The Passage Page 55

She sat awhile with Mar, the two of them not speaking. It was possible, Sara understood, for life to go on too long, as it was also possible for it to end too soon. Maybe it was his fear of leaving Mar alone that was keeping Gabe alive.

Eventually Sara rose, placing the mug on the cart. "If he wakes up, see if he'll drink this," she said.

Tears of exhaustion hung on the corners of Mar's eyes. "I told him it's all right, he can go."

It took Sara a moment. "I'm glad you did," she said. "Sometimes that's what a person needs to hear."

"It's Jacob, you see. He doesn't want to leave Jacob. I told him, We'll be fine. You go now. That's what I told him."

"I know you will, Mar." Her words felt small. "He knows it too."

"He's so damn stubborn. You hear that, Gabe? Why do you have to be so goddamn stubborn all the time?" Then she dropped her face to her hands and wept.

Sara waited a respectful time, knowing there was nothing she could do to ease the woman's pain. Grief was a place, Sara understood, where a person went alone. It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody's business but yours.

"I'm sorry, Sara," Mar said finally, shaking her head. "You shouldn't have had to hear that."

"It's all right. I don't mind."

"If he wakes up, I'll tell him you were here." Through her tears, she managed a sad smile. "I know Gabe always liked you. You were his favorite nurse."

It was half-night by the time Sara got to the Lighthouse. She quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Elton was alone, fast asleep at the panel, earphones clamped to his head.

He twitched awake as the door closed behind her on its springs. "Michael?"

"It's Sara."

He removed the earphones and turned in his chair, sniffing the air. "What's that I smell?"

"Jack stew. It's probably ice-cold by now, though."

"Well, I'll be." He sat up straight in his chair. "Bring it here."

She placed it before him. He took a dirty spoon from the counter that faced the panel. "Light the lamp if you want."

"I like the dark. If you don't mind."

"It's all the same to me."

For a while she watched him eat in the glow of the panel. There was something almost hypnotic about the motions of Elton's hands, guiding the spoon into the pot and then to his waiting mouth with smooth precision, not a single gesture wasted.

"You're watching me," Elton said.

She felt the heat rising to her cheeks. "Sorry."

He polished off the last of the stew and wiped his mouth on a rag. "Nothing to be sorry about. You're about the best thing that ever comes in here, as far as I'm concerned. Pretty girl like you, you watch me all you want."

She laughed-out of embarrassment or disbelief, she didn't know. "You've never seen me, Elton. How can you possibly know what I look like?"

Elton shrugged, his useless eyes rolling upward behind their drooping lids-as if, in the darkness of his mind, her image was there for him to see. "Your voice. How you speak to me, how you speak to Michael. How you look after him like you do. Pretty is as pretty does, I always say."

She heard herself sigh. "I don't feel like it."

"Trust old Elton," he said, and gave a quiet laugh. "Somebody's going to love you."

There was always something about being around Elton that made her feel better. He was a shameless flirt, for starters, but that wasn't the real reason. He simply seemed happier than anyone she knew. It was true what Michael said about him: his blindness wasn't something missing; it was simply something different.

"I just came back from the Infirmary."

"Well, there you are," he said, nodding along. "Always looking after folks. How's Gabe doing?"

"Not so good. He looks really terrible, Elton. And Mar's taking it hard. I wish there was more I could do for him."

"Some things you can, and some things you can't. It's Gabe's time now. You've done all you could."

"It's not enough."

"It never is." Elton turned to search the counter with his hands, locating the earphones, which he held out to her. "Now, since you've brought me a present, I've got one for you. A little something to cheer you up."

"Elton, I wouldn't have a clue what I was hearing. It's all static to me."

A cagey smile was on his face. "Just do like I say. Close your eyes, too."

The phones were warm against her ears. She sensed Elton moving his hands over the panel, his fingers gliding here and there. Then she heard it: music. But not like any music she knew. It reached her first as a distant, hollow sound, like a breath of wind, and then, rising behind it, high birdlike notes that seemed to dance inside her head. The sound built and built, seeming to come from all directions, and she knew what she was hearing, that it was a storm. She could picture it in her mind, a great storm of music sweeping down. She had never heard anything so beautiful in her life. When the last notes died away, she pulled the headphones from her ears.

"I don't get it," she said, astounded. "This came through the radio?"

Elton chuckled. "Now, that would be something, wouldn't it?"

He did something to the panel again. A small drawer opened, ejecting a silver disc: a CD. She'd never paid much attention to them; Michael told her they were just noise. She took the disc in her hand, holding it by the edges. Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf conducting.

"I just thought you should hear what you look like," said Elton.


"The thing I don't understand," Theo was saying, "is why the three of you aren't dead."

The group was sitting at the long table in the control room, all except Finn and Rey, who had returned to the barracks to sleep. Peter's daze of adrenaline had worn off, and the pain in his ankle, which did not seem to be broken, had settled to a low throb; someone had chipped a piece of ice off one of the condensers, and Peter was holding this, wrapped in a sodden rag, to the injured joint. The fact that he had just killed Zander Phillips, a man he had known, had yet to produce in him any emotion he could actually name. The information was simply too strange to process. But the station key had still been around Zander's neck, so there could be no doubt who it was. There had been no choice, of course; Zander had been fully turned. Strictly speaking, the viral who had tried to force its way through the hatch hadn't been Zander Phillips anymore. And yet Peter could not suppress the feeling that at the last instant before he'd squeezed the trigger, he'd detected a glimmer of recognition in the viral's eyes-a look, even, of relief.

In the aftermath of the attack, Theo had questioned Caleb carefully. The boy's story didn't quite add up, but it was also clear that he was suffering from exhaustion and exposure. His lips were swollen and cracked, he had a big purple bruise on his forehead, and both of his feet were laced with cuts. The lost shoes seemed to pain him most of all; they were black Nike Push-Offs, he explained, brand-new in their box from the Foot Locker at the mall. They'd come off somehow in his race across the valley, but he'd been so scared he'd barely noticed.

"We'll get you a new pair," Theo had said. "Just tell me about Zander."

Caleb was eating as he spoke, gnawing off bites of hardtack and washing them down with gulps of water. Well, everything had been normal, Caleb explained, until about six days ago, when Zander had begun to act ... odd. Very odd. Even for Zander, which was saying something. He didn't want to go outside the fence, and he wasn't sleeping at all. All night long he'd be up pacing the control room, muttering to himself. Caleb thought it was just too much time at the station, that when the relief crew showed, Zander would snap out of it.

"So then one day he announces we're going out to the field, and tells me to get the cart packed and ready. I was sitting here eating my lunch, and he just marches in and announces this. He wants to swap out one of the governors in the west section. Okay, I say, but what's the big emergency? Isn't it a little late in the day to be going to the field? He's got this crazy look in his eyes, and he smelled bad. I mean, he stank. You feeling okay, I ask him, and he says, Just get your gear, we're going."

"When was this?"

Caleb swallowed. "Three days ago."

Theo leaned forward in his chair. "You've been outside three days?"

Caleb nodded. He'd finished off the last of the hardtack and started on a dish of soybean paste, scooping it out with his fingers. "So we ride out with the jenny, but here's the thing. We don't go to the west field. We go to the east field. Nothing's worked over there for years; they're all dead sticks. And it takes forever to get there, two hours with the cart at least. It's past half-day, we're cutting it close as it is. I'm like, Zander, west is that way, buddy, what the hell are we doing out here? Are you trying to get us killed? So we get to the tower he says he wants to fix, and the thing's a rust bucket. Completely backblown. I can see that from the ground. No chance swapping the governor's going to do anything. But that's what he wants to do, so I haul my ass up the ladder and set the winch and start stripping out the old housing, working as fast as I can. I'm thinking, Okay, this doesn't make a lot of sense, as far as I can tell we're risking our necks for nothing, but maybe he knows something I don't. Anyway, that was when I heard the scream."

"Zander screamed?"

Caleb shook his head. "The jenny. I'm not kidding, that was exactly what it sounded like. I'd never heard anything like it. When I looked down she's just keeling over, going down like a bag of rocks. It takes me a second to figure what I'm seeing. It's blood. A lot of it." He wiped his greasy mouth with the back of his hand and pushed the empty dish of paste aside. "Zander always said this stuff tasted like balls. I was like, When did you eat balls, Zander, like I really want to know? But after three days, it's really not half bad."

Theo sighed impatiently. "Caleb, please. The blood-"

He took a long swig of water. "Right, okay, so. The blood. Zander's kneeling by her and I yell, Zander, what the hell happened? When he gets up I see he's stripped to the waist, he's got a blade in his hand, and there's blood all over him. Somehow I missed the signs. I've got about five seconds before he comes up the ladder for me, too. But he doesn't. He just sits down at the base of the tower, in the shade of one of the struts, where I can't see him. Zander, I yell down, listen to me. You got to fight this thing. I'm all alone up here. I'm thinking that maybe if I can get him to snap out of it long enough, I can make a run for it."

"I don't get it," Alicia said. "When would he have gotten infected?"

"That's the thing," Caleb went on. "I couldn't figure that either. I'd been with him just about every minute of the day."

"What about at night?" Theo offered. "You said he didn't sleep. Maybe he went outside."

"I suppose that's possible, but why would he? And plus, he didn't really look any different, apart from the blood."

"What about his eyes?"

"Nothing. No oranging at all, from what I could see. I'm telling you, it was weird. So I'm stuck on the tower, Zander's at the bottom, maybe taken up and maybe not, but either way it's going to get dark eventually. Zander, I yell, look, I'm coming down, one way or the other. I'm not armed, all I've got is the wrench, but maybe I can brain him with it and get away. I've also got to get the key from him somehow. I can't see him from the ladder, so when I'm about three meters from the bottom I decide what the hell, I'm just going to jump. I've already tipped my hand, but I figure I'm dead anyway. I drop and come up with the wrench ready to swing. But it's gone. Snatched right out of my hand. Zander's right behind me. That's when he says to me, Go back up."

"Go back up?" This was Arlo.

Caleb nodded. "No kidding, that's what he said. And if he was flipping, I still couldn't tell. But he's got the blade in one hand, the wrench in the other, there's blood all over him, and without the key there's no way I'm getting back inside the station. I ask him, What do you mean go back up, and he says, You're safe if you go back up the tower. So that's what I did." The boy shrugged. "That's where I was for the last three days, until I saw you on the Eastern Road."

Peter looked at his brother; Theo's expression indicated he didn't know what to make of Caleb's story either. What had Zander intended? Had he already been taken up or not? It had been many years, and not in living memory, since anyone had directly witnessed the effects of the infection's early stages. But there were plenty of stories, from the early days especially, the time of the Walkers, of bizarre behaviors-not just the blood hunger and spontaneous disrobing that everyone knew to be a sign. Strange utterances, public speechmaking, manic feats of athleticism. One Walker, it was said, had broken into the Storehouse and actually eaten himself to death; another had killed all his children in their beds before setting himself aflame; a third had stripped na**d, ascended to the catwalk in full view of the Watch, and recited, at the top of his lungs, both the entire Gettysburg Address-there was a copy of it hanging on the wall in one of the classrooms in the Sanctuary-and twenty-five verses of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" before hurling himself over, twenty meters to the hardpan.

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