The Passage Page 89

"You think the others got out?" he asked.

"I don't know." Alicia coughed again, then took a mouthful of water from her canteen and spat onto the ground. "Stay put."

She scooted around the base of the car, returning a moment later. "I count twelve smokes from here." She made a vague gesture up and away. "More on the tower on the far side of the street. The fires pushed them back, but that won't last."

So there it was. Out in the dark, their rifles gone, trapped between a burning building and the virals. They were resting with their shoulders touching, their backs braced against the car.

Alicia rolled her head to look at him. "That was a good idea. Using the pan. How'd you know it'd work?"

"I didn't."

She shook her head. "It was still some cool trick, anyway." She paused, a look of pain skittering across her face. She closed her eyes and breathed, then: "Ready?"

"The Humvees?"

"It's our best shot, I think. Stay close to the fires, use them for cover."

Fires or no, they probably wouldn't make it ten meters once the virals saw them. From the look of Alicia's leg, he doubted she'd be able to walk at all. All they had were their blades and the five grenades on Alicia's belt. But Amy and the others were still out here, maybe; they had to at least try.

She clipped off two grenades and placed them in his hands. "Remember our deal," she said.

She meant would he kill her, if it came to that. The answer came so easily it surprised him. "Me too. I won't be one of them."

Alicia nodded. She had removed a grenade and pulled the pin, ready to throw. "I just want to say, before we do this, I'm glad it's you."

"Same here."

She wiped her eyes with her wrist. "Oh f**k, Peter, now you've seen me cry twice. You can't tell anyone, you can't."

"I won't, I promise."

A blaze of light filled his eyes. For an instant he actually believed something had happened and she'd accidentally released the grenade-that death was, in the end, an affair of light and silence. But then he heard the roar of the engine and knew that it was a vehicle, coming toward them.

"Get in!" a voice boomed. "Get in the truck!"

They froze.

Alicia's eyes widened at the unpinned grenade in her hand. "Flyers, what do I do with this?"

"Just throw it!"

She tossed it over the top of the car; Peter yanked her to the ground as the grenade went off with a bang. The lights were closing in. They took off at a hobbling run, Peter's arm wrapped around Alicia's waist. Lumbering out of the darkness was a boxy vehicle with a huge plow jutting from the front like a demented smile, the windshield wrapped in a cage of wire; some kind of gun was mounted to the roof, a figure positioned behind it. As Peter watched, the gun sprang to life, shooting a plume of liquid fire over their heads.

They hit the dirt. Peter felt stinging heat on the back of his neck.

"Keep down!" the voice boomed again, and only then did Peter realize the sound was amplified, coming from a horn on the roof of the truck's cabin. "Move your asses!"

"Well, which is it?" Alicia yelled, her body pressed to the ground. "You can't have both!"

The truck ground to a halt just a few meters from their heads. Peter pulled Alicia to her feet as the figure on the roof slid down a ladder. A heavy wire mask obscured his face; his body was covered in thick pads. A short-barreled shotgun clung to his leg in a leather holster. Written on the side of the truck were the words NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.

"In the back! Move it!"

The voice was a woman's.

"There are eight of us!" Peter cried. "Our friends are still out here!"

But the woman seemed not to hear him or, if she did, to care. She hustled them to the rear of the truck, her movements surprisingly nimble despite her heavy armor. She turned a handle and flung the door wide.

"Lish! Get in!"

The voice was Caleb's. Everybody was there, splayed out on the floor of the dark compartment. Peter and Alicia clambered inside; the door clanged shut behind them, sealing them in darkness.

With a lurch, the truck began to move.


That awful woman. That awful fat woman in the kitchen, her loose round form spilling over her chair like something melted. The tight, close heat of the room and the taste of her smoke in his nose and mouth and the smell of the woman's body, the sweat and crumb-filled creases in the rolls of billowing flesh. The smoke curling around her, puffing from her lips as she spoke, as if her words were taking solid form in the air, and his mind telling him, Wake up. You are asleep and dreaming. Wake up, Theo. But the pull of the dream was too strong; the more he struggled, the deeper he was drawn down into it. Like his mind was a well and he was falling, falling into the darkness of his own mind.

Watchoo looking at? Huh? You worthless little shit. The woman watching him and laughing. The boy isn't just dumb. I tell you, he's been struck dumb.

He awoke with a jolt, spilling from his dream into the cold reality of his cell. His skin was glazed with rank-smelling sweat. The sweat of his nightmare, which he could no longer recall; all that remained was the feeling of it, like a dark stain spattered over his consciousness.

He rose from his cot and shuffled to the hole. He did his best to aim, listening for the splash of his urine below. He'd begun to look forward to that sound, anticipating it the way he might have waited for a visit from a friend. He'd been waiting for the next thing to happen. He'd been waiting for someone to say something, to tell him why he was here and what they wanted. To tell him why he wasn't dead. He had come to realize, through the empty days, that he was waiting for pain. The door would open, and men would enter, and then the pain would begin. But the boots came and went-he could make out their scuffed toes through the slot at the bottom of the door-delivering his meals and taking away the empty bowls and saying nothing. He pounded on the door, a slab of cold metal, again and again. What do you want from me, what do you want? But his pleas met only silence.

He didn't know how many days he'd been here. High out of reach, a dirty window gave a view of nothing. A patch of white sky and at night, the stars. The last thing he remembered was the virals dropping from the roof, and everything turned upside down. He remembered Peter's face receding, the sound of his name being called, and the whip and snap of his neck as he'd been tossed upward, toward the roof. A last taste of the wind and sun on his face and the gun dropping away. Its slow, pinwheeling passage to the floor below.

And then nothing. The rest was a black space in his memory, like the cratered edges of a missing tooth.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed when he heard footsteps approaching. The slot in the door opened and a bowl slid through, across the floor. The same watery soup he'd eaten meal after meal. Sometimes there was a little joint of meat in it, sometimes just a marrowed bone for him to suck. At the beginning he had decided not to eat, to see what they, whoever they were, would do. But this had lasted only a day before his hunger had gotten the better of him.

"How you feeling?"

Theo's tongue was thick in his mouth. "Fuck off."

A dry chuckle. The boots shifting and scraping. The voice was young or old, he couldn't tell.

"That's the spirit, Theo."

At the sound of his name, a chill snaked his spine. Theo said nothing.

"You comfortable in there?"

"How do you know who I am?"

"Don't you remember?" A pause. "I guess you don't. You told me. When you first got here. Oh, we had ourselves a nice talk."

He willed his mind to remember, but it was all blackness. He wondered if the voice was really there at all. This voice that seemed to know him. Maybe he was just imagining it. It would happen sooner or later, in a place like this. The mind did what it wished.

"Don't feel like talking now, do you? That's all right."

"Whatever you're going to do, just do it."

"Oh, we've done it already. We're doing it right now. Look around you, Theo. What do you see?"

He couldn't help it: he looked at his cell. The cot, the hole, the dirty window. There were bits of writing on the walls, etchings in the stone he'd puzzled over for days. Most were senseless figures, neither words nor any kind of image he recognized. But one, situated at eye level above the hole, was clear: RUBEN WAS HERE.

"Who's Ruben?"

"Ruben? Now, I don't believe I know any Ruben."

"Don't play games."

"Oh, you mean Ru-ben." Another quiet laugh. Theo would have given his life to reach through the wall and smash the speaker's face. "Forget Ru-ben, Theo. Things did not work out so nicely for Ru-ben. Ru-ben, you might say, is ancient history." A pause. "So tell me. How you sleeping?"


"You heard me. You like that fat lady?"

His breath caught in his chest. "What did you say?"

"The f**king fat lady, Theo. Come on. Work with me here. We've all been there. The fat lady inside your head."

The memory burst inside his brain like a piece of rotten fruit. The dreams. The fat lady in her kitchen. A voice was outside the door and it knew what his dreams were.

"I have to say, I never did like her very much myself," the voice was saying. "Yakkity yakkity yakkity, all day long. And that stink. What the hell is that?"

Theo swallowed, trying to still his mind. The walls around him seemed closer somehow, squeezing him in. He put his head in his hands.

"I don't know any fat lady," Theo managed.

"Oh, sure you don't. We've all been through it. It's not like you're the only one. Let me ask you something else." The voice dropped to a whisper. "You carve her up yet, Theo? With the knife? You get to that part yet?"

A swirl of nausea. His breath caught in his chest. The knife, the knife.

"So you haven't then. Well, you will. All in time. Trust me, when you get to that part, you're gonna feel a lot better. That's kind of a turning point, you could say."

Theo lifted his face. The slot at the bottom of the door was still open, showing the tip of a single boot, leather so scuffed it looked white.

"Theo, you listening to me in there?"

His eyes fixed on the boot with the force of an idea taking hold. Gingerly he rose from the bed and moved toward the door, stepping around the bowl of soup. He sank into a crouch.

"Are you hearing my words? Because I am talking about some serious re-lief."

Theo lunged. Too late: his hand grabbed empty air. A bright explosion of pain: something came down hard, hard, on his wrist. A boot heel. It smashed the bones flat, compressing his hand into the floor. Grinding and twisting. His face was shoved against the cold steel of the door.


"It hurts, don't it?"

Spangled motes were dancing in his eyes. He tried to pull his hand away, but the force holding him in place was too strong. He was pinned now, one hand stuck through the slot. But the pain meant something. It meant the voice was real.

"You ... go ... to ... hell."

The heel twisted again; Theo yelped in agony.

"That's a good one, Theo. Where did you think you were? Hell is your new address, my friend."

"I'm not ... your friend," he gasped.

"Oh, maybe not. Maybe not just at the moment. But you will be. Sooner or later, you will be."

Then, just like that, the pressure on Theo's hand released-an absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure. Theo yanked his arm through the slot and slumped against the wall, breathing hard, cradling his wrist on his lap.

"Because, believe it or not, there are things even worse than me," the voice said. "Sleep well, Theo." And then the slot slammed closed.



The isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,

That, if I then had wak'd after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again.


The Tempest


They had been on the road for hours. With nothing to lie on but the hard metal floor, sleep was all but impossible. It seemed that every time Michael closed his eyes, the truck would hit a bump or swerve one way or the other, sending some part of his body slamming down.

He lifted his head to see a glow of daylight gathering beyond the compartment's only window, a small porthole of reinforced glass set in the door. His mouth was bone dry; every part of him felt bruised, as if someone had been hitting him with a hammer all night long. He rose to a sitting position, pushing his back against the jostling wall of the compartment, and rubbed the gunk from his eyes. The rest of the group were propped on their packs in various postures of discomfort. Though they were all banged up to some degree, Alicia seemed the worst off. She was facing him, her back resting against the wall of the compartment; her face was pale and damp, her eyes open but drained of energy. Mausami had done her best to clean and bandage Alicia's injured leg the night before, but Michael could tell the wound was serious. Only Amy seemed to be actually sleeping. She was curled on the floor beside him, her knees pulled to her chest. A fan of dark hair lay over her cheek, pushed to and fro by the bouncing of the truck.

The memory hit him like a slap.

Sara, his sister, was gone.

He remembered running as fast as he could, through the kitchen and out onto the loading dock and into the street with the others, only to end up surrounded-smokes everywhere, the street was like a goddamn smoke party-and then the truck with its immense plow driving toward them, spewing its jet of flame. Get in, get in, the woman on top was yelling at him. And a good thing she had, because Michael had found himself, at just that moment, paralyzed with fear. Nailed to the ground with it. Hollis and the rest of them were yelling, Come on, come on, but Michael couldn't move a muscle. Like he'd forgotten how. The truck was no more than ten meters away but it could have been a thousand. He turned and as he turned one of the virals locked eyes with him, cocking its head in that funny way they did, and everything seemed to slow down in a way that wasn't good. Oh boy, a voice in Michael's head was saying, oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy, and that was when the woman hit the viral with the flamethrower, coating it with a jet of liquid fire. It crisped up like a ball of fat. Michael actually heard the pop. Then someone was pulling him by the hand-Amy of all people, whose strength was surprising, more than he would have guessed from the little thing she was-and she shoved him into the truck.

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