The bad scent, thing scent, is all around the bed, up on the bed.
The thing stood here and talked to the woman, not long ago, today, touching her, touching the white cloth draped over her, its vile residue there, up there in the bed, rich and ripe up there in the bed with the woman, and interesting, ohsovery interesting.
He races back to the door, turns, runs at the bed, leaps, sails, one paw catching the railing but otherwise clearing all obstacles, up with the sick and fearsoaked woman", plop.
A woman screamed.
Janet had never been afraid that Woofer would bite anyone. He was a gentle and friendly dog, and seemed incapable of harming a soul except, perhaps, the thing that had confronted them in the alleyway earlier in the day.
But when she burst into the softly lighted hospital room behind Angelina, and saw the dog on the patient's bed, for an instant Janet thought it was attacking the woman. She pulled Danny against her to shield him from the savage sight, before she realized Woofer was only straddling the patient and sniffing her, vigorously sniffing but nothing worse.
“No,” the invalid died, “no, no,” as if not merely a dog but something out of the deeper pits of Hell had leapt upon her.
Janet was ashamed of the commotion, felt responsible, and was afraid of the consequence. She doubted that she and Danny would be welcome to take meals in the Pacific View kitchen any longer.
The woman in the bed was thinbeyond thin, wastedand so pale, as softly radiant as a ghost in the lamplight. Her hair was white and lusterless. She seemed ancient, a shriveled crone, but some indefinable aspect of her made Janet think the poor soul might be much younger than she appeared.
Obviously weak, she was struggling to rise slightly from her pillows and ward off the dog with her right arm. When she became aware of the arrival of those pursuing Woofer, she turned her head toward the door.
Her gaunt face might once have been beautiful but was now cadaverous and, in one respect at least, nightmarish.
She had none.
Janet shuddered involuntarilyand was glad she had shielded Danny, after all.
“Get it off me!” the woman shrieked in terror out of proportion to any threat that Woofer posed. “Get it off me!”
At first, glimpsed in the gray and purple shadows, the invalid's eyelids merely appeared to be closed. But as the lamplight fell more directly across her drawn face, the true horror of her condition became apparent. Her lids were sewn shut like those of a corpse.
The surgical thread had no doubt long ago dissolved, but upper and lower lids had grown together. Nothing existed immediately beneath the flaps of skin to support them, so they sagged inward, leaving shallow concavities.
Janet felt sure the woman had not been born without eyes. Some terrible experience, not nature, had stolen her vision. How severe must the injuries have been, if physicians had concluded it wasn't possible to install glass eyes even for cosmetic reasons? Dire intuition told Janet that this blind and shriveled patient had encountered someone worse than Vince, and more coldblooded thanJanet's own reptilian parents.
As Angelina and a male orderly closed in on' the bed, calling the blind woman “Jennifer” and assuring her everything was going to be all right, Woofer leaped to the floor again and foiled them with another unanticipated move. Instead of making directly for the door to the corridor, he streaked into the adjoining bathroom, which was shared with the room next door, and from there scrambled into the hall.
Holding Danny's hand in hers, Janet led the chase this time, not solely because she felt responsible for what had happened and was afraid that their dining privileges at Pacific View were on the verge of being canceled forever, but because she was eager to leave the shadowed, stuffy room and its mealyskinned, eyeless resident.
This time the chase led into the main hall and from there into the public lounge.
Janet damned herself for ever letting the mutt into their lives. The worst thing wasn't even the humiliation he'd brought them with this prank, but all of the attention he was drawing. She feared attention.
Huddling down, keeping quiet, staying in the corners and shadows of life was the only way to reduce the amount of abuse you had to take.
Besides, she wanted to remain virtually transparent to others at least until her dead husband had rested under Arizona sands for another year or two.
Woofer was too fast for them even though he kept his snout to the floor, sniffing every step of the way.
The evening receptionist in the lounge was a young Hispanic woman in a white uniform, hair in a ponytail secured by a red ribbon. Having risen from her desk to check out the source of the oncoming tumult, she assessed the situation and acted quickly. She stepped to the front door as Woofer flew into the lounge. She opened it, and let him shoot past her into the street.
Outside, breathless, Janet halted at the bottom of the front steps.
The care home was east of the coast highway, on a sloped street lined with Indian laurels and bottlebrush trees. The mercuryvapor streetlamps shed a vaguely blue light. When a fluctuant breeze shivered branches, the pavement crawled with jittering leaf shadows.
Woofer was about forty feet away, dappled by the blue light, sniffing continuously at the sidewalk, shrubs, tree trunks, curb. He tested the night air most of all, apparently seeking an elusive scent.
From the bottlebrush trees, the storm had knocked down scores of bristly red blooms which littered the pavement, like colonies of mutant sea anemones washed up by an apocalyptic tide. When the dog sniffed at these, he sneezed. His progress was halting and uncertain but steadily southward.
“Woofer!” Danny shouted.
The mutt turned and looked at them.
“Come back!” Danny pleaded.
Woofer hesitated. Then he twitched his head, snapped at the air, and continued after whatever phantom he was pursuing.
Fighting back tears, Danny said, “I thought he liked me.”
The boy's words made Janet regret the unvoiced curses she had heaped upon the dog during the chase. She called after him, as well.
“He'll come back,” she assured Danny.
“Maybe not now but later, maybe tomorrow or the day after, he'll come home.”
The boy's voice trembled with loss: “How can he come home when there's no home to find us at?”
“There's the car,” she said lamely.
She was more acutely aware than ever that a rusted old Dodge was a grievously inadequate home. Being able to provide no better for her son suddenly made her heart so heavy that it ached. She was troubled by fear, anger, frustration, and a desperation so intense that it made her nauseous.
“Dogs have sharper senses than we do,” she said. "He'll track us down.
He'll track us down, all right."
Black tree shadows stirred on the pavement, a vision of the dead leaves of autumns to come.
The dog reached the end of the block and turned the corner, moving out of sight.
“He'll track us down,” she said, but did not believe.
Stink beetles. Wet tree bark. The lime odor of damp concrete.
Roasting chicken in a people place nearby. Geraniums, jasmine, dead leaves. The moldysour scent of earthworms rutting in the rainsoaked dirt of flowerbeds. Interesting.
Most smells now are aftertherain smells because rain cleans up the world and leaves its own tang afterwards. But even the hardest rain can't wash away all of the old smells, layers and layers, days and weeks of odors cast off by birds and bugs, dogs and plants, lizards and people and worms and cats. He catches a whiff of cat fur, and freezes.
He clenches his teeth at the scent, flares his nostrils. He tenses.
Funny about cats. He doesn't hate them, really, but they're so chasable, so hard to resist. Nothing's more fun than a cat at its best, unless maybe a boy with a ball to throw and then something good to eat.
He's almost ready to go after the cat, track it down, but then his snout burns with an old memory of claw scratches and a sore nose for days. He remembers the bad things about cats, how they can move so fast, slash you, then go straight up a wall or tree where you can't go after them, and you sit below barking at them, your nose stinging and bleeding, feeling stupid, and the cat licks its fur and looks at you and then settles down to sleep, until finally you just have to go somewhere and bite on an old stick or snap a few lizards in two until you feel better.
Car fumes. Wet newspaper. Old shoe full of people foot smell.
Dead mouse. Interesting. Dead mouse rotting in the gutter. Eyes open. Tiny teeth bared. Interesting. Funny how dead things don't move. Unless they're dead long enough, and then they're full of movement, but it's still not them moving but things in them. Dead mouse, stiff tail sticking straight up in the air. Interesting.
He snaps his head up and seeks the faint scent. Mostly this thing has a scent unlike any creature he's ever met up with before, which is what makes it interesting. Partly it's a human odor but only partly.
It's also a thingthatwillkillyou odor, which you sometimes smell on people and on certain crazymean dogs bigger than you and on coyotes and on snakes that rattle. In fact it has more of a thingthat willkillyou stink than anything he's ever run across before, which means he's got to be careful. Mostly it has its own scent: like yet not like the sea on a cold night; like yet not like an iron fence on a hot day; like yet not like the dead and rotting mouse; like yet not like lightning, thunder, spiders, blood, and dark holes in the ground that are interesting but scary. Its faint scent is one fragile thread in the rich tapestry of night aromas, but he follows it.
Living in the modern age, death for virtue is the Wage.
So it seems in darker hours.
Ruled by violence and vice We all stand upon thin ice.
Are we brave or are we mice, here upon such thin, thin ice?
Dare we linger, dare we skate?
Dare we laugh or celebrate, knowing we may strain the ice?
Preserve the ice at any price?
The BOok of Counted Sorrows When tempesttossed, embrace chaos.
-The Book of Counted Sorrows They took the coast highway because a tanker truck loaded with liquid nitrogen had overturned at the junction of the Costa Mesa and San Diego freeways, transforming them into parking lots.
Harry cranked the Honda, weaving from lane to lane, speeding through yellow traffic lights, running the reds if no cars were approaching on the cross streets, driving more like Connie in a mood than like himself.
As relentless as a circling vulture, doom shadowed his every thought.
In Connie's kitchen, he'd spoken confidently of Ticktock's vulnerability. But how vulnerable could the guy be if he could laugh off bullets and bonfires?
He said, “Thanks for not being like the people in one of those movies, they see huge bats against the full moon, victims with all the blood drained out, but they keep arguing it can't be happening, vampires aren't real.”
“Or like the priest sees the little girl's head spin threehundred sixty degrees, her bed levitatesbut he still can't believe there's a devil, so he consults psychology books to diagnose her.”
“What listing you think he looks up in the index?”
Connie said, “Under 'W' for 'Weird shit.”' They crossed a bridge over a back channel of Newport Harbor.
House and boat lights glimmered on the black water.
“Funny,” Harry said. “You go through life thinking people who believe this stuff are as dumb as lobotomized newtsthen something like this happens, and you're instantly able to accept all kinds of fantastic ideas. At heart we're all moonworshipping savages who know the world's a lot stranger than we want to believe.”
"Not that I've accepted your theory yet, your psycho superman.
He looked at her. In the instrumentpanel light, her face resembled a sculpture of some goddess from Greek mythology, rendered in hard bronze with verdigris patina. “If not my theory, then what?”
Instead of answering him, she said, “If you're gonna drive like me, keep your eyes on the road.”
That was good advice, and he took it in time to avoid making a ton and a half of Honda jelly against the back of a lumbering old Mercedes driven by Methuselah's grandmother and sporting a bumper sticker that said LICENSED TO KILL. Tires squealing, he whipped around the sedan.
As they passed it, the venerable lady behind the wheel scowled and gave them the finger.
“Even grandmothers aren't grandmothers any more,” Connie said.
“If not my theory then what?” he persisted.
“I don't know. I'm just sayingif you're going to surf on the chaos, better never think you've got the pattern of the currents all figured out, 'cause that's when a big wave will dump you.”
He thought about that, driving in silence for a while.
To their left, the Newport Center hotels and office towers drifted by as if they were moving instead of the car, great lighted ships sailing the night on mysterious missions. The bordering lawns and rows of palms were unnaturally green and too perfect to be real, like a gargantuan stage setting. The recent storm seemed to have swept across California from out of another dimension, washing the world with strangeness, leaving behind a residue of dark magic.
“What about your mom and dad?” Connie asked. “This guy said he'd destroy everyone you love, then you.”
“They're a few hundred miles up the coast. They're out of this.”
“We don't know how far he can reach.”
"If he can reach that far, he is God. Anyway, remember what I said, how maybe this guy pins a psychic tag on you? Like game wardens tag a deer or bear with an electronic gizmo to learn its migratory habits.
That feels right. Which means it's possible he can't find my mom and dad unless I lead him to them. Maybe all he knows about me is what I've shown him since he tagged me this afternoon."
"So you came to me first because Because I love you? he wondered. But he said nothing.
He was relieved when she let him off that hook: because we brought Ordegard down together. And if this guy was controlling Ordegard, he's almost as angry with me as with you."
“I had to warn you,” Harry said. “We're in this together.”
Though he was aware of her studying him with keen interest, she said nothing. He pretended to be oblivious of her analytic stare.
After a while she said, “You think this Ticktock can tune in and hear us, see us, any time he wants? Like now?”
“I don't know.”
“He can't know everything, like God,” Connie said. “So maybe we're just a blinking light on his mental tracking board, and he can only see or hear us when we can see and hear him.”