The Passage Page 114

He retrieved his boots and the shotgun from their place by the door and descended the stairs. The fire in the living room had burned down to glowing ash. He didn't know what time it was but sensed it was close to dawn; over the weeks, as he and Maus had settled into a rhythm, sleeping the night away to awaken with the first rays of sun in the window, he had begun to apprehend the hour in a way that seemed both natural and completely new to him. It was as if he had tapped into some deep reservoir of instinct, a long-buried memory of his kind. It wasn't just the absence of the lights, as he had come to believe; it was the place itself. Maus had sensed it too, that first day, when they had walked to the river together to fish, and later, in the kitchen, when she had told him they were safe.

He sat to draw the boots on over his feet, took a heavy sweater from the hooks, checked the load on the shotgun, and stepped onto the porch. To the east, beyond the line of hills that hemmed the valley, a soft glow was creeping up the sky. During the first week, while Maus slept, Theo had sat on the porch all night; with each new dawn, he'd felt a surprising pang of sadness. All his life he had feared the darkness and what it could bring; no one, not even his father, had told him how beautiful the night sky was, how it made you feel both small and large at the same time, while also a part of something vast and eternal. He stood a moment in the cold, watching the stars and letting the night air flow in and out of his lungs, bringing his mind and body to wakefulness. As long as he was up he would set a fire, so Mausami wouldn't have to wake in an ice-cold house.

He moved off the porch, into the yard. For days he'd done little else but haul and split wood. The woods by the river were full of deadfalls, dry and good for burning. The saw he'd found was no good, the teeth hopelessly dulled with corrosion, but the axe had done just fine. Now the fruits of his labors lay stacked in rows in the barn, with more under the eaves, draped by a plastic tarp.

Those people, he thought as he moved toward the barn door, which stood ajar. The ones in the pictures he had found. He wondered if they had been happy here. He'd found no more photographs in the house, and hadn't thought to search the car until two days ago. He didn't know quite what he was looking for, but after a few minutes in the driver's seat, idly pushing buttons and flipping switches and hoping something would happen, he found the right one. A little door popped open on the dashboard, revealing a wad of maps and, hidden beneath them, a leather wallet. Tucked in the folds was a card with the words UTAH TAX COMMISSION, DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES and, beneath that, a name, David Conroy. David Conroy, 1634 Mansard Place, Provo, UT. That's who they were, he told Mausami, showing her. The Conroys.

But the barn door, Theo thought; something about the barn door. Why was it ajar like that? Could he have actually forgotten to close it? But he had closed it; he remembered this distinctly. And no sooner had he thought this than a new sound reached his ears: a quiet rustling from within.

He froze, willing himself into an absolute stillness. For a long moment he heard nothing. Maybe he'd just imagined it.

Then it came again.

At least whatever was inside hadn't noticed him yet. If it was a viral, one shot was all he'd have. He could return to the house and warn Mausami, but where would they go? His best chance was to use whatever element of surprise he still possessed. Carefully, holding his breath, he pulled the pump on the shotgun, listening for the click as the first round slid into the chamber. From deep inside the barn he heard a soft thump, followed by an almost human-sounding sigh. He eased the barrel forward until it met the wood of the door and gently nudged it open as, behind him, a whispering voice lit up the gloom.

"Theo? What are you doing?"

Mausami in her long nightshirt, her hair spilling over her shoulders; she seemed to hover like an apparition in the predawn darkness. Theo opened his mouth to speak, to tell her to get back, when the door flew open, knocking the barrel of the shotgun with a force that sent him spinning. Before he knew what had happened the gun had fired, blasting him backward. A vaulting shadow leapt past him into the yard.

"Don't shoot!" Mausami yelled.

It was a dog.

The animal skidded to a halt a few meters in front of Mausami, tail tucked between his legs. His fur was thick, a silvering gray with spots of black. He was facing Maus in a kind of bow, standing on his skinny legs, his neck bent submissively, ears folded back against the woolly ruff of his shoulders. He seemed uncertain about which way to look, whether to run away or launch an attack. A low growl rose from the back of his throat.

"Maus, be careful," Theo warned.

"I don't think he's going to hurt me. Are you, boy?" Dropping to a crouch, she held out a hand for the dog to sniff. "You're just hungry, aren't you? Looking in the barn for something to eat."

The dog was directly between Theo and Mausami; if the animal made an aggressive move, the shotgun would be useless. Theo flipped it around in his hands to use as a club, and took a cautious step forward.

"Put the gun down," Mausami said.


"I mean it, Theo." She gave the dog a smile, her hand still extended. "Let's show this nice man what a good dog you are. Come here, boy. You want to give Mama's hand a sniff?"

The animal inched toward her, backed away, then moved forward again, following the black button of his nose toward Mausami's outstretched hand. As Theo watched, dumbfounded, the dog placed his face against her hand and began to lick it. Soon Maus was on the ground, sitting in the dirt, cooing to the animal, rubbing his face and ruff.

"See?" she laughed, as the dog, shaking his head with pleasure, gave a big wet sneeze into her ear. "He's just a big old sweetie is what he is. What's your name, fella? Hmm? Do you have a name?"

Theo realized he was still holding the shotgun over his head, ready to swing. He relaxed his posture, feeling embarrassed.

Mausami gave him a forgiving frown. "I'm sure he won't hold it against you. Are you my good boy?" she said to the animal, vigorously rubbing his mane. "What do you say? You skinny thing. How about some breakfast? How does that sound?"

The sun had lifted over the hill; the night was over, Theo realized, bringing with it a dog.

"Conroy," he said.

Mausami looked at him. The dog was licking her ear, rubbing his muzzle against her in a way that seemed almost indecent.

"That's what we'll call him," Theo explained. "Conroy."

Mausami took the dog's face in her hands, smushing his cheeks. "Is that you? Are you Conroy?" She made him nod, and gave a happy laugh. "Conroy it is."

Theo didn't want to let him in the house, but Maus was determined. The moment the door was open he bounded up the stairs, moving through every room like he owned the place, his long nails tapping excitedly on the floor. Maus cooked him a breakfast of fish and potatoes fried in lard and set it in a bowl beneath the kitchen table. Conroy had already taken his place on the sofa, but at the sound of crockery hitting the floor he leapt into the kitchen and buried his face in the bowl, pushing it across the room with his long nose as he ate. Maus filled a second bowl with water and put that down as well. When Conroy was finished with his breakfast and had taken a long, slurping drink of water, he loped from the room and returned to the sofa, where he settled back down with a windy sigh of satisfaction.

Conroy the dog. Where had he come from? It was obvious he'd been around people before; somebody had taken care of him. He was thin, but not what Theo would have called malnourished. His hair was thick with mats and burrs, but he seemed otherwise healthy.

"Fill the tub," Maus ordered him. "If he's going to sit on the sofa like that, I want to give him a bath."

Outside, Theo set a fire to boil water; by the time the tub was ready, the morning sun stood high over the yard. Winter waited at their doorstep, but the middle of the day could be mild like this, warm enough for shirtsleeves. Theo sat on a log and watched while Maus bathed the dog, rubbing handfuls of their precious soap through his silvery fur, using her fingers to smooth out the mats as best she could and picking out the burrs. The dog's face was a portrait of abject humiliation; he seemed to be saying, A bath? Whose idea was this? When she had finished, Theo lifted him from the tub, a great soggy thing, and Maus eased down to her knees once more-it was getting harder each day for her to perform even these simple movements-to wrap him with a blanket.

"Don't look so jealous."

"Was I?" But she had him, dead to rights; that was exactly how he was feeling. Conroy had thrown the blanket off to give himself a hard shake, sending drops of water arcing everywhere.

"Better get used to it," Maus said.

It was true; the baby wouldn't be long now. Every part of her seemed enlarged, swollen with some benign inhabitation; even her hair looked bigger. Theo expected her to complain about this, but she never did. Watching her with Conroy, who had finally submitted to her belated and unnecessary attempts to dry him with the blanket, he found himself suddenly and deeply glad, glad for everything. Back in the cell, he'd wanted only to die. Before that, even. Part of him had always struggled with it. The ones who let it go: Theo knew that pull, a longing as sharp as any hunger. To hand himself over; to step into the wild darkness. It had become a kind of game he played, watching himself go about his days as if he weren't already half dead, fooling everyone, even Peter. The worse the feeling was, the easier this deception became, until, in the end, it was the deception itself that sustained him. When Michael had told him about the batteries that afternoon on the porch, part of him had thought: thank God it's over.

And now look at him. His life had been restored. More than that; it was as if he'd been given an entirely new one.

They finished the day and retired with the sun. Conroy took up residence at the foot of the bed; as they did every night, Theo and Maus made love, feeling the baby kick between them. A persistent, attention-seeking tapping, like a code. Theo had found this disquieting at first but did no longer. It was all of a piece, the kicks and jabs of the baby in its pocket of warm flesh, and the soft cries Mausami made, and the rhythm of their movements, even, now, the sounds of Conroy on the floor, watchfully shifting his bones. A blessing, Theo thought. That was the word that came to his mind as sleep eased toward him. That's what this place was. A blessing.

Then he remembered the barn door.

He knew he'd dropped the latch. The memory was clear and specific in his mind: pulling the door closed on its squeaking hinges and dropping the latch into its cradle before walking back to the house.

But if that was true, how could Conroy have gotten inside?

In another instant he was shoving his legs into a pair of gaps, wedging on his boots with one hand and pulling on a sweater with the other. All day long, moving in and out of the house, he hadn't once done it.

He'd never looked inside the barn.

"What is it?" Mausami was saying. "Theo, what's wrong?"

She was sitting up now, the blanket pulled over her chest. Conroy, sensing the excitement, had sprung to his feet and was prancing around the room on his long, tapping nails.

He grabbed the shotgun from its place by the door. "Stay here."

He would have left Conroy with her, but the dog would have none of it; the moment Theo opened the front door of the house, Conroy flew into the yard. For the second time in a day Theo crept toward the barn, the stock of the shotgun pressed to his shoulder. The door was still open, just as they'd left it. Conroy dashed ahead of him, disappearing into the darkness.

He crept through the door, the shotgun raised, poised to fire. He could hear the dog moving in the dark, snuffling the ground.

"Conroy?" he whispered. "What is it?"

As his eyes adjusted, he saw the dog circling the ground just beyond the parked Volvo. Resting on the floor by the woodpile was a lantern Theo had left there, days before. Bracing the shotgun against his leg, he quickly knelt and lit the wick. He could hear that Conroy had found something, in the dirt.

It was a can. Theo picked it up, holding it by its crinkled edges, where someone had used a blade to open it. The interior walls of the can were damp, smelling of meat. Theo lifted the lantern higher, spreading its cone of light over the floor. Footprints. Human footprints, in the dust.

Someone had been here.


It was the doctor who had done it. It was the doctor who had saved her and to whom, in the end, Lacey hoped she had brought some small measure of comfort.

Strange, what the years did to Lacey's memory of the things of that night so long ago, back at the beginning. The screams and smoke. The calls of the dying and the dead. A great black tide of endless night sweeping over the world. Sometimes it all came back to her as clearly as if it were not decades but days that had passed; at other times, the pictures she saw and the feelings she felt seemed small and doubtful and distant, like chips of straw adrift on a broad sweeping current of time in which she floated also, through all the years and years.

She remembered the one, Carter. Carter, who had come to her as she had run from Wolgast's car, shouting and waving; Carter, who had answered her call and swooped down toward her, alighting before her like a great, sorrowful bird. I ... am ... Carter. He was not like the others. She could see, behind the monstrous vision he'd become, that he took no pleasure in his doing, that his heart was broken inside him. Chaos all around them, the screams and the gunfire and the smoke: men were running past her, yelling and shooting and dying, their fates already written when the world began, but Lacey was in that place no more; for as Carter placed his mouth upon her neck, calling the soft beat of her heart to his own, she felt it. All his pain and puzzlement, and the long sad story of who he was. The bed of rags and bundles under the roadway, and the sweat and soil of his skin and of his long journey; the great gleaming car stopping beside him with its grille of jeweled teeth, and the voice of the woman, calling out to him over the dirty roar of the world; the sweetness of mown grass and the sweating coolness of a glass of tea; the pull of the water, and the arms of the woman, Rachel Wood, holding fast, pulling him down and down. It was his life that Lacey felt inside her, his little, human life, which he had never loved as much as he loved the woman whose spirit he now carried inside him-for Lacey felt that also-and as his teeth cut into the soft curve of her neck, filling Lacey's senses with the heat of his breath, she heard her own voice rising, bubbling past. God bless you. God bless and keep you, Mr. Carter.

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