The Passage Page 82

The porch was empty; the door stood open. Through the front windows came a flicker of lamplight. Then they heard a scream.


Peter got there first. The outer room was empty. Nothing was disturbed except the chair at the front desk, which was lying on its side. From the ward Peter heard a groan. As the others entered behind him, he raced down the hallway and tore through the curtain.

Amy was huddled at the base of the far wall, her arms folded over her head as if to ward off a blow. Sara was on her knees, her face covered in blood.

The room was full of bodies.

The others had burst in behind him. Michael rushed to his sister's side.


She tried to speak, opening her bloodied lips, but no sound came. Peter dropped to his knees beside Amy. She appeared uninjured, but at his touch she flinched, pulling farther away, waving her arms protectively.

"It's okay," he was saying, "it's okay," but it wasn't okay. What had happened here? Who had killed these men? Had they slaughtered one another?

"It's Ben Chou," Alicia said. She was kneeling by one of the bodies. "Those two are Milo and Sam. The other one is Jacob Curtis."

Ben had been taken on a blade. Milo, face-down in a spreading puddle of blood, had been killed by a blow to the head; Sam appeared to have gone down the same way, his skull caved in from the side.

Jacob was lying at the foot of Amy's cot, the bolt from Ben's cross jutting from his throat. A bit of blood was still bubbling from his lips; his eyes were open, wearing a look of surprise. In his outstretched hand he was clutching a length of iron pipe, smeared with blood and brain, white flecks among the red, clinging to its surface.

"Holy shit!" Caleb said. "Holy shit, they're all dead!"

Everything about the scene had taken on a horrifying vividness. The bodies on the floor, the pooling blood. Jacob with the pipe in his hand. Michael was helping Sara to her feet. Amy was still cowering against the wall.

"It was Sam and Milo," Sara croaked. Michael had helped his sister onto one of the cots. She spoke haltingly, through cracked and swollen lips, her teeth lined in crimson. "Ben and I tried to stop them. It was all ... I don't know. Sam was hitting me. Then someone else came in."

"Was it Jacob?" Peter said. "He's lying dead here, Sara."

"I don't know, I don't know!"

Alicia took Peter by the elbow. "It doesn't matter what happened," she said urgently. "No one will ever believe us. We have to go now."

They couldn't risk the gate; Alicia explained what she wanted everyone to do. The important thing was to keep out of sight of the Wall. Peter and Caleb would go to the Storehouse, for ropes and packs and shoes for Amy; Alicia would lead the others to the rendezvous.

They crept from the Infirmary and fanned out. The main door to the Storehouse stood ajar, the lock hanging on its hasp-an odd detail, but nothing they had time to worry about now. Caleb and Peter moved into the dim interior with its long rows of bins. That was where they found Old Chou and, beside him, Walter Fisher. They were hanging side by side from the rafters, the ropes tight around their necks, their bare feet suspended above a bin of crated books. Their skin had taken on a grayish cast; both men's tongues were hanging from their mouths. They had evidently used the crates as a kind of stepladder, assembling them into a pile and then, once the ropes were in place, kicking them away. For a moment Peter and Caleb just stood there, looking at the two men, the improbable image they made.

"Fuck ... me," said Caleb.

Alicia was right, Peter knew. They had to go now. Whatever was happening was vast and terrible, a force to sweep over them all.

They assembled their supplies and stepped outside. Then Peter remembered the maps.

"Go ahead," he told Caleb. "I'll catch up."

"They'll already be there."

"Just go. I'll find you."

The boy darted away. At Auntie's house, Peter didn't bother to knock; he stepped inside and moved straight to the bedroom. Auntie was asleep. He paused for a moment in the doorway, watching her breathe. The maps were where he'd left them, under the bed. He bent to retrieve them and slid the box into his pack.


He froze. Auntie's eyes were still closed. Her hands lay still at her sides.

"I was just lying here to rest some."


"No time for goodbyes," the old woman intoned. "You go on now, Peter. You're in your own time now."

By the time he reached the cutout, filaments of pink were rising from the east. Everyone was there. Alicia was climbing from under the trunk line, dusting herself off.

"Everybody ready?"

Footsteps behind them: Peter wheeled around, drawing his blade. But then he saw, stepping from the undergrowth, the figure of Mausami Patal. A cross was slung from one shoulder; she was wearing a pack.

"I tracked you from the Storehouse. We better hurry."

"Maus-" Alicia began.

"Save your breath, Lish. I'm going." Mausami focused her eyes on Peter. "Just tell me one thing," she said. "Do you believe your brother's dead?"

He felt as if he had been waiting for someone to ask him this very question. "No."

"Neither do I."

Her hand moved toward her belly, an unconscious gesture. Its meaning came upon him with such completeness it felt less like something discovered than remembered, as if he'd known all along.

"I never got the chance to tell him," Mausami said. "I still want to."

Peter turned to Alicia, who was studying the two of them with a look of exasperation.

"She comes."

"Peter, this is not a good idea. Think about where we're going."

"Mausami's blood now. It's not a discussion."

For a moment Alicia said nothing; she appeared to be at a loss for words.

"The hell with it," she said finally. "We don't have time to argue."

Alicia went first, showing them the way. Sara followed, then Michael, then Caleb and Mausami, dropping into the tunnel one by one, leaving Peter to guard the rear.

Amy was the last. They'd found a jersey and a pair of gaps for her, and a pair of sandals. As she lowered herself through the hatch, her eyes found Peter's with a sudden, beseeching force. Where are we going?

Colorado, he thought. The CQZ. They were just names on a map, bits of colored light on the screen of Michael's CRT. The reality behind them, the hidden world of which they were a part, was nothing Peter could imagine. When they'd spoken of such a journey earlier that night-had it really been that same night, the four of them crowded into the Lighthouse?-Peter had envisioned a proper expedition: a large armed detail, carts of supplies, at least one scouting party, a meticulously plotted route. His father would spend whole seasons planning the Long Rides. Now here they were, fugitives on foot, scurrying away with little more than a pile of old maps and the blades on their belts. How could they possibly hope to get to such a place?

"I don't really know," he told her. "But if we don't leave now, I think we'll all die here."

She ducked into the tunnel and was gone. Peter tightened the straps of his pack and scrambled in behind her, pulling the hatch closed over his head, sealing himself in darkness. The walls were cool and smelled of earth. The tunnel had been dug long ago, perhaps by the Builders themselves, to make it easier to service the trunk line; except for the Colonel, no one had used it for years. It was his secret route, Alicia had explained, the one he used to hunt. So at least one mystery was solved.

Twenty-five meters later, Peter emerged into a copse of mesquite. Everyone was waiting. The lights were down, revealing a gray dawn sky. Above them, the face of the mountain rose like a single slab of stone, a silent witness to all that had occurred. Peter heard the calls of the Watch from the top of the Wall, sounding off their posts for Morning Bell and the changing of the shift. Dale would be wondering what had happened to them, if he didn't know already. Surely it wouldn't be long before the bodies were found.

Alicia closed the hatch behind him and turned the wheel, then knelt to cover it with underbrush.

"They'll come after us," Peter said quietly, crouched beside her. "They'll have horses. We can't outrun them."

"I know." Her face was set. "It's a question of who gets to the guns first."

And with that Alicia rose, turned on her heels, and began to lead them down the mountain.




I saw eternity the other night

Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

All calm as it was bright,

And round beneath it time in hours, days, years,

Driven by the spheres,

Like a vast shadow moved in which the world

And all her train were hurled.


"The World"


They reached the foot of the mountain before half-day. The pathway, a switchback zigzagging down the eastern face of the mountain, was too steep for horses; in places it wasn't a path at all. A hundred meters above the station a portion of the mountain seemed to have been carved away; a pile of rubble lay below. They were above a narrow box canyon, the station obscured to the north by a wall of rock. A hot, dry wind was blowing. They climbed back up, searching for another route as the minutes ticked away. At last they found a way down-they had drifted off the path-and made their final, creeping descent.

They approached the station from the rear. Inside its fenced compound they detected no sign of movement. "You hear that?" Alicia said.

Peter stopped to listen. "I don't hear anything."

"That's because the fence is off."

The gate stood open. That was when they saw a dark hump on the ground, beneath the awning of the livery. As they moved closer the hump seemed to atomize, breaking apart into a swirling cloud.

A jenny. The cloud of flies scattered as they approached. The ground around her was darkened with a stain of blood.

Sara knelt beside the body. The jenny was lying on her side, exposing the swollen curve of her belly, bloated with putrefying gas. A long gash, alive with squirming maggots, followed the line of her throat.

"She's been dead a couple of days, I'd say." Sara's bruised face was wrinkled against the smell. Her lower lip was split; her teeth were outlined with crusted blood. One eye, her left, was swollen with a huge, purple shiner. "It looks like someone used a blade."

Peter turned to Caleb. His eyes were open very wide, locked on the animal's neck. He'd pulled the neck of his jersey over the lower half of his face, a makeshift mask against the stench.

"Like Zander's jenny? The one in the field?"

Caleb nodded.

"Peter-" Alicia was gesturing toward the fence. A second dark shape on the ground.

"Another jenny?"

"I don't think so."

It was Rey Ramirez. There wasn't much left, just bones and charred flesh, which still exuded a faint smell of grilled meat. He was kneeling against the fence, his stiffened fingers locked in the open spaces between the wires. The exposed bones of his face made him appear to be smiling.

"That explains the fence," Michael said after a moment. He looked like he might be ill. "He must have shorted it out, holding on like that."

The hatch was open: they descended into the station, moving through its darkened spaces, room by room. Nothing seemed disturbed. The panel still glowed with current, flowing up the mountain. Finn was nowhere to be seen. Alicia led them to the back; the shelf that hid the escape hatch was still in place. It was only when she opened the door and he saw the guns, still in their boxes, that Peter realized he'd feared they'd be gone. Alicia pulled a crate free and opened it.

Michael gave an admiring whistle. "You weren't kidding. They're like brand-new."

"There's more where this came from." Alicia glanced up at Peter. "Think you can find the bunker on those maps?"

They were interrupted by footsteps banging down the stairs: Caleb.

"Someone's coming."

"How many?"

"Looks like just one."

Alicia quickly doled out weapons; they ascended into the yard. Peter could see a single rider in the distance, pulling a boiling plume of dust. Caleb passed the binoculars to Alicia.

"I'll be damned," she said.

Moments later, Hollis Wilson rode through the gate and dismounted. His arms and face were caked with dust. "We better hurry." He paused to take a long drink from his canteen. "There's a party of at least six behind me. If we want to make it to the bunker, we should leave right now."

"How do you know where we're going?" Peter asked.

Hollis wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. "You forget. I rode with your father, Peter."

The group had gathered in the control room; they were loading gear as fast as they could, whatever they hoped to carry. Food, water, weapons. Peter had spread the maps over the central table for Hollis to examine. He found the one he wanted: Los Angeles Basin and Southern California.

"According to Theo, the bunker was a two-day ride," Peter said.

Hollis frowned, his brow furrowed as he studied the map. Peter noticed for the first time that he'd begun to let his beard come in. For a second, it felt to him as if it were Arlo standing there.

"I remember it as more like three, but we were pulling the carts. On foot, I'd say we could do it in two." He bent over the map, pointing. "We're here, at the San Gorgonio Pass. The time I rode with your father, we followed this road, Route 62, north from the Eastern Road, Interstate 10. It's quaked out in spots but on foot that should be no problem. We overnighted here"-again he pointed-"in the town of Joshua Valley. About twenty kilometers, but it could be as much as twenty-five. Demo fortified an old fire station and laid in supplies there. It's tight, and there's a working pump, so we can take water if we need it, which we will. From Joshua it's another thirty clicks east on the Twentynine Palms Highway, another ten due north across open country to the bunker. A hell of a walk, but you could do it in another day."

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