Dreams are doorways. Panic could not arouse her. She continued to drift deeper under the sandman's spell even as she heard her heart pound harder and faster. She felt her hand loosening its grip on Jim's hand, and she knew he would respond to that warning, would keep her awake, but she felt his grip loosening on her hand, and she realized they were succumbing to the sandman simultaneously.
She drifted in darkness.
She felt that she was being watched.
It was both a reassuring and a frightening feeling.
Something was going to happen. She sensed it.
For a while, however, nothing happened. Except darkness.
Then she became aware that she had a mission to perform.
But that couldn't be right. Jim was the one who was sent on missions not her.
A mission. Her mission. She would be sent on a mission of her own.
It was vitally important. Her life depended on how well she performed.
Jim's life depended on it as well. The whole world's continued existence depended on it.
But the darkness remained.
She just drifted. It felt nice.
She slept and slept.
At some point during the night, she dreamed. As nightmares went, this one was a lulu, all the stops pulled out, but it was nothing like her recent dreams of the mill and The Enemy. It was worse than those because it was painted in excruciating detail and because throughout the experience she was in the grip of anguish and terror so intense that nothing in her experience prepared her for it, not even the crash of Flight 246.
Lying on a tile floor, under a table. On her side. Peering out at floor level. Directly ahead is a chair, tubular metal and orange plastic, under the chair a scattering of golden french fries and a cheeseburger, the meat having slid halfway out of the bun on a skid of ketchup-greased lettuce.
Then a woman, an old lady, also lying on the floor, head turned toward Holly. Looking through the tubular legs of the chair, across the fries and disarranged burger, the lady stares at her, a look of surprise, stares and stares, never blinking, and then Holly sees that the lady's eye nearest the floor isn't there any more, an empty hole, blood leaking out. Oh, lady. Oh, lady, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Holly hears a terrible sound, chuda-chudachuda-chuda-chuda-chuda-chuda, doesn't recognize it, hears people screaming, a lot of people, chuda-chuda-chuda-chuda, still screaming but not as much as before, glass shattering, wood breaking, a man shouting like a bear, roaring, very angry and roaring, chuda-chuda-chuda-chuduchuda-chuda-chuda-chuda.
She knows now that it's gunfire, the heavy rhythmic pounding of an automatic weapon, and she wants to get out of there. So she turns in the opposite direction from which she's been facing because she doesn't want to-can't, just can't! crawl by the old lady whose eye has been shot out. But behind her is a little girl, about eight, lying on the floor in a pink dress with black patent-leather shoes and white socks, a little girl with white-blond hair, a little girl with, a little girl with, a little girl with patent-leather shoes, a little girl with, a little girl with, a little girl with white socks, a little girl with, a little girl with with with with with half her face shot of. A red smile. Broken white teeth in a red, lopsided smile. Sobbing, screaming, and still more chuda-chuda-chudachuda, it's never going to stop, it's going to go on forever, that terrible sound, chuda-chuda-chuda. Then Holly's moving, scrambling on her hands and knees, away from both the old lady and the little girl with half a face.
Unavoidably her hands slap-skip-skid-slide through warm french fries, a hot fish sandwich, a puddle of mustard, as she moves, moves, staying under the tables, between the chairs, then she puts her hand down in the icy slush of a spilled Coke, and when she sees the image of Dixie Duck on the large paper cup from which the soda has spilled, she knows where she is, she's in a Dixie Duck Burger Palace, one of her favorite places in the world. Nobody's screaming now, maybe they realize that a Dixie Duck is not a place you should scream, but somebody is sobbing and groaning, and somebody else is saying please-please-please-please over and over again.
Holly starts to crawl out from under another table, and she sees a man in a costume standing a few feet from her, turned half away from her, and she thinks maybe this is all just a trick, trick-or-treat, a Halloween performance. But it isn't Halloween. Yet the man is in a costume he's wearing combat boots like G.I. Joe and camouflage pants and a black T-shirt and a beret, like the Green Berets wear, only this one is black, and it must be a costume because he isn't really a soldier, can't be a soldier with that big sloppy belly overhanging his pants, and he hasn't shaved in maybe a week, soldiers have to shave, so he's only wearing soldier stuff This girl is kneeling on the floor in front of him, one of the teenagers who works at Dixie Duck, the pretty one with the red hair, she winked at Holly when she took her order, now she's kneeling in front of the guy in the soldier costume, with her head bowed like she's praying, except what she's saying is please please-please-please. The guy is shouting at her about the CIA and mind control and secret spy networks operated out of the Dixie Duck storeroom. Then the guy stops shouting and he looks at the red-haired girl awhile, just looks down at her, and then he says look-at-me, and she says please-please-don't, and he says look-at-me again, so she raises her head and looks at him, and he says what-do-you-think-I-am-stupid? The girl is so scared, she is just so scared, and she says no-please-I-don't-know-anything-about-this, and he says like-shit-you-don't, and he lowers the big gun, he puts the big gun right there in her face, just maybe an inch or two from her face.
She says oh-my-god-oh-my-god, and he says you're-one-of the-rat-people, and Holly is sure the guy will now throw the gun aside and laugh, and everyone playing dead people will get up and laugh, too, and the manager will come out and take bows for the Halloween performance, except it isn't Halloween. Then the guy pulls the trigger, chuda-chudachuda-chuda-chuda, and the red-haired girl dissolves. Holly eels around and heads back the way she came, moving so fast, trying to get away from him before he sees her, because he's crazy, that's what he is, he's a crazyman. Holly is splashing through the same spilled food and drinks that she splashed through before, past the little girl in the pink dress and right through the girl's blood, praying the crazyman can't hear her scuttling away from him.
CHUDA-CHUDA-CHUDA-CHUDA-CHUDACHUDA! But he must be shooting the other direction, because no bullets are smashing into anything around her, so she keeps going, right across a dead man with his insides coming out, hearing sirens now, sirens wailing outside, the cops'll get this crazyman. Then she hears a crash behind her, a table being overturned, and it sounds so close, she looks back, she sees him, the crazyman, he's coming straight toward her, pushing tables out of his way, kicking aside chairs, he sees her. She clambers over another dead woman and then she's in a corner, on top of a dead man who's slumped in the corner, she's in the lap of the dead man, in the arms of the dead man and no way to get out of there because the crazyman is coming. The crazyman looks so scary, so bad and scary, that she can't watch him coming, doesn't want to see the gun in her face the way the red-haired girl saw it, so she turns her head away, turns her face to the dead man She woke from the dream as she had never awakened from another, not screaming, not even with an unvoiced cry caught in her throat, but gagging. She was curled into a tight ball, hugging herself, dry-heaving, choking not on anything she had eaten but on sheer throat-clogging repulsion.
Jim was turned away from her, lying on his side. His knees were drawn up slightly in a modified fetal position. He was still sound asleep.
When she could get her breath, she sat up. She was not merely shaking, she was rattling. She was convinced she could hear her bones clattering against one another.
She was glad that she had not eaten anything after the doughnuts last evening. They had passed through her stomach hours ago. If she had eaten anything else, she'd be wearing it now.
She hunched forward and put her face in her hands. She sat like that until the rattling quieted to a shudder and the shudder faded to spasms of shivering.
When she raised her face from her hands, the first thing she noticed was daylight at the narrow windows of the high room. It was opalescent graypink, a weak glow rather than a sunny-blue glare, but daylight nonetheless.
Seeing it, she realized that she had not been convinced she would ever see daylight again.
She looked at her wristwatch. 6:10. Dawn must have broken only a short while ago. She could have been asleep only two to two and a half hours.
It had been worse than no sleep at all; she did not feel in the least rested.
The dream. She suspected that The Friend had used its telepathic power to push her down into sleep against her will. And because of the unusually intense nature of the nightmare, she was convinced it had sent her that gruesome reel of mind-film.
But why? Jim murmured and stirred, then grew still again, breathing deeply but quietly. His dream must not be the same one she'd had; if it was, he would be writhing and crying out like a man on the rack.
She sat for a while, considering the dream, wondering if she had been shown a prophetic vision. Was The Friend warning her that she was going to wind up in a Dixie Duck Burger Palace scrambling for her life through food and blood, stalked by a raving maniac with an automatic carbine? She had never even heard of Dixie Duck, and she couldn't imagine a more ludicrous place to die.
She was living in a society where the streets were crawling with casualties of the drug wars, some of them so brain-blasted that they might well pick up a gun and go looking for the rat people who were working with the CIA, running spy networks out of burger restaurants.
She had worked on newspapers all her adult life. She had seen stories no less tragic, no more strange.
After about fifteen minutes, she couldn't bear to think about the nightù mare any more, not for a while. Instead of getting a handle on it through analysis, she became more confused and distressed the longer she dwelt on it. In memory, the images of slaughter did not fade, as was usually the case with a dream, but became more vivid. She didn't need to puzzle it out right now.
Jim was sleeping, and she considered waking him. But he needed his rest as much as she did. There was no sign of The Enemy making use of a dream doorway, no change in the limestone walls or the oak-plank floor, so she let Jim sleep.
As she had looked around the room, studying the walls, she had noticed the yellow tablet lying on the floor under the far window. She had pitched it aside last evening when The Friend had resisted vocalizing its answers and had tried, instead, to present her with responses to all her written questions at once, before she was able to read them aloud.
She'd never had a chance to ask it all of the questions on her list, and now she wondered what might be on that answer-tablet.
She eased off her bedding as quietly as possible, rose, and walked carefully across the room. She tested the floorboards as she went to make sure they weren't going to squeak when she put her full weight on them.
As she stooped to pick up the tablet, she heard a sound that froze her.
Like a heartbeat with an extra thump in it.
She looked around at the walls, up at the dome. The light from the highburning lantern and the windows was sufficient to be certain that the limestone was only limestone, the wood only wood.
Lub-dub-DUB, lub-dub-DUB. . .
It was faint, as if someone was tapping the rhythm out on a drum far away, outside the mill, somewhere up in the dry brown hills.
But she knew what it was. No drum. It was the tripartite beat that always preceded the materialization of The Enemy. Just as the bells had, until its final visit, preceded the arrival of The Friend.
As she listened, it faded away.
She strained to hear it.
Relieved but still trembling, she picked up the tablet. The pages were rumpled, and they made some noise falling into place.
Jim's steady breathing continued to echo softly around the room, with no change of rhythm or pitch.
Holly read the answers on the first page, then the second. She saw that they were the same responses The Friend had vocalized-although without the spur-of the-moment questions that she had not written down on the question-tablet. She skimmed down the third and fourth pages, on which it had listed the people Jim had saved-Carmen Diaz, Amanda Cutter, Steven Aimes, Laura Lenaskian-explaining what great things each of them was destined to achieve.
Lub-dub-DUB, lub-dub-DUB, lub-dub-DUB. . .
She snapped her head up.
The sound was still distant, no louder than before.
Jim groaned in his sleep.
Holly took a step away from the window, intending to wake him, but the dreaded sound faded away again. Evidently The Enemy was in the neighborhood, but it had not found a doorway in Jim's dream. He had to get his sleep, he couldn't function without it. She decided to let him alone.
Easing back to the window again, Holly held the answer-tablet up to the light. She turned to the fifth page-and felt the flesh on the nape of her neck go as cold and nubbly as frozen turkey skin.
Peeling the pages back with great delicacy, so as not to rustle them more than absolutely necessary, she checked the sixth page, the seventh, the eighth. They were all the same. Messages were printed on them in the wavery hand that The Friend had used when pulling its little words-risingas-if-through-water trick. But they were not answers to her questions.
They were two alternating statements, unpunctuated, each repeated three times per page: HE LOVES YOU HOLLY HE WILL KILL YOU HOLLY HE LOVES YOU HOLLY HE WILL KILL YOU HOLLY HE LOVES YOU HOLLY HE WILL KILL YOU HOLLY Staring at those obsessively repeated statements, she knew that "he" could be no one but Jim. She focused only on the five hateful words, trying to understand.
And suddenly she thought that she did. The Friend was warning her that in its madness it would act against her, perhaps because it hated her for bringing Jim to the mill, for making him seek answers, and for being a distraction from his mission. If The Friend, which was the sane half of the alien consciousness, could reach into Jim's mind and compel him to undertake life-saving missions, was it possible that The Enemy, the dark half, could reach into his mind and compel him to kill? Instead of the insane personality materializing in monstrous form as it had done for an instant at the motel Friday night and as it attempted to do in Jim's bedroom yesterday, might it choose to use Jim against her, take command of him to a greater extent than The Friend had ever done, and turn him into a killing machine? That might perversely delight the mad-child aspect of the entity.
She shook herself as if casting off a pestering wasp.
No. It was impossible. All right, Jim could kill in the defense of innocent people. But he was incapable of killing someone innocent. No alien consciousness, no matter how powerful, could override his true nature. In his heart he was good and kind and caring.
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