The Passage Page 81

He followed her down the hall to her bedroom. Like the rest of the house, the space was cluttered but clean, everything in its place. Pushed against the wall was an old four-poster bed, the mattress sagging in a manner that told him the ticking was just loose straw; beside it was a wooden chair bearing a lantern. He saw that the top of the dresser, the room's only other piece of furniture, was decorated with a collection of apparently random objects: an old glass bottle with the words Coca-Cola written in faded lettering of elaborate script; a metal tin that, when he picked it up, made a sound suggesting pins; the jawbone of some small animal; a pyramidal pile of flat, smooth stones.

"Those my worry things," said Auntie.

Now that they were standing together in the cramped room, Peter felt her smallness; the crown of her white head reached barely to his shoulder.

"That's what my mama called them. Keep your worry things nearby, she always said." She gestured with a crooked finger toward the bureau. "Don't remember where most of it comes from, excepting the picture, of course. Brought that with me on the train."

The picture was positioned in the center of the bureau top. Peter lifted it from its place and tipped it toward the window to catch the light of the spots. The photo was too small for the frame, which was tarnished and pitted; Peter supposed the frame had come later. Two figures were standing on a flight of stairs that ascended to the door of a brick house, the man behind and above the woman, his arms wrapping her waist as she leaned her weight against him. They were dressed for the cold, in bunchy coats; Peter could see a dusting of snow on the pavement in the foreground. The tones had been bleached by the years so that everything was a muted tan color, but he could tell that they were both dark-skinned, like Auntie, with Jaxon hair; the woman's was cut nearly as short as the man's. She wore a long scarf around her neck and was smiling straight into the camera; the man was looking away with an expression that seemed to Peter like three-quarters of a laugh-a laugh the camera had stopped. It was a haunting image, full of hope and promise, and Peter sensed, in the man's misdirected attention and the woman's smile and the way his arms enfolded her, pulling her into his body, the presence of a secret the two of them shared; and then, as more of its details came into focus-the way the woman's body curved and the thickness of her, beneath her coat-he realized what this secret was. It was a picture not of two people but three; the woman was pregnant.

"Monroe and Anita," said Auntie. "Those were their names. That there's our house, 2121 West Laveer."

Peter touched the glass over the woman's belly. "That's you, isn't it?"

"Course it's me. Who you think it was?"

Peter returned the picture to its place on her dresser. He wished he had something like that, to remember his parents by. With Theo it was different; he could still see his brother's face and hear his voice, and when he thought of Theo now, the image that came to his mind was from their time together at the power station, the day before they'd left. Theo's tired, troubled eyes as he sat on Peter's cot to examine his ankle and then, as he lifted his gaze, an expectant smile of challenge. The swelling's down. Think you can ride? But Peter knew that over time, even just a few months' worth, this memory would fade, like all the others-like the colors of Auntie's photograph. First the sound of Theo's voice would be lost, and then the picture itself, the details dissolving into visual static until all that remained was an empty space where his brother had been.

"Now, I know it's under here someplace," Auntie was saying.

She had lowered herself to her knees, pulling the skirt of the bed aside to look beneath it. With a grunt she reached under the bed and withdrew a box, sliding it across the floor. "Help me up, Peter."

He took her by an elbow and eased her to her feet, then lifted the box from the floor. An ordinary cardboard shoe box, with a hinged lid and a flap that sealed it tight.

"Go on now." Auntie was sitting on the edge of the bed, her na**d feet dangling like a Little's, skimming the floor. "Open it."

He did as she'd said. The box was full of folded paper-he had already figured that out. But not just paper, he saw. Maps.

The box was full of maps.

Carefully he lifted the first one free of the box. Its surface was worn smooth, so brittle at its creases he worried that it might dissolve in his hands. At the top were the words AUTOMOBILE CLUB OF AMERICA, LOS ANGELES BASIN AND SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

"These were my father's. The ones he used on the Long Rides."


"I don't understand," he said. "Where did you get them?"

"Your mother brought them to me. Before she died." Auntie was still watching him from the bed, her hands resting in her lap. "That woman knew you better than you know yourself. Give them to him when he's ready, she said."

A familiar sadness washed over him. "I'm sorry, Auntie," he said after a moment. "You've made a mistake. She must have meant Theo."

But she shook her head. "No, Peter." She smiled a toothless smile; her vaporous cloud of hair, backlit by the spots pouring down outside the windows, seemed to glow around her face-a halo of hair and light. "It was you. She told me to give them to you."

Later Peter would think: how strange it was. How, standing in the quiet of Auntie's room, among her things of the past, he had felt time opening before him, like the pages of a book. He thought of his mother's final hours-of her hands, and the close heat of the bedroom where Peter had cared for her; of her sudden struggle for breath, and the last imploring words she'd spoken. Take care of your brother, Theo. He's not strong, like you. Her intentions had seemed so clear. And yet as Peter searched this moment, the memory began to shift, his mother's words forming a new shape and emphasis and, with that, a different meaning entirely.

Take care of your brother Theo.

His thoughts were broken by a burst of knocking from the porch.

"Auntie, are you expecting anyone?"

The old woman frowned. "At this hour?"

Peter quickly returned the maps to the box and slid them beneath the bed. It wasn't until he reached the front door and saw Michael standing behind the screen that he wondered why he'd done this. Michael eased himself into the room, darting a glance past Peter to the old woman, who was standing behind him, her arms folded disapprovingly over her chest.

"Hey, Auntie," he said breathlessly.

"Hey yourself, rude boy. You come knocking at my door in the middle of the night, I expect a how-do-you-do."

"Sorry." His cheeks reddened with embarrassment. "How are you this evening, Auntie?"

She nodded. "I'm expecting I'm all right."

Michael directed his attention to Peter again, lowering his voice confidentially. "Could I speak to you? Outside?"

Peter stepped onto the porch behind Michael, in time to see Dale Levine appearing out of the shadows.

"Tell him what you told me," said Michael.

"Dale? What is it?"

"Look," the man said, glancing around nervously, "I probably shouldn't be saying this, and I have to get back to the Wall. But if you're planning on getting Alicia and Caleb out of here, I'd do it at first light. I can help you at the gate."

"Why? What's happened?"

It was Michael who answered. "The guns, Peter. They're going to get the guns."


In the Infirmary, Sara Fisher, First Nurse, was waiting with the girl.

Amy, Sara thought. Her name was Amy. This impossible girl, this one-hundred-year-old girl, was named Amy. Is that you? she'd asked her. Is that your name? Are you Amy?

Yes, her eyes said. She might have actually smiled. How long since she had heard the sound of her name? That's me. I'm Amy.

Sara wished she had some clothing for the girl, instead of the gown. It didn't seem right for a girl who had a name not to have clothing to wear, and a pair of shoes. Sara should have thought of that before returning to the Infirmary. The girl was shorter than she was, lighter-boned and slimmer-hipped, but Sara had a pair of gaps she liked to ride in, snug at the waist and seat, that would fit the girl well enough if she cinched them tight. She needed a bath, too, and a haircut.

Sara didn't question anything Michael had told her. Michael was Michael, that's what everyone said, meaning he was too smart by half-too smart for his own good. But the one thing he wasn't, not ever, was wrong. There would come a time, Sara supposed, when this would happen-a person couldn't be right all the time-and she wondered what would become of her brother on that day. The ceaseless effort he applied to being right, to fixing every problem, would suddenly collapse inside him. It made Sara think of a game they had played as Littles, building towers of blocks and then pulling them away from the lower tiers, one by one, daring the whole thing to fall; and when it fell, it happened swiftly, all at once. She wondered if that's what would happen to Michael, if there would be any part left standing. He would need her then, as he had needed her that morning in the shed when they'd found their parents-the day when Sara had failed him.

Sara had meant it, when she'd told Peter she wasn't afraid of the girl. She had been, at first. But as the hours and then days had moved by, the two of them locked away, she'd begun to feel something new. In the girl's watchful and mysterious presence-silent and unmoving, and yet not-she'd begun to feel a quality of reassurance, even of hope. A feeling that she was not alone, but even more: that the world was not alone. As if they were all waking from a long night of terrible dreams to step back into life.

Dawn would soon come. The attack of the night before had evidently not repeated; Sara would have heard the shouts. It was as if the night were holding the last of its breath, waiting for what would come next. Because what Sara hadn't told Peter, or anyone at all, was what had occurred in the Infirmary in the moments just before the lights had gone out. The girl had suddenly sat bolt upright on her cot. Sara, exhausted, had just lain down to sleep; she was roused by a sound she realized was coming from the girl. A low moaning, a single continuous note, rising at the back of her throat. What is it? Sara said, rising quickly to go to her. What's wrong? Are you hurt, has something hurt you? But the girl gave no reply. Her eyes were very wide, and yet she seemed not to see Sara at all. Sara had sensed that something was happening outside-the room was strangely dark, there were shouts coming from the Wall, the sounds of a commotion, voices calling and feet racing past-but while this seemed important, a fact worthy of her attention, Sara could not look away; whatever was going on outside was being waged here also, in this room, in the vacancy of the girl's eyes and the tautness of her face and throat and in the mournful melody that she was playing from somewhere deep within her. Things continued this way for some unknown numbers of minutes-two minutes and fifty-six seconds, according to Michael, though it felt like an eternity-and then, as quickly and alarmingly as it had begun, it was over; the girl fell silent. She lay back down on the cot, pulling her knees to her chest, and that had been the end of it.

Sara, sitting at the desk in the outer room, was remembering this, wondering if she should have told Peter about it, when her attention was taken by a sound of voices on the porch. She lifted her face toward the window. Ben was still sitting at the rail, facing away-Sara had carried out a chair for him-the end of his cross visible where it protruded from his lap; whomever he was speaking to was standing below him, Sara's view obscured by the angle. What are you doing there? she heard Ben say, his voice gathering into a tone of warning. Don't you know there's a curfew?

And as Sara rose to her feet, to see whom Ben was speaking to, she saw Ben rising also, sweeping his cross before him.

Peter and Michael, moving through the trailer park, darting from shadow to shadow: they made their final approach to the lockup in the cover of the trees.

No guard.

Peter gently pushed open the door, which stood ajar. As he stepped inside, he saw a body pushed against the far wall, its arms and legs bound, just as Alicia, moving from his left, dropped the cross she was pointing at his back.

"Where the hell have you been?" she said.

Caleb was standing behind her, holding the blade.

"A long story. I'll tell you on the way." He gestured toward the body on the floor, which he now recognized as Galen Strauss. "I see you decided to get started without me. What did you do to him?"

"Nothing he'll remember when he wakes up."

"Ian knows about the guns," said Michael.

Alicia nodded. "So I figured."

Peter explained the plan. First to the Infirmary to get Sara and the girl, then to the stables, for mounts. Just before First Bell, Dale, on the Wall, would call sign. In all the confusion, they should be able to slip out the gate, just as the sun was rising, and make their way down to the power station. From there they could figure out what to do.

"You know, I think I misjudged Dale," Alicia said. "He's got more stones than I thought." She looked at Michael. "You too, Circuit. I wouldn't have figured you as someone ready to storm the lockup."

The four of them stepped out. Dawn was fast approaching; Peter didn't think they had more than a few minutes. They moved in quick silence toward the Infirmary and circled around to the west wall of the Sanctuary, giving them cover and a clear view of the building.

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