Midnight Page 49


Tessa wanted to comfort her.


She wanted to comfort Harry too.


More, than that … she wanted to make everything right.


As writer-producer-director, she was a mover and shaker, good at taking charge, making things happen. She always knew how to solve a problem, what to do in a crisis, how to keep the ball rolling once a project had begun. But now she was at a loss. She could not always script reality with the assurance she brought to the writing of her films; sometimes the real world resisted conforming to her demands. Maybe that was why she had chosen a career over a family, even after having enjoyed a wonderful family atmosphere as a child. The real world of daily life and struggle was sloppy, unpredictable, full of loose ends; she couldn't count on being able to tie it all up the way she could when she took aspects of it and reduced them to a neatly structured film. Life was life, broad and rich … but film was only essences. Maybe she dealt better with essences than with life all its gaudy detail.


Her genetically received Lockland optimism, previously as bright as a spotlight, had not deserted her, though it definitely had dimmed for the time being.


Harry said, "It's going to be all right."


"How?" Sam asked.


"I'm probably last on their list," Harry said. "They wouldn't be worried about cripples and blind people. Even if we learn something's up, we can't try to get out of town and get help. Mrs. Sagerian—she lives over on Pinecrest—she's blind, and I'll bet she and I are the last two on the schedule. They'll wait to do us until near midnight. You see if they don't. Bet on it. So what you've got to do is go to the high school and get through to the Bureau, bring help in here pronto, before midnight comes, and then I'll be all right."


Chrissie turned away from the window, her cheeks wet with tears. "You really think so, Mr. Talbot? You really, honestly think they won't come here until midnight?"


With his head tilted to one side in a perpetual twist that was, depending on how you looked at it, either jaunty or heartwrenching, Harry winked at the girl, though she was farther away from him than Tessa and probably didn't see the wink. "If I'm jiving you, honey, may God strike me with lightning this instant."


Rain fell but no lightning struck.


"See?" Harry said, grinning.


Though the girl clearly wanted to believe the scenario that Harry had painted for her, Tessa knew that they could not count on his being the last or next to last on the final conversion schedule. What he'd said made a little sense, actually, but it was just too neat. Like a narrative development in a film script. Real life, Tessa had just reminded herself, was sloppy, unpredictable. She desperately wanted to believe that Harry would be safe until a few minutes till midnight, but the reality was that he would be at risk as soon as the clock struck six and the final series of conversions was under way.


35


Shaddack remained in Paula Parkins's garage through most of the afternoon.


Twice he put up the big door, switched on the van's engine, and pulled into the driveway to better monitor Moonhawk's progress on the VDT. Both times, satisfied with the data, he rolled back into the garage and lowered the door again.


The mechanism was clicking away. He had designed it, built it, wound it up, and pushed the start button. Now it could go through its paces without him.


He passed the hours sitting behind the wheel, daydreaming about the time when the final stage of Moonhawk would be completed and all the world would be brought into the fold. When no Old People existed, he would have redefined the word "power," for no man before him in all of history would have known such total control. Having remade the species, he could then program its destiny to his own desires. All of humankind would be one great hive, buzzing industriously, serving his vision. As he daydreamed, his erection grew so hard that it began to ache dully.


Shaddack knew many scientists who genuinely seemed to believe that the purpose of technological progress was to improve the lot of humanity, lift the species up from the mud and carry it on eventually, to the stars. He saw things differently. To his way Of thinking, the sole purpose of technology was to concentrate Power in his hands. Previous would-be remakers of the world had relied on political power, which always ultimately meant the power of the legal gun. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others had sought power through intimidation and mass murder, wading to the throne through lakes of blood, and all of them had ultimately failed to achieve what silicon circuitry was in the process of bestowing upon Shaddack. The pen was not mightier, than the sword, but the microprocessor was mightier than vast armies.


If they knew what he had undertaken and what dreams of conquest still preoccupied him, virtually all other men of science would say that he was bent, sick, deranged. He didn't care. They were wrong, of course. Because they didn't realize who he was. The child of the moonhawk. He had destroyed those who had posed as his parents, and he had not been discovered or punished, which was proof that the rules and laws governing other men were not meant to apply to him. His true mother and father were spirit forces, disembodied, powerful. They had protected him from punishment because the murders that he'd committed in Phoenix so long ago were a sacred offering to his real progenitors, a statement of his faith and trust in them. Other scientists would misunderstand him because they could not know that all of existence centered around him, that the universe itself existed only because he existed, and that if he ever died—which was unlikely—then the universe would simultaneously cease to exist. He was the center of creation. He was the only man who mattered. The great spirits had told him this. The great spirits had whispered these truths in his ear, waking and sleeping, for more than thirty years.


Child of the moonhawk …


As the afternoon waned, he became ever more excited about the approaching completion of the first stage of the project, and he could no longer endure temporary exile in the Parkins garage. Though it had seemed wise to absent himself from places in which Loman Watkins might find him, he was having increasing difficulty justifying the need to hide out. Events at Mike Peyser's house last night no longer seemed so catastrophic to him, merely, a minor setback; he was confident that the problem of the regressives would eventually be solved. His genius resulted from the direct line between him and higher spiritual forces, and no difficulty was beyond resolution when the great spirits desired his success The threat he'd felt from Watkins steadily diminnished in his memory, too, until the police chief's promise to find him seemed empty, even pathetic.


He was the child of the moonhawk. He was surprised that he had forgotten such an important truth and had run scared. Of course, even Jesus had spent his time in the garden, briefly frightened, and had wrestled with his demons. The Parkins garage was, Shaddack saw, his own Gethsemane, where he had taken refuge to cast out those last doubts that plagued him.


He was the child of the moonhawk.


At four-thirty he put up the garage door.


He started the van and pulled down the driveway.


He was the child of the moonhawk.


He turned onto the county road and headed toward town.


He was the child of the moonhawk, heir to the crown of light, and at midnight he would ascend the throne.


36


Pack Martin—his name was actually Packard because his mother named him after a car that had been her father's pride—lived in a house trailer on the southeast edge of town. It was an old trailer, its enameled finish faded and crackled like the glaze on an ancient vase. It was rusted in a few spots, dented, and set on a concrete-block foundation in a lot that was mostly weeds. Pack knew that many people in Moonlight Cove thought his place was an eyesore, but he just plain did not give a damn.


The trailer had an electrical hookup, an oil furnace, and plumbing, which was enough to meet his needs. He was warm, dry, and had a place to keep his beer. It was a veritable palace.


Best of all, the trailer had been paid for twenty-five years ago, with money he had inherited from his mother, so no mortgage hung over him. He had a little of the inheritance left, too, and rarely touched the principal. The interest amounted to nearly three hundred dollars a month, and he also had his disability check, earned by virtue of a fall he had taken three weeks after being inducted into the Army. The only real work in which Pack had ever engaged was all the reading and studying he had done to learn and memorize all of the subtlest and most complex symptoms of serious back injury, before reporting per the instructions on his draft notice.


He was born to be a man of leisure. He had known that much about himself from a young age. Work and him had nothing for each other. He figured he'd been scheduled to be born into a wealthy family, but something had gotten screwed up and he'd wound up as the son of a waitress who'd been just sufficiently industrious to provide him with a minimum inheritance.


But he envied no one. Every month he bought twelve or fourteen cases of cheap beer at the discount store out on the highway, and he had his TV, and with a bologna and mustard sandwich now and then, maybe some Fritos, he was happy enough.


By four o'clock that Tuesday afternoon, Pack was well into his second six-pack of the day, slumped in his tattered armchair, watching a game show on which the prize girl's prime hooters, always revealed in low-cut dresses, were a lot more interesting than the MC, the contestants, or the questions.


The MC said, "So what's your choice? Do you want what's behind screen number one, screen number two, or screen number three?"


Talking back to the tube, Pack said, "I'll take what's in that cutie's Maidenforrn, thank you very much," and he swigged more beer.


Just then someone knocked on the door.


Pack did not get up or in any way acknowledge the knock. He had no friends, so visitors were of no interest to him. They were always either community do-gooders bringing him a box of food that he didn't want, or offering to cut down his weeds and clean up his property, which he didn't want, either, because he liked his weeds.


They knocked again.


Pack responded by turning up the volume on the TV.


They knocked harder.


"Go away," Pack said.


They really pounded on the door, shaking the whole damn trailer.


"…What the hell?" Pack said. He clicked off the TV and got up.


The pounding was not repeated, but Pack heard a strange scraping noise against the side of the trailer.


And the place creaked on its foundation, which it sometimes did when the wind was blowing hard. Today, there was no wind.


"Kids," Pack decided.


The Aikhorn family, which lived on the other side of the county road and two hundred yards to the south, had kids so ornery they ought to have been put to sleep with injections, pickled in formaldehyde, and displayed in some museum of criminal behavior. Those brats got a kick out of pushing cherry bombs through chinks in the foundation blocks, under the trailer, waking him with a bang in the middle of the night.


The scraping at the side of the trailer stopped, but now a couple of kids were walking around on the roof.


That was too much. The metal roof didn't leak, but it had seen better days, and it was liable to bend or even separate at the seams under the weight of a couple of kids.


Pack opened the door and stepped out into the rain, shouting obscenities at them. But when he looked up he didn't see any kids on the roof. What he saw, instead, was something out of a fifties bug movie, big as a man, with clacking mandibles and multifaceted eyes, and a mouth framed by small pincers. The weird thing was that he also saw a few features of a human face in that monstrous countenance, just enough so he thought he recognized Daryl Aikhorn, father of the brats. "Neeeeeeeeeeed," it said, in a voice half Aikhorn's and half an insectile keening. It leaped at him, and as it came, a wickedly sharp stinger telescoped from its repulsive body. Even before that yard-long serrated spear skewered his belly and thrust all the way through him, Pack knew that the days of beer and bologna sandwiches and Fritos and disability checks and game-show girls with perfect hooters were over.


* * *


Randy Hapgood, fourteen, sloshed through the dirty calf-deep water in an overflowing gutter and sneered contemptuously, as if to say that nature would have to come up with an obstacle a thousand times more formidable than that if she hoped to daunt him. He refused to wear a raincoat and galoshes because such gear was not fashionably cool. You didn't see rad blondes hanging on the arms of nerds who carried umbrellas, either. There were no rad girls hanging on Randy, as far as that went, but he figured they just hadn't yet noticed how cool he was, how indifferent to weather and everything else that humbled other guys.


He was soaked and miserable—but whistling jauntily to conceal it—when he got home from Central at twenty minutes till five, after band practice, which had been cut short because of the bad weather. He stripped out of his wet denim Jacket and hung it on the back of the pantry door. He slipped out of his soggy tennis shoes, as well.


"I'm heeeeerrreeeee," he shouted, parodying the little girl in Poltergeist.


No one answered him.


He knew his parents were home, because lights were on, and the door was unlocked. Lately they'd been working at home more and more. They were in some sort of product research at New Wave, and they were able to put in a full day on their dual terminals upstairs, in the back room, without actually going in to the office.


Randy got a Coke out of the refrigerator, popped the tab, took a swig, and headed upstairs to dry out while he told Pete and Marsha about his day. He didn't call them mom and dad, and that was all right with them; they were cool. Sometimes he thought they were even too cool. They drove a Porsche, and their clothes were always six months ahead of what everyone else was wearing, and they'd talk about anything with him, anything, including sex, as frankly as if they were his pals. If he ever did find a rad blonde who wanted to hang on him, he'd be afraid to bring her home to meet his folks, for fear she'd think his dad was infinitely cooler than he was. Sometimes he wished Pete and Marsha were fat, frumpy, dressed out of date, and stuffily insisted on being called mom and dad. Competition in school for grades and popularity was fierce enough without having to feel that he was also in competition at home with his parents.


As he reached the top of the stairs, he called out again, "In the immortal words of the modern American intellectual, John Rambo: 'Yo!'"


They still didn't answer him.


Just as Randy reached the open door to the workroom at the end of the hall, a case of the creeps hit him. He shivered and didn't stop, however, because his self-image of ultimate coolth did not allow him to be spooked.


He stepped across the threshold, ready with a wisecrack about failure to respond to his calls. Too late, he was flash-frozen in place by fear.

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