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They were virtually in a river now. Either the rain was falling harder in the hills, at the far east end of town, or some breakwater in the system had collapsed. The level had swiftly risen well past midthigh on Sam and nearly to Chrissie's waist, and the deluge poured from the conduit at their back with impressive power. Keeping their footing in those cataracts was getting more difficult by the second.


He turned, reached for the girl, drew her close, and said, "I'm going to hold tight to your arm from here on."


She nodded.


The night was grave-deep, and even inches from her face, he could see only a shadowy impression of her features. When he looked up at Tessa, who stood a few feet behind the girl, she was little more than a black shape and might not have been Tessa at all.


Holding fast to the girl, he turned and looked again at the way ahead.


The tunnel had extended for two blocks before pouring the flood forth into another one-block length of open drainage channel, just as Harry had remembered from the days when he had been a kid and, against every admonition of his parents, had played in the drainage system. Thank God for disobedient children.


One block ahead of them, this new section of stone watercourse fed into another concrete culvert. That pipe, according to Harry, terminated at the mouth of the long vertical drain at the west end of town. Supposedly, in the last ten feet of the main sloping line, a row of sturdy, vertical iron bars was set twelve inches apart and extended floor to ceiling, creating a barrier through which only water and smaller objects could pass. There was virtually no chance of being carried all the way into that two-hundred-foot drop.


But Sam didn't want to risk it. There must be no more falls. After being washed to the end and crashing against the safety barrier, if they were not suffering from myriad broken bones, if they were able to get to their feet and move, climbing back up that long culvert, on a steep slope, against the onrushing force of the water, was not an ordeal he was willing to contemplate, let alone endure.


All of his life he had felt he'd failed people. Though he had been only seven when his mother had died in the accident, he'd always been eaten by guilt related to her death, as if he ought to have been able to save her in spite of his tender age and in spite of having been pinned in the wreckage of the car with her. Later, Sam had never been able to please his drunken, mean, sorry son-of-a-bitch of a father—and had suffered grievously for that failure. Like Harry, he felt that he had failed the people of Vietnam, though the decision to abandon them had been made by authorities who far outranked him and with whom he could have had no influence. Neither of the Bureau agents who had died with him had died because of him, yet he felt he had failed them too. He had failed Karen, somehow, though people told him he was mad to think that he had any responsibility for her cancer; it was just that he couldn't help thinking that if he had loved her more, loved her harder, she would have found the strength and will to pull through. God knew, he had failed his own son, Scott.


Chrissie squeezed his hand.


He returned the squeeze.


She seemed so small.


Earlier in the day, gathered in Harry's kitchen, they'd had a conversation about responsibility. Now, suddenly, he realized that his sense of responsibility was so highly developed that it bordered on obsession, but he still agreed with what Harry had said: A man's commitment to others, especially to friends and family, could never be excessive. He had never imagined that one of the key insights of his life would come to him while he was standing nearly waist-deep in muddy water in a drainage canal, on the run from enemies both human and inhuman, but that was where he received it. He realized that his problem was not the alacrity with which he shouldered responsibility or the unusual weight of it that he was willing to carry. No, hell no, his problem was that he had allowed his sense of responsibility to obstruct his ability to cope with failure. All men failed from time to time, and often the fault lay not in the man himself but in the role of fate. When he failed, he had to learn not only to go on but to enjoy going on. Failure could not be allowed to bleed him of the very pleasure of life. Such a turning away from life was blasphemous, if you believed in God—and just plain stupid if you didn't. It was like saying, "Men fail, but I shouldn't fail, because I'm more than just a man, I'm somewhere up there between the angels and God." He saw why he had lost Scott: because he had lost his own love of life, his sense of fun, and had ceased to be able to share anything meaningful with the boy—or to halt Scott's own descent into nihilism when it had begun.


At the moment, if he had tried to count his reasons for living, the list would have had more than four items. It would have had hundreds. Thousands.


All of this understanding came to him in an instant, while he was holding Chrissie's hand, as if the flow of time had been stretched by some quirk of relativity. He realized that if he failed to save the girl or Tessa, but got out of this mess himself, he would nevertheless have to rejoice at his own salvation and get on with life. Although their situation was dark and their hope slim, his spirits soared, and he almost laughed aloud. The living nightmare they were enduring in Moonlight Cove had profoundly shaken him, rattling important truths into him, truths which were simple and should have been easy to see during his long years of torment, but which he received gratefully in spite of their simplicity and his own previous thickheadedness. Maybe the truth was always simple when you found it.


Yeah, okay, maybe he could go on now even if he failed in his responsibilities to others, even if he lost Chrissie and Tessa—but, shit, he wasn't going to lose them. Damned if he was.


Damned if he was.


He held Chrissie's hand and cautiously edged along the stone channel, grateful for the comparative unevenness of that pavement and the moss-free traction it provided. The water was just deep enough to give him a slight buoyant feeling, which made it harder to put each foot down after he lifted it, so instead of walking, he dragged his feet along the bottom.


In less than a minute they reached a set of iron rungs mortared into the masonry of the channel wall. Tessa moved in, and for a while they all just hung there, gripping iron, grateful for the solid feel of it and the anchor it provided.


A couple of minutes later, when the rain abruptly slacked off, Sam was ready to move again. Being careful not to step on Tessa's and Chrissie's hands, he climbed a couple of rungs and looked out at the street.


Nothing moved but the fog.


This section of open watercourse flanked Moonlight Cove Central School. The athletic field was just a few feet from him, and, sitting beyond that open space, barely visible in the darkness and mist, was the school itself, illuminated only by a couple of dim security lamps.


The property was encircled by a nine-foot-high chain-link fence. But Sam wasn't daunted by that. Fences always had gates.


7


Harry waited in the attic, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.


He was propped against the outer wall of the long, unlighted chamber, tucked in the corner at the extreme far end from the trapdoor through which he had been lifted. There was nothing in that upper room behind which he could hide.


But if someone went so far as to empty out the master-bedroom closet, pull down the trap, open the folding stairs, and poke his head up to look around, maybe he wouldn't be diligent about probing every corner of the place. When he saw bare boards and a flurry of spiders on his first sweep of the flash, maybe he would click off the beam and retreat.


Absurd, of course. Anyone who went to the trouble to look into the attic at all would look into it properly, exploring every corner. But whether that hope was absurd or not, Harry clung to it; he was good at nurturing hope, making hearty stew from the thinnest broth of it, because for half his life, hope was mostly what had sustained him.


He was not uncomfortable. As preparation for the unheated attic, with Sam's help to speed the dressing process, he had put on wool socks, warmer pants than what he had been wearing, and two sweaters.


Funny, how a lot of people seemed to think that a paralyzed man could feel nothing in his unresponsive extremities. In some cases, that was true; all nerves were blunted, all feeling lost. But spinal injuries came in myriad types; short of a total severing of the cord, the range of sensations left to the victim varied widely.


In Harry's case, though he had lost all use of one arm and one leg and nearly all use of the other leg, he could still feel heat and cold. When something pricked him he was aware—if not of pain—at least of a blunt pressure.


Physically, he felt much less than when he'd been a whole man; no argument about that. But all feelings were not physical. Though he was sure that few people would believe him, his handicap actually had enriched his emotional life. Though by necessity something of a recluse, he had learned to compensate for a dearth of human contact. Books had helped. Books opened the world to him. And the telescope. But mostly his unwavering will to lead as full a life as possible was what had kept him whole in mind and heart.


If these were his final hours, he would blow out the candle with no bitterness when the time came to extinguish it. He regretted what he had lost, but more important, he treasured what he had kept. In the last analysis, he felt that he had lived a life that was in the balance good, worthwhile, precious.


He had two guns with him. A .45 revolver. A .38 pistol. If they came into the attic after him, he would use the pistol on them until it was empty. Then he would make them eat all but one of the rounds in the revolver. That last cartridge would be for himself.


He had brought no extra bullets. In a crisis, a man with one good hand could not reload fast enough to make the effort more than a comic finale.


The drumming of rain on the roof had subsided. He wondered if this was just another lull in the storm or if it was finally ending.


It would be nice to see the sun again.


He worried more about Moose than about himself. The poor damn dog was down there alone. When the Boogeymen or their makers came at last, he hoped they wouldn't harm old Moose. And if they came into the attic and forced him to kill himself, he hoped that Moose would not be long without a good home.


8


To Loman, as he cruised, Moonlight Cove seemed both dead and teeming with life.


Judged by the usual signs of life in a small town, the burg was an empty husk, as defunct as any sun-dried ghost town in the heart of the Mohave. The shops, bars, and restaurants were closed. Even the usually crowded Perez Family Restaurant was shuttered, dark; no one had showed up to open for business. The only pedestrians out walking in the aftermath of the storm were foot patrols or conversion teams. Likewise, the police units and two-man patrols in private cars had the streets to themselves.


However, the town seethed with perverse life. Several times he saw strange, swift figures moving through the darkness and fog, still secretive but far bolder than they had been on other nights. When he stopped or slowed to study those marauders, some of them paused in deep shadows to gaze at him with baleful yellow or green or smoldering red eyes, as if they were contemplating their chances of attacking his black-and-white and pulling him out of it before he could take his foot off the brake pedal and get out of there. Watching them, he was filled with a longing to abandon his car, his clothes, and the rigidity of his human form, to join them in their simpler world of hunting, feeding, and rutting. Each time he quickly turned away from them and drove on before they—or he—could act upon such impulses. Here and there he passed houses in which eerie lights glowed, and against the windows of which moved shadows so grotesque and unearthly that his heart quickened and his palms went damp, though he was well removed from them and probably beyond their reach. He did not stop to investigate what creatures might inhabit those places or what tasks they were engaged upon, for he sensed that they were kin to the thing Denny had become and that they were more dangerous, in many ways, than the prowling regressives.


He now lived in a Lovecraftian world of primal and cosmic forces, of monstrous entities stalking the night, where human beings were reduced to little more than cattle, where the Judeo-Christian universe of a love-motivated God had been replaced by the creation of the old gods who were driven by dark lusts, a taste for cruelty, and a never-satisfied thirst for power. In the air, in the eddying fog, in the shadowed and dripping trees, in the unlighted streets, and even in the sodium-yellow glare of the lamps on the main streets, there was the pervasive sense that nothing good could happen that night ... but that anything else could happen, no matter how fantastical or bizarre.


Having read uncounted paperbacks over the years, he was familiar with Lovecraft. He had not liked him a hundredth as much as Louis L'Amour, largely because L'Amour had dealt with reality, while H.P. Lovecraft had traded in the impossible. Or so it had seemed to Loman at the time. Now he knew that men could create, in the real world, hells equal to any that the most imaginative writer could dream up.


Lovecraftian despair and terror flooded through Moonlight Cove in greater quantities than those in which the recent rain had fallen. As he drove through those transmuted streets, Loman kept his service revolver on the car seat beside him, within easy reach.


Shaddack.


He must find Shaddack.


Going south on Juniper, he stopped at the intersection with Ocean Avenue. At the same time another black-and-white braked at the stop sign directly opposite Loman, headed north.


No traffic was moving on Ocean. Rolling his window down, Loman pulled slowly across the intersection and braked beside the other cruiser, with no more than a foot separating them.


From the number on the door, above the police-department shield, Loman knew it was Neil Penniworth's patrol car. But when he looked through the side window, he did not see the young officer. He saw something that might once have been Penniworth, still vaguely human, illuminated by the gauge and speedometer lights but more directly by the glow of the mobile VDT in there. Twin cables, like the one that had erupted from Denny's forehead to join him more intimately with his PC, had sprouted from Penniworth's skull; and although the light was poor, it appeared as if one of those extrusions snaked through the steering wheel and into the dashboard, while the other looped down toward the console-mounted computer. The shape of Penniworth's skull had changed dramatically, too, drawing forward, bristling with spiky features that must have been sensors of some kind and that gleamed softly like burnished metal in the light of the VDT; his shoulders were larger, queerly scalloped and pointed; he appeared earnestly to have sought the form of a baroque robot. His hands were not on the steering wheel, but perhaps he did not even have hands any more; Loman suspected that Penniworth had not just become one with his mobile computer terminal but with the patrol car itself.


Penniworth slowly turned his head to face Loman.


In his eyeless sockets, crackling white fingers of electricity wiggled and jittered ceaselessly.

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