Page 30


“You lock the doors?” Connie asked Harry.


“Yeah.”


Behind them, as they went into The Green House, the vagrant said thoughtfully: “Cops?”


Having eaten the cookies and potato chips, Bryan briefly used his Greatest and Most Secret Power to insure total privacy, then stood at the edge of the patio and urinated between railings into the silent sea below. He always got a kick out of doing things like that in public, sometimes right out in the street with people around, knowing that his Greatest and Most Secret Power would insure against 'discovery.


Bladder empty, he started things up again and returned to the house.


Food alone was seldom sufficient to restore his energy. He was, after all, a god Becoming, and according to the Bible, the first god had needed rest himself on the seventh day. Before he could work more miracles, Bryan would still have to nap, perhaps for as much as an hour.


In the master bedroom, lit only by one bedside lamp, he stood for a while in front of the blacklacquered shelves where eyes of many species and colors floated in preserving fluid. Feeling their unblinking, eternal gazes. Their adoration.


He unbelted his red robe, shrugged out of it, and let it drop to the floor.


The eyes loved him. Loved him. He could feel their love, and he accepted it.


He opened one of the jars. The eyes in it had belonged to a woman who had been thinned from the herd because she was one of those who could vanish from the world without causing much concern.


They were blue eyes, once beautiful, the color faded. now and the lenses milky.


Dipping into the pungent fluid, he removed one of the blue eyes and held it in his left hand. It felt like a ripe dateoft but firm, and moist.


Trapping the eye between his palm and chest, he rolled it gently across his body from nipple to nipple, back and forth, not pressing too hard, careful to avoid damaging it, but eager for the dead woman to see him in all his Becoming glory, every smooth plane and curve and pore of him. The small sphere was cool against his warm flesh, and left a trail of moisture on his skin. He shivered deliciously. He eased the slick orb down his flat belly describing circles there, then held it for a moment in the hollow of his navel.


From the open jar, he extracted the second blue eye. He trapped it under his right hand and allowed both eyes to explore his body: chest and flanks and thighs, up across his belly and chest again, along the sides of his neck, his face, gently rotating the moist and spongy ,2 spheres on his cheeks, around, around, around. So satisfying to be the object of adoration. So supremely glorious for the dead woman to be granted this intimate moment with the Becoming god who had judged and condemned her.


Winding tracks of preserving fluid marked each eye's journey over his body. As the fluid evaporated, it was easy to believe that the tracery of coolness was actually a lace of tears upon his skin, shed by the dead woman who rejoiced in this sacrosanct contact.


The other eyes upon the shelves, watching from their separate glasswalled liquid universes, seemed envious of the blue eyes to which he had granted communion.


Bryan wished that he could bring his mother here and show her all the eyes that adored and cherished him, revered him, and found no aspect of him from which they wished to turn their gazes.


But, of course, she would not look, could not see. The stubborn, withered hag would persist in fearing him. She regarded him as an abomination, though it should be obvious even to her that he was Becoming a figure of transcendent spiritual power, the sword of judgment, instigator of Armageddon, savior of a world infested with an abundance of humanity.


He returned the pair of blue eyes to the open jar, and screwed the lid shut.


He had satisfied one hunger with cookies and chips, satisfied another by revealing his glory to the congregation in the jars and by seeing that they were in awe of him. Now it was time to sleep for a short while and recha his batteries; dawn was nearer, and he had promises to keep.


As he settled upon the disarranged bed sheets, he reached for the switch on the nightstand lamp, but then decided not to turn it off.


The disembodied communicants in the jars would be able to see him better if the room was not entirely dark. It pleased him to think that he would be admired and venerated even while he slept.


Bryan Drackman closed his eyes, yawned, and as always sleep came to him without delay. Dreams: great cities falling, houses burning, monuments collapsing, mass graves of broken concrete and twisted steel stretching to the horizon and attended by flocks of feeding vultures so numerous that, in flight, they blackened the sky.


He sprints, trots, slows to a walk, and finally creeps warily from shadow to shadow as he draws nearer to the thingthatwillkill you.


The smell of it is ripe, strong, foul. Not filthy like the stinky man.


Different. In its own way, worse. Interesting.


He is not afraid. He is not afraid. Not afraid. He is a dog. He has sharp teeth and claws. Strong and quick. In his blood is the need to track and hunt. He is a dog, cunning and fierce, and he runs from nothing. He was born to chase, not be chased, and he fearlessly pursues anything he wants, even cats. Though cats have clawed his nose, bitten and humiliated him, still he chases them, unafraid, for he is a dog, maybe not as smart as some cats, but a dog.


Padding along beside a row of thick oleander. Pretty flowers.


Berries. Don't eat the berries. Sickmaking. You can tell from the smell. Also the leaves. Also the flowers.


Never eat any kind of flowers. He tried to eat one once. There was a bee in the flower, then in his mouth, buzzing in his mouth, stinging his tongue. A very bad day, worse than cats.


He creeps onward. Not afraid. Not. Not. He is a dog.


People place. High white walls. Windows dark. Near the top, one square of pale light.


He slinks along the side of the place.


The smell of the bad thing is strong here, and getting stronger.


Almost burns in the snout. Like ammonia but not like. A cold smell and dark, colder than ice and darker than night.


Halfway along the high white wall, he stops. Listens. Sniffs.


He is not afraid. He is not afraid.


Something overhead goes W' He is afraid. Whipping around, he starts to run back the way he came.


Wbooooooooooo.


Wait. He knows that sound. An owl, swooping through the night above, hunting prey of its own.


He was frightened by an owl. Bad dog. Bad dog. Bad.


Remember the boy. The woman and the boy. Besides ... the smell, the place, the moment are interesting.


Turning once again, he continues to creep along the side of the people place, white walls, one pale light high above. He comes to an iron fence. Tight squeeze. Not as tight as the drain pipe where you follow the cat and get stuck and the cat keeps going, and you twist and kick and struggle for a long time inside the pipe, you think you're never going to get loose, and then you wonder if maybe the cat is coming back toward you through the darkness of the pipe, is going to claw your nose while you're stuck and can't move. Tight, but not that tight. He shakes his rear end, kicks, and gets through.


He comes to the end of the place, starts around the corner, and sees the thingthatwillkillyou. His vision is not nearly as keen as his smell, but he is able to make out a man, young, and he knows it is the bad thing because it reeks of that strange dark cold smell. Before, it looked different, never a young man, but the smell is the same.


This is the thing, for sure.


He freezes.


He is not afraid. He is not afraid. He is a dog.


The youngmanbadthing is on its way into the people place. It is carrying food bags. Chocolate. Marshmallow. Potato chips.


Interesting.


Even the bad thing eats. It has been outside, eating, and now it is going in, and maybe some of the food is left. A wag of the tail, a friendly whine, the sittingupandbegging trick might get something good, yes yes yes yes.


No no no no. Bad idea.


But chocolate.


No. Forget it. The kind of bad idea that gets your nose scratched.


Or worse. Dead like the bee in the puddle, the mouse in the gutter.


The thingthatwillkillyou goes inside, closes the door. Its scary smell isn't so strong now.


Neither is the chocolate smell. Oh well.


Just an owl. Who would be afraid of an owl? Not a dog.


He sniffs around behind the people place for a while, some of it grass, some of it dirt, some of it flat stones that people put down.


Bushes. Flowers. Busy bugs in the grass, different kinds. A couple of things for people to sit in... and beside one of them, a piece of cookie. Chocolate. Good, good, gone. Sniff around, under, here, there, but no more to be found.


A little lizard! Zip, so fast, across the stones, get it, t it, get it, get it. This way, that way, this way, between your legs, that way, here it comes, there it goesnow where is it? over there, zip, don't let it get away, get it, get it, want it, need it, bang, an iron fence out of nowhere.


The lizard is gone, but the fence smells of fresh people pee.


Interesting.


It's the pee of the thingthatwillkillyou. Not a nice smell. Not a bad smell.Just interesting. The thingthatwillkillyou looks like people, pees like people, so must be people, even if it's strange and different.


He follows the route the bad thing took when it stopped peeing and went into the people place, and in the bottom of the big door he finds a smaller door, more or less his size. He sniffs it. The smaller door smells like another dug. Faint, very faint, but another dog. A long time ago, a dog went in and out this door. Interesting. So long ago, he has to sniff sniff sniff sniff to learn anything. A male dog.


Not small, not too big. Interesting. Nervous dog... or maybe sick.


Long time ago. Interesting.


Think about this.


Door for people. Door for dogs.


Thing So this isn't just a people place. This is a people and dog place.


Interesting.


He pushes his nose against the little cold metal door, and it swings inward. He sticks his head in, lifting the door just far enough to sniff deep and look around.


People food place. Hidden away is food, not out where he can see it but where he can still smell it. Strongest of all, the smell of the bad thing, so strong that it leaves him uninterested in food.


The smell repels and frightens him but also attracts him, and curiosity draws him forward. He squeezes through the opening, the little metal door sliding along his back, along his tail, then falling shut with a faint squeak.


Inside.


Listening. Humming, ticking, a soft clink. Machine sounds.


Otherwise, silence.


Not much light. Just little glowing spots up on some of the machines.


He is not afraid. Not, not, not.


He creeps from one dark space to another, squinting into the shadows, listening, sniffing, but he does not find the thing thatwillkillyou until he comes to the bottom of stairs. He looks up and knows that the thing is in one of the spaces up there somewhere.


He starts up the stairs, pauses, continues, pauses, looks down to the floor below, looks up, continues, pauses, and he wonders the same thing he always wonders at some point while chasing a cat: what is he doing here? If there is not food, if there is not a female in heat, if there is rotøanyone here to pet and scratch and play with him, why is he here? He doesn't really know why. Maybe it is just the nature of a dog to wonder what is around the next corner, over the next hill. Dogs are special. Dogs are curious. Life is strange and interesting, and he has the feeling that each new place or each new day might show him something so different and special that just by seeing and smelling it, he will understand the world better and be happier. He has the feeling that a wonderful thing is waiting to be found, a wonderful thing he can't imagine, but something even better than food or females in heat, better than petting, scratching, playing, running along a beach with wind in his fur, chasing a cat, or even better than catching a cat if such a thing was possible. Even here, in this scary place, with the smell of the thingthatwillkill you so strong he wants to sneeze, he still feels that a wonderfulness might be just around the next corner.


And don't forget the woman, the boy. They're nice. They like him. So maybe he can find a way to keep the bad thing from bothering them any more.


He continues to the top of the steps into a narrow space. He pads along, sniffing at doors. Soft light behind one of them. And very heavy bitter: the thingthatwillkillyou smell.


Not afraid, not afraid, he is a dog, stalker and hunter, good and brave, good dog, good.


The door is open a crack. He puts his nose to the gap. He could push it open wider, go into the space beyond it, but he hesitates.


Nothing wonderful in there. Maybe somewhere else in this people place, maybe around every other corner, but not in there.


Maybe he can just leave now, go back to the alley, see if the fat man left out more food for him.


That would be a cat thing to do. Sneaking away. Running. He is not a cat. He is a dog.


But do cats ever get their noses scratched, cut deep, bleeding, sore for days? Interesting thought. He has never seen a cat with a scratched nose, has never gotten close enough to scratch one.


But he is a dog, not a cat, so he pushes against the door. It eases open wider. He goes into the space beyond.


Youngmanbadthing lying on black cloths, above the floor, not moving at all, making no sound, eyes closed. Dead? Dead bad thing on the black cloths.


He pads closer, sniffing.


No. Not dead. Sleeping.


The thingthatwillkillyou eats, and it pees, and now it sleeps, so it is like people in many ways, like dogs, too, even if it isn't either people or dog.


What now?


He stares at the sleeping bad thing, thinking how he might jump up there with it, bark in its face, wake it up, scare it, so then maybe it won't come around the woman and boy any more. Maybe even bite it, just a little bite, be a bad dog for once, just to help the woman and the boy, bite its chin. Or its nose.


It doesn't look so dangerous, sleeping. Doesn't look so strong or quick. He can't remember why it was scary before.


He looks around the black room and then up, and light glistens in a lot of eyes floating up there in bottles, people eyes without people, animal eyes without animals. Interesting but not good, not good at all.


Again he wonders what he is doing here. He realizes this place is like a drain pipe where you get stuck, like a hole in the ground where big spiders live that don't like you sticking your snout in at them.


And then he realizes that the youngmanbadthing on the bed is sort of like those laughing boys, smelling of sand and sun and sea salt, who will pet you and scratch behind your ears and then try to set your fur on fire.


Stupid dog. Stupid for coming here. Good but stupid.


The bad thing mumbles in its sleep.


He backs away from the bed, turns, tucks his tail down, and pads out of the room. He goes down the stairs, getting out of there, not afraid, not afraid, just careful, not afraid, but his heart pounding hard and fast.


Weekdays, Tanya Delaney was the private nurse on the graveyard shift, from midnight until eight o'clock in the morning. Some nights she would rather have worked in a graveyard. Jennifer Drackman was spookier than anything Tanya could conceive of encountering in a cemetery.

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