Hill Joe – 2/2 NOS4A2 [Full Horror Sci-Fi Audiobook]

The Lake VIC BREASTSTROKED INTO THE SHALLOWS, THEN CRAWLED THE LAST few feet up onto the beach There she rolled onto her back, legs still in the lake. She shook furiously, in fierce, almost crippling spasms, and made sounds too angry to be sobs. She might’ve been crying She wasn’t sure. Her insides hurt badly, as if she had spent a day and a night vomiting In a kidnapping nothing is more important than what happens in the first thirty minutes, Vic thought, her mind replaying something she had once heard on TV Vic did not think what she did in the next thirty minutes mattered at all, did not think any cop anywhere had the power to find Charlie Manx and the Wraith. Still, she shoved herself to her feet, because she needed to do what she could, whether it made a difference or not She walked like a drunk in a hard crosswind, swaying, following a wandering path to the back door, which is where she fell again She went up the steps on hands and knees, used the railing to get to her feet. The phone began to ring. Vic forced herself onward, through another burst of lancing pain, sharp enough to drive the breath out of her She reeled through the kitchen, reached the phone, caught it on the third ring, just before it could go to voice mail “I need help,” Vic said. “Who is this? You have to help me. Someone took my son.” “Aw, it’s okay, Ms. McQueen,” said the little girl on the other end of the line “Daddy will drive safe and make sure Wayne has a real good time. He’ll be here with us soon. He’ll be here in Christmasland, and we’ll show him all our games. Isn’t that fine?” Vic hit END CALL, then dialed 911 A woman told her she had reached emergency services. Her voice was calm and detached “What’s your name and the nature of your emergency?” “Victoria McQueen. I’ve been attacked A man has kidnapped my son. I can describe the car. They only just drove away. Please send someone.” The dispatcher tried to keep the same tone of steady calm but couldn’t quite manage it. Adrenaline changed everything “How badly are you hurt?” “Forget that. Let’s talk about the kidnapper His name is Charles Talent Manx. He’s . . . I don’t know, old.” Dead, Vic thought but didn’t say. “In his seventies. He’s over six feet tall, balding, about two hundred pounds. There’s another man with him, someone younger. I didn’t see him too well.” Because he was wearing a fucking gasmask for some reason. But she didn’t say that either “They’re in a Rolls-Royce Wraith, a classic, 1930s. My son is in the backseat. My son is twelve. His name is Bruce, but he doesn’t like that name.” And Vic began to cry, couldn’t help it. “He has black hair and is five feet tall and was wearing a white T-shirt with nothing on it.” “Victoria, the police are en route. Was either of these men armed?” “Yes. The younger one has a gun. And Manx has some kind of hammer. He hit me with it a couple times.” “I’m dispatching an ambulance to see to your injuries. Did you happen to get the license plate?” “It’s a fucking Rolls-Royce from the thirties with my little boy in the back. How many of those do you think are driving around?” Her voice snagged on a sob. She coughed it up and coughed up the license-plate tag as well: “En-o-ess-four-a-two. It’s a vanity plate. Spells a German word. Nosferatu.” “What’s it mean?” “What’s it matter? Look it the fuck up.” “I’m sorry. I understand you’re upset We’re sending out an alert now. We’re going to do everything we can to get your son back. I know you’re scared. Be calm Please try to be calm.” Vic had a sense that the dispatcher was half talking to herself There was a wavering tone in her voice, like the woman was struggling not to cry. “Help is on the way. Victoria—” “Just Vic. Thank you. I’m sorry I swore at you.” “It’s all right. Don’t worry about it Vic, if they’re in a distinctive car like a Rolls-Royce, that’s good. That will stand out. They aren’t going to get far in a vehicle like that. If they’re anywhere on the road, someone will see them.” But no one did WHEN THE EMTS TRIED TO ESCORT HER TO THE AMBULANCE, VIC ELBOWED free from them, told them to keep their fucking hands off A police officer, a small, portly Indian woman, inserted herself between Vic and the men “You can examine her here,” she said, leading Vic back to the couch. Her voice carried the lightest of accents, a lilt that made every statement sound both vaguely musical and like a question. “It is better if she doesn’t go. What if the kidnapper calls?” Vic huddled on the couch in her wet cutoffs,

wrapped in a throw. An EMT wearing blue gloves planted himself next to her and asked her to drop the blanket and remove her shirt That got the attention of the cops in the room, who cast surreptitious glances Vic’s way, but Vic complied wordlessly, without a second thought. She slopped her wet shirt on the floor. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and she covered her breasts with one arm, hunching forward to let the EMT look at her back The EMT inhaled sharply The Indian police officer—her name tag read CHITRA—stood on Vic’s other side, looking down the curve of Vic’s back. She made a sound herself, a soft cry of sympathy “I thought you said he tried to run you over,” Chitra said. “You did not say he succeeded.” “She’s going to have to sign a form,” said the EMT. “A thing that says she refused to get in the ambulance. I need to cover my ass here. She could have cracked ribs or a popped spleen and I could miss it. I want it on record that I don’t believe treating her here is in her best medical interest.” “Maybe it’s not in my best medical interest,” Vic said, “but it is in yours.” Vic heard a sound go around the room—not quite laughter but close to it, a low male ripple of mirth. There were by now six or seven of them in the room, standing around pretending not to look at her chest, the tattoo of a V-6 engine set above her breasts A cop sat on the other side of her, the first cop she had seen who wasn’t in uniform He wore a blue blazer that was too short at the wrists, a red tie with a coffee stain on it, and a face that would’ve won an ugly contest walking away: bushy white eyebrows turning yellow at the tips, nicotine-stained teeth, a comically gourdlike nose, a jutting cleft chin He dug in one pocket, then another, then lifted his wide, flat rear and found a reporter’s notebook in his back pocket. He opened it, then stared at the pad with a look of utter bafflement, as if he had been asked to write a five-hundred-word essay on impressionist painting It was that blank look, more than anything else, that let Vic know he wasn’t The Guy He was a placeholder. The person who would matter—the one who would be handling the search for her son, who would coordinate resources and compile information—wasn’t here yet She answered his questions anyway. He started in the right place, with Wayne: age, height, weight, what he’d been wearing, if she had a recent photo. At some point Chitra walked away, then returned with an oversize hoodie that said NH STATE POLICE on the front. Vic tugged it on. It came to her knees “The father?” asked the ugly man, whose name was Daltry “Lives in Colorado.” “Divorced?” “Never married.” “How’s he feel about you having custody of the kid?” “I don’t have custody. Wayne is just—We’re on good terms about our son. It’s not an issue.” “Got a number where we can reach him?” “Yes, but he’s on a plane right now. He visited for the Fourth. He’s headed back this evening.” “You sure about that? How do you know he boarded the plane?” “I’m sure he had nothing to do with this, if that’s what you’re asking. We’re not fighting over our son. My ex is the most harmless and easygoing man you’ve ever met.” “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve met some pretty easygoing fellas. I know a guy up in Maine who leads a Buddhist-themed therapy group, teaches people about managing their temper and addictions through Transcendental Meditation The only time this guy ever lost his composure was the day his wife served him with a restraining order. First he lost his Zen, then he lost two bullets in the back of her head. But that Buddhist-themed therapy group he runs sure is popular on his cell block in Shawshank Lotta guys with anger-management issues in there.” “Lou didn’t have anything to do with this I told you, I know who took my son.” “Okay, okay. I have to ask this stuff. Tell me about the guy who worked on your back No. Wait. Tell me about his car first.” She told him Daltry shook his head and made a sound that could’ve been a laugh, if it expressed any humor. Mostly what it expressed was incredulity “Your man ain’t too bright. If he’s on the road, I give him less than half an hour.” “Before what?” “Before he’s facedown in the fecking dirt with some state cop’s boot on his neck You don’t grab a kid in an antique car and drive away. That’s about as smart as driving an ice-cream truck. Kind of stands out. People look. Everyone is going to notice a period Rolls-Royce.” “It isn’t going to stand out.” “What do you mean?” he asked She didn’t know what she meant, so she didn’t say anything Daltry said, “And you recognized one of your assailants. This would be . . . Charles  . . Manx.” Looking at something he had scribbled in his notepad. “How would you know him?” “He kidnapped me when I was seventeen years old. And held me for two days.” That quieted the room “Look it up,” she said. “It’s in his file. Charles Talent Manx. And he’s pretty good at not getting caught. I have to change out of these wet shorts and into some sweats I’d like to do that in my bedroom, if you don’t mind. I feel like Mom has flashed

enough skin for one day.” VIC HELD IN HER MIND HER ONE LAST GLIMPSE OF WAYNE, TRAPPED IN the backseat of the Rolls She saw him swatting a hand at the air—Go on, get away—almost as if he were angry with her. He had already looked as pale as any corpse She saw Wayne in flashes, and it was like the hammer thudding into her again, walloping her in the chest instead of the back. Here he was sitting naked in a sandbox, behind their town house in Denver, a chubby three-year-old with a thatch of black hair, using a plastic shovel to bury a plastic telephone. Here he was on Christmas Day in rehab, sitting on the cracked and crinkly plastic surface of a couch, plucking at a wrapped gift, then tearing the wrapping away to show the white-boxed iPhone. Here he was walking out onto the dock with a toolbox that was too heavy for him Bang, each vision of him hit her, and her bruised insides clenched up again. Bang, he was a baby, sleeping naked on her naked breast Bang, he was kneeling in the gravel next to her, arms greasy to the elbows, helping her to thread the motorcycle chain back onto its sprockets. Sometimes the pain was so intense, so pure, the room darkened at the edges of her vision and she felt faint At some point she had to move, couldn’t stay on the couch anymore “If anyone is hungry, I can make something to eat,” she said. It was almost nine-thirty in the evening by then. “I’ve got a full fridge.” “We’ll send out for something,” Daltry said. “Don’t trouble yourself.” They had the TV on, turned to NECN, New England Cable News. They had gone up with the alert about Wayne an hour before. Vic had seen it twice and knew she couldn’t watch it again First they would show the photo she had given them of Wayne in an Aerosmith T-shirt and an Avalanche wool cap, squinting into bright spring sunlight. She already regretted it, didn’t like how the cap hid his black hair and made his ears stick out This would be followed by a photograph of Vic herself, the one from the Search Engine website. She assumed they were showing that one to get a pretty girl on the screen—she was wearing makeup and a black skirt and cowboy boots and had her head tipped back to laugh, a jarring image, considering the situation They didn’t show Manx. They didn’t even say his name. They described the kidnappers only as two white males in an antique black Rolls-Royce “Why don’t they tell people who they’re looking for?” Vic asked the first time she saw the report Daltry shrugged, said he would find out, got off the couch and wandered into the yard to talk to some other men. When he came back in, though, he didn’t offer any new information, and when the report ran the second time, they were still looking for two white males, out of the approximately 14 million white males to be found in New England If she saw the report a third time and there wasn’t a picture of Charlie Manx—if they didn’t say his name—she thought she might put a chair through the TV “Please,” Vic said now. “I’ve got some slaw and cold ham. A whole loaf of bread I could lay out sandwiches.” Daltry shifted in his seat and looked uncertainly at some of the other policemen in the room, torn between hunger and decency Officer Chitra said, “I think you should Of course. I’ll come with you.” It was a relief to get out of the living room, which was too crowded with bodies, cops coming and going, walkie-talkies squawking continuously She stopped to take in the view of the lawn through the open front door. In the glare of the spotlights, it was brighter in the yard at night than it had been in the midday fog. She saw the toppled fence rails and a man in rubber gloves measuring the tire treads imprinted in the soft loam The cop cars were flashing their strobes as if at the scene of an emergency, and never mind that the emergency had driven away hours before. Wayne strobed in her mind just like that, and for a moment she felt dangerously light-headed Chitra saw her sag and took her elbow, helped her the rest of the way into the kitchen It was better in there. They had the room to themselves The kitchen windows looked out on the dock and the lake. The dock was lit up by more of those big tripod-mounted spotlights. A cop with a flashlight had waded into the water up to his thighs, but she couldn’t tell to what purpose. A plainclothesman watched from the end of the dock, pointing and giving directions A boat floated forty feet offshore. A boy stood in the front end, next to a dog, staring at the cops, the lights, the house. When Vic saw the dog, she remembered Hooper. She had not thought of him once since seeing the headlights of the Wraith in the mist “Someone needs to . . . go look for the dog,” Vic said. “He must be . . . outside somewhere.” She had to stop every few words to catch her breath Chitra looked at her with great sensitivity “Do not worry about the dog now, Ms. McQueen Have you had any water? It is important to hydrate yourself.”

“I’m surprised he isn’t . . . isn’t barking his . . . his head off,” Vic said “With all this commotion.” Chitra ran a hand down Vic’s arm, once, and again, then squeezed Vic’s elbow. Vic looked at the policewoman in sudden understanding “You had so much else to worry about,” Chitra said “Oh, God,” Vic said, and began to cry again, her whole body shaking “No one wanted to upset you even more.” She rocked, holding herself, crying in a way she hadn’t since those first days after her father left her and her mother. Vic had to lean on the counter for a while, wasn’t sure her legs had the strength to continue to support her. Chitra reached over and, tentatively, rubbed her back “Shhh,” said Vic’s mother, dead for two months. “Just breathe, Vicki. Just breathe for me.” She said it in a light Indian accent, but Vic recognized her mother’s voice all the same. Recognized the feel of her mother’s hand on her back. Everyone you lost was still there with you, and so maybe no one was ever lost at all Unless they went with Charlie Manx In a while Vic sat down and drank a glass of water. She drained the whole thing in five swallows, without stopping for air, was desperate for it. It was lukewarm and sweet and good and tasted of the lake Chitra opened cupboards, looking for paper plates. Vic got up and over the other woman’s objections began to help with sandwiches She made a row of paper plates and put two pieces of white bread on each, tears dripping off her nose and falling on the bread She hoped Wayne didn’t know that Hooper was dead. She thought sometimes that Wayne was closer to Hooper than he was to either her or Lou Vic found the ham, coleslaw, and a bag of Doritos and began to make up the plates “There’s a secret to cop sandwiches,” said a woman who had come in behind her Vic took one look and knew this was The Guy she had been waiting for, even if The Guy wasn’t a guy. This woman had frizzy brown hair and a little snub nose. She was plain at first glance, devastatingly pretty on the second. She wore a tweed coat with corduroy patches on the elbows and blue jeans and could’ve passed for a grad student at a liberal-arts college, if not for the nine-millimeter strapped under her left arm “What’s the secret?” Vic asked “Show you,” she said, and eased herself in, took the spoon, and dumped coleslaw into one of the sandwiches, on top of the ham She built a roof of Doritos over the coleslaw, squirted Dijon mustard on the chips, buttered a slice of bread, and squished it all together “The butter is the important part.” “Works like glue, right?” “Yes. And cops are, by nature, cholesterol magnets.” “I thought the FBI only came in on kidnappings in cases where the kid has been hauled across state lines,” Vic said The frizzy-haired woman frowned, then glanced down at the laminated card clipped to the breast of her jacket, the one that said over an unsmiling photograph of her face: FBI PSYCH EVAL Tabitha K. Hutter “Technically, we’re not in it yet,” Hutter said. “But you’re forty minutes from three state borders and less than two hours from Canada. Your assailants have had your son for almost—” “My assailants?” Vic said. She felt a flush of heat in her cheeks. “Why do people keep talking about my assailants, like we don’t know anything about them? It’s starting to piss me off. Charlie Manx is the man. Charlie Manx and someone else are driving around with my kid.” “Charles Manx is dead, Ms. McQueen. He’s been dead since May.” “Got a body?” That gave Hutter pause. She pursed her lips, said, “He has a death certificate. There were photos of him in the morgue. He was autopsied His chest was split open. The coroner took his heart out and weighed it. Those are convincing reasons to believe he didn’t attack you.” “And I’ve got half a dozen reasons to believe he did,” Vic said. “They’re all up and down my back. You want me to take my shirt off and show you the bruises? Every other cop in this joint has had a good look.” Hutter stared at her without reply. Her gaze held the simple curiosity of a small child It rattled Vic, to be observed so intently So few adults gave themselves permission to stare that way At last Hutter shifted her eyes, turned her gaze toward the kitchen table. “Will you sit with me?” Without waiting for an answer, she picked up a leather satchel she’d brought with her and settled at the kitchen table. She peered up expectantly, waiting for Vic to sit with her Vic looked to Chitra, as if for advice, remembering how the woman had, for a moment, comforted her and whispered to her like her mother But the policewoman was finishing the sandwiches and bustling them out Vic sat Hutter removed an iPad from her briefcase, and the screen glowed. More than ever, she

looked like a grad student, one preparing a dissertation on the Brontë sisters, perhaps She passed her finger over the glass, swiping through some sort of digital file, then looked up “At his last medical exam, Charlie Manx was listed at approximately eighty-five years old.” “You think he’s too old to have done what he did?” Vic asked “I think he’s too dead. But tell me what happened, and I’ll try to get my head around it.” Vic did not complain that she had already told the story three times, start to finish The other times didn’t count, because this was the first cop who mattered. If any cop mattered. Vic was not sure one did. Charlie Manx had been claiming lives for a long time and had never been caught, passed through the nets that law enforcement threw at him like silver smoke. How many children had climbed into his car and never been seen again? Hundreds, came the answer, a whisper of a thought Vic told her story—the parts of it she felt she could tell. She left out Maggie Leigh She did not mention she had ridden her motorcycle onto an impossible covered bridge of the imagination, shortly before Manx tried to run her down She did not discuss the psychotropic medication she did not take anymore When Vic got to the part about Manx hitting her with the hammer, Hutter frowned. She asked Vic to describe the hammer in detail, tapping the keyboard on her iPad’s screen. She stopped Vic again when Vic told her about how she had gotten up off the ground and gone after Manx with the tappet key “Tapper what?” “Tappet key,” Vic said. “Triumph made them special just for their bikes. It’s a spanner. Kind of wrench. I was working on the motorcycle and had it in my pocket.” “Where is it now?” “I don’t know. I had it in my hand when I had to run. I was probably still holding it when I went in the lake.” “This is when the other man started shooting at you. Tell me about that.” She told “He shot Manx in the face?” Hutter said “It wasn’t like that. He clipped him in the ear.” “Vic. I want you to help me think this through This man, Charlie Manx, we agree he was probably eighty-five years old at the time of his last medical exam. He spent ten years in a coma Most coma patients require months of rehabilitation before they can walk again. You are telling me you cut him with this tapper key—” “Tappet.” “—and then he was shot but still had the strength to drive away.” What Vic could not say was that Manx wasn’t like other men. She had felt it when he swung the hammer, a coiled strength that belied his advanced age and gaunt frame. Hutter insisted that Manx had been opened up, that his heart had been removed during the autopsy, and Vic didn’t doubt it. For a man who’d had his heart taken out and put back in, a nick in the ear wasn’t that big a deal Instead she said, “Maybe the other guy drove You want me to explain it? I can’t. I can only tell you what happened. What is your point? Manx has got my twelve-year-old in his car, and he’s going to kill him to get even with me, but for some reason we’re discussing the limits of your FBI imagination Why is that?” She looked in Hutter’s face, into Hutter’s bland, calm eyes, and understood “Jesus. You don’t believe a fucking word, do you?” Hutter deliberated for a time, and when she spoke, Vic had a sense that she was choosing words carefully. “I believe that your boy is missing, and I believe you’ve been hurt I believe that you’re in hell right now Other than that, I’m keeping my mind open I hope you’ll see that as an asset and work with me. We both want the same thing. We want your boy back safe. If I thought it would help, I’d be out there driving around, looking for him. But that’s not how I find the bad guys. I find them by collecting information and sorting out what’s useful from what isn’t. Really, it’s not so different from your books. The Search Engine stories.” “You know them? How young are you?” Hutter smiled slightly. “Not that young It’s in your file. Also, an instructor at Quantico uses pictures from Search Engine in his lectures, to show us how hard it is to pick out relevant details in a clutter of visual information.” “What else is in my file?” Hutter’s smile faltered slightly. Her gaze did not. “That you were found guilty of arson in Colorado in 2009. That you spent a month in a Colorado mental hospital, where you were diagnosed with severe PTSD and schizophrenia You take antipsychotics and have a history of alcohol—” “Jesus. You think I hallucinated getting the shit kicked out of me?” Vic said, her stomach clenching. “You think I hallucinated getting shot at?” “We have yet to confirm a shooting took place.” Vic pushed back her chair. “He fired at me. He fired six bullets. Emptied his gun.” Thinking now. Her back had been to the lake It was possible every single bullet, even the one that had gone through Manx’s ear, had wound up in the water

“We’re still looking for slugs.” “My bruises,” Vic said “I don’t doubt someone fought you,” said the FBI agent. “I don’t think anyone doubts that.” There was something about this statement—some dangerous implication—that Vic couldn’t figure out. Who would’ve fought her if not Manx? But Vic was too exhausted, too emotionally spent, to try to make sense out of it. She didn’t have it in her to work out whatever Hutter was stepping around Vic looked at Hutter’s laminated badge again PSYCH EVAL. “Wait a minute. Wait a fucking—you’re not a detective. You’re a doctor.” “Why don’t we look at some pictures?” Hutter said “No,” Vic said. “That’s a complete waste of time. I don’t need to look at mug shots. I told you. One of them was wearing a gasmask. The other was Charlie Manx. I know what Charlie Manx looks like. Jesus, why the fuck am I talking to a doctor? I want to talk to a detective.” “I wasn’t going to ask you to look at pictures of criminals,” Hutter said. “I was going to ask you to look at pictures of hammers.” It was such a baffling, unexpected thing to hear that Vic just sat there, mouth open, unable to make a sound Before anything came to her, there was a commotion in the other room. Chitra’s voice rose, wavering and querulous, and Daltry said something, and then there was a third voice, midwestern and emotional. Vic recognized the third voice at once but couldn’t work out what it was doing in her house when it ought to be on a plane, if not in Denver by now. Her confusion delayed her reaction time, so that she was not all the way out of her chair when Lou came into the room, trailing an entourage of cops He hardly looked like himself. His face was ashy, and his eyes stood out in his big, round face. He looked like he had lost ten pounds since Vic had last seen him, two days earlier She rose and reached for him, and in the same moment he enfolded her in his arms “What are we going to do?” Lou asked her “What the hell are we going to do now, Vic?” The Kitchen WHEN THEY SAT BACK DOWN AT THE TABLE, VIC TOOK LOU’S HAND, the most natural thing in the world. She was surprised to feel the heat in his chubby fingers, and she looked again at his washed-out, sweat-slick face She recognized that he looked seriously ill but took it for fear There were five of them in the kitchen now Lou and Vic and Hutter sat at the table. Daltry leaned against the kitchen counter, squeezing his alcoholic’s nose in a hankie. Officer Chitra stood in the doorway, had hustled the other cops out at Hutter’s command “You’re Louis Carmody,” Hutter said She spoke like the director of the school play, letting Lou know who he would be playing in the spring performance. “You’re the father.” “Guilty,” Lou said “Say again?” Hutter asked “Guilty as charged,” Lou said. “I’m the dad. Who are you? Are you, like, a social worker?” “I’m an FBI agent. My name is Tabitha Hutter. A lot of the guys in the office call me Tabby the Hutt.” She smiled slightly “That’s funny. A lot of the guys in the place I work call me Jabba the Hutt. Only they do it because I’m a fat shit.” “I thought you were in Denver,” Hutter said “Missed my flight.” “No shit,” said Daltry. “Something come up?” Hutter said, “Detective Daltry, I’ll conduct the Q and A, thank you.” Daltry reached into the pocket of his coat “Does anyone mind if I smoke?” “Yes,” Hutter said Daltry held the pack for a moment, staring at her, then put it back in his pocket. There was a bland, unfocused quality to his eyes that reminded Vic of the membrane that slid across a shark’s eyes right before he chomped into a seal “Why did you miss your plane, Mr. Carmody?” Hutter asked “Because I heard from Wayne.” “You heard from him?” “He called me from the car on his iPhone He said they were trying to shoot Vic. Manx and the other guy. We only talked for a minute He had to hang up, ’cause Manx and the other fellow were walking back to the car. He was scared, really scared, but holding it together He’s a little man, you know. He’s always been a little man.” Lou bunched his fists up on the table and lowered his head. He grimaced, as if he felt a sharp twinge of pain somewhere in his abdomen, and blinked, and tears dripped onto the table. It came over him all of a sudden, without warning. “He has to be a grown-up, ’cause Vic and me did such a shitty job of being grown-ups ourselves.” Vic put her hands over his Hutter and Daltry exchanged a look, hardly seemed to notice Lou dissolving into tears “Do you think your son turned the phone off after he talked to you?” Hutter asked “I thought if it had a SIM card in it, it didn’t matter if it was on or off,” Daltry

said. “I thought you federal people had a workaround.” “You can use his phone to find him,” Vic said, her pulse quickening Hutter ignored her, said to Daltry, “We can have that done. It would take a while I’d have to call Boston. But if it’s an iPhone and it’s turned on, we can use the Find My iPhone function to locate him right now, right here.” She lifted her iPad slightly “Right,” Lou said. “That’s right I set up Find My iPhone the day we bought it for him, because I didn’t want him to lose the thing.” He came around the table to look over Hutter’s shoulder at her screen. His complexion was not improved by the unnatural glow of the monitor “What’s his e-mail address and password?” Hutter asked, turning her head to look up at Lou He reached out with one hand to type it himself, but before he could, the FBI agent took ahold of his wrist. She pressed two fingers into his skin, as if taking his pulse. Even from where she sat, Vic could see a spot where the skin gleamed and seemed to have a splash of dried paste on it Hutter shifted her gaze to Lou’s face. “You had an EKG this evening?” “I fainted. I got upset. It was, like, a panic attack, dude. Some crazy son of a bitch has my kid. This shit happens to fat guys.” Until now Vic had been too focused on Wayne to give much thought to Lou: how gray he looked, how exhausted. But at this, Vic felt struck through with sudden, sick apprehension “Oh, Lou. What do you mean, you fainted?” “It was after Wayne hung up on me. I kind of went down for a minute. I was fine, but airport security made me sit on the floor and get an EKG, make sure I wasn’t going to vapor-lock on them.” “Did you tell them your kid had been kidnapped?” Daltry asked Hutter flashed him a warning look that Daltry pretended not to see “I’m not sure what I said to them. I was sort of confused at first. Like, dizzy. I know I told them my kid needed me. I know I told them that. All I could think was I had to get to my car. At some point they said they were going to put me in an ambulance, and I told ’em to go . . . ah . . . have fun with themselves. So I got up and walked away. It’s possible a guy grabbed my arm and I dragged him a few feet. I was in a hurry.” “So you didn’t talk to the police at the airport about what had happened to your son?” Daltry asked. “Didn’t you think you could get here faster if you had a police escort?” “It didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to talk to Vic first,” Lou said, and Vic saw Daltry and Hutter trade another glance “Why did you want to talk to Victoria first?” Hutter asked “What does it matter?” Vic cried. “Can we just think about Wayne?” “Yes,” Hutter said, blinking, looking back down at her iPad. “That’s right Let’s keep the focus on Wayne. How about that password?” Vic pushed back her chair as Lou poked at the touchscreen with one thick finger. She rose, came around the corner of the table to look. Her breathing was fast and short She felt her anticipation so keenly it was like being cut Hutter’s screen loaded the Find My iPhone page, which showed a map of the globe, pale blue continents against a background of dark blue ocean. In the upper right corner, a window announced: Wayne’s iPhone Locating Locating Locating Locating Located A featureless field of gray blanked out the image of the globe. A glassy blue dot appeared in the silver smoothness. Squares of landscape began to appear, the map redrawing itself to show the location of the iPhone in close-up Vic saw the blue dot traveling on a road identified as THE ST. NICK PARKWAY Everyone was leaning in, Daltry so close to Vic she could feel him pressing against her rear, feel his breath tickling her neck. He smelled of coffee and nicotine “Zoom out,” Daltry said Hutter tapped the screen once, and again, and again The map depicted a continent that somewhat resembled America. It was as if someone had made a version of the United States out of bread dough and then punched it in the center In this new version of the nation, Cape Cod was almost half the size of Florida and the Rocky Mountains looked more like the Andes, a thousand miles of grotesquely tortured earth, great splinters of stone heaved up against one another. The country as a whole, however, had substantially shriveled, collapsing toward the center Most of the great cities were gone, but other points of interest had appeared in their places In Vermont there was a dense forest, built up around a place called ORPHANHENGE; in New Hampshire there was a spot marked THE TREE HOUSE OF THE MIND. A little north of Boston, there was something called LOVECRAFT KEYHOLE; it was a crater in the rough shape of a padlock In Maine, around the Lewiston/Auburn/Derry area, there was a place called PENNYWISE CIRCUS A narrow highway titled THE NIGHT ROAD led south, reddening the farther it went, until

it was a line of blood trickling into Florida The St. Nick Parkway was particularly littered with stopping points. In Illinois, WATCHFUL SNOWMEN. In Kansas, GIANT TOYS. In Pennsylvania, THE HOUSE OF SLEEP and THE GRAVEYARD OF WHAT MIGHT BE And in the mountains of Colorado, high in the peaks, the point at which the St. Nick Parkway dead-ended: CHRISTMASLAND The continent itself drifted in a sea of black, star-littered wastes; the map was captioned not UNITED STATES OF AMERICA but UNITED INSCAPES OF AMERICA The blue dot twitched, moving through what should’ve been western Massachusetts toward Christmasland. But UNITED INSCAPES didn’t correspond exactly to America itself. It was probably a hundred fifty miles from Laconia, New Hampshire, to Springfield, Massachusetts, but on this map it looked barely half that They all stared Daltry took his hankie from his pocket, gave his nose a thoughtful squeeze. “Any of you see Candy Land down there?” He made a harsh, throat-clearing sound that was not quite a cough, not quite a laugh Vic felt the kitchen going away. The world at the edges of her vision was a distorted blur. The iPad and the table remained in crisp focus but were curiously distant She needed something to anchor her. She felt in danger of coming unmoored from the kitchen floor . . . a balloon slipping out of a child’s hand. She took Lou’s wrist, something to hold on to. He had always been there when she needed something to hold on to When she looked at him, though, she saw a reflection of her own ringing shock. His pupils were pinpricks. His breath was short and labored In a surprisingly normal tone of voice, Hutter said, “I don’t know what I’m looking at here. Does this mean anything to either of you two? This curious map? Christmasland? The St. Nick Parkway?” “Does it?” Lou asked, staring helplessly at Vic What he was really asking, Vic understood, was DO we tell her about Christmasland? About the things you believed when you were crazy? “No,” Vic breathed, answering all questions—spoken and unspoken—at the same time The Bedroom VIC SAID SHE NEEDED TO REST, ASKED IF SHE COULD LIE DOWN FOR A while, and Hutter said of course and that she wasn’t going to do anyone any good by driving herself to collapse In the bedroom, though, Lou was the one who flung himself down on the bed. Vic couldn’t relax. She went to the blinds, picked them apart, looked out at the carnival in her front yard. The night was full of the chatter of radios, the murmur of male voices. Someone out there laughed softly. It was a wonder, to think that less than a hundred paces from the house it was possible for happiness to exist If any of the policemen in the street noticed her looking, they probably imagined she was gazing blankly up the road, hoping, pitifully, for a cruiser to come roaring down it, lights flashing, sirens splitting the air, her son in the backseat. Safe. Coming home. His lips sticky and pink with the ice cream the cops had bought him But she wasn’t looking at the road, hoping with all her heart that someone was going to bring Wayne back to her. If anyone was going to bring him back, it was her. Vic was staring at the Triumph, lying right where she had dropped it Lou was heaved on the bed like a beached manatee When he spoke, he addressed the ceiling “Will you come stretch out with me for a while? Just . . . be here with me?” She dropped the blinds and went to the bed She put her leg over his legs and clasped herself to his side, as she had not done in years “You know that guy who looks like Mickey Rooney’s mean twin brother? Daltry? He said you were hurt.” And she realized he hadn’t heard the story No one had told him what had happened to her She told it again. At first she was only repeating what she told Hutter and the other detectives Already the story had the quality of lines learned for a part in a play; she could recite them without thinking But then she told him about taking the Triumph for a short run and realized she didn’t have to leave out the part about the bridge She could and should tell him about discovering the Shorter Way in the mist, because it had happened. Really happened “I saw the bridge,” she said quietly, lifting herself up to look into his face “I rode onto it, Lou. I went looking for it, and there it was. Do you believe me?” “I believed you the first time you told me about it.” “You fucking liar,” she said, but she couldn’t help smiling at him He reached out and put his hand on the swell

of her left breast. “Why wouldn’t I believe you? It explained you better than anything And I’m like that poster on the wall, in The X-Files: ‘I want to believe.’ Story of my life, lady. Go on. You rode across the bridge. Then what?” “I didn’t ride across it. I got scared Really scared, Lou. I thought it was a hallucination That I was off my nut again. I slammed on the brake so hard that pieces came flying off the bike.” She told him about turning the Triumph around and walking it off the bridge, her eyes shut and her legs shaking. She described how it had sounded in the Shorter Way, the shush and roar, as if she stood behind a waterfall She said she knew it was gone when she couldn’t hear that sound anymore, and then it was a long walk back home Vic went on, telling how Manx and the other man were waiting for her, how Manx had come for her with his hammer. Lou was not a stoic He flinched and twitched and cursed. When she told him about using the tappet key on Manx’s face, he said, “I wish’t you skullfucked him with the thing.” She assured him she had tried her best. He thumped a fist into his own leg when she got to the part about the Gasmask Man shooting Manx in the ear. Lou listened with his whole body, a kind of quivering tautness in him, like a bow pulled to its limit, the arrow ready to fly He did not interrupt her, though, until she got to the part where she was running downhill for the lake, to escape them “That’s what you were doing when Wayne called,” he said “What happened to you at the airport? Really.” “What I said. I got faint.” He rolled his head, as if to loosen his neck, then said, “The map. With the road to Christmasland What is that place?” “I don’t know.” “It’s not in our world, though. Right?” “I don’t know. I kind of think . . . I kind of think it is our world. A version of it anyway. The version of it that Charlie Manx carries around in his head. Everyone lives in two worlds, right? There’s the physical world . . . but there’s also our own private inner worlds, the world of our thoughts. A world made of ideas instead of stuff. It’s just as real as our world, but it’s inside. It’s an inscape. Everyone has an inscape, and they all connect, too, in the same way New Hampshire connects to Vermont. And maybe some people can ride into that thought world if they have the right vehicle. A key. A car. A bike. Whatever.” “How can your thought world connect to mine?” “I don’t know. But . . . but, like, if Keith Richards dreams up a song and then you hear it on the radio, you’ve got his thoughts in your head. My ideas can get in your head just as easily as a bird can fly across the state line.” Lou frowned and said, “So, like, somehow Manx drives kids out of the world of stuff and into his own private world of ideas. Okay I can go with that. It’s weird, but I can go with it. So get back to your story. The guy wearing the gasmask had a gun.” Vic told him about diving into the water, and the Gasmask Man shooting, and then Manx talking to her while she hid under the float When she was done, she shut her eyes, nestled her face into Lou’s neck. She was exhausted—beyond exhausted, really, had traveled to some new precinct of weariness. The gravity was lighter in this new world. If she had not been tethered to Lou, she would’ve floated away “He wants you to come looking,” Lou said “I can find him,” she said. “I can find this House of Sleep. I told you. I rode to the bridge before I fucked up the bike.” “Probably threw the chain. You’re lucky you kept it shiny side up.” She opened her eyes and said, “You have to fix it, Lou. You have to fix it tonight As fast as you can. Tell Hutter and the police you can’t sleep. Tell them you need to do something to take your mind off things. People react to stress in strange ways, and you’re a mechanic. They won’t question you.” “Manx tells you to come find him. What do you think he’s going to do to you when you do?” “He ought to be thinking about what I’m going to do to him.” “And what if he’s not at this House of Sleep? Will the bike take you to him wherever he is? Even if he’s moving?” “I don’t know,” Vic said, but she thought, No. She was not sure where this certainty came from, how she could know such a thing, but she did. She recalled, distantly, that she had gone looking for a lost cat once—Taylor, she thought—and was sure she had found him only because he was dead. If he had been alive and on the prowl, the bridge wouldn’t have had an anchor point to settle on. It could cross the distance between lost and found, but only if what was lost stayed put. Lou saw the doubt in her face, and she went on “It doesn’t matter anyway. Manx has to stop sometime, doesn’t he? To sleep? To

eat?” In truth, she wasn’t sure he needed either food or rest. He had died, been autopsied, had his heart removed . . . then got up and walked away whistling. Who knew what such a man required? Perhaps thinking of him as a man at all was operating from the wrong assumptions. And yet: He bled. He could be hurt. She had seen him pale and staggered She thought at the very least he would need to recover himself, settle and slumber for a while, same as any wounded creature. His license plate was a joke or boast, nosferatu, German word for vampire—an acknowledgment, at some level, of what he was. But in the stories, even vampires crawled back to their coffins and shut the lid now and then. She pushed these ideas aside and finished: “Sooner or later he’ll have to stop for something, and when he does, I can get to him.” “You asked me if I thought you were crazy, with all your stuff about the bridge. And I said no. But this? This part of it is pretty crazy. Using the bike to find your way to him so he can polish you off. Finish the job he started this morning.” “It’s all we’ve got.” She glanced toward the door. “And, Lou, this is the only way we might—will—get Wayne back These people can’t find him. I can. Are you going to fix it?” He sighed—a great, unsteady exhalation of air—and said, “I’ll try, Vic. I’ll try. On one condition.” “What’s that?” “When I get it fixed,” Lou said, “you take me with you.” The St. Nicholas Parkway WAYNE SLEPT FOR A LONG TIME—AN ENDLESS TIME OF QUIET AND peace—and when he opened his eyes, he knew that everything was all right NOS4A2 sped through the dark, a torpedo churning through the fathomless depths. They were rising through low hills, the Wraith hugging the curves as if it were on rails. Wayne was rising toward something wonderful and fine Snow fell in gentle, goose-feather flakes The wipers went swop, swop, striking them down They passed a lone streetlamp in the night, a twelve-foot candy cane topped with a gumdrop, casting a cherry light, turning those falling flakes to feathers of flame The Wraith swept along a high curve that afforded a view of the vast tableland below, silver and smooth and flat, and at the far end of it the mountains! Wayne had never seen mountains like them—they made the Rockies look like homely foothills. The smallest of them had the proportions of Everest. They were a great range of stone teeth, a crooked row of fangs, sharp enough, large enough, to devour the sky. Rocks forty thousand feet high pierced the night, held up the darkness, pushed into the stars Above it all drifted a silvery scythe blade of moon. Wayne looked up at it, and away, and then looked again. The moon had a hooked nose, a thoughtfully frowning mouth, and a single eye closed in sleep. When it exhaled, a wind rippled across the plains and silvery beds of cloud raced through the night. Wayne almost clapped his hands in delight to look upon it It was impossible, though, to look away from the mountains for long. The pitiless, cyclopean peaks drew Wayne’s gaze as a magnet will draw iron shavings. For there, in a notch two-thirds of the way up the largest of the mountains, was a bright jewel, pinned to the side of the rock face. It shone, brighter than the moon, brighter than any star. It burned in the night like a torch Christmasland “You should roll down the window and try to grab one of those sugarflakes!” advised Mr. Manx from the front seat For a moment Wayne had forgotten who was driving the car. He had stopped worrying about it It wasn’t important. Getting there was the thing. He felt a throb of eagerness to be there already, rolling in between the candy-cane gates “Sugarflake? Don’t you mean snowflake?” “If I meant snowflake, I would’ve said snowflake! Those are flakes of pure cane sugar, and if we were in a plane, we’d be shredding cotton-candy clouds! Go on! Roll down a window! Catch one and see if I am a liar!” “Won’t it be cold?” Wayne asked Mr. Manx looked at him in the rearview mirror, the laugh lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes He wasn’t scary anymore. He was young, and if he was not handsome, he at least looked spiffy, in his black leather gloves and black overcoat. His hair was black now, too, slicked back under his leather-brimmed cap, to show the high, bare expanse of his forehead

The Gasmask Man was asleep next to him, a sweet smile on his fat, bristly face. He wore a white marine uniform, with a breastful of gold medals upon it. A second glance, though, showed that these medals were in fact chocolate coins in gold-foil wrap. He had nine of them Wayne understood now that getting to go to Christmasland was better than going to Hogwarts Academy, or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, or the Cloud City in Star Wars, or Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. Not one child in a million was allowed into Christmasland, only kids who truly needed. It was impossible to be unhappy there, in that place where every morning was Christmas morning and every evening was Christmas Eve, where tears were against the law and children flew like angels. Or floated Wayne was unclear on the difference He knew something else: His mother hated Mr Manx because he wouldn’t take her to Christmasland And if she couldn’t go, she didn’t want Wayne to go either. The reason his mother drank so much was because getting smashed was the closest a person could ever get to feeling the way you felt when you were in Christmasland—even though a bottle of gin was as different from Christmasland as a dog biscuit was from filet mignon His mother had always known that someday Wayne would get to go to Christmasland. That was why she couldn’t stand to be around him That was why she ran away from him for all those years He didn’t want to think about it. He would call her as soon as he got to Christmasland He would tell her he loved her and that everything was all right. He would call her every day if he had to. It was true she sometimes hated him, that she hated being a mother, but he was determined to love her anyway, to share his happiness with her “Cold?” Manx cried, snapping Wayne’s thoughts back to the here and now. “You worry like my Aunt Mathilda! Go on. Roll the window down. Besides. I know you, Bruce Wayne Carmody. You are thinking serious thoughts, aren’t you? You are a serious little fellow! We need to cure you of that! And we will! Dr. Manx prescribes a mug of peppermint cocoa and a ride on the Arctic Express with the other kids. If you are still feeling in a glum mood after that, then there is no hope for you. Come on and roll down the window! Let the night air in to blow away the gloomies! Don’t be an old lady! It is like I am driving somebody’s grandmother instead of a little boy!” Wayne turned to roll down the window, but when he did, he got a nasty surprise. His grandmother, Linda, sat next to him. He had not seen her for months. It was hard to visit with relatives when they were dead She was still dead now. She sat in a hospital johnny, untied so he could see her skeletal bare back when she leaned forward. She was sitting on the good beige leather seats with her bare ass. Her legs were scrawny and terrible, very white in the darkness, crawling with old black varicose veins. Her eyes were hidden behind a pair of shiny, silver, newly minted half-dollars Wayne opened his mouth to scream, but Grammy Lindy lifted her finger to her lips. Shhh “.down it slow can you ,reverse in think you If .Wayne ,truth the from away you driving He’s,” she warned him gravely Manx cocked his head, as if listening for a noise he didn’t like under the hood. Lindy had spoken clearly enough for Manx to hear her, but he didn’t look all the way around, and his expression suggested he thought he had heard something but wasn’t sure The sight of her was bad enough, but the nonsense she spoke—nonsense that hovered maddeningly on the edge of meaning—sent a shock of fright through Wayne. The coins over her eyes flashed “Go away,” he whispered “.himself for youth your keep and behind soul your leave He’ll .snap you until ,band rubber a like out you stretch He’ll .soul own your from away you drive He’ll,” Grammy Lindy explained, pressing a cold finger into his breastbone every now and then for emphasis He made a thin whining sound in the back of his throat, recoiling from her touch. At the same time, he found himself struggling to make sense out of her gravely recited gibberish He’ll snap you—he got that. Band rubber? No, that had to be rubber band. There it was She was saying things backward, and on some level Wayne understood that this was why Mr Manx could not quite hear her in the front seat. He could not hear her because he was going forward and she was running in reverse He tried to remember what else she had said, to see if he could untangle her dead-woman syntax, but it was already fading away from him

Mr. Manx said, “Roll down the window, little boy! Do it!” His voice suddenly hard, not as friendly as it had been before. “I want you to grab some of that sweetness for yourself! Hurry now! We are almost to a tunnel!” But Wayne couldn’t roll down the window To do so would have required him to reach past Lindy, and he was afraid. He was as afraid of her as he had ever been of Manx. He wanted to cover his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see her. He took short little gasping breaths, a runner on the last lap—and his exhalations smoked, as if it were cold in the back of the car, although it didn’t feel cold He peered into the front seat for help, but Mr. Manx had changed. He was missing his left ear—it was tatters of flesh, little crimson strings swinging against his cheek. His hat was missing, and the head it had covered was now bald and lumpy and spotted, with just a few silver threads combed across it. A great flap of loose red skin hung from his brow His eyes were gone, and where they had been were buzzing red holes—not bloody sockets but craters containing live coals Beside him the Gasmask Man slept on in his crisp uniform, smiling like a man with a full belly and warm feet Through the windshield Wayne could see they were approaching a tunnel bored into a wall of rock, a black pipe leading into the side of the hill “Who is back there with you?” Manx asked, his voice humming and terrible. It was not the voice of a man. It was the voice of a thousand flies droning in unison Wayne looked around for Lindy, but she was gone, had left him The tunnel swallowed the Wraith. In the darkness there were only those red holes where Manx’s eyes belonged, staring back at him “I don’t want to go to Christmasland,” Wayne said “Everyone wants to go to Christmasland,” said the thing in the front seat that used to be a man but was not anymore, and maybe had not been for a hundred years They were fast approaching a bright circle of sunlight at the end of the tunnel. It had been night when they entered the hole in the mountain, but they were rushing toward a summery glare, and even when they were still a hundred feet away, the brightness hurt Wayne’s eyes He put his hands over his face, moaning in distress. The light burned through his fingers, growing ever more intense, until it shone right through his hands and he could see the black sticks of his own bones buried in softly glowing tissue. He felt that at any moment all that sunlight might cause him to ignite “I don’t like it! I don’t like it!” he shouted The car jolted and banged over pitted road, with enough force to dislodge his hands from his face. He blinked into morning sunlight Bing Partridge, the Gasmask Man, sat up and turned in his seat to look back at Wayne His uniform was gone, and he wore the same stained tracksuit he’d been dressed in the day before “No,” he said, digging a finger in his ear. “I’m not much of a morning person either.” Sugarcreek, Pennsylvania SUN, SUN, GO AWAY,” THE GASMASK MAN SAID, AND YAWNED. “Come again some other day.” The Gasmask Man was silent for a moment and then said shyly, “I had a nice dream. I dreamed about Christmasland.” “I hope you liked it,” Manx said. “The mess you have made of things, dreaming about Christmasland is all you will do!” The Gasmask Man shrank down in his seat and put his hands over his ears They were in a place of hills and high grasses, beneath blue summer sky. A finger lake shone below them to the left, a long splinter of mirror dropped amid hundred-foot pines. The valleys caught patches of morning mist, but they would burn off soon enough Wayne rubbed his hands hard into his eye sockets, his brain still half asleep. His forehead and cheeks felt fevery. He sighed—and was surprised to see pale vapor issue from his nostrils, just like in his dream. He had not realized it was so cold in the backseat “I’m freezing,” Wayne said, although if anything he felt warm, not cold “These mornings can be very raw,” Manx said. “You will feel better soon.” “Where are we?” Wayne asked Manx glanced back at him. “Pennsylvania We have been driving all night, and you have been sleeping like a baby.” Wayne blinked at him, perturbed and disoriented, although it took him a moment to figure out why. The pad of white gauze was still taped over the ruin of Manx’s left ear, but he had stripped off the bandage wrapped around

his forehead. The six-inch slash across his forehead was black and rancid-looking, a Frankenstein scar—and yet it looked as if it had been healing for twelve days, not twelve hours Manx’s color was better, his eyes sharper, bright with humor and goodwill toward men “Your face is better,” Wayne said “It is a little easier on the eyes, I guess, but I will not be entering a beauty contest anytime soon!” “How come you’re better?” Wayne asked Manx thought about that for a bit, then said, “The car takes care of me. It is going to take care of you, too.” “It’s because we’re on the road to Christmasland,” said the Gasmask Man, looking over his shoulder and smiling. “It takes your frown and turns it upside down, isn’t that right, Mr. Manx?” “I am in no frame of mind for your rhyming idiocies, Bing,” Manx said. “Play Quaker Meeting, why don’t you?” NOS4A2 drove south, and no one spoke for a while. In the silence Wayne took stock In his whole life, he had never been as scared as he had been the afternoon before. His throat was still hoarse from all the screaming he had done. Now, though, it was as if he were a jug, and every last drop of bad feeling had been poured out of him. The interior of the Rolls-Royce brimmed with golden sunlight Motes of dust burned in a ray of brilliance, and Wayne raised a hand to swipe at them and watch them roil around, like sand whirling through water— His mother had dived into the water to get away from the Gasmask Man, he remembered, and he twitched. For a moment he felt a jolt of yesterday’s fear, as fresh and raw as if he had touched a stripped copper line and been zapped. What frightened him was not the thought that he was a prisoner of Charlie Manx but that for a moment he had forgotten he was a prisoner. For a moment he had been admiring the light and feeling almost happy He shifted his gaze to the walnut drawer set below the seat in front of him, where he had hidden his phone. Then he glanced up and discovered Manx watching him in the rearview mirror, smiling just slightly. Wayne shrank back into his seat “You said you owed me one,” Wayne said “I did and I do,” Manx said “I want to call my mother. I want to tell her I’m all right.” Manx nodded, eyes on the road, hand on the wheel. Had the car been driving itself yesterday? Wayne had a memory of the steering wheel turning on its own, while Manx moaned and the Gasmask Man wiped blood from his face—but this recollection had the shiny, hyperreal quality of the sort of dreams that come to people while they are incapacitated with a particularly bad flu Now, in the bright, clear sunshine of morning, Wayne was not sure it had really happened Also, the day was warming; he couldn’t see his own breath anymore “It is very right that you should want to call her and tell her you are well. I expect, when we get where we are going, that you will want to call her every day! That is just being considerate! And of course she will want to know how you are doing. We will have to ring her up as soon as possible. I can hardly count that as the favor I owe you! What sort of beast would not let a child call his mother? Unfortunately, there is no easy place to stop and let you call, and neither of us thought to bring a phone with us,” Manx said. He turned his head and looked over the divider at Wayne again. “I don’t suppose you thought to bring one, did you?” And smiled He knows, Wayne thought. He felt something shrivel inside him, and for a moment he was dangerously close to tears “No,” he said, in a voice that sounded almost normal. He had to fight to keep from looking at the wooden drawer at his feet Manx returned his gaze to the road. “Oh, well. It is too early to call her anyway It is not even six in the morning, and after the day she had yesterday, we had better let her sleep in!” He sighed and added, “Your mother has more tattoos than a sailor.” “‘There was once a young lady from Yale,’” said the Gasmask Man. “‘Who had verses tattooed on her tail. And on her behind, for the sake of the blind, a duplicate version in braille.’” “You rhyme too much,” Wayne said Manx laughed—a big, unrefined hee-haw of a laugh—and slapped the wheel. “That is for sure! Good old Bing Partridge is a rhyming demon! If you look to your Bible, you will see that those are the lowest sort of demon, but not without their uses.” Bing rested his forehead against the window, looking out at rolling countryside. Sheep grazed “Baa, baa, black sheep,” Bing crooned softly to himself. “Have you any wool?”

Manx said, “All those tattoos on your mother.” “Yes?” Wayne said, thinking that if he looked in the drawer, the phone would probably not be there. He thought there was an excellent chance they had removed it while he slept “Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I view that as an invitation to men of poor character to stare. Do you think she likes that sort of attention?” “‘There once was a whore from Peru,’” whispered the Gasmask Man, and he giggled softly to himself “They’re pretty,” Wayne said “Is that why your father divorced her? Because he did not like her to go out that way, with her legs bare and painted, to distract men?” “He didn’t divorce her. They never got married.” Manx laughed again. “There is a big surprise.” They had left the highway and had slipped out of the hills and into a sleepy downtown It was a sorry, abandoned-looking place. Storefront windows were soaped over, signs in them saying For Rent. Plywood sheeting had been nailed up inside the doors of the movie theater, and the marquee read MER Y XMAS SUGAR EEK PA! Christmas lights hung from it, although it was July Wayne couldn’t stand not knowing about his phone. He could just reach the drawer with his foot. He inched his toe under the handle “She has a sturdy athletic look to her, I will give you that,” Manx said, although Wayne was hardly listening. “I suppose she has a boyfriend.” Wayne said, “I’m her boyfriend, she says.” “Ha, ha. Every mother says that to her son Your father is older than your mother?” “I don’t know. I guess. A little.” Wayne caught the drawer with his toe and slid it back an inch. The phone was still there He nudged it shut. Later. If he went for it now, they would just take it away “Do you think she is inclined to look favorably upon older men?” Manx asked It bewildered Wayne that Manx was going on and on about his mother and her tattoos and what she thought about older men. He could not have been more confused if Manx had begun to ask him questions about sea lions or sports cars. He couldn’t even remember how they had gotten on this particular subject, and he struggled to think it out, to run the conversation in reverse If you think in reverse, Wayne thought. Reverse In. Think. You. If. Dead Grandma Lindy had been in his dream, and everything she said came out backward. Most of what she had said to him was gone now—forgotten—but that part of it came back to him with perfect clarity, like a message in invisible ink darkening and appearing on paper held above a flame If you think in reverse, what? He didn’t know The car stopped at an intersection. A middle-aged woman stood on the curb, eight feet away She was in shorts and a headband, jogging in place. She was waiting for her walk light, even though there was no cross traffic Wayne acted without thought. He flung himself at the door and banged his hands on the glass “Help!” he screamed. “Help me!” The jogging woman frowned and looked around She stared at the Rolls-Royce “Please help!” Wayne screamed, slapping the window She smiled and waved The light changed. Manx rolled sedately through the intersection To the left, on the other side of the street, Wayne saw a man in a uniform coming out of a doughnut shop. He wore what looked like a policeman’s cap and a blue windbreaker Wayne pitched himself across the car and banged his fists on the other window. As he did and the man came into focus, Wayne could see it was a postman, not a policeman. A podgy man in his mid-fifties “Help me! I’m being kidnapped! Help, help, help!” Wayne screamed, his voice cracking “He can’t hear you,” Manx said. “Or, rather, he does not hear what you want him to hear.” The postman looked at the Rolls going by He smiled and raised two fingers to the brim of his cap in a little salute. Manx drove on “Are you done making such a racket?” he said “Why don’t they hear me?” Wayne asked “It is like what they are always saying about Las Vegas: What happens in the Wraith stays in the Wraith.” They were rolling out the other end of the little downtown, beginning to accelerate, leaving behind the four-block stretch of brick buildings and dusty storefronts “Don’t worry,” Manx said. “If you are tired of the road, we will be off it soon enough. I know I am ready for a break from all this highway. We are very close to where we are going.” “Christmasland?” Wayne asked Manx pursed his lips in a thoughtful moue “No. That is still a ways off.” “The House of Sleep,” the Gasmask Man

told him The Lake VIC CLOSED HER EYES FOR A MOMENT, AND WHEN SHE OPENED THEM she was staring at the clock on the night table—5:59. Then the celluloid flaps flipped over to 6:00 A.M. and the phone rang The two things happened so closely together that Vic thought at first the alarm was going off, and she couldn’t figure out why she had set it for so early in the morning. The phone rang again, and the bedroom door clicked open. Tabitha Hutter peered in on her, eyes bright behind her round spectacles “It’s a 603 number,” she said. “A demolition company in Dover. You better answer It’s probably not him, but—” “It’s not him,” Vic said, and fumbled for the phone “I didn’t hear until late,” said her father. “And it took me a while to come up with your number. I waited as long as I could, in case you were trying to sleep. How are you, kid?” Vic removed the phone from her mouth and said, “It’s my dad.” Tabitha Hutter said, “Tell him he’s being recorded. All the calls to this number will be recorded for the foreseeable future.” “Did you hear that, Chris?” “I did. It’s okay. Anything they need to do. Christ, it’s good to hear your voice, kiddo.” “What do you want?” “I want to know how you’re doing. I want you to know I’m here if you need me.” “First time for everything, huh?” He exhaled, a thin, frustrated breath. “I understand what you’re going through. I went through it, too, once upon a time, you know. I love you, girl. Tell me if I can do anything.” “You can’t,” she said. “There’s nothing for you to blow up right now. It’s all blown up. Don’t call anymore, Dad. I’m in enough pain already. You just make it worse.” She hung up. Tabitha Hutter watched her from the doorway “Did you get your cell-phone experts to try and locate Wayne’s phone? Was it any different from when you tried Find My iPhone? It can’t have been. If you had any new information, you wouldn’t have let me sleep.” “They couldn’t locate his phone.” “They couldn’t locate it? Or they traced him to the St. Nick Parkway, somewhere east of Christmasland?” “Does that mean something to you? Charlie Manx had a house in Colorado. The trees around the house were hung with Christmas ornaments The press gave it a name, called it the Sleigh House. Is that Christmasland?” No, Vic thought automatically. Because the Sleigh House is in our world. Christmasland is in Manx’s inscape. The Manxscape Hutter had a hell of a poker face, watching Vic with an expression of studious calm. Vic thought if she told this woman that Christmasland was a place in the fourth dimension, where dead children sang carols and made long-distance phone calls, that Hutter’s expression wouldn’t change at all. She would continue to give Vic that cool, clinical look while police held Vic down and a doctor sedated her “I don’t know where Christmasland is or what it is,” Vic said, which was largely true. “I don’t understand why that’s coming up when you search for Wayne’s phone Do you want to look at hammers?” The house was still full of people, although they looked less like cops now, more like the Geek Squad from Best Buy. Three young men had set up laptops on the coffee table in the living room: a gangly Asian with tribal tattoos, a skinny kid with a red Jewfro and roughly a billion freckles, and a black man in a black turtleneck that looked like it had been snatched from Steve Jobs’s closet The house smelled of coffee. There was a fresh pot brewing in the kitchen. Hutter poured Vic some and added cream and a spoonful of sugar, just the way Vic took it “Is that in my file?” Vic asked. “How I take my coffee?” “The cream was in the fridge. You must use it for something. And a coffee spoon was sitting in the sugar jar.” “Elementary, my dear Watson,” Vic said “I used to go dressed as Holmes for Halloween,” Hutter said. “Had the pipe and the deerstalker cap and all the rest. What about you? What did you wear for trick-or-treat?” “A straitjacket,” Vic said. “I’d go as an escaped mental patient. It was good practice for the rest of my life.” Hutter’s smile flattened and went away She sat at the table with Vic and handed her the iPad. She explained how to swipe through the gallery to look at the different pictures of hammers “Why does it matter what he hit me with?” Vic asked “You don’t know what matters until after you’ve seen it. So you try to see everything.” Vic swiped past sledgehammers, hardware-store hammers, croquet mallets “What the hell is this? A database dedicated to hammer murderers?” “Yes.” Vic glanced at her. Hutter’s face had returned to its usual bland state of impassivity Vic swiped through some more pictures, then paused. “This. It was this one.” Hutter looked at the screen. On it was a picture of a foot-long hammer with a rectangular stainless-steel

head, a crosshatched handle, and a sharp hook curving from the end “Are you sure?” “Yeah. Because of the hook. That’s the one. What the hell kind of hammer is that?” Hutter pulled her lower lip into her mouth, then pushed back her chair and stood up. “Not one you buy at the hardware store. I have to make a call.” She hesitated, one hand on the back of Vic’s chair “Do you think you’d be up for making a statement to the press this afternoon? We’ve had good play on the cable news channels It has a lot of angles. Everyone knows the Search Engine stories, so there’s that I’m sorry to say that a lot of them are talking about this as a real life-and-death game of Search Engine. A personal appeal for help will keep the story active. And awareness is our best weapon.” “Has the press figured out that Manx also kidnapped me when I was a teenager?” Vic asked Hutter’s brow furrowed, as in thought. “Mm No, they haven’t worked that out yet. And I don’t think you should mention it in your statement. It’s important to keep the media focused on the information that matters. We need people on the lookout for your son and the car. That’s what we talk about. Everything else is insignificant at best, a distraction at worst.” “The car, my son, and Manx,” Vic said “We want everyone on the lookout for Manx.” “Yes. Of course.” She took two steps toward the door, then turned back and said, “You’ve been wonderful, Victoria. You’ve been very strong in a scary time. You’ve done so much I hate to ask for more. But when you’re ready, we’ll need to sit down today and I have to get the whole story in your words I need to know more about what Manx did to you. It could greatly enhance our chances of finding your son.” “I already told you what he did to me. I gave you the whole story yesterday. Bashed me with a hammer, chased me to the lake, drove off with the kid.” “I’m sorry. I’m not making myself clear I’m not talking about what Manx did to you yesterday. I’m talking about 1996. I’m talking about when he kidnapped you.” HUTTER, VIC FELT, WAS A THOROUGH WOMAN. PATIENT AND SENSIBLE. She was, in her patient, sensible, thorough way, working toward the conclusion that Vic was deluded about Charlie Manx. But if she didn’t believe that Wayne had been taken by Manx, then what did she think had happened? Vic had an awareness of threat she couldn’t quite isolate. It was like driving and suddenly knowing there was black ice under the tires and that any sudden movement might send the car spinning out of control I don’t doubt someone fought you, Hutter had said. I don’t think anyone doubts that And: You spent a month in a Colorado mental hospital, where you were diagnosed with severe PTSD and schizophrenia Sitting at the table with her coffee, in a state of relative quiet and stillness, Vic put it together at last. When it came to her, she felt a cool, dry sensation on the nape of her neck, a prickling across her scalp, the physical indicators of both wonder and horror; she was conscious of feeling both in equal measure. She swallowed some warm coffee to drive away the sick chill and its corresponding sensation of alarm. She made an effort to remain perfectly composed, going over it in her mind So. Hutter thought Vic had killed Wayne herself, in a psychotic fit. Killed the dog and then drowned Wayne in the lake. They only had her word that someone had fired a gun; no one had found so much as a single bullet, not a single casing. The lead had gone into the water, and the brass had stayed in the gun The fence was smashed and the yard torn up, the only part of her story they couldn’t figure out yet. Sooner or later, though, they’d come up with an explanation for that, too They’d invent something and force it to fit with the other facts They had her pegged as a Susan Smith, the woman from South Carolina who drowned her children, then told a whopping lie about how they’d been kidnapped by a black man, kept the nation whipped up in a frenzy of racial hysteria for about a week. That was why the networks weren’t talking about Manx. The police didn’t believe in him. They didn’t even believe that a kidnapping had occurred at all but were going along with that part of it for now, probably to cover themselves legally Vic swallowed the last of her coffee, put the cup in the sink, and stepped out the back door She had the backyard to herself. She walked through the dew-cool grass to the carriage house and looked through the window Lou was asleep on the floor, beside the motorcycle The bike was in pieces, side covers off, chain hanging loose. Lou had a canvas tarp folded under his head as a makeshift pillow. His

hands were covered in grease. There were black fingerprints on his cheek where he had touched his face in sleep “He’s been working in there all night,” said a voice from behind her Daltry had followed her out onto the lawn His mouth was open in a grin to show a gold tooth. He had a cigarette in one hand “I’ve seen ’at. Plenty of times. ’S how people react when they feel helpless You wouldn’t believe how many women will knit while they’re waiting in the emergency room to see if their kid is going to make it through lifesaving surgery. When you feel helpless, you’ll do just about any old thing to shut off your head.” “Yeah,” Vic said. “That’s right. He’s a mechanic. It’s what he’s got instead of knitting. Can I have a cigarette?” She thought it might steady her, smooth out her nerves “I didn’t see any ashtrays in the house,” he said. He pawed a package of Marlboros from his crummy coat, shook one out for her “I quit for my son,” she said He nodded, didn’t reply to that. He came up with a lighter, a big brass Zippo, with a cartoon of some kind stamped on the side He flicked the starter, and it made crunchy noises and spit sparks “Almost out of fuel,” he said She took it from him and gave it a flick, and a little yellow flame wavered from the tip. She lit her smoke and shut her eyes and inhaled. It was like sliding into a warm bath She looked up, sighing, and considered the cartoon on the side of the lighter. Popeye threw a punch. KABLOOEY, it said, in a burst of yellow shockwaves “You know what surprises me?” he asked while she pulled another long drag off the cigarette and filled her lungs with sweet smoke. “That no one has seen your big old Rolls-Royce. How does a car like that escape notice, is what I wonder. Ain’t you surprised no one has seen it?” He watched her with bright, almost happy eyes “No,” she said, and it was the truth “No,” Daltry repeated. “You aren’t Why is that, you think?” “Because Manx is good at not being seen.” Daltry turned his head and gazed out at the water. “It’s something. Two men in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. I checked an online database You know there are fewer than four hundred Rolls-Royce Wraiths left in the entire world? There’s fewer than a hundred in the whole country. That’s a rare goddamn car. And the only person to see him is you. You must feel like you’re going crazy.” “I’m not crazy,” Vic said. “I’m scared. There’s a difference.” “I guess you’d know,” Daltry said. He dropped his cigarette in the grass and ground it out with his toe He had disappeared back inside the house before Vic realized she was still holding his lighter The House of Sleep BING’S YARD WAS FULL OF TINFOIL FLOWERS, BRIGHTLY COLORED and spinning in the morning sunlight The house was a little pink cake of a place, with white trim and nodding lilies. It was a place where a kindly old woman would invite a child in for gingerbread cookies, lock him in a cage, fatten him for weeks, and finally stick him in the oven. It was the House of Sleep. Wayne felt sleepy just watching the foil flowers spin Up the hill from Bing Partridge’s house was a church that had nearly burned to the ground. Almost nothing of it remained except for the front façade, with its high pointed steeple, tall white doors, and sooty stained-glass windows. The back side of the church was a caved-in debris field of charred rafters and blackened concrete. There was a sign out front, one of those boards with movable letters, so the pastor could let people know the service schedule. Someone had been fooling with the letters, though, had written a message that probably did not accurately represent the views of the congregation. It read: THE NEW AMERICAN FAITH TABERNACLE GOD BURNED ALIVE ONLY DEV1LS NOW The wind rose in the huge old oaks, framing the parking lot around the scorched ruin of the church. Wayne could smell char, even with the windows rolled up NOS4A2 turned and eased up the driveway, toward a detached garage. Bing squirmed, digging in his pocket, and produced a remote control The door rolled up, and the car rolled in The garage was a hollowed-out block of cement, cool and shady inside, with a smell of oil and iron. The metal odor came from the tanks There were half a dozen green tanks in the garage—tall, rust-flecked cylinders with red stenciling on the side: FLAMMABLE and CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE and SEVOFLURANE. They were lined up like soldiers of some alien

robot army awaiting inspection. Beyond the rows was a narrow staircase climbing to a second-floor loft “Oh, boy, time for breakfast,” Bing said He looked at Charlie Manx. “I will make you the best breakfast you ever ate. Cross my heart and hope to die. The best. Just say what you want.” “I want some time alone, Bing,” Manx said “I want some time to rest my head. If I am not very hungry, it is probably because I am full up with all your prattle. Now, there are a lot of empty calories.” Bing shrank. His hands crept toward his ears “Do not cover your ears and pretend you cannot hear me. You have been an utter disaster.” Bing’s face wrinkled. His eyes shut. He began, hideously, to cry. “I could just shoot myself!” he cried “Oh, that is a lot of foolishness,” Manx said. “Anyway, you would most likely miss and put the bullet in me.” Wayne laughed He surprised all of them, including himself It had been like sneezing, a completely involuntary reaction. Manx and Bing looked into the backseat at him. Bing’s eyes streamed, his fat, ugly face distorted with misery. Manx, though—Manx watched Wayne with a kind of wondering amusement “You shut up!” Bing screamed. “Don’t you laugh at me! I’ll cut your face off! I’ll get my scissors and cut you all to pieces!” Manx had the silver hammer in his hand, and he thumped it into Bing’s chest, pushing him back at his door “Hush,” Manx said. “Any child will laugh at the antics of a clown. It is perfectly natural.” For a moment it flashed into Wayne’s mind how funny it would be if Manx had poked the hammer into Bing’s face and busted his nose In his mind Bing’s nose popped like a water balloon filled with red Kool-Aid, an image so hilarious he almost laughed again A part of Wayne, a very distant, quiet part, wondered how he could find anything funny Maybe he was still muddled up from the gas that Bing Partridge had sprayed at him. He had slept all night but did not feel rested He felt ill and drained and warm. Warm most of all: He was boiling in his own skin, wished for a cool shower, a cool dip in the lake, a cool mouthful of snow Manx glanced sidelong at Wayne one more time and winked. Wayne flinched, his stomach doing a slow cartwheel This man is poison, he thought, and then said it to himself again, only in reverse. Poison is man this. And, having composed this odd, stilted, backward phrase, Wayne felt oddly, curiously better about himself, although he couldn’t have said exactly why “If you are feeling domestic, you could make a rasher of bacon for the growing young man. I am sure he would like that.” Bing lowered his head and wept “Go on,” Manx said. “Go and be the crybaby in your kitchen where I don’t have to listen to it. I will deal with you soon enough.” Bing let himself out and closed the door and walked past the car toward the driveway. As he went by the rear windows, he cast a hating look at Wayne. Wayne had never seen anyone look at him that way, like they genuinely wished to kill him, to strangle him to death It was funny. Wayne almost burst out laughing again Wayne exhaled, slowly, unsteadily, did not want to be thinking any of the things he was thinking. Someone had unscrewed a jar of black moths, and they were fluttering around wildly inside his head now, a whirl of ideas: fun ideas. Fun like a broken nose or a man shooting himself in the head “I prefer to drive at night,” Charlie Manx said. “I am a night person at heart Everything that is good in the day is even better in the night. A merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, a kiss from a girl. Everything. Besides When I turned eighty-five, the sunlight began to bother my eyes. Do you need to go winkie-wee?” “You mean . . . go pee?” “Or make chocolate cake?” Manx asked Wayne laughed again—a sharp, loud bark—then clapped a hand over his mouth as if he could swallow it back Manx watched him with bright, fascinated, unblinking eyes. Wayne did not think he had seen him blink once in all the time they had been together “What are you doing to me?” Wayne asked “I am driving you away from all the things that ever made you unhappy,” Manx said

“And when we get where we are going, you will have left your sadness behind. Come There’s a bathroom here in the garage.” He got out from behind the wheel, and in the same moment the door on Wayne’s right unlocked itself, the lock popping up with such a loud bang that Wayne flinched Wayne had been planning to run as soon as he had his feet under him, but the air was damp and hot and burdensome. It stuck to him, or maybe he was stuck to it, like a fly caught on flypaper. He got just one step, and then Manx had a hand on the back of his neck. His grip was not painful or rough, but it was firm. He effortlessly turned Wayne around, away from the open garage door Wayne’s gaze caught and held on the rows of battered green tanks, and he frowned. SEVOFLURANE Manx followed Wayne’s stare, and one corner of his mouth lifted in a knowing smile. “Mr Partridge has a job with the custodial staff of a chemical plant three miles from here Sevoflurane is a narcotic and anesthetic, much in demand by dentists. In my day the dentist would anesthetize his patients—even children—with brandy, but sevoflurane is considered far more humane and effective Sometimes tanks are reported damaged, and Bing takes them out of commission. Sometimes they are not as damaged as they appear.” Manx steered Wayne toward a flight of stairs that led to the second floor of the garage Beneath the steps was a partly open door “Can I bend your ear for a moment, Wayne?” Manx asked Wayne pictured Manx grabbing his left ear and wrenching it until Wayne screamed and fell to his knees. Some awful, submerged part of himself also found this funny; at the same time, the skin on the back of his neck beneath Manx’s gaunt hand went crawly and strange Before he could reply, Manx went on. “I am puzzled about some things. I am hoping you can clear up a mystery for me.” With his other hand, he reached beneath his greatcoat and produced a folded sheet of paper, dirty and stained. He unfolded it and held it in front of Wayne’s face BOEING ENGINEER VANISHES “A woman with absurdly colored hair turned up at your mother’s house the other day I am sure you remember her. She had a folder full of stories about me. Your mother and this lady made quite a scene in your mother’s yard. Bing told me all about it. You will be surprised to know that Bing saw the whole thing from the house across the street.” Wayne frowned, wondered how Bing had been able to watch from across the street. The de Zoets lived over there. An answer suggested itself. It wasn’t funny in the slightest They reached the door under the stairs. Manx pulled the knob and opened it to reveal a little half bathroom under a slanted roof Manx reached for a chain hanging from a bare lightbulb and pulled it, but the room remained dark “Bing is letting this place go to the dogs I will leave the door open to allow you a little light.” He nudged Wayne into the dim bathroom. The door remained ajar about half a foot, but the old man stepped aside to give Wayne his privacy “How does your mother happen to know this peculiar lady, and why would they be talking about me?” “I don’t know. I never saw her before.” “You read the news stories she brought, though. Stories about me, most of them. I would like to tell you, the news reports about my case are full of the most outrageous libels I have never killed a single child. Not one And I am no kiddie fiddler either. The fires of hell are not hot enough for such people Your mother’s visitor did not seem to think I was dead. That is a remarkable notion to have, considering that the papers widely reported upon not only my demise but also my autopsy Why do you think she had so much faith in my continued survival?” “I don’t know that either.” Wayne stood there holding his prick, unable to pee. “My mother said she was a crazy person.” “You are not ‘having me on’ are you, Wayne?” “No, sir.” “What did this woman with the curious hair say about me?” “My mother sent me inside the house. I didn’t hear any of it.” “Oh, you are telling me a tall one now, Bruce Wayne Carmody.” But he didn’t say it like he was angry about it. “Are you having difficulties with your fiddlestick?” “My what?” “Your winkie. Your peepee?” “Oh. Maybe a little.” “It is because we are talking. It is never easy to tinkle when someone is listening to

you. I will move three steps away.” Wayne heard Manx’s heels rapping on the concrete as he moved off. Almost immediately Wayne’s bladder let go, and the urine rained down As he peed, he let out a long sigh of relief and tipped back his head There was a poster above the toilet. It showed a naked woman on her knees, with her hands tied behind her. Her head was stuffed into a gasmask. A man in a Nazi uniform stood over her, holding a leash, the collar around her neck Wayne shut his eyes, pushed his fiddlestick—no, penis, “fiddlestick” was a grotesque word—back into his shorts, and turned away. He washed his hands in a sink with a cockroach clinging to the side. As he did, he was relieved to discover he had not found anything funny about that awful poster It’s the car. It’s being in the car that makes everything seem funny, even when it’s awful As soon as he had this thought, he knew it was true He stepped out of the bathroom, and Manx was there, holding the door open to the backseat of the Wraith. In his other hand was the silver mallet. He grinned to show his stained teeth Wayne thought he might be able to run as far as the driveway before Manx smashed his head in “Tell you what,” Manx said. “I would really like to know more about your mother’s confidante. I am sure if you put your mind to it, you will remember some details you have forgotten. Why don’t you sit in the car and turn it over in your mind? I will go and get your breakfast. By the time I come back, perhaps something will have occurred to you. What do you say to that?” Wayne shrugged, but his heart surged at the thought of being alone in the car. The phone He only needed a minute alone to call his father and tell him everything: Sugarcreek, Pennsylvania; pink house, right down the hill from a burned church. The cops would be here before Manx got back with his bacon and eggs He climbed into the car willingly, without hesitation Manx shut the door and knocked on the glass “I will be back in a jiffy! Don’t run away!” And he laughed as the lock banged down Wayne knelt on the seat to watch through the rear window as Manx left. When the old man had disappeared into the back of the house, Wayne turned, dropped to the floor, grabbed the walnut drawer beneath the driver’s seat, and yanked it open to get his phone Gone Bing’s Garage SOMEWHERE A DOG BARKED AND A LAWN MOWER STARTED AND THE world went on, but here in the Rolls-Royce the world had caught in place, because the phone was gone Wayne pulled the drawer all the way out and put his hand in it, patting down the baize interior, as if the phone might be hiding under the drawer lining somehow. He knew he was not mistaken and that this was the drawer he had put it in, but he closed it and looked in the other drawer, beneath the passenger seat. It was just as empty “Where are you?” Wayne cried, although he already knew. While he had been washing his hands, Manx had climbed into the backseat and collected the phone himself. He was probably walking around with it in the pocket of his greatcoat right this instant. Wayne felt like crying. He had built a delicate cathedral of hope, deep inside him, and Manx had stepped on it, then lit it on fire. GOD BURNED ALIVE, ONLY DEV1LS NOW It was stupid—pointless—but Wayne went back and opened the first drawer again, for another look There were Christmas ornaments in it They had not been there a moment ago. A moment before, the drawer had been absolutely empty Now, though, the drawer contained an enamel angel with tragic drooping eyes, a great silver snowflake dusted in glitter, and a sleeping blue moon in a Santa Claus cap “What is this?” Wayne said, hardly aware he was speaking aloud He lifted each out in turn The angel hung from a golden loop, turning gently, blowing her horn The snowflake looked deadly, a weapon, a ninja’s throwing star The moon smiled at his own private musings Wayne returned the ornaments to the drawer where he had discovered them and gently pushed the drawer shut Then: opened it again Empty once more He exhaled a frustrated, fuming breath and slammed the drawer, whispering furiously, “I want my phone back.” Something clicked in the front seat. Wayne looked up in time to see the glove compartment fall open His phone sat on a stack of road maps Wayne stood in the backseat. He had to hunch, with the back of his head pressed to the ceiling, but it could be done. He felt as if he had

just seen a bit of sleight of hand; a magician had passed a palm over a bouquet of flowers and transformed them into his iPhone. Mingled with his sense of surprise—astonishment, even—was an ill tickle of dismay The Wraith was teasing him The Wraith or Manx—Wayne had a notion that they were the same thing, that the one was an extension of the other. The Wraith was a part of Manx like Wayne’s right hand was a part of him Wayne stared at his phone, already knowing he had to try to get it, already knowing that the car had some way of keeping it from him But never mind the phone; the driver’s-side door was unlocked, nothing stopping him from getting out of the car and making a run for it. Nothing except that the last three times he had tried to climb into the front seat, he had somehow wound up in the back again He had been drugged then, though. The Gasmask Man had sprayed him with gingerbread smoke, and it had blurred his thoughts. He could hardly pick himself up off the floor. No wonder he kept falling into the backseat. The real wonder was that he had hung on to consciousness as long as he had Wayne lifted his right hand, preparing to reach across the divider, and noticed at that moment that he was still holding the Christmas ornament in the shape of the moon. He had, in fact, been rubbing his thumb along its smooth, sickle-shaped curve for a full minute now: a thoughtless gesture that he found curiously soothing. He blinked at it, briefly befuddled—he could’ve sworn he’d put all three ornaments back in their drawer That moon, Wayne noticed now, with its plump cheeks and big nose and long eyelashes, somewhat resembled his own father. He put it in his pocket, then lifted his hand once more and reached over the divider, in the direction of the glove compartment As his fingers crossed into the front seat, they dwindled. His fingertips became fleshy nubs that ended at the first knuckle. When he saw it happening, his shoulders jumped in a nervous reflex, but he did not pull back his hand. It was grotesque but also somehow fascinating He could still feel the ends of his fingers He could rub his fingertips together, feel the leathery pad of his thumb stroking the end of his index finger. He just couldn’t see them Wayne reached farther over the divider, pushed his whole hand across the invisible barrier His arm dwindled to a smooth pink stump, a painless amputation. He opened and closed a fist he couldn’t see. It was there; he could feel his hand was there. He just wasn’t sure where there was He reached a little farther, in the general direction of the glove compartment and his phone Something poked him in the back. At the same moment, the fingers of his invisible right hand struck something solid Wayne turned his head to look behind him An arm—his arm—stretched out of the seat behind him. It didn’t look as if it had torn through the seat but as if it had grown from it. The hand at the end of the arm was skin. So was the wrist. But close to the seat, the flesh darkened and roughened and became worn old beige leather, stretching out from the seat itself, putting visible strain on the fabric around it The natural thing to do would’ve been to scream, but Wayne was all screamed out. He made a fist with his right hand. The hand growing from the backseat clenched its fingers It made his stomach go all funny, controlling a disembodied arm that had sprouted from a seat cushion “You should try thumb wrestling with yourself,” Manx said Wayne jumped, and in his alarm he pulled his right arm back. The disembodied limb protruding from the seat went away, was inhaled back into the leather, and in the next instant was attached to his shoulder again, where it belonged. Wayne clasped the hand against his chest. His heart rapped swiftly beneath it Manx was bent to peer in through the rear driver’s-side window. He grinned to show his crooked, protruding upper teeth “There is plenty of fun to be had in the back of this old car! You could not find more fun on four wheels!” He had a plate in one hand, scrambled eggs and bacon and toast. In the other was a glass of orange juice “You will be glad to know there is nothing whatsoever healthy about this meal! It is all butter and salt and cholesterol. Even the orange juice is bad for you. It is actually something called ‘orange drink.’ I have never taken a vitamin in my life, though, and I have lived to a very advanced age. Happiness will do more for you than any wonder drug the apothecaries can invent!” Wayne sat down on the rear couch. Manx opened the door, leaned in, and offered him the plate and the juice. Wayne noticed he had not been

provided with a fork. Manx might carry on as if they were best friends, but he was not about to provide his passenger with a stabby weapon . . . a simple, perfectly clear reminder that Wayne was not a pal but a prisoner. Wayne took the plate—and then Manx climbed into the backseat to sit beside him Manx had said that hell was not too hot for the sort of men who fiddled with children, but Wayne readied himself, expected to be touched now. Manx would reach between Wayne’s legs, ask him if he ever played with his fiddlestick When Manx made his move, Wayne was ready to fight, and lose, and be molested. He would throw his breakfast at the guy. He would bite It wouldn’t matter. If Manx wanted to pull Wayne’s pants down and do . . . do whatever—he would do it. He was bigger. It was that simple Wayne would do his best to live through it He would pretend his body belonged to someone else and would think about the avalanche he had seen with his father. He would imagine being buried in snow with a kind of quiet relief. Someday he would be buried somewhere (sooner rather than later, he thought), and it wouldn’t matter anymore what Manx had done to him. He just hoped his mother never found out. She was so unhappy already, had fought so hard not to be crazy, not to be drunk, he couldn’t stand to imagine he would be the source of any more pain for her But Manx did not touch him. He sighed and stretched out his legs “I see you have already picked an ornament to hang up when we arrive at Christmasland,” Manx said. “To mark your passage into that world.” Wayne glanced at his right hand and was surprised to see he was holding that sleepy moon again, running his thumb over the curve of it. He had no memory of taking it from his pocket “My daughters brought little angels to mark the end of their journey,” Manx said in a distant, musing voice. “Take care of it, Wayne. Guard it as if it were your own life!” He clapped Wayne on the back and nodded toward the front of the car. Wayne followed his gaze  . . and saw that he was looking at the open glove compartment. At the phone “Did you really think you were going to hide something from me?” Manx asked. “Here in this car?” It didn’t seem like the kind of question that required an answer Manx crossed his arms tightly over his chest, almost as if giving himself a hug. He was smiling to himself. He didn’t look angry at all “Hiding something in this car is as bad as putting it in the pocket of my coat. I am bound to notice. Not that I can blame you for trying! Any boy would try. You should eat those eggs. They will get cold.” Wayne found himself struggling not to cry He threw his moon on the floor “Here! Here! Do not be sad! I can’t stand for any child to be unhappy! Would it make you feel better to talk to your mother?” Wayne blinked. A single tear splatted on a greasy piece of bacon. The thought of hearing his mother’s voice set off a small explosion inside Wayne’s body, a throb of need He nodded “Do you know what would make me feel better? If you told me about this woman who brought all the news stories to your mother. If you will scratch my back, I will scratch yours!” “I don’t believe you,” Wayne whispered “You won’t call her. No matter what I do.” Manx looked over the divider, into the front seat The glove compartment snapped shut with a loud clack! It was so surprising that Wayne almost dumped his plate of eggs The drawer beneath the front driver’s seat slid open all by itself, almost without sound The phone rested in it Wayne stared at it, his breathing shallow, effortful “I have not told you a lie yet,” Manx said. “But I understand that you would be reluctant to trust me. Here is the thing: You know I will not give you the phone if you don’t tell me about your mother’s visitor. I will put it on the floor of this garage and back my car over it. That will be fun! To be honest, I think cell phones were invented by the devil. Now, think if you did tell me what I want to know. One way or another, you will have learned something important. If I do not let you call your mother, you will have learned I am a big fat liar and you will never have to trust me again about anything. But if I do let you call her, then you will know I am as good as my word.” Wayne said, “But I don’t know anything about Maggie Leigh that you don’t know.” “Well, now you have told me her name. See! The learning process has already begun.” Wayne cringed, feeling he had just committed an unforgivable betrayal “Ms. Leigh said something that frightened your mother. What was it? Tell me and I will

let you call your mother right this instant!” Wayne opened his mouth, not sure what he was going to say, but Manx stopped him. He grabbed his shoulder then and gave it a gentle squeeze “Do not go making up stories, Wayne! Our deal is off if you are not straight with me from the get-go! Twist the truth even a little and you will regret it!” Manx reached down and plucked a piece of bacon off the plate. One of Wayne’s teardrops glistened on it, a bright, oily gem. Manx bit off half and began to chew, teardrop and all “Well?” Manx asked “She said you were on the move,” Wayne said. “That you were out of jail and that Mom had to watch out. And I guess that’s what frightened my mother.” Manx frowned, chewing slowly, his jaw moving in an exaggerated way “I didn’t hear anything else. Really.” “How did your mother and this woman know each other?” Wayne shrugged. “Maggie Leigh said she met my mother when she was a kid, but my mom said she had never met her before.” “And which of them do you think was telling the truth?” Manx asked That one caught Wayne off guard, and he was slow to reply. “My . . . mother.” Manx swallowed his bite of bacon and beamed “See. That was easy. Well. I am sure your mother will be glad to hear from you.” He began to lean forward to reach for the phone—then sank back into his seat. “Oh! There is one more thing. Did this Maggie Leigh say anything about a bridge?” Wayne’s whole body seemed to pulse in reaction to this question; a kind of tingling throb surged through him, and he thought, Don’t tell him that “No,” he said, before he had time to think His voice went thick and choked, as if his lie were a piece of toast that had momentarily jammed in his throat Manx turned a sly, sleepy smile upon him His eyelids sank to half-mast. He began to move, putting one foot out the open door, rising to go. At the same time, the drawer with the phone in it came to life, slamming shut with a loud bang “I mean yes!” Wayne cried, grabbing him by the arm. The sudden movement upset the plate in his lap, turning it over, dumping eggs and toast on the floor. “Yes, all right! She said she had to find you again! She asked if she could still use the bridge to find you!” Manx paused, half in, half out of the car, Wayne’s grip still on his forearm. He stared down at Wayne’s hand with that look of dreamy amusement “I thought we agreed you were going to tell the truth from the get-go.” “I did! I just forgot for a moment! Please!” “You forgot, all right. You forgot to tell me the truth!” “I’m sorry!” Manx didn’t seem upset at all. He said, “Well. It was a momentary lapse. Maybe I can still allow a phone call. But I am going to ask you one more question, and I want you to think before you answer. And when you do answer, I want you to tell me the truth, so help you God. Did Maggie Leigh say anything about how your mother would get to this bridge? What did she say about the bike?” “She . . . she didn’t say anything about the bike! No, I swear!” Because Manx had started to pull his arm free. “I don’t think she knew anything about the Triumph!” Manx hesitated. “The Triumph?” “Mom’s motorcycle. You remember. The one she was pushing up the road. She’s been fixing it for weeks. She works on it all the time, even when she should be sleeping. Is that the bike you mean?” Manx’s eyes had assumed a cool, remote quality His face softened. He bit his lower lip with his little teeth. It was an expression that made him look feebleminded “Huh! Your mother is trying to build a new ride. So she can do it again. So she can find me. You know, I wondered if she might be getting up to her old tricks as soon as I saw her pushing that motorcycle! And this Maggie Leigh—I imagine she has a ride of her own. Or she at least knows about those who travel on the other roads. Well. I have some more questions, but I am better off putting them to Ms. Leigh directly.” Manx’s hand slipped into the pocket of his greatcoat, drew out the photocopied news story about Nathan Demeter, and turned the sheet of paper so Wayne could look at it. Manx tapped the header on the old stationery: HERE PUBLIC LIBRARY HERE, IOWA “And Here is where to look for her!” Manx said. “It is a good thing it is on the way!” Wayne was breathing rapidly, as if he had

just run a very long distance. “I want to call my mom.” “No,” Manx said, and jerked his arm free “We had a deal. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. My ears are still stinging from that whopper you tried to slip by me! That was too bad. You will learn soon enough that it is pretty hard to pull the wool over my eyes!” “No!” Wayne screamed. “I told you everything you wanted to know! You promised! You said I’d have one more chance.” “I said maybe I would allow a phone call if you told me the truth about your mother’s bike. But you didn’t know anything, and anyway, I did not say I would allow this phone call today. I think we will have to wait until tomorrow. I think if you have to wait until tomorrow, you will learn a very valuable lesson: No one likes a big fibber, Wayne!” He shut the door. The lock banged down “No!” Wayne screamed again, but Manx had already turned away, was walking across the garage, weaving between the tall green gas tanks toward the stairs to the loft. “No! It’s not fair!” Wayne dropped off the seat, onto the floor He grabbed the brass handle of the drawer with his phone in it and pulled, but it didn’t budge, might as well have been nailed shut He put one foot on the back of the divider between the front and the rear compartment and threw all his weight backward. His sweat-slippery hands came right off the handle, and he fell back into the seat “Please!” Wayne screamed. “Please!” At the bottom of the stairs, Manx looked back at the car. There was an expression of weary tragedy on his face. His eyes were damp with sympathy. He shook his head, although whether in refusal or simply as a gesture of disappointment, it was impossible to tell He pressed a button on the wall. The automatic garage door rumbled down. He flipped a switch and turned out the lights before going upstairs and left Wayne alone in the Wraith The Lake BY THE TIME HUTTER WAS DONE WITH HER THAT AFTERNOON, VIC felt wrung out, as if she were recovering from a bout of stomach flu. Her joints were sore, and her back throbbed. She was desperately hungry but when presented with a turkey sandwich was almost overcome with an urge to vomit. She couldn’t even choke down a whole piece of toast She told Hutter all the old lies about Manx: how he had injected her with something and put her in his car, how she had escaped him in Colorado at the Sleigh House. They sat in the kitchen, Hutter asking the questions and Vic answering them as best she could, while cops came in and out After Vic had told the story of her kidnapping, Hutter wanted to hear about the years after She wanted to know about the derangement that had led Vic to spend time in a mental hospital She wanted to know about the time Vic burned her own house down “I didn’t mean to burn the house down,” Vic said. “I was just trying to get rid of the phones. I stuck them all in the oven It seemed like the simplest way to stop the phone calls.” “The phone calls from dead people?” “From dead kids. Yes.” “Is that the predominant theme of your delusions? Does it always revolve around dead children?” “Did. Was. Past tense,” Vic said Hutter stared at Vic with all the affection of a snake handler approaching a venomous cobra. Vic thought, Just ask me already. Ask me if I killed my little boy. Get it out in the open. She met Hutter’s gaze without blinking or flinching. Vic had been hammered, shot at, nearly run over, institutionalized, addicted, had come close to being burned alive and had run for her life on several occasions An unfriendly stare was nothing Hutter said, “You might want to rest and freshen up. I’ve scheduled your statement for five-twenty. That should get us the maximum prime-time coverage.” Vic said, “I wish I thought there was something I knew—something I could tell you—that would help you find him.” “You’ve been very helpful,” Hutter said “Thank you. I have a lot of good information here.” Hutter looked away, and Vic imagined that the interview was over. But as she rose to go, Hutter reached for something leaning against the wall: some sheets of bristol board “Vic,” Hutter said, “there is one other thing.” Vic stood still, a hand on the back of her chair Hutter put the stack of bristol board on the table, turned so Vic could look at the illustrations Her illustrations, the pages from the new book, Search Engine’s Fifth Gear, the holiday story. What she had been working on when she wasn’t assembling the Triumph. Hutter began

to shuffle the big card-stock pages, giving Vic a moment to take in each picture, rendered in nonphotographic blue pencil, inked, then finished in watercolors. The paper rasped in a way that made Vic think of a fortune-teller shuffling a tarot deck, preparing to deal a very bad outlook Hutter said, “I told you, they use the Search Engine puzzles at Quantico to teach students about careful observation. When I saw that you had part of a new book out in the carriage house, I couldn’t help myself. I’m stunned by what you’ve got on the page here. You really do give Escher a run for his money Then I looked close and started wondering This is for a Christmas book, isn’t it?” The urge to get away from the pile of bristol board—to shrink from her own drawings, as if they were photographs of skinned animals—surged inside her and then was smothered in a moment She wanted to say she had never seen any of these pictures before, wanted to scream she didn’t know where they had come from. Both of these statements would’ve been fundamentally true, but she clamped down on them, and when she spoke, her voice was weary and disinterested “Yeah. My publisher’s idea.” “Well,” Hutter said, “do you think—I mean, is it possible—that this is Christmasland? That the person who grabbed your son is aware of what you’ve been working on and that there’s some kind of connection between your new book and what we saw when we tried to track your son’s iPhone?” Vic stared at the first illustration. It showed Search Engine and little Bonnie, clasping each other on a shattered plate of ice, somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. Vic remembered drawing a mechanical squid, piloted by Mad Möbius Stripp, coming up through the ice beneath them. But this drawing showed dead-eyed children under the ice, reaching up through the cracks with bony white claws. They grinned to show mouths filled with delicate hooked fangs On another page Search Engine hunted for a way through a maze of towering candy canes Vic remembered drawing that—drawing in a sweet, lazy trance, swaying to the Black Keys She did not remember drawing the children who hid in corners and side alleys, holding scissors. She did not remember drawing little Bonnie staggering about blind, her hands clapped over her eyes. They’re playing scissors-for-the-drifter, she thought randomly “I don’t see how,” Vic said. “No one has seen these pages.” Hutter raced her thumb down one edge of the stack of paper and said, “It struck me as a bit surprising that you’d be drawing Christmas scenes in the middle of the summer. Try to think. Is there any chance what you’ve been working on could tie in to—” “In to Charlie Manx’s decision to pay me back for sending him to jail?” Vic asked “I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty straightforward. I crossed him, and now it’s get-even time. If we’re all done, I’d like to lie down.” “Yes. You must be tired. And who knows? Maybe if you have a chance to rest, something else will come to you.” Hutter’s tone was calm enough, but Vic thought she heard an insinuation in this last statement, the suggestion that they both understood that Vic had more to tell Vic didn’t know her own house. There were magnetic whiteboards leaning against the couches in her living room. One of them had a map showing the Northeast; another had a timeline written in red marker. Folders crammed full of printouts were stacked on every available surface. Hutter’s geek squad was squeezed together on the couch like college students in front of an Xbox; one of them was talking into a Bluetooth earpiece while the others worked on laptops. No one looked at her. She didn’t matter Lou was in the bedroom, in the rocking chair in the corner. She eased the door shut behind her and crept to him through the dark. The curtains were drawn, the room gloomy and airless His shirt was smeared with black fingerprints He smelled of the bike and the carriage house—a not-unpleasant cologne. There was a sheet of brown paper taped to his chest. His round, heavy face was gray in the dim light, and with that note hanging off him he looked like a daguerreotype of a dead gunslinger: THIS IS WHAT WE DO TO OUTLAWS Vic looked at him, at first with concern, then alarm. She was reaching for his chubby forearm, to see if she could find his pulse—she was sure he wasn’t breathing—when he inhaled suddenly, one nostril whistling. Just asleep He had dropped off to sleep in his boots She drew her hand back. She had never seen him look so fatigued or so sick. There was gray in his stubble. It seemed somehow wrong that Lou, who loved comics, and his son, and boobies, and beer, and birthday parties, should ever get old She squinted at the note, which read:

“Bike still isn’t right. Needs parts that will take weeks to order. Wake me up when you want to talk about it.” Reading those four words—“bike still isn’t right”—was nearly as bad as reading “Wayne found dead.” She felt they were dangerously close to the same thing Not for the first time in her life, she wished that Lou had never picked her up on his motorcycle that day, wished that she had slipped and dropped to the bottom of the laundry chute and smothered to death there, sparing her the trouble of dragging her ass through the rest of her sorry life. She would not have lost Wayne to Manx, because there would be no Wayne. Choking to death on smoke was easier than feeling what she felt now, a kind of tearing inside that never stopped. She was a bedsheet, being ripped this way and that, and soon enough would be nothing but rags She sat on the edge of the bed, staring vacantly into the darkness and seeing her own drawings, the pages Tabitha Hutter had shown her from the new Search Engine. She did not know how anyone could look at such work and suspect her of innocence: all those drowned children, all those drifts of snow, all those candy canes, all that hopelessness. They were going to lock her up soon, and then it would be too late to do anything for Wayne. They were going to lock her up, and she couldn’t blame them in the slightest; she suspected Tabitha Hutter of weakness for not putting her in handcuffs already Her weight creased the mattress. Lou had dumped his money and his cell phone in the center of the quilt, and now they slid toward her, came to rest against her hip. She wished there were someone to call, to tell her what to do, to tell her that everything would be all right. Then it came to her that there was She took Lou’s phone and slipped into the bathroom and shut the door. There was another door at the opposite end of the bathroom that looked into Wayne’s bedroom. Vic moved toward this door to close it, then hesitated He was there: Wayne was there, in his room, under his bed, staring out at her, his face pale and frightened. She felt as if she’d been kicked in the chest by a mule, her heart galumphing hard behind her breastbone, and she looked again, and it was just a stuffed monkey, lying on its side. Its brown eyes were glassy and despairing. She clicked the door to his room shut, then stood with her forehead resting against it, waiting to get her breath back With her eyes closed, she could see Maggie’s phone number: the Iowa 319 area code, followed by Vic’s own birthday, and the letters FUFU Maggie had paid good money for that number, Vic felt sure—because she knew that Vic would remember it. Maybe she knew that Vic would need to remember it. Maybe she knew that Vic would turn her away when they first met. All kinds of maybes, but only one that Vic cared about: Was her son maybe alive? The phone rang and rang, and Vic thought if it kicked her to voice mail, she would not be able to leave a message, would not be able to force a sound up through her constricting throat. On the fourth ring, when she had decided that Maggie wasn’t going to answer, Maggie answered “V-V-V-Vic!” Maggie said, before Vic could manage a word. Maggie’s caller ID had to be telling her she’d just received a call from Carmody’s Car Carma—she couldn’t know it was Vic on the line, but she did know, and Vic was not surprised. “I wanted to call as suh-s-ss-ssss-soon as I heard, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. How are you? It ss-suh-says on the news you were assaulted.” “Forget that. I need to know if Wayne is all right. I know you can find out.” “I already know. He hasn’t been hurt.” Vic’s legs began trembling, and she had to put a hand on the counter to steady herself “Vic? V-V-Vic?” She could not answer immediately. It took all her concentration to keep from crying “Yes,” Vic said finally. “I’m here How much time do I have? How much time does Wayne have?” “I don’t know how that p-p-puh-part of it works. I just don’t know. What have you told the p-p-p-puh-puh-police?” “What I had to. Nothing about you. I did my best to make it sound believable, but I don’t think they’re buying it.” “Vic. Puh-p-please. I want to help. Tell me how I can help.” “You just did,” Vic said, and hung up Not dead. And there was still time. She thought it over again, a kind of chant, a song of praise: Not dead, not dead, not dead She wanted to go back into the bedroom and shake Lou awake and tell him the bike had to run, he had to fix it, but she doubted he’d been sleeping for more than a few hours, and she didn’t like his gray pallor. Tugging at the back of her mind was an awareness that he had not been entirely straight with anyone about what had dropped him in Logan Airport Maybe she would look at the bike herself She didn’t understand what could be so wrong

with it that he couldn’t fix it. It had run only yesterday She stepped out of the bathroom and tossed the phone at the bed. It slid across the bedspread and fell with a clatter and crack to the floor Lou’s shoulders twitched at the sound, and Vic caught her breath, but he didn’t wake She opened the bedroom door and twitched in surprise herself. Tabitha Hutter was on the other side of it. Vic had caught her in the act of raising one fist, about to knock The two women stared at each other, and Vic thought, Something is wrong. Her second thought was, of course, that they had found Wayne—in a ditch somewhere, drained of blood, throat slit ear to ear But Maggie said he was alive, and Maggie knew, so that wasn’t it. It was something else Vic looked past Hutter, down the hall, and saw Detective Daltry and a state trooper waiting a few yards back “Victoria,” Tabitha said, in a neutral tone. “We need to talk.” Vic stepped into the hall and eased the bedroom door shut behind her “What’s up?” “Is there a place we can have a private conversation?” Vic looked again at Daltry and the uniformed cop. The cop was six feet tall and sunburned, and his neck was as thick as his head. Daltry’s arms were crossed, hands stuck under his armpits, his mouth a thin white line. He had a can of something in one big leathery hand—pepper spray, probably Vic nodded at the door to Wayne’s bedroom “We won’t bother anyone in here.” She followed the small woman into the little room that had been Wayne’s for only a few weeks before he was taken away. His bedsheets—they had Treasure Island scenes printed on them—were folded back as if waiting for him to slip into them. Vic sat on the edge of the mattress Come back, she said to Wayne, with all her heart. She wanted to ball his sheets up in her hands and smell them, fill her nose with the scent of her boy. Come back to me, Wayne Hutter leaned against the dresser, and her coat fell open to show the Glock under her arm. Vic looked up and saw that the younger woman had on a pair of earrings this afternoon: gold pentagons with the Superman insignia enameled on them “Don’t let Lou see you in those earrings,” Vic said. “He might be overcome with an uncontrollable desire to hug you. Geeks are his kryptonite.” “You have to come clean with me,” Hutter said Vic bent forward, reached under the bed, found the plush monkey, pulled it out. It had gray fur and gangly arms and wore a leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet. GREASE MONKEY, said the patch on its left breast. Vic had no memory of buying the thing “About what?” she asked, not looking at Hutter. She laid the monkey on the bed, head on the pillow, where Wayne belonged “You haven’t been straight with me. Not once. I don’t know why. Maybe there are things you’re scared to talk about. Possibly there are things you’re ashamed to talk about, in front of a roomful of men. Or it could be you think you’re protecting your son in some way. Maybe you’re protecting someone else. I don’t know what it is, but here’s where you tell me.” “I haven’t lied to you about anything.” “Stop fucking with me,” Tabitha Hutter said in her quiet, passionless voice. “Who is Margaret Leigh? What is her relationship to you? How does she know that your son hasn’t been hurt?” “You’re tapping Lou’s cell phone?” Feeling a little stupid even as she said it “Of course we are. For all we know, he had a part in this. For all we know, you did You told Margaret Leigh that you tried to make your story believable but that we weren’t buying it. You’re right. I don’t buy it I never did.” Vic wondered if she could throw herself at Tabitha Hutter, slam her back over the dresser, get the Glock away from her. But the smart-aleck bitch probably knew special FBI kung fu, and anyway, what good would it do? What would Vic do then? “Last chance, Vic. I want you to understand I am going to have to arrest you on suspicion of involvement—” “In what? An assault on myself?” “We don’t know who bruised you up. For all we know, it was your son, trying to fight you off.” So. There it was. Vic was interested to find she felt no surprise at all. But then maybe the real surprise was only that they had not reached this point sooner “I do not want to believe that you played a role in your son’s disappearance. But you know someone who can provide you with information about his well-being. You’ve withheld facts. Your explanation of events sounds like a textbook paranoid delusion This is your last opportunity to clear things up, if you can. Think before you speak. Because after I’m done with you, I’m going to start on Lou. He’s been withholding evidence

as well, I am sure of it. No dad spends ten hours straight trying to fix a motorcycle the day after his son has been kidnapped I ask him questions he doesn’t want to answer, he starts the engine to drown me out. Like a teenager turning up the music so he doesn’t have to listen when Mom says it’s time to clean his room.” “What do you mean . . . he started the engine?” Vic asked. “He started the Triumph?” Hutter produced a long, slow, weary exhalation Her head sank; her shoulders sagged. There was, finally, something besides professional calm in her face. There was, at last, a look of exhaustion and maybe, also, defeat “Okay,” Hutter breathed. “Vic. I’m sorry. I am. I hoped we could—” “Can I ask you something?” Hutter looked at her “The hammer. You had me look at fifty different hammers. You seemed surprised by the one I picked, the one I said Manx used on me. Why?” Vic saw something in Hutter’s eyes—the briefest flicker of uncertainty “It’s called a bone mallet,” Hutter said. “They’re used in autopsies.” “Was one missing from the morgue in Colorado where they were holding Charlie Manx’s body?” Hutter didn’t reply to that one, but her tongue darted out and touched her upper lip, glossing it—the closest thing to a nervous gesture Vic had ever seen out of her. In and of itself, that was a kind of answer “Every word I have told you is true,” Vic said. “If I left anything out, then it was only because I knew you wouldn’t accept those parts of the story. You would write them off as delusional, and no one would blame you.” “We have to go now, Vic. I’ll have to handcuff you. If you want, though, we can put a sweater over your lap and you can hide your hands beneath them. No one has to see You’ll sit up front in my car with me. No one will think it’s a big deal when we go.” “What about Lou?” “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to speak with him right now. He’ll be in a car behind us.” “Can’t you let him sleep? He isn’t well, and he was up for twenty-four hours straight.” “I’m sorry. It’s not my job to worry about Lou’s well-being. It’s my job to worry about your son’s well-being. Stand up, please.” She pushed back the right flap of her tweed jacket, and Vic saw she wore handcuffs on her belt The door to the right of the dresser swung back, and Lou stumbled out of the bathroom, tugging on his fly. His eyes were bloodshot with exhaustion “I’m awake. What’s up? What’s the story, Vic?” “Officer!” Hutter called as Lou took a step forward His mass occupied a third of the room, and when he moved into the center of it, he was between Vic and Hutter. Vic came to her feet and stepped around him, to the open bathroom door “I have to go,” Vic said “So go,” Lou said, and planted himself between her and Tabitha Hutter “Officer!” Hutter shouted again Vic crossed through the bathroom and into her bedroom. She shut the door behind her There was no lock, so she grabbed the armoire and dragged it squealing across the pine boards to block the bathroom door. She turned the bolt on the door to the hall. Two more steps carried her to the window that looked into the backyard She pulled the shade, unlocked the window Men shouted in the hall She heard Lou raising his voice, his tone indignant “Dude, what’s your beef? Let’s all settle the hell down, why don’t we?” Lou said “Officer!” Hutter shouted for a third time, but now she added, “Holster your firearm!” Vic raised the window, put her foot against the screen, and pushed. The whole screen popped out of the frame and flopped into the yard She followed it, sitting on the windowsill with her legs hanging out, then dropping five feet onto the grass She had on the same cutoffs she’d been wearing yesterday, a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt from The Rising Tour, had no helmet, no jacket She didn’t even know if the keys were in the bike or if they were sitting amid Lou’s change on the bed Back in the bedroom, she heard someone crash into a door “Be cool!” Lou shouted. “Dude, like, seriously!” The lake was a flat silver sheet, reflecting the sky. It looked like melted chrome. The air was swollen with a sullen, liquid weight She had the backyard to herself. Two sunburned men in shorts and straw hats were fishing in an aluminum boat about a hundred yards offshore. One of them lifted a hand in a wave, as if he found the sight of a woman exiting her house by way of a back window a perfectly common sight Vic let herself into the carriage house through the side door The Triumph leaned on its kickstand. The key was in it The barn-style doors of the carriage house were open, and Vic could see down the driveway to where the media had assembled to record the statement she was never going to make A small copse of cameras had been planted at the bottom of the drive, pointed toward

an array of microphones at the corner of the yard. Bundles of cable snaked back in the direction of the news vans, parked to the left. There was no easy way to turn left and weave through those vans, but the road remained open to the right, heading north In the carriage house, she could not hear the commotion back in the cottage. The room contained the smothered quiet of a too-hot afternoon in high summer. It was the time of day of naps, stillness, dogs sleeping under porches. It was too hot even for flies Vic put her leg over the saddle, turned the key to the ON position. The headlight flicked to life, a good sign Bike still isn’t right, she remembered It wasn’t going to start. She knew that When Tabitha Hutter came into the carriage house, Vic would be frantically jumping up and down on the kickstart, dry-humping the saddle. Hutter already thought Vic was crazy; that pretty picture would confirm her suspicions She rose up and came down on the starter with all her weight, and the Triumph blammed to life with a roar that blew leaves and grit across the floor and shook the glass in the windows Vic put it into first and released the clutch, and the Triumph slipped out of the carriage house As she rolled out into the day, she glanced to the right, had a brief view of the backyard Tabitha Hutter stood halfway to the carriage house, flushed, a strand of curly hair pasted to her cheek. She had not drawn her gun, and she did not draw it now. She did not even call out, just stood there and watched Vic go. Vic nodded to her, as if they had struck an agreement, and Vic was grateful to Hutter for holding up her end. In another moment Vic had left her behind There was two feet of space between the edge of the yard and that bristling islet of cameras, and Vic aimed herself at it. But as she neared the road, a man stepped into the gap, pointing his camera at her. He held it at waist level, was staring at a monitor that folded out from the side. He kept his gaze on his little viewscreen, even though it had to be showing him a life-threatening visual: four hundred pounds of rolling iron, piloted by a madwoman, coming right down the hill at him. He wasn’t going to move—not in time Vic planted her foot on the brake. It sighed and did nothing Bike still isn’t right Something flapped against the inside of her left thigh, and she looked down and saw a length of black plastic tubing hanging free It was the line for the rear brake. It wasn’t attached to anything There was no room to get past the yahoo with the camera, not without leaving the driveway She gave the Triumph throttle, banged it into second gear, speeding up An invisible hand made of hot air pressed back against her chest. It was like accelerating into an open oven Her front tire went up onto the grass. The rest of the bike followed. The cameraman seemed to hear the Triumph at last, the earth-shaking growl of the engine, and jerked his head up just in time to see her buzz by him, close enough to slap his face. He reared back so rapidly he threw himself off balance, began to topple over Vic blasted past. Her slipstream spun him like a top, and he fell into the road, helplessly tossing his camera as he went down. It made an expensive-sounding crunch hitting the blacktop As she came off the lawn and into the road, the back tire tore off the top layer of grass, just exactly the way she used to peel dried Elmer’s glue off her palms in third-grade arts and crafts. The Triumph lurched to one side, and she felt she was about to drop it, smashing her leg beneath it But her right hand remembered what to do, and she gave the bike more throttle still, and the engine thundered, and it popped out of the turn like a cork that has been pushed underwater and released. The rubber found the road, and the Triumph leaped away from the cameras, the microphones, Tabitha Hutter, Lou, her cottage, sanity The House of Sleep WAYNE COULD NOT SLEEP AND HAD NOTHING WITH WHICH TO DISTRACT his mind. He wanted to throw up, but his stomach was empty. He wanted out of the car but could see no way to manage it He had an idea to pull out one of the wooden drawers and beat it against a window, hoping to smash it. But of course the drawers wouldn’t open when he tugged on them. He made a fist and threw all his weight into a tremendous haymaker, hit one of the windows with as much force as he could muster. A shivery, stinging jolt of pain shot up his knuckles and into his wrist The pain did not deter him; if anything, it made him all the more desperate and reckless He pulled back his head and drove his skull into the glass. It felt as if someone had set a three-inch iron railway spike against his brow and pounded it in with Charlie Manx’s silver hammer. Wayne was snapped back into blackness. It was as terrible as falling down a long flight of stairs, a sudden stomach-turning

plunge into the dark His vision returned to him momentarily. At least he thought it was momentarily—maybe it was an hour later. Maybe it was three hours However long it had been, when his sight and thoughts had cleared, he found that his sense of calm had been restored as well. The inside of his head was filled with a reverberating emptiness, as if someone had played a great crashing chord on a piano some minutes ago and the last echoes of it were only now fading away A dazed lassitude—not entirely unpleasant—stole over him. He felt no desire to move, to shout, to plan, to cry, to worry about what was next His tongue gently probed at one of his lower front teeth, which felt loose and tasted of blood. Wayne wondered if he had struck his head so hard he’d managed to partially jar the tooth out of its socket. The roof of his mouth prickled against his tongue, felt abrasive, sandpapery. It didn’t concern him much, was just something he noticed When he did finally move, it was only to stretch an arm out and pluck his moon ornament off the floor. It was as smooth as a shark’s tooth, and its shape reminded him a bit of the special wrench his mother had used on the motorcycle, the tappet key. It was a kind of key, he thought. His moon was a key to the gates of Christmasland, and he could not help it—the notion delighted him. There was no such thing as arguing with delight Like seeing a pretty girl with the sunlight in her hair, like pancakes and hot chocolate in front of a crackling fire. Delight was one of the fundamental forces of being, like gravity A great bronze butterfly crawled on the outside of the window, its furred body as thick as Wayne’s finger. It was soothing to watch it clamber about, occasionally waving its wings. If the window was open, even a crack, the butterfly might join him in the backseat, and then he’d have a pet Wayne stroked his lucky moon, thumb moving back and forth, a simple, thoughtless, basically masturbatory gesture. His mother had her bike, and Mr. Manx had his Wraith, but Wayne had a whole moon to himself He daydreamed about what he’d do with his new pet butterfly. He liked the idea of teaching it to land on his finger, like a trained falcon He could see it in his mind, resting on the tip of his index finger, fanning its wings in a slow, peaceful sort of way. Good old butterfly. Wayne would name it Sunny In the distance a dog barked, soundtrack of an indolent summer day. Wayne picked the loose tooth out of his gums and put it in the pocket of his shorts. He wiped the blood on his shirt When he went back to rubbing his moon, his fingers spread the blood all over it What did butterflies eat? he wondered. He was pretty sure they dined on pollen. He wondered what else he could train it to do: if he could teach it to fly through burning hoops or walk across a miniature tightrope. He saw himself as a street performer, in a top hat, with a funny black stick-on mustache: Captain Bruce Carmody’s Bizarre Butterfly Circus! In his mind he wore his moon ornament like a general’s badge, right on his lapel He wondered if he could teach the butterfly to do wild loop-de-loops, like an airplane in a stunt show. The thought crossed his mind that he could rip off a wing and then it would fly in loop-de-loops for sure. He imagined that a wing would tear off like a piece of sticky paper, a slight resistance at first, then a satisfying little peeling sound The window rolled itself down an inch, the handle squeaking softly. Wayne did not rise The butterfly reached the top of the glass, beat its wings once, and sailed in to land on his knee “Hey, Sunny,” Wayne said. He reached out to pet it with his finger, and it tried to fly away, which was no fun. Wayne sat up and caught it with one hand For a while he tried to teach it to do tricks, but it wasn’t long before the butterfly tired out. Wayne set it on the floor and stretched back on the couch to rest, a bit tired himself Tired but feeling all right. He had milked a couple of good loop-de-loops out of the butterfly before it stopped moving He shut his eyes. His tongue restlessly probed the prickly roof of his mouth. His gum was still leaking, but that was okay. His own blood tasted good. Even as he dozed, his thumb went on stroking his little moon, the glossy-smooth curve of it Wayne did not open his eyes again until he heard the garage door rumbling into the ceiling He sat up with some effort, the pleasant lethargy settled deep into his muscles Manx slowed as he approached the side of the car. He bent and tilted his head to one side—a querulous, doglike movement—and stared in

through the window at Wayne “What happened to the butterfly?” he asked Wayne glanced at the floor. The butterfly was in a pile, both wings and all its legs torn off. He frowned, confused. It had been all right when they’d started playing Manx clucked his tongue. “Well, we have tarried here long enough. We had best be on our way. Do you need to go winkie-wee?” Wayne shook his head. He looked at the butterfly again, with a creeping sense of unease, maybe even shame. He had a memory of tearing off at least one wing, but at the time it had seemed . . . exciting. Like peeling the tape off a perfectly wrapped Christmas present You murdered Sunny, Wayne thought. He unconsciously squeezed his moon ornament in one fist. Mutilated it He did not want to remember pulling its legs off. Picking them off one at a time while it kicked frantically. He scooped Sunny’s remains up in one hand. There were little ashtrays, set into the doors, with walnut lids. Wayne opened one, stuffed the butterfly into it, let it fall shut. There. That was better The key turned itself in the ignition, the car jolting to life. The radio snapped on Elvis Presley promised he would be home for Christmas. Manx eased in behind the steering wheel “You have snored the day away,” he said “And after all of yesterday’s excitement, I am not surprised! I am afraid you slept through lunch. I would’ve woken you, but I reckoned you needed your sleep more.” “I’m not hungry,” Wayne said. The sight of Sunny, all torn to pieces, had upset his stomach, and the thought of food—for some reason he had a visual image of sausages sweating grease—nauseated him “Well. We will be in Indiana this evening I hope you have recovered your appetite by then! I used to know a diner on I-80 where you could get a basket of sweet-potato fries caked in cinnamon and sugar. There is a one-of-a-kind taste sensation for you! You cannot quit eating until they are all gone and you are licking the paper.” He sighed. “I do like my sweets Why, it is a miracle my teeth have not rotted out of my head!” He turned and grinned at Wayne over his shoulder, displaying a mouthful of brown mottled fangs, pointing this way and that. Wayne had seen elderly dogs with cleaner, healthier-looking teeth Manx clutched a sheaf of papers in one hand, held together by a big yellow paper clip, and he sat in the driver’s seat, thumbing through them in a cursory sort of way. The pages looked like they had already been handled some, and Manx considered them for only half a minute before leaning over and shutting them in the glove compartment “Bing has been busy on his computer,” Manx said. “I remember an era when you could get your nose sliced off for sticking it too far into another man’s business. Now you can find out anything about anyone with the click of a button. There is no privacy and no consideration, and everyone is prying into things that aren’t their affair. You can probably check on the intertube and find out what color underwear I have on today. Still, the technology of this shameless new era does offer some conveniences! You would not believe all the information Bing has dug up on this Margaret Leigh. I am sorry to say your mother’s good friend is a drug addict and a woman of low character. I cannot say I am stunned With your mother’s tattoos and unfeminine mode of speech, that is exactly the crowd I would expect her to run with. You are welcome to read all about Ms. Leigh yourself if you like. I would not want you to be bored while we are on the road.” The drawer under the driver’s seat slid open. The papers about Maggie Leigh were in them. Wayne had seen this trick a few times now and should’ve been used to it but wasn’t He leaned forward and pulled out the sheaf of papers—and then the drawer banged shut, slamming closed so quickly and so loudly that Wayne cried out and dropped the whole mess on the floor. Charlie Manx laughed, the big, hoarse hee-haw of a country shithead who has just heard a joke involving a kike, a nigger, and a feminist “You did not lose a finger, did you? Nowadays cars come with all sorts of options nobody needs. They have radio beamed in from satellites, seat warmers, and GPS for people who are too busy to pay attention to where they are going—which is usually nowhere fast! But this Rolls has an accessory you will not find in many modern vehicles: a sense of humor! You’d better stay on your toes while you’re in the Wraith, Wayne! The old lady almost caught you napping!” And what a hoot that would’ve been. Wayne

thought if he’d been a little slower, there was a good chance the drawer could’ve broken his fingers. He left the papers on the floor Manx put his arm on the divider and turned his head to look through the rear window as he backed out of the garage. The scar across his forehead was livid and pink and looked two months old. He had removed the bandage from his ear. The ear was still gone, but the chewed ruin had healed over, leaving a ragged nub that was slightly more palatable to the eyes NOS4A2 rolled halfway down the driveway, and then Manx pulled to a stop. Bing Partridge, the Gasmask Man, was walking across the yard, holding a plaid-patterned suitcase in one hand. He had put on a stained, dirty FDNY baseball cap to go with a stained, dirty FDNY T-shirt and grotesquely girlish pink sunglasses “Ah,” Manx murmured. “It would’ve been just as well if you had slept through this part of the day also. I am afraid the next few minutes may be disagreeable, young Master Wayne. It is never pleasant for a child when the grown-ups fight.” Bing walked in a swift-legged way to the trunk of the car, bent, and tried to open it. Except the trunk remained shut. Bing frowned, struggling with it. Manx was twisted around in his seat to watch him through the rear window. For all his talk about how things were soon to become disagreeable, there was the hint of a smile playing at the corners of his lips “Mr. Manx!” Bing called. “I can’t get the trunk open!” Manx didn’t answer Bing limped to the passenger-side door, trying to keep his weight off the ankle that Hooper had gnawed on. His suitcase banged against his leg as he walked As he put his hand on the latch for the passenger door, the lock banged down of its own accord Bing frowned, tugged on the handle. “Mr Manx?” he said “I can’t help you, Bing,” Manx said “The car doesn’t want you.” The Wraith began to roll backward Bing wouldn’t let go of the handle and was pulled alongside. He jerked at the latch again His jowls wobbled “Mr. Manx! Don’t go! Mr. Manx, wait for me! You said I could come!” “That was before you let her get away, Bing You let us down. I might forgive you. You know I have always thought of you as a son But I have no say in this. You let her get away, and now the Wraith is letting you get away. The Wraith is like a woman, you know! You cannot argue with a woman! They are not like men. They do not operate by reason! I can feel that she is spitting mad at you for being so careless with your gun.” “No! Mr. Manx! Give me another chance. Please! I want another chance!” He stumbled and banged his suitcase against his leg once again. It spilled open, dumping undershirts and underwear and socks down the length of the driveway “Bing,” Manx said. “Bing, Bing. Go away I’ll come and play some other day.” “I can do better! I’ll do whatever you want! Please, oh, please, Mr. Manx! I want a second chance!” Screaming now “Don’t we all,” Manx said. “But the only person who has been granted a second chance is Victoria McQueen. And that’s just no good, Bing.” As the car backed up, it began to swing around, to face the road. Bing was pulled right off his feet and collapsed on the blacktop. The Wraith dragged him for several feet, squalling and yanking at the handle “Anything! Anything! Mr. Manx! Anything for you! My life! For you!” “My poor boy,” Manx said. “My poor, sweet boy. Do not make me sad. You are making me feel awful! Let go of the door, please! This is hard enough!” Bing let go, although Wayne could not say if he was doing as he was told or if his strength simply gave out. He flopped in the road, on his stomach, sobbing The Wraith began to accelerate away from Bing’s house, away from the burned wreck of the church up the hill. Bing scrambled back to his feet and jogged after them for perhaps ten yards, although he was quickly outdistanced. Then he stopped in the middle of the road and began to beat his head with his fists, punching himself in the ears. His pink sunglasses hung askew, one lens smashed in. His wide, ugly face was a bright, poisonous shade of red “I would do anything!” Bing screamed “Anything! Just! Give! Me! One! More! Chance!” The Wraith paused at a stop sign, then turned the corner, and Bing was gone Wayne turned to face forward

Manx glanced at him in the rearview mirror “I’m sorry you had to see all of that, Wayne,” Manx said. “Terrible to see someone so upset, especially a goodhearted fellow like Bing. Just terrible. But also . . . also a bit silly, don’t you think? Did you see how he wouldn’t let go of the door? I thought we were going to drag him all the way to Colorado!” Manx laughed again, quite heartily Wayne touched his lips and realized, with a sick pang in his stomach, that he was smiling Route 3, New Hampshire THE ROAD HAD A CLEAN SMELL, OF EVERGREENS, OF WATER, OF WOODS Vic thought there would be sirens, but when she looked in the left-hand mirror, she saw only a half mile of empty asphalt, and there was no sound at all but the controlled roar of the Triumph A passenger jet slid through the sky twenty-four thousand feet above her: a brilliant spoke of light, headed west At the next turn, she left the lake road and swung into the green hills mounded over Winnipesaukee, headed west herself She didn’t know how to get to the next part, didn’t know how to make it work, and thought she had very little time to figure it out She had found her way to the bridge the day before, but that seemed a fantastically long time ago, almost as long ago as childhood Now it seemed too sunny and bright for something impossible to happen. The clarity of the day insisted on a world that made sense, that operated by known laws. Around every bend there was only more road, the blacktop looking fresh and rich in the sunshine Vic followed the switchbacks, climbing steadily into the hills, away from the lake. Her hands were slippery on the handlebars, and her foot hurt from pushing the sticky shift through the gears. She went faster and then faster still, as if she could tear that hole in the world by speed alone She blew through a town that was little more than a yellow caution light hanging over a four-way intersection. Vic meant to run the bike until it was out of gas, and then she might drop it, leave the Triumph in the dust, and start running, right down the center of the road, running until the fucking Shorter Way Bridge appeared for her or her legs gave out Only it wasn’t going to appear, because there was no bridge. The only place the Shortaway existed was in her mind. With every mile this fact became clearer to her It was what her psychiatrist had always insisted it was: an escape hatch she leaped through when she couldn’t handle reality, the comforting empowerment fantasy of a violently depressed woman with a history of trauma She went faster, taking the curves at almost sixty She was going so fast it was possible to pretend the water streaming from her eyes was a reaction to the wind blowing in her face The Triumph began to climb again, hugging the inside of a hill. On a curve, near the crest, a police cruiser blasted past, going the other way. She was close to the double line and felt the slipstream snatch at her, giving her a brief, dangerous moment of wobble For an instant the driver was just an arm’s length away. His window was down, his elbow hanging out, a dude with two chins and a toothpick in the corner of his mouth. She was so close she could’ve snatched the toothpick from between his lips In the next moment, he was gone and she was over the hill. He had probably been gunning it for that four-way intersection with the yellow caution light, looking to cut her off there. He would have to follow the winding road he was on all the way into town before he could turn and come back after her. She had maybe a full minute on him The bike swung through a high, tight curve, and she had a glimpse of Paugus Bay below, dark blue and cold. She wondered where she would be locked up, when she would next see the water. She had spent so much of her adult life in institutions, eating institutional food, living by institutional rules. Lights-out at eight-thirty. Pills in a paper cup. Water that tasted like rust, like old pipes. Stainless-steel toilet seats, and the only time you saw blue water was when you flushed The road rose and dropped in a little dip, and in the hollow there was a country store on the left. It was a two-story place made out of peeled logs, with a white plastic sign over the door that said NORTH COUNTRY VIDEO Stores still rented videos out here—not just DVDs but videotapes, too. Vic was almost past the place when she decided to swing into the dirt lot and hide. The parking area extended around back, and it was dark there beneath the pines She stood on the rear brake, already going into her turn, when she remembered there was no rear brake. She grabbed the front brake For the first time, it occurred to her that

it might not be working either It was. The front brake grabbed hard, and she almost went over the handlebars. The rear tire whined shrilly across the blacktop, painting a black rubber streak. She was still sliding when she hit the dirt lot. The tires tore at the earth, raised clouds of brown smoke The Triumph jackhammered another twelve feet, past North Country Video, crunching to a stop at last in the back of the lot A nighttime darkness waited beneath the evergreens Behind the building, a loop of sagging chain barred access to a footpath, a dusty trench carved through weeds and ferns. A dirt-bike run, maybe, or out-of-use hiking trail. She had not spied it from the road; no one would, set back as it was in the shadows She didn’t hear the cop car until it was very close, her ears full of the sound of her own ragged breath and overworked heart The cruiser shrieked past, the undercarriage crashing as it skipped over the frost heaves She saw a flicker of movement at the edge of her vision. She looked up at a plate-glass window, half pasted over with posters advertising the Powerball. A fat girl with a nose ring was staring out at her, her eyes wide with alarm. She had a phone to her ear, and her mouth was opening and closing Vic looked at the footpath on the other side of that chain. The narrow rut was drifted with pine needles. It pointed steeply downhill She tried to think what was down there. Route 11, most likely. If the path didn’t lead to the highway, she could at least follow it until it petered out, then park the bike in the pines. It would be peaceful among the trees, a good place to sit and wait for the police She shifted into neutral and walked it around the chain. Then she put her feet on the pegs and let gravity do the rest Vic rode through a felty darkness that smelled sweetly of firs, of Christmas—a thought that made her shiver. It reminded her of Haverhill, of the town woods, and of the slope behind the house where she had grown up. The tires bumped over roots and rocks, and the bike shimmied across the uncertain ground. It took great concentration to guide the motorcycle along the narrow rut. She stood on the pegs to watch the front tire. She had to stop thinking, had to go empty, couldn’t spare any room inside her head for the police, or Lou, or Manx, or even Wayne. She could not try to work things out now; she had to focus instead on staying balanced It was, anyway, difficult to remain frantic in the piney gloom, with the light slanting down through the boughs and an atlas of white cloud inscribed on the sky above. The small of her back was stiff and tight, but the pain was sweet, made her aware of her own body working in concert with the bike A wind rushed in the tops of the pines with a gentle roar, like a river in flood She wished she had had a chance to take Wayne on the motorcycle. If she’d been able to show him this, these woods, with their sprawling carpet of rusty pine needles, beneath the sky lit up with the first best light of July, she thought it would’ve been a memory for both of them to hold on to for the rest of their lives. What a thing it would be, to ride through the scented shadows with Wayne clutching her tight, to follow a dirt path until they found a peaceful place to stop, to share out a homemade lunch and some bottles of soda, to doze off together by the bike, in this ancient house of sleep, with its floor of mossy earth and its high ceiling of crisscrossing boughs. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel Wayne’s arms around her waist But she only dared close her eyes a moment She breathed out and looked up—and in that moment the motorcycle arrived at the bottom of the slope and crossed twenty feet of flat ground to the covered bridge Shorter Way VIC TAPPED THE REAR BRAKE WITH HER FOOT, AN AUTOMATIC GESTURE that did nothing. The motorcycle kept on, rolling almost to the entrance of the Shorter Way Bridge before she remembered the front brake and eased herself to a stop It was ridiculous, a three-hundred-foot-long covered bridge sitting right on the ground in the middle of the woods, bridging nothing Beyond the ivy-tangled entrance was an appalling darkness “Yeah,” Vic said. “Okay. You’re pretty Freudian.” Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t Mommy’s coochie; it wasn’t the birth canal; the bike wasn’t her symbolic cock or a metaphor for the sexual act. It was a bridge spanning the distance between lost and found, a bridge over what was possible Something made a fluttering sound in among the rafters. Vic inhaled deeply and smelled bats: a musty animal smell, wild and pungent

All those times she had crossed the bridge, not once had it been the fantasy of an emotionally disturbed woman. That was a confusion of cause and effect. She had been, at moments in her life, an emotionally disturbed woman because of all those times she had crossed the bridge The bridge was not a symbol, maybe, but it was an expression of thought, her thoughts, and all the times she had crossed it had stirred up the life within. Floorboards had snapped Litter had been disturbed. Bats had woken and flown wildly about Just inside the entrance, written in green spray paint, were the words THE HOUSE OF SLEEP → She put the bike into first and bumped the front tire up onto the bridge. She did not ask herself if the Shorter Way was really there, did not wonder if she was easing into a delusion. The issue was settled. Here it was The ceiling above was carpeted in bats, their wings closed around them to hide their faces, those faces that were her own face. They squirmed restlessly The boards went ka-bang-bang-bang under the tires of the bike. They were loose and irregular, missing in places. The whole structure shook from the force and weight of the bike. Dust fell from the beams above in a trickling rain The bridge had not been in such disrepair when she last rode through. Now it was crooked, the walls visibly tilting to the right, like a corridor in a fun house She passed a gap in the wall, where a board was missing. A flurry of luminous particles snowed past the narrow slot. Vic eased almost to a stop, wanted a closer look. But then a board under the front tire cracked with a sound as loud as a gun firing, and she felt the wheel drop two inches. She grabbed the throttle, and the bike jumped forward. She heard another board snap under the back tire as she lunged ahead The weight of the bike was almost too much for the old wood. If she stopped, the rotted boards might give way beneath her and drop her into that . . . that . . . whatever that was. The chasm between thought and reality, between imagining and having, perhaps She couldn’t see what the tunnel opened onto. Beyond the exit she saw only glare, a brightness that hurt her eyes. She turned her face away and spied her old blue-and-yellow bicycle, its handlebars and spokes hung with cobwebs. It was dumped against the wall The front tire of her motorcycle thumped over the wooden lip and dropped her out onto asphalt Vic glided to a stop and put her foot down She shaded her eyes with one hand and peered about She had arrived at a ruin. She was behind a church that had been destroyed by fire Only its front face remained, giving it the look of a movie set, a single wall falsely suggesting a whole building behind it. There were a few blackened pews and a field of smoked and shattered glass, strewn with rusting beer cans. Nothing beside remained. A sun-faded parking lot, boundless and bare, stretched away, lone and level, as far as she could see She banged the Triumph into first and took a ride around to the front of what she assumed was the House of Sleep. There she halted once more, the engine rumbling erratically, hitching now and then There was a sign out front, the sort with letters on clear plastic cards, that could be shifted around to spell different messages; it seemed more like the kind of sign that belonged in front of a Dairy Queen than in front of a church. Vic read what was written there, and her body crawled with chill THE NEW AMERICAN FAITH TABERNACLE GOD BURNED ALIVE ONLY DEV1LS NOW Beyond was a suburban street, slumbering in the stuporous heat of late day. She wondered where she was. It might still be New Hampshire—but no, the light was wrong for New Hampshire It had been clear and blue and bright there It was hotter here, with oppressive clouds mounded in the sky, dimming the day. It felt like thunderstorm weather, and in fact, as she stood there straddling the bike, she heard the first rumbling detonation of thunder in the distance. She thought that in another minute or two it might begin to pour She scanned the church again. There were a pair of angled doors set against the concrete foundation. Basement doors. They were locked with a heavy chain and a bright brass lock Beyond, set back in the trees, was a sort of shed or barn, white with a blue-shingled roof. The shingles were fuzzed with moss, and there were even some weeds and dandelions growing right from the roof. There was a large barn door at the front, big enough to admit a car, and a side door with just one window A sheet of paper was taped up inside the glass

There, she thought, and when she swallowed, her throat clicked. He’s in there It was Colorado all over again. The Wraith was parked inside the shed, and Wayne and Manx were sitting in it, waiting out the day The wind lifted, hot, roaring in the leaves There was another sound as well, somewhere behind Vic, a kind of frantic, mechanical whirring, a steely rustle. She looked down the road. The closest house was a well-kept little ranch, painted strawberry pink with white trim so it resembled a Hostess snack cake, the ones with coconut on them. Sno Balls, Vic thought they were called. The lawn was filled with those spinning tinfoil flowers that people stuck in their yards to catch the wind. They were going crazy now A stubby, ugly retiree was out in his driveway, holding a pair of garden shears, squinting up at her. Probably a neighborhood-watch type, which meant if she wasn’t dealing with a thunderstorm in five minutes, she would be dealing with the cops She rode the bike to the edge of the lot, then switched it off, left the keys in it She wanted to be ready to go in a hurry. She looked again at the shed, standing to one side of the ruin. She noticed, almost as an afterthought, that she had no spit. Her mouth was as dry as the leaves rustling in the wind She felt pressure building behind her left eye, a sensation she remembered from childhood Vic left the bike, began walking toward the shed on her suddenly unsteady legs. Halfway there she bent and picked up a broken chunk of asphalt, the size of a dinner plate. The air vibrated with another distant concussive roll of thunder She knew it would be a mistake to call her son’s name but found her lips shaping the word anyway: Wayne, Wayne Her pulse hammered behind her eyeballs, so the world seemed to twitch unsteadily around her. The overheated wind smelled of steel shavings When she was within five steps of the side door, she could read the hand-lettered sign taped up on the inside of the glass: NO ADMITTANCE TOWN PERSONNEL ONLY! The chunk of asphalt went through the window with a pretty smash, tore the sign free. Vic wasn’t thinking anymore, just moving. She had lived this scene already and knew how it went She might have to carry Wayne if there was something wrong with him, as there had been something wrong with Brad McCauley. If he was like McCauley—half ghoul, some kind of frozen vampire—she would fix him. She would get him the best doctors. She would fix him like she had fixed the bike. She had made him in her body. Manx could not simply unmake him with his car She shoved her hand through the shattered window to grab the inner doorknob. She fumbled for the bolt, even though she could see that the Wraith wasn’t in there. There was room for a car, but no car was present. Bags of fertilizer were stacked against the walls “Hey! What are you doing?” called a thin, piping voice from somewhere behind her. “I can call the cops! I can call them right now!” Vic turned the bolt, threw the door open, stood gasping, looking into the small, cool, dark space of the empty shed “I should’ve called the police already! I can have the whole bunch of you arrested for breaking and entering!” screamed whoever it was. She was hardly listening. But even if she had been paying close attention she might not have recognized his voice. It was hoarse and strained, as if he had recently been crying or was about to start. There on the hill it did not once cross her mind that she had heard it before She turned on her heel, taking in a squat, ugly man in an FDNY T-shirt, the retiree who had been out in his yard with hedge clippers He still held them. His eyes bulged behind glasses with thick black plastic frames. His hair was short and bristly and patchy, black mottled with silver Vic ignored him. She scanned the ground, found a chunk of blue rock, grabbed it, and stalked across to the slanted doors that led to the basement of the burned church. She dropped to one knee and began to strike at the big brassy Yale lock that kept those doors shut If Wayne and Manx weren’t in the shed, then this was the only place that was left. She didn’t know where Manx had stashed the car, and if she found him asleep down there, she had no plans to ask him about it before using this stone on his head “Come on,” she said to herself. “Come on and open the fuck up.” She banged the stone down into the lock. Sparks flew “That’s private property!” cried the ugly man. “You and your friends have no right to go in there! That’s it! I’m calling the police!” It caught her notice then, what he was yelping Not the part about the police. The other part

She threw the stone aside, swiped at the sweat on her face, and shoved herself to her heels When she rounded on him, he took two frightened steps back and nearly tripped over his own feet. He held the garden shears up between them “Don’t! Don’t hurt me!” Vic supposed she looked like a criminal and a lunatic. If that was what he saw, she couldn’t blame him. She had been both at different times in her life She held her hands out, patting the air in a calming gesture “I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t want anything from you. I’m just looking for someone. I thought there might be someone in there,” she said, gesturing with her head back toward the cellar doors. “What did you say about ‘my friends’? What friends?” The ugly little gnome swallowed thickly. “They aren’t here. The people you’re looking for. They left. Drove away a little while ago. A half an hour or so. Maybe less.” “Who? Please. Help me. Who left? Was it someone in an—” “An old car,” the little man said. “Like an antique. He had it parked there in the shed . . . and I think he spent the night in there!” Pointing at the slanted basement doors. “I thought about calling the police It isn’t the first time there’s been people in there doing drugs. But they’re gone! They aren’t here anymore. He drove away a while ago. A half an hour—” “You said that,” she told him. She wanted to grab him by his fat neck and shake him “Was there a boy with him? A boy in the back of the car?” “Why, I don’t know!” the man said, and put his fingers to his lips and stared into the sky, an almost comic look of wonder on his face. “I thought there was someone with him. In the back. Yes. Yes, I bet there was a kid in the car!” He glanced at her again “Are you all right? You look awful. Do you want to use my phone? You should have something to drink.” “No. Yes. I—thank you. All right.” She swayed, as if she had stood up too quickly He had been here. Wayne had been here and gone. Half an hour ago Her bridge had steered her wrong. Her bridge, which always led her across the distance between lost and found, had not set her down in the right place at all. Maybe this was the House of Sleep, this derelict church, this litter of charred beams and broken glass, and she had wanted to find this place, had wanted it with all her heart, but only because Wayne was supposed to be here. Wayne was supposed to be here—not out on the road with Charlie Manx That was it, she supposed, in a weary sort of way. Just as Maggie Leigh’s Scrabble tiles could not give proper names—Vic remembered that now, was remembering a lot this morning—Vic’s bridge needed to anchor either end on solid earth. If Manx was on an interstate somewhere, her bridge couldn’t connect. It would be like trying to poke a bullet out of the air with a stick. (Vic flashed to a memory of a lead slug tunneling through the lake, remembered slapping at it, then finding it in her hand.) The Shortaway didn’t know how to carry her to something that wouldn’t stand still, so it had done the next-best thing. Instead of leading her to where Wayne was, it had brought her to where Wayne had last been Lurid red flowers grew along the foundation of the strawberry pink house. It was set up the street and away from other houses, a place nearly as lonely as a witch’s cottage in a fairy tale—and in its own way as fantastical as a house made of gingerbread. The grass was neatly kept. The ugly little man led her around back, to a screen door that opened into a kitchen “I wish I could have a second chance,” he said “At what?” He seemed to need a moment to think about it. “A chance to do things over. I could’ve stopped them from going. The man and your son.” “How could you have known?” she asked He shrugged. “Did you come a long way?” he asked in his thin, off-key voice “Yes. Sort of,” she said. “Not really.” “Oh. I see now,” he said, without the slightest trace of sarcasm He held the door open for her, and she preceded him into the kitchen. The air-conditioning was a relief, almost as good as a glass of cold water with a sprig of mint in it It was a kitchen for an old woman who knew how to make homemade biscuits and gingerbread men. The house even smelled a little like gingerbread men. The walls were hung with cutesy kitchen plaques, rhyming ones I PRAY TO GOD ON MY KNEES DON’T LET MOMMY FEED ME PEAS Vic saw a battered green metal tank propped in a chair. It reminded her of the oxygen tanks that had been delivered weekly to her mother’s house in the last few months of Linda’s life. She assumed that the man had a wife somewhere who was unwell “My phone is your phone,” he said in his

loud, off-key voice Thunder cannonaded outside, hard enough to shake the floor She passed the kitchen table on her way to an old black phone, bolted to the wall next to the open basement door. Her gaze shifted There was a suitcase on the table, unzipped to show a mad tangle of underwear and T-shirts, also a winter hat and mittens. Mail had been pushed off the table onto the floor, but she didn’t see it until it was crunching underfoot She stepped quickly off of it “Sorry,” she said “Don’t worry!” he said. “It’s my mess. It’s my mess, and I’ll clean it up.” He bent and scooped up the envelopes in his big, knuckly hands. “Bing, Bing, you ding-a-ling. You made a mess of everything!” It was a bad little song, and she wished he hadn’t sung it. It seemed like something someone would do in a dream beginning to go rotten around the edges She turned to the phone, a big, bulky thing with a rotary dial. Vic meant to pick up the receiver but then rested her head against the wall and shut her eyes instead. She was so tired, and her left eye hurt so fucking much. Besides. Now that she was here, she didn’t know who to call. She wanted Tabitha Hutter to know about the church at the top of the hill, the torched house of God (GOD BURNED ALIVE ONLY DEV1LS NOW) where Manx and her son had spent the night. She wanted Tabitha Hutter to come here and talk to the old man who had seen them, the old man named Bing (Bing?). But she didn’t even know where here was yet and wasn’t sure it was in her interest to call the police until she did Bing. The name disconcerted her in some way “What did you say your name is?” she asked, wondering if she could’ve heard him wrong “Bing.” “Like the search engine?” she asked “That’s right. But I use Google.” She laughed—a sound that expressed exhaustion more than humor—and cast a sidelong glance toward him. He had turned his back to her, was tugging something off a hook next to the door. It looked like a shapeless black hat She had another glance at that old, dented green tank and saw that it wasn’t oxygen after all. The stenciling on the side said SEVOFLURANE, FLAMMABLE She turned away from him, back to the phone She lifted the receiver but still didn’t know who she wanted to call “That’s funny,” she said. “I have a search engine of my own. Can I ask you a weird question, Bing?” “Sure,” he said She glided her finger around the rotary dial without turning it Bing. Bing. Less like a name, more like the sound a little silver hammer would make hitting a glass bell “I’m a bit overtaxed, and the name of this town is slipping my mind,” she said “Can you tell me where the hell I am?” Manx had a silver hammer, and the man with him had a gun. Bang, he’d said. Bang. Right before he shot her. Only he said it in a funny, singsongy way, so it was less like a threat, more like a jump-rope rhyme “You bet,” Bing said from behind her, his voice muffled, as if he had a hankie over his nose She recognized his voice then. It had been muffled the last time she’d heard it and her ears had been ringing from gunfire but she recognized his voice at last Vic pivoted on her heel, already knowing what she would see. Bing wore his old-fashioned WWII gasmask again. He still held the garden shears in his right hand “You’re in the House of Sleep,” he said “This is the end of the line for you, bitch.” And he hit her in the face with the garden shears and broke her nose The House of Sleep VIC TOOK THREE SMALL, STAGGERING STEPS BACKWARD, AND HER heels struck a doorsill. The only open door was the one into the basement. She had time to recall this before the next thing happened. Her legs gave way, and she fell straight back, as if to sit down, but there was no chair there. There was no floor either She dropped and kept dropping This is going to hurt, she thought. There was no alarm in the idea; it was the simple acceptance of fact She experienced a brief feeling of suspension, her insides going elastic and strange. The wind swished past her ears. She glimpsed a bare lightbulb overhead and plywood sheeting between exposed beams Vic hit a stair, ass-first, with a bony crunch, and was flipped, as casually as someone might toss a pillow in the air. She thought of her father pitching a cigarette out the window of a moving car, the way it would hit the asphalt and sparks would fly on impact The next step she hit on her right shoulder,

and she was thrown again. Her left knee clubbed something. Her left cheek struck something else—it felt like getting booted in the face Vic assumed when she hit bottom that she would smash like a vase. Instead she landed on a lumpy mound of plastic-wrapped softness. She slammed into it face-first, but the lower part of her body continued traveling, her feet pedaling madly in the air. Look, Mom, I’m doing a handstand! Vic remembered screaming one Fourth of July, staring at a world where the sky had become grass and the ground had become stars. She thudded to a stop at last, lying on her back on the plastic-wrapped mass, the staircase now behind her Vic stared back up the steep flight of steps, seeing them upside down. She could not feel her right arm. There was a pressure in her left knee that she believed would soon turn to excruciating pain The Gasmask Man came down the steps, holding the green metal tank in one hand, carrying it by the valve. He had left the pruning shears behind. It was terrible, the way the gasmask took his face away, replacing his mouth with a grotesque, alien knob and his eyes with clear plastic windows. A part of her wanted to scream, but she was too stunned to make any noise He came off the bottom step and stood with her head between his boots. It occurred to her too late that he was going to hurt her again. He lifted the tank in both hands and brought it down into her stomach, pounded the air out of her. Vic coughed explosively and rolled onto her side. When she got her breath back, she thought she would throw up The tank clanged as he set it down. The Gasmask Man collected a handful of her hair and yanked The tearing pain forced a weak cry out of her, in spite of her decision to remain silent He wanted her on all fours, and she obliged him because it was the only way to make the pain stop. His free hand slipped under her and groped her breast, squeezing it the way someone might test a grapefruit for firmness He tittered Then he dragged. She crawled while she could, because it hurt less, but it didn’t matter to him whether it hurt or not, and when her arms gave out, he kept dragging, pulling her along by her hair. She was horrified to hear herself scream the word “Please!” Vic had only confused impressions of the basement, which seemed less a room than a single long corridor. She glimpsed a washer and dryer; a naked female mannequin wearing a gasmask; a grinning bust of Jesus, pulling his robe open to show an anatomically correct heart, the side of his face browned and blistered as if he had been held in a fire. She heard a metallic, droning chime coming from somewhere It went on and on without cessation The Gasmask Man stopped at the end of the hall, and she heard a steely clunk, and he slid aside a heavy iron door on a track. Her perceptions couldn’t keep up with the pace of events. A part of her was still back down the hallway, just catching a glimpse of that burned Jesus. Another part of her was in the kitchen, seeing the battered green tank leaning in the chair, SEVOFLURANE, FLAMMABLE. A part of her was up at the torched wreckage of the New American Faith Tabernacle, holding a rock in both hands and banging it down into a shiny brass lock, hard enough to throw copper sparks A part of her was in New Hampshire, bumming a smoke off Detective Daltry, palming his brass lighter, the one with Popeye on it The Gasmask Man forced her to walk on her knees across the track, still yanking her by the hair. In his other hand, he dragged the green tank, SEVOFLURANE. That was what was making the chiming sound—the base of the tank rang softly and continuously as it was pulled across the concrete. It droned like a Tibetan prayer bowl, a monk rolling the hammer around and around the holy dish When she was over the track, he jerked her forward, hard, and she found herself on all fours once again. He planted his foot in her ass and shoved, and her arms gave out She went down on her chin. Her teeth banged together, and a blackness leaped up from every object in the room—the lamp in the corner, the cot, the sink—as if each piece of furniture had a secret shadow self that could be jolted awake, startled into flight like a flock of sparrows For a moment that flock of shadows threatened to descend upon her. She chased it back with a cry. The room smelled like old pipes, concrete, unwashed linens, and rape Vic wanted to get up, but it was hard enough remaining conscious. She could feel that trembling, living darkness, ready to come uncoiled and spring up all around her. If she passed out now, she would at least not feel him raping her. She would not feel him killing her either

The door rattled and banged shut with a silvery clash that reverberated in the air. The Gasmask Man gripped her shoulder, pushed her onto her back. Her head rolled loosely on her neck, and her skull rapped the pitted concrete He knelt over her with a clear plastic mask in one hand, contoured to fit over her mouth and nose. The Gasmask Man took her by the hair and pulled her head up to snap the mask over her face. Then he put his hand on it and held it there. Clear plastic tubing ran back to the tank She swatted at the hand clamping the mask to her face, tried to scratch his wrist, but he now wore a pair of heavy canvas gardening gloves. She couldn’t get at any vulnerable meat “Breathe deep,” he said. “You’ll feel better. Just relax. Day is done, gone the sun. God burned to death, and I shot him with my gun.” He kept the one hand over the mask. With the other he reached back and twisted a valve on the tank. She heard a hiss and felt something cool blowing against her mouth, then gasped at a saccharine blast of something that smelled like gingerbread She grabbed at the tubing and wound it around one hand and yanked. It came out of the valve with a tinny pop. The tank hissed a visible stream of white vapor. The Gasmask Man glanced back at the green metal tank but did not seem perturbed “About half of them does that,” he said “I don’t like it because it wastes the tank, but if you want to do things hard, we can do them hard.” He ripped the plastic mask off her face, tossed it into the corner. She started to push her way up onto her elbows, and he drove his fist into her stomach. She doubled over, wrapping her arms around the hurt, holding it tightly, like a loved one. She took a big whooping breath, and the room was filled with the woozy-making fragrance of gingerbread-scented gas The Gasmask Man was short—half a foot shorter than Vic—and dumpy, but despite that he moved with the agility of a street performer, a guy who could play the banjo while strolling around on stilts. He picked up the tank in both hands and walked it toward her, pointing the open valve at her. The gas was a white spray as it came from the end of the valve but soon dispersed, became invisible. She gulped another mouthful of air that tasted like dessert. Vic crab-walked backward, pushing herself across the floor on hands and feet, sliding on her butt. She wanted to hold her breath but couldn’t do it. Her trembling muscles were starved for oxygen “Where are you going?” he asked through his gasmask. He walked after her with the tank. “It’s airtight in here. Anywhere you go, you still gotta breathe. I got three hundred liters in this tank. I could knock out a tent fulla elephants with three hundred liters, honey.” He kicked one of her feet, knocking her legs askew, then pushed the toe of his left sneaker into her crotch. She choked on a cry of revulsion Vic had a fleeting but intense sensation of violation. For one moment she wished the gas had already put her out, didn’t want to feel his foot there, didn’t want to know what was going to happen next “Bitch, bitch, go to sleep,” the Gasmask Man said, “Take a nap while I fuck you deep.” He tittered again Vic pushed herself back into a corner, thumped her head on the plastered wall. He was still walking at her, holding the tank, fogging the room. The sevoflurane was a white mist that made every object soft and diffuse at the edges. There had been one cot on the other side of the room, but now there were three, tightly overlapping one another, and they were half hidden behind the smoke. In the gathering haze, the Gasmask Man himself split in two, then came back together The floor was slowly tipping beneath her, turning into a slide, and at any moment she’d go whisking down it, away from reality and into unconsciousness. She kicked her heels, fighting to hold on, to hold fast in the corner of the room. Vic held her breath, but her lungs were filled not with air but with pain, and her heart was slamming like the engine of the Triumph “You’re here, and it’s all better!” the Gasmask Man shrieked, his voice delirious with excitement. “You’re my second chance! You’re here, and now Mr. Manx will come back and I’ll get to go to Christmasland! You’re here, and I’m finally going to get what’s coming to me!” Images flickered rapidly through her mind, like playing cards shuffled by a magician She was in the backyard again, Daltry thumbing his lighter, getting no flame, so she took it from him, and blue fire leaped from the starter on her first try. She had paused to look at the picture on the side of the lighter,

Popeye throwing a roundhouse, and a sound effect, she couldn’t remember what. Then she visualized the warning on the side of the tank of sevoflurane: FLAMMABLE. This was followed by a simple thought, not an image but a decision. Take him with me. Kill this little turd The lighter—she thought—was in her right-hand pocket. She went to dig it out, but it was like reaching into Maggie’s bottomless Scrabble bag; it went on forever and forever and forever The Gasmask Man stood at her feet, pointing the valve down at her, holding the tank in both arms. She could hear the tank whispering to her, a long, deadly command to be silent: Shhh Her fingers touched a slab of metal, closed around it. She yanked her hand out of her pocket and held the lighter up between her and the Gasmask Man, as if it were a cross to ward off a vampire “Don’t make me,” she gasped, and tasted another mouthful of poison gingerbread smoke “Don’t make you what?” he said She flipped back the top of the lighter. The Gasmask Man heard it click, saw it for the first time, drew back a step “Hey,” he said, a note of warning in his voice. He took another step back, cradling the tank in his arms like a child. “Don’t! That isn’t safe! Are you crazy?” Vic thumbed the steel gear. It made a harsh, scraping noise and spit a burst of white sparks, and for one miraculous moment it lit a ribbon of blue fire in the air. The flame unwound like a snake, the air burning, racing straight back at the tank. That faint white vapor, spraying from the valve, became a savage tongue of fire The sevoflurane tank was, briefly, a flamethrower with a short range, spraying flame from side to side as the Gasmask Man reeled away from Vic. He stumbled backward three more steps—inadvertently saving her life in the process. In the flaring light, Vic could read what it said on the side of the lighter: KABLOOEY It was as if the Gasmask Man were pointing a rocket launcher at his chest and triggered it at point-blank range. It exploded through the bottom, a cannonade of white burning gas and shrapnel that lifted him off his feet and punched him back into the door. Three hundred liters of pressurized sevoflurane exploded all at once, turning the tank into a jumbo stick of TNT. Vic had no frame of reference for the sound it made, a great slam that felt like sewing needles stabbed into her eardrums The Gasmask Man struck the iron door almost hard enough to tear it off its track. Vic saw him crash into it through a blast of what seemed like pure light, the air glowing with a gassy brilliance that made half the room disappear for an instant in a blinding white flash. She instinctively lifted her hands to protect her face and saw the fine gold hairs on her bare arms crinkling and shriveling from the heat In the aftermath of the explosion, the world was changed. The room beat like a heart. Objects throbbed in time to the slamming of her pulse The air was filled with a whirling golden smoke When she had entered the room, she’d seen shadows leaping up from behind the furniture Now they were casting flashes of brightness Like the tank of gas, they seemed to be trying to swell and erupt She felt a wet trickling on her cheek and thought it was tears, but when she touched her face, her fingertips came away red Vic decided she ought to go. She got up and took a step, and the room slewed violently to the left, and she fell back down She took a knee, just like they told you to do in Little League when someone was hurt Burning scraps fell through the air. The room lurched to the right, and she lurched with it, onto her side The brightness jumped up from the cot, the sink, flashed around the edges of the doorway She had not known that every object in the world could contain a secret core of both darkness and light, needing only a violent shock to reveal one or the other. With each thump of her heart, the brightness brightened She could not hear any sound except the ragged working of her lungs She breathed deeply the perfume of burned gingerbread. The world was a bright bubble of light, doubling in size before her, swelling, straining, filling her vision, growing toward the inevitable— Pop CHRISTMASLAND JULY 7–9 The St. Nicholas Parkway NORTH OF COLUMBUS, WAYNE CLOSED HIS EYES FOR

A MOMENT, and when he opened them, the Christmas moon was sleeping in the night above and either side of the highway was crowded with snowmen who turned their heads to watch the Wraith pass The mountains rose before them, a monstrous wall of black stone at the edge of the world The peaks were so high it looked as if the moon itself might get snagged among them In a fold a little below the highest part of the highest mountain was a basket of lights It shone in the darkness, visible from hundreds of miles away, a great glowing Christmas ornament The sight of it was so exciting that Wayne could hardly remain in his seat. It was a cup of fire, a scoop of hot coals. It throbbed, and Wayne throbbed with it Mr. Manx had one hand loose on the wheel The road was so straight it could’ve been drawn with a ruler. The radio was on, and a boys’ choir sang “O Come All Ye Faithful.” In Wayne’s heart was an answer to their sacred invitation: We are on our way. We are coming as fast as we can. Save a little Christmas for us The snowmen stood in bunches, in families, and the breeze generated by the car snatched at their striped scarves. Snowmen fathers and snowgirl mothers with their snowchildren and snowpuppies. Top hats were in abundance, as were corncob pipes and carrot noses. They waved the crooked sticks of their arms, saluting Mr. Manx, Wayne, and NOS4A2 as they went by The black coals of their eyes gleamed, darker than the night, brighter than the stars. One snowdog had a bone in his mouth. One snowdaddy held a mistletoe over his own head, while a snowmommy was frozen in the act of kissing his round white cheek. One snowchild stood between decapitated parents, holding a hatchet Wayne laughed and clapped; the living snowmen were the most delightful thing he had ever seen. What foolishness they got up to! “What do you want to do first when we get there?” Mr. Manx asked from the gloom of the front seat. “When we get to Christmasland?” The possibilities were so exciting it was hard to put them in order. “I’m going in the rock-candy cave to see the Abominable Snowman. No! I’m going to ride in Santa’s Sleigh and save him from the cloud pirates!” “There is a plan!” Manx said. “Rides first! Games after!” “What games?” “The kids have a game called scissors-for-the-drifter, which is the best time you’ve ever had! And then there is stick-the-blind. Son, you have not had fun until you have played stick-the-blind with someone really spry. Look! Over on the right! There is a snow lion biting the head off a snow sheep!” Wayne turned his whole body to look out the right-hand window, but when he did, his grandmother was in his way She was just as he had seen her last. She was brighter than anything in the backseat, as bright as snow in the moonlight. Her eyes were hidden behind silver half-dollars that flashed and gleamed. She had sent him half-dollars for his birthdays but had never come herself, said she didn’t like to fly “.sky false a is That,” said Linda McQueen “.same the not are fun and Love .reverse in go to trying aren’t You .fight to trying aren’t You.” “What do you mean, the sky is false?” Wayne asked She pointed out the window, and Wayne craned his neck and looked up. A moment ago the sky had been whirling with snow. Now, though, it was filled with static—a million billion fine flecks of black and gray and white, buzzing furiously over the mountains. The nerve endings behind Wayne’s eyeballs pulsed at the sight of it. It wasn’t painfully bright—it was actually quite dim—but there was something about the furious motion of it that made it hard to watch. He flinched, shut his eyes, drew back. His grandmother faced him, eyes hidden behind those coins “If you wanted to play games with me, you should’ve come to visit me in Colorado,” Wayne said. “We could’ve talked backward as much as you wanted. We didn’t even talk forward when you were alive. I don’t understand why you want to talk now.” “Who are you speaking with, Wayne?” Manx asked “Nobody,” Wayne said, and reached past Linda McQueen, opened the door, and shoved her out She weighed nothing. It was easy, like pushing away a bag of sticks. She flipped out of the car and hit the blacktop with a dry thud and shattered with a pretty musical smashing sound, and at that moment Wayne jumped awake in Indiana AND TURNED HIS HEAD AND LOOKED OUT THE REAR WINDOW. A bottle had smashed in the road Powdered glass cobwebbed the asphalt, shards tinkling and rolling. Manx had tossed a bottle of something. Wayne had seen him do this once or twice already. Charlie Manx didn’t seem like the sort of guy inclined to recycle

When Wayne sat up—digging his knuckles into his eyes—the snowmen were gone. So were the sleeping moon and the mountains and the burning gem of Christmasland in the distance He saw high green corn and a honky-tonk with a lurid neon sign depicting a thirty-foot-tall blonde in a short skirt and cowboy boots When the sign blinked, she kicked a foot, tipped her head back, closed her eyes, and kissed the darkness Manx looked at him in the rearview mirror Wayne felt flushed and muddleheaded from sleeping heavily, and perhaps for that reason it did not startle him to see how young and healthy Manx looked His hat was off, and he was as bald as ever, but his scalp was smooth and pink, not white and splotchy. It had, only yesterday, looked like a globe, displaying a map of continents no one in his right mind would ever want to visit: the Isle of Sarcoma, North Liver Spot Manx’s eyes peered out from beneath sharp, arched eyebrows, the color of hoarfrost. Wayne did not think he had seen him blink once in the days they’d been together. For all he knew, the man had no eyelids Yesterday morning he had looked like a walking corpse. Now he looked like he was in his mid-sixties, vital and healthy. But there was a kind of avid stupidity in his eyes—the greedy stupidity of a bird looking at carrion in the road and wondering if it could get some tasty bits without being run down “Are you eating me?” Wayne asked Manx laughed, a harsh caw. He even sounded like a crow “If I have not taken a bite out of you yet, I am not likely to,” Manx said. “I am not sure you would make much of a meal. There is not a lot of meat on you, and what is there is starting to smell a bit gamy. I am holding out for an order of those sweet-potato fries.” Something was wrong with Wayne. He could feel it. He could not put his finger on what it was. He was achy and sore and feverish, but that might’ve just been from sleeping in the car, and this was something more. The best he could manage was a sense that his reactions to Manx were off. He had almost been surprised into laughter when Manx said the word “gamy.” He had never heard a word like that dropped into conversation before, and it struck him as hilarious. A normal person, though, wouldn’t laugh at his kidnapper’s choice of words “But you’re a vampire,” Wayne said “You’re taking something out of me and putting it into you.” Manx considered him briefly in the rearview mirror. “The car is making both of us better It is like one of these vehicles they have now that they call hybrids. Do you know about the hybrids? They run half on gasoline, half on good intentions. But this is the original hybrid! This car runs on gasoline and bad intentions! Thoughts and feelings are just another kind of energy, same as oil. This vintage Rolls-Royce is getting fine mileage out of all your bad feelings and all the things that ever hurt and scared you. I am not speaking poetically. Do you have any scars?” Wayne said, “I slipped with a putty knife, and it gave me a scar right here.” He held up his right hand, but when he looked at it, he could not find the hairline scar that had always been on the ball of his thumb. It mystified him what could’ve happened to it “The road to Christmasland removes all sorrows, eases all pain, and erases all scars. It takes away all the parts of you that weren’t doing you any good, and what it leaves behind is made clean and pure. By the time we arrive at our destination, you will be innocent not only of pain but also of the memory of pain All your unhappiness is like grime on a window When the car is done with you, it will be cleared away and you will shine clear. And so will I.” “Oh,” Wayne said. “What if I wasn’t in the car with you? What if you went to Christmasland alone? Would the car still make you . . . younger? Would it still make you shine?” “My, you have a lot of questions! I bet you are a straight-A student! No. I cannot get to Christmasland alone. I cannot find the road by myself. Without a passenger the car is just a car. That is the best thing about it! I can be made happy and well only by making others happy and well. The healing road to Christmasland is just for the innocent The car will not let me hog it all for myself I have to do good for others if I want good to be done to me. If only the rest of the world worked that way!” “Is this the healing road to Christmasland?” Wayne asked, peering out the window. “It

looks more like I-80.” “It is Interstate 80 . . . now that you are awake. But just a minute ago, you were dreaming sweet dreams and we were on the St Nick Parkway, under old Mr. Moon. Don’t you remember? The snowmen and the mountains in the distance?” Wayne would not have been more jolted if they had hit a deep pothole. He did not like to think that Manx had been in his dream with him. He flashed back, briefly, to a memory of that deranged sky filled with static. Sky false a is that. Wayne knew that Grandma Lindy was trying to tell him something—trying to give him a way to protect himself from what Manx and his car were doing to him—but he didn’t understand her, and it seemed like it would be too much effort to figure it out. Besides, it was a little late for her to start giving him advice. She had not exactly strained herself to tell him anything of use when she was alive, and he suspected her of disliking his father just because Lou was fat “When you drift off, we will find it again,” Manx said. “The sooner we get there, the sooner you can ride the Sleighcoaster and play stick-the-blind with my daughters and their friends.” They were in a trench slicing through a forest of corn. Machines stood over the rows, black girders that arced in the sky like the proscenium above a stage. The thought occurred to Wayne that those machines were sprayers, full of poison. They would drench the corn in a lethal rain to keep it from being eaten by invasive species. Those exact words—“invasive species”—rang through his brain. Later the corn would be lightly washed and people would eat it “Does anyone ever leave Christmasland?” Wayne asked “Once you get there, you will not want to leave. Everything you could ever want will be right there. There are all the best games There are all the best rides. There is more cotton candy than you could eat in a hundred years.” “But could I leave Christmasland? If I wanted to?” Manx gave him an almost hostile glance in the mirror. “Then again, maybe some teachers felt you were badgering them with all your questions. What were your grades like?” “Not very good.” “Well. You will be glad to know there is no school in Christmasland. I hated school myself. I would rather make history than read about it. They like to tell you that learning is an adventure. But that is a lot of hooey Learning is learning. Adventure is adventure I think once you know how to add and subtract and can read suitably well, anything else is likely to lead to big ideas and trouble.” Wayne took this to mean that he would not be able to leave Christmasland. “Do I get some last requests?” “Look here. You act like you have been sentenced to death. You are not on death row. You will arrive at Christmasland better than ever!” “But if I’m not coming back, if I have to be in Christmasland forever . . . there are some things I want to do before I get there. Can I have a last meal?” “What do you mean? Do you think you will not be fed in Christmasland?” “What if there’s food I want that I can’t get there? Can you get whatever you want to eat in Christmasland?” “There is cotton candy and cocoa and hot dogs and the candy on a stick that always hurts my teeth. There is everything a child could want.” “I’d like an ear of corn. A buttered ear of corn,” Wayne said. “And a beer.” “I am sure it would be no trouble to get you some corn and—What did you say? Root beer? There is good root beer out here in the Midwest. Even better is sarsaparilla.” “Not root beer. A real beer. I want a Coors Silver Bullet.” “Why would you want a beer?” “My dad said I’d get to have one with him on the porch when I was twenty-one. He said I could have one on the Fourth of July and watch the fireworks. I was looking forward to it. I guess that isn’t going to happen now. Also, you said it’s Christmas every day in Christmasland. I guess that means no July Fourth. They aren’t very patriotic in Christmasland. I’d like some sparklers, too. I had sparklers in Boston.” They went over a long, low bridge. The grooved metal hummed soulfully under the tires. Manx did not speak again until they reached the other side “You are full of talk tonight. We have gone a thousand miles, and this is the most I have heard out of you. Let’s see if I have this right. You would like me to buy you a tallboy, an ear of sweet corn, and enough fireworks for your own private Fourth of July. Are you sure there is not anything else you might want? Were you planning to have goose-liver pâté and caviar with your mother when you graduated from high school?” “I don’t want my own private Fourth of

July. I just want some sparklers. And maybe a couple rockets.” He paused, then said, “You told me you owed me one. For killing my dog.” There followed a period of grim silence “I did,” Manx admitted at last. “I had put that out of my mind. I am not proud of it. Would you consider us square if I got you a beer and an ear of corn and some fireworks?” “No. But I won’t ask for anything else.” He looked out the window and spied the moon It was a chipped sliver of bone, faceless and remote. Not as good as the Christmasland moon. Everything was better in Christmasland, Wayne supposed. “How did you find out about Christmasland?” Manx said, “I drove my daughters there And my first wife.” He paused, then added, “My first wife was a difficult woman. Hard to satisfy. Most redheads are. She had a long list of complaints that she held against me, and she made my own children mistrust me We had two daughters. Her father gave me money to set me up in business, and I spent it on a car. This car. I thought Cassie—that was my first wife—would be happy when I came home with it. Instead she was impertinent and difficult as always. She said I had wasted the money. I said I was going to be a chauffeur She said I was going to be a pauper and so were they. She was a scornful woman and abused me in front of the children, which is a thing no man should stand.” Manx flexed his hands on the wheel, his knuckles whitening. “Once my wife threw an oil lamp at my back, and my best coat caught fire. Do you think she ever apologized? Well! Think again. She would make fun of me at Thanksgiving and family get-togethers, pretending she was me and that she had just been set aflame. She would run around gobbling like a turkey and waving her arms, screaming, ‘Put me out, put me out!’ Her sisters always had a good laugh at that Let me tell you something. The blood of a redheaded woman is three degrees cooler than the blood of a normal woman. This has been established by medical studies.” He gave Wayne a wry look in the rearview. “Of course, the very thing that makes them impossible to live with is what makes it hard for a man to stay away, if you catch my meaning.” Wayne didn’t but nodded anyway Manx said, “Well. All right then. I think we have reached an understanding. I know a place where we can buy fireworks so loud and bright you will be deaf and blind by the time we are done shooting them off! We should get to the Here Library just after dark tomorrow We can shoot them off there. By the time we are done launching rockets and throwing cherry bombs, people will think the Third World War is under way.” He paused, then added in a sly tone, “Perhaps Ms. Margaret Leigh will join us for the festivities. I wouldn’t mind lighting a fuse under her, just to teach her a thing or two about minding her own beeswax.” “Why does she matter?” Wayne asked. “Why don’t we just leave her alone?” A large green moth hit the windshield with a soft, dry smack, made an emerald smear on the glass “You are a clever young man, Wayne Carmody,” Manx said. “You read all the stories about her. I am sure if you put your mind to it, you will see why she is of concern to me.” Back when it was still light, Wayne had flicked through the collection of papers Manx had brought to the car, items Bing had found online that concerned Margaret Leigh. There were a dozen stories in all, telling a single larger story about abandonment, addiction, loneliness  . . and odd, unsettling miracles The first piece dated back to the early nineties and had run in the Cedar Rapids Gazette: “Psychic or Lucky Guesser? Local Librarian’s ‘Wild Hunch’ Saves Kids.” It told the story of a man named Hayes Archer who lived in Sacramento Archer had packed his two sons into his brand-new Cessna and lifted off with them for a moonlight flight along the California coast. His plane wasn’t the only thing that was new. So was his pilot’s license. Forty minutes after heading out, Archer’s single-engine Cessna made several erratic maneuvers, then disappeared from the radar. It was feared he had lost sight of land in a gathering fog and crashed into the sea while trying to find the horizon The story got some play in the national news, Archer being worth a small fortune Margaret Leigh had called the police in California to tell them Archer and his children weren’t dead, hadn’t crashed into the sea. They had made land and gone down in a gorge. She couldn’t give the exact location but felt that the police should search the coast for some point at which it was possible to find

salt The Cessna was discovered forty feet off the ground, upside down in a redwood tree, in—wait for it—Salt Point State Park. The boys were unharmed. The father had a broken back but was expected to survive. Maggie said her unlikely insight had come to her in a flash while playing Scrabble. The article ran alongside a photograph of the upside-down plane and another of Maggie herself, bent over a Scrabble board at a tournament The caption below this second photo said, “With Her Lucky Hunches, It’s Too Bad Maggie’s Game of Choice Is Scrabble and Not the Lottery!” There had been other insights over the years: a child found in a well, information about a man lost at sea while attempting to sail around the world. But they came less and less often, further and further apart. The last, a little article about Maggie helping to locate a runaway, had appeared in 2000. Then there was nothing until 2008, and the articles that followed were not about miracles but something like the opposite First there had been a flood in Here, Iowa, a lot of damage, a drowned library. Maggie had nearly drowned herself, trying to rescue books, and been treated for hypothermia. Fund-raisers failed to collect enough money to keep the library open, and the place was shuttered In 2009 Maggie had been charged with public endangerment for starting a fire in an abandoned building. She had drug paraphernalia in her possession at the time In 2010 she had been arrested and charged with squatting and possession of heroin In 2011 she was arrested for solicitation Maybe Maggie Leigh could predict the future, but her psychic gift had not warned her to stay clear of the undercover cop in the lobby of a Cedar Rapids motel. She got thirty days for it. Later that same year, she was picked up again, but this time her destination was the hospital, not jail; she was suffering from exposure. In that article her “plight” was described as “all too frequent among Iowa’s homeless,” which was how Wayne found out she was living on the street “You want to see her because she knew you were coming and she told my mom,” Wayne said finally “I need to see her because she knew I was on the road and wanted to make trouble for me,” Manx said. “And if I do not have words with her, I cannot be sure she will not make trouble for me again. This is not the first time I have had to deal with someone of her ilk. I try whenever possible to avoid people like her. They are always nettlesome.” “People like her . . . You mean other librarians?” Manx snorted. “You are being coy with me I am glad to see you recovering your sense of humor. I mean to say there are other people besides me who can access the secret shared worlds of thought.” He reached up and tapped his temple, to show where that world resided “I have my Wraith, and when I am behind the wheel of this car, I can find my way onto the secret roads that lead to Christmasland I have known others who could use totems of their own to turn reality inside out. To reshape it like the soft clay it is. There was Craddock McDermott, who claimed that his spirit existed in a favorite suit of his. There is the Walking Backwards Man, who has an awful watch that runs in reverse. You do not want to meet the Walking Backwards Man in a dark alley, child! Or anywhere else! There is the True Knot, who live on the road and are in much the same line of work as myself. I leave them be and they are glad to return the favor. And our Maggie Leigh will have a totem of her own, which she uses to pry and spy. Probably these Scrabble tiles she mentions. Well. She seems to have taken quite an interest in me. I guess if we are driving by, it would only be polite to pay a visit. I would like to meet her and see if I can’t cure her of her curiosity!” He shook his head and then laughed. That husky-hoarse caw of his was an old man’s laugh. The road to Christmasland could make his body young, but it couldn’t do anything about the way he laughed He drove. The dotted yellow line stammered past on the left Finally Manx sighed and went on. “I don’t mind telling you, Wayne, almost all of the trouble I’ve ever known started with one woman or another. Margaret Leigh and your mother and my first wife were all cut from the same cloth, and Lord knows there have been plenty more where they came from. Do you know what? All the happiest times in my life were times when I was free of the feminine influence! When I didn’t have to make accommodations

Men spend most of their lives being passed from woman to woman and being pressed into service for them. You cannot imagine the life I have saved you from! Men cannot stop thinking about women. They get thinking about a lady and it is like a hungry man thinking about a rare steak. When you are hungry and you smell a steak on the grill, you get distracted by that tight feeling in your throat and you quit thinking. Women are aware of this. They take advantage of it. They set terms, same as your mother sets terms before you come to dinner. If you don’t clean your room, change your shirt, and wash your hands, you aren’t allowed to sit at the dinner table Most men figure they are worth something if they can meet the terms a woman sets for them It provides them with their whole sense of value. But when you take a woman out of the picture, a man can get a little quiet inside When there’s no one to bargain with, except for yourself and other men, you can figure yourself out. That always feels good.” “Why didn’t you divorce your first wife?” Wayne asked. “If you didn’t like her?” “No one did back then. It never even crossed my mind. It crossed my mind to leave. I even did leave a time or two. But I came back.” “Why?” “I got hungry for steak.” Wayne asked, “How long ago was it—when you were first married?” “Are you asking how old I am?” “Yes.” Manx smiled. “I will tell you this: On our first date, Cassie and I went to see a silent movie! It was that long ago!” “What movie?” “It was a horror picture from Germany, although the title cards were in English. During the scary parts, Cassie would hide her face against me. We attended the show with her father, and if he had not been there, I believe she would’ve crawled into my lap. She was only sixteen at the time, just a nub of a thing, graceful and considerate and shy. This is the way with many women. In youth they are precious gems of possibility. They shudder with feverish life and desire. When they turn spiteful, it is like a chick molting, shedding the fuzz of youth for darker feathers! Women often give up their early tenderness as a child gives up his baby teeth.” Wayne nodded and thoughtfully tugged one of his upper teeth out of his mouth. He poked his tongue at the hole where it had been, the blood oozing in a warm trickle. He could feel a new tooth, beginning to protrude where the old one had been, although it felt less like a tooth, more like a small fishing hook He put the lost tooth in the pocket of his shorts, with the others. He had lost five teeth in the thirty-six hours he had been in the Wraith. He wasn’t worried about it He could feel rows and rows of small new teeth coming in “Later, you know, my wife accused me of being a vampire, just like you,” Manx said “She said I was like the fiend in that first movie we saw together, the German picture She said I was draining the life out of our two daughters, feeding off them. But here it is, so many years later, and my daughters are still going strong, happy and young and full of fun! If I were trying to drain the life out of them, I guess I did a poor job of it. For a few years there, my wife made me so unhappy I was about ready to kill her and me and the children, too, just to be done with it. But now I can look back and laugh Have a peek at my license plate sometime I took my wife’s horrid ideas about me and made a joke out of them. That is the way to survive! You have to learn to laugh, Wayne You have to keep finding ways to have fun! Do you think you can remember that?” “I think so,” Wayne said “This is all right,” Manx told him. “Two guys driving together at night! This is just fine. I don’t mind saying you are better company than that Bing Partridge. At least you do not feel the need to make a foolish song out of everything.” In a shrill, piping voice, Manx sang, “I love you, I love me, I love playing with my winkie-wee!” He shook his head. “I have had a number of long trips with Bing, and each was longer than the last You cannot imagine what a relief it is to be with someone who is not always singing foolish songs or asking foolish questions.” “Can we get something to eat soon?” Wayne asked Manx slapped the wheel and laughed. “I guess I spoke too quickly—because if that is not a foolish question, it is close to it, young Master Wayne! You were promised some sweet-potato fries, and by God I mean for you to have them I have brought over a hundred children to

Christmasland in the last century, and I have not starved one to death yet.” The diner of the fabled sweet-potato fries was another twenty minutes west, an installation of chrome and glass set in a parking lot the size of a football field. Sodium-vapor lights on thirty-foot-high steel poles lit the blacktop as bright as day. The lot was crowded with eighteen-wheelers, and through the front windows Wayne could see that every stool along the bar was occupied, as if it were twelve noon and not twelve at night The whole country was on the watch for an old man and a child in an antique Rolls-Royce Wraith, but not one person in the diner looked outside and took note of them, and Wayne was not surprised. He had by now accepted that the car could be seen but not noticed. It was like a channel on TV that was broadcasting static—everyone skipped right over it. Manx parked up front, nose-in to the side of the building, and it did not once occur to Wayne to try jumping or screaming or banging on the glass “Don’t go anywhere,” Manx said, and winked at Wayne before he climbed out of the car and made his way inside Wayne could see through the windscreen and into the diner, and he watched Manx weave through the crowd bunched around the front counter. The TVs above the bar showed cars zooming around a racetrack; then the president behind a podium, waving his finger; then an icy blonde speaking into a microphone while she stood in front of a lake Wayne frowned. The lake looked familiar. The picture cut, and suddenly Wayne was looking at the rental house on Winnipesaukee, cop cars parked along the road out front. There in the diner, Manx was watching the TV, too, his head tilted back to see The picture cut again, and Wayne saw his mother coming out of the carriage house on the Triumph She wasn’t wearing a helmet, and her hair whipped behind her, and she rode straight at the camera. The cameraman couldn’t get out of the way in time. His mother sideswiped him as she sped past. The falling camera offered a whirling view of sky, grass, and gravel before hitting the ground Charlie Manx walked briskly out of the diner, got behind the wheel, and NOS4A2 glided back onto the road His eyes were filmed over, and the corners of his mouth were pinched in a hard, disagreeable frown “I guess we’re not going to have those sweet-potato fries,” Wayne said But if Charlie Manx heard him, he gave no sign The House of Sleep SHE DID NOT FEEL HURT; SHE WAS NOT IN PAIN PAIN WOULD COME LATER Nor did it seem to her that she woke up, that there was ever a single moment of rising to awareness. Instead the parts of her began, reluctantly, to fit themselves back together It was long, slow work, as long and slow as fixing the Triumph had been She remembered the Triumph before she even remembered her own name Somewhere a phone rang. She heard it clearly, the brash, old-fashioned rattle of a hammer on a bell, once, twice, three times, four The sound called her back to the world but was gone by the time she knew she was awake The side of her face was wet and cool. Vic was on her stomach, on the floor, head turned to the side, cheek in a puddle. Her lips were dry and cracked, and she could not remember ever being so thirsty. She lapped at the water and tasted grit and cement, but the puddle was cool and good. She licked her lips to moisten them There was a boot near her face. She could see the black rubber waffling on the sole and a dangling shoelace. She had been seeing this boot off and on for an hour now, registering it for a moment, then forgetting about it as soon as she closed her eyes again Vic could not say where she was. She supposed she should get up and find out. She thought there was a good chance that the carefully fitted-together fragments of herself would collapse once more into glittering powder when she tried, but she didn’t see any way around it. She sensed that no one would be coming to check on her anytime soon She had been in an accident. On the motorcycle? No. She was in a basement. She could see the stained concrete walls, the surface flaking away to show stone behind. She could make out a faint basement odor as well, partly obscured by other smells: a strong reek of seared metal and a whiff of fecal matter, like an open latrine She got her hands under her and pushed herself up to her knees It didn’t hurt as bad as she thought it would. She felt aches in her joints, in the small of her back, in her ass, but they were like the aches caused by flu, not like the aches of shattered bones When she saw him, it came back to her, all

of it, in a single piece. Her escape from Lake Winnipesaukee, the bridge, the ruined church, the man named Bing who had tried to gas her and rape her The Gasmask Man was in two pieces, connected by a single fatty string of gut. The top half of him was out in the hall. His legs were just inside the door, his boots close to where Vic had been sprawled The metal tank of sevoflurane had shattered, but he still held the pressure regulator that had been attached to the top, and some of the tank was attached to that—a helmet-shaped dome of twisted metal spikes. He was the thing that smelled like the ruptured septic tank, probably because his internal septic tank had in fact ruptured. She could smell his bowels The room looked skewed, knocked crooked. Vic felt dizzy taking it all in, as if she had sat up too quickly. The bed had been flipped over, so she could see the underside of it, the springs and legs. The sink had come away from the wall, hung at a forty-five-degree angle above the floor, supported only by a pair of pipes, which had come loose from their braces. Water bubbled from a cracked joint, pooling upon the floor. Vic thought if she had dozed a while longer, there was an excellent chance she could’ve drowned It took some doing to get to her feet. Her left leg didn’t want to unbend, and when it did, she felt a stab of pain intense enough to cause her to draw a sharp breath through clenched teeth. The kneecap was bruised in shades of green and blue. She didn’t dare put much weight on it, suspected it would fold under any real pressure Vic took a last look around the room, a visitor to a grubby exhibit in some museum of suffering No, nothing else to see here. Let’s move along, folks. We have some fabulous pieces to examine in the next room She stepped between the Gasmask Man’s legs and then over him, being careful not to snag a foot on that low gut-string trip wire. The sight of it was so unreal she couldn’t feel ill Vic maneuvered around the top half of his body. She didn’t want to look at his face and kept her eyes averted while she moved past him. But before she had gone two steps back the way she’d come, she couldn’t help herself and glanced over her shoulder His head was turned to the side. The clear eyewindows showed staring, shocked eyes. The respirator had been punched backward to fill his open mouth, a gag made of melted black plastic and charred fiber She made her way down the hall. It was like crossing the deck of a boat beginning to capsize She kept drifting to her right and putting a hand against the wall to steady herself Only there was nothing wrong with the hallway Vic herself was the boat in danger of rolling over, sinking back down into a churning darkness She forgot to go easy once and let her weight settle on the left leg. The knee immediately folded, and she threw out an arm, grabbing for something to support her. Her hand closed on the bust of Jesus Christ, his face charred and bubbled on one side. The bust sat atop a bookshelf crammed with pornography. Jesus grinned at her lewdly, and when she drew her hand away, it was streaked with ash. GOD BURNED ALIVE ONLY DEV1LS NOW She would not forget about the left leg again A thought occurred to her, random, not even entirely intelligible: Thank God it’s a British bike At the base of the stairs, her feet caught on a mound of garbage bags, a plastic-wrapped weight, and she tipped forward and fell into it—for the second time. She’d landed on this same mass of garbage bags when the Gasmask Man had knocked her down the stairs; they had cushioned her fall and quite likely saved her from shattering her neck or skull It was cold and heavy but not entirely stiff Vic knew what was under the plastic, knew by the sharp raised edge of hip and the flat plane of chest. She did not want to see or know, but her hands tore at the plastic anyhow The corpse wore a Glad-bag shroud, held tightly shut by duct tape The smell that gushed out was not the odor of decay but worse in some ways: the cloying fragrance of gingerbread. The man beneath was slim and had probably been handsome once He hadn’t decomposed so much as mummified, his skin shriveling and yellowing, the eyes sinking back into his sockets. His lips were parted as if he had died in the middle of uttering a cry, although that might’ve been an effect of his flesh tightening and drawing back from his teeth Vic exhaled; it sounded curiously like a sob She put her hand on the man’s cold face “I’m sorry,” Vic said to the dead man She couldn’t fight it, had to cry. She had never been what anyone would call a crying woman, but in some moments tears were the

only reasonable response. To weep was a kind of luxury; the dead felt no loss, wept for no one and nothing Vic stroked the man’s cheek again and touched a thumb to his lips, and that was when she saw the sheet of paper, mashed up and shoved into his mouth The dead man looked at her pleadingly Vic said, “Okay, friend,” and plucked the paper out of the dead man’s mouth. She did it without any disgust. The dead man had faced a bad end here, had faced it alone, had been used, and hurt, and discarded. Whatever the dead man had wanted to say, Vic wanted to listen, even if she was too late for it to do any good The note was written in smudged pencil, with a shaky hand. The scrap of paper was a torn shred of Christmas wrapping My head is clear enuff to write. Only time in days. The essentials: • I am Nathan Demeter of Brandenburg, KY • Was held by Bing Partridge • Works for a man named Manks • I have a daughter, Michelle, who is beautiful and kind. Thank God the car took me, not her Make sure she reads the following: I love you girl. He can’t hurt me too bad because when I close my eyes I see you It is all right to cry but don’t give up on laughter Don’t give up on happiness You need both. I had both Love you kid—your father Vic read it while sitting against the dead man and was careful not to cry on it After a time she swiped at her face with the backs of her hands. She looked up the stairs The thought of how she had come down them produced a brief but intense sensation of dizziness. It amazed her that she had gone down them and lived. She had come down a lot quicker than she was going to go up. The left knee was throbbing furiously now, stabs of white pain shooting from it in rhythm with her pulse She thought she had all the time in the world to make it up the stairs, but halfway to the top the phone began to ring again. Vic hesitated, listening to the brash clang of hammer on bell. Then she began to hop, clutching the handrail and hardly touching her left foot to the floor. I’m a little Dutch girl, dressed in blue. Here are the things I like to do, sang a piping little-girl voice in her mind, chanting a hopscotch song that Vic had not thought of in decades She reached the top step and went through the door into blinding, overpowering sunlight The world was so bright it made her woozy The phone rang again, going off for the third or fourth time. Pretty soon whoever was calling would quit Vic grabbed for the black phone, hanging from the wall just to the right of the basement door. She held the doorframe in her left hand, realized only absently that she was still holding the note from Nathan Demeter. She put the receiver to her ear “My Lord, Bing,” said Charlie Manx. “Where have you been? I have been calling and calling I was beginning to worry you had done something rash. It is not the end of the world, you know, that you are not coming with me. There may be another time, and meanwhile there are many things you can do for me. For starters you can fill me in on the latest news about our good friend Ms. McQueen. I heard a news report a while ago that she rode away from her little cottage in New Hampshire and vanished Has there been any word of her since? What do you think she’s been up to?” Vic swallowed air, exhaled slowly “Oh, she’s been all kinds of busy,” Vic said. “Most recently she’s been helping Bing redecorate his basement. I felt like it needed some color down there, so I painted the walls with the motherfucker.” MANX WAS SILENT JUST LONG ENOUGH FOR VIC TO WONDER IF HE HAD hung up. She was about to say his name, find out if he was still there, when he spoke again “Good gravy,” he said again. “Do you mean to tell me poor Bing is dead? I am sorry to hear it. We parted on unhappy terms. I feel bad about that now. He was, in many ways, a child. He did some awful things, I suppose, but you cannot blame him! He did not know any better!” “Shut up about him. You listen to me. I want my son back, and I’m coming to get him, Manx. I’m coming, and you don’t want to be with him when I find him. Pull over Wherever you are, pull over. Let my boy out at the side of the road, unhurt. Tell him to wait for me and that Mom will be there before he knows it. Do that and you don’t have to worry about me looking for you. I’ll let you slide. We’ll call it even.” She didn’t know if she meant it, but it sounded good “How did you get to Bing Partridge’s,

Victoria? That is what I want to know. Was it like in Colorado that time? Did you go there on your bridge?” “Is Wayne hurt? Is he all right? I want to talk to him. Put him on.” “People in hell want ice water. You answer my questions and we’ll see if I answer yours Tell me how you got to Bing’s and I will see what I can do.” Vic trembled furiously, the beginnings of shock settling in. “You tell me first if he’s alive. God help you if he isn’t If he isn’t, Manx, if he isn’t, what I did to Bing is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you.” “He is well. He is a perfect little ray of sunshine! You get that, and that’s all you get for now. Tell me how you arrived at Bing’s. Was it on your motorbike? It was a bicycle in Colorado. But I suppose you have a new ride now. And did your new ride take you to your bridge? Answer me and I’ll let you speak to him.” She tried to decide what to say, but no lie would come to mind, and she wasn’t sure it would change a damn thing if he knew. “Yeah I crossed the bridge, and it took me here.” “So,” Manx said. “You’ve got yourself a mean set of wheels. You’ve got a bike with an extra gear, is that it? But it didn’t take you to me. It took you to the House of Sleep. Now, I think there is a reason for that. I’ve got a ride with a few extra gears in it myself, and I know something about how they work. These things do have their quirks.” He paused, then said, “You told me to pull over and leave your son by the side of the road. You said you would be there before he knows it. The bridge can only take you to a fixed point, is that it? That would make sense. It’s a bridge, after all. The two ends have to rest on something, even if it is just resting on two fixed ideas.” “My son,” she said. “My son. I want to hear his voice. You promised.” “Fair is fair,” Charlie Manx said. “Here he is, Vic. Here is the little man himself.” Shoot the Moon Fireworks, Illinois IN THE DUSTY BRIGHT OF EARLY AFTERNOON, MR MANX SWUNG THE Wraith off the road and into the dooryard of a fireworks warehouse. The place advertised itself with a sign that showed an engorged and furious moon with a rocket jammed in one eye, bleeding fire. Wayne laughed just to see it, laughed and squeezed his moon ornament The shop was a single long building with a wooden hitching post out front for horses It came to Wayne then that they were back out west, where he had lived most of his life Places up north had hitching posts out front sometimes, if they wanted to look rustic, but when you got out west, you sometimes saw piles of dry horseshit not far from posts like that; that was how you knew you were back in cowboy country. Although a lot of cowboys rode ATVs and listened to Eminem these days “Are there horses in Christmasland?” Wayne asked “Reindeer,” Manx said. “Tame white reindeer.” “You can ride them?” “You can feed them right out of your hand!” “What do they eat?” “Whatever you offer them. Hay. Sugar. Apples They are not fussy eaters.” “And they’re all white?” “Yes. You do not see them very often, because they are so hard to pick out against the snow There is always snow in Christmasland.” “We could paint them!” Wayne exclaimed, excited by the thought. “Then they would be easier to see.” He had been having a lot of exciting thoughts lately “Yes,” Manx said. “That sounds like fun.” “Paint them red. Red reindeer. As red as fire trucks.” “That would be festive.” Wayne smiled at the thought of it, of a tame reindeer patiently standing in place while he ran a paint roller over it, coloring him a bright candy-apple red. He ran his tongue over his prickly new teeth, mulling the possibilities He thought when he got to Christmasland, he would drill a hole in his old teeth, put a string through them, and wear them as a necklace Manx leaned to the glove compartment and opened it and removed Wayne’s phone. He had been using it off and on all morning. He was, Wayne knew, calling Bing Partridge and not getting an answer. Mr. Manx never left a message Wayne looked out the window. A man was coming out of the fireworks place with a bag in one arm. He held the hand of a blond-haired little girl skipping along beside him. It would be funny to paint a little girl bright red. To take her clothes off and hold her down and paint her wriggling, tight little body. To

paint all of her. To paint her right, you would want to shave off all that hair of hers Wayne wondered what a person could do with a bag full of blond hair. There had to be something fun you could do with it “My Lord, Bing,” Mr. Manx said. “Where have you been?” Opening his door and climbing out of the car to stand in the lot The girl and her father climbed into his pickup, and the truck backed out across the gravel Wayne waved. The little girl saw him and waved back. Wow, she had great hair. You could make a rope four feet long out of all that smooth, golden hair. You could make a silky golden noose and hang her with it. That was a wild idea! Wayne wondered if anyone had ever been hanged with their own hair Manx was on the phone for a while in the parking lot. He paced, and his boots raised chalk clouds in the white dust The lock popped up on the door behind the driver’s seat. Manx opened it and leaned in “Wayne? Do you remember yesterday I said if you were good, you could talk to your mother? I would hate for you to think Charlie Manx doesn’t know how to keep his word! Here she is. She would like to hear how you are doing.” Wayne took the phone “Mom?” he said. “Mom, it’s me. How are you?” There was hiss and crackle, and then he heard his mother’s voice, choked with emotion “Wayne.” “I’m here. Can you hear me?” “Wayne,” she said again. “Wayne. Are you okay?” “Yeah!” he said. “We stopped for fireworks Mr. Manx is buying me some sparklers and maybe a bottle rocket. Are you all right? You sound like you’re crying.” “I miss you. Mama needs you back, Wayne I need you back, and I’m coming to get you.” “Oh. Okay,” he said. “I lost a tooth A few teeth, actually! Mom, I love you! Everything is okay. I’m okay. We’re having fun!” “Wayne. You’re not okay. He’s doing something to you. He’s getting in your head You have to stop him. You have to fight him He’s not a good man.” Wayne felt a nervous flutter in his stomach He moved his tongue over his new, bristling, hooklike teeth. “He’s buying me fireworks,” he said sullenly. He had been thinking about fireworks all morning, about punching holes in the night with rockets, setting the sky on fire. He wished it were possible to light clouds on fire. That would be a sight! Burning rafts of clouds falling from the sky, gushing black smoke as they went down “He killed Hooper, Wayne,” she said, and it was like being slapped in the face. Wayne flinched. “Hooper died fighting for you You have to fight.” Hooper. It felt as if he had not thought of Hooper in years. He remembered him now, though, his great sad, searching eyes staring out of his grizzled yeti face. Wayne remembered bad breath, warm silky fur, stupid cheer . . . and how he had died. He had chomped the Gasmask Man in the ankle, and then Mr. Manx—then Mr. Manx— “Mom,” he said suddenly. “I think I’m sick, Mom. I think I’m all poisoned inside.” “Oh, baby,” she said. She was crying again “Oh, baby, you hold on. Hold on to yourself I am coming.” Wayne’s eyes stung, and for a moment the world blurred and doubled. It surprised him, to feel close to tears. He did not really feel sad after all; it was more like the memory of sadness Tell her something she can use, he thought Then he thought it again, but slowly this time, and backward: Use. Something. Tell “I saw Gran’ma Lindy,” he blurted suddenly “In a dream. She talked all scrambled up, but she was trying to say something about fighting him. Only it’s hard. It’s like trying to lift a boulder with a spoon.” “Whatever she said, just do it,” his mother said. “Try.” “Yeah. Yeah, I will. Mom. Mom, something else,” he said, his voice quickening with a sudden urgency. “He’s taking us to see—” But Manx reached into the back of the car and snapped the phone out of Wayne’s hand His long, scrawny face was flushed, and Wayne thought there was a vexed look in his eyes, as if he had lost a hand of cards he’d expected to win “Well, that is enough chitchat,” Mr. Manx said, in a cheery voice that did not match the glare in his eyes, and he slammed the door in Wayne’s face As soon as the door was closed, it was as if an electrical current had been cut. Wayne slumped back into the leather cushions, feeling tired, his neck stiff and his temples throbbing

He was upset, he realized. His mother’s voice, the sound of her crying, the memory of Hooper biting and dying, worried him and gave him a nervous tummy I am poisoned, he thought. Poisoned am I He touched his front pocket, feeling the lump made by all the teeth he had lost, and he thought of radiation poisoning. I am being irradiated, he thought next. “Irradiated” was a fun word, a word that brought to mind giant ants in black-and-white movies, the kinds of films he used to watch with his father He wondered what would happen to ants in a microwave. He supposed they would just fry; it didn’t seem likely they would grow. But you couldn’t know without trying it! He stroked his little moon ornament, imagining ants popping like corn. There had been a vague notion in the back of his mind—something about trying to think in reverse—but he couldn’t hold on to it. It wasn’t fun By the time Manx got back into the car, Wayne was smiling again. He wasn’t sure how long it had been, but Manx had finished his phone call and gone into Shoot the Moon Fireworks He had a slender brown paper bag, and poking out of the top of the bag was a long green tube in a single cellophane package. The labels on the side of the tube identified it as an AVALANCHE OF STARS—THE PERFECT ENDING TO THE PERFECT NIGHT! Manx looked over the front seat at Wayne, his eyes protruding a little from his head, his lips stretched in a disappointed grimace “I have bought you sparklers and a rocket,” Manx said. “Whether we will use either of them is another question. I am sure you were about to tell your mother we are on our way to see Miss Maggie Leigh. That would’ve been spoiling my fun. I am not sure why I should go out of my way to provide you with a good time when you seem set on denying me my small pleasures.” Wayne said, “I have a terrible headache.” Manx shook his head furiously and slammed the door and tore out of the dusty lot, throwing a cloud of brown smoke. He was in a sulk for two or three miles, but not far from the Iowa border a fat hedgehog tried to waddle across the road, and the Wraith struck it with a loud thud. The sound was so noisy and unexpected that Wayne couldn’t help himself and yelped with laughter. Manx looked back and gave him a warm, begrudging smile, then put on the radio, and the two of them sang along to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and everything was better The House of Sleep MOM, SOMETHING ELSE. HE’S TAKING US TO SEE—” WAYNE SAID, but then there was a clatter, a thunk, and the loud thud of a slamming door “Well, that is enough chitchat,” Manx said, in his sunny, carnival barker’s voice “The good little man has been through a lot lately. I wouldn’t like him to become overwrought!” Vic wept. She put a fist against the kitchen counter and swayed, crying into the phone The child she had heard on the other end of the line spoke in Wayne’s voice . . . but was not Wayne. Not exactly. There had been a dreamy, spacey disconnect—not only from the situation but from the serious, self-contained child he had always been. He had only finally sounded like himself at the very end, after she reminded him about Hooper. Then, for a moment, he seemed confused and afraid, but himself. He sounded drugged, too, like a person just resurfacing from deep anesthesia The car was anesthetizing him in some way Anesthetizing him while it drained him of his essential Wayneness, leaving behind only a happy, thoughtless thing. A vampire, she guessed, like Brad McCauley, the cold little boy who had tried to kill her at the cottage above Gunbarrel all those years ago. There was a line of reasoning there that she could not bear to follow, that she had to turn away from or she might start to scream “Are you all right, Victoria? Should I call back another time?” “You’re killing him,” she said. “He’s dying.” “He’s never been more alive! He’s a fine boy. We get along like Butch and Sundance! You can trust me to treat him well. You have my promise, in fact, that I will not hurt him. I have never hurt any child. Not that anyone would know it after all the lies you told about me. I have lived my entire life in the service of children, but you were happy to tell everyone what a great kiddie fiddler I am. I would be within my rights, you know, to do terrible things to your son. I would only be living up to the tall tales you told about me. I hate to fall short of the myth But I don’t have it in me to be vicious

to children.” He paused, then added, “Adults, however, are a different story.” “Let him go. Please let him go. This isn’t about him. You know it isn’t about him You want to get even with me. I understand Park somewhere. Just park and wait. I’ll use my bridge. I’ll find you. We can trade You can let him out of the car, and I’ll get in, and you can do whatever you like to me.” “You would have a lot of making up to do You told the whole world that I sexually assaulted you. I feel bad that I stand accused of something I never had the pleasure to try.” “You want that? Would that make you happy?” “If I raped you? Goodness no! I am just being spleeny. I do not understand such depravity I am aware that many women enjoy a brisk whack on the backside during the sexual act and to be called degrading names, but that is merely a bit of sport. To take a woman against her wishes? I don’t think so! You may not believe it, but I have daughters of my own I will tell you, though, sometimes I think that you and I got off on the wrong foot! I am sorry about that. We never had a chance to get to know each other. I bet you would have liked me if we had met under other circumstances!” “Holy shit,” she said “It is not so unbelievable! I have been married twice and have rarely been without female companionship. Someone found something to like.” “What are you saying? You want to fucking date?” He whistled. “Your mouth! You could make a stevedore blush! Considering how your first date with Bing Partridge went, I suppose it would be better for my long-term health if we just settle for talking. Come to think of it, our first couple of encounters weren’t terribly romantic. You wear a man down, Victoria.” He laughed again. “You’ve cut me, lied about me, and sent me to jail. You’re worse than my first wife. Still . . . you’ve got something that keeps a man coming back for more! You do keep a boy thinking!” “I’ll give you something to think about Think about this: You can’t drive forever Sooner or later you’ll have to pull over Sooner or later you’re going to stop somewhere to close your eyes for a while. And when you open them, I’ll be there. Your friend Bing got off easy, Charlie. I am one mean, degenerate cunt, and I will fucking burn you to death in your car and take my son back.” “I am sure you will try, Victoria,” he said. “But have you stopped to think what you will do if you finally catch up to us and he doesn’t want to go with you?” The phone went dead AFTER MANX HUNG UP, VIC BENT OVER, GASPING, AS IF SHE HAD JUST finished a long and furious run. Her weeping was an angry thing, as physical and exhausting as vomiting. It was in her heart to take the receiver and begin smashing it into the wall, but a colder part of her stayed her hand If you’re going to be mad, she heard her father say, then use it, and don’t be used by it Had he ever actually said such a thing? She didn’t know, only that she heard his voice in her head When she was done crying, her eyes were sore and her face burned. She started to walk to the sink, felt something tug at her hand, and realized she was still holding the receiver, which was attached to the wall phone by a long black coiled line Vic walked it back to its cradle, then stood looking at the rotary dial. She felt empty and sore, yet now that her crying jag was past, she also felt, for the first time in days, a kind of peace, much like the calm she felt when she was sketching one of her Search Engine illustrations There were people to call. There were choices to make In a Search Engine puzzle, there was always a lot of distracting visual information, a lot of noise. The first book had culminated inside an alien spaceship. Search Engine had to find his way through a cross section of the craft, flipping various self-destruct switches as he went and arriving finally at the escape pod. Between him and freedom, there were lasers, locked doors, radiation-filled compartments, and angry extraterrestrials that looked like big cubes of coconut jelly Adults had a harder time with it than children did, and Vic had gradually realized that this was because grown-ups were always trying to see their way through to the end, and they couldn’t do it because there was too much information. There was too much to look at, too much to think about. Children, though, didn’t stand back from the puzzle and look at the whole thing. They pretended they were Search Engine, the hero of the story, down inside the puzzle itself, and they looked

at only the little bit he could see, each step of the way. The difference between childhood and adulthood, Vic had come to believe, was the difference between imagination and resignation You traded one for the other and lost your way Vic saw—already—that she didn’t really need to find Manx at all. It was as hopeless as trying to hit one flying arrow with another He thought—she had let him think—that she was going to try to use the bridge to catch up to him. But she didn’t need to do that. She knew where he was going. Where he had to go. She could head there anytime she liked But that was jumping ahead of herself. Christmasland was down the road a ways, both figuratively and actually She had to be ready to fight when she saw Manx again. She thought it would come to killing him, and she needed to know how to do it More than that: There was the question of Wayne. She had to know if Wayne would still be himself by the time he got to Christmasland, if what was happening to him was reversible Vic knew someone who could tell her about Wayne, and she knew someone else who could tell her how to fight. Someone who could even get her the weapons she’d need to threaten the only thing Manx obviously cared about But both of those people were down the road, too. She would see each of them in turn. Soon First, though. There was a girl named Michelle Demeter who had lost her father and who needed to know what had happened to him. She had been wondering long enough Vic cast a measuring glance at the angle of the light out the kitchen window, judged it to be late afternoon. The sky was a deep blue dome; the storm that had been rolling in when she’d arrived must have blown through. If anyone had heard the tank of sevoflurane exploding and tearing Bing Partridge in two, they had likely thought it just a roll of thunder She supposed she’d been unconscious for three, maybe four hours. She had a look at the stack of envelopes on the kitchen counter The Gasmask Man’s mail was addressed to: BING PARTRIDGE 25 BLOCH LANE SUGARCREEK, PENNSYLVANIA 16323 That was going to be a hard one to explain Four hours was not enough time to get to Pennsylvania from New Hampshire, not even with the hammer down all the way. Then it occurred to her that she didn’t need to explain it. Other people could worry about explanations She dialed. She knew the number by heart “Yes?” Lou said She had not been sure that Lou would answer—she had expected Hutter. Or possibly the other one, the ugly cop with the bushy white eyebrows, Daltry. She could tell him where to find his lighter The sound of Lou’s voice made her feel a little weak, robbed her momentarily of her certainty. She felt she had never loved him the way he deserved—and that he had always loved her more than she deserved “It’s me,” she said. “Are they listening?” “Ah, shit, Vic,” Lou said. “What do you think?” Tabitha Hutter said, “I’m here, Vic.” Jumping onto the line and into the conversation “You’ve got a lot of people here pretty upset. Do you want to talk about why you ran away?” “I went to go get my kid.” “I know there are things you haven’t told me. Maybe things you were afraid to tell me But I need to hear them, Vic. Whatever you’ve been doing for the last twenty-four hours, I’m sure you think you had to do it. I’m sure you thought it was right—” “Twenty-four hours? What do you mean . . . twenty-four hours?” “That’s how long we’ve been looking for you. You pulled one heck of a disappearing act. We’ll have to talk about how you did that sometime. Why don’t you tell me where—” “It’s been twenty-four hours?” Vic cried again. The idea that she had lost a whole day seemed, in its own way, as incredible as a car that ran on human souls instead of unleaded Hutter said, quietly, patiently, “Vic, I want you to stay where you are.” “I can’t do that.” “You have to—” “No. Shut up. Just listen. You need to locate a girl named Michelle Demeter. She lives in Brandenburg, Kentucky. Her father has been missing for a while. She’s probably out of her mind with worry. He’s here. Downstairs In the basement. He’s dead. Been dead for a few days, I think. Do you have that?” “Yes, I—” “You treat him well, goddamn it. Don’t just stick him in a drawer in some fucking morgue. Get someone to sit with him until his daughter shows up. He’s been alone long enough.” “What happened to him?” “He was killed by a man named Bing Partridge Bing was the guy in the gasmask who shot at me. The man you didn’t think existed. He was working with Manx. I think they have a long history together.” “Vic. Charlie Manx is dead.” “No. He isn’t. I saw him, and so did Nathan Demeter. Demeter will back up my story.” “Vic,” Tabitha said. “You just told me Nathan Demeter is dead. How is he going to back up your story? I want you to slow down. You’ve been through a lot. I think

you’ve had a—” “I have not had a fucking break with reality I have not been having imaginary conversations with a dead man. Demeter left a note, all right? A note naming Manx. Lou! Lou, are you still on the line?” “Yeah, Vic. I’m here. Are you okay?” “I talked to Wayne this morning, Lou. He’s alive. He’s still alive, and I’m going to get him back.” “Oh, Jesus,” he said, and his voice went rough with emotion, and she knew he was trying not to cry. “Oh, Jesus. What did he say?” “He hasn’t been hurt,” she said “Victoria,” Tabitha Hutter said. “When did you—” “Hang on!” Lou cried. “Vic, dude. You can’t do this alone. You can’t cross this bridge alone.” Vic readied herself, as if she were aiming a rifle on a distant target, and said, as calmly and clearly as she could manage, “Listen to me, Lou. I have to make one stop, and then I’m going to see a man who can get some ANFO for me. With the right ANFO, I can blow Manx’s world right off the map.” “What info?” Tabitha Hutter said. “Victoria, Lou is right. You can’t deal with this on your own. Come in. Come in and talk to us What man are you going to see? What is this information you need?” Lou’s voice was slow and ragged with emotion “Get out of there, Vic. We can horseshit around some other time. They’re coming for you. Get out of there and go do what you have to do.” “Mr. Carmody?” Tabitha said. There was a sudden note of tension underlying her voice “Mr. Carmody?” “I’m gone, Lou. I love you.” “Back atcha,” he said. He sounded choked with emotion, barely hanging on She set the phone gently in its cradle She thought he understood what she was telling him. He had said, We can horseshit around some other time, a sentence that almost made sense in context. Almost but not quite. There was a second meaning there, but no one besides Vic would have been able to detect it. Horseshit: a principal component of ANFO, the substance her father had been using to blow up shelf rock for decades She limped on her bad left leg to the sink and ran some cool water, splashed it onto her face and hands. Blood and grime circled the drain in pretty pink swirls. Vic had bits of Gasmask Man all over her, drops of liquefied Bing dripping down her shirt, splattered up her arms, probably in her hair. In the distance she heard the wail of a police siren. The thought crossed her mind that she should’ve had a shower before calling Lou. Or searched the house for a gun. She probably needed a gun more than she needed a shampoo She pushed open the screen door and went carefully down the back steps, keeping the weight off her left knee. She would have to keep it extended while she rode. She had a bad moment, wondering how she would shift gears with the left foot—then remembered it was a British bike. Right. The gearshift was on the right side of the bike, a configuration that hadn’t been legal in the United States since before she was born Vic walked up the hill, face turned to the sun. She closed her eyes, to concentrate her senses on the good warmth against her skin The sound of the siren grew louder and louder behind her, the Doppler effect causing the shriek to rise and fall, swell and collapse Tabitha Hutter would lop off heads when she found out they had approached the house with their sirens blaring, giving Vic plenty of advance notice they were coming At the top of the hill, as she lurched into the parking lot of the New American Faith Tabernacle, she looked back and saw a police car swerving onto Bloch Lane, sliding to a stop in front of Bing’s house. The cop didn’t even swing into the driveway, just slewed to a halt with the car at an angle, blocking half the road. The cop behind the wheel flung himself out so quickly his head bumped the doorframe and his hat was knocked into the road. He was so young. Vic couldn’t imagine dating him, let alone being arrested by him She continued on and in three more steps could no longer see the house below. She had a moment to wonder what she would do if her bike wasn’t there, if some kids had discovered it with the keys in the ignition and taken it for a ride. But the Triumph was right where she had left it, tilted over on its rusted kickstand It wasn’t easy to stand it up. Vic made a small sobbing sound of pain, pushing with her left leg to straighten it She turned the key over, flipped the switch to RUN, and stomped on the gas The bike had been rained on and sat out all night, and it would’ve been no surprise to her if it didn’t want to start, but the Triumph boomed right away, seemed almost impatient to go “I’m glad one of us is ready,” she said She turned it in a circle and rolled it out of the shadows. She took it around the ruin of the church, and as she glided along, it

began to rain. Water fell glittering and brilliant from the sunlit sky, raindrops as cold as October. It felt good on her skin, in her dry, bloody, dirty hair “Rain, rain,” she said softly. “Come again and wash this mess away.” The Triumph and the woman upon it inscribed a great hoop around the charred sticks that had once been a house of worship When she had returned to the place where she started, the bridge was there, set back in the woods, just as it had been the day before Only it had turned itself around, so as she drove onto it, she entered from what she thought of as the eastern side. There was green spray paint on the wall to her left HERE . it said She rolled onto the old rotten boards. Planks rattled beneath her tires. As the sound of the engine faded in the distance, a crow landed at the entrance to the bridge and stared into its dark mouth When the bridge disappeared two minutes later, it went all at once, popped out of existence like a balloon pricked by a pin. It even banged like a balloon and emitted a clear, shimmering shockwave that hit the crow like a speeding car, blew off half its feathers, and threw it twenty feet. It was dead by the time it hit the ground—just another piece of roadkill Laconia, New Hampshire HUTTER SAW IT BEFORE ANYONE ELSE DID, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS HAPPENING right in front of all of them. Lou Carmody began to go down His right knee buckled, and he put a hand against the big oval table in the conference room “Mr. Carmody,” she said He sank into one of the rolling office chairs, fell into it with a soft crash. His color had changed, his big grizzled face taking on a milky pallor, a sweat shining greasily on his forehead. He put one wrist to his brow as if feeling for a fever “Mr. Carmody,” Hutter said again, calling down the table and across the room to him There were men all around him; Hutter didn’t understand how they could stand there and not see that the guy was having a heart attack “I’m gone, Lou,” Vic McQueen said, her voice coming through the Bluetooth headset in Hutter’s ear. “I love you.” “Back atcha,” Carmody said. He wore a headpiece identical to Tabitha Hutter’s own; almost everyone in the room was wearing one, the whole team listening in on the conversation They were in a conference room at the state police headquarters outside Laconia. It could’ve been the conference room at a Hilton or a Courtyard Marriott: a big, bland space with a long, oval central table and windows looking out on an expanse of parking lot McQueen hung up. Hutter tore out her earpiece Cundy, her lead tech, was on his laptop, looking at Google Maps. It was zoomed in on Sugarcreek, Pennsylvania, to show Bloch Lane. Cundy rolled his eyes up to look at Hutter. “We’ll have cars there in three minutes. Maybe less I just spoke with the locals, and they’re on the way with sirens blasting.” Hutter opened her mouth, meant to say, Tell them to turn their fucking sirens off. You didn’t warn a federal fugitive that the cops were closing in. That was fundamental But then Lou Carmody leaned all the way forward, so his face was resting on the table, his nose squashed to the wood. He grunted softly and clutched at the tabletop as if he were at sea and clinging to a great chunk of driftwood And so what Hutter said instead was, “Ambulance Now.” “You want . . . an ambulance to go to Bloch Lane?” Cundy asked “No. I want an ambulance to come here,” she said, moving swiftly away from him and around the table. She raised her voice, “Gentlemen, give Mr. Carmody some air, please. Step back Step back, please.” Lou Carmody’s office chair had been slowly rolling backward, and at that exact moment it slid out from beneath him and Carmody went straight down, as if dropped through a trapdoor Daltry was the closest to him, standing just behind the chair with a mug that said WORLD’S BEST GRANDDAD. He leaped aside and slopped black coffee down his pink shirt “The fuck hit him?” Daltry asked Hutter went down on one knee next to Carmody, who was half under the table. She put her hands on one big sloping shoulder and pushed It was like trying to flip a mattress. He slumped onto his back, his right hand grabbing his Iron Man T-shirt, twisting it into a knot between his man tits. His cheeks were loose, and his lips were gray. He let out a long, ragged gasp. His gaze darted here and there, as if he were trying to get his bearings “Stay with us, Lou,” she said. “Help will be here soon.” She snapped her fingers, and his gaze found

her at last. He blinked and smiled uncertainly “I like your earrings. Supergirl. I would’ve never figured you for Supergirl.” “No? Who would you have figured me for?” she asked, just trying to keep him talking Her fingers closed on his wrist. There was nothing for a long moment, and then his pulse whapped, a single big kick, and then another stillness, and then a flurry of rapid beats “Velma,” he said. “You know? From Scooby-Doo.” “Why? Because we’re both dumpy?” Hutter asked “No,” he said. “Because you’re both smart. I’m scared. Will you hold my hand?” She took his hand in hers. He gently moved his thumb back and forth over her knuckles “I know you don’t believe anything Vic told you about Manx,” he said to her in a sudden, fierce whisper. “I know you think she’s out of her mind. You can’t let facts get in the way of the truth.” “Jinkies,” she said. “What’s the difference?” He surprised her by laughing—a rapid, helpless, panting sound She had to ride to the hospital with him in the ambulance. He wouldn’t let go of her hand Here, Iowa BY THE TIME VIC CAME OUT OF THE OTHER END OF THE BRIDGE, SHE had slowed to almost nothing and the bike was in neutral. She remembered acutely her last visit to the Here Public Library, how she had rushed headlong into a curb and been flung for a knee-scraping slide across a concrete path. She didn’t think she could take a crash in the state she was in now. The bike didn’t care for neutral, though, and as it thumped down onto the asphalt road that ran behind the library, the engine died with a thin, dispirited wheeze When Vic had last been Here, the strip of park behind the library had been raked and clean and shady, a place to throw down a blanket and read a book. Now it was half an acre of mud, gouged with tread marks from loaders and dump trucks. The century-old oaks and birch had been plucked from the ground and bulldozed into a twelve-foot-high mound of dead wood, off to one side A single park bench remained. Once it had been dark green, with wrought-iron arms and legs, but the paint had peeled and the wood beneath was splintery, sun-baked almost to colorlessness. Maggie dozed upright, chin on chest, in one corner of the bench, in the direct, unforgiving light of day. She held a carton of lemonade in one hand, a fly buzzing around its mouth. Her sleeveless T-shirt exposed scrawny, withered arms, spotted with the scars from dozens of cigarette burns. She had at some point blasted her hair with fluorescent orange dye, but the brown and gray roots were showing. Vic’s own mother had not looked so old when she died The sight of Maggie—so worn, so emaciated, so ill used, and so alone—hurt Vic more sharply than the ache in her left knee. She forced herself to remember, in careful detail, how in a moment of anger and panic she had thrown papers in this woman’s face, had threatened her with police. Her sense of shame was exquisite, but she did not allow herself to shove it aside. She let it burn, the tip of a cigarette held firmly against skin The front brake shrilled as Vic settled to a stop. Maggie lifted her head, pushed some of her brittle-looking sherbet hair back from her eyes, and smiled sleepily. Vic put the kickstand down Maggie’s smile vanished as quickly as it had come. She rose unsteadily to her feet “Oh, V-V-Vic. What did you do to yourself? You’ve got blood all over you.” “If it makes you feel better, most of it isn’t mine.” “It doesn’t. Makes me f-f-f-feel ffff-fffaint Didn’t I have to put Band-Aids on you last time you were here?” “Yeah. I guess you did,” Vic said. She looked past Maggie at the library. The first-floor windows were covered over with plywood sheeting The iron door at the rear was crisscrossed with yellow police tape. “What happened to your library, Maggie?” “S-s-seen better days. Like muhmuhmuh-mmm-mmme,” Maggie said, and grinned to show her missing teeth “Oh, Maggie,” Vic said, and for an instant she felt very close to crying again. It was Maggie’s uneven grape-soda-colored lipstick It was the dead trees in a pile. It was the sun, too hot and too bright. Maggie deserved some shade to sit in. “I don’t know which one of us needs a doctor more.” “Oh, gosh, I’m okay! Just m-muh-my s-stuh-stammer

is worse.” “And your arms.” Maggie looked down at them, squinting in puzzlement at the constellation of burns, then looked back up. “It helps me talk normal. Helps me with other s-s-st-st-stuff, too.” “What helps you?” “P-p-p-puh-puh-pain. C’mon. Let’s go in. Mama Maggie will fffffffix you up.” “I need something besides fixing, Maggie I have questions for your tiles.” “M-m-muh-might not have answers,” Maggie said, turning up the path. “They don’t work s-ss-so well anymore. They st-st-st-stammer, too, now. But I’ll try. After we get you cleaned up and I muh-muh-mother you some.” “I don’t know if I have time for mothering.” “Sure you do,” Maggie said. “He hasn’t muh-muh-muh-made it to Christmasland yet We both know you can’t catch him before then. Be like trying to grab a handful of fffff-fffog.” Vic gingerly descended from the bike. She was almost hopping to keep the weight off her left leg. Maggie put an arm around her waist. Vic wanted to tell her she didn’t need a crutch, but the truth was she did—she doubted she could make it to the back of the library without help—and her arm went automatically over Maggie’s shoulders. They walked a step or two, and then Maggie paused, twisting her head to look back at the Shorter Way, which once again spanned the Cedar River. The river seemed wider than Vic remembered, the water boiling right up to the edge of the narrow road that looped behind the library. The thicket-covered embankment that had once lined the water had been washed away “What’s on the other end of the bridge this time?” “Couple of dead people.” “Will anyone ff-f-ffuh-ffollow you through?” “I don’t think so. There are police looking for me back there, but the bridge will pop out of existence before they find it.” “There were p-p-puh-police here.” “Looking for me?” “I don’t know! Muh-mm-mmmmmaybe! I was coming back from the drugstore and s-s-saw ’em parked out f-f-f-front. So I took off I stuh-st-stay here s-s-s-sometimes, s-s-sometimes other puh-p-places.” “Where? I think the first time we met, you said something about living with relatives—an uncle or something?” Maggie shook her head. “He’s gone. Whole trailer p-puh-park is gone. Washed away.” The two women limped toward the back door “They’re probably looking for you because I called you. They might be tracking your cell phone,” Vic said “Thought of that. Dumped it after you called I knew you wouldn’t need to call again to f-find m-m-mmme. No worries!” The yellow tape across the rusting iron door read DANGER. A sheet of paper, slipped inside a clear plastic envelope and stuck to the door, identified the structure as unsound The door was not locked but held ajar by a chunk of concrete. Maggie ducked the tape and pushed it inward. Vic followed her into darkness and ruin The stacks had once been a vast, cavernous vault that smelled fragrantly of ten thousand books, aging gently in the shadows. The shelves were still there, although banks of them had been toppled like twelve-foot-tall iron dominoes Most of the books were gone, although some remained in rotting heaps scattered here and there, stinking of mildew and decay “The big f-f-flood was in 2008, and the walls are st-st-still wet.” Vic brushed one hand against the cold, moist concrete and found that it was true Maggie held her as they picked their way carefully through the debris. Vic kicked a pile of beer cans. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she saw that the walls had been tagged with graffiti, the usual assortment of six-foot cocks and dinner-plate-proportioned tits. But there was also a grand message, scrawled in dripping red paint: PLEEZ BE QUITE IN THE LIBERY PEPLE R TRYING TO GET HI! “I’m sorry, Maggie,” Vic said. “I know you loved this place. Is anyone doing anything to help out? Were the books moved to a new location?” “You bet,” Maggie said “Nearby?” “P-p-pretty close. The town dump is just a m-m-mm-mile downriver.” “Couldn’t someone do something for the old place?” Vic said. “What is it? A hundred years old? It must be a historical site.” “You got that right,” Maggie said, and for an instant there was no trace of a stammer in her voice at all. “It’s history, baby.” Vic caught a glimpse of her expression in the shadows. It was true: Pain really did help Maggie with her stammer The Library MAGGIE LEIGH’S OFFICE BEHIND THE FISH TANK WAS STILL there—in a manner of speaking The tank was empty, with filthy Scrabble tiles heaped in the bottom, the cloudy glass walls giving a view of what had once been the children’s

library. Maggie’s gunmetal desk remained, although the surface had been gouged and scratched and someone had spray-painted a gaping red vulva on one side. An unlit candle bent over a pool of violet wax. Maggie’s paperweight—Chekhov’s gun, and yes, Vic got the joke now—held her place in the hardcover she was reading, Ficciones by Borges. There was a tweed couch that Vic didn’t remember. It was a yard-sale number, some rents in it patched with duct tape and some holes not patched at all, but at least it wasn’t damp, didn’t stink of mildew “What happened to your koi?” Vic asked “I’m not sure. I think s-s-someone ate it,” Maggie said. “I hope it m-m-made sss-someone a good meal. No one sh-sh-should go hungry.” There were syringes and rubber tubing on the floor. Vic was careful not to step on any needles as she made her way to the couch and lowered herself upon it “Those aren’t m-m-m-mine,” Maggie said, nodding to the syringes, and she went for the broom that was leaning in a corner where once there had been a coatrack. The broom itself doubled as the coatrack now; Maggie’s filthy old fedora hung upon it. “I haven’t sh-sh-shot up ss-ss-since last year. Too expensive I don’t know how anyone can afford to get high in this economy.” Maggie set her hat on her sherbet-colored hair with the dignity and care of a drunk dandy about to sway out of the absinthe hall and into the rainy Paris night. She took up her broom and swept. The syringes clattered in a glassy sort of way across the cement “I can wrap your leg and give you some Oxy,” Maggie said. “Way cheaper than heroin.” She bent to her desk, found a key, unlocked the bottom drawer. She reached in and removed an orange pill bottle, a carton of cigarettes, and a rotting purple Scrabble bag “Sobriety is even cheaper than OxyContin,” Vic said Maggie shrugged and said, “I only take as needed.” She poked a cigarette into the corner of her mouth, lit a match with her thumbnail: a good trick “When is it needed?” “It’s a painkiller. I take it to kill pain.” She drew smoke, put the lighter down “That’s all. What happened to you, Vuh-V-V-Vic?” Vic settled back into the couch, head on the armrest. She could not bend her left knee all the way or unbend it, could hardly bear to move it. She could hardly bear to look at it; it was twice the size of the other knee, a purple-and-brown map of bruises She began to talk, telling about the last two days as best as she could remember, getting things out of order, providing explanations that seemed more confusing than the things they were meant to explain. Maggie did not interrupt or ask for clarification. A faucet ran for half a minute, then stopped. Vic let out a sharp, pained breath when Maggie put a cold, damp washcloth against her left knee and gently held it there Maggie opened her medicine bottle and shook out a little white pill. Fragrant blue smoke unspooled from her cigarette, draped her like the ghost of a scarf “I can’t take that,” Vic said “Sh-sh-sure you can. You don’t have to d-d-dry-swallow ’em. I’ve got lemonade It’s a little warm but pretty tasty!” “No, I mean, it’ll put me to sleep. I’ve slept too much already.” “On a concrete f-f-f-floor? After you were gassed? That isn’t s-suh-sleep.” She gave Vic the tablet of OxyContin. “That’s unconsciousness.” “Maybe after we talk.” “If I try to help you ff-ff-find out what you want to know, do you pruh-p-promise you won’t r-ride off till you rest?” Vic reached for the other woman’s hand and squeezed it. “I do.” Maggie smiled and patted Vic’s knuckles, but Vic did not let go of her. She said, “Thank you, Maggie For everything. For trying to warn me. For helping me. I’d give anything to take back the way I acted when I saw you in Haverhill I was scared of you. That’s not an excuse There isn’t any excuse. There’s a lot of things I wish I could redo. You can’t imagine. I wish there was something I could do to show you how sorry I am. Something I could give you besides words.” Maggie’s whole face lit up: a child seeing a kite lift into the blue, blue sky “Oh, darn, V-V-V-Vic. You’re gonna muh-m-make me cry! What’s better in the whole world than words? Besides, you’re already doing s-s-something,” Maggie said. “You’re here. It’s so nice to have someone to talk to! Not that it’s m-m-m-much fun to talk to m-muh-mmme!” “Shhh. You shush with that. Your stammer doesn’t bother me half as much as it bothers you,” Vic said. “The first time we met, you told me that your Scrabble tiles and my bike were both knives for cutting through the stitches between reality and thought You had that right. That’s not the only thing they can cut. They wound up cutting

both of us good. I know that my bridge—the Shorter Way—damaged me. In here.” She reached up and tapped her left temple. “I traveled across it a few times too many, and it put my mind out of joint. I’ve never been right. I burned down my home. I burned down my life. I ran away from both of the boys I love because I was scared of damaging them or not being enough for them. That’s what my knife did to me. And you’ve got this thing with your speech—” “’S like I mmm-mm-managed to cut out my own tongue with my knife.” “Seems like the only one who never winds up bleeding from using his psychic knife is Manx.” “Oh, no! Oh, no, V-V-V-Vic! Muh-Muh-Manx has had it worst! He’s been bled completely dry!” Maggie lowered her eyelids, drawing a deep, luxurious lungful of smoke. The tip of her cigarette throbbed in the darkness She removed the cigarette from her mouth, looked at it thoughtfully for a moment, and then stabbed it into her own bare thigh, through one of the tears in her jeans “Jesus!” Vic shouted. She sat up so quickly that the room lurched hard in one direction and her stomach lurched hard in the other She fell back against the armrest, overcome by dizziness “For the best,” Maggie said through clenched teeth. “I want to be able to talk to you Not just sp-spray you with spit.” The breath spurted out of her in short, pained exhalations “’S only way I can get my tiles to say anything anyhow, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Was necessary. What were we saying?” “Oh, Maggie,” Vic said “Don’t make a big deal. Let’s get to it, or I’ll have to do that again. And the m-m-more I do it, the less well it works.” “You said Manx is bled dry.” “That’s right. The Wraith makes him young and strong. It p-preserves him. But it’s cost him his ability to feel regret or empathy That’s what his knife cut out of him: his humanity.” “Yeah. Except it’s going to cut the same thing out of my son, too. The car changes the children Manx takes with him on his trips to Christmasland. It turns ’em into fuckin’ vampires or something. Doesn’t it?” “Close enough,” Maggie said. She rocked back and forth, eyes shut against the pain in her leg. “Christmasland is an inscape, right? A place Manx invented out of thought.” “A make-believe place.” “Oh, it’s a real place. Ideas are as real as rocks. Your bridge is real, too, you know It isn’t actually a covered bridge, of course The rafters, the roof, the boards under your tires—they’re stage dressing for s-s-something more basic. When you left the Gasmask Man’s house and came here, you didn’t cross a bridge. You crossed an idea that looked like a bridge. And when M-Muh-Manx gets to Christmasland, he’ll be arriving at an idea of happiness that looks like . . . I don’t know . . . Santa Claus’s workshop?” “I think it’s an amusement park.” “Amusement p-park. That sounds about right Manx doesn’t have happiness anymore. Only amusement. It’s an idea of endless fun, endless youth, dressed up in a form his dumb little mind can understand. His vehicle is the instrument that opens the way. S-s-suffering and unhappiness provide the energy to run the car and open his p-passage to that puh-p-place This is also why he has to take the kids with him. The car needs something he no longer has. He drains unhappiness from the children just like a B-movie v-v-vampire sucking blood.” “And when he uses them up, they’re monsters.” “They’re still children, I think. They’re just children who can’t understand anything except fun. They’ve been remade into Manx’s idea of childhood perfection. He wants kids to be f-f-ffforever innocent. Innocence ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Innocent little kids rip the wings off flies, because they don’t know any better. That’s innocence The car takes what Manx needs and changes his passengers so they can live in his world of thought. It sharpens their teeth and robs them of their need for warmth. A world of pure thought would be pretty cold, I bet Now, take your pill, Vic. You need to rest and get your strength back before you ride out of here to f-f-face him again.” She held out her palm with the tablet in it “Maybe I could use something. Not just for my knee. For my head,” Vic told her, and then winced at a fresh stab of pain in her left eyeball. “I wonder why I always feel it behind my left eye, whenever I use my bridge Been like that since childhood.” She laughed shakily. “I wept blood once, you know.” Maggie said, “Creative ideas form in the right side of the brain. But did you know the right side of your brain sees out from your left eye? And it must take a lot of energy to shove a thought out of your head and into

the real world. All that energy zapping you right”—she pointed at Vic’s left eye—“there.” Vic looked longingly at the pill. Still she hesitated “You are going to answer my questions, yes? With your tiles.” “You haven’t asked anything I need them for yet.” “I need to know how to kill him. He died in prison, but it didn’t stick.” “You already know the answer to that one, I think.” Vic took the OxyContin from Maggie’s hand and accepted the carton of lemonade when she offered it. The juice was warm and sticky and sweet and good. She knocked the Oxy down on the first swallow. The pill left a faint, bitter aftertaste “The car,” Vic said. “The Wraith.” “Yeah. When the car fell apart, he fell apart. At some point someone probably yanked the engine right out of it, and he dropped dead at last. But then the engine was put back and the car was fixed up, and there you go. As long as the car is roadworthy, so is he.” “So if I destroy the car . . . I destroy him.” Maggie took a long suck on her cigarette The tip of it was the brightest thing in the dark. “Bet on it.” “Okay,” Vic said. It had only been a minute or two, but the pill was already starting to kick in. When she closed her eyes, she felt as if she were gliding soundlessly on her old Tuff Burner, moving through a dim and shady forest . .  “Vic,” Maggie said gently, and Vic pulled her head up off the armrest and blinked rapidly, realized she had been just a moment from dozing off “Some pill,” she said “What do you need to ask my tiles?” Maggie prodded. “You better get to it, while you still can.” “My kid. I’m going to have to go to Christmasland to get him. They’ll be there tonight, I think, or early tomorrow morning, and I’m going to be there, too. But by then Wayne will be . . . different. I could hear it in his voice when I talked to him. He’s fighting it, but the car is making him into one of those fucking things. Can I fix him? I need to know that. If I get him back, is there some way to cure him?” “I don’t know. No child has ever come back ff-from Christmasland.” “So ask. Your bag of letters can tell you that, can’t it?” Maggie slid off the edge of the couch onto the floor. She gave the moth-eaten sack a gentle shake. The tiles clicked and rattled within “Let’s see what we can s-suh-see,” she said, and plunged a hand inside. She troweled about, came up with a fistful of tiles, and dropped them on the floor XOXOOXOXXO Maggie stared at them with a look of weary dismay “This is all I get most days. Hugs and kisses f-f-for the lonely, stammering girl.” Maggie swept one hand across the floor, grabbing the letters and jamming them back into the bag “Okay. It’s okay. It was worth a try You can’t know everything. You can’t find out everything.” “No,” Maggie said. “When you come to a library to f-f-find something out, you should get what you want.” She dug around in her faux-velvet pouch and came up with another fistful of tiles, threw them at the floor PPPPPPPPP “Don’t st-st-stick your tongue out at me,” she said to her letters She snatched up the tiles, dropped them in the bag, then shoved her hand in the Scrabble purse once again. This time her arm disappeared almost to the elbow, and Vic heard what sounded like hundreds of tiles grinding and clattering around. Maggie came up with another fistful, let them fall FUFUFUFU “Fuck me? Fuck me?” Maggie cried. “Throw my earrings back in my face? Fff-f-ff-fuh-fuck you.” She plucked her cigarette out of her mouth, but before she could sink it into her own arm, Vic sat up, caught her wrist “Don’t,” Vic said. The room swooped this way and that, as if Vic were sitting in a swing. Still, she held Maggie’s arm Maggie stared up at her, her eyes bright in their sunken hollows . . . bright and frightened and exhausted. “We’ll get it another time, Maggie. Maybe I’m not the only one who needs some rest. You were in Massachusetts a week and a half ago. You came back by bus the whole way?” “I hitched some,” Maggie said “When’s the last time you ate?” “Yesterday I had a s-s-s-suh-sandwich from s-s-s-s-s—” And like that she went mute Her face darkened from red to a deep, grotesque shade of violet, as if she were strangling Spit foamed at the corners of her lips “Shhh,” Vic said. “Shhh. Okay. So we’ll get you something to eat.” Maggie exhaled smoke, glanced around for a place to extinguish her cigarette, and then

put it out in the far armrest. It hissed, and a black coil of smoke drifted toward the ceiling “After your nap, V-V-Vic.” Vic nodded, slumping backward. She didn’t have it in her to wrangle with Maggie “I’ll nap and you’ll nap,” Vic said “And then we’ll get you some food. Get you some clothes. Save Wayne. Save the library Make things better. Do it all. Wonder Twin powers activate. Lie down.” “Okay. You take the couch. I’ve got a nice old blanket. I can just stretch out on the f-f-fl-fluh—” “With me, Maggie. There’s room on the couch for us both.” Vic was awake but seemed to have lost the ability to force her eyes open again “You wouldn’t mind?” “No, sweetheart,” Vic said, as if she were speaking to her son Maggie slipped onto the couch beside her and pressed herself to Vic’s side, her bony hip against Vic’s, her bony elbow across Vic’s stomach “Will you hold me, Vic?” Maggie asked in a tremulous voice. “It’s been a long time s-s-since anyone nice held m-m-muh-me I m-m-muh-mean, I know you’re not into girls, since you have a k-k-kid and all, but—” Vic put her arm around Maggie’s waist and held the thin, shivering woman against her “You can shut up now, you know,” Vic said “Oh,” Maggie said. “Oh, okay. That’s a relief.” Laconia THEY WOULDN’T LET LOU WALK ANYWHERE, DIDN’T WANT TO TAKE A chance that the fat man might get dizzy and fall onto his face, so after his examination he sat in a wheelchair and a man-nurse wheeled him to recovery The man-nurse was his age and had sleepy eyes with dark circles under them, and a jutting Cro-Magnon forehead. His name tag said, improbably, BILBO. He had a spaceship tattooed on one hairy forearm: Serenity from the TV show Firefly “‘I am a leaf on the wind,’” Lou said, and the man-nurse said, “Dude, don’t say that. I don’t want to start crying on the job.” The detective followed, carrying Lou’s clothes in a paper bag. Lou didn’t like the way the guy smelled of nicotine and menthol, but mostly of nicotine, and he didn’t like the way the guy seemed too small for his clothes so everything sagged: his shirt, his clam-colored trousers, his shabby jacket Daltry asked, “What are you two talking about?” “Firefly,” the man-nurse said, without looking back. “We’re Browncoats.” “What’s that mean? You two gonna gay-marry?” Daltry asked, and laughed at his own joke Bilbo the man-nurse said, “Jesus. Go back to the fifties, dude.” But he didn’t say it loud enough for Daltry to hear Recovery was a single big room containing two rows of beds, each bed parked in its own little compartment defined by pale green curtains Bilbo wheeled Lou almost to the far end of the room before turning toward an empty bed on the right “Your suite, monsieur,” Bilbo said Lou heaved himself up onto the mattress while Bilbo hung a bright sack of fluid from the stainless-steel rack standing alongside. Lou still had the intravenous cannula taped to his right arm, and Bilbo plugged it into the drip. Lou felt the fluid right away, a strong, icy stream that measurably dropped the whole temperature of his body “Should I be afraid?” Lou asked “Of an angioplasty? No. On the scale of medical complexity, it’s only slightly trickier than having your wisdom teeth removed. Just have the surgery. No fear.” “Uh-uh,” Lou said. “I’m not talking about the angioplasty. I mean the stuff you’re pumping into me. What is it? Something serious?” “Oh. This is nothing. You’re not going under the knife today, so you don’t get the good shit. This is a blood-thinning agent Also, it’ll mellow you out. Got to keep the mellows going.” “It’ll put me to sleep?” “Faster than a marathon of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Daltry dropped the paper bag into the chair next to the bed. Lou’s clothes were folded up and stacked in a pile, his boxers on top, big as a pillowcase “How long has he got to be here?” Daltry asked “We’ll hold him for observation overnight.” “That’s not real good goddamn timing.” “Artery stenosis is famously inconvenient,” Bilbo said. “It never calls in advance Just drops in to party whenever it feels like it.” Daltry slipped his cell phone out of his pocket “You can’t use that here.” Daltry said, “Where can I use it?” “You’d have to walk back through the emergency room and go outside.” Daltry nodded, gave Lou a slow, disapproving look. “Don’t go anywhere, Mr. Carmody.” He turned and started down the length of the

room “And he paddled away in his douche canoe,” Bilbo said “What if I need to make a call?” Lou said “Can I make a call before I go beddy-bye? My son, man. Have you heard about my son? I need to call my parents. They’re not going to be able to sleep tonight until I let them know what’s happening.” A lie. If he got his mother on the phone and started telling her about Wayne, she would have no idea who he was talking about. She was in assisted living and only capable of recognizing Lou himself one day out of three It would be even more surprising if his father were interested in the latest news. He had been dead for four years “I can snag you a phone,” Bilbo said “Something we can plug in next to the bed Just try and relax. I’ll be back in five.” He stepped away from the bed, drew the curtain shut, and walked away Lou didn’t wait, and he didn’t think about it. He was the kid on the motorcycle again, hauling skinny Vic McQueen up onto the seat behind him, feeling her trembling arms around his waist He threw his legs over the side of the cot and jerked the cannula out of his arm. A fat BB of blood swelled up from the needle hole As soon as he heard Vic’s voice over the earpiece, he’d felt the blood rushing to his head, had felt his pulse banging in his temples. His head had started to get heavy, as if his skull were full of liquid metal instead of brain tissue. What was worse, though, was that the room began to move in his peripheral vision. That sensation of the world beginning to rotate around him made him motion sick, and he had to stare directly down at the table to block it out. But then his head got so heavy he tilted over and kicked his chair out from under him It wasn’t a heart attack, was it? he asked the doctor while she listened to his throat with her stethoscope. Because if it was a heart attack, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be No. Not a heart attack. But you may have suffered from a transient ischemic attack, she said, a pretty black woman with a smooth, dark, ageless face Yeah, Lou told her. I figured it was either a heart attack or a transient schematic attack Transient schematic attack was my second choice Ischemic. It’s a kind of mini-stroke. I’m hearing a hollow whoosh in your carotid artery Ah. That’s what you were listening to. I was just about to tell you I think my heart is lower She smiled. She looked like she wanted to pinch his cheek and give him a cookie. What I’m hearing is serious plaque buildup Seriously? I brush twice a day Different kind of plaque. In your blood. Too much bacon. She patted his belly. Too much butter on your popcorn. You’ll have to have an angioplasty. Possibly a stent. If you don’t receive one, you could suffer a major, even fatal stroke I’ve been ordering salads when I go to McDonald’s, he told her, and was surprised to feel tears stinging at the backs of his eyes. He was, nonsensically, relieved that the cute little FBI agent wasn’t around to see him crying again Now Lou grabbed the brown paper bag in the chair and wiggled into his underwear and jeans, pulling them on under his hospital johnny He had passed out after talking to Vic; the world had gone greasy and slick, and he couldn’t hold on to it. It squirted right out of his fingers. But up until the moment he passed out, he was listening to her. He understood, just from the pitch of her voice, that she wanted him to do something, that she was trying to tell him something. I have to make one stop, and then I’m going to go see a man who can get some ANFO for me. With the right ANFO, I can blow Manx’s world right off the map Tabitha Hutter, and all the other cops who were listening in on the call, heard what Vic wanted them to hear: They heard “info” instead of “ANFO.” It was like one of Vic’s Search Engine pictures, only a picture made of sound instead of color. You didn’t notice what was right in front of you because you didn’t know how to look—or, in this case, listen. But Lou had always known how to listen to her Lou yanked off his johnny, pulled on his shirt ANFO. Her father was the man who blew things up—took out ledge rock, tree stumps, and old pilings with ANFO—and who had blown Vic off without a look back. He had not ever even held Wayne, and Vic had talked to him perhaps only a dozen times in a dozen years Lou had spoken with him more often, had sent him photos and video of Wayne by way of e-mail He knew from things Vic had told him that the man was a wife beater and a cheat. He knew, too, from things Vic had not told him, that she missed him and loved him with an intensity perhaps matched only by what she felt for her son Lou had never met the man but knew where he lived, knew his number—and knew that Vic was going to see him. Lou would be waiting when she got there. She wanted him there,

or she wouldn’t have told him He stuck his head out through the curtain, looked down an aisle made by rows of hanging sheets He saw a doctor and a nurse—a female nurse, not Bilbo—standing together, running down items on a clipboard, but their backs were turned to him. Lou carried his sneakers in one hand, slipped into the aisle, turned right, and pushed through a pair of swinging doors into a wide white hallway He wound his way through the building, moving in a direction that felt like it would take him away from the emergency-room entrance He tugged his Vans on as he went The lobby ceiling was fifty feet high and had big slabs of pink crystal hanging from it, giving it a Fortress of Solitude vibe Water splashed in a black slate fountain Voices echoed. The smell of coffee and muffins wafting from a Dunkin’ Donuts made his stomach clutch with hunger. The thought of eating a sugared jelly doughnut was like imagining putting the barrel of a loaded gun in his mouth I don’t need to live forever, he thought Just please for however long it takes to get my son back A pair of nuns were getting out of a cab, right out in front of the revolving door That was damn close to divine intervention as far as Lou was concerned. He held the door for them, then climbed into the backseat The rear of the cab sank on its springs “Where we going?” the cabbie said To jail, Lou thought, but what he said was, “Train station.” BILBO PRINCE WATCHED THE CAB LURCH AWAY FROM THE CURB IN A gush of filthy blue exhaust, noted the number and the license plate, then turned and walked away. He drifted down halls, up stairs, down stairs, and exited at last through the ER entrance on the opposite side of the hospital. The old cop, Daltry, waited there, having himself a smoke “He took off,” Bilbo said. “Like you said he would. Caught a cab outside the lobby.” “You get the cab number?” “And the license,” Bilbo said, and told him both Daltry nodded and opened his cell phone. He pressed a single button and put it to his ear, then half turned away from Bilbo “Yep. He’s moving,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the line. “Hutter says just watch him, so we watch him. See where he goes and be ready to step in if the fat bastard starts to vapor-lock again.” Daltry hung up, pitched his smoke, and started moving away, into the parking lot. Bilbo trotted after him and tapped his shoulder. The old guy looked back. His brow furrowed, and his expression suggested he recognized Bilbo but already couldn’t quite remember who he was or how they knew each other “That it, man?” Bilbo said. “Where’s the love?” “Oh. Oh, right.” Daltry dug around in his pocket and came up with a ten-dollar bill and stuck it in Bilbo’s hand. “There you go. Live long and prosper. Isn’t that what you Trekkers say?” Bilbo looked from the grimy ten-dollar bill—he’d been expecting at least a twenty—to the tattoo of Serenity on his hairy arm. “Yeah I guess. But I’m not a Star Trek fan. My tattoo here? This is Serenity, not the Enterprise I’m a Browncoat, man.” “More like turncoat,” Daltry said, and laughed. Flecks of spittle hit Bilbo in the face Bilbo wanted to throw the ten dollars at his feet and walk away, show the ugly, loudmouthed fuck what he thought of his money, but then he reconsidered and stowed the cash in his pocket. He was saving for a Buffy tattoo on the other arm. Ink wasn’t cheap Here, Iowa WHEN MAGGIE CAME AWAKE, HER ARM WAS SLUNG OVER VIC’S WAIST and Vic’s head was resting against her breastbone. She was the most goshdarn pretty woman that Maggie had ever been in bed with, and Maggie wanted to kiss her but wouldn’t. What Maggie really wanted to do was comb Vic’s snarled, windblown hair, straighten it out, make it shine. She wanted to wash Vic’s feet and rub them with oil Maggie wished they had had more time together and a chance to talk about something besides Charlie Manx. Not that Maggie really wanted to talk. She wanted to listen. Maggie dreaded that moment in any conversation when it was her turn to open her big, dumb m-m-mouth Maggie sensed she hadn’t been asleep for long and had a pretty good idea she wouldn’t be able to sleep again for hours. She untangled herself from Vic, smoothed her hair back from her face, and slipped away. It was time to spell, and now that Vic was asleep, Maggie could do what she needed to do to make the tiles behave She lit a smoke. She lit a candle. Arranged her fedora just so. Maggie set her Scrabble bag before her and loosed the golden thread She considered the darkness within for a time, inhaling deeply on her cigarette. It was late, and she wanted to crush some Oxy and have

a snort, and she couldn’t do it until she had done this one thing for Vic. She reached up and found the collar of her white muscle shirt and pulled it down, exposing her left breast. She removed her cigarette and shut her eyes and put it out. She held it against the top of her breast for a long time, grinding it into the tender flesh, letting out a thin, whining breath through her clenched teeth She could smell herself burning She flicked the extinguished cigarette away and bent over the desk, wrists pressed against its edge, blinking at tears. The pain in her breast was sharp and intense and wonderful Sacred Now, she thought, now, now. She had a brief window in which to use the tiles, to force sense out of gibberish: a minute or two at most. It seemed to her sometimes that this was the only fight that mattered: the struggle to take the world’s chaos and make it mean something, to put it to words She took a fistful of letters, dumped them before her, and began to sort. She moved tiles here and there. She had played this game for her entire adult life, and soon enough she had it. In a few minutes, the spelling was done, no trouble at all this time When she saw she had it, she let out a long, satisfied breath, as if she had just set down a great weight. She didn’t have any idea what the message meant. It had an epigrammatic quality about it, seemed less like a fact, more like the closing line of a lullaby. But Maggie was sure she had it right. She always knew when she had it right. It was as sure and simple a thing as a key clicking into a lock and turning a bolt. Maybe Vic could glean some meaning from it. She would ask her when she was awake She copied out the message from the Great Scrabble Bag of Fate on a sheet of water-stained Here Public Library stationery. She read it over. It was good. She was conscious of an unfamiliar glow of satisfaction, was unused to being happy with herself She collected her letters one at a time and returned them to the velvet bag. Her breast throbbed, nothing transcendent about the pain now. She reached for her cigarettes, not to burn herself again but just for a smoke A boy walked through the children’s library carrying a sparkler She saw him through the clouded glass of the old fish tank, a black figure against the paler darkness of the room beyond. As he walked, he swung his right arm and the sparkler spit a hot copper spray, drew red lines in the gloom. He was there for only a moment and then moved out of sight, carrying his sputtering torch with him Maggie leaned toward the fish tank to bang on the glass, scare the shit out of him and run him off, then remembered Vic and caught herself. Kids broke in to throw firecrackers and smoke cigarettes and cover the walls in graffiti, and she hated it. She had once come across a squad of teenagers down in the stacks, passing a jay around a campfire made of old hardcovers, and she had turned into a crazy woman, chasing them out with a busted chair leg, aware that if the peeling wallpaper caught fire, she would lose her last, best home Book burners! she had screamed at them, and for once she had not stuttered at all. Book burners! I’ll cut off your balls and rape your women! It was five to one, but they had fled before her as if they’d seen a ghost Sometimes she thought she was a ghost, that she had really died in the flood, died with the library and just hadn’t realized it yet She had a last look at Vic, huddled on the couch, fists balled under her chin. This time Maggie couldn’t help herself. The door was over there, close to the couch, and as Maggie went by, she paused, and bent over, and kissed her temple, lightly. In sleep one corner of Vic’s mouth turned up in a wry smile Maggie went looking for the boy in the shadows She stepped out into what had once been the children’s library and eased the door shut behind her. The carpet had been peeled up into mildewed strips and rolled over against the wall in a series of stinking bundles The floor beneath was wet concrete. Half of an enormous globe occupied one corner of the room, the northern hemisphere upended and filled with water and pigeon feathers, sides streaked with bird crap. America turned upside down and shit on. She noticed, absentmindedly, that she was still carrying her bag of Scrabble tiles, had forgotten to put them back in the desk. Dumb She heard a sound not unlike butter sizzling in a pan, off somewhere to her right. Maggie started around the U-shaped walnut desk, where once she had signed out Coraline and The House with a Clock in Its Walls and Harry Potter As she approached the stone gallery that led back to the central building, she saw a leaping yellow glare

The boy stood at the far end of the gallery with his sparkler. A small, stocky black figure, hood pulled up to hide his face. He stood staring, his sparkler pointed down at the floor, pouring sparks and smoke. In the other hand was a long silver can of something. She smelled wet paint “.myself stop can’t I,” he said, in a hoarse, strange voice, and laughed “What?” she said. “Kid, get out of here with that.” He shook his head and turned and wandered away, this child of shadow, moving like a figure in a dream, lighting a path into some cavern of the unconscious. He swayed drunkenly, almost careening off one wall. He was drunk Maggie could smell the beer from here “Hey!” she said He disappeared. Somewhere ahead she heard echoing laughter. In the remote gloom of the periodicals room, she saw a new light—the guttering, sullen glare of a fire She began to run. She kicked syringes and bottles clattering across the concrete floor, ran past boarded-over windows. Someone, the kid possibly, had spray-painted a message in red on the wall to her right: GOD BURNED ALIVE ONLY DEV1LS NOW. The paint was still dripping, bright red, as if the walls were bleeding She ran into the periodicals room, a space as big as a modest-size chapel and with ceilings just as high. During the flood it had been a shallow Sargasso, a scum of magazines covering the water, a swollen mass of National Geographics and New Yorkers. Now it was a big, bare cement chamber with dried, hardened newspapers stuck to floors and walls, rotten piles of magazines drifted in the corners, some sleeping bags spread where bums had camped out—and a wire trash can, boiling with greasy smoke. The drunk little bastard had dropped his sparkler in it on top of a mess of paperbacks and magazines Green and orange sparks spit from somewhere deep inside the burning nest. Maggie saw a copy of Fahrenheit 451 shriveling and blackening The boy considered her from the far side of the room, from within a dark, high stone archway “Hey!” she screamed again. “Hey, you little shit!” “.late too it’s but ,can I as hard as fighting I’m,” he said, rocking from side to side. “.me follow don’t ,please ,please ,Please” “Hey!” she said, not listening, unable to listen, none of it making any sense anyway She looked around for something to smother the flames, snatched up one of the sleeping bags, blue and slippery and smelling faintly of puke. She held her Scrabble sack under one arm while she crammed the sleeping bag in on top of the flames, pressing down hard, choking the fire. She flinched from the heat and the smell, an odor of cooked phosphorous and burned metal and charring nylon When she looked up again, the boy was gone “Get the fuck out of my library, you little creep! Get the fuck gone before I catch up to you!” He laughed somewhere. It was hard to tell where he was. His laughter was a breathless, echoing, untraceable sound, like a bird flapping its wings high in the rafters of some abandoned church. She thought, randomly, God burned alive, only devils now She went on toward the lobby, her legs shaking If she caught the crazy, drunk little bastard, he would not think God had burned alive. He would think God was a dyke librarian, and he would know the fear of her Maggie was halfway across the periodicals room when the rocket went off with a great whistling scream. That sound was a jolt straight to the nerve endings, made her want to scream herself and dive for cover. Instead she ran, ducked low like a soldier under fire, all the breath shooting out of her She made it to the vast central room, with the sixty-foot-high ceilings, in time to see the bottle rocket hit the roof, spin, bounce off an arch, and ricochet down toward the dull marble floor: a missile of emerald flame and crackling sparks. A chemical-smelling smoke coiled throughout the room. Embers of fey green light tumbled from above, falling like flakes of some infernal, radioactive snow. Burn the place down—the fucking pint-size lunatic was in here to burn the place down The rocket was still flying, hit the wall to her right, and exploded in a bright, fizzling flash, with a crack like a gunshot, and she shouted and ducked and covered the side of her face. An ember touched the bare skin of her right forearm, and she flinched at the sharp stab of pain In the far room, the reading room, the boy laughed breathlessly and ran on The rocket was out, but the smoke in the lobby

still flickered, glowing an unearthly jade hue Maggie charged after him, beyond thought now, rattled and angry and afraid. The boy couldn’t escape through the front door—that was locked from the outside with a chain—but there was a fire door in the reading room that the bums kept propped open. Beyond was the eastern parking lot. She could catch him there. She didn’t know what she’d do with him when she had her hands on him, and a part of her was scared to find out. As she hit the reading room, she saw the door to the outside already settling shut “You shit,” she whispered. “You shit.” She slammed through the door and out into the parking lot. Across the paved expanse, a single functioning streetlamp cast a nimbus of light. The center of the lot was brightly lit, but the edges were in darkness. The boy waited beside the lamppost. Little bastard had another sparkler going and was standing not far from a Dumpster filled with books “Are you out of your goshdarn mind?” Maggie said The boy shouted, “I see you through my magic window!” He drew a burning hoop in the air, at the level of his face. “Now your head is burning!” “You st-st-start a fire in there and someone could get killed, you little asshole!” Maggie said. “Like you!” She was short of breath and trembling, and her extremities prickled strangely. She clutched her Scrabble bag in one sweat-damp hand. She began stalking across the lot. Behind her the fire door clicked shut. Goddamn it. The kid had kicked away the stone that kept it from locking. She’d need to go all the way around the building to get back inside now “Look!” the child cried. “Look! I can write in flames!” He slashed the tip of the sparkler in the air, a white spoke of light so intense it left a glowing afterimage on Maggie’s optic nerve, creating the illusion of pulsing letters in the air R U N “Who are you?” she asked, swaying a little herself, catching in place halfway across the lot—not sure she had just seen what she thought she’d seen. That he had spelled what she thought he’d spelled “Look! I can make a snowflake! I can make Christmas in July!” And he drew a snowflake in the air Her arms bristled with gooseflesh “Wayne?” “Yes?” “Oh, Wayne,” she said. “Oh, God.” A pair of headlights snapped on in the shadows beyond the Dumpster, off to her right. A car idled along the curb, an old car with close-set headlamps, so black she had not seen it in the greater darkness around it “Hello!” called a voice from somewhere behind those headlights. He was on the passenger side of the car—no, wait, the driver’s side; it was all reversed on a British car “What a night to go driving! Come on over, Ms. Margaret Leigh! It is Margaret Leigh, isn’t it? You look just like your photograph in the paper!” Maggie squinted into the headlights. She was telling herself to move, get out of the middle of the parking lot, but her legs were stuck in place. The fire door was an impossible distance away, twelve steps that might as well have been twelve hundred, and anyway, she had heard it clap shut behind her It occurred to her that there was, at best, a minute or so left to her life. She asked herself if she was ready for it. Thoughts darted like sparrows racing in the dusk just when she most desperately wanted her mind to be still He doesn’t know Vic is here, she thought And: Get the boy. Get the boy and get him away And: Why doesn’t Wayne just run? Because he couldn’t anymore. Because he didn’t know he was supposed to. Or he knew but couldn’t act on it But he had tried to tell her to run, had written it in flame, on the darkness. Had maybe even been trying, in his garbled way, to warn her in the library “Mr. Manx?” Maggie called, still unable to move her feet “You have been looking for me all your life, Ms. Leigh!” he shouted. “Well! Here I am at last! I am sure you have lots of questions for me. I know I have lots of questions for you! Come sit with us. Come have an ear of corn!” “Let the b-b-b-b—” Maggie began, then choked up, couldn’t force it out, her tongue as helpless as her legs. She wanted to say, Let the boy go, but her stammer wouldn’t let her have that “C-c-cat got your t-t-tongue?” Manx shouted “Fuck you,” she said. There. That came out clean and clear. And f had always been one of her toughest letters “Get over here, you scrawny bitch,” Charlie Manx said. “Get in the car. Either you’re

riding with us or we’re riding over you Last chance.” She breathed deeply and smelled waterlogged books, the perfume of rotting cardboard and paper that had dried beneath the furnace of the July sun. If a single breath could summarize an entire life, she supposed that would do It was almost time It came to her then that she had nothing left to say to Manx. She had said it all. She turned her head and fixed her gaze on Wayne “You have to run, Wayne! Run and hide!” His sparkler had gone out. A grimy smoke trickled away from it “Why would I do that?” he said. “.sorry I’m” He coughed. His frail shoulders jumped “We’re going to Christmasland tonight! It’s going to be fun! .sorry so I’m” He coughed again, then shrieked, “How about you run instead! That would be a fun game! !myself to on hold can’t I” Tires whined shrilly on the asphalt. Her paralysis broke. Or maybe she had never been paralyzed Maybe her muscles and nerves—the meat and wiring—had always understood what the conscious mind didn’t want to know, that it was already too late to get out of the way. She bolted across the lot, toward Wayne, some unformed, absurd notion in her head that she could get to him, pull him into the woods, into safety She crossed in front of the Wraith. An icy light rose around her. The engine roared She glanced sidelong, thinking, Please let me be ready, and the car was there, the grille so close that her heart seemed to fill her mouth. He was not aiming the Rolls at her but instead rushing up alongside and past her. He had one hand on the wheel and was stretching his upper body out the open window The wind sucked his black hair back from his high, bare brow. His eyes were wide and avid with hilarity, and there was a look of triumphant joy stamped across his face. In his right hand, he held a silver hammer as big as God She did not feel the mallet connect with the back of her neck. There was a sound, like she had stepped on a lightbulb, a pop and a crack. She saw a flash, a white, brilliant blink of light. Her fedora whirled away like a tossed Frisbee. Her feet continued racing over the blacktop, but when she looked down they were pedaling in air. She had been lifted right off the ground Maggie hit the side of the car as she came down. She spun and struck the asphalt and rolled, arms flying. She went over and over and wound up against the far curb, on her back. Her cheek was pressed to the rough blacktop Poor Maggie, Maggie thought, with genuine if somewhat muted sympathy She found she could not lift her head or even turn it. At the periphery of her vision, she could see that her left leg was bent inward at the knee, the hinge folding in a direction in which it was never meant to go Her velvet sack of letters had hit near her head and vomited tiles across the parking lot. She saw an H, an M, a U, some other letters You could spell HUM with that. Do you know you’re dying, Ms. Leigh? No, but HUM a few bars and I’ll fake it, she thought, and coughed in a way that might’ve been laughter She blew a pink bubble from her lips. When had her mouth got all full of blood? Wayne stepped down into the parking lot, swinging his arms back and forth. His face had a white, sick gleam to it, but he was smiling to show a mouthful of shiny new teeth. Tears tracked down his face “You look funny,” he said. “That was funny!” Blinking at tears. He wiped the back of one hand, thoughtlessly, across his face, spreading a bright streak across his downy cheek The car idled, ten feet away. The driver’s-side door opened. Boots scraped on the blacktop “I did not think there was anything funny about her falling into the side of the Wraith!” Manx said. “There is one hell of a dent in the side of my Wraith now. To be fair, there is a bigger dent in this scrawny bitch Back in the car, Wayne. We have to make some miles if we’re going to reach Christmasland before sunup.” Wayne sank to one knee beside her. His tears had left red lines on his pale cheeks Your mother loves you, Maggie imagined telling him, but all that came out was a wheeze and blood. She tried to tell him with her eyes instead. She wants you back. Maggie reached for his hand, and Wayne took hers and squeezed “.sorry I’m,” he said. “.it help Couldn’t”

“’S all right,” she whispered, not really saying it, just moving her lips Wayne let go of her hand. “You rest,” he said to her. “You just rest here. Dream something nice. Dream about Christmasland!” He hopped to his feet and trotted out of sight A door opened. A door closed Maggie’s gaze shifted to Manx’s boots He was almost standing on her scattering of Scrabble tiles. She could see other letters now: a P, an R, a T, an I. Could make TRIP with that. I think he broke my neck—what a TRIP! she thought, and smiled again “What are you smiling about?” Manx asked, his voice shuddering with hate. “You have nothing to smile about! You are going to be dead, and I am going to be alive. You could’ve lived, too, you know. For another day anyway There were things I wanted to know . . . like who else you told about me. I wanted—Don’t you look away from me when I am talking to you!” She had shut her eyes. She didn’t want to stare at his upside-down face from here on the ground. It wasn’t that he was ugly It was that he was stupid. It was the way his mouth hung open to show his overbite and his crooked brown teeth. It was the way his eyes bulged from his skull He put his boot in her stomach. If there was any justice, she wouldn’t have been able to feel it, but there was no justice and never had been, and she screamed. Who knew you could hurt so bad and not pass out from it? “You listen, now. You did not have to die like this! I am not such a bad fellow! I am a friend to children and wish no ill will on anyone except those who would try to stop my work! You did not have to line up against me. But you did, and look where it has got you. I am going to live forever, and so is the boy. We will be living the good life while you are turning to dirt in a box. And—” She got it then. Strung the letters together, saw what they spelled. She got it, and she made a huffing sound, blowing a spray of blood on Manx’s boots. It was an unmistakable sound: the sound of laughter Manx scuttled backward half a foot, as if she had tried to bite him “What’s funny? What’s so funny about you dying and me living? I am going to drive away, and no one is going to stop me, and you are going to bleed to death here, and where is the big laugh in that?” She tried to tell him. She moved her lips in the shape of the word. But all she could do was wheeze and spray more blood. She had lost all power of speech, and at this notion she felt a sweet tingle of relief. No more stammering. No more trying desperately to make herself understood while her tongue refused to cooperate Manx rose to his full height, kicking the letters as he stood, scattering them, scattering what they spelled, if you took the time to see how to put them together: TRIUMPH He walked quickly away, pausing only to collect her hat from the pavement, dust off the brim, and set it on his own head. A door slammed The radio turned on. She heard the jingle of Christmas bells and a warm, male voice singing, “Dashing through the snow . . .” The car jolted into gear and started to move Maggie closed her eyes TRIUMPH: 45 points if you could line it up with the triple word and a double letter TRIUMPH, Maggie thought. Vic wins Hampton Beach, New Hampshire VIC PUSHED THROUGH THE DOOR INTO TERRY’S PRIMO SUBS, WHERE the air was warm and damp and heavy with the smell of onion rings broiling in the deep-fat fryer Pete was working the counter—good old Pete, his face badly sunburned, a line of zinc down his nose “I know what you’re here for,” Pete said, reaching under the counter. “I’ve got something for you.” “No,” Vic said. “I don’t give a fuck about my mother’s bracelet. I’m looking for Wayne. Did you see Wayne?” It confused her to find herself back in Terry’s, ducking under the ribbons of flypaper. Pete couldn’t help her find Wayne. She was angry with herself, wasting time here when she needed to be out there looking for her boy A police siren shrieked out on the avenue Maybe someone had seen the Wraith. Maybe they had found her son “No,” Pete said. “It’s not a bracelet It’s something else.” He ducked behind

the cash register, then stood up and put a silver hammer down on the counter. There was blood and hair stuck to the business end Vic felt the dream drawing tight around her, as if the world were a giant cellophane bag and it was suddenly wrinkling and pulling in from all sides “No,” Vic said. “I don’t want it That’s not what I came for. That’s no good.” Outside, the police siren cut off with a strangled squonk! “I think it’s good,” said Charlie Manx, his hand on the crosshatched handle. It had been Charlie Manx on the other side of the counter all along, Charlie Manx dressed like a cook, in a bloodstained apron and a cocked white hat, a line of zinc down his bony nose “And what’s good stays good, no matter how many heads you split open with it.” He lifted the hammer, and Vic screamed and threw herself back from him and right out of the dream, into Real Life VIC WOKE, AWARE THAT THE HOUR WAS LATE AND THAT SOMETHING was wrong She could hear voices, muted by stone and distance, could identify the speakers as male, even if she could not determine what they were saying. She smelled the faintest whiff of burned phosphorous. She had the muddled idea that she’d slept right through a commotion, sealed in the soundproofed sarcophagus fashioned by Maggie’s pharmaceuticals She rolled herself up to a sitting position, feeling she ought to get dressed and go After a few moments, she determined she was already dressed. She had not even removed her sneakers before falling asleep. Her left knee was a poisonous shade of violet and as fat as one of Lou’s knees A red candle burned in the darkness, reflecting an image of itself in the fish tank’s glass There was a note over on the desk; Maggie had left her a note before going. That was thoughtful of her. Vic could see her .38-caliber paperweight, Chekhov’s gun, holding it down Vic was hoping for instructions, a set of simple steps that would bring Wayne back to her, make her leg better, make her head better, make her life better. Barring that, just a note saying where Maggie had gone would be all right: “Ran to the Nite Owl for ramen and drugs will be right back xoxo.” Vic heard the voices again. Someone kicked a beer can, not far away. They were moving toward her, they were close, and if she didn’t blow out the candle, they were going to wander into the old children’s wing and see the light shining through the fish tank. Even as this thought came to her, she understood that it was already almost too late. She heard glass crunching underfoot, boot heels moving closer She sprang up. Her knee collapsed. She dropped onto it, bit down on a scream When Vic tried to stand, the leg refused to cooperate. She stretched it out behind her with great care—shutting her eyes and pushing through the pain—and then dragged herself across the floor, using her knuckles and her right foot. What it saved in agony, it made up for in humiliation Her right hand grabbed the back of the rolling chair. Her left took the edge of the desk She used the two to hoist herself up and sway forward over the desktop. The men were in the other room, right on the other side of the wall. Their flashlights had not yet swung toward the fish tank, and she thought it possible they had not observed the dim, coppery shine of the candle flame yet, and she bent forward to blow it out, then caught herself staring down at the note written on a sheet of Here Library stationery “WHEN THE ANGELS FALL, THE CHILDREN GO HOME.” The paper was spattered with water stains, as if long ago someone had read this message and wept Vic heard one of the voices in the next room: Hank, we got a light. This was followed, a moment later, by a crackle of voices on a walkie-talkie, a dispatcher passing along a message in numbered code. There was a 10-57 at the public library, six officers responding, victim dead on the scene. Vic had bent to put out the candle, but “victim dead” stopped her. She leaned forward, lips pursed, but had forgotten what she’d intended to do The door behind her moved, wood scraping against stone, hitting some loose glass and sending it tinkling “Excuse me,” came the voice behind her “Ma’am, could you step over here? Please keep your hands in full sight.” Vic picked up Chekhov’s gun and turned around with it and pointed it at his chest. “No.” There were two of them. Neither had his gun out, and she was not surprised. She doubted if most police officers unsnapped their holsters in the line of duty even once in an average year. Chubby white boys, the both of them The one in front pointed a powerful penlight at her. The other was stuck in the doorway

behind him, still half in the children’s library “Ay!” squeaked the boy with the light “Gun! Gun!” “Shut up. Stay where you are,” she said “Keep your hands away from your belts. And drop that flashlight. It’s right in my fucking eyes.” The cop dropped it. It shut off the moment it fell from his hand, clattered across the floor They stood there, freckled and dumpy and scared, the candlelight rising and falling over their faces. One of them was probably coaching his son’s Little League team tomorrow. The other probably liked being a cop because it meant free milkshakes at McDonald’s. They reminded her of kids playing dress-up “Who’s dead?” she said “Ma’am, you need to put that gun down No one wants to get hurt tonight,” he said His voice wavered and cracked like an adolescent boy’s “Who?” she said, her voice choking up on her, wavering at the edge of a scream “Your radio said someone is dead. Who? Tell me now.” “Some woman,” said the guy in back, stuck in the doorway. The guy in front had raised his hands, palms out. She couldn’t see what the other guy was doing with his hands—probably drawing his gun—but he didn’t matter yet He was jammed behind his partner, would have to shoot through him to get her. “No ID.” “What color was her hair?” Vic cried The second man said, “Did you know her?” “What color was her fucking hair?” “It had orange sprayed into it. Like, orange-soda-colored You know her?” asked the second cop, the one who probably had his gun out It was difficult to work the fact of Maggie’s death into her mind. It was like being asked to multiply fractions while suffering from a head cold—too much work, too baffling Only a moment ago, they had been stretched out on the couch together, Maggie’s arm over her waist and her legs against the backs of Vic’s thighs. The heat of her had put Vic right to sleep. It amazed Vic that Maggie had slipped off to die someplace while Vic herself slept on. It was bad enough that only a few days before, Vic had yelled at Maggie, had cursed and threatened her. This seemed far worse, graceless and inconsiderate, for Vic to sleep peacefully while Maggie died somewhere out in a street “How?” Vic asked “Car, maybe. Looks like she got clipped by a car. Jesus. Just put the gun down. Put the gun down and let’s talk.” “Let’s not,” Vic said, and turned her head and blew out the candle, dropping all three of them into The Dark VIC DIDN’T TRY TO RUN. MIGHT AS WELL TRY TO FLY Instead she stepped rapidly backward, around the desk and against the wall, keeping the cops in front of her. The blackness was absolute, was a geography of blindness. One of the cops shouted, stumbled in the dark. There was a scuffle of boot heels. Vic believed that the one in back had pushed the other out of his way She tossed the paperweight. It made a banging, sliding, rattling thud as it skidded away from her across the floor. Something for them to think about, confuse them about where she was. Vic began to move, keeping the left leg stiff, trying not to put much weight on it She sensed rather than saw an iron bookshelf on her left and slipped behind it. Somewhere in the blind nightworld, a cop knocked over the broom leaning against the wall. It fell with a bang, followed by a yelp of fright Her foot found the edge of a step. If you ever need to get out in a hurry, stay right and keep going down the steps, Maggie had told her, Vic couldn’t remember when. There was a way out of all this darkness, somewhere at the bottom of an unguessable number of stairs. Vic descended She moved in a hop, and once her heel came down on a wet, spongy book and she nearly landed on her ass. Vic fell against the wall, steadied herself, and continued. Somewhere behind her she heard shouts, more than two men now. Her breath rasped in her throat, and it occurred to her again that Maggie was dead. Vic wanted to cry for her, but her eyes were so dry they hurt. She wanted Maggie’s death to make everything quiet and still—the way it was supposed to be in a library—but instead everything was bellowing cops and whistling breath and the knocking of her own pulse She hopped down a last short flight of steps and saw a slash of nighttime darkness standing out against the fuller, more complete darkness of the stacks. The back door stood partly open, held ajar by a chunk of rock Vic slowed as she approached it, expecting to peer out and see a festival of cops in the muddy field behind the library, but when she looked, there was no one. They were all on the far, eastern side of the building Her motorcycle stood alone, close to the bench,

where she had left it. The Cedar River bubbled and churned. The Shorter Way was not there, but then she hadn’t expected it to be She yanked the door open and ducked out under yellow tape, holding the left leg stiff, chugging along in her crooked hop. The sound of police scanners carried on the rich, damp heat of the night. She could not see the cop cars, but one of them had its party lights on, and the strobe flashed against the low, cloudy murk above the library Vic climbed onto the Triumph, threw the kickstand up, stomped on the starter The Triumph boomed The rear door of the library opened. The cop who came through it—tearing down the tape as he spilled outside—had his gun in both hands, pointed at the ground Vic turned the Triumph in a slow, tight circle, wanting the bridge to be there, spanning the Cedar River. It wasn’t. She was cruising along at less than five miles an hour, and that simply wasn’t fast enough. She had never found the Shorter Way going so slowly It was a matter of speed and emptiness—shutting her head off and riding “You! Get off the bike!” the cop yelled He began to jog toward her, pointing his gun off to one side She steered the Triumph up the narrow road that ran behind the library, banged it into second gear, and gunned it up the hill. The wind snatched at her bloody, matted hair Vic cycled up the back road and around to the front of the building. The library fronted a wide avenue, crowded with police cruisers, the night twitching with strobes. At the sound of her engine, men in blue turned their heads to look. There was a small crowd as well, held back by yellow sawhorses, dark figures craning their necks, hoping to see a little blood. One of the cruisers was parked right across the narrow road that looped behind the library You’re boxed in, shithead, she thought She wheeled the Triumph around, back the way she had come. The Triumph dropped down the pitch of the road as if it were dropping over a cliff. She threw it into third gear, continuing to accelerate. She rushed past the library, over on her left. She dived down toward that muddy half-acre field where Maggie had been waiting for her. A cop waited there now, next to Maggie’s bench Vic had the Triumph up to almost forty by now. She pointed it toward the river “Just work, you motherfucker,” she said “I don’t have time for your bullshit.” She banged it into fourth gear. Her lone headlight rushed across the blacktop, over the dirt, out onto the muddy brown turmoil of the river She rushed toward the water. Maybe, if she were very lucky, she would drown. Better than getting fished out and locked up and knowing that Wayne was going to Christmasland and she couldn’t do a thing about it Vic shut her eyes and thought, Fuck it fuck it fuck it fuck it. They were perhaps the only true words of prayer she had ever been able to utter with all her heart. Her ears roared with the sound of her own blood The bike slammed up onto the muddy ground, punched across it toward the river, and then she heard wood hammering under the tires and the bike began to slew and slip. She opened her eyes, found herself shuddering through the darkness across the rotting old boards of the Shorter Way Bridge. At the other end was only darkness. The roaring in her ears was not blood at all but static. A storm of white light whirled between the cracks in the walls. The whole lopsided bridge seemed to shudder around her under the weight of the bike She rushed past her old, cobwebbed Raleigh and was pitched out into damp, buggy, pine-scented darkness, her back tire clawing at soft earth Vic planted her foot on the brake that didn’t work and grabbed reflexively at the brake that did. The bike turned sideways and slid The ground was covered in a springy bed of moss, and the Triumph bunched it up under its tires like loose carpet Vic was on a slight embankment, out in the piney woods somewhere. Water dripped in the branches, although it was not actually raining She kept the bike up while it did a sideways judder across the ground, then cut the engine, snapped down the kickstand She looked back into the bridge. At the far end, she could see the library and that freckled, whey-faced cop standing at the entrance to the Shorter Way. He rotated his head slowly, looking at the entrance to the bridge. In another moment he would step inside Vic squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head. The left eye hurt, as if it were a metal bolt being screwed into the socket “Go away!” she yelled, gritting her teeth There was a great clap of sound, as if someone had slammed an enormous door, and a shockwave of hot air—air that smelled like ozone,

like a burned metal pan—was flung out at her, almost blew over the bike, and her with it She looked up. At first she could not see much through the left eye. Her vision out of that eye was obscured by blurred patches, like splashes of muddy water on a window But from the other she could see that the bridge had popped out of existence, leaving behind tall pines, the reddish trunks glistening from a recent rain And what had happened to the cop at the other end? Vic wondered if he’d put a foot over the threshold—or stuck in his head. What happened if some part of him was over the edge, on the bridge? She visualized a child poking fingers under a paper cutter and then bringing the long blade down “You can’t do anything about that now,” she said, and shuddered Vic turned, taking in her surroundings for the first time. She was behind a single-story log house, light glowing in a kitchen window Beyond it, on the other side of the cabin, was a long gravel lane leading back to a road She had never seen the place before, but she thought she knew where she was, and in another moment she was sure. As she stood astraddle her bike, the back door opened and a small, thin man appeared behind the screen, looking up the hill at her. He had a cup of coffee in one hand. She could not see his face but recognized him by shape alone, by the tilt of his head, even though she had not seen him in more than ten years She was at her father’s house at last. She had given the cops the slip and made it back to Chris McQueen Dover, New Hampshire A LOUD CLAP, LIKE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DOOR SLAMMING SHUT. An electronic squeal. A deafening roar of static Tabitha Hutter shouted and flung her headphones down Daltry, sitting on her right, flinched but kept his own headphones on for a moment longer, his face screwed up in pain “What just happened?” Hutter asked Cundy Five of them were packed in the rear of a panel truck that said KING BOAR DELI on the side—fitting, considering they were jammed in like sausages. The truck was parked next to a CITGO station, across the road and a hundred feet south of the drive that led up to Christopher McQueen’s house They had teams in the woods, closer in to McQueen’s cabin, shooting video and using parabolic microphones to listen in. The footage and sound were being broadcast back to the truck. Until a moment ago, Hutter had been able to see the driveway on a pair of monitors, rendered in the supernatural emerald of night vision. Now, though, they showed only a blizzard of green snow The picture had gone out at the same time they lost their sound. One moment Hutter had been listening to Chris McQueen and Louis Carmody speaking in low voices in the kitchen McQueen had been asking Lou if he wanted coffee In the next instant, they were gone, replaced by a furious blast of radio hiss “Don’t know,” Cundy said. “Everything just went down.” He jabbed at the keyboard of his little laptop, but the screen was a smooth face of black glass. “It’s like we got hit with a motherfucking EMP.” Cundy was funny when he swore: a dainty little black man with a piping voice and the trace of a British accent, pretending he was street instead of MIT Daltry tugged his own headphones off. He peeked down at his watch and laughed: a dry, startled sound that had nothing to do with amusement “What?” Hutter asked Daltry turned his wrist so she could see the face of his watch. It looked almost as old as he was, a watch with a clock face and a tarnished silver band that had probably been tinted to look like gold once upon a time The second hand rolled around and around, moving backward. The hour and minute hands had both frozen perfectly still “It killed my watch,” he said. He laughed again, this time looking toward Cundy. “Did all this shit do that? All your electronics? Did all this shit just blow up and wipe out my watch?” “I don’t know what did it,” Cundy said “Maybe we was touched by lightning.” “What fucking lightning? You hear any thunder?” “I did hear a loud clap,” Hutter said “Just as everything cut out.” Daltry put a hand in the pocket of his coat, tugged out his cigarettes, then seemed to remember that Hutter was sitting beside him and gave her a sidelong glance of wry disappointment He let the pack slip back into his pocket “How long will it take to get video and sound restored?” Hutter asked “It could’ve been a sunspot,” Cundy said, as if she hadn’t spoken. “I’ve heard the sun is kicking up with a solar storm.”

“Sunspot,” Daltry said. He placed his palms together, as in prayer. “You think sunspot, huh? You know, I can just tell you went to six years of college and majored in neuroscience or something, because only a truly gifted mind could talk himself into such utter horseshit. It’s dark out, you autistic fuck.” “Cundy,” Hutter said, before Cundy could come around in his chair and start some kind of male dick-measuring contest. “How long before we’re back online?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. Five minutes? Ten? To reboot the system? Unless there’s a nuclear war going on out there. In which case it’ll probably take longer.” “I’ll go look for a mushroom cloud,” Tabitha Hutter said, getting up off the bench and doing a shuffling sideways walk toward the rear doors “Yeah,” Daltry said. “Me, too. If the missiles are flying, I want a smoke before we get wiped out.” Hutter turned the latch, opened the heavy metal door to the damp night, and jumped down Mist hung beneath the streetlights. The night throbbed with insect song. Across the street, fireflies lit the ferns and weeds in gassy green flashes Daltry lowered himself down beside her. His knees cracked “Christ,” he said. “I thought for sure I’d be dead of something at this age.” His company did not cheer her but only made her more conscious of her own aloneness. Hutter had believed she would have more friends by now. The last man she’d dated said something to her, shortly before they broke up: “I don’t know, maybe I’m boring, but I never really feel like you’re there when we’re out to dinner. You live in your head. I can’t No room for me in there. I don’t know, maybe you’d be more interested in me if I were a book.” She had hated him at the time, and hated herself a little, but later, looking back, Hutter had decided that even if that particular boyfriend had been a book, he would’ve been one from the Business & Finance aisle and she would’ve passed him by and looked for something in SF & Fantasy Hutter and Daltry stood together in the almost empty parking lot. She could see into the CITGO, through the big plate-glass windows The Pakistani behind the cash register kept flashing them nervous looks. Hutter had told him he wasn’t under surveillance, that the federal government thanked him for his cooperation, but he almost certainly believed that his phone was tapped and they were eyeing him as a potential terrorist “You think you should’ve gone to Pennsylvania?” Daltry asked “Depending on how this turns out, I might go tomorrow.” “Fuckin’ horror show,” Daltry said Hutter had been getting voice mails and e-mails all night about the house on Bloch Lane in Sugarcreek. They had the place covered in a tent and you had to wear a rubber suit and a gasmask to get through the door. They were treating the joint like it was contaminated with Ebola. A dozen forensics experts were in there, state and federal, pulling the place apart. They had been excavating bones from one wall of a root cellar all afternoon. The guy who had lived there, Bing Partridge, had melted most of the remains with lye; what he couldn’t destroy he stored, much the way a bee stores honey, in little cells, lightly mudded over He had not gotten around to dissolving his most recent kill, a guy named Nathan Demeter from Kentucky—the corpse that Vic McQueen had mentioned on the phone. He had vanished a little more than two months ago, along with his vintage Rolls-Royce Wraith. Demeter had picked up the car in a federal auction, more than a decade before Its prior owner was one Charles Talent Manx, former resident at FCI Englewood in Colorado Demeter had mentioned Manx in the note he’d written shortly before his death by strangulation; he had misspelled the name, but it was pretty clear whom he was talking about. Hutter had seen a scan of the note, had read it herself a dozen times Tabitha Hutter had learned the Dewey decimal system and then organized the books in her Boston apartment according to it. She had a plastic box filled with carefully handwritten recipes, ordered by region and food type (main course, appetizers, desserts, and one category labeled “p.c.s.,” for postcoital snacks) She took private, almost guilty pleasure in defragmenting her hard drive She sometimes imagined her own mind as a futuristic apartment with a clear glass floor, clear glass stairs, furniture made out of clear plastic, everything seeming to float: clean, dustless, ordered But it wasn’t like that now, and when she tried to think about what had happened in the last seventy-two hours, she felt overwhelmed and confused. She wanted to believe that information brought clarity. Not for the first time in her life, however, she had the disconcerting notion that it was often the opposite. Information was a jar of flies, and when you unscrewed the lid, they went everywhere and good luck

to you trying to round them all up again Hutter inhaled the mossy-smelling night, shut her eyes, and cataloged the flies: Victoria McQueen had been abducted at age seventeen by Charles Manx, a man who had almost certainly kidnapped others. He was at that time driving a Rolls-Royce Wraith, the 1938 model. Vic got away from him, and Manx was jailed for transporting her across state lines and murdering an active-duty soldier. In another sense Vic had not escaped him at all. Like so many survivors of trauma and probable sexual assault, she was made a prisoner again and again—of her addictions, of madness. She stole things, did drugs, bore a child out of wedlock, and burned through a string of failed relationships. What Charlie Manx had not been able to do she had been trying to do for him ever since Manx had spent close to twenty years locked up in the FCI Englewood Supermax. After drifting in and out of a coma for most of a decade, he had died this past spring. The coroner had estimated his age at ninety—no one knew the exact number, and while he was still cogent, Manx had claimed to be a hundred sixteen years old. The body had been snatched from the morgue by vandals, creating a minor scandal, but there was no question of his death. His heart had weighed 10.2 ounces, a bit light for a man of his size. Hutter had seen a photograph of it McQueen claimed she’d been assaulted again, just three days ago, by Charlie Manx and a man in a gasmask, and that these men had driven off with her twelve-year-old son in the back of a vintage Rolls-Royce It had been reasonable to doubt her story She’d been badly beaten—but her injuries might’ve been inflicted by a twelve-year-old struggling for his life. There were tire tracks on the lawn, but they could’ve been made by her motorcycle as easily as by a car—the soft, wet earth held no usable prints. She claimed she’d been shot at, but forensics had failed to recover a single bullet Also, more damningly: McQueen had secretly contacted a woman, Margaret Leigh, a heartland hooker and drug addict who seemed to have information about the missing child. When McQueen was confronted about Leigh, she fled on a motorcycle, taking nothing. And had disappeared as if she’d dropped down a mine shaft Ms. Leigh had been impossible to locate. She had drifted through a series of shelters and halfway houses in Iowa and Illinois, had not paid taxes or held a job since 2008. Her life had an unmistakably tragic arc: Once she had been a librarian and a beloved if eccentric local Scrabble competitor. Leigh also once held a reputation as something of an amateur psychic, of occasional use to law enforcement What did that mean? Then there was the hammer. The hammer had been on Hutter’s mind for days. The more she learned, the heavier that hammer weighed in her thoughts. If Vic were going to make up a story about being attacked, why not say Manx had come at her with a baseball bat, a shovel, a crowbar? Instead McQueen described a weapon that had to be a bone mallet, just like the one that had gone missing with Manx’s body—a detail that had never appeared in any news report Finally there was Louis Carmody, Vic McQueen’s occasional lover, father of their child, the man who had driven her away from Charlie Manx all those years ago. Carmody’s stenosis was not a put-on; Hutter had spoken to the doctor who treated him, and she had confirmed he had suffered from one, possibly two, “prestroke” events in the space of a week “He should not have left the hospital,” the doctor said to Hutter, as if Hutter herself were to blame for his departure. In a sense she was. “Without an angioplasty, any strain on his heart could initiate an ischemic cascade Do you understand? An avalanche in the brain A major infarction.” “You’re saying he could stroke out,” Hutter said “At any minute. Every minute he’s out there, he’s like a guy lying down in the middle of a road. Sooner or later he will be run over.” And still Carmody had walked out of the hospital, grabbed a cab to the train station half a mile away. There he’d bought a ticket for Boston, presumably in some half-assed attempt to throw law enforcement off, but then walked down the street to a CVS where he made a call to Dover, New Hampshire. Forty-five minutes later Christopher McQueen arrived in a pickup, and Carmody got into the passenger seat. And here they were “So. What do you think Vic McQueen was into?” Daltry asked The tip of his cigarette flared in the dark, casting an infernal light on his seamed, ugly face “Into?” “She made a beeline for this guy Bing Partridge She hunted him down to get information about her son. Which she did. She said so, didn’t

she? She was obviously involved with some reprehensible shitbuckets. That’s why the kid was grabbed, don’t you think? She was being taught a lesson by her business partners.” “I don’t know,” Hutter said. “I’ll ask her when I see her.” Daltry lifted his head, blew smoke into the pale mist. “I bet human trafficking. Or child pornography. Hey, that makes sense, doesn’t it?” “No,” Hutter said, and began to walk At first she was just stretching her legs out, restless to move. Walking helped her think. She put her hands in the pockets of her FBI windbreaker and took herself around the deli truck, down to the edge of the highway When she looked across the road, she could see a few lights from Christopher McQueen’s house through the pines The doctor said that Carmody was lying in the road, waiting to get run down, but that wasn’t quite right. It was worse than that He was strolling up the middle of the street, willfully walking right into oncoming traffic Because there was something at this house that he needed. No, correction: that Wayne needed. It was important enough that all other considerations, including Lou’s own continued survival, could be set aside. It was there in that house. It was two hundred feet away Daltry caught up to her as she was crossing the road. “So what are we doing now?” “I want to sit with one of the surveillance crews,” Hutter said. “If you’re coming, you’ll have to put out that cigarette.” Daltry dropped it in the road and stepped on it When they were across the highway, they walked along the gravel margin. They were forty feet from the drive to Christopher McQueen’s cabin when a voice called “Ma’am?” someone said softly A small, stout woman in a midnight blue rain jacket stepped from under the boughs of a spruce. It was the Indian woman, Chitra. She held a long stainless-steel flashlight in one hand, but she didn’t switch it on “It’s me. Hutter. Who’s here?” “Myself and Paul Hoover and Gibran Peltier.” They were one of two teams positioned in the trees, watching the house. “Something’s wrong with the equipment. The bionic dish quit. The camera won’t turn on.” “We know,” Daltry said “What happened?” Chitra asked “Sunspot,” Daltry said Christopher McQueen’s House VIC LEFT THE TRIUMPH BY THE TREES, ON A SLIGHT RISE ABOVE HER father’s house. When she stood up from the bike, the world lurched She had a sensation of being a small figure in a glass snow globe, being tilted this way and that by an insensitive toddler She started down the slope and was surprised to find she could not walk in a straight line If a cop pulled her over, she doubted she could pass a basic sobriety test, never mind that she had not had a drop to drink. Then it occurred to her that if a cop pulled her over, he would probably cuff her and give her a couple of swats with the nightstick while he was at it Her father’s shape was joined at the back door by that of a big, broad-chested man with an immense stomach and a neck thicker than his shaved head. Lou. She could’ve picked him out of a crowd from five hundred feet away. Two of the three guys who had loved her in her life, watching her make her unsteady way down the hill; the only one missing was Wayne Men, she thought, were one of the world’s few sure comforts, like a fire on a cold October night, like cocoa, like broken-in slippers Their clumsy affections, their bristly faces, and their willingness to do what needed to be done—cook an omelet, change lightbulbs, make with hugging—sometimes almost made being a woman fun She wished she were not so aware of the vast gulf between what the men in her life thought she was worth and her actual value. She had, it seemed to her, always asked and expected too much and given too little. She seemed almost to have a perverse impulse to make anyone who cared about her regret it, to find the thing that would most appall those people and then do that until they had to run away as a matter of self-preservation Her left eye felt like a great screw, slowly turning, twisting tighter and tighter in her eyesocket For a dozen steps, her left knee refused to bend. Then, halfway across the backyard, it folded without warning and she dropped down onto it. It felt as if Manx were smashing it with his hammer Her father and Lou came spilling out the door, hurrying toward her. She waved a hand in a gesture that seemed to mean, Don’t worry about it, I’m cool. She found, however, that she could not stand back up. Now that she was down on one knee, the leg would not unfold Her father looped one arm around her waist He pressed his other hand against her cheek “You’re burning up,” he said. “Jesus, woman. Let’s get you inside.” He took one arm and Lou took the other, and they hauled her to her feet. She turned her

head against Lou for a moment and inhaled deeply. His round, grizzled face was wan, greasy with damp, beads of rainwater all over his bald skull. Not for the first time in her life, she thought he had missed his century and his country: He would’ve made a fine Little John and would’ve been perfectly at ease fishing in Sherwood Forest I would be so happy for you, she thought, if you found someone worth loving, Lou Carmody Her father was on her other side, his arm around her waist. In the dark, well away from his little log house, he was the same man he had been when she was a kid—the man who’d joked with her while he put Band-Aids on her scrapes and who took her for rides on the back of his Harley. But as he stepped into the light spilling from the open back door, she saw a man with white hair and a face made gaunt with age. He had a regrettable mustache and leathery skin—the skin of a lifelong smoker—with deep lines etched into his cheeks His jeans were loose and baggy on his nonexistent ass and pipe-cleaner legs “What’s that pussy tickler doing on your face, Dad?” she asked He shot her a surprised sidelong look, then shook his head. Opened his mouth and closed it. Shook his head again Neither Lou nor her father wanted to let go of her, and so they had to turn sideways to shuffle in through the door. Chris went first and helped her over the doorsill They paused in a back hallway, a washer and dryer on one side, some pantry shelves on the other. Her father looked at her again “Oh, Vic,” he said. “What in God’s name’s been done to you?” And he shocked her by bursting into tears It was noisy, choked, unpretty crying that shook his thin shoulders. He cried with his mouth open so she could see his metal fillings in the back of his teeth. She felt a little like crying herself, could not believe she looked any worse than he did. It seemed to her she had last seen him only a while ago—it felt like last week—and he had been fit, limber, and ready, with calm, pale eyes that suggested he wouldn’t run from anything Although he had run. And so what? She had not done any better herself. By many measures she had probably done worse “You should see the other guy,” she said Her father made a choked sound halfway between a sob and a laugh Lou looked back out through the screen door The night beyond smelled of mosquitoes—an odor a bit like stripped wire, a bit like rain “We heard a noise,” Lou said. “Like a bang.” “I thought it was a backfire. Or a gun going off,” her father said. Tears streamed down his leathery cheeks, hung gemlike in his bushy, tobacco-stained mustache. All he needed was a gold star on his chest and a pair of Colt revolvers “Was that your bridge?” Lou asked. His voice soft and gentle with wonder. “Did you just come across?” “Yes,” she said. “I just came across.” They helped her into the small kitchen. Just one light was on, a smoked-glass dish hanging over the table. The room was as tidy as a show kitchen, the only sign that anyone lived here the smooshed filters in the amber ashtray and the haze of cigarette smoke in the air And the ANFO The ANFO was on the table in an unzipped school backpack, a mass of twenty-kilo sacks. The plastic was slippery and white, covered in warning labels. They were packed tight and smooth. Each was about the size of a loaf of bread. Vic knew without lifting them that they would be heavy, like picking up bags of unmixed concrete They eased her into a cherrywood chair. She stretched out her left leg. She was conscious of an oily sweat on her cheeks and forehead that could not be wiped away. The light over the table was too bright. Being near it was like someone gently forcing a sharpened pencil back through her left eye and into her brain “Can we turn that off?” she asked Lou found the switch, flipped it, and the room was dark. Somewhere down a hall, another lamp was on, casting a brownish glow. She didn’t mind that one so much Outside, the night throbbed with peepers, a sound that made Vic think of a great electrical generator, humming in pulses “I made it go away,” she said. “The bridge. So no one could follow me across it That’s . . . that’s why I’m warm I’ve been across it a few times in the last two days. It makes me a little feverish. It’s okay, though. It’s nothing.” Lou sank into a chair across from her. The wood creaked. He looked ridiculous, sitting at the little wooden table, like a bear in a tutu Her father leaned against the kitchen counter, his arms crossed over his slender, sunken chest. The darkness, she thought, was a relief

to them both. Here they were both shadows, and he could be himself again, the man who sat in her bedroom when she was sick and told her stories about places he had gone on his motorcycle, scrapes he’d been in. She could be the person she was when they shared the same house, a girl she liked very much, missed very much, and with whom she had little in common “You used to get like this when you were small,” her father said, his thoughts perhaps running along the same course. “You’d come in from riding around town on your bike, usually with something in one hand. A lost doll. A lost bracelet. And you’d be a little warm and telling lies. Your mom and I used to talk about it all the time. About where you went. We thought maybe you had light fingers, that you were . . . ah, borrowing things, then bringing them back when people noticed they were gone.” “You didn’t think that,” she said. “You didn’t think I was out stealing.” “No. I guess that one was mostly your mother’s theory.” “What was your theory?” “That you were using your bike like a dowsing rod. You know about dowsing rods? Old-timers in these parts would get a piece of yew or hazel and wave it around looking for water Sounds crazy, but where I grew up, you didn’t dig a well without talking to a dowser first.” “You’re not too far off. You remember the Shorter Way?” He lowered his head in thought. In profile he looked almost exactly like the man he had been at thirty “Covered bridge,” he said. “You and the other kids used to dare each other to cross it. Thing gave me fits. Looked ready to fall into the river. They took it down—1985?” “’86. Except it never really came down for me. When I needed to find something, I could ride out into the woods and it would reappear, and I could go across it to whatever was missing. As a kid I used my Raleigh. Remember the Tuff Burner you got me for my birthday?” “It was too big for you,” he said “I grew into it. Like you said I would.” She paused, then nodded back in the direction of the screen door. “Now I’ve got my Triumph out there. Next time I go across the Shorter Way Bridge, it’ll be to meet Charlie Manx He’s the one who has Wayne.” Her father did not reply. His head remained bowed “For what it’s worth, Mr. McQueen,” Lou said, “I believe every crazy-ass word of this.” “You just came across it? Just now?” her father asked. “This bridge of yours?” “Three minutes ago I was in Iowa. Seeing a woman who knows—knew—about Manx.” Lou frowned, heard Vic putting Maggie in past tense, but she went on before he could interrupt and ask a question she couldn’t bear to answer “You don’t have to take it on faith. Once you tell me how to use the ANFO, I’ll make the bridge reappear, so I can be on my way You’ll see it. It’s bigger than your house Remember Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street?” “Big Bird’s imaginary friend?” her father asked, and she could sense him smiling in the dark “The bridge isn’t like that. It isn’t some make-believe thing only I can see. If you absolutely had to see it, I could bring it back right now, but . . . but I’d rather not until it’s time to go.” She reached, unconsciously, to rub at the cheekbone below her left eye. “It’s getting to be like a bomb going off in my head.” “You’re not riding off right now anyway,” he said. “You just got here. Look at you You’re in no shape. You need rest. A doctor, probably.” “I’ve had all the rest I need, and if I head to a hospital, any doctor I see is going to prescribe a pair of handcuffs and a trip to the lockup. The feds think—I don’t know what they think. That I killed Wayne, maybe. Or that I’m into something illegal and he was snatched to teach me a lesson They don’t believe me about Charlie Manx I can’t blame them. Manx died. A doctor even performed a partial autopsy on him. I sound like a fucking nutjob.” She caught herself, eyed him in the dark. “How come you believe me?” “Because you’re my girl,” he said He said it so plainly and gently that she couldn’t help hating him, felt a sudden, unexpected sickness rising in her breast She had to look away. Had to take a deep breath to keep her voice from shuddering with emotion “You left me, Dad. You didn’t just leave Mom. You left us. I was in trouble, and you took off.” He said, “By the time I knew it was a mistake, it was too late to come back. That’s usually how it is. I asked your mom to take me back, and she said no, and she was right to.” “You still could’ve stayed close. I could’ve

come to your place on weekends. We could’ve spent time together. I wanted you there.” “I was ashamed. I didn’t want you to look at the girl I was with. The first time I saw you two together was the first time I realized I didn’t belong with her.” He waited a moment, then said, “I can’t say I was happy with your mother. I can’t say I enjoyed almost twenty years of being judged by her and always found wanting.” “Did you let her know that with the back of your hand a couple times, Dad?” she said, her voice curdled with disgust “I did,” he said. “In my drinking days I asked her to forgive me before she died, and she did. That’s something, although I don’t forgive myself for it. I’d tell you I’d give anything to take it all back, but I don’t believe that kind of line is worth much.” “When did she forgive you?” “Every time we talked. I talked to her every day in the last six months. She’d call when you went to AA meetings. To joke around. To tell me about how you were doing. What you were drawing. What Wayne was up to. How you and Lou were managing. She’d e-mail me photos of Wayne.” He stared at her in the dark for a moment and said, “I don’t expect you to forgive me. I made some choices that are unforgivable. The worst things you think about me—they’re all true. But I love you and always have, and if I can do anything to help you now, I will.” She put her head down, almost between her knees. She felt winded and light-headed. The darkness around her seemed to swell and recede like a kind of liquid, like the surface of a black lake “I won’t try and justify my life to you It can’t be justified,” he said. “I did a few good things, but I never got carried away with myself.” She couldn’t help herself. She laughed It hurt her sides and felt a little like retching, but when she lifted her head, she found she could look at him “Yeah. Me neither,” she said. “I did a few good things, but I never got carried away. Mostly I was best at blowing shit up Just like you.” “Speaking of blowing shit up,” Lou said “What are we doing with this?” He gestured toward the backpack filled with ANFO He had a paper tag looped around his exposed wrist. Vic stared at it. He saw her looking, and he blushed and tucked it into the sleeve of his flannel coat Lou went on. “This is explosive, right? How safe is it for you to be smoking in here around it?” Her father inhaled deeply on his cigarette, then leaned in between them and deliberately put the butt out in the ashtray next to the backpack “Safe enough, long as you don’t drop it into a campfire or something. The detonators are in that bag hanging offa Vic’s chair.” Vic glanced around and saw a shopping bag strung over one post of the chair back. “Any one of those sacks of ANFO would be ideal for blowing up the federal building of your choice. Which is hopefully not what you’re planning on.” “No,” Vic said. “Charlie Manx is headed to a place called Christmasland. It’s this little kingdom he’s got set up for himself where he thinks no one can touch him. I’m going to meet him there and take Wayne back, and I’m going to blast his place into the dirt while I’m at it. Crazy fuck wants every day to be like Christmas, but I’ll give him the fucking Fourth of July.” Outside EVERY TIME TABITHA HUTTER SETTLED AND WENT STILL, THE MOSQUITOES returned, whining at one ear or the other. Brushing her cheek, she startled two of them, sweeping them off her and into the night. If Hutter had to work a stakeout, she preferred the car, liked air-conditioning and her iPad It was a matter of principle not to complain She would die of blood loss first, sucked dry by the fracking little vampires. She especially wasn’t going to grumble about it in front of Daltry, who squatted down with the others and then sat there like a statue, a smirk on his mouth and his eyelids half closed When a mosquito settled on his temple, she slapped it and left a bloody smudge on his skin. He jerked but then nodded his appreciation “They love you,” he said to her. “The mosquitoes. They love all that tender lady flesh, gently marinated in grad school. You probably taste like veal.” There were three others at the surveillance post in the woods, including Chitra, all of them dressed in lightweight black rain shells over tactical body armor. One agent held the sonic dish—a black gun with a mouth like a megaphone and a coiled black telephone cord stretching to the receiver in his ear Hutter leaned forward, tapped his shoulder, whispered, “Are you getting anything out of that?” The man with the listening device shook his head. “I hope they’re getting something at the other position. I don’t hear anything except white noise. It’s been nothing but

static ever since that little burst of thunder.” “It wasn’t thunder,” Daltry said. “It didn’t sound anything like thunder.” The guy shrugged The house was a one-story log cabin with a pickup parked out front. A single dim lamp was on in a front sitting room. One of the shades was halfway up, and Hutter could see a television (turned off), a couch, a hunting print on the wall. Some girlie white lace curtains hung in another front window, indicating a bedroom. There couldn’t be much else in there: a kitchen in back, a bathroom, maybe a second bedroom, although that would be pushing it. So that meant Carmody and Christopher McQueen were in the back of the house “Is it possible they’re whispering?” Hutter asked. “And your equipment isn’t sensitive enough to pick them up?” “When this is working, it’s about sensitive enough to pick up loud thoughts,” said the man with the earpiece. “The problem is that it’s too sensitive. It caught a blast of something it couldn’t handle and maybe blew a capacitor.” Chitra rooted in a gym bag and came up with a can of Deep Woods OFF “Thank you,” Hutter said, taking it from her. She glanced at Daltry. “You want?” They rose together so she could spray him down Standing, she could see a bit of the slope behind the house rising toward the tree line Two squares of warm, amber-hued light spread out across the grass, light from the windows at the rear of the house She squeezed the button, sprayed white mist over Daltry. He shut his eyes “You know what I think that big slamming sound was?” he said. “That fat bastard keeling over. Thanks, that’s enough.” She stopped spraying. He opened his eyes “You going to be okay if he drops dead?” “He didn’t have to run,” she said “You didn’t have to let him.” Daltry grinned when he said it. “You enabled the poor boy.” Hutter felt an urge, clear and simple, to spray OFF into Daltry’s eyes And there it was, the source of her discomfort, her restlessness. Louis Carmody seemed too trusting, too good-humored, too worried about his boy, too kind to his ex to have had anything to do with Wayne’s disappearance. He was, Hutter thought, an innocent, but she had hung him out there anyway, to see where he’d lead her, and never mind he could drop from a stroke at any time. If the big man stroked out, was that on her head? She supposed it was “We needed to see what he’d do. Remember This isn’t about his well-being. It’s about the boy’s.” Daltry said, “You know why I like you, Hutter? Really like you? You’re a bigger son of a bitch than I am.” Hutter thought, not for the first time, that she hated a lot of cops. Ugly, mean drunks who believed the worst of everyone She shut her eyes and misted OFF over her head and face and neck. When she opened her eyes and exhaled, to blow away the poison, she saw that the lights in the back of the house had gone out, had vanished from the lawn. She wouldn’t have noticed it if she were crouching down Hutter shifted her gaze to the front room She could see the hall leading to the back of the house, but no one came down it. She glanced at the front bedroom, waited for someone to turn a light on there. No one did Daltry hunkered down with the others, but she remained standing. After a minute he craned his head back to look at her “Are you pretending to be a tree?” “Who do we have watching the rear of the house?” she asked The second state trooper, a guy who had until now not spoken, looked back at her. His face was pale and freckled, and with his ginger hair he somewhat resembled Conan O’Brien “No one. But there’s nothing back there Miles of woods, no trail. Even if they made us, they wouldn’t run that—” Hutter was already stalking away, hands stretched out in front of her to protect her face from branches Chitra caught up to her in four steps. She had to hustle to keep up, her handcuffs jangling on her belt “You are concerned?” she asked Behind her she heard a branch snap, heard shoes crunching in the deadfall. That would be Daltry, following in no particular hurry He was as bad as the mosquitoes; she needed a spray to repel him “No,” Hutter said. “You had a position There was no reason not to hold it. If they leave, they’ll go out the front door. That’s completely reasonable.” “So . . . ?” “I’m puzzled.” “About . . . ?” “Why they’re sitting in the dark. They shut the lights off back here, but they didn’t come into the front of the house. So that means they’re sitting in the back of the house with the lights off. Doesn’t that seem peculiar?” On her next step, her foot sank into cold, brackish water, three inches deep. She grabbed the slender trunk of a birch sapling to steady herself. In another yard Hutter was in up to her knees. The water didn’t look any different from the ground, a black surface carpeted in leaves and branches As Daltry came up along beside them, he plunged into the water up to his thighs, staggered,

nearly fell “We could use a light,” Chitra said “Or a snorkel,” Daltry said “No light,” Hutter said. “And you can go back if you don’t like getting wet.” “What? And miss all the fun? I’d rather drown.” “Don’t get our hopes up,” Hutter told him Inside MCQUEEN SAT AT THE TABLE WITH THEM IN THE DARK. HE HAD the bag of detonators in his lap and had removed one and held it in his hand. Lou was not reassured to see that the detonator in no way resembled the high-tech devices used to ignite explosives on 24 or in a Mission: Impossible film. They were instead little black timers from Home Depot, with curiously familiar-looking brass-ended wires dangling from them “Uh, Mr. McQueen? Dude?” Lou asked. “That looks like the kind of timer I use to switch on the Christmas lights when it’s getting dark.” “That’s all it is,” he said. “Best I could do on short notice. The sacks are prepped, which means the compounds inside have been soaked in diesel and wired with a small charge. You just tie in the line, same as you’d tie in your Christmas lights The black hand tells you what time it is The red hand tells you when it’ll turn on your lights. Or, in this case, go off with about twenty thousand foot-pounds of force Enough to tear off the front of a three-story building, if the charge is placed right.” He paused and looked at Vic. “Don’t wire them until you get where you’re going. You don’t want to be bouncing around on your bike with these wired up.” Lou wasn’t sure what frightened him more: the knapsack full of ANFO or the way the guy looked at his daughter, his watery pale eyes so clear and cool as to have nearly no color at all “I kept it simple and real al-Qaeda,” McQueen said, and dropped the timer back into the shopping bag. “This wouldn’t pass state requirements, but it would do okay in Baghdad. Ten-year-olds strap this stuff to their bodies and blow themselves up without any trouble all the time. Nothing will get you to Allah faster. Guaranteed.” Vic said, “I understand.” Reaching for the backpack and pushing up from the table “Dad, I have to go. It isn’t safe for me to be here.” “I’m sure you wouldn’t have come if there was any other way,” he said She leaned toward him and kissed his cheek “I knew you’d have my back.” “Always,” he said He held on to her, arm around her waist. His gaze reminded Lou of certain mountain lakes that appeared crystalline and pure because acid rain had killed everything in them “Minimum safe distance for an open-air blast—that’s a bomb on the surface of the ground—is a hundred feet. Anyone within a hundred feet will have their insides jellied by the shockwave Have you scoped out this joint? This Christmasland? Do you know where you’re going to place your charges? It’ll probably take an hour or two to safely wire and set these things.” “I’ll have time,” she said, but Lou knew from the way she held her father’s gaze, from the look of perfect calm on her face, that she was full of it “I won’t let her kill herself, Mr. McQueen,” Lou said, pushing himself up and reaching for the grocery bag full of timers. He plucked it out of Christopher McQueen’s lap before the man could move. “You can trust me.” Vic blanched. “What are you talking about?” “I’m going with you,” Lou said. “Wayne’s my fuckin’ kid, too. Anyway. We had a deal, remember? I fix the bike and you take me along You don’t get to go off and do this thing without me being there to make sure you don’t blow the both of you up. Don’t worry. I’ll ride bitch seat.” “What about me?” Chris McQueen said. “You think I could follow you across the magic rainbow bridge in my truck?” Vic drew a thin breath. “No. I mean . . . just no. Neither of you can come. I know you want to help, but neither of you can go with me Look. This bridge . . . it’s real, you’ll both be able to see it. It’ll be here, with us, in our world. But at the same time, in some way I don’t understand, it also mostly exists in my head. And the structure isn’t very safe anymore. Hasn’t been safe since I was a teenager. It could collapse under the weight of carrying another mind. Besides I might have to come back through with Wayne sitting behind me. Probably will have to come back through that way. If he’s on the bike, Lou, where are you going to sit?” “Maybe I could just follow you back across on foot. You ever think of that?” Lou asked “That’s a bad idea,” she said. “If you saw it, you’d understand.” “Well,” Lou said, “let’s go see.” She gave him a look that was pained and pleading A look like she was fighting the urge to cry “I need to see,” Lou said. “I need to

know this is real, and not because I’m worried you’re crazy but because I need to believe there’s a chance here for Wayne to come home.” Vic gave her head a savage shake, but then she swiveled on her heel and hobbled for the back door She got two steps before she began to tilt over. Lou caught her arm “Look at you,” he said. “Dude. You can hardly stay upright.” The heat coming off her sickened him “I’m okay,” she said. “This will be over soon.” But in her eyes was a dull shine of something worse than fear—desperation, maybe. Her father had said that any numb-ass ten-year-old could strap himself to ANFO and blow himself to Allah, and it came to Lou now that this was in fact a rough approximation of her plan They pushed through the screen door, into the cool of the night. Lou had noticed Vic swiping her hand under her left eye now and then. She was not crying, but water ran from the eye uncontrollably, a faint but continuous trickle. He had seen that before, in the bad days in Colorado, when she answered phones that weren’t ringing and talked to people who weren’t there Except they had been there. It was strange how quickly he had acclimated himself to that idea, how little struggle it had been to accept the terms of her madness as fact after all Perhaps it wasn’t so incredible. He had long accepted that everyone had his own world inside, each as real as the communal world shared by all but impossible for others to access. She had said she could bring her bridge into this world but that in some way it also existed only in her mind. It sounded like delusion until you remembered that people made the imaginary real all the time: taking the music they heard in their head and recording it, seeing a house in their imagination and building it. Fantasy was always only a reality waiting to be switched on They stepped past the woodpile, out from under the overhang of the roof and into the gentle, trembling mist. He glanced back as the screen door slapped shut again, Christopher McQueen following them out. Vic’s dad snapped his lighter and lowered his head to set fire to another cigarette, then looked up and squinted through the smoke at her bike “Evel Knievel used to ride Triumphs,” he told them, the last thing any of them said before the cops came out of the woods “EFF BEE EYE!” shouted a familiar voice from the tree line. “DON’T MOVE. HANDS IN THE AIR, HANDS IN THE AIR, ALL OF YOU!” A dull throb of pain shot up the left side of Lou’s neck, a thing he felt in his jaw, in his teeth. It crossed his mind that Vic wasn’t the only one in possession of high explosive—he had a grenade ready to go off in his brain Of the three of them, only Lou seemed to think “HANDS IN THE AIR” was more than a suggestion Lou’s hands began to drift upward, palms out, although he still held the bag of detonators, the plastic strap looped over one thumb. He could see Chris McQueen at the periphery of his vision, over by the woodpile. The guy was perfectly motionless, still hunched in the act of lighting his cigarette, the tip glowing, his lighter in his other hand Vic, though. Vic bolted at the first shout, slipping away from Lou and staggering across the yard, her left leg stiff, refusing to bend. Lou dropped his hands and reached for her, but she was already ten feet away. By the time the woman coming out of the woods shouted “ALL OF YOU!” Vic had thrown one leg over the saddle of the Triumph. The other foot was coming down on the kickstart. The motorcycle roared to life in a shattering blast of noise. It was hard to imagine that a bag of ANFO could be any louder “NO, VIC, NO, VIC, NO! I WILL HAVE TO SHOOT YOU!” cried Tabitha Hutter The little woman was coming through the wet grass in a kind of sideways jog, holding an automatic pistol in both hands, just like cops did on TV shows. She was already close—fifteen, twenty feet away, close enough for Lou to see that her spectacles were dappled with raindrops. She had two others with her: the detective, Daltry, and a state trooper Lou recognized, an Indian woman. Daltry’s trousers were soaked to the crotch, and he had dead leaves sticking to his pant legs, and he looked bad-tempered about it. He had a gun but was holding it out from his body, pointed away and at the ground. Taking them in, Lou recognized—half consciously—that only one of them was an immediate threat. Daltry’s gun was pointing away, and Hutter couldn’t see through her glasses. The Indian woman, though, held her gun on Vic, pointing it at Vic’s center mass, and her eyes had a tragic look to them—her eyes seemed to say, Please, please do not make me do something I don’t want to do “I’m going to get Wayne, Tabitha!” Vic shouted. “If you shoot me, you’ll kill

him, too. I’m the only way he’s coming home.” “Wait!” Lou cried. “Wait! No one shoot anyone!” “STOP MOVING!” Hutter shouted Lou didn’t know who the hell she was talking about—Vic was sitting on her bike, and Chris was over at the woodpile, hadn’t taken a single step. It was only when she twitched the barrel of the gun to point it at him that he realized he was the one moving. Without thinking about it, and with his hands up by his head, he had begun to cross the yard, stepping between Vic and the police officers By now Hutter was just three long steps away from him. She squinted through her glasses, the barrel of the gun lowered to point at Lou’s vast expanse of belly. She might not be able to see him very well, but he supposed it was like shooting at a barn; the challenge would be in missing him Daltry had turned toward Christopher McQueen but in a sign of profound indifference did not bother to even cover him with his gun Lou said, “Hang on. No one’s the bad guy here. The bad guy is Charlie Manx.” “Charlie Manx is dead,” Tabitha Hutter said “Tell that to Maggie Leigh,” Vic said “Charlie just murdered her in Iowa at the Here Public Library. One hour ago. Check it out. I was there.” “You were—” Hutter started, then shook her head, as if to whisk a mosquito away from her face. “Get off the bike and lie facedown on the ground, Vic.” In the distance Lou heard other voices shouting, heard branches splintering, people charging through the bush. The sounds came from the other side of the house, which meant they probably had as much as twenty seconds before they were encircled Vic said, “I have to ride,” and clunked the motorcycle into first gear “I’m going with her,” Lou said Hutter continued to approach. The barrel of the gun was almost but not quite close enough to grab “Officer Surinam, will you cuff this man?” Hutter said Chitra Surinam began to move past and around Hutter. She lowered the barrel of her gun, and her right hand dropped to reach for the cuffs dangling from the side of her utility belt. Lou had always wanted a utility belt, like Batman’s, with a grappling-hook gun on it and a few flash-bang bombs. If he had a utility belt and a flash-bang bomb now, he could throw one and blind the cops, and he and Vic could make their getaway. Instead he was holding a bag of Christmas-light timers from Home Depot Lou took a step back, so he was next to the bike, close enough to feel the blazing heat of the shuddering pipes “Give me the bag, Lou,” Vic said Lou said, “Ms. Hutter. Ms. Hutter, please, please, radio your guys and ask about Maggie Leigh. Ask about what just happened in Iowa You’re getting ready to arrest the only person who can get my kid back. If you want to help our son, you need to let us go.” “No more talk, Lou,” Vic said. “I’ve got to leave.” Hutter squinted, as if she were having trouble seeing through her glasses. No doubt she was Chitra Surinam closed in on him. Lou held out one hand, as to ward her off, and he heard a steely cranking sound and found she had thrown one bracelet of the handcuffs on him “Whoa!” he said. “Whoa, dude!” Hutter slipped a cell phone out of her pocket, a silver rectangle the size of a hotel soap She did not dial a number but depressed a single button. The phone blooped, and a male voice came through static “Cundy here. You throw down on the bad guys out there?” Hutter said, “Cundy. Any word on the hunt for Margaret Leigh?” The phone hissed Chitra said to Lou, “Your other hand, please, Mr. Carmody. Your other hand.” He didn’t give it to her. Instead he held his left hand up out of reach, the plastic bag looped over his thumb, as if it were a bag of stolen candy and he was the schoolyard bully who had snatched it and didn’t intend to give it back Cundy’s voice came through the hiss, his tone unhappy. “Uh, are you feeling especially psychic today? We just got word. Five minutes ago. I was going to tell you when you got back.” The shouts from the other side of the house were closer “Tell me now,” Hutter said “What the fuck is this?” Daltry asked Cundy said, “She’s dead. Margaret Leigh was beaten to death. The cops there like McQueen for it. She was spotted leaving the scene on her motorcycle.” “No,” Hutter said. “No, that’s . . . that’s impossible. Where did this happen?” “Here, Iowa. A little over an hour ago Why is it so imposs—” But Hutter hit the button again, cut him off She looked past Lou at Vic. Vic was twisted around on the saddle, the bike shuddering beneath her, staring back at her “It wasn’t me,” Vic said. “It was Manx. They’re going to find out she was

beaten to death with a hammer.” At some point Hutter had lowered her gun entirely She put her phone in the pocket of her coat, wiped at the water on her face “A bone mallet,” Hutter said. “The one Manx took with him when he walked out of that morgue in Colorado. I don’t—I can’t—understand this. I’m trying, Vic, but I just can’t make sense of it. How is he up and walking? How are you here when you were just in Iowa?” “I don’t have time to explain about the rest. But if you want to know how I got here from Iowa, stick around. I’ll show you.” Hutter said to Chitra, “Officer, will you please . . . take the cuffs off Mr. Carmody? They won’t be necessary. Maybe we should just talk. Maybe all of us should just talk.” “I don’t have time to—” Vic started, but none of them heard the rest “Oh, what the fuck is this?” Daltry said, turning away from Chris McQueen and bringing up his gun to aim at Vic. “Get off the motorcycle.” “Officer, holster your weapon!” Hutter cried “The fuck I will,” Daltry said. “You’re out of your mind, Hutter. Shut off the bike, McQueen. Shut it off now.” “Officer!” Hutter yelled. “I am in charge here, and I said—” “On the ground!” screamed the first FBI agent around the eastern side of the house He had an assault rifle. Lou thought it might be an M16. “ON THE FUCKING GROUND!” It seemed as if everyone was yelling, and Lou felt another dull wallop of pain in his temple and the left side of his neck. Chitra wasn’t looking at him, her head twisted around to stare at Hutter with a mix of anxiety and wonder Chris McQueen flicked his cigarette into Daltry’s face. It hit below his right eye in a spray of red sparks, and Daltry flinched, the barrel of his gun lurching off target. Chris’s free hand found a piece of stovewood at the top of the woodpile, and he came around with it and clubbed Daltry across the shoulder hard enough to stagger him “Get out of here, Brat!” he yelled Daltry took three stumbling steps across the mucky earth, steadied himself, lifted the gun, and put one bullet into McQueen’s stomach and another into his throat Vic screamed. Lou turned toward her, and as he did, his shoulder bumped Chitra Surinam This was, unfortunately, a bit like being bumped by a horse. Surinam put one foot back into the soggy earth, bent her ankle wrong, and went straight backward, sitting down in the wet grass “Everyone lower your weapons!” Hutter cried. “Goddamn it, HOLD YOUR FIRE!” Lou reached for Vic. The best way to get his arms around her was to put a leg over the back of the bike “Off the motorcycle, off the motorcycle!” hollered one of the men in body armor. There were three of them coming across the grass with their machine guns Vic’s face was turned to look back at her father, her mouth stretched open in her last cry, her eyes blind with amazement. Lou kissed her fevered cheek “We need to go,” he said to her. “Now.” He closed his arms around her waist, and in the next instant the Triumph was under way and the night was lit up with the thunderous rattle of machine-gun fire Out Back THE SOUND OF THE GUNS SHOOK THE DARKNESS ITSELF VIC FELT ALL that noise tearing through her, mistook it for the impact of bullets, and reflexively grabbed the throttle. The back tire smoked and slipped across the wet earth, peeled up a long, soggy strip of grass. Then the Triumph jumped forward, into the darkness A part of her was still looking back, watching her father double over, reaching for his own throat, hair falling across his eyes. His mouth open as if he were trying to vomit A part of her was catching him before he could sink to his knees, was holding him in her arms A part of her was kissing his face. I’m right here, Dad, she told him. I’m right here with you. She was so close to him she could smell the fresh-poured-copper smell of his blood Lou’s soft, bristly cheek was pressed to the side of her neck. He was spooned against her, the backpack full of explosives crushed between their bodies “Just ride,” he said. “Get us where we have to go. Don’t look, just ride.” Dirt flew up on her right as she twisted the bike around, pointing it upslope, toward the trees. Her ears registered the sound of bullets smacking into the soil behind them. Through the racket of gunfire, she picked out Tabitha Hutter’s voice, wavering with strain: “STOP SHOOTING, STOP SHOOTING!” Vic couldn’t think and didn’t need to Her hands and feet knew what to do, her right foot kicking up into second gear, then third The bike scrambled up the wet hill. The pines rose in a dark wall before them. She lowered her head as they cut in between the tree trunks A branch swatted her across the mouth, stung

her lips. They broke through the brush, and the tires found the boards of the Shorter Way Bridge and began to clatter over them “What the fuck?” Lou cried She hadn’t entered straight on, and her head was still down, and her shoulder hit the wall. The arm went dead, and she was shoved back into Lou In her mind her father was falling into her arms again Vic pulled on the handlebars, veering to the left, getting them away from the wall In her mind she was saying, I’m right here, while the two of them sank together to the ground One of the floorboards cracked under the front tire, and the handlebars were wrenched out of her hands She kissed her father’s temple. I’m right here, Dad The Triumph careened into the left-hand wall Lou’s left arm was smashed against it, and he grunted. The force of him striking the wall made the whole bridge shudder Vic could smell the scalpy odor of her father’s hair. She wanted to ask him how long he had been alone, why there was no woman in the house. She wanted to know how he kept himself, what he did to pass his evenings. She wanted to tell him she was sorry and that she still loved him; for all the bad, she still loved him Then Chris McQueen was gone. She had to let him go, let him slide free from her arms She had to ride on without him Bats shrilled in the dark. There was a sound like someone riffling through a deck of cards, only vastly amplified. Lou twisted his head to look up between the rafters. Big, gentle, unshakable Lou did not scream, hardly made a sound at all, but he took a great sharp breath of air and ducked as dozens, perhaps hundreds, of bats, disturbed from their rest, dropped from the ceiling and rained upon them, whirling through the dank space. They were everywhere, brushing against their arms, their legs. One of them whisked by Vic’s head, and she felt its wing graze her cheek and caught a glimpse of its face as it flitted past: small, pink, deformed, yet oddly human She was looking at her own face, of course It was all that Vic could do to stop herself from shrieking as she struggled to keep the Triumph on course The bike was almost to the far end of the bridge now. A few of the bats darted lazily out into the night, and Vic thought, There goes part of my mind Her old Raleigh Tuff Burner appeared before her. It seemed to race toward her, the headlight rushing over it. She realized, a half instant too late, that she was going to hit it and that the consequences would be brutal. The front tire smacked the Raleigh dead-on The Triumph seemed to snag and catch on the rusted, cobwebbed bicycle and was already turning sideways and toppling over as it exited the covered bridge. A dozen bats poured out with them The tires tore raggedly at dirt, then grass Vic saw the ground fall away, saw they were about to tip over an embankment. She had a glimpse of pine trees, decorated with angels and snowflakes Then they went over a steep drop. The bike turned, dumping them off the side. It followed them down, crashing onto the both of them in an avalanche of hot iron. The world cracked open, and they fell into darkness The Sleigh House LOU WAS AWAKE FOR CLOSE TO AN HOUR BEFORE HE HEARD A DRY, quiet crackling and saw little white flakes dropping into the dead leaves around him. He tipped his head back and squinted into the night. It had begun to snow “Lou?” Vic asked His neck was stiffening up, and it hurt to lower his chin. He looked over at Vic, lying on the ground to his right. She had been asleep a moment ago, but now she was with him, eyes open wide “Yeah,” he said “Is my mother still here?” “Your mother’s with the angels, babe,” he said “The angels,” Vic said. “There’s angels in the trees.” Then: “It’s snowing.” “I know. In July. I’ve lived in the mountains my whole life. I know spots where the snow stays year-round, but I’ve never seen the snow fall this time of year. Not even up here.” “Where?” she asked “Right above Gunbarrel. Where it all started.” “It started in Terry’s Primo Subs when my mother left her bracelet in the bathroom Where’d she go?” “She wasn’t here. She’s dead, Vic. Remember?” “She was sitting with us for a while. Over there.” Vic lifted her right arm and pointed at the embankment above them. The tires from the motorcycle had torn deep gouges in the slope, long, muddy trenches. “She said something about Wayne. She said Wayne will still have a little time when he gets to Christmasland, because he’s been running himself backward

Two steps back for every two miles forward He won’t be one of those things. Not yet.” She was stretched out on her back, arms at her sides, ankles together. Lou had put his flannel-lined coat over her; it was so big it covered her to her knees, as if it were a child’s blanket. Vic turned her head to look at him. She had a vacuity of expression that scared him “Oh, Lou,” she said, almost tonelessly “Your poor face.” He touched his right cheek, tender and swollen from the corner of his mouth to the edge of his eye socket. He didn’t remember how he got that one. The back of his left hand was badly burned, a steady throb of pain—when they came to rest, the hand had been caught under the bike, a hot pipe pressed against it. He couldn’t stand to look at it. The skin was black and cracked and glistening He kept it down by his side, where Vic couldn’t see it either It didn’t matter about his hand. He didn’t think he had much time left. That sensation of ache and pressure in his throat and left temple was constant now. His blood felt as heavy as liquid iron. He was walking around with a gun to his head, and he thought at some point, before the night was over, it would go off. He wanted to see Wayne again before that happened He had pulled her from the bike as they went over the embankment, managed to roll so she was under him. The bike glanced off his back If the Triumph had hit Vic—who probably weighed a hundred and five pounds with a brick in each pocket—it probably would’ve snapped her spine like a dry twig “You believe this snow?” Lou asked She blinked and wiggled her jaw and stared into the night. Flecks of snow dropped onto her face. “It means he’s almost here.” Lou nodded. That was what he thought it meant “Some of the bats got out,” she said “They came out of the bridge with us.” He suppressed a shiver, couldn’t suppress the feeling of his skin crawling. He wished she hadn’t mentioned the bats. He had caught a glimpse of one, brushing past him, its mouth open in a barely audible shriek. As soon as he looked at it, he wished he had not seen it, wished he could unsee it. Its shriveled pink face had been horribly like Vic’s own “Yeah,” he said. “I guess they did.” “Those things are . . . me. The stuff in my head. When I use the bridge, there’s always a chance some of them will escape.” She rolled her head on her neck to look at him again. “That’s the toll. There’s always a toll. Maggie had a stutter that got worse and worse the more she used her Scrabble tiles. Manx had a soul once, probably, but his car used it up. Do you understand?” He nodded. “I think.” “If I say some things that don’t make sense,” she said, “you have to let me know. If I start to seem confused, you straighten me out. Do you hear me, Lou Carmody? Charlie Manx will be here soon. I need to know you’ve got my back.” “Always,” he said She licked her lips, swallowed. “Good. That’s good. Good as gold. What’s gold stays gold forever, you know? That’s why Wayne is going to be okay.” A snowflake caught in one of her eyelashes The sight of it struck him as almost heartbreaking in its beauty. He doubted he would ever see anything so beautiful again in his life. To be fair, he was not anticipating living beyond the evening “The bike,” she said, and blinked again Alarm rose upon her features. She sat up, elbows resting on the ground behind her. “The bike has to be all right.” Lou had pried it out of the dirt and leaned it against the trunk of a red pine. The headlight hung from its socket. The right-hand mirror had been torn off. It was missing both mirrors now “Oh,” she said. “It’s all right.” “Well. I don’t know. I haven’t tried starting it. We don’t know what might’ve come loose. You want me to—” “No. It’s okay,” she said. “It’ll start.” The breeze blew the dusting of snow at a slant The night filled with soft chiming sounds Vic lifted her chin, looked into the branches above them, filled with angels, Santas, snowflakes, globes of silver and gold “I wonder why they don’t smash,” Lou said “They’re horcruxes,” Vic said Lou shot a look at her, hard, worried. “You mean like in Harry Potter?” She laughed—a frightening, unhappy sound “Look at all of them. There is more gold and there are more rubies in these trees than there were in all of Ophir. And it will end the same here as it did there.” “‘Oh, fear’?” he asked. “You’re not making sense, Vic. Come back to me.” She lowered her head, shook it as if to clear

it, then put a hand against her neck, grimaced in pain Vic looked up at him from beneath her hair It shocked him—how suddenly like herself she seemed. She had that Vic smirk on her face and that look of mischief in her eyes that had always turned him on She said, “You’re a good man, Lou Carmody I may be one crazy bitch, but I love you I’m sorry about a lot of things I put you through, and I wish like hell you’d met someone better than me. But I am not sorry we had a kid together. He’s got my looks and your heart. I know which one is worth more.” He put his fists on the ground and slid on his butt to be next to her. He reached her side and put his arm around her and hugged her to his chest. Rested his face in her hair “Who says there’s better than you?” he said. “You say things about yourself I wouldn’t let anyone else in the world get away with saying.” He kissed her scalp “We made a good boy. Time to get him back.” She pulled away from him to look up in his face. “What happened to the timers? The explosives?” He reached for the backpack, a few feet away It was open “I started work on them,” he said. “A little while ago. Just something to do with my hands while I waited for you to wake up.” He gestured with his hands, as if to show how useless they were when they were empty Then he put his left mitt down, hoping she hadn’t noticed how badly it was burned The cuffs dangled from the wrist of his other hand. Vic smiled again, tugged on them “We’ll do something kinky with these later,” she said. Except she said it in a tone of inexpressible weariness, a tone that suggested not erotic anticipation but the distant memory of red wine and lazy kisses He blushed; he had always been an easy blusher She laughed and pecked his cheek “Show me what you’ve got done,” she said “Well,” he told her, “not much. Some of the timers are no good—they got smashed while we were making our great escape. I’ve got four of them wired up.” He reached into the sack and removed one of the slippery white packages of ANFO. The black timer dangled close to the top, connected to a pair of wires—one red and one green—that went down into the tight plastic bag containing the prepared explosive. “The timers are just little alarm clocks, really. One hand shows the hour, the other shows when they’re set to switch on See? And you press here to start them running.” It made his armpits prickle with monkey sweat, just holding one of the slick packs of explosive A fucking Christmas-light timer was the only thing between the two of them and an explosion that wouldn’t leave even fragments “There’s one thing I don’t get,” he said. “When are you going to plant them? And where?” He got to his feet and craned his head, looking either way, like a child about to cross a busy road They were in among trees on the sunken floor of the forest. The drive leading up to the Sleigh House was directly behind him, a gravel lane running along the embankment, a road barely wide enough to allow the passage of a single car To his left was the highway, where, almost exactly sixteen years before, a stringy teenage girl with coltish legs had come bursting out of the underbrush, her face blackened with soot, and been seen by a fat twenty-year-old on a Harley. At the time Lou had been riding away from a bitter argument with his father Lou had asked for a little money, wanted to get his GED, then apply to state college and study publishing. When his father asked why, Lou said so he could start his own comic-book company. His father put on a puss and said why not use money as toilet paper, it would come to the same thing. He said if Lou wanted an education, he could do what he had done, and join the marines. Maybe lose some of the fat in the process and get a real haircut Lou took off on his bike so his mother wouldn’t see him crying. It had been in his mind to drive to Denver, enlist, and disappear from his father’s life, spend a couple years in the service overseas. He would not return until he was a different man, someone lean and hard and cool, someone who would allow his father to hug him but would not provide a hug in return. He would call his father “sir,” sit stiffly at attention in his chair, resist smiling. How do you like my haircut, sir? he might ask. Does it meet your high standards? He wanted to drive away and come back remade, a man his parents didn’t know. As it was, that was very much what happened, although he never got as far as Denver To his right was the house where Vic had nearly burned to death. Not that it was a house anymore, not by any conventional definition. All that remained was a sooty cement platform and a tangle of burned sticks. Amid the ruin was a blistered and blackened old-fashioned Frigidaire

on its side, the smoked and warped frame of a bed, part of a staircase. A single wall of what had once been the garage appeared almost untouched. A door set in that wall stood open, implying an invitation to come on in, pull up some burned lumber, have a seat, and stay awhile. Broken glass silted the rubble “I mean . . . this isn’t, like, Christmasland, right?” “No,” she said. “It’s the doorway He probably doesn’t need to come here to cross over, but it’s easiest for him here.” Angels held trumpets to their lips, drifted and swayed in the flecks of snow “Your doorway—” he said. “The bridge It’s gone. It was gone by the time we hit the bottom of the slope.” “I can get it back when I need it,” she said “I wish we could’ve brought those cops through with us. Led ’em right across. Maybe they could’ve pointed all those guns at the right guy.” She said, “I think the less weight put on the bridge, the better. It’s an avenue of last resort. I didn’t even want to bring you across.” “Well. I’m here now.” He still held a glossy package of ANFO in one hand. He slipped it gently back in with the others and hefted the backpack. “What’s the plan now?” She said, “The first part of the plan is that you give those to me.” She took one strap of the backpack. He stared at her for a moment, the pack between them, not sure he ought to allow her to have it, then let go. He had what he wanted; he was here now, and no way she could get rid of him. She hooked it over her shoulder “The second part of the plan—” she started, then turned her head and looked toward the highway A car slid along through the night, the light of its headlamps stammering through the trunks of the pines, casting absurdly long shadows across the gravel drive. It slowed as it approached the turnoff toward the house. Lou felt a dull throb of pain behind his left ear. The snow fell in fat goose-feather flakes, beginning to collect on the dirt road “Jesus,” Lou said, and he hardly recognized his own strained voice. “It’s him. We aren’t ready.” “Get back here,” Vic said She grabbed him by the sleeve and backpedaled, walking him across the carpet of dry, dead leaves and pine needles. The two of them slipped into a stand of birch trees. For the first time, Lou noticed their breath smoking in the moonlit-silvered night The Rolls-Royce Wraith turned onto the long gravel road. A reflection of the bone-colored moon floated on the windshield, caught in a cat’s cradle of black branches They watched it make its stately approach Lou felt his thick legs trembling. I just need to be brave for a little while longer, he thought. Lou believed with all his heart in God, had believed since he was a kid and saw George Burns in Oh, God! on video. He sent up a mental prayer to skinny, wrinkled George Burns now: Please. I was brave once, let me be brave again. Let me be brave for Wayne and Vic. I’m going to die anyway, so let me die the right way. It came to him then that he had wanted this, had often daydreamed of it: a final chance to show he could lay aside fear and do the thing that needed to be done. His big chance had come at last The Rolls-Royce rolled past them, tires crunching on the gravel. It seemed to slow as it came abreast of them, not fifteen feet off, as if the driver had seen them and was peering out at them. But the car did not stop, merely proceeded on its unhurried way “The second part?” Lou breathed, aware of his pulse rapping painfully in his throat Christ, he hoped he didn’t stroke out until it was all over “What?” Vic asked, watching the car “What was the second part of the plan?” he asked “Oh,” she said, and took the other bracelet of his handcuffs and locked it around the narrow trunk of a birch tree. “The second part is you stay here.” In the Trees ON LOU’S SWEET, ROUND, BRISTLY FACE WAS THE LOOK OF A CHILD who has just seen a car back over his favorite toy. Tears sprang to his eyes, the brightest thing in the dark It distressed her to see him nearly crying, to see his shock and disappointment, but the sound of the handcuff snapping shut—that sharp, clear click, echoing on the frozen air—was the sound of a final decision, a choice made and irreversible “Lou,” she whispered, and put a hand on his face. “Lou, don’t cry. It’s all right.” “I don’t want you to go alone,” he said “I wanted to be there for you. I said I

would be there for you.” “You were,” she said. “You still will be. You’re with me wherever I go: You’re part of my inscape.” She kissed his mouth, tasted tears, but did not know if they were his or her own. She pulled back from him and said, “One way or another, Wayne is walking away tonight, and if I’m not with him, he’s going to need you.” He blinked rapidly, weeping without shame He did not struggle at the cuffs. The birch was perhaps eight inches thick and thirty feet high. The bracelet of the cuff barely fit around it. He stared at her with a look of grief and bewilderment. He opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to find any words The Wraith pulled up to the right of the blasted ruin, alongside the single standing wall It stopped there, idling. Vic looked toward it. In the distance she could hear Burl Ives “I don’t understand,” he said She reached down past the cuff to finger the paper hoop around his wrist; the one they had given him in the hospital, the one she had seen back in her father’s house “What’s this, Lou?” she asked “Oh, that?” he asked, and then made a sound that was half laugh, half sob. “I passed out again. It’s nothing.” “I don’t believe you,” she said. “I just lost my father tonight, and I can’t lose you, too. If you think I’m going to risk your life any more than it’s already been risked, then you’re crazier than I am. Wayne needs his dad.” “He needs his mother, too,” he said. “So do I.” Vic smiled—her old Vic smile, a little rakish, a little dangerous “No promises,” she said. “You’re the best, Lou Carmody. You’re not just a good man. You are a real honest-to-God hero. And I don’t mean because you put me on the back of your motorcycle and drove me away from this place. That was the easy part. I mean because you’ve been there for Wayne every single day. Because you made school lunches and you got him to his dentist appointments and you read to him at night. I love you, mister.” She looked up the road again. Manx had gotten out of the car. He crossed through his own headlights, and she had her first good look at him in four days. He wore his old-fashioned coat with the double line of brass buttons and tails. His hair was black and shiny, slicked back from the enormous bulge of his brow He looked like a man of thirty. In one hand he held his enormous silver hammer. Something small was cupped in the other hand. He stepped out of the lights and into the trees, disappearing briefly into shadow “I have to go,” she said. She leaned in and kissed the side of Lou’s cheek He reached for her, but she slipped away and walked to her Triumph. She looked it up and down. There was a fist-size dent in the teardrop-shaped gas tank, and one of the pipes was hanging loose, looked like it might drag on the ground But it would start. She could feel it waiting for her Manx stepped out of the woods and stood between the taillights at the rear of the Wraith He seemed to look straight at her, although it didn’t seem possible that he could see her in the dark and falling snow “Hello!” he called. “Are you with us, Victoria? Are you here with your mean machine?” “Let him go, Charlie!” she shouted. “Let him go if you want to live!” Even at a distance of two hundred feet, she could see Manx beaming at her. “I think you know by now I am not so easy to kill! But come along, Victoria! Follow me to Christmasland! Let’s go to Christmasland and finish this thing! Your son will be glad to see you!” Without waiting for a reply, he climbed in behind the wheel of the Wraith. The taillights brightened, dimmed, and the car began to move again “Oh, Jesus, Vic,” Lou said. “Oh, Jesus This is a mistake. He’s ready for you. There’s got to be another way. Don’t do it. Don’t follow him. Stay with me, and we’ll find another way.” “Time to ride, Lou,” she said. “Watch for Wayne. He’ll be along in a little bit.” She put her leg over the saddle and turned the key in the ignition. The headlight flickered for a moment, dimly, then guttered out. Vic shivered steadily in her cutoffs and sneakers, put her heel on the kickstart, threw her weight down. The bike coughed and muttered. She leaped again, and it made a listless, flatulent sound: brapp “Come on, honey,” she said softly. “Last ride. Let’s bring our boy home.” She rose to her full height. Snow caught in the fine hairs on her arms. She came down The Triumph blasted to life “Vic!” Lou called, but she couldn’t look at him now. If she looked at him and

saw him crying, she would want to hold him and she might lose her nerve. She put the bike in gear. “Vic!” he shouted again She left it in first while she gunned it up the steep, short slope of the embankment The back tire fished this way and that in the snow-slippery grass, and she had to put a foot down on the dirt and push to get over the hump Vic had lost sight of the Wraith. It had circled the blasted wreck of the old hunting lodge and disappeared through a gap in the trees on the far side. She slammed the bike up into second, then third, accelerating to catch up. Stones flew from under the tires. The bike felt loose and wobbly on the snow, which had now accumulated to a fine dusting on the gravel Around the ruin, into high grass, and then to a sort of dirt track through the fir trees, barely wide enough to accommodate the Wraith It was really just a pair of narrow ditches, with a mass of ferns growing in the space between The boughs of the pines leaned in above her, making a close, dark, narrow corridor. The Wraith had slowed to let her catch up, was only about fifty feet ahead of her. NOS4A2 rolled on, and she followed its taillights The icy air sliced through her thin T-shirt, filled her lungs with raw, frozen breath The trees began to fall away on either side of her, opening into a rock-strewn clearing There was a stone wall ahead, with an old brick tunnel set into it, a tunnel hardly wide enough to admit the Wraith. Vic thought of her bridge. This is his bridge, she thought A white metal sign was bolted to the stone, next to the tunnel entrance. PARK IS OPEN EVERY DAY ALL YEAR-ROUND! GET READY TO SCREAM HIP-HIP SNOW-RAY, KIDS! The Wraith slipped into the tunnel. Burl Ives’s voice echoed back down the brick-lined hole at her—a passageway Vic doubted had existed even ten minutes before Vic entered behind him. The right-hand pipe dragged on the cobbles, throwing sparks. The boom of the engine echoed in the stone-walled space The Wraith exited the tunnel ahead of her She was close behind him, roaring out of the darkness, through the open candy-cane gates, past the nine-foot Nutcrackers standing guard, and into Christmasland at last TRIUMPH ONE ETERNAL CHRISTMAS EVE Christmasland THE WRAITH LED HER DOWN THE MAIN BOULEVARD, GUMDROP Avenue. As the car eased along, Charlie Manx bopped on the horn, three times and then three times again: da-da-da, da-da-da, the unmistakable opening bars of “Jingle Bells.” Vic followed, shivering uncontrollably now in the cold, struggling to keep her teeth from banging together. When the breeze rose, it sliced through her shirt as if she wore nothing at all, and fine grains of snow cut across her skin like flecks of broken glass The tires felt unsteady on the snow-slick cobbles. Gumdrop Avenue appeared dark and deserted, a road through the center of an abandoned nineteenth-century village: old iron lampposts, narrow buildings with gabled roofs and dark dormer windows, recessed doorways Except as the Wraith rolled along, the gaslights sprang to life, blue flames sparking in their frost-rimed casements. Oil lamps lit themselves in the windows of the shops, illuminating elaborate displays. Vic rumbled past a candy store called Le Chocolatier, its front window showing off chocolate sleighs and chocolate reindeer and a large chocolate fly and a chocolate baby with the chocolate head of a goat. She passed a shop called Punch & Judy’s, wooden puppets dangling in the window. A girl in a blue Bo-Peep outfit held her wooden hands to her face, her mouth open in a perfect circle of surprise. A boy in Jack-Be-Nimble short pants held an ax smeared luridly with blood At his feet were a collection of severed wooden heads and arms Looming behind and beyond this little town market were the attractions, as lifeless and dark as the main street had been when they entered. She spied the Sleighcoaster, towering in the night like the skeleton of some colossal prehistoric creature. She saw the great black ring of the Ferris wheel. And behind it all rose the mountain face, a nearly vertical sheet of rock frosted in a few thousand tons of snow Yet it was the vast expanse above that grabbed and held Vic’s attention. A raft of silver clouds filled fully half the night sky, and gentle, fat flakes of snow drifted lazily down. The rest of the sky was open, a harbor

of darkness and stars, and hanging pendant in the center of it all . .  A giant silver crescent moon, with a face It had a crooked mouth and a bent nose and an eye as large as Topeka. The moon drowsed, that enormous eye closed to the night. His blue lips quivered, and he issued a snore as loud as a 747 taking off; his exhalation caused the clouds themselves to shudder. In profile the moon over Christmasland looked very much like Charlie Manx himself Vic had been mad for many years but in all that time had never dreamed or seen anything like it. If there had been anything in the road, she would’ve hit it; it took close to ten full seconds to prise her gaze free from it What finally caused her to look down was a flicker of motion at the periphery of her vision It was a child, standing in a shadowed alley between the Olde Tyme Clock Shoppe and Mr Manx’s Mulled-Cider Shed. The clocks sprang to life as the Wraith passed them, clicking and ticking and tocking and chiming. A moment later a gleaming copper contraption sitting in the window of the Cider Shed began to huff, chuff, and steam The child wore a mangy fur coat and had long, unkempt hair, which seemed to indicate femininity, although Vic could not be entirely sure of gender. She—it—had bony fingers tipped with long, yellow fingernails. Its features were smooth and white, with a fine black tracery under the skin, so that its face resembled a crazed enamel mask, devoid of all expression The child—the thing—watched her pass by, without a word. Its eyes flashed red, as a fox’s will, when reflecting the glow of passing headlights Vic twisted her head to peer back over her shoulder, wanting another look, and saw three other children emerging out of the alley behind her. One appeared to be holding a scythe; two of them were barefoot. Barefoot in the snow This is bad, she thought. You’re already surrounded She faced forward again and saw a rotary directly ahead, which circled the biggest Christmas tree she had ever seen in her life. It had to be well over one hundred twenty feet tall; the base of the trunk was as thick as a small cottage Two other roads angled off the great central rotary, while the remaining portion of the circle was lined by a hip-high stone wall that overlooked . . . nothing. It was as if the world ended there, dropping away into endless night. Vic had a good look as she followed the Wraith partway around the circle The surface of the wall glittered with fresh snow. Beyond was an oil slick of darkness, coagulated with stars: stars rolling in frozen streams and impressionistic swirls. It was a thousand times more vivid, but every bit as false, as any sky Vic had ever drawn in her Search Engine books. The world did end there: She was looking out at the cold, fathomless limits of Charlie Manx’s imagination Without any warning, the great Christmas tree lit all at once, and a thousand electric candles illuminated the children gathered around it A few sat in the lowest branches, but most—perhaps as many as thirty—stood beneath the boughs, in nightdresses and furs and ball gowns fifty years out of date and Davy Crockett hats and overalls and policeman uniforms. At first glance they all seemed to be wearing delicate masks of white glass, mouths fixed in dimpled smiles, lips too full and too red. Upon closer inspection the masks resolved into faces The hairline cracks in these faces were veins, showing through translucent skin; the unnatural smiles displayed mouths filled with tiny, pointed teeth. They reminded Vic of antique china dolls. Manx’s children were not children at all but cold dolls with teeth One boy sat in a branch and held a serrated bowie knife as long as his forearm One little girl dangled a chain with a hook on it A third child—boy or girl, Vic could not tell—wielded a meat cleaver and wore a necklace of bloodied thumbs and fingers Vic was now close enough to see the ornaments that decorated the tree. The sight forced the air out of her in hard, shocked breath Heads: leather-skinned, blackened but not spoiled, preserved partially by the cold Each face had holes where the eyes had once been. Mouths dangled open in silent cries

One decapitated head—a thin-faced man with a blond goatee—wore green-tinted glasses with heart-shaped, rhinestone-studded frames They were the only adult faces in sight The Wraith turned at an angle and stopped, blocking the road. Vic dropped the Triumph into first gear, squeezed the brake, and came to a halt herself, thirty feet away from it Children began to spread out from beneath the tree, most of them drifting toward the Wraith but some circling behind her, forming a human barricade. Or inhuman barricade, as the case might be “Let him go, Manx!” Vic shouted. It took all her will to keep her legs steady, shaken as she was from a mixture of cold and fear The sharp chill of the night stung her nostrils, burned her eyes. There was no safe place to look. The tree was hung with every other grown-up unfortunate enough to find his or her way to Christmasland. Surrounding her were Manx’s lifeless dolls with their lifeless eyes and lifeless smiles The door of the Wraith opened and Charlie Manx stepped out He set a hat on his head as he rose to his full height—Maggie’s fedora, Vic saw He adjusted the brim, cocked it just so. Manx was younger than Vic herself now, and almost handsome, with his high cheekbones and sharp chin. He was still missing a piece of his left ear, but the scar tissue was pink and shiny and smooth. His upper teeth protruded, sticking into his lower lip, which gave him a characteristically daffy, dim-witted look In one hand he held the silver hammer, and he swung it lazily back and forth, the pendulum of a clock ticking away moments in a place where time did not matter The moon snored. The ground shook He smiled at Vic and doffed Maggie’s hat in salute to her but then turned to look upon the children, who came toward him from beneath the branches of their impossible tree. The long tails of his coat swirled around him “Hello little ones,” he said. “I have missed you and missed you! Let’s have some light so I can look at you.” He reached up with his free hand and pulled an imaginary cord dangling in the air The Sleighcoaster lit up, a tangled thread of blue lights. The Ferris wheel blazed. Somewhere nearby a merry-go-round began to turn, and music rang out from invisible speakers. Eartha Kitt sang in her dirty-sweet, naughty-nice voice, telling Santa what a good girl she had been in a tone that suggested otherwise In the bright carnival lights, Vic could see that the children’s clothes were stained with dirt and blood. Vic saw one little girl hurrying toward Charlie Manx with open arms There were bloody handprints on the front of her tattered white nightgown. She reached Charlie Manx and put her arms around his leg He cupped the back of her head, squeezed her against him “Oh, little Lorrie,” Manx said to her Another, slightly taller girl, with long, straight hair that came to the backs of her knees, ran up and embraced Manx from the other side. “My sweet Millie,” he said. The taller girl wore the red-and-blue uniform of a Nutcracker, with crossed bandoliers over her thin chest. The girl had a knife stuck into her gold belt, its bare blade as polished and shiny as a mountain lake Charlie Manx straightened up but kept his arms around his girls. He turned to look at Vic, his face tight, shining with something that might’ve been pride “Everything I have done, Victoria, I have done for my children,” Charlie said. “This place is beyond sadness, beyond guilt. It’s Christmas every day here, forever and ever Every day is cocoa and presents. Behold what I’ve given my two daughters—the flesh of my flesh and the blood of my blood!—and all these other happy, perfect children! Can you really give your son better? Have you ever?” “She’s pretty,” said a boy behind Vic, a small boy with a small voice. “She’s as pretty as my mother.” “I wonder how she’ll look without her nose,” said another boy, and he laughed breathlessly “What can you give Wayne besides unhappiness, Victoria?” Charlie Manx asked. “Can you give him his own stars, his own moon, a rollercoaster that rebuilds itself every day in new hoops and loops, a chocolate shop that never runs out of chocolates? Friends and games and fun

and freedom from sickness, freedom from death?” “I didn’t come to bargain, Charlie!” Vic yelled again. It was hard to keep her gaze fixed on him. She kept glancing from side to side and fighting the urge to look over her shoulder. She sensed the children creeping in around her, with their chains and hatchets and knives and necklaces of severed thumbs. “I came to kill you. If you don’t give my boy back to me, all this will have to go. You and your children and this whole half-wit fantasy. Last chance.” “She’s the prettiest girl ever,” said the little boy with the little voice. “She has pretty eyes. Her eyes are like my mom’s eyes.” “Okay,” said the other boy. “You can have her eyes, and I’ll get her nose.” From off in the dark under the trees came a crazed, hysterical, singing voice: In Christmasland we’ll build a Snowgirl! And make believe that she’s a silly clown! We’ll have lots of fun with Missus Snowgirl Until the other kiddies cut her down! The little boy tittered The other children were silent. Vic had never heard a more terrible silence Manx put his pinkie to his lips: a fey gesture of consideration. Then he lowered his hand “Don’t you think,” he said, “we should ask Wayne what he wants?” He bent and whispered to the taller of his two girls The girl in the Nutcracker uniform—Millie, Vic thought—walked barefoot to the rear of the Wraith Vic heard scuffling to her left, snapped her head around, and saw a child, not two yards away. It was a plump little girl in a matted white fur coat, open to show she wore nothing beneath except a filthy pair of Wonder Woman panties. When Vic looked at her, she went perfectly still, as if they were playing some demented game of Red Light, Green Light. She clutched a hatchet. Through her open mouth, Vic saw a socket filled with teeth. Vic believed she could discern three distinct rows of them, going back down her throat Vic looked back at the car, as Millie reached for the door and opened it For a moment nothing happened. The open door yawned with luxuriant darkness She saw Wayne grip the edge of the door with one bare hand, saw him put his feet out. Then he slid down from the seat and out onto the cobblestones He was gape-mouthed with wonder, looking up at the lights, at the night. He was clean and beautiful, his dark hair swept back from his terribly white brow and his red mouth opened in an amazed grin— And she saw his teeth, blades of bone in sharp, delicate rows. Just like all the others “Wayne,” she said. Her voice was a strangled sob He turned his head and looked at her with pleasure and amazement “Mom!” he said. “Hey! Hey, Mom, isn’t it incredible? It’s real! It’s really real!” He looked over the stone wall, into the sky, at the great low moon with its sleeping silver face. He saw the moon and laughed. Vic could not remember the last time he had laughed so freely, so easily “Mom! The moon has a face!” “Come here, Wayne. Right now. Come to me We have to go.” He looked at her, a dimple of confusion appearing between his dark eyebrows “Why?” he said. “We just got here.” From behind him Millie put an arm around Wayne’s waist, spooning against his back like a lover He twitched, looking around in surprise, but then went still as Millie whispered in his ear. She was terribly beautiful, with her high cheekbones and full lips and sunken temples He listened intently, eyes wide—then his mouth widened to show even more of his bristling teeth “Oh! Oh, you’re kidding!” He looked at Vic in astonishment. “She says we can’t go! We can’t go anywhere because I have to unwrap my Christmas present!” The girl leaned in and began to whisper fervently into Wayne’s ear “Get away from her, Wayne,” Vic said The fat girl in the fur coat shuffled a few steps closer, was almost close enough to plunge the hatchet into Vic’s leg. Vic heard other steps behind her, the kids moving in Wayne gave the girl a puzzled, sidelong look and frowned to himself, then said, “Sure you can help unwrap my present! Everyone can help! Where is it? Let’s go get it, and

you can tear into it right now!” The girl drew her knife and pointed it at Vic Beneath the Great Tree WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY, VICTORIA?” MANX ASKED “LAST CHANCE? I think this is your last chance. I would turn that bike around while you still can.” “Wayne,” she called, ignoring Manx and meeting her son’s gaze directly. “Hey, are you still thinking in reverse like your grammy told you? Tell me you’re still thinking in reverse.” He stared at her, blankly, as if she had asked him a question in a foreign language. His mouth hung partly open. Then, slowly, he said, “.Mom ,hard it’s but ,trying I’m” Manx was smiling, but his upper lip drew back to show those crooked teeth of his, and Vic thought she saw the flicker of something like irritation pass across his gaunt features “What is this tomfoolery? Are you playing games, Wayne? Because I am all for games—just so long as I am not left out. What was that you just said?” “Nothing!” Wayne said—in a tone of voice that suggested he genuinely meant it, was as confused as Manx. “Why? What did it sound like I said?” “He said he’s mine, Manx,” Vic said “He said you can’t have him.” “But I already have him, Victoria,” Manx said. “I have him, and I am not letting him go.” Vic slipped the backpack off her shoulder and into her lap. She unzipped the bag, plunged a hand in, and lifted out one of the tight plastic sacks of ANFO “So help me if you do not let him go, then Christmas is over for every fucking one of you. I’ll blow this whole place right off this ledge.” Manx thumbed the fedora back on his head “My, how you cuss! I have never been able to get used to such language out of young women. I have always thought it makes a girl sound like the lowest sort of trash!” The fat girl in the fur coat took another shuffling half step forward. Her eyes, set back in small piggy folds, flashed red in a way that made Vic think of rabies. Vic gave the bike a smidge of gas, and it jumped forward a few feet. She wanted to put a bit of distance between her and the children closing in on her. She turned the ANFO over, found the timer, set it for what looked like about five minutes, pressed the button to start it running. In that instant she expected a final annihilating flash of white light to wipe away the world, and her insides squeezed tight, preparing for some last, rending burst of pain. Nothing of the sort happened. Nothing happened at all. Vic was not even sure it was running It didn’t make a sound She held the plastic pack of ANFO over her head “There’s a shitty little timer on this thing, Manx. I think it’ll go off in three minutes, but I could be wrong a minute or two in either direction. There’s a whole bunch more in this sack. Send Wayne to me Send him now. When he’s on the bike, I turn it off.” He said, “What do you have there? It looks like one of those little pillows they give you on an airplane. I flew once, from St Louis to Baton Rouge. I will never do that again! I was lucky to get off alive. It bounced the whole way, as if it were on a string and God was playing yo-yo with us.” “It’s a bag of shit,” Vic said. “Like you.” “It’s a— What did you say?” “It’s ANFO. An enriched fertilizer. Soak this shit in diesel and it’s the most powerful explosive this side of a crate of TNT. Timothy McVeigh destroyed a twelve-story federal building with a couple of these. I can do the same to your entire little world and everything in it.” Even across a distance of thirty feet, Vic could see the calculation in his eyes while he thought it through. Then his smile broadened “I don’t believe you’ll do that. Blow yourself up and your son, too. You’d have to be crazy.” “Oh, man,” she said. “Are you just figuring that out?” His grin faded by degrees. His eyelids sank, and the expression in his eyes turned dull and disappointed He opened his mouth then and screamed, and when he did, the moon opened its one eye and screamed with him The eye of the moon was bloodshot and bulging, a sac of pus with an iris. Its mouth was a jagged tear in the night. Its voice was Manx’s

voice, so amplified that it was nearly deafening: “GET HER! KILL HER! SHE CAME HERE TO END CHRISTMAS! KILL HER NOW!” The ledge shook. The branches of that enormous Christmas tree flailed at the darkness. Vic lost her grip on the brake, and the Triumph jerked forward another six inches. The backpack full of ANFO slithered out of her lap and fell onto the cobblestones Buildings shuddered beneath the shouting of the moon. Vic had never experienced an earthquake before and could not catch her breath, and her terror was a wordless thing that existed below the level of conscious thought, below the level of language. The moon began to scream—just scream—an inarticulate roar of fury that caused the falling snowflakes to whirl and blow about madly The fat girl took a step and threw the hatchet at Vic, like an Apache in a Western. The heavy, blunt edge clubbed Vic in her bad left knee The pain was transcendent Vic’s hand came off the brake again, and the Triumph lunged once more. The backpack was not left behind, however, but was dragged along behind the Triumph. A strap had caught on the rear foot peg, which Lou had put down when he climbed on the bike behind her. Lou Carmody, as always, to the rescue. She still had the ANFO, even if it was out of reach ANFO. She was even now holding one package of ANFO, clutched to her chest with her left hand, the timer presumably ticking away. Not that it actually ticked, or made any sound whatsoever to suggest that it was working Get rid of it, she thought. Somewhere that will show him how much damage you can do with these things The children surged at her. They rushed from beneath the tree, pouring onto the cobblestones She heard the soft pattering of feet behind her. She looked around for Wayne and saw the tall girl still holding him. They stood beside the Wraith, the girl behind him with an arm gently encircling his chest. In her other hand was her crescent-shaped knife, which Vic knew she would use—on Wayne—before letting him go In the next instant, a child leaped, throwing himself at her. Vic yanked the throttle. The Triumph bolted forward, and the child missed her entirely, crunched into the road on his stomach. The backpack full of ANFO skipped and bounced over the snowy cobbles, hung up on that rear peg Vic gunned the bike straight at the Rolls-Royce, as if she meant to drive right into it. Manx grabbed the little girl—Lorrie?—and shrank back toward the open door, the protective gesture of any father. In that gesture Vic understood everything. Whatever the children had become, whatever he had done to them, he had done to make them safe, to keep them from being run down by the world. He believed in his own decency with all his heart. So it was with every true monster, Vic supposed She pushed down on the brake, clenching her teeth against the stabbing, ferocious pain in her left knee, and twisted the handlebars, and the bike was slung around, almost a hundred eighty degrees. Behind her was a line of children—a dozen of them, running up the road after her She gave it gas again, and the Triumph came screaming at them, and almost all of them scattered like dry leaves in a hurricane One of them, though, a willowy girl in a pink nightdress, crouched and remained in Vic’s path. Vic wanted to blow right through her, run her the fuck down, but at the last moment Vic gave the handlebars a twist, trying to veer around her. She couldn’t help herself, couldn’t drive into a child The bike wobbled dangerously on the slippery rocks and lost speed, and suddenly the girl was on the bike. Her claws—they were, really, the claws of an old crone, with their long, ragged fingernails—grabbed Vic’s leg, and the girl hauled herself up onto the seat behind her Vic accelerated again, and the bike leaped forward, speeding up as it flung itself around the rotary The girl on the bike behind her was making noises, choked, snarling sounds, like a dog One hand slipped around Vic’s waist, and Vic almost shouted at the cold of it, a cold so intense it burned The girl gripped a length of chain in the other hand, which she lifted and brought down on Vic’s left knee, as if she somehow knew exactly what would hurt most. A firecracker went off behind Vic’s kneecap, and she sobbed and shoved her elbow backward. The elbow struck the girl in her white face with its crackling enamel skin The girl cried out—a strangled, broken sound—and

Vic glanced back and her heart gave a sick lurch in her chest and she promptly lost control of the Triumph The girl’s pretty little-girl face had deformed, lips stretching wide, becoming like the mouth of a flukeworm, a ragged pink hole encircled with teeth going all the way down her gullet Her tongue was black, and her breath stank of old meat. She opened her mouth until it was wide enough for someone to put an arm down her throat, then clamped her teeth on Vic’s shoulder It was like being brushed by a chainsaw. The sleeve of Vic’s T-shirt and the skin beneath were torn into a bloody mess The bike went down on its right side, hit the ground in a spray of golden sparks, and slid screeching across the cobblestones. Vic did not know if she jumped or was thrown, only that she was already off the bike and tumbling, rolling across the bricks “SHE’S DOWN, SHE’S DOWN, CUT HER, KILL HER!” the moon screamed, and the ground shook beneath her, as if a convoy of eighteen-wheelers were thundering past She was on her back, arms flung out, head on the stones. She stared at the silvered galleons of the clouds above her (move) Vic tried to decide how badly she was hurt She could not feel her left leg at all anymore (move) Her right hip felt abraded and sore. She lifted her head slightly, and the world swooped around her with a nauseating suddenness (move move) She blinked, and for an instant the sky was filled not with clouds but with static, a charged flurry of black and white particles (MOVE) She sat up on her elbows and looked to her left. The Triumph had carried her halfway around the circle, to one of the roads branching off into the amusement park. She stared across the rotary and saw children—perhaps as many as fifty—streaming toward her through the dark in a silent run. Beyond them was the tree as tall as a ten-story building, and beyond that, somewhere, were the Wraith and Wayne The moon glared down at her from in the sky, its horrible, bloodshot eye bulging “SCISSORS-FOR-THE-DRIFTER! SCISSORS-FOR-THE-BITCH!” bellowed the moon. But for an instant he flickered out of sight, like a TV caught between channels The sky was a chaos of white noise. Vic could even hear it hissing MOVE, she thought, and then abruptly found herself on her feet, grabbing the motorcycle by the handlebars. She heaved her weight against it, crying out as a fresh jolt of withering pain passed through her left knee and her hip The little girl with the flukeworm mouth had been thrown into the door of a shop on the corner: Charlie’s Costume Carnival! It—she—sat against the door, shaking her head as if to clear it. Vic saw that the white plastic sack of ANFO had, somehow, wound up between the girl’s ankles ANFO, Vic thought—the word had achieved the quality of a mantra—and she leaned over and grabbed the backpack, still tangled on the rear peg. She slipped it loose, hung it on her shoulder, and put a leg over the bike The children running at her should’ve been screaming, or war-whooping, or something, but they came on in a silent rush, pouring out of the snowy central circle and spilling across the cobblestones. Vic jumped on the kickstart The Triumph coughed, did nothing She jumped again. One of the pipes, which was now broken loose and dangled over the cobblestones, puffed some watery exhaust, but the engine made only a tired, choked sound and died A rock hit the back of her head, and a black flash exploded behind her eyes. When her vision cleared, the sky was full of static again—for a moment—then blurred and re-formed as clouds and darkness. She hit the kick-starter She heard sprockets whirring, refusing to engage, going dead The first of the children reached her. He did not have a weapon of any kind—perhaps he was the one who had thrown the rock—but his jaw unhinged, opening into an obscene pink cavern filled with row upon row of teeth He fastened his mouth on her bare leg. Fishhook teeth punctured meat, caught in muscle Vic shouted in pain and kicked out with her right foot, to shake the boy loose. Her heel struck the kick-starter, and the engine erupted into life. She grabbed the throttle, and the bike hurtled forward. The boy was yanked off his feet, flung to the stones, left behind She looked over her left shoulder as she raced down the side road toward the Sleighcoaster

and the Reindeer-Go-Round Twenty, thirty, perhaps forty children sprinted down the road behind her, many of them barefoot, their heels whacking on the stones The child who had been tossed into the doors of Charlie’s Costume Carnival was sitting up now. She bent forward, reaching out for the white plastic sack of ANFO by her feet There was a white flash The explosion caused the air to ripple and warp with heat, and Vic believed for a moment that it would lift the bike off the road and fling it into the air Every window on the street exploded. The white flash became a giant ball of flame. Charlie’s Costume Carnival caved in and slid apart in an avalanche of flaming brickwork and a snowstorm of glittering, pulverized glass. The fire belched out across the street, picked up a dozen children as if they were sticks, and tossed them into the night. Cobblestones erupted from the road and launched themselves into the air The moon opened its mouth to cry out in horror, its one great eye bulging in fury—and then the shockwave hit the false sky and the whole thing wobbled, like an image reflected in a fun-house mirror. The moon and stars and clouds dissolved into a field of white electrical snow. The blast carried down the street. Buildings shuddered. Vic inhaled a lungful of burned air, diesel smoke, and powdered brick. Then the wavering repercussions of the blast faded and the sky flickered back into being The moon screamed and screamed, sounds almost as loud and violent as the explosion itself She sped past a hall of mirrors, past a waxwork, and on to the brightly lit and rotating carousel, where wooden reindeer pranced in place of horses. There she grabbed the brake and brought the bike to a fishtailing halt. Her hair was frizzled from the heat of the explosion. Her heart slugged in her chest She looked back toward the debris field that had been the market square. She needed a moment to register—to accept—what she was seeing First one child, then another, then a third emerged from the smoke, coming down the road after her. One of them was still smoking, hair charred. Others were sitting up across the street. Vic saw a boy thoughtfully brush glass out of his hair. He should’ve been dead, had been picked up and thrown into a brick wall, every bone in his body should’ve been smashed into chips, but there he was, getting to his feet, and Vic found that her weary mind was not entirely surprised by this development. The children caught in the explosion had been dead even before the bomb detonated, of course. They were not any more dead now—or any less inclined to stop coming after her She swung the backpack off her shoulder and checked its contents. She hadn’t lost any Lou had wired timers into four of the packs of ANFO, one of which was now gone. There were a couple other sacks of the ANFO, down toward the bottom, that had no timers on them at all Vic slung the bag back over her shoulder and rode, past the Reindeer-Go-Round and on another few hundred yards to the rear of the park and the great Sleighcoaster It was running empty, carts made to look like red sleighs diving and roaring past on the rails, swooping and rising into the night It was an old-fashioned rollercoaster, of the sort that had been popular in the thirties, made entirely of wood. The entrance was a great glowing face of Santa Claus—you walked in through his mouth Vic pulled out a sack of ANFO, set the timer for five minutes, tossed it in between Santa’s gaping jaws. She was about to take off when she happened to look up at the rollercoaster and saw the mummified bodies: dozens of crucified men and women, their skin blackened and withered, eyes gone, their clothes filthy, frozen rags A woman in pink leg warmers that screamed 1984 had been stripped to the waist; Christmas ornaments dangled from her pierced breasts There was a shriveled man in jeans and a thick coat, with a beard that brought to mind Christ, sporting a holly wreath instead of a crown of thorns on his head Vic was still staring up at the corpses when a child came out of the dark and stuck a kitchen knife into the small of her back He could not have been older than ten, and his cheeks were dimpled by a sweet, lovely smile. He was barefoot, wore overalls and a checked shirt, and with his golden bangs and serene eyes he was a perfect little Tom Sawyer. The knife was buried to the hilt, sinking into muscle, the springy tissue beneath, and perhaps perforating an intestine. She felt a pain unlike any she had ever experienced,

a sharp and blessed twinge in her bowels, and she thought, with real surprise, He just killed me. I just died Tom Sawyer pulled the knife back out and laughed gaily. Her own son had never laughed with such easy pleasure. She did not know where the boy had come from. He seemed to have simply appeared; the night had thickened and made a child “I want to play with you,” he said. “Stay and play scissors-for-the-drifter.” She could’ve hit him, elbowed him, kicked him, anything. Instead she gave the bike throttle and simply roared away from him. He stepped aside and watched her go, still holding the blade, wet and shiny with her blood. He was still smiling, but his eyes were puzzled, brow furrowed with confusion, as if he were wondering, Did I do something wrong? The timers were imprecise. The first sack of ANFO had been set to go off in what she estimated was five minutes but had taken closer to ten. She had set the timer on the Sleighcoaster ANFO just exactly the same and should’ve had plenty of time to reach safe distance But when she was less than a hundred yards away, it erupted. The ground buckled beneath her, seemed to roll like a wave. It felt as if the air itself were cooking. She drew a breath that was hot enough to sear her lungs The bike staggered forward, the baking wind hammering at her shoulders, at her back. She felt a fresh, sharp twinge of pain in her abdomen, as if she were being stabbed all over again The Sleighcoaster collapsed in on itself like a shattering, roaring heap of kindling. One of the carts came free of the tracks and blazed through the night, a flaming missile that soared through the darkness and slammed into the Reindeer-Go-Round, smashing the white steeds to flinders. Steel screamed. She looked back just in time to see a rising mushroom cloud of flame and black smoke as the Sleighcoaster toppled She looked away, got the bike going again, weaving around the smoking head of a wooden reindeer, a rack of shattered antlers. She cut down another side street, one she believed would lead her back to the rotary. There was a bad taste in her mouth. She spit blood I am dying, she thought, with surprising calm She hardly slowed at the foot of the grand Ferris wheel. It was a beautiful thing, a thousand blue will-o’-the-wisp lights aligned along its hundred-foot spokes. Cabins roomy enough for a dozen people each, with black-tinted windows and gaslights glowing inside, rotated dreamily Vic fished out another sack of ANFO, set the timer for five minutes, more or less, and hooked it upward. It caught in one of the spokes, close to the central hub. Vic thought of her Raleigh Tuff Burner, the way the wheels had whirred and how she loved the autumn light in New England. She was not going back. She was never going to see that light again. Her mouth kept filling with blood. She was sitting in blood now. The stabbing sensation came in the small of her back again and again Only it didn’t hurt in any conventional sense. She recognized what she was feeling as pain, but it was also, like childbirth, an experience bigger than pain, a feeling that something impossible was being made possible, that she was about to complete some enormous undertaking She rode on and soon arrived back at the central rotary Charlie’s Costume Carnival—a solid cube of flame, barely recognizable as a building—stood on the corner sixty or seventy yards away On the other side of the great Christmas tree was the parked Rolls-Royce. She could see the glow of its high headlights beneath the branches. She did not slow but rode straight at the tree. Vic slipped the backpack off her left shoulder. She reached into it, her other hand on the throttle, found the last sack of ANFO with a timer, twisted the dial, and pushed the button to start it running The front tire skipped over a low stone curb, and she thumped up onto snow-dusted grass The darkness congealed into shapes, children rising up before her. She was not sure they would move, thought they would hold their ground and force her to plow through them Light rose around her, a great flash of reddish brilliance, and for an instant she could see her own shadow, impossibly long, rushing ahead of her. The children were illuminated in a ragged, uneven line, cold dolls in bloodstained pajamas, creatures armed with broken boards, knives, hammers, scissors The world filled with a roar and the shriek of tortured metal. Snow whipped around, and children were knocked to the dirt by the shockwave Behind her the Ferris wheel erupted outward in two jets of flame, and the great circle crashed straight down, dropping from its struts

The impact shook the world and knocked the sky over Christmasland back into an agitation of static. The branches of the immense fir tree clawed at the night with a kind of hysteria, a giant fighting for its life Vic sailed beneath the wild and flailing boughs She flipped the backpack out of her lap, chucked it in against the trunk—her Christmas gift for Charles Talent Manx Behind her the Ferris wheel rolled into town with a great reverberating sound of iron grinding against stone. Then, like a penny that has rolled along a table and lost its momentum, it tilted to one side and fell upon a pair of buildings Beyond the toppled Ferris wheel, beyond the ruin of the Sleighcoaster, an enormous shelf of snow, loosed from the peaks of the high, dark mountain, began to crash down upon the back of Christmasland. For all the deafening roars of explosions and collapsing buildings, there had been no sound yet like this. It was somehow more than sound, was a vibration felt as deep as bone. A blast of snow hit the towers and quaint shops at the back of the park. They were annihilated. Walls of colored rock blew outward before the oncoming avalanche and were promptly covered over The rear of the town collapsed into itself and vanished in a roiling surf of snow, a tidal wave deep enough and broad enough to swallow Christmasland whole. The ledge beneath shook so hard that Vic wondered if it might snap off the side of the mountain, drop the whole park into . . . what? The emptiness that waited beyond Charlie Manx’s pinched little imaginings. The narrow canyons of the roads filled with a flash flood of snow, high enough to consume everything before it. The avalanche did not fall upon Christmasland so much as erase it As the Triumph carried her across the rotary, the Wraith came into sight. It stood covered in a fine film of brick dust, engine rumbling and headlights glowing through air filled with fine particulate matter, a billion grains of ash, snow, and rock swirling on the hot, spark-filled wind. Vic glimpsed Charlie Manx’s little girl, the one named Lorrie, in the passenger seat of his car, peering out the side window into the sudden darkness. The lights of Christmasland had, in the last few moments, blinked out, all of them, and the only illumination that remained was the hissing white static above Wayne was by the open trunk of the car, twisting himself this way and that to be free of the girl, the one named Millie. Millie clutched him from behind, one arm reaching around his chest to hold a fistful of his filthy white T-shirt. In her other hand was that curious hooked knife. She was trying to pull it up to stick it through his throat, but he had her wrist, kept the blade down and his face turned away from its questing edge “You need to do what Daddy wants!” she was screaming at him. “You need to get in the trunk! You have fussed long enough!” And Manx. Manx was moving. He had been at the driver’s-side door, shoveling his precious Lorrie into the car, but now he strode across the uneven ground, swinging his silver hammer, looking soldierly in his legionnaire’s coat, which was buttoned to the neck. Muscles bunched at the corners of his jaw “Leave him, Millie! There isn’t time!” Manx hollered at her. “Leave him and let’s go!” Millie sank her flukeworm teeth into Wayne’s ear. Wayne screamed and thrashed and snapped his head, and the lobe of his ear parted company with the rest of his face. He ducked and made a funny corkscrewing motion in the same instant and came right out of his T-shirt, leaving Millie holding an empty, blood-streaked rag “Oh, Mom! Oh, Mom! Oh—” Wayne shouted, which was the same thing backward as it was forward. He took two running steps, slipped in the snow, went down on all fours in the road And dust swirled in the air. And the darkness shook with cannonades, blocks of stone falling into more stone, a hundred fifty thousand tons of snow, all the snow Charlie Manx had ever seen and ever imagined, came crashing toward them, flattening everything before it Manx stalked on, six strides from Wayne, already lifting his arm back to drop his silver hammer on Wayne’s lowered head. It had been designed for crushing skulls, and Wayne’s would be child’s play “Get out of my way, Charlie!” Vic hollered Manx half turned as she blew past him. Her slipstream grabbed and spun him, sent him staggering back on his heels Then the last of the ANFO, the backpack of it, exploded beneath the tree and seemed to take the entire world with it

Gumdrop Lane HIGH-PITCHED WHINE A confusion of dust and drifting motes of flame The world slid itself into an envelope of silence, in which the only sound was a soft droning, not unlike the emergency broadcasting signal Time softened, ran with the sweet drag of syrup trickling down the side of a bottle Vic glided through the atmosphere of ruin and watched a chunk of burning tree the size of a Cadillac bounce in front of her, appearing to move at less than a fifth of its actual speed In the silent snowstorm of debris—a whirling pink smoke—Vic lost sight of Charlie Manx and his car. She only dimly apprehended Wayne pushing himself up off all fours, like a runner coming out of the blocks. The girl with the long red hair was behind him with the knife, clutching it in both hands now. The ground shuddered and tipped her off balance, sent her reeling back into the stone wall at the edge of the drop Vic weaved around the girl. The child, Millie, turned her head to watch Vic go, her flukeworm mouth open in a sickened look of rage, the rows of teeth churning inside her throat hole The girl pushed off the wall, and as she did, it gave way and took her along with it. Vic saw her lurch back into nothing and drop into that white storm of light Vic’s ears whined. She believed she was calling Wayne’s name. He ran from her—running blind and deaf—and did not look back The Triumph carried her up alongside him She twisted at the waist and reached and caught him by the back of his shorts and hauled him onto the bike behind her, without slowing There was plenty of time to manage this. Everything was moving so quietly and slowly, she could have counted each individual ember floating in the air. Her perforated kidney twanged in shock at this abrupt movement from the waist, but Vic, who was dying quickly now, did not let it trouble her Fire flurried from the sky Somewhere behind her, the snow of a hundred winters smothered Christmasland, a pillow pressed over the face of a terminally ill man It had felt good, to be held by Lou Carmody, to smell his odor of pines and of the garage, and even better to have her own son’s arms around her again, cinching her waist In the droning, apocalyptic darkness, there was at least no Christmas music. How she hated Christmas music. She always had Another burning lump of tree fell to her right, hit the cobbles, and exploded, throwing coals the size of dinner plates. A fiery arrow, as long as Vic’s forearm, whizzed through the air and sliced her forehead open above her right eyebrow. She did not feel it, although she saw it pass by before her eyes She clicked the Triumph effortlessly into fourth gear Her son squeezed her tighter. Her kidney twanged again. He was squeezing the life out of her, and it felt good She put her left hand over his two hands, knotted together at her navel. She stroked his small white knuckles. He was still hers She knew because his skin was warm, not frozen and dead, like Charlie Manx’s pint-size vampires. He would always be hers. He was gold, and gold didn’t come off NOS4A2 erupted from the billowing smoke behind her. Through the dead, droning silence, she heard it, heard an inhuman growl, a precision-engineered, perfectly articulated roar of hate. Its tires carried it juddering and crashing over a field of smashed rock. Its headlights made the storm of dust—that blizzard of grit—shine like a flurry of diamonds. Manx was bent to the wheel, and he had his window down “I’LL SLAUGHTER YOU, YOU MISERABLE BITCH!” he screamed, and she heard that, too, though distantly, like the hush heard in a seashell “I’M GOING TO RUN YOU DOWN, THE BOTH OF YOU! YOU KILLED ALL OF MINE, AND I’M GOING TO KILL YOURS!” The bumper struck her rear tire, gave the Triumph a hard jolt. The handlebars jerked, trying to pull out of her grip. She held on If she didn’t, the front tire would turn sharply to one side or the other, and the bike would dump them, and the Wraith would thud right over them The bumper of the Wraith slammed into them again. She was shoved forward, hard, head almost striking the handlebars When she lifted her chin and looked up, the Shorter Way Bridge was there, its mouth black in the cotton-candy-colored haze. She exhaled, a long rush of breath, and almost shivered with relief. The bridge was there and would take her out of this place, back to where she needed to go. The shadows that waited

within were, in their way, as comforting as her mother’s cool hand on her fevered forehead She missed her mother, and her father, and Lou, and was sorry they had not all had more time together. It seemed to her that all of them, not just Louis, would be waiting for her on the other side of the bridge, waiting for her to climb off the bike and fall into their arms The Triumph banged up onto the bridge, over the wooden sill, and began to rattle over the boards. To her left she saw the old familiar green spray paint, three sloppy letters: LOU → The Wraith boomed up into the bridge behind her, struck the rusted old Raleigh, and sent it flying through the air. It whistled past Vic on her right. The snow came roaring behind, an obliterating blast of it, choking the far end of the bridge, filling it like a cork jammed into a bottle “YOU TATTOOED CUNT!” Charlie Manx screamed, his voice echoing through the vast hollow space. “YOU TATTOOED HOOR!” The bumper banged into the back of the Triumph The Triumph careened to the right, and Vic’s shoulder slammed into the wall with such force she was almost torn off the saddle. The board shattered to show the furious white static beyond. The Shorter Way rumbled and shuddered “Bats, Mama,” Wayne said, his voice soft, the voice of a younger, smaller child. “Look at all the bats.” The air filled with bats, shaken loose from the ceiling. They whirled and raced about in a panic, and Vic lowered her head and flew through them. One struck her in the chest, fell to her lap, flapped hysterically, took to the air again. Another brushed the side of her face with a felty wing. It was a soft, secret, feminine warmth “Don’t be afraid,” Vic told him. “They won’t hurt you. You’re Bruce Wayne! All the bats in here are on your side, kiddo.” “Yes,” Wayne agreed. “Yes. I’m Bruce Wayne. I remember.” As if he had for a while forgotten. Perhaps he had Vic glanced back and saw a bat strike the windshield of the Wraith, with enough force to smash a white spiderweb into the glass, directly in front of Charlie Manx’s face A second bat thwacked into the other side of the windshield, in a spray of blood and fur. It remained caught in one of the windshield wipers, frantically beating a shattered wing A third and a fourth bat smacked into the glass, bouncing off, flying away into the dark Manx screamed and screamed, a sound not of fear but of frustration. Vic did not want to hear the other voice in the car, the child’s voice—“No, Daddy, too fast, Daddy!”—but she caught it all the same, sounds amplified and carrying in the enclosed space of the bridge The Wraith slipped off course, swung to the left, and the front bumper hit the wall and tore away a three-foot section to reveal the hissing white static on the other side, an emptiness beyond thought Manx pulled at the wheel, and the Wraith lurched across the bridge, over to the right, hit the other wall. The sound of boards splintering and snapping was like machine-gun fire. Boards burst and shattered beneath the car. A hail of bats drummed into the windscreen, caving it in. More bats followed, whirling in the cockpit, striking Manx and his child about the head. The little girl began to scream Manx let go of the wheel, flailing at them “Get away! Get away from me you god-awful things!” he screamed. Then there were no words, and he was just screaming Vic hauled on the throttle, and the bike launched itself forward, rushing the length of the bridge, through the darkness boiling with bats. It raced toward the exit, doing fifty, sixty, seventy, taking off like a rocket Behind her the front end of the Wraith crashed through the floor of the bridge. The rear end of the Rolls-Royce lifted into the air Manx slid forward, into his steering wheel, his mouth opening in a terrified howl “No!” Vic thought he screamed. Or maybe  . . maybe it was Snow! The Wraith pitched forward into snow, into white roar, tearing the bridge apart as it went. The Shorter Way Bridge seemed to fold in the center, and suddenly Vic was racing uphill. It collapsed in toward the middle, either end rising, as if the bridge were trying to close itself like a book, a novel that had reached its ending, a story that reader and author alike were about to set aside NOS4A2 dropped through the decayed and rotting floor of the bridge, fell into the furious

white light and buzzing static, plunged a thousand feet and twenty-six years, dropping through time to hit the Merrimack River in 1986, where it was crushed like a beer can as it slammed into the water. The engine block came straight back through the dashboard and buried itself in Manx’s chest, an iron heart that weighed four hundred pounds. He died with a mouth full of motor oil. The body of the child that had sat beside him was sucked out in the current and dragged nearly to Boston Harbor. When her corpse was discovered, four days later, she had several dead, drowned bats tangled in her hair Vic accelerated—eighty, ninety. Bats gushed out of the bridge around her into the night, all of them, all her thoughts and memories and fantasies and guilt: kissing Lou’s big, bare chest the first time she ever took off his shirt; riding her ten-speed in the green shade of an August afternoon; banging her knuckles on the carburetor of the Triumph as she worked to tighten a bolt. It felt good to see them fly, to see them set free, to be set free of them herself, to let go of all thought at last. The Triumph reached the exit and flew with them. She rode the night for a moment, the motorcycle soaring through the frozen dark. Her son held her tight The tires hit the ground with great force Vic was thrown hard against the handlebars, and the twinge in her kidney became an agonized tearing sensation. Keep it shiny side up, she thought, slowing fast now, the front tire wobbling and shaking, the whole bike threatening to fling them off and go down with them. The engine screamed as the motorcycle slammed over the rutted ground. Vic had returned to the clearing in the woods where Charlie Manx had led them over into Christmasland. Grass whipped frantically against the sides of the bike She slowed and slowed and slowed, and the bike gasped and died. She coasted. At last the Triumph eased to a stop at the tree line, and she could safely turn her head and look back. Wayne looked with her, his arms still clenching her tightly, as if they were, even now, racing along at close to eighty miles an hour Across the field she saw the Shorter Way Bridge and a gusher of bats pouring out of it into the starry night. Then, almost gently, the entrance to the bridge fell backward—there was suddenly nothing behind it—and vanished before it hit the ground with a weak pop A faint ripple spread out across the high grass The boy and his mother sat on the dead bike, staring. Bats shrilled softly in the dark Vic felt very easy in her mind. She was not sure there was much of anything left in there now, except for love, and that was enough She drove her heel into the kick-starter The Triumph sighed its regrets. She tried again, felt things tearing inside her, spit more blood. A third time. The kick-starter almost refused to go down, and the bike made no sound at all “What’s wrong with it, Mama?” Wayne asked in his new, soft, little-boy’s voice She wiggled the bike back and forth between her legs. It creaked gently but otherwise made no other sound. Then she understood, and laughed—a dry, weak laugh, but genuine “Out of gas,” she said COME ALL YE FAITHFUL OCTOBER Gunbarrel WAYNE WOKE ON THE FIRST SUNDAY IN OCTOBER, TO THE CLASH OF church bells pealing down the block. His father was there, sitting on the edge of the bed “What were you dreaming?” his new, almost-thin father asked him Wayne shook his head “I don’t know. I don’t remember,” he lied “I thought maybe you were dreaming about Mom,” New Lou said. “You were smiling.” “I guess I must’ve been thinking about something fun.” “Something fun? Or something good?” New Lou asked, watching him with his curious New Lou eyes—inquisitive and bright. “Because they aren’t always the same.” “I don’t remember anymore,” Wayne told him Better to say that than to say he’d been dreaming about Brad McCauley and Marta Gregorski and the other children in Christmasland. Not that it was Christmasland anymore. It was just The White now. It was just the furious white static of a dead channel, and the children ran in it, playing their games. Last night’s game had been called bite-the-smallest. Wayne

could still taste blood. He moved his tongue around and around inside the sticky socket of his mouth. In his dream he’d had more teeth “I’m taking the tow,” Lou said. “Got a piece of work needs doing. You want to come with me? You don’t have to. Tabitha could stay here with you.” “Is she here? Did she sleep over?” “No! No,” Lou said. He seemed genuinely surprised by the idea. “I just mean I could call her and have her come by.” His brow furrowed in concentration, and after a moment he went on, speaking more slowly. “I don’t think I’d feel okay about that right now: a sleepover. I think that would be strange  . . for everyone.” Wayne thought the most interesting part of this statement was the “right now” part, implying that his father might feel okay about a sleepover with Ms. Tabitha Hutter at some later date, TBD Three nights ago they had all come out of a movie—they did that now sometimes, went to movies together—and Wayne had looked back in time to see his father take Tabitha Hutter by the elbow and kiss the corner of her mouth. The way she’d inclined her head and smiled slightly, Wayne understood that it was not their first kiss. It was too casual, too practiced. Then Tabitha had seen Wayne looking and slipped her arm free of Lou’s hand “It wouldn’t bother me!” Wayne said “I know you like her. I like her, too!” Lou said, “Wayne. Your mom . . . your mom was—I mean, saying she was my best friend doesn’t even begin to—” “But now she’s dead. And you should be happy. You should have fun!” Wayne said Lou eyed him gravely—with a kind of sorrow, Wayne thought “Well,” Lou said. “I’m just saying, you can stay here if you want. Tabitha is right down the street. I can have her here in three minutes. You gotta love a babysitter who comes with her own Glock.” “No. I’ll keep you company. Where did you say we’re going?” “I didn’t,” Lou said TABITHA HUTTER CAME BY ANYWAY, UNANNOUNCED, BUZZING UP TO the apartment while Wayne was still in his pajamas. She did that on occasion, came by with croissants, which she said she would trade for coffee. She could’ve bought coffee, too, but she claimed she liked the way Lou made it. Wayne knew an excuse when he heard one. There wasn’t anything special about Lou’s coffee, unless you liked your brew with an aftertaste of WD-40 She had transferred to the Denver office to assist in the ongoing McQueen investigation—a case in which no charges had been filed or ever would be filed. She had an apartment in Gunbarrel and usually ate with Lou and Wayne once a day, ostensibly to talk about what Lou knew. Mostly, though, they talked about Game of Thrones. Lou had finished reading the first book right before he went in for his angioplasty and his gastric bypass, which were performed at the same time. Tabitha Hutter was there when Lou woke up, the day after the surgery. She said she wanted to make sure he lived to read the rest of the series “Hey, kids,” Tabitha said. “You sneaking out on me?” “There’s a job needs doing,” Lou said “On Sunday morning?” “People fuck up their cars then, too.” She yawned into the back of her hand, a small, frizzy-haired woman in a faded Wonder Woman T-shirt and blue jeans, no jewelry, no accessories whatsoever. Aside from the nine-millimeter strapped to her hip. “Okay. Make me a cup of coffee before we go?” Lou half smiled at this but said, “You don’t have to come. This could take a while.” She shrugged. “What else am I going to do with myself? Outlaws like to sleep in. I’ve been FBI for eight years, and I’ve never once had cause to shoot anyone before eleven in the morning. Not as long as I get my coffee anyway.” LOU GOT A DARK ROAST BREWING AND WENT TO START THE TRUCK, Tabitha following him out the door Wayne was alone in the hall, pulling on his sneakers, when the phone rang He looked at it sitting in its black plastic cradle on an end table just to his right It was a few minutes past seven, early for a call—but maybe it was about the job they were getting ready to go off on. Maybe whoever had ditched his car was being helped by someone else. It happened Wayne answered The phone hissed: loud roar of white noise “Wayne,” said a breathy girl with a Russian accent. “When are you coming back? When are you coming back to play?” Wayne couldn’t answer, his tongue sealed to the roof of his mouth, his pulse ticking in his throat. It wasn’t the first time they had called “We need you. You can rebuild Christmasland You can think it all back. All the rides All the shops. All the games. There’s nothing to play with here. You have to help us. With

Mr. Manx gone, there’s only you.” Wayne heard the front door open. He hit END As Tabitha Hutter stepped into the hallway, he was setting the phone back in its cradle “Someone call?” she asked, a kind of calm innocence in her gray-green eyes “Wrong number,” Wayne said. “I bet the coffee is done.” WAYNE WASN’T OKAY, AND HE KNEW IT. KIDS WHO WERE OKAY DID NOT answer phone calls from children who had to be dead. Kids who were okay didn’t dream dreams like his. But neither of these things—not the phone calls or the dreams—was the clearest indicator that he was Not Okay. No. What really marked him out as Not Okay was the way he felt when he saw a photo of a plane crash: charged, jolted by excitement and guilt, as if he were looking at pornography He had been out driving with his father the week before and had seen a chipmunk run in front of a car and get squashed, and he had barked with sudden surprised laughter. His father had snapped his head around and looked at Wayne with hollow-eyed wonder, had pursed his lips to speak but then said nothing—silenced perhaps by the ill look of shock and unhappiness on Wayne’s face. Wayne didn’t want to think it was funny, a little chipmunk zigging when it should’ve zagged, getting wiped out by someone’s Goodyear. That was the kind of thing that made Charlie Manx laugh He just couldn’t help himself There was the time he saw a thing about genocide in the Sudan on YouTube and had discovered a smile on his own face There was a story about a little girl being kidnapped in Salt Lake City, a pretty twelve-year-old blond girl with a shy smile. Wayne had watched the news report in a state of rapt excitement, envying her There was his recurring sense that he had three extra sets of teeth, hidden somewhere behind the roof of his mouth. He ran his tongue around and around his mouth and imagined he could feel them, a series of little ridges right under the flesh. He knew now that he had only imagined losing his ordinary boy teeth, had hallucinated this under the influence of the sevoflurane, just as he had hallucinated Christmasland (lies!). But his memory of those other teeth was more real, more vivid, than the stuff of his everyday life: school, trips to the therapist, meals with his dad and Tabitha Hutter He felt sometimes that he was a dinner plate that had cracked down the middle and then been glued back together, and the two parts did not quite line up. One side—the part of the plate that marked his life before Charlie Manx—was microscopically out of true with the other part of the plate. When he stood back and looked at that crooked plate, he could not imagine why anyone would want to keep it. It was no good now. Wayne did not think this with any despair—and that was part of the problem. It had been a long time since he’d felt anything like despair. At his mother’s funeral, he had very much enjoyed the hymns The last time he saw his mother alive, they were rolling her on a gurney toward the back of an ambulance. The paramedics were in a hurry. She had lost a great deal of blood They would eventually pump three liters into her, enough to keep her alive for the night, but they were too slow to deal with the perforated kidney and intestine, not aware that her system was boiling with her body’s own poisons He had jogged alongside her, holding her hand They were in the gravel parking lot of a general store, down the road from the ruin of Manx’s lodge. Later Wayne would learn that his mother and father had held their very first conversation in that parking lot “You’re okay, kiddo,” Vic said to him She was smiling, although her face was spattered with blood and filth. There was an oozing wound over her right eyebrow, and she had a breathing tube stuck up her nose. “Gold don’t come off. What’s good stays good, no matter how much of a beating it takes You’re okay. You’ll always be okay.” He knew what she was saying. She was saying he wasn’t like the children in Christmasland She was saying he was still himself But Charlie Manx had said something different Charlie Manx said blood didn’t come out of silk Tabitha Hutter had a first tentative sip of her coffee and glanced out the window over the kitchen sink. “Your dad has the truck out front. Grab a jacket in case it’s cold? We should go.” “Let’s ride,” Wayne said THEY SQUEEZED TOGETHER INTO THE TOW TRUCK, WAYNE SITTING IN the middle. There was a time when all three of them wouldn’t have fit, but New Lou didn’t take up as much space as the old Lou. New Lou had a Boris Karloff–in–Frankenstein look, with gangly hanging arms and a collapsed

stomach beneath the big barrel of his chest He had Frankenstein scars to match, running up from under the collar of his shirt along the length of his neck and behind his left ear, where they had performed the angioplasty In the wake of that and the gastric bypass, his fat had just melted away, like so much ice cream left in the sun. The most striking thing was his eyes. It didn’t make sense that losing weight should change his eyes, but Wayne was more aware of them now, more conscious of his father’s intense, questing gaze Wayne settled into place beside his dad, then sat up, to get away from something digging into his back. A hammer—not an autopsy mallet but just an ordinary carpenter’s hammer, the wooden handle worn. Wayne set it next to his father’s hip The tow truck climbed away from Gunbarrel, following switchbacks through old firs, rising steadily into a spotless blue sky. Down in Gunbarrel it was warm enough in the direct rays of the sun, but up here the tops of the trees swished restlessly in a chill breeze that smelled fragrantly of the turning aspens The slopes were streaked with gold “And gold doesn’t come off,” Wayne whispered, but just look: Leaves were coming off all the time, whisking out across the road, sailing the breeze “What did you say?” Tabitha asked He shook his head “How about some radio?” Tabitha asked, and reached past him to turn on some music Wayne could not say why he preferred silence, why the idea of music made him apprehensive Through a thin crackle of static, Bob Seger expressed his fondness for that old-time rock and roll. He averred that if anyone put on disco, he would be ten minutes late for the door “Where did this accident happen?” Tabitha Hutter asked, and, Wayne noted distantly, there was a faint tone of suspicion in her voice “We’re almost there,” Lou said “Was anyone hurt?” Lou said, “This accident happened a while ago.” Wayne didn’t know where they were going until they passed the country store on the left. It wasn’t a store anymore, of course, and hadn’t been for a decade. The pumps remained out front, one of them blackened, the paint boiled off where it had caught fire the day Charlie Manx stopped for a fill. The hills above Gunbarrel had their share of abandoned mines and ghost towns, and there was nothing so remarkable about a lodge-style house with smashed windows and nothing inside except shadows and cobwebs “What do you have in mind, Mr. Carmody?” Tabitha Hutter asked “Something Vic wanted me to do,” Lou said “Maybe you shouldn’t have brought Wayne.” “Actually, I think maybe I shouldn’t have brought you,” Lou said. “I intend to tamper with evidence.” Tabitha said, “Oh, well. I’m off this morning.” He continued on past the general store. In half a mile, he began to slow. The gravel road to the Sleigh House was on the right As he turned in, the static rose in volume, all but erasing Bob Seger’s grainy, affable voice. No one got good reception around the Sleigh House. Even the ambulance had found it difficult to send a clear message to the hospital below. Something to do with the contours of the shelf rock, perhaps. It was easy in the notches of the Rockies to ride out of sight of the world below—and among the cliffs and the trees and the scouring winds, the twenty-first century was revealed to be only an imaginary construct, a fanciful notion that men had superimposed on the world, of no relevance whatsoever to the rock Lou stopped the truck and got out to move aside a blue police sawhorse. Then they went on The tow truck rattled across the washboarded dirt road, easing down almost to the dooryard of the ruin. The sumac was reddening in the fall chill. A woodpecker assaulted a pine somewhere. After New Lou put the truck into park, there was nothing coming from the radio but a roar of white noise When Wayne shut his eyes, he could picture them, those children of the static, those children lost in the space between reality and thought. They were so close he could almost hear their laughter underneath the radio hiss He trembled His father put a hand on his leg, and Wayne opened his eyes and looked at him. Lou had slid down out of the truck but reached back into the cab to set a big hand on his knee “It’s okay,” his father said. “This is all right, Wayne. You’re safe.” Wayne nodded—but his father misunderstood him. He wasn’t afraid. If he was trembling, it was with nervous excitement. The other kids were so close, waiting for him to come back and dream into existence a new world, a new Christmasland, with rides, and food, and games. It was in him to do this. It was in everyone. He needed something, some tool,

some instrument of pleasure, of fun, that he could use to tear a hole out of this world and into his own secret inner landscape Wayne felt the metal head of the hammer against his hip and looked at it and thought, Maybe Take the hammer and bring it down on the top of his father’s head. When Wayne imagined the sound it would make—the deep, hollow knock of steel against bone—he tingled with pleasure. Take it to the center of Tabitha Hutter’s pretty, round, smart, smug, bitch-cunt face, smash her glasses, smash the teeth right out of her mouth. That would be fun. The thought of her pretty full lips rimmed with blood gave him a frankly erotic charge. When he was done with them, he could go for a walk in the woods, back to the cliff face, where the brick tunnel to Christmasland had been Take the hammer and hit the rock, swing the hammer until the stone split, until there was a fissure he could squeeze himself into Swing that hammer until he cracked the world open, made a space for him to crawl through, back into the world of thought, where the children waited But while he was still thinking it over—fantasizing about it—his father removed his hand and took up his hammer “Oh, what is this about?” Tabitha Hutter said under her breath, and undid her seat belt and got out on her side The wind soughed through the pines. Angels swayed. Silver globes refracted the light in brilliant, polychromatic sprays Lou stepped off the road, picking his way down the embankment. He lifted his head—he had just one chin now, and it was a good one—and turned his wise-turtle stare on the ornaments in the branches. After a time he picked one down, a white angel blowing a gold trumpet, set it on a rock, and smashed it with the hammer There was a momentary squall of feedback amid the static on the radio “Lou?” Tabitha asked, coming around the front of the truck, and Wayne thought if he slid behind the wheel and put it in drive, he could run her down. He imagined the sound of her skull striking the grille and started to smile—the idea was quite amusing—but then she moved on into the trees. He blinked rapidly, to clear aside this awful, lurid, wonderful vision, and jumped down out of the truck himself The wind rose, tossed his hair Lou found a glitter-spackled silver ornament, a globe as big as a softball, tossed it in the air, and swung the hammer like a baseball bat. The glittery sphere exploded in a pretty spray of opalescent glass and copper wire Wayne stood close to the truck, watching Behind him, through the loud roar of the static, he heard a children’s choir singing a Christmas song. They sang about the faithful. Their voices were far away but clear and sweet Lou crushed a ceramic Christmas tree and a china plum sprinkled with gold glitter and several tin snowflakes. He began to sweat and removed his flannel coat “Lou,” Tabitha said again, standing at the top of the embankment. “Why are you doing this?” “Because one of these is his,” Lou said, and nodded at Wayne. “Vic brought most of him back, but I want the rest.” The wind screamed. The trees lunged. It was a little frightening, the way the trees were beginning to pitch back and forth. Pine needles and dead leaves flew “What do you want me to do?” Tabitha asked “Bare minimum? Don’t arrest me.” He turned away from her, found another ornament It was crushed with a musical tinkling Tabitha looked at Wayne. “I’ve never been one for just doing the bare minimum. You want to help? Looks like fun, doesn’t it?” Wayne had to admit it did She used the butt of her gun. Wayne used a rock. In the car the Christmas choir rose and swelled, until even Tabitha noticed it and pointed an uneasy, wondering glance back at the truck. Lou ignored it, though, continued crushing glass holly leaves and wire crowns, and in a few moments the white noise rose again in a roar, burying the song Wayne smashed angels with trumpets, angels with harps, angels with hands folded in prayer He smashed Santa, and all his reindeer, and all his elves. At first he laughed. Then, after a while, it wasn’t as funny. After a while his teeth began to ache. His face felt hot, then cold, then so cold it burned, icy-hot. He didn’t know why, didn’t give it much in the way of conscious thought He was raising a blue chunk of shale to smash a ceramic lamb when he saw movement at the upper edge of his vision and lifted his head and spied a girl standing by the ruin of the

Sleigh House. She wore a filthy nightgown—it had been white once but now was mostly rust-colored from smears of dried blood—and her hair was in tangles. Her pale pretty face was stricken, and she was crying silently. Her feet were bloody “Pomoshch,” she whispered. The sound of it was almost lost in the whistling wind “Pomoshch.” Wayne had never heard the Russian word for “help” before but understood well enough what she was saying Tabitha saw Wayne staring, turned her head, spotted the girl “Oh, my God,” she said softly. “Lou Lou!” Lou Carmody stared across the yard at the girl, Marta Gregorski, missing since 1991 She had been twelve when she disappeared from a hotel in Boston and was twelve now, twenty years later. Lou regarded her with no particular surprise at all. He looked gray and tired, sweat slicking the loose flesh of his cheeks “I have to get the rest, Tabby,” Lou said “Can you help her?” Tabitha turned her head and gave him a frightened, bewildered look. She holstered her gun, turned, and began to walk swiftly through the dead leaves A boy came out of the brush behind Marta, a black-haired boy of ten, wearing the dirty blue-and-red uniform of a Beefeater. Brad McCauley’s eyes were stricken, wondering, and terrified all at once; he cast a sidelong glance at Marta, and his chest began to hitch with sobs Wayne swayed on his heels, staring at the two of them. Brad had been wearing his Beefeater outfit in his dream last night. Wayne felt light-headed, like sitting down, but the next time he rocked back on his heels—he was close to falling over—his father caught him from behind, set one massive hand on Wayne’s shoulder. Those hands didn’t quite go with his New Lou body, made his large, gawky frame look that much more badly put together “Hey, Wayne,” Lou said. “Hey. You c’n wipe your face on my shirt if you want.” “What?” Wayne asked “You’re crying, kiddo,” Lou said. He held out his other hand. In it were ceramic shards: pieces of a smashed moon. “You’ve been crying for a while now. I guess this one was yours, huh?” Wayne felt his shoulders jerk in a convulsive shrug. He tried to answer but couldn’t force any sound from his tight throat. The tears on his cheeks burned in the cold wind, and his self-control gave way, and he buried his face in his father’s stomach, missing for a moment the old Lou, with his comforting, bearish mass “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice choked, strange. He moved his tongue around his mouth but could not feel his secret teeth anymore—a thought that set off such an explosion of relief he had to hang on to his father to keep from falling down. “I’m sorry Dad. Oh, Dad. I’m sorry.” His breath coming in short, jolting sobs “For what?” “I don’t know. Crying. I got snot on you.” Lou said, “No one has to apologize for tears, dude.” “I feel sick.” “Yeah. Yeah, I know. ’S okay. I think you’re suffering from the human condition.” “Can you die from that?” Wayne said “Yes,” Lou said. “It’s pretty much fatal in every case.” Wayne nodded. “Okay. Well. I guess that’s good.” Behind them, far away, Wayne could hear Tabitha Hutter’s clear, steady, calming voice, asking names, telling children they would be all right, that she was going to take care of them. He had an idea, if he turned around, that he would see maybe a dozen of them now, and the rest were on their way, out of the trees, leaving the static behind. He could hear some of them sobbing. The human condition: It was contagious, apparently “Dad,” Wayne said. “If it’s all right with you, can we skip Christmas this year?” Lou said, “If Santa tries to come down our chimney, I’ll send him back up with my boot in his ass. It’s a promise.” Wayne laughed. It sounded much like a sob That was all right Out on the highway, there was the ferocious roar of an approaching motorcycle. Wayne had an idea—a desperate, awful idea—that it was his mother. The children had all come back from something like death, and perhaps it was her turn. But it was just some dude out on the road, taking his Harley for a spin It blasted past with a deafening roar, sun

glinting off chrome. It was early October, but in the strong, direct light of the morning sun, it was still warm. Fall was here, winter coming right behind it, but for now there was still a little good riding weather left Begun the Fourth of July 2009 Completed over the holidays, 2011 Joe Hill, Exeter, New Hampshire ACKNOWLEDGMENTS – The Nice List – If you have enjoyed this book, then much of the thanks goes to my editor, Jennifer Brehl, at William Morrow, who pointed me to the story within the story. If it disappointed you, the fault is mine alone Gabriel Rodríguez is one of my brothers My love and thanks to him for his illustrations and friendship and vision. When I am lost, I can always trust Gabe to draw me a map The work on this story began in the summer of 2009, in my friend Ken Schleicher’s garage Ken was fixing up his 1978 Triumph Bonneville and drafted me as an extra pair of hands Those were some good evenings and made me want to write about bikes. My thanks to the whole Schleicher clan for opening their home and their garage to me The work on this story ended after my mother read it and told me she liked it and also that my final chapter wouldn’t do. She was right. She usually is. I threw out the last fifteen pages and wrote something better Tabitha King is a creative thinker of the first order and taught me to love words, to search for their secret meanings, and to stay attuned to their private histories. More important, though, her example as a parent taught me how to be a father: to listen more than I talk, to make chores into play (or meditation), to see that the kids keep their fingernails clipped In between the beginning and the ending of the work, I went for a motorcycle ride with my dad. He rode his Harley; I took my Triumph He told me he liked my bike, even if the engine did remind him of a sewing machine. That’s a Harley snob for you. It was a happy ride, following him along his back roads with the sun on my shoulders. I guess I have been cruising his back roads my whole life. I don’t regret it This book received the close eye of not one, but two copy editors: the gifted Maureen Sugden, who has kept me straight on three novels now, and my pal Liberty Hardy from RiverRun Books, who pounced on my mistakes like a catnip-addled kitten after a ball of yarn. Liana Faughnan came in at the last minute to make sure my timeline was sound. I suspect the book is still riddled with errors, but that just goes to show you can only help a person so much Love and thanks to the remarkable team at William Morrow that works so hard to make me look good: Liate Stehlik, Lynn Grady, Tavia Kowalchuk, Jamie Kerner, Lorie Young, Rachel Meyers, Mary Schuck, Ben Bruton, and E. M Krump. That goes for the crowd at Gollancz, too: Jon Weir, Charlie Panayiotou, and Mark Stay. I am particularly grateful to my UK editor and friend, Gillian Redfearn, who is a one-woman morale booster and spine-straightener My agent, Mickey Choate, read this book I don’t know how many damn times, and always came back with insight, ideas, and encouragement He made it a much better book, in every possible way You know who is awesome? Kate Mulgrew is awesome, for reading this book on audio. I was charmed and blown away by Kate’s reading of my short story “By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain,” and I can’t say how much I appreciate her coming back to read this much longer story

of childhood, wonder, and loss Twitter is a hive buzzing with thought, argument, and geekpassion, and I’m grateful to every single person who has ever traded a tweet with me. As a world of shared ideas, Twitter is a kind of Inscape in and of itself, and a good one My thanks to everyone who picked up this book, or downloaded it, or listened to it on audio I hope like hell you enjoyed it. What a blast—what a gift—to get to do this for a living. I don’t ever wanna stop Hugs and kisses and buckets of appreciation to Christina Terry, who was a constant sounding board in the final drafts of the book and who made sure I had a life and some fun beyond my work. Thanks for getting my back, lady I am also grateful to Andy and Kerri Singh, Shane Leonard and Janice Grant, Israel and Kathryn Skelton, Chris Ryall, Ted Adams, Jason Ciaramella and his boys, Meaghan and Denise MacGlashing, the Bosa clan, Gail Simone, Neil Gaiman, Owen King, Kelly Braffet, Zelda and Naomi. My love and appreciation to Leanora I am a lucky guy to be the father of Ethan, Aidan, and Ryan King, the funniest, most imaginative men I know Your dad loves you – The Naughty List – People who skim or outright skip acknowledgments pages. Please contact the management for your free, all-expenses-paid pass to Christmasland ABOUT THE AUTHOR JOE HILL is the New York Times bestselling author of Horns and Heart-Shaped Box, and the prize-winning story collection 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the Eisner Award–winning writer of an ongoing comic book series, Locke & Key. Follow him on Twitter @joe_hill www.JoeHillFiction.com Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins authors ALSO BY JOE HILL Horns Heart-Shaped Box 20th Century Ghosts (story collection) GRAPHIC NOVELS Locke & Key, Volumes 1–6, with Gabriel Rodríguez (IDW Publishing) CREDITS COVER DESIGN BY MARY SCHUCK AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH © BY SHANE LEONARD COPYRIGHT This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental NOS4A2. Copyright © 2013 by Joe Hill. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted,

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