The woman turned from the window and continued upward toward the unearthly shrieks, cries, and whispers that echoed down to her with the fluctuant light. Around her the limestone walls pounded with the tripartite bass beat, as if the mill were alive and had a massive three-chambered heart.
Stop, turn back, you're going to die up there Holly shouted, but the woman could not hear her. Holly was only an observer in her own dream, not an active participant, unable to influence events.
Step by step. Higher.
The iron-bound timber door stood open.
She crossed the threshold. Into the high room.
The first thing she saw was the boy. He was standing in the middle of the room, terrified. His small hands, curled in fists, were at his sides. A three-inch-diameter decorative candle stood in a blue dish at his feet. A hardcover book lay beside the dish, and she glimpsed the word "mill" on the colorful dustjacket.
Turning to look at her, his beautiful blue eyes darkened by terror, the boy said, "I'm scared, help me, the walls, the walls!" She realized that the single candle was not producing all of the peculiar glow suffusing the room. Other light glimmered in the walls, as if they were not made of solid limestone but of semitransparent and magicallyù radiant quartz in shades of amber. At once she saw that something was alive within the stone, something luminous which could move through solid matter as easily as a swimmer could move through water.
The wall swelled and throbbed.
"It's coming," the boy said with evident fear but also with what might have been a perverse excitement, "and nobody can stop it!" Suddenly it was born out of the air. The curve of mortared blocks split like the spongy membrane of an insect's egg. And taking shape from a core of foul muck where limestone should have been "No!" Choking on a scream, Holly woke.
She sat up in bed, something touched her, and she wrenched away from it.
Because the room was awash in morning light, she saw that it was only Jim.
A dream. Just a dream.
As had happened two nights ago in the Laguna Hills Motor Inn, however, the creature of the dream was trying to force its way into the waking world. It was not coming through a wall this time. The ceiling.
Directly over the bed. The white-painted drywall was no longer white or dry, but mottled amber and brown, semitransparent and luminous as the stone in the dream had been, oozing a noxious mucus, bulging as some shadowy entity struggled to be born into the bedroom.
The dream-thing's thunderous three-part heartbeat-lub-dub DUB, lubdub-DUB shuddered through the house.
Jim rolled off the bed and onto his feet. He had slipped into his pajama bottoms again during the night, just as Holly had slipped into the roomy top which hung halfway to her knees. She scrambled to his side. They stared up in horror at the pulsing birth sac which the ceiling had become, and at the shadowy writhing form struggling to breach that containing membrane.
Most frightening of all-this apparition was in daylight. The plantation shutters had not been completely closed over the windows, and slats of morning sunshine banded the room. When something from Beyond found you in the dead hours of the night, you half expected it.
But sunshine was supposed to banish all monsters.
Jim put a hand against Holly's back, pushed her toward the open door to the hallway. "Go, get out!" She took only two steps in that direction before the door slammed shut of its own accord. As if an exceptionally powerful poltergeist were at work, a mahogany highboy, as old and well-used as everything in the house, erupted away from the wall beside her, almost knocking her down.
It flew across the bedroom, slammed into the door. A dresser and a chair followed that tall chest of drawers, effectively barricading the only exit.
The windows in the far wall presented an avenue of escape, but they would have to crouch to slip under the increasingly distended central portion of the ceiling. Having accepted the illogic of the waking nightmare, Holly was now loath to press past that greasy and obscenely throbbing pouch, for fear that it would split open as she moved under it, and that the creature within would seize her.
Jim pulled her back with him into the adjoining bathroom. He kicked the door shut.
Holly swung around, searching. The only window was set high and was too small to provide a way out.
The bathroom walls were untainted by the organic transformation that had overcome the bedroom, but they still shook with the triple bass thud of the inhuman heartbeat.
"What the hell is that?" he demanded.
"The Enemy," she said at once, surprised that he didn't know. "The Enemy, from the dream.”
Above them, starting from the partition that the bath shared with the bedroom, the white ceiling began to discolor as if abruptly saturated with red blood, brown bile. The sheen of semigloss paint on drywall metamorphosed into a biological surface and began to throb in time with the thunderous heartbeat.
Jim pulled her into a corner by the vanity, and she huddled helplessly against him. Beyond the pregnant droop of the lowering ceiling, she saw a repulsive movement like the frenzied squirming of a million maggots.
The thudding heartbeat increased in volume, booming around them.
She heard a wet, tearing sound. None of this could be happening, yet it was, and that sound made it more real than the things she was seeing with her own eyes, because it was such a filthy sound and so hideously intimate too real for a delusion or a dream.
The door crashed open, and the ceiling burst overhead, showering then with debris.
But with that implosion, the power of the lingering nightmare was exhausted, and reality finally, fully reasserted itself Nothing monstrous surged through the open door; only the sun-filled bedroom lay beyond Although the ceiling had looked entirely organic when it had burst in upon them, no trace of its transformed state remained; it was only a ceiling again. The rain of debris included chunks of wallboard, flaked and powdered drywall paste, splinters of wood, and wads of fluffy Fiberglas insulation-but nothing alive.
The hole itself was astonishing enough to Holly.
Two nights ago, in the motel, though the wall had bulged and rippled as if alive, it had returned to its true composition without a crack. No evidence of the dream-creature's intrusion had been left behind except the scratches in her sides, which a psychologist might have said were self inflicted. When the dust settled, everything might have been just a fantastically detailed delusion.
But the mess in which they were now standing was no delusion. The pall of white dust in the air was real.
In a state of shock, Jim took her hand and led her out of the bathroom.
The bedroom ceiling had not crashed down. It was as it had been last night: smooth, white. But the furniture was piled up against the door as if washed there by a flood.
Madness favored darkness, but light was the kingdom of reason. If the waking world provided no sanctuary from nightmares, if daylight offered no sanctuary from unreason, then there was no sanctuary anywhere, anytime, for anyone.
The attic light, a single sixty-watt bulb dangling from a beam, did not illuminate every corner of that cramped and dusty space.
Jim probed into the many recesses with a flashlight, edged around heating ducts, peered behind each of the two fireplace chimneys, searching for. . . whatever had torn apart the bathroom ceiling. He had no idea what he expected to find. Besides the flashlight, he carried a loaded revolver. The thing that destroyed the ceiling had not descended into the bathroom, so it had to be in the attic above.
However, because he lived with a minimum of possessions, Jim had nothing to store up there under the roof, which left few possible hiding places.
He was soon satisfied that those high reaches of his house were untenanted except by spiders and by a small colony of wasps that had constructed a nest in a junction of rafters.
Nothing could have escaped those confines, either. Aside from the trap door by which he had entered, the only exits from the attic were the ventilation cut-outs in opposing eaves. which was about two feet long and twelve inches high, covered with tightly fitted screens that could be re moved only with a screwdriver. Both screens were secure.
Part of that space had plank flooring, but in some places nothing but insulation lay between the exposed floor studs, which were also the ceiling studs of the rooms below. Duck-walking on those parallel supports, Jim cautiously approached the rupture above the master bathroom. He peered down at the debris-strewn floor where he and Holly had been standing.
What in the hell had happened? At last conceding that he would find no answers up there, he returned to the open access and climbed down into the second-floor linen closet. He folded up the accordion ladder into the closet ceiling, which neatly closed off the attic entrance.
Holly was waiting for him in the hallway. "Well?" "Nothing," he said.
"I knew there wouldn't be.”
"What happened here?" "It's like in the dream.”
"What dream?" he demanded.
"You said you've had the windmill dreams, too.”
"Then you know about the heartbeat in the walls.”
"And the way the walls change.”
"No, none of that, for Christ's sake! In my dream, I'm in the high room of the windmill, there's a candle, rain at the windows.”
She remembered how surprised he had been at the sight of the bedroom ceiling distended and strange above them.
He said, "In the dream, I have a sense that something's coming, something frightening and terrible-" "The Enemy," she said.
"Yes! Whatever that might be. But it never comes, not in my dreams. I ways wake up before it comes.”
He stalked down the hall and into the master bedroom, and she followed him. Standing beside the battered furniture that he had shoved away from the door, he stared up in consternation at the undamaged ceiling.
"I saw it," he said, as if she had called him a liar.
"I know you did," she said. "I saw it, too.”
He turned to her, looking more desperate than she had seen him even aboard the doomed DC-10. "Tell me about your dreams, I want to hear all of them, every detail.”
"Later, I'll tell you everything. First let's shower and get dressed. I want out of this place.”
"Yeah, okay, me too.”
"I guess you realize where we've got to go.”
She answered for him, "The windmill.”
They showered together in the guest bathroom, only to save time-and because both of them were too edgy to be alone at the moment.
She supposed that, in a different mood, she would have found the experience pleasantly erotic. But it was surprisingly platonic, considering the fierce passion of the night just passed.
He touched her only when they had stepped out of the the shower and were hurriedly toweling dry. He leaned close, kissed the corner of her mouth, and said, "What have I gotten you into, Holly Thorne?" Later, while Jim hurriedly packed a suitcase, Holly wandered only as far as the upstairs study, which was next to his bedroom. The place had a disused look. A thin layer of dust covered the top of the desk.
Like the rest of the house, his study was humble. The cheap desk had probably been purchased at a cut-rate office-supplies warehouse.
The other furniture included just two lamps, an armchair on a wheel-and-swivel base, two free-standing bookcases overflowing with worn volumes, and a work table as bare as the long-unused desk.
All of the two hundred or more books were about religion: fat histories of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduistn, Taoism, Shintoism, and others; the collected works of St.
Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther; Scientists and Their Godsù the Bible in several versions -Douay, King James, American Standard; the Koran; the Torah, including the Old Testament and the Talmud; the Tripitaka of Buddhism, the Agama of Hinduism, the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, and the Veda of Brahmanism.
In spite of the curious completeness of that part of his personal library, the most interesting thing in the room was the gallery of photographs that occupied two walls. Of the thirty-some 8 X 10 prints, a few were in color but most were black and white. The same three people featured in all of them: a strikingly lovely brunette, a good-looking man with bold features and thinning hair, and a child who could be no one but Jim Ironheart.
Those eyes. One photograph showed Jim with the couple-obviously his ', parents-when he was only an infant swaddled in a blanket, but in the others he was not much younger than four and never older than about ten.
When he'd been ten, of course, his parents had died.
Some photos showed young Jim with his dad, some with his mom, and Holly assumed the missing parent had always been the one with the camera.
A handful included all three Ironhearts. Over the years, the mother only grew more striking; the father's hair continued to thin, but he appeared to be happier as time passed; and Jim, taking a lesson from his mother, became steadily better looking.
Often the backdrop of the picture was a famous landmark or the sign for one. Jim and both parents in front of Radio City Music Hall when he'd been about six. Jim and his father on the boardwalk at Atlantic City when Jim was four or five. Jim and his mother at a sign for Grand Canyon National Park, with a panoramic vista behind them.
All three Ironhearts in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle in the heart of Disneyland, when Jim was only seven or eight. Beale Street in Memphis.
The sun-splashed Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. An observation deck overlooking the faces of Mount Rushmore. Buckingham Palace in London. The Eiffel Tower. The Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas.
Niagara Falls. They seemed to have been everywhere.
In every case, no matter who was holding the camera or where they were, those in the shot looked genuinely happy. Not one face in one print was frozen in an insincere smile, or caught with one of those snap-the-damn-picture expressions of impatience that could be found in abundance in most family photo albums. Often, they were laughing instead of merely smiling, and in several instances they were caught in the middle of horseplay of one kind or another. All three were touchers, too, not simply standing side by side or in brittle poses.
They were usually shown with their arms around one another, sometimes hugging, occasionally kissing one another on the cheek or casually expressing affection in some fashion.
The boy in the photographs revealed no hint of the sometimes moody adult he would become, and Holly could see that the untimely death of his parents had changed him profoundly. The carefree, grinning boy in the photographs had been lost forever.
One black-and-white particularly arrested her. It showed Mr.
Ironheart sitting on a straight-backed chair. Jim, maybe seven years old, was on his father's lap. They were in tuxedos. Mrs. Ironheart stood behind her husband, her hand on his shoulder, wearing a slinky sequined cocktail dress that emphasized her wonderful figure. They faced the camera directly.
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