Stopping just inside the doorway, the killer watched ten-year-old Shep at the table, oblivious of his audience. He blotted his brow with a handkerchief. 'Boy, do you smell my sweat?'
Fingers plucked, hands darted, unfinished puppies were made whole, but Shepherd did not answer the question.
'I stink of worse than sweat, don't I? Treachery. I've stunk of that for five years, and I always will.'
The man's self-dramatization and self-flagellation infuriated Dylan, for just as in the motel room the previous night, it wasn't a fraction as sincere as Proctor might believe it was, but allowed the creep to indulge in self-pity while calling it courageous self-analysis.
'And now I stink of this.' He watched as the young puzzler puzzled, and then said, 'What a wretched little life. One day, I'll be your redemption, boy, and maybe you'll be mine.'
Proctor stepped from the room, left the house, went out into the night of February 12, 1992, beginning his journey toward his so-called redemption and his fiery death in Arizona more than ten years later.
The puzzle-working Shepherd's face had acquired a glaze of tears as silently as dew forms from the air.
'Let's get out of here,' Jilly said.
'Shep?' Dylan asked.
The older puzzler, who shook with emotion but did not cry, stood watching his younger self. He didn't immediately reply, but after his brother spoke to him twice more, he said, 'Wait. No gooey-bloody Mr. David Cronenberg movie. Wait.'
Although they supposedly weren't engaging in teleportation, per se, and although the mechanism of their travel still mystified him, Dylan could imagine lots of errors in transport almost as unpleasant as those portrayed in The Fly. Accidentally folding onto a highway, in the path of a hurtling Peterbilt, could be a quashing experience.
To Jilly, he said, 'Let's wait till Shep's confident of doing it right.'
Here a bit of golden fur, there the tip of a black snout, and here a quizzical eye: Although time seemed to crawl, the boy's hands flew rapidly toward a full solution.
After a few minutes, older Shepherd said, 'Okay.'
'Okay – we can go?' Dylan asked.
'Okay. We can go, but we can't leave.'
Baffled, Dylan said, 'We can go, but we can't leave?'
'Something,' Shep added.
Interestingly, Jilly was the first to understand. 'We can go, but we can't leave something. If we don't have everything we brought, he's not able to fold us out of the past. I left my purse and the laptop in the kitchen.'
They retreated from the dining room, leaving younger Shep to his tears and to the final pieces of his puzzle.
Although he could have felt the light switch if he'd touched it, Dylan knew he couldn't turn on the fluorescents any more than he had been able to stop a bullet. In the kitchen gloom, he couldn't see if the purse and the laptop, which Jilly had put on the table, rested in the inky blots that traveled under their feet and that spread between them and everything they touched here in the past, but he assumed the black puddles were there.
Slinging the purse over her shoulder, grabbing the laptop, Jilly said, 'Got 'em. Let's go.'
The back door opened, and she whirled toward it as if certain that the door-busting, window-bashing, steroid-chugging crowd from Holbrook, Arizona, had folded themselves back to this California yesteryear in hot pursuit.
Dylan was not surprised to see a younger version of himself step through the door.
On February 12, 1992, he had been attending an evening class at the University of California Santa Barbara. He'd ridden to and from class with a friend who had dropped him off at the end of the long driveway less than two minutes ago.
What did surprise Dylan was how soon after the murder he had arrived home. He checked his watch, then looked at the pig-belly clock. That February night, if he had arrived home five minutes sooner, he would have encountered Lincoln Proctor as the killer left the house. If he'd arrived all of sixteen minutes earlier, he might have been shot dead – but he might have prevented his mother's murder.
He refused to think about what might have been. Dared not.
Nineteen-year-old Dylan O'Conner closed the door behind him, without bothering to switch on the lights, walked through a startled Jilly Jackson. He put a couple books on the kitchen table and headed toward the dining room.
'Fold us out of here, Shep,' Dylan said.
In the dining room, the younger Dylan spoke to the younger Shepherd: 'Hey, buddy, smells like we have cake tonight.'
'Fold us home, Shep. Our own time.'
In the adjacent room, the other Dylan said, 'Buddy, are you crying? Hey, what's wrong?'
Hearing his own tortured wail when he found his mother's body would be the camel-crippling straw. 'Shep, get us to hell out of here now, now.'
The dark kitchen folded away. A bright place folded toward them. Crazily, Dylan wondered if Shepherd's fantastic trick of travel might not be limited merely to journeys through space and time, but if it might extend to dimensions unknown to the living. Perhaps it had been a mistake to say 'to hell' just before they left 1992.
The kaleidoscope tweaked. Around Jilly the sunlit kitchen folded in through the outgoing night kitchen, and fell into place in every bright detail.
No delicious smell of freshly baked cake. No shimmering black energy underfoot.
The smiling ceramic pig on the wall clasped its front hooves around the clock in its belly, which read 1:20, twenty-four minutes after they had folded out of the besieged motel room in Arizona. The present had progressed equal to the amount of time that they had spent in the past.
No open gateway loomed behind them, giving a view of the dark kitchen in 1992, nor a radiant tunnel. She had the feeling that the tunnel had been a travel technique that Shepherd didn't need to use anymore, that it was crude compared to his current method, by which he moved them from place to place without maintaining a tether to the location that they had departed.
Impressed by her own aplomb, as though she had just stepped out of a conveyance no more extraordinary than a common elevator, Jilly put the laptop on the kitchen table. 'You didn't change the place much, did you? Looks the same.'
Dylan shushed her, cocked his head, listening intently.
A pool of stillness flooded the house until the refrigerator motor kicked on.
'What's wrong?' Jilly asked.
'I'm going to have to explain this to Vonetta. Our housekeeper. That's her Harley in front of the garage.'
Looking out the kitchen windows, Jilly saw the garage at the end of the backyard, but no motorcycle. 'What Harley?'
'There.' Dylan turned, pointing through a window to a place where no Harley stood. 'Huh. She must've gone to the store for something. Maybe we can get in and out of here before she's back.'
Shepherd opened the refrigerator. Perhaps he was looking for a consoling piece of cake.
Still assimilating their journey into the past, unconcerned about the housekeeper, Jilly said, 'While Proctor's enemies, whoever they are, were closing in on him, he was tracking down you and Shep.'
'Last night when he had me strapped in that chair, he said he was so eaten away with remorse that he was empty inside, but it didn't make sense to me then.'
'The creep's always been empty inside,' Jilly said. 'From day one, from the cradle, if you ask me.'
'The remorse is bullshit. He's got this self-deprecation shtick that makes him feel good about himself. Sorry, Jilly.'
'That's okay. After what we've been through, you've got every right not to say diaper dump.'
She almost got a laugh out of him, but 1992 was still too much in their minds for Dylan to manage more than a smile. 'No. I mean, I'm sorry you got caught up in this because of me. Me and Shep.'
'Proctor just had an extra dose of his hell juice, he needed someone to screw over, and there I was, out for a root beer.'
Standing at the open refrigerator, Shepherd said, 'Cold.'
'But Proctor wouldn't have been there,' Dylan said, 'if Shep and I hadn't been there.'
'Yeah, and I wouldn't have been there if I hadn't spent all of my relatively short, so-called adult life trying to be a standup joke jockey, telling myself that performing is not just a meaningful life but the only life. Hell, I don't have to worry about my ass getting big, 'cause I'm already a big ass. So don't you start with your own remorse shtick. It happened, we're here, and even with the nanobots supposedly building the New Jerusalem inside our skulls, being here and alive is – so far, anyway – better than being dead. So what now?'
'What now is we pack up some gear, and quick. Clothes for Shep and me, some money I've got in a lockbox upstairs, and a gun.'
'You've got a gun?'
'Bought it after what happened to my mother. They never caught the killer. I thought he might come back.'
'You know how to use it?'
'I'm no Little Annie Oakley,' he said. 'But I can point the damn thing and squeeze the trigger if I have to.'
She was dubious. 'Maybe we should buy a baseball bat.'
'Cold,' said Shepherd.
'Clothes, money, gun – then we hit the road,' Dylan said.
'You think those guys who trailed us to the motel in Holbrook might show up here?'
He nodded. 'If they have law-enforcement connections or any kind of national reach, yeah, they'll come.'
Jilly said, 'We can't keep folding everywhere we go. It's too weird, it's too full of surprises, and it might wear Shep out and leave us stuck somewhere – or something worse than stuck.'
'I've got a Chevy in the garage.'
Jilly shook her head. 'They'll probably know you've got the Chevy. They come here, find it missing, they'll be looking for it.'
'Maybe we'll dump the plates,' Dylan suggested, 'steal a set from another car.'
'Now you're an experienced fugitive?'
'Maybe I better learn to be.'
Peering into the open refrigerator, Shep said, 'Cold.'
Dylan went to his brother's side. 'What're you looking for, buddy?'
'We don't have any cake in there.'
'We're all out of cake, buddy.'
Dylan closed the refrigerator door. 'Still cold?'
'Better,' said Shep.
'I've got a bad feeling,' Jilly said, and she did, but her deep uneasiness lacked a specific focus.
'What?' Dylan asked.
'I don't know.' The ceramic pig's smile now seemed more like a wicked grin. 'Just... a not-good feeling.'
'Let's grab that lockbox first. Even with the envelope I got out of my shaving kit, we're short of money.'
'We'd better stay together,' Jilly said. 'Close together.'
'Cold.' Shepherd had opened the refrigerator door again. 'Cold.'
'Buddy, there's no cake.'
Wickedly jagged and gleaming, appearing from behind Jilly, gliding past the right side of her face in slow motion, six or eight inches from her, accompanied by no shattering sound, came a shard of glass about the size of her hand, sailing past her as majestically as an iceberg on a glassy sea.
'We'll get some cake later, buddy.'
Then she noticed something moving a few inches in front of the gravity-defying piece of glass, a much smaller object, and darker: a bullet. Tunneling lazily through the air, the bullet spun languidly as it advanced across the kitchen.
'Close the fridge, Shep. There's no cake.'
If the bullet traveled in true slow motion, the glass followed in super slow-mo.
And here came additional spears and flinders of glass behind the first, sliding brightly through the air, slow and easy.
'Cold,' Shep said, 'we're cold.'
She realized that the glass and the bullet were no more real than the red votive candles in the desert or the shoals of white birds. This wasn't current destruction, but a vision of violence to come.
'You're cold, I'm not,' Dylan told Shepherd.
She sensed these new clairvoyant images were not associated with those that she had received previously. This glass wasn't church glass, and it would be bullet-shattered in a place different from the church.
'We're all cold,' Shep insisted.
When Jilly turned her head toward the brothers, she saw still more fragments of windowpanes – this must be what they were – to the left of her, a galaxy of glittering splinters and larger wedges leisurely tumbling-flying past.
'We're all cold.'
Looking through this deconstructed puzzle of a windowpane, Jilly saw Shepherd step back from the refrigerator, allowing Dylan to close the door again. The brothers moved at normal speed.
The racing of her heart indicated that she, too, was out of phase with the slow-motion glass. She reached for a passing fragment, but it had no substance. The shard slid slowly between her pinched fingers without cutting her.
Her attempt to interact with the vision seemed to break its spell, and the glass faded from view as a flotilla of ghost ships might appear real at first sight, all sails rigged and searching for a wind, and yet dissolve into tatters of mist a moment later.
Turning to face the windows that offered a view of the backyard, she confirmed that of course the panes remained intact.
Recognizing that Jilly was distracted as in past clairvoyant episodes, Dylan said, 'Hey, are you all right?'
Most likely these were not the windows in her vision. She'd been receiving images of the bloodbath in the church since the previous evening, and that event had not yet transpired. She had no reason to believe that this other violent incident would occur here rather than elsewhere or sooner rather than later.
Dylan approached her. 'What's wrong?'
'I'm not sure.'
She glanced at the clock, the grinning pig.
She knew the porcine smile hadn't changed in the least. The lips were fixed in their expression under the ceramic glaze. The smile remained as benign as she'd first seen it less than half an hour ago, ten years in the past. Nevertheless, a malevolent energy seethed off the pig, off the clock.
In fact not just the pig but the entire kitchen seemed to be alive with an evil presence, as though a dark spirit had come upon them and, unable to manifest itself in the traditional ectoplasmic apparition, took residence in the furnishings and in the surfaces of the room itself. Every edge of every counter appeared to gleam with a lacerating sharpness.