Page 43


The iron sky was pressing lower.


The trees seemed to be leaning closer, arching over him.


Holly said, "Didn't you say he died eight months after Lena?" His mouth was dry. He could hardly work up enough spit to speak, and the words came out in dry whispers like susurrant bursts of sand blown against desert stone. "What the hell do you want from me? I told you.


. .


eight months. . . May twenty-fourth of the next year. . . .”


"How did he die?" "I. . . I don't. . . I don't remember.”


"Illness?" Shut up, shut up! "I don't know.”


"An accident?" "I. . . just. . . I think. . . I think it was a stroke.”


Large parts of the past were mists within a mist. He realized now that he rarely thought about the past. He lived totally in the present.


He had never realized there were huge holes in his memories simply because there were so many things he had never before tried to remember.


"Weren't you your grandfather's nearest relative?" Holly asked.


"Yes.”


"Didn't you attend to the details of his funeral?" He hesitated, frowning. "I think. . . yes. . .”


"Then did you just forget to have the date of his death added to the headstone?" He stared at the blank spot in the granite, frantically searching an equally blank spot in his memory, unable to answer her. He felt sick.


He wanted to curl up and close his eyes and sleep and never wake up, let something else wake up in his place. . . .


She said, "Or did you bury him somewhere else?" Across the ashes of the burnt-out sky, the shrieking blackbirds swooped again, slashing calligraphic messages with their wings, their meaning no more decipherable than the elusive memories darting through the deeper grayness of Jim's mind.


Holly drove them around the corner to Tivoli Gardens.


When they had left the pharmacy, Jim had wanted to drive to the cemetery, worried about what he would find there but at the same time eager to confront his misremembered past and wrench his recollections into line with the truth. The experience at the grave site had shaken him, however, and now he was no longer in a rush to find out what additional surprise awaited him. He was content to let Holly drive, and she suspected that he would be happier if she just drove out of town, turned south, and never spoke to him of New Svenborg again.


The park was too small to have a service road. They left the car at the street and walked in.


Holly decided that Tivoli Gardens was even less inviting close up than it had been when glimpsed from a moving car yesterday. The dreary impression it made could not be blamed solely on the overcast sky. The grass was half parched from weeks of summer sun, which could be quite intense in any central California valley. Leggy runners had sprouted unchecked from the rose bushes; the few remaining blooms were faded and dropping petals in the thorny sprawl. The other flowers looked wilted, and the two benches needed painting.


Only the windmill was well maintained. It was a bigger, more imposing mill than the one at the farm, twenty feet higher, with an encircling deck about a third of the way up.


re "Why are we here?" she asked.


"Don't ask me. You're the one who wanted to come.”


"Don't be thick, babe," she said.


She knew that pushing him was like kicking a package of unstable dynamite, but she had no choice. He was going to blow anyway, sooner or later.


Her only hope of survival was to force him to acknowledge that he was the The Enemy before that personality seized control of him permanently.


She sensed that she was running out of time.


an She said, "You're the one who put it on the itinerary yesterday. You said they'd made a movie here once." She was jolted by what she had just said.


let "Wait a sec-is this where you saw Robert Vaughn? Was he in the movie they made here?" With a bewildered expression that slowly gave way to a frown, Jim turned in place, surveying the small park. At last he headed toward the windmill, and she followed him.


Two historical-marker lecterns flanked the flagstone path in front of the mill door. They were all-weather stone stands. The reading material on the slanted tops was protected behind sheets of plexiglass in watertight frames.


The lectern on the left, to which they stepped first, provided background information about the use of windmills for grain milling, water pumping, and electricity production in the Santa Ynez Valley from the 1800s until well into the twentieth century, followed by a history of the preserved mill six to in front of them, which was called, rather aptly, the New Svenborg Mill.


line That material was as dull as dirt, and Holly turned to the second lectern over, only because she still had some of the doggedness and appetite for facts rises that had made her a passable journalist.


Her interest was instantly piqued The title at the top of the second plaque-THE BLACK WINDMILL: BOOK AND MOVIE.


"Jim, look at this.”


He joined her by the second marker.


There was a photograph of the jacket of a young-adult novel-The in it Black Windmill by Arthur J. Willott, and the illustration on it was obviously based on the New Svenborg Mill. Holly read the lectern text with s was growing astonishment. Willott, a resident of the Santa Ynez valley in Solvang, not Svenborg-had been a successful author of novels for young from adults, turning out fifty-two titles before his death in , at the age of petals eighty. His most popular and enduring book, by far, had been a fantasynches adventure about a haunted old mill and a boy who discovered that the ghosts were actually aliens from another world and that under the milliosing pond was a spaceship which had been there for ten thousand years.


, deck "No," Jim said softly but with some anger, "no, this makes no sense, this can't be right.”


Holly recalled a moment from the dream in which she had been in Lena Ironheart's body, climbing the mill stairs.


When she had reached the top, she had found ten-year-old Jim standing with his hands fisted at his sides, and he had turned to her and said, "I'm scared, help me, the walls, the walls" At his feet had been a yellow candle in a blue dish. Until now she'd forgotten that beside the dish lay a hardcover book in a colorful dustjacket.


It was the same dustjacket reproduced on the lectern: The Black Windmill.


"No," Jim said again, and he turned away from the plaque. He stared around worriedly at the breeze-ruffled trees.


Holly read on and discovered that twenty-five years ago, the very year that ten-year-old Jim Ironheart had come to town, The Black Windmill had been made into a motion picture. The New Svenborg Mill had served as the primary location. The motion-picture company had created a shallow but convincing millpond around it, then paid to restore the land after filming and to establish the current pocket park.


Still turning slowly around, frowning at the trees and shrubs, at the gloom beneath them that the overcast day could not dispel, Jim said, "Something's coming.”


Holly could see nothing coming, and she believed that he was just trying to distract her from the plaque. He did not want to accept the implications of the information on it, so he was trying to make her turn away from it with him.


The movie must have been a dog, because Holly had never heard of it. It appeared to have been the kind of production that was big news nowhere but in New Svenborg and, even there, only because it was based on a book by a valley resident. On the historical marker, the last paragraph of copy listed, among other details of the production, the names of the five most important members of the cast. No big box-office draws had appeared in the flick. Of the first four names, she recognized only M.


Emmet Walsh, who was a personal favorite of hers.


The fifth cast member was a young and then-unknown Robert Vaughn.


She looked up at the looming mill.


"What is happening here?" she said aloud. She lifted her gaze to the dismal sky, then lowered it to the photo of the dustjacket for Willott's book. "What the hell is happening here?" In a voice quaking with fear but also with an eerie note of desire, Jim said, "It's coming!" She looked where he was staring, and saw a disturbance in the earth at the far end of the small park, as if something was burrowing toward them, pushing up a yard-wide hump of dirt and sod to mark its tunnel, moving fast, straight at them.


She whirled on Jim, grabbed him. "Stop it!" "It's coming," he said, wide-eyed.


"Jim, it's you, it's only you.”


"No. . . not me. . . The Enemy." He sounded half in a trance.


Holly glanced back and saw the thing passing under the concrete walkway, which cracked and heaved up in In its wake.


"Jim, damn it!" He was staring at the approaching killer with horror but also with, she thought, a sort of longing.


One of the park benches was knocked over as the earth bulged then sank under it.


The Enemy was only forty feet from them, coming fast.


She grabbed Jim by the shirt, shook him, tried to make him look at her.


"I saw this movie when I was a kid. What was it called, huh? Wasn't it Invaders From Mars, something like that, where the aliens open doors in the sand and suck you down?" She glanced back. It was thirty feet from them.


"Is that what's going to kill us, Jim? Something that opens a door in the sand, sucks us down, something from a movie to give ten-year-old boys nightmares?" Twenty feet away.


Jim was sweating, shuddering. He seemed to be beyond hearing anything Holly said.


She shouted in his face anyway: "Are you going to kill me and yourself, suicide like Larry Kakonis, just stop being strong and put an end to it, let one of your own nightmares pull you in the ground?" Ten feet.


Eight.


"Jim!" Six.


Four.


Hearing a monstrous grinding of jaws in the ground under them, she raised her foot, rammed the heel of her shoe down across the front of his shin, as hard as she could, to make him feel it through his sock.


Jim cried out in pain as the ground shifted under them, and Holly looked down in horror at the rupturing earth. But the burrowing stopped simultaneously with his sharp cry. The ground didn't open. Nothing erupted from it or sucked them down.


Shaking, Holly stepped back from the ripped sod and cracked earth on which she had been standing.


Jim looked at her, aghast. "It wasn't me. It can't have been.”


Back in the car, Jim slumped in his seat.


Holly folded her arms on the steering wheel, put her forehead on her arms.


He looked out the side window at the park. The giant mole trail was still there. The sidewalk was cracked and tumbled. The bench lay on its side.


He just couldn't believe that the thing beneath the park had been only a figment of his imagination, empowered only by his mind. He had been in control of himself all his life, living a Spartan existence of books and work, with no vices or indulgences. (Except a frighteningly convenient forgetfulness, he thought sourly.) Nothing about Holly's theory was harder for him to accept than that a wild and savage part of him, beyond his conscious control, was the only real danger that they faced.


He was beyond ordinary fear now. He was no longer perspiring or shivering. He was in the grip of a primal terror that left him rigid and DryIce dry.


"It wasn't me," he repeated.


"Yes, it was." Considering that she believed he'd almost killed her Holly was surprisingly gentle with him. She did not raise her voice; it was softened by a note of great tenderness.


He said, "You're still on this split-personality kick.”


"Yes.”


"So it was my dark side.”


"Yes.”


"Embodied in a giant worm or something," he said, trying to hone a sharp edge on his sarcasm, failing. "But you said The Enemy only broke through when I was sleeping, and I wasn't sleeping, so even if I am The Enemy, how could I have been that thing in the park?" "New rules. Subconsciously, you're getting desperate. You're not able to control that personality as easily as before. The closer you're forced to the truth, the more aggressive The Enemy's going to become in order to defend itself" "If it was me, why wasn't there an alien heartbeat like before?" "That's always just been a dramatic effect, like the bells ringing before The Friend put in an appearance." She raised her head from her arms and looked at him. "You dropped it because there wasn't time for it. I was reading that plaque, and you wanted to stop me as fast as you could. You needed a distraction. Let me tell you, babe, it was a lulu.”


He looked out the window again, toward the windmill and the lectern that held the information about The Black Windmill.


Holly put a hand on his shoulder. "You were in a black despair after your parents died. You needed to escape. Evidently a writer named Arthur Willott provided you with a fantasy that fit your needs perfectly. To one extent or another, you've been living in it ever since.”


Though he could not admit it to her, he had to admit to himself that he was groping toward understanding, that he was on the brink of seeing his past from a new perspective that would make all of the mysterious lines and angles fall into a new and comprehensible shape.


If selective amnesia, carefully constructed false memories, and even multiple personalities were not indications of madness but only the hooks he had used to hold on to sanity-as Holly insisted-then what would happen to him if he let go of those hooks? If he dug up the truth about his past, faced the things he had refused to face when he had turned to fantasy as a child, would the truth drive him mad this time? What was he hiding from? "Listen," she said, "the important thing is that you shut it down before it reached us, before it did any harm.”


"My shin hurts like hell," he said, wincing.


"Good," she said brightly.


She started the engine.


"Where are we going now?" he asked.


"Where else? The library.”


Holly parked on Copenhagen Lane in front of the small Victorian house that served as the New Svenborg library.


She was pleased that her hands were not shaking, that her voice was level and calm, and that she had been able to drive from Tivoli Gardens without weaving all over the road. After the incident in the park, she was amazed that her pants were still clean. She had been reduced to raw terror -a pure, intense emotion untainted by any other.


Diluted now, it was still with her, and she knew it would remain with her until they were out of these spooky old woods---or dead. But she was determined not to reveal the depth of her fear to Jim, because he had to be worse off than she was.


After all, it was his life that was turning out to be a collage of flimsy lies.


He needed to lean on her.


As she and Jim went up the front walk to the porch (Jim limping), Holly noticed he was studying the lawn around him, as if he thought something might start burrowing toward them.

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