The Passage Page 111

"I'm looking for Lish." When Wilco met this request with an empty stare, Peter clarified. "Lieutenant Donadio."

"I'm not sure-"

"Just tell her I'm here."

Wilco shrugged and ducked back through the flap. Peter strained his ears to hear what, if anything, was being said inside. But all the voices had gone suddenly silent. He waited, long enough to wonder if Alicia would simply fail to appear. But then the flap drew aside and she stepped through.

It would not have been quite true, Peter thought, to say that she looked changed; she simply was changed. The woman who stood before him was both the same Alicia he had always known and someone entirely new. Her arms were crossed over her chest; on her upper body she was wearing nothing more than a T-shirt, despite the cold. A bit of her hair had grown back over the days, a ghostly scrim that clung to her scalp like a glowing cap under the lights. But it wasn't any of these things that made the moment strange. It was the way she stood, holding herself apart from him.

"I heard about your promotion," he said. "Congratulations."

Alicia said nothing.


"You shouldn't be here, Peter. I shouldn't be talking to you."

"I just came to tell you that I understand. For a while I didn't. But I do now."

"Well." She paused, hugging herself in the cold. "What changed your mind?"

He didn't know quite what to say. Everything he'd meant to tell her seemed to have abruptly fled from his mind. Muncey's death had something to do with it, and his father, and Amy. But the real reason wasn't anything he possessed the words for.

He said the only thing he could think of. "Hollis's guitar, actually."

Alicia gave him a blank look. "Hollis has a guitar?"

"One of the soldiers gave it to him." Peter stopped; there was no way to explain. "I'm sorry. I'm not making much sense."

A space seemed to have opened in Peter's chest, and he realized what it was; it was the pain of missing someone he had not yet left.

"Well, thank you for telling me. But I really have to get back inside."

"Lish, wait."

She turned to face him again, her eyebrows raised.

"Why didn't you ever tell me? About the Colonel."

"Is that why you came here? To ask me about the Colonel?" She sighed, looking away; it wasn't anything she wanted to discuss. "Because he didn't want anyone to know. About who he was."

"But why wouldn't he?"

"What would he have said, Peter? He was all alone. He'd lost all his men. As far as he was concerned, he should have died with them." She paused to breathe. "As for the rest, I think he raised me the only way he knew how. For a long time, I thought it was fun, to tell you the truth. Stories about brave men crossing the Darklands to fight and die. Taking the oath, a bunch of mumbo jumbo that meant nothing to me, just words. Then I was angry. I was eight, Peter. Eight years old, and he took me outside the walls, underneath the power trunk, and left me there. At night, with nothing, not even a blade. You haven't heard about that part."

"Flyers, Lish. What happened?"

"Nothing. I'd be dead if it had. I just sat under a tree and cried all night. To this day I don't know if he was testing my courage or my luck."

Part of the story seemed missing. "He must have been out there with you. Watching you."

"Maybe." She angled her face to the wintry sky. "Sometimes I think he was, sometimes I don't. You didn't know him like I did. I hated him after that, for the longest time. Really and truly hated him. But you can only hate somebody for so long." She breathed again-deeply, resignedly. "I hope that's true for you, Peter. That someday you can find it in your heart to forgive me." She sniffed and wiped her eyes. "That's all. I've said too much as it is. I'm just glad I had you as long as I did."

He looked at her, her stricken face, and he knew.

The Colonel wasn't the real secret. He was. He was the secret she had kept. That they had kept from each other, even from themselves.

He reached for her. "Alicia, listen-"

"Don't do this. Don't." And yet she did not back away.

"Those three days, when I thought you'd die and I wouldn't be there." A fist-sized lump had formed in his throat. "I always thought I'd be there."

"Peter, goddamnit." She was trembling; he felt the weight of her struggle. "You can't do this now. It's too late, Peter. It's too late."

"I know."

"Don't say it. Please. You said you understood."

He did; he understood. All that they were to each other seemed cradled within this simple fact. He felt no surprise or even regret but, rather, a deep and sudden gratitude and, with it, a force of clarity, filling him like a breath of winter air. He wondered what this feeling was and then he knew. He was giving her up.

She let him put his arms around her then, pulling her into the open flaps of his jacket. He held her, as she had held him, all those days ago in Vorhees's tent. The same goodbye reversed. He felt her stiffen and then relax against him, becoming smaller in his embrace.

"You're leaving," she said.

"I need you to promise me something. Keep the others safe. Get them to Roswell."

A faint but discernible nod against his chest. "What about you?"

How he loved her. And yet the words themselves could never be spoken. Holding her in his arms, he closed his eyes and tried to inscribe the feeling of her into his mind, into memory, so that he could take this with him.

"I think you've looked after me long enough, don't you?" He pulled away to see her face a final time. "That's all," he said. "I just wanted to thank you."

And then he turned and walked away, leaving her standing alone in the icy wind outside the silent barracks.

He did his best to sleep, turning restlessly through the night, and in the last hour before dawn, when he could wait no more, rose and quickly packed his gear. It was the cold he was thinking of; they would need blankets, extra socks, anything that could keep them warm and dry. Sleeping sacks and ponchos and a tarp with a good sturdy rope. The night before, on his way back from the barracks, he had ducked into the supply tent and pilfered an entrenching tool and a hand axe, and a pair of heavy parkas. Hollis was softly snoring on his cot, a bearded face buried in blankets, oblivious. When he awoke, Peter would be gone.

He hoisted the pack to his shoulder and stepped outside, into a cold so sharp it stunned him, sucking the air from his lungs. The garrison was quiet, just a few men moving about; the smells of wood smoke and warm food reached him from the mess, making his stomach rumble. But there was no time for that. In the women's tent he found Amy sitting on her bunk, her small pack resting on her lap. He'd told her nothing. She was alone; Sara was still with Sancho and the others, in the infirmary.

"Is it time?" she asked him. Her eyes were very bright.

"Yes, it's time."

They crossed together to the paddock. Greer's horse, a large black gelding, his coat heavy for winter, was grazing with the others, noses angled to the wind. Peter retrieved a bridle from the shed and led him to the fence. He wished he could use a saddle, but it wouldn't work with two. He lashed their packs together, draping them over the animal's withers. His fingers were already stiff with the cold. He lifted Amy up, then used the fence to climb aboard. They rode around the edge of the paddock to the shadows under the pickets, headed for the gate. Dawn was just breaking, a gray softening, as if the darkness were not lifting but dissolving; a pale, almost invisible snow had begun to fall, flakes that seemed to materialize in the air before their faces.

They were met at the gate by a single sentry: Eustace, the lieutenant who had first alerted Peter to the raiding party's return.

"Major says to let you pass. He also asked me to give you this." Eustace dragged a duffel bag from the sentry hut and lay it on the ground before the horse. "Says to take whatever you need."

Peter swung down and knelt to open it. Rifles, magazines, a couple of pistols, a belt of grenades. Peter looked through all of it, thinking about what to do.

"Thanks anyway," he said, drawing upright. He drew his blade from his belt and held it out for Eustace to take. "Here. A present for the major."

Eustace frowned. "I don't get it. You want to give me your blade?"

Peter pushed it toward him. "Take it," he said.

Reluctantly, Eustace accepted the blade. For a moment he just looked at it, as if it were some strange artifact he'd found in the forest.

"Give it to Major Greer," Peter said. "I think he'll understand."

He turned to address Amy, sitting high above him. She had tipped her chin upward to the falling snow.


The girl nodded. A faint smile shone on her face; flakes had caught on her lashes, in her hair, like jeweled dust. Eustace gave Peter a leg up; he swung onto the horse's back, taking the reins in his hand. The gate drew open before them. He allowed himself one last look toward the barracks, but all was quiet, unchanged. Goodbye, he thought, goodbye. Then he heeled his mount and they rode out, into the breaking day.





Like to a Hermite poore in place obscure,

I meane to spend my daies of endles doubt,

To waile such woes as time cannot recure,

Where none but Loue shall euer finde me out.


from The Phoenix Nest


By half-day they had found the river again. They rode in silence under the snow, which was falling steadily now, filling the woods with a muffling light. The river had begun to freeze at its edges, dark water flowing freely in its narrowed channel, oblivious. Amy, leaning against Peter's back, her pale wrists slack in his lap, had fallen asleep. He felt the warmth of her body, the slow rise and fall of her chest against him. Plumes of warm vapor flowed back from the horse's nostrils, smelling of grass and earth. There were birds in the trees, black birds; they called to one another from the branches, their voices dimmed by the smothering snow.

As he rode, memories came to him, a disordered assemblage of images that drifted across his consciousness like smoke: his mother, on a day not long before the end, as he stood in the door to her room to watch her sleep, and saw her glasses sitting on the table, and knew that she would die; Theo at the station, when he'd sat on the cot to take Peter's foot in his hand, and again, standing on the porch of the farmstead, Mausami at his side, watching them leave; Auntie in her overheated kitchen, and the taste of her terrible tea; the last night at the bunker, everyone drinking whiskey and laughing at something funny Caleb had done or said, the great unknown unfolding before them; Sara on the morning after the first snowfall, sitting against the log, her book in her lap, her face bathed in sunlight and her voice saying, "How beautiful it is here;" Alicia.


They turned east. They were in a new place now, the landscape rising ruggedly around them, wrapping them in the forested embrace of the mountains, mantled in white. The snow eased, then stopped, then started up once more. They had begun to climb. Peter's attention had narrowed to the smallest things. The slow, rhythmic progress of the horse, the feel of worn leather in his fist where he held the animal's reins, the gentle brush of Amy's hair on his neck. All somehow inevitable, like details from a dream he'd had once, years ago.

When darkness came on, Peter used the shovel to clear a spot and pitched their tarp at the edge of the river. Most of the wood on the ground was too wet to burn, but beneath the heavy canopy of trees they found enough dry kindling to get a fire going. Peter had no blade, but in his pack was a small pocketknife that he could use to open the cans. They ate their dinner and slept, huddled together for warmth.

They awoke to bone-numbing cold. The storm had passed, leaving, in its wake, a sky of fierce cold blueness. While Amy built a fire, Peter went to look for the horse, which had broken loose and wandered away in the night-a situation that under different circumstances would have brought him to outright panic and yet somehow, on this morning, did not alarm him. He tracked the animal a hundred meters downstream, where he found him nibbling on some grassy shoots at the river's edge, his great black muzzle bearded with snow. It did not seem like the kind of thing Peter ought to disturb, so he stood awhile, watching the horse eat its breakfast, before leading him back to camp, where Amy's efforts had produced a small, smoky fire of damp needles and crackling twigs. They ate from more cans and drank cold water from the river, then warmed themselves together by the fire, taking their time. It would be their last morning, he knew. To the west, behind them, the garrison would be empty and silent now, all the soldiers moving south.

"I think this is it," he told Amy as he was tying the bags onto the horse. "I don't think we have more than ten kilometers to go."

The girl said nothing, merely nodded. Peter led the horse to a fallen log, a great sodden thing at least a meter high, and used this to step up. He got himself situated, pulling the packs tight against him, and reached out to pull her aboard.

"Do you miss them?" Amy asked. "Your friends."

He lifted his face toward the snowy trees. The morning air was calm and sunlit.

"Yes. But it's all right."

They came, sometime later, to a fork. For a period of some hours they had been following a road, or what had once been a road. Beneath the snow, the ground was firm and even, the route marked here and there by a rusted sign or a weather-beaten guardrail. They were moving deeper into a narrowing valley, walled cliffs rising on either side, showing their rocky faces. That was when they came to the place where the road split in two directions: straight, along the river, or across it on a bridge, an arched span of exposed girders, covered with snow. On the opposite side, the roadway rose again and angled into the trees, away.

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