The Passage Page 115

Then he was gone. She was lying on the ground, bleeding, time passing, the sickness starting; that which was to pass between them had found its way, she knew. Lacey closed her eyes and prayed for a sign, but no sign came. As it had been in the field after the men had left her, when she was just a girl. It seemed, in that dark hour, that God had forgotten about her, but then as dawn opened the sky above her face, from out of the stillness came the figure of a man. She could hear the soft tread of his steps upon the earth, could smell the smoke of his skin and hair. She tried to speak but couldn't; neither did the man address her, nor tell her his name. In silence he lifted her into her arms, cradling her like a child, and Lacey thought that it was God Himself, come to take her to His home in heaven. His eyes were hooded in shadow; his hair was a dark corona, wild and beautiful, like his beard, a dense mass of gray upon his face. He carried her through the smoking ruins, and she saw that he was weeping. Those are God's own tears, Lacey thought, yearning to reach out and touch them. It had never occurred to her that God would cry, but of course that was wrong. God would be crying all the time. He would cry and cry and never stop. An exhausted peacefulness swept through her; for a time she slept. She did not recall what happened next, but when it was over and the sickness had passed, she opened her eyes and knew that he had done it; he had saved her. She had found the way to Amy, she had found the way at last.

Lacey, she heard. Listen.

She did. She listened. The voices moved over her like a breeze on water, like a current in the blood. Everywhere and all around.

Hear them, Lacey. Hear them all.

And so it was that through the years she'd waited. She, Sister Lacey Antoinette Kudoto, and the man who had carried her through the forest, who was not God after all but human, a human being. The good doctor-for that was how she thought of him; that was the name she used in her mind, though his given name, his Christian name, was Jonas. Jonas Lear. The saddest man in all the world. Together they had built the house in the glen where Lacey lived still-not much larger than the shacks she recalled from the dusty roads and red-clay fields of her youth-but sturdier, and made to last. The doctor once told her that he had built a house before, a cabin on a lake in the woods of Maine. That he had built this cabin with Elizabeth, his wife who had died, he did not say, but he did not have to. The abandoned compound was a bounty, waiting to be harvested. They had taken the lumber from the burnt remains of the Chalet; in the storage buildings they found hammers and saws and planes and sacks of nails, as well as sacks of concrete and a mixer, to pour the posts that would serve as the cabin's foundation and to mortar the fieldstones that the two of them lifted into place to build the hearth. For one whole summer they stripped roofing shingles off the old barracks, only to find that they leaked, the asphalt torn in too many places; in the end they piled sod on top, making a roof of dirt and grass. There were guns, too, guns by the hundreds, guns of every sort and nature; it was not easy, getting rid of so many guns. For a period of time that was how they occupied themselves, dismantling the soldiers' guns until all that remained was a vast mound of nuts and bolts and glossy metal pieces, not even worth burying.

He left her only one time, their third summer on the mountain, to go in search of seeds. He took the one gun he had kept, a rifle, with the food and fuel and other supplies he would need, all packed in the pickup that he had prepared for his journey. Three days, he said, but two whole weeks had come and gone before Lacey heard the sound of the pickup's engine, driving up the mountain. He emerged from the cab wearing a look of such despair she knew it was only his pledge to return that had brought him back to her. He'd driven as far as Grand Junction, he confessed, before deciding to turn around. In the truck were the promised packs of seeds. That night he lit the hearth and sat by it in a terrible, desolated silence, staring into the flames. Never had she seen such pain in a man's eyes, and although she knew she could not lift this grief from him, it was that same night she went to him and said she believed that they should live together from that day forward as man and wife, in every respect. It seemed a small thing, to offer him this love, this taste of forgiveness; and when this came about, as it did in due course, she understood that the love she had tendered was also love sought. An end to the journey she had begun in the fields of her childhood, all those years ago.

He never left again.

Through the years she loved him with her body, which did not age, as his did. She loved him and he loved her, each in their way, the two of them alone together on their mountain. Death came to him slowly over the years, first one thing and then another, nibbling away at the edges, then moving deeper. His eyes and hair. His teeth and skin. His legs and heart and lungs. There were many days when Lacey wished she could die also, so that he would not have to make this final voyage alone.

One morning she was working in the garden when she felt his absence; she went into the house, then into the woods, calling his name. It was high summer, the air fresh and bright, falling over the leaves like drizzled sunlight. He had chosen a place where the trees were thin and the sky was all above; from here he could see the valley and, beyond it, like a great becalmed sea, the wavelike mountains receding to a blue horizon. He was leaning on a shovel, panting for breath. He was an old man now, gray and frail, and yet here he was, digging a hole in the earth. What is that hole, she asked him, and he told her, It's for me. So that when I'm gone you won't have to dig it yourself. It wouldn't do in summer to have to wait to dig a hole. All that day and into the evening he dug, moving small shovels of earth, pausing after each for breath. She watched from the edge of the clearing, for he would have no help from her. And when he was done, the hole having reached a satisfactory dimension, he returned to the house where they had lived so many years together, to the bed he had built with his own hands from heavy joined timbers and lengths of fibrous rope that sagged with the shape of the two of them, and in the morning was dead.

How long ago? Lacey paused in her telling, Amy's and the young man's eyes-Peter's eyes-watching her from across the room. How strange, after so much time, to tell these stories: of Jonas, and that terrible night, and all that had happened in this place. She had stoked the fire and set a pot in the cradle to warm. The air of the house, two low-ceilinged rooms separated by a curtain, was warm and fragrant, lit by the glow of the fire.

"Fifty-four years," she said, answering the question she herself had posed. She said it again, to herself. Fifty-four years since Jonas had left her alone. She stirred the pot, which contained a stew of this and that, the meat of a fat possum from her trapline and hearty vegetables, the durable tubers, which she had put away for winter. Sitting in jars upon the shelves were the seeds she used each year, the descendents of the ones Jonas had brought in the packets. Zucchini and tomatoes, potatoes and squash, onions and turnips and lettuce. Her needs were small, the cold did not affect her, and she sometimes barely ate for days or even weeks; but Peter would be hungry. He was just as she'd imagined, young and strong, with a determined face, though she'd thought, somehow, that he would be taller.

She became aware that he was frowning at her.

"You've been by yourself ... for fifty years?"

She shrugged. "It was really not so long."

"And you set the beacon."

The beacon; she had almost forgotten. But of course he would ask about this. "Oh, it was the doctor who did that." It made Lacey miss him keenly, to speak this way. She broke her gaze away and turned from her stirring, wiping her hands on a cloth and taking up bowls from the table. "Such things. He was always tinkering. But there will be time for more talk. Now, we eat."

She served them the stew. She was glad to see Peter eating heartily, though Amy, she could tell, was just pretending. Lacey herself possessed no appetite at all. Whenever it was time for her to eat, Lacey felt not hunger but a mild curiosity, her mind remarking to her in an offhand way, as if to comment on nothing more important than the weather or the time of day, It would be good to eat now.

She sat and watched him with a feeling of gratitude. Outside, the dark night pressed down upon the mountain. She did not know if she would ever see another; soon she would be free.

When they were done, she rose from the table and went to the bedroom. The small space was sparsely furnished, just the bed the doctor had made and a dresser where she kept the few things she needed. The boxes were under the bed. Peter stood in the curtained doorway, observing silently, as she knelt and drew them out onto the floor. A pair of army lockers; at one time they had contained guns. Amy was behind him now, watching with curious eyes.

"Help me carry these to the kitchen," she said.

How many years she had imagined this moment! They placed them on the floor by the table. Lacey knelt once more and undid the hasps of the first locker, the one she'd kept for Amy. Inside was Amy's knapsack, which she'd worn to the convent. The Powerpuff Girls.

"This is yours," she said, and placed it on the table.

For a moment, the girl simply stared at it. Then, with deliberate care, she drew back the zipper and withdrew the contents. A toothbrush. A tiny shirt, limp with age, with the word SASSY written on it in glittering flakes. A pair of threadbare jeans. And, at the bottom, a stuffed rabbit of tan velveteen, wearing a pale blue jacket. The fabric was crumbling away; one of his ears was gone, exposing a curl of wire.

"It was Sister Claire who bought the shirt for you," Lacey said. "I do not think Sister Arnette approved of it."

Amy had put the other objects aside on the table and was holding the rabbit in her hands, peering into its face.

"Your sisters," Amy said. "But not ... actual sisters."

Lacey took a chair before her. "That is right, Amy. That is what I said to you."

"We are sisters in the eyes of God."

Amy dropped her gaze again. With her thumb, she stroked the fabric of the rabbit.

"He brought him to me. In the sick room. I remember his voice, telling me to wake up. But I couldn't answer him."

Lacey was aware of Peter's eyes, intently watching.

"Who did, Amy?" she asked.

"Wolgast." Her voice was distant, lost in the past. "He told me about Eva."


"She died. He would have given her his heart." The girl met Lacey's gaze again, squinting intently. "You were there, too. I remember now."

"Yes. I was."

"And another man."

Lacey nodded. "Agent Doyle."

Amy frowned sharply. "I didn't like him. He thought I did, but I didn't." She closed her eyes, remembering. "We were in the car. We were in the car, but then we stopped." She opened her eyes. "You were bleeding. Why were you bleeding?"

Lacey had almost forgotten; after everything else, it had come to seem so small, this part of the story. "To tell you the truth, I did not know myself! But I think that one of the soldiers must have shot me."

"You got out of the car. Why did you do that?"

"To be here for you, Amy," she answered. "So someone would be here when you came back."

Another silence passed, the girl worrying the rabbit with her fingers like a talisman.

"They're so sad. They have such terrible dreams. I hear them all the time."

"What do you hear, Amy?"

"Who am I, who am I, who am I? They ask and ask, but I can't tell them."

Lacey cupped the girl's chin. Her eyes were glistening with tears. "You will. When the time is right."

"They're dying, Lacey. They're dying and can't stop. Why can't they stop, Lacey?"

"I think that they are waiting for you, to show them the way."

They stayed that way a long moment. In the place where Lacey's mind met Amy's, she felt her sorrow and her loneliness, but even more: she felt her courage.

She turned to Peter then. He did not love Amy, as Wolgast had. She could see that there was another, someone he had left behind. But he was the one who had answered the beacon. Whoever heard it and brought Amy back-he would be the one to stand with her.

She bent to the second locker on the floor. Stacked inside were manila folders of yellowed paper-still, after so many years, exuding a faint odor of smoke. It was the doctor who had retrieved them, along with Amy's backpack, as the fires had moved down through the underground levels of the Chalet. Someone should know, he had said.

She withdrew the first file and placed it on the table before him. The label read:





"It is time for you to learn how this world was made," said Sister Lacey. And then she opened it.


They rode through the fading day, a party of five, Alicia on point. The trail of the Many was a broad swath of destruction-the snow trampled, branches broken, the ground littered with debris. It seemed to grow denser and wider with every kilometer, as if more of the creatures were joining the pod, called out of the wilderness to take their place among their kind. Here and there they saw a stain of blood on the snow where a hapless animal, a deer or rabbit or squirrel, had met its swift demise. The tracks were less than twelve hours old; somewhere up ahead, in the shade of the trees and under the rocky ledges and perhaps, even, beneath the snow itself, they waited, dozing the day away, a great pod of virals, thousands strong.

By late afternoon, they were forced to make a decision: to follow the creatures' trail, the shortest route up the mountain, but one that would take them right into the heart of the pod; or to turn north, find the river again, and make their approach from the west. Michael watched from atop his horse as Alicia and Greer conferred. Hollis and Sara were beside him, their rifles resting across their laps, their parkas zipped to their chins. The air was bitterly cold; in the immense stillness, every sound seemed magnified, the wind like a rush of static over the frozen land.

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