The Passage Page 35

"They're all over the place," Sykes said, and swallowed. "Why didn't he kill me? The son of a bitch looked right at me."

"Which one was it?"

"What the f**k does that matter?" Sykes shrugged. "Your pal. Babcock. What is it with you two?" A deep tremor moved through him. "I don't feel so good," he said, and then he vomited.

Richards jumped away, but too late. The air tanged with the stench of bile, and something else, elemental and metallic, like turned earth. Richards felt the wetness through his pants, his socks. He knew without looking that Sykes's vomitus was full of blood.


He raised his weapon at Sykes.

"Please," Sykes said, meaning no, or maybe yes, but either way, Richards figured he was doing Sykes a favor when he pointed the barrel at the center of his chest, the sweet spot, and then he squeezed the trigger.

Lacey saw the first one come out an upper window. So quick! Like light itself! How a man would move if he were made of light! It was up and over in an instant, vaulting off the roof into space, sailing through the air above the compound, alighting in a stand of trees a hundred yards away. A man-sized flash of throbbing luminescence, like a shooting star.

She'd heard the alarm as the truck pulled into the compound. The two men in the cab had argued for a minute-should they just drive away?-and Lacey had used this moment to climb out the back and scurry into the woods. That was when she'd seen the demon flying from the window. The treetops where he landed absorbed his weight with a shudder.

Lacey saw what was about to happen.

The driver of the truck was opening the truck's rear gate. Ordnance, the sentry had said-guns? The truck was full of guns.

The treetops moved again. A streak of green fell toward him.

Oh! Lacey thought. Oh! Oh!

Then there were more of them, pouring out of the building, through its windows and doors, launching themselves into the air. Ten, eleven, twelve. And soldiers too, everywhere, running and yelling and shooting, but their bullets did nothing; the demons were too fast, or else the bullets were harmless against them; one by one the demons fell upon the soldiers and they died.

This was why she had come-to save Amy from the demons.

Quickly, Lacey. Quickly.

She stepped from the edge of the woods.


Lacey froze. Should she raise her hands? The soldier appeared from the woods where he'd been hiding, too. A good boy, doing what he thought was his duty. Trying not to be afraid, though of course he was; she could feel the fear coming off him, like waves of heat. He didn't know what was about to happen to him. She felt a tender pity.

"Who are you?"

"I am no one," Lacey said, and then the demon was upon him-before he could even point his weapon, before he could finish the word he was speaking as he died-and Lacey was running toward the building.

By the time they got to the base of the tube, Wolgast was sweating and breathing hard. A faint light was falling down upon them. Far above, he could see the twin beams of an emergency light and, farther still, the stilled blades of a giant fan. The central ventilation shaft.

"Amy, honey," he said. "Amy, you have to wake up."

Her eyes fluttered open and closed again. He guided her arms around his neck and stood, felt her feet clamping around his waist. But he could tell she had no strength.

"You have to hold on, Amy. Please. You have to."

Her body tightened in reply. But still, he'd have to use one of his arms to support her weight. This would leave only one hand free to pull them up the ladder. Jesus.

He turned and faced the ladder, set his foot onto the first rung. It was like a problem on a standardized test: Brad Wolgast is holding a little girl. He has to climb a ladder, fifty feet, in a poorly lit ventilation shaft. The girl is semiconscious at best. How does Brad Wolgast save both their lives?

Then he saw how he could do it. One rung at a time, he'd use his right hand to pull them up, then hook that same elbow through the ladder, balancing Amy's weight on his knee while he changed hands and moved up another rung. Then the left hand, then the right, and so on, moving Amy's weight between them, rung by rung to the top.

How much did she weigh? Fifty pounds? All suspended, at the moment he changed hands, by the strength of a single arm.

Wolgast began to climb.

Richards could tell from the shouts and the shooting that the sticks were outside now.

He'd known what was happening to Sykes. Probably it would happen to him too, since Sykes had puked his goddamn infected blood all over him, but he doubted he'd live long enough for this to matter. Hey, Cole, he thought. Hey, Cole, you weasel, you little shit. Was this what you hand in mind? Is this your Pax Americana? Because there's only one outcome I can see here.

There was just one thing Richards wanted now. A clean exit, with a good showing at the last.

The front entrance of the Chalet was all broken glass and bullet holes, the doors ripped half off their hinges, hanging kitty-corner. Three soldiers lay dead on the floor; it looked as if they'd been shot by friendly fire in the chaos. Maybe they'd actually shot one another on purpose, just to hustle things along. Richards raised his hand and looked at the Springfield-why would he think this would do any good? The soldiers' rifles would be no use either. He needed something larger. The armory was across the compound, behind the barracks. He'd have to make a run for it.

He looked out the door, across the open ground of the compound. At least the lights were still on. Well, he thought. Better now than later, since probably there would be no later. He took off at a run.

The soldiers were everywhere, scattered, running, shooting at nothing, at one another. Not even pretending to make an organized defense, let alone an assault on the Chalet. Richards ran full tilt, half-expecting to be hit.

Richards was halfway across the compound when he saw the five-ton. It was parked at the edge of the lot, at a careless angle, its doors open. He knew what was inside it.

Maybe he wouldn't have to make it across the compound after all.

"Agent Doyle."

Doyle smiled. "Lacey."

They were on the first floor of the Chalet, in a small, cramped room of desks and file cabinets. Doyle had been waiting there since the shooting had started, hidden beneath a desk. Waiting for Lacey.

He stood.

"Do you know where they are?"

Lacey paused. There were scratches on her face and neck, and bits of leaves caught in her hair.

She nodded. "Yes."

"I ... heard you," Doyle said. "All these weeks." Something huge was breaking open inside him. His throat choked with tears. "I don't know how I did that."

She took his hands in hers. "It wasn't me you heard, Agent Doyle."

At least Wolgast couldn't look down. He was sweating hard now, his palms and fingers slick on the rungs as he pulled them farther up. His arms were trembling with exertion; the crooks of his elbows, where he held each rung when he traded hands, felt bruised to the bone. There was a moment, he knew, when the body simply reached its limits, an invisible line that, once crossed, could not be uncrossed. He pushed the thought aside and climbed.

Amy's arms, crossed behind his neck, held firm. Together they ascended, rung by rung by rung.

The fan was closer now. Wolgast could feel a thin breeze, cool and smelling of night, spilling over his face. He craned his neck to scan the sides of the tube for an opening.

He saw it, ten feet above him: beside the ladder, an open duct.

He'd have to push Amy in first. Somehow he'd have to manage his own weight on the ladder and hers as well, while he swung her out from the ladder and into the duct; then he'd climb in himself.

They reached the opening. The fan was higher than he'd thought, another thirty feet above their heads at least. He guessed they were somewhere on the first floor of the Chalet. Maybe he was supposed to go higher, find another exit. But his strength was nearly gone.

He positioned his right knee to take Amy's weight and reached his left hand out. A featureless wall of cool metal met his fingertips, smooth as glass, but then he found the edge. He drew his hand back. Three more rungs should do it. He took a deep breath and ascended, positioning the two of them just above the duct.

"Amy," he rasped. His mouth and throat were dry as bone. "Wake up. Do your best to wake up, honey."

He felt her breathing change against his neck as she tried to rouse.

"Amy, I'm going to need you to let go when I say. I'll hold you. There's an opening in the wall. I need you to try to get your feet into it."

The girl gave no reply. He hoped she had heard him. He tried to imagine how this was going to work, exactly-how he was going to get her inside the duct and then himself-and couldn't. But he was out of options. If he waited any longer, he'd have no strength for any of it.


He pushed with his knee, lifting Amy up. Her arms released his neck and with his free hand he took her by the wrist, suspending her over the tube like a pendulum, and then he saw the way: he released his other hand, let her weight pull him away and to his left, toward the hole, and then her feet were inside it, she was sliding into the tube.

He began to fall. He'd been falling all along. But as he felt his feet lose contact with the ladder, his hands madly scrabbling at the wall, his fingers found the lip of the duct, a thin metal ridge that bit into his skin.

"Whoa!" he cried, his voice ricocheting down the length of the shaft. He seemed to be clinging to the side of the shaft by will alone; his feet were dangling in space. "Whoa now!"

How he did it he couldn't have explained. Adrenaline. Amy. That he didn't want to die, not yet. He pulled with all his might, his elbows bending slowly, drawing himself inexorably upward-first his head and then his chest and then his waist and finally the rest of him, sliding into the duct.

For a moment he lay still, gulping air into his lungs. He lifted his face then and saw a light ahead-some kind of opening in the floor. He twisted himself around and held Amy as he'd done before, scooting along on his backside, clutching her by the waist. The light grew stronger as they moved toward it. They came to a slatted grate.

It was sealed, screwed shut from the outside.

He wanted to cry. To come so close! Even if he'd been able to reach through the narrow slats, somehow, to find the screws with his fingers, he had no tools, no way to open it. And going back-impossible. He'd spent the last of his strength.

He heard movement below them.

He pulled Amy tight. He thought of the men they'd seen-Fortes, the soldier in the pool of blood, the one called Grey. It wasn't how he wanted to die. He closed his eyes and held his breath, willing the two of them into absolute silence.

Then a voice, quiet and searching: "Chief?"

It was Doyle.

One of the lockers was already resting on the ground at the rear of the truck. It looked like somebody had been unloading and then, in a panic, dropped it. Richards searched quickly inside the cargo compartment and found a tire iron.

The hinge gave way with a bright snap. Inside, cradled in beds of foam, lay a pair of RPG-29s. He lifted the rack to find, beneath it, the rockets: finned cylinders, about half a meter long, tipped with tandem-charge HEATs, capable of penetrating the armor of a modern battle tank. Richards had seen what they could do.

He'd placed the requisition when the order had come through to move the sticks. Better safe than sorry, he'd thought. Vampires, say aaah.

He fixed the first rocket to the launcher. With a twist it issued the satisfying hum that meant the warhead was armed. Thousands of years of technical advancement, the whole history of human civilization, seemed contained within that sound, the hum of an arming HEAT. The 29 was reusable, but Richards knew he'd only get one shot. He hoisted it to his shoulder, lifted the sighting mechanism into position, and stepped away from the truck.

"Hey!" he yelled, and, at precisely that moment, the sound of his voice streaming away into the gloom, a cold shudder of nausea burbled from his gut. The ground beneath him swayed, like the deck of a boat at sea. Beads of sweat were popping out all over. He felt the urge to blink, a random current from the brain. So. It was happening quicker than he'd thought. He swallowed hard and took two more steps into the light, swinging the RPG toward the treetops.

"Here, kitty, kitty!"

An anxious minute passed as Doyle scrabbled through various drawers until he found a penknife. Standing on a chair, he used the blade to undo the screws. Wolgast lowered Amy into Doyle's arms, then dropped to the floor himself.

He didn't at first know whom he was seeing.

"Sister Lacey?"

She was holding the sleeping girl against her chest. "Agent Wolgast."

Wolgast looked at Doyle. "I don't-"

"Get it?" Doyle lifted his eyebrows. He was, like Wolgast, wearing scrubs. They were too large, hanging loosely on his body. He gave a little laugh. "Trust me, I don't get it either."

"This place is full of dead men," Wolgast said. "Something ... I don't know. There was an explosion." He couldn't explain himself.

"We know," Doyle said, nodding. "It's time for us to go."

They stepped from the room into the hall. Wolgast guessed they were somewhere near the rear of the Chalet. It was quiet, though they could hear scattered pops of gunfire from outside. Quickly, without speaking, they made their way to the front entrance. Wolgast saw the dead soldiers sprawled there.

Lacey turned to him. "Take her," she said. "Take Amy."

He did. His arms were still weak from his ascent up the ladder, but he held her hard against him. She was moaning a little, trying to wake up, fighting the force that was keeping her in twilight. She needed to be in a hospital, but even if he could get her to one, what would he say? How would he explain any of this? The air near the doors was wintry cold, and in her thin gown Amy shivered against him.

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