Breathless Page 30

Merlin leaped from the vehicle, and the lantern-eyed duo sprang after him.

As the six of them ran toward the roadhouse entrance, Lamar said, “Where’s the music? Never heard a country crowd this quiet.”

Inside, the joint was packed, as the herd of pickups indicated that it ought to be, but the band played no music, no dancers danced, and people were gathered in peculiar configurations at the bar, at an area to the left of the stage, and in a separate raised lounge area near the rest rooms.

“Must be a hundred people here,” Cammy said. “Maybe a hundred fifty. Homeland Security can’t arrest them all, can’t shut up all these people. Come on. It’s time. Come on, Puzzle, Riddle, it’s time for your debut.”

“The stage,” Grady suggested. “The microphone.”

Behind them, Lamar said, “Oh, my God,” but Cammy didn’t look back, just kept on moving through the mostly abandoned tables, with the wolfhound and the two amazements rushing ahead of her.

She mounted the stage, took the microphone from the stand, and said, “Please, may I have your attention!”

Joining her, Grady said, “It’s not turned on.”

She fumbled for a switch, found one, and her voice boomed out—“Folks, everyone, hey, I’ve got an announcement!”—and as she spoke, the black-clad legions, carrying fully automatic carbines at the ready, burst through the front doors, an instant later through a back entrance.

The patrons turned toward her. But half the armed agents spread through the room, intimidating the crowd, while the other half came toward the stage.

Clambering onto the stage, one of them said, “You’re under arrest,” and she heard another one telling Grady that he had the right to remain silent, and she said, “But you have no right to make us be silent!”

In the chaos, she heard Lamar shouting at her from among the tables, and just as she was about to start clubbing one of the agents with the microphone, she understood what he was saying: “Cammy, Grady, look at the TVs!”

In the distant lounge was a big flat screen, a smaller screen behind the bar, another to one side of the stage. The music had stopped, the dancing, the drinking, because people had been drawn to something on television.

On the screens were Puzzle and Riddle.

Cammy stared uncomprehending.

Someone cranked up the sound on the flat screen as an anchorman appeared in place of Puzzle and Riddle. “We’ve got breaking news now, something big is happening out there tonight. Whatever this event in Michigan means, and the pair in western Pennsylvania, apparently they aren’t alone.” He spoke to someone off screen, off mike, and turned again to the camera. “I’m being told we’ve got a live report coming right now from an affiliate in Marietta, Georgia, and three more to follow, and I think somebody’s saying the same thing’s happening in Italy … France, I think I heard Italy and France. We’re going now to Marietta.”

In Georgia, a pair like Puzzle and Riddle were capering on a lawn around which forty or fifty people had gathered, for once not to be seen on camera but to see more directly what the camera saw.

In confusion, the armed agents in the roadhouse backed off the stage. Cammy heard a squad leader on a cell phone nearby, but the TVs interested her more than Homeland Security.

The roadhouse crowd, however, appeared less drawn to the TVs now than to the two wonders here among them.

Cammy carried Puzzle, and Grady carried Riddle, down from the stage, into the room, to allow these citizens of Colorado to meet the new creations with which they now shared the world.

Puzzle whispered in her ear, “You’re so clear, you shine so bright, and there’s no sadness in you anymore.”


Bald and hunched, his mustache white, the old man sat on a bench in the park across from the retirement home. He wore sunglasses on an overcast day. Hooked to the bench was a white cane.

Tom Bigger sat beside the blind man and said, “What do you think of all the news?”

“I’ve heard their voices. They sound like angels. The sound of them makes me happy. I wish I could see them. Are they beautiful?”

“They are. They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

“The news last evening said seventy thousand pair counted so far, worldwide.”

“You hear the news this morning?” Tom asked.

“No. What now? Mirna, my wife, she says the next thing we’ll discover they can fly like birds. What do you think it means?”

“Another chance,” Tom said.

“That’s how it feels to me, too. You know what I think?”

“What do you think?” Tom asked.

“One of us ever kills one of them, then that’s the end for us, for all of us. That’s the end, right there.”

“You could be right,” Tom said. “On the news this morning, they say scientists have sequenced their genome. Know what they found?”

“Something amazing,” the blind man said. “That’s what I hope. I’ve been waiting all my life for something amazing.”

“First,” Tom said, “they don’t look anything like us. Not like us at all. But what the scientists say is their genome matches ours in every detail.”

The blind man laughed. He couldn’t stop laughing for a while. The character of his laughter was sheer delight, and Tom found it infectious.

When they had stopped laughing together, the old man said, “Have you seen one for real or just on TV?”

“I not only saw two for real, sir, but I saw them come through—from wherever they came.”

The blind man reached out, found his shoulder, pressed a hand to his arm. “Is this true? You were a witness?”

“On a bluff above the sea, farther down the coast from here. It changed my life, seeing it happen.”

“Tell me about it. Tell me all about it, please.”

“The first thing I need to tell you is, there were squirrels on the bluff, and a dozen birds, and they all became very still when it happened. But it wasn’t the appearance of the pair that transfixed them. It was something else. I sensed something was with us that I couldn’t see, something that maybe the birds and squirrels could see, something that brought the two animals or passed them through from wherever. I don’t know. I was very afraid, but at the same time … more alive inside than I had been for a long, long time. And … I was changed.”

The blind man considered this in silence for a while, and then he said, “Are you my Tom?”

“Yes, Dad. I’m your Tom.”

“Oh, I want to touch your face.”

“It’s not a good face, Dad. I’m afraid for Mom to see it.”

From behind the bench, a woman said, “I’ve seen it, my love. You passed me on the way to sit with your father. You didn’t know me, but I knew you.”

Tom allowed his father to touch his face, and his father wept, not only at his son’s suffering, but also with joy.

When Tom rose and turned to see his mother, she said, “You are so beautiful, Tom. No, look at me. You are beautiful. Your face is a face of transcendence.”


Cammy watched them from the kitchen window as they frolicked in the new snow with Merlin. But for their black hands, black feet, and black noses, they might have been invisible.

The coffeemaker began to gurgle, and the sudden aroma of fresh Jamaica blend flooded the kitchen.

Grady said, “Already, I’m inadequate to homeschool them. Their minds leap ahead of mine. Think you could help?”

“I’d like nothing more. But they’ll probably leap ahead of me too, in no time.”

He joined her at the window, a hand on her shoulder. “Do you lie awake some nights, wondering where this is going—I mean the world now, with them in it and everything so changed?”

She shook her head. “No. Wherever they’re going, they’re taking the world with them, and I know beyond doubt that wherever they want us to be, that’s where we’ll belong.”

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