicia about what had happened in the Infirmary, the voice he'd heard in his mind, but with each passing minute it became more difficult to imagine actually doing this, how he might explain himself. He'd heard words in his head. His mother missed him. I must be dreaming, he told himself, and when Alicia broke his train of thought with an impatient lift of her cards, he only shook his head. It's nothing, he told her. Play your hand.

Also awake at that hour, half-plus-one on the log of the Watch, was Sam Chou. Sam longed for nothing so much as the comfort of his bed and his wife's affectionate arms around him. But with Sandy bedding down in the Sanctuary-she had volunteered to take over for April until someone else could be found-he had suffered a disruption to these customary rhythms, leaving him staring at the ceiling. He was also troubled by a feeling that, as the day had moved into night, he had recognized as embarrassment. That funny business at the lockup: he couldn't quite explain it. In the heat of the moment, he'd honestly believed that something had to be done. But in the intervening hours, and after a trip to the Sanctuary to visit with his children-who seemed none the worse for wear-Sam had discovered that his feelings about the whole Caleb situation had moderated substantially. Caleb was, after all, just a kid, and Sam could now see how putting the boy out would solve very little. He felt a little guilty about manipulating Belle the way he had-with Rey down at the station, the woman was probably out of her mind with worry-and though there was certainly no love lost between him and Alicia, who was too full of herself by half, Sam had to admit that under the circumstances, with that fool Milo egging him on, it was a good thing she'd been there. Who knows what might have happened if she hadn't. When Sam had spoken to Milo later, following up on the day's conversations, most of which had presupposed that if the Household didn't do anything they would take it upon themselves to put the poor kid out, and suggested that maybe they should rethink the situation, see how things looked tomorrow after a good night's rest, Milo had responded with a look of unconcealed relief. Okay, sure, said Milo Darrell. Maybe you're right. Let's see how we feel in the morning.

So Sam was feeling a little bad now about the whole thing, bad and a little confounded, because it wasn't like him to get so angry. It wasn't like him at all. For a second there, outside the lockup, he really had believed it: somebody had to pay. It didn't seem to matter that it was just a defenseless kid who probably thought someone on the catwalk had told him to open the gate. And the most extraordinary thing, really, was that in all that time, Sam hadn't given much or even any thought to the girl, the Walker, who was the reason the whole thing had happened in the first place. Watching the lights of the spots playing on the eaves above his face, Sam wondered why this should be. My God, he thought, after all these years, a Walker. And not just a Walker-a young girl. Sam wasn't one of those people who believed the Army was still coming-you'd have to be pretty stupid to think so after all these years-but a girl like that, it meant something. It meant somebody was still alive out there. Maybe a whole lot of somebodies. And when Sam considered this, he found himself strangely ... uncomfortable with the idea. He couldn't say quite why that was, except that the notion of this girl, this Girl from Nowhere, felt like a piece that didn't fit. And what if all these somebodies just showed up out of the blue? What if she was the beginning of a whole new wave of Walkers, seeking safety under the lights? There was only so much food and fuel to go around. Sure, back in the early days it had probably seemed too cruel to turn the Walkers away. But wasn't the situation a little different now? So many years gone by? Things having achieved a kind of balance? Because the fact was, Sam Chou liked his life. He wasn't one of the worriers, the fretters, the keepers of bad thoughts. He knew people like that-Milo, for one-and he didn't see the sense in it. Awful things could happen, sure, but that was always true, and in the meantime, he had his bed and his house and his wife and his children, they had food to eat and clothes to wear and the lights to keep them safe, and wasn't that enough? The more Sam thought about it, the more it seemed that it wasn't Caleb that something needed to be done about. It was the girl. So maybe in the morning, that's what he'd say to Milo. Something needs to be done about this Girl from Nowhere.

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