Midnight Page 19


She expected the walls to bulge and flow in that amorphous fashion of nightmare places, but they remained solid, fixed, and the colors of things were too sharp and clear for this to be a dreamscape.


Frantically she pulled on her socks and shoes, unnerved being barefoot, as earlier her near nakedness had made her feel vulnerable—as if death could be foiled by an adequate wardrobe.


She heard those voices again. Not at the end of the hallway any more. Near her own door. Approaching. She wished the door featured one of those one-way, fisheye lenses that allowed a wide-angled view, but there was none.


At the sill was a half-inch crack, however, so Tessa dropped to the floor, pressed one side of her face against the carpet, and squinted out at the corridor. From that limited perspective, she saw something move past her room so quickly that her eyes could not quite track it, though she caught a glimpse of its feet, which was enough to alter dramatically her perception of what was happening. This was not an incidence of human savagery akin to the bloodbath she had witnessed—and to which she nearly had succumbed—in Northern Ireland. This was, instead, an encounter with the unknown, a breach of reality, a sudden sideslip out of the normal world into the uncanny. They were leathery, hairy, dark-skinned feet, broad and flat and surprisingly long, with toes so extrusile and multiple jointed that they almost seemed to have the function of fingers.


Something hit the door. Hard.


Tessa scrambled to her feet and out of the foyer.


Crazed voices filled the hall that same weird mix of harsh animal sounds punctuated by bursts of breathlessly spoken but for the most part disconnected words.


She went around the bed to the window, disengaged the pressure latch, and slid the movable pane aside.


Again the door shook. The boom was so loud that Tessa felt as if she were inside a drum. It would not collapse as easily as the other guests' door, thanks to the chair, but it would not hold for more than a few additional blows.


She sat on the sill, swung her legs out, looked down. The fog-dampened walk glistened in the dim yellow glow of the serviceway lamps about twelve feet below the window. An easy jump.


They hit the door again, harder. Wood splintered.


Tessa pushed off the windowsill. She landed on the wet walkway and, because of her rubber-soled shoes, skidded but did not fall.


Overhead, in the room she had left, wood splintered more noisily than before, and tortured metal screeched as the lock on the door began to disintigrate.


She was near the north end of the building. She thought she saw something moving in the darkness in that direction. It might have been nothing more than a clotting of fog churning eastward on the wind, but she didn't want to take a chance, so she ran south, with the vast black sea beyond the railing at her right side. By the time she reached the end of the building, a crash echoed through the night—the sound of the door to her room going down—which was followed by the howling of the pack as it entered that place in search of her.


35


Sam could not have slipped out of the patrol car without drawing Danberry's attention. Four cruisers awaited the cop's use, so there was a seventy-five-percent chance that Sam would be undetected if he stayed in the car. He slid down in the driver's seat as far as he could and leaned to his right, across the computer keyboard on the console.


Danberry went to the next car in line.


With his head on the console, his neck twisted so he could look up through the window on the passenger's side, Sam watched as Danberry unlocked the door of that other cruiser. He prayed that the cop would keep his back turned, because the interior of the car in which Sam slouched was revealed by the sulfurous glow of the parking-lot lights. If Danberry even glanced his way, Sam would be seen.


The cop got into the other black-and-white and slammed the door, and Sam sighed with relief. The engine turned over. Danberry pulled out of the municipal lot. When he hit the alley he gunned the engine, and his tires spun and squealed for a moment before they bit in, and then he was gone.


Though Sam wanted to hot-wire the car and switch on the computer again to find out whether Watkins and Shaddack were still conversing, he knew he dared not stay any longer. As the manhunt escalated, the police department's offices in the municipal building were sure to become busy.


Because he didn't want them to know that he had been probing in their computer or that he had eavesdropped on their VDT conversation—the greater they assumed his ignorance to be, the less effective they would be in their search for him—Sam used his tools to replace the ignition core in the steering column. He got out, pushed the lock button down, and closed the door.


He didn't want to leave the area by the alleyway because a patrol car might turn in from one end or the other, capturing him in its headlights. Instead he dashed straight across that narrow back street from the parking lot and opened a gate in a simple wrought-iron fence. He entered the rear yard of a slightly decrepit Victorian-style house whose owners had let the shrubbery run so wild that it looked as if a macabre cartoon family from the pen of Gahan Wilson might live in the place. He walked quietly past the side of the house, across the front lawn, to Pacific Drive, one block south of Ocean Avenue.


The night calm was not split by sirens. He heard no shouts, no running footsteps, no cries of alarm. But he knew he had awakened a many-headed beast and that this singularly dangerous Hydra was looking for him all over town.


36


Mike Peyser didn't know what to do, didn't know, he was scared, confused and scared, so he could not think clearly, though he needed to think sharp and clear like a man, except the wild part of him kept intruding; his mind worked quickly, and it was sharp, but he could not hold to a single train of thought for more than a couple of minutes. Quick thinking, rapid-fire thinking, was not good enough to solve a problem like this; he had to think quick and deep. But his attention span was not what it should have been.


When he finally was able to stop screaming and get up from the kitchen floor, he hurried into the dark dining room, through the unlighted living room, down the short hall to the bedroom, then into the master bath, going on all fours part of the way, rising onto his hind feet as he crossed the bedroom threshold, unable to rise all the way up and stand entirely straight, but flexible enough to get more than halfway erect. In the bathroom, which was lit only by the vague and somewhat scintillant moonglow that penetrated the small window above the shower stall, he gripped the edge of the sink and stared into the mirrored front of the medicine cabinet, where he could see only a shadowy reflection of himself, without detail.


He wanted to believe that in fact he had returned to his natural form, that his feeling of being trapped in the altered state was pure hallucination, yes, yes, he wanted to believe that, badly needed to believe, believe, even though he could not stand fully erect, even though he could feel the difference in his impossibly long-fingered hands and in the queer set of his head on his shoulders and in the way his back joined his hips. He needed to believe.


Turn on the light, he told himself. He could not do it.


Turn on the light.


He was afraid.


He had to turn on the light and look at himself.


But he gripped the sink and could not move.


Turn on the light.


Instead he leaned toward the tenebrous mirror, peering intently at the indistinct reflection, seeing little more than the pale amber radiance of strange eyes.


Turn on the light.


He let out a thin mewl of anguish and terror.


Shaddack, he thought suddenly. Shaddack, he must tell Shaddack, Tom Shaddack would know what to do, Shaddack was his best hope, maybe his only hope, Shaddack.


He let go of the sink, dropped to the floor, hurried out of the bathroom, into the bedroom, toward the telephone on the nightstand. As he went, in a voice alternately shrill and guttural, piercing and whispery, he repeated the name as if it were a word with magic power: "Shaddack, Shaddack, Shaddack, Shaddack …"


37


Tessa Lockland took refuge in a twenty-four-hour coin-operated laundry four blocks east of Cove Lodge and half a block off Ocean Avenue. She wanted to be someplace bright, and the banks of overhead fluorescents allowed no shadows. Alone in the laundry, she sat in a badly scarred, yellow plastic chair, staring at rows of clothes-dryer portals, as if understanding would be visited upon her from some cosmic source communicating on those circles of glass.


As a documentarist, she had to have a keen eye for the patterns in life that would give coherence to a film narratively and visually, so she had no trouble seeing patterns of darkness, death, and unknown forces in this deeply troubled town. The fantastic creatures in the motel surely had been the source of the cries she'd heard on the beach earlier that night, and her sister had no doubt been killed by those same beings, whatever the hell they were. Which sort of explained why the authorities had been so insistent that Marion okay the cremation of Janice's body—not because the remains were corroded by seawater and half-devoured by fish, but because cremation would cover wounds that would raise unanswerable questions in an unbiased autopsy. She also saw reflections of the corruption of local authorities in the physical appearance of Ocean Avenue, where too many storefronts were empty and too many businesses were suffering, which was inexplicable for a town in which unemployment was virtually nil. She had noted an air of solemnity about the people she had seen on the streets, as well as a briskness and purposefulness that seemed odd in a laid-back northern coastal town where the hurly-burly of modern life hardly intruded.


However, her awareness of the patterns included no explanation of why the police would want to conceal the true nature of Janice's killing. Or why the town seemed in an economic depression in spite of its prosperity. Or what in the name of God those nightmare things in the motel had been. patterns were clues to underlying truths, but her ability to recognize them did not mean she could find the answers and reveal the truths at which the patterns hinted.


She sat, shivering, in the fluorescent glare and breathed trace fumes of detergents, bleaches, fabric softeners, and the lingering staleness of the cigarette butts in the two free-standing sandfilled ashtrays, while she tried to figure what to do next. She had not lost her determination to probe into Janice's death. But she no longer had the audacity to think she could play detective all by herself. She was going to need help and would probably have to obtain it from county or state authorities.


The first thing she had to do was get out of Moonlight Cove in one piece.


Her car was at Cove Lodge, but she did not want to go back there for it. Those … creatures might still be in the motel or watching it from the dense shrubs and trees and omnipresent shadows that were an integral part of the town. Like Carmel, California, elsewhere along the coast, Moonlight Cove was a town virtually built in a seaside forest. Tessa loved Carmel for its splendid integration of the works of man and nature, where geography and architecture often appeared to be the product of the same sculptor's hand. Right now, however, Moonlight Cove did not draw style and grace from its verdant lushness and artful night shadows, as did Carmel; rather, this town seemed to be dressed in the thinnest veneer of civilization, beneath which something savage—even primal—watched and waited. Every grove of trees and every dark street was not the home of beauty but of the uncanny and of death. She would have found Moonlight Cove far more attractive if every street and alley and lawn and park had been lit with the same plenitude of fluorescent bulbs as the Laundromat in which she had taken refuge Maybe the police had shown up at Cove Lodge by now in response to the screams and commotion. But she would not feel any safer returning there just because cops were around. Cops were part of the problem. They would want to question her about the murders of the other guests. They would find out that Janice had been her sister, and though she might not tell them she was in town to poke into the circumstances of Janice's death, they would suspect as much. If they had participated in a conspiracy to conceal the true nature of Janice's death, they probably wouldn't hesitate to deal with Tessa in a firm and final way.


She had to abandon the car.


But damned if she was going to walk out of town at night. She might be able to hitch a ride on the interstate—perhaps even from an honest trucker instead of a mobile psychopath—but between Moonlight Cove and the freeway, she would have to walk through a dark and semirural landscape, where surely she would be at even greater risk of encountering more of those mysterious beasts that had broken down her motel-room door.


Of course, they had come after her in a relatively public and well-lighted place. She had no real reason to assume that she was safer in this coin-operated laundry than in the middle of the woods. When the membrane of civilization ruptured and the primordial terror burst through, you weren't safe anywhere, not even on the steps of a church, as she had learned in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.


Nevertheless, she would cling to the light and shun the darkness. She had stepped through an invisible wall between the reality she had always known and a different, more hostile world. As long as she remained in that Twilight Zone, it seemed wise to assume that shadows offered even less comfort and security than did bright places.


Which left her with no plan of action. Except to sit in the Laundromat and wait for morning. In daylight she might risk a long walk to the freeway.


The blank glass of the dryer windows returned her stare.


An autumn moth thumped softly against the frosted plastic panels that were suspended under the fluorescent bulbs.


38


Unable to walk boldly into Moonlight Cove as she had planned, Chrissie retreated from Holliwell Road, heading back the way she had come. She stayed in the woods, moving slowly and cautiously from tree to tree, trying to avoid making a sound that might carry to the nearer of the sentries who had been posted at the intersection.


In a couple of hundred yards, when she was beyond those men's sight and hearing, she moved more aggressively. Eventually she came to one of the houses that lay along the county route. The single-story ranch home was set behind a large front lawn and sheltered by several pines and firs, barely visible now that the moon was waning. No lights were on inside or out, and all was silent.


She needed time to think, and she wanted to get out of the cold, dampish night. Hoping there were no dogs at the house, she hurried to the garage, staying off the gravel driveway to keep from making a lot of noise. As she expected, in addition to the large front door through which the cars entered and exited, there was a smaller side entrance. It was unlocked. She stepped into the garage and closed the door behind her.


"Chrissie Foster, secret agent, penetrated the enemy facility by the bold and clever use of a side door," she said softly.


The secondhand radiance of the sinking moon penetrated the panes in the door and two high, narrow windows on the west wall, but it was insufficient to reveal anything. She could see only a few darkly gleaming curves of chrome and windshield glass, just enough to suggest the presence of two cars.

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