Joey and Celeste sat in the back of the sheriff's-department patrol car, holding hands. After making a few attempts to draw them out, the young deputy left them to their shared silence.

By the time they turned off Coal Valley Road onto the county route, the rain had stopped falling.

Celeste persuaded the deputy to drop them in the center of Asherville and to allow Joey to walk her from there to the Korshaks' place.

Joey didn't know why she preferred not to be driven all the way, but he sensed that she had a reason and that it was important.

He was not unhappy about delaying his own arrival home. By now his mom and dad had no doubt been awakened by the police, who would want to search P.J.'s old basement room. They had been told about the monstrous things their older son had done to Beverly Korshak, to the Bimmers—and to God knew how many others. Even as Joey's world had been rebuilt by making good use of the second chance that he'd been given, their world had been forever changed for the worse. He dreaded seeing the sorrow in his mother's eyes, the torment and grief in his father's.

He wondered if, by changing his own fate, he had somehow freed his mother from the cancer that would otherwise kill her just four years hence. He dared to hope. Things had changed. In his heart, however, he knew that his actions had only made the world better in one small way; paradise on earth was not pending.

As the patrol car drove away, Celeste took his hand and said, "Something I need to tell you."

"Tell me."

"Show you, actually."

"Then show me."

She led him along the damp street, across a carpet of sodden leaves, to the municipal building. All county government except the sheriff's department maintained offices there.

The library was in the annex, toward the back. They entered an unlighted courtyard through an archway in a brick wall, passed under dripping larches, and went to the front door.

In the wake of the storm, the night town was as silent as any cemetery.

"Don't be surprised," she said.

"About what?"

The lower part of the library door was solid, but the upper portion featured four eight-inch-square panes of glass. Celeste rammed her elbow into the pane nearest the lock, shattering it.

Startled, Joey looked around the courtyard and out toward the street beyond the wall. The breaking glass had been a fragile, short-lived sound. He doubted that anyone had heard it at that late hour. Furthermore, theirs was a small town, and this was 1975, so there was no burglar alarm.

Reaching through the broken pane, she unlocked the door from inside. "You have to promise to believe."

She withdrew the small flashlight from her raincoat pocket and led him past the librarian's desk into the stacks.

Because the county was poor, the library was small. Finding any particular volume would not have taken long. In fact, she took no time at all to search, because she knew what she wanted.

They stopped in the fiction aisle, a narrow space with books shelved eight feet high on both sides. She directed the beam of light at the floor, and the colorful spines of the books seemed magically luminescent in the backwash.

"Promise to believe," she said, and her beautiful eyes were huge and solemn.

"Believe what?"


"All right."

"Promise to believe.

"I'll believe."

She hesitated, took a deep breath, and began. "In the spring of '73, when you were graduating from County High, I was at the end of my sophomore year. I'd never had the nerve to approach you. I knew you'd never noticed me—and now you never would. You were going away to college, you'd probably find a girl there, and I'd never even see you again."

The fine hairs on the nape of Joey's neck prickled, but he did not yet know why.

She said, "I was depressed, feeling like the nerd of nerds, so I lost myself in books, which is what I always do when I have the blues. I was here in the library, in this very aisle, looking for a new novel ... when I found your book."

"My book?"

"I saw your name on the spine. Joseph Shannon."

"What book?" Puzzled, he scanned the shelves.

"I thought it was someone else, a writer with your name. But when I took it off the shelf and checked the back of the jacket, there was a picture of you."

He met her eyes again. Those mysterious depths.

She said, "It wasn't a picture of you as you are now, tonight—but as you will be in about fifteen years. Still ... it was recognizably you."

"I don't understand," he said, but he was beginning to think that he did.

"I looked at the copyright page, and the book was published in 1991."

He blinked. "Sixteen years from now?"

"This was in the spring of '73," she reminded him. "So at that time I was holding a book that wouldn't yet be published for eighteen years. On the jacket it said that you'd written eight previous novels and that six of them had been best-sellers."

The not unpleasant prickling sensation on the nape of his neck increased.

"I took the book to the checkout desk. When I passed it to the librarian with my card, when she took it into her hands ... it wasn't your book any more. Then it was a novel by someone else, one that I'd read before, published in '69."

She raised the flashlight, directing the beam at the shelves behind him.

"I don't know if it's too much to ask," she said, "but maybe it's here again tonight, here again for just one moment on this night of all nights."

Overcome by a growing sense of wonder, Joey turned to look at the stacks where the flashlight focused. He followed the beam as it slipped along one of the shelves.

A small gasp of delight escaped Celeste, and the beam came to a halt on a book with a red spine.

Joey saw his name turned on edge, in silver-foil letters. Above his name was a title in more silver foil: Strange Highways.

Trembling, Celeste slid the book out from between two other volumes. She showed him the cover, and his name was in big letters at the top, above the title. Then she turned the book over.

He stared in awe at the photo of himself on the dust jacket. He was older in the photograph, in his middle thirties.

He was familiar with his appearance at that age, for he had already lived five years past it in his other life. But he looked better in this photograph than he had really looked when he'd been thirty-five: not prematurely aged, not dissipated by booze, not dead in the eyes. He appeared to be prosperous too—and best of all, he looked like a happy man.

His appearance in the photograph, however, was not a fraction as important as who was shown with him. It was a group portrait. Celeste was at his side, also fifteen years older than she was now—and two children, a beautiful girl of perhaps six and a handsome boy who might have been eight.

Unexpectedly filled with tears that he could barely repress, heart hammering with a wild joy that he had never known before, Joey took the book from her.

She pointed to the words under the photograph, and he had to blink furiously to clear his vision enough to read them:

Joseph Shannon is the author of eight other acclaimed novels about

the joys and rewards of love and family, six of which have been national

best-sellers. His wife, Celeste, is an award-winning poet. They live with

their children, Josh and Laura, in Southern California.

As he read, he followed the words with his trembling fingers, in precisely the way that he had done, as a child, when following the text in the missal at Mass.

"And so," she said softly, "ever since the spring of '73, I've known that you would come."

Some of the mysteries in her eyes were gone, but by no means all. He knew that regardless of how long a life they shared, she would be to some degree forever mysterious to him.

"I want to take this," he said of the book.

She shook her head. "You know you can't. Besides, you don't need the book to be able to write it. You only need to believe that you will."

He let her take the novel out of his hands.

As she returned the volume to the shelf, he suspected that he had been given a second chance not so much to stop P.J. as to meet Celeste Baker. While resistance to evil was essential, there could be no hope for the world without love.

"Promise me you'll believe," she said, putting one hand to his face, tenderly tracing the line of his cheek.

"I promise."

"Then all things," she said, "are possible."

Around them, the library was filled with lives that had been lived, with hopes that had been realized, with ambitions that had been achieved, with dreams for the taking.



THE PUMPKINS WERE CREEPY, BUT THE MAN WHO CARVED THEM WAS far stranger than his creations. He appeared to have baked for ages in the California sun, until all the juices had been cooked out of his flesh. He was stringy, bony, and leather skinned. His head resembled a squash, not pleasingly round like a pumpkin, yet not shaped like an ordinary head, either: slightly narrower at the top and wider at the chin than was natural. His amber eyes glowed with a sullen, smoky, weak—but dangerous—light.

Tommy Sutzmann was uneasy the moment that he saw the old pumpkin carver. He told himself that he was foolish, overreacting again. He had a tendency to be alarmed by the mildest signs of anger in others, to panic at the first vague perception of a threat. Some families taught their twelve-year-old boys honesty, integrity, decency, and faith in God. By their actions, however, Tommy's parents and his brother, Frank, had taught him to be cautious, suspicious, and even paranoid. In the best of times, his mother and father treated him as an outsider; in the worst of times, they enjoyed punishing him as a means of releasing their anger and frustration at the rest of the world. To Frank, Tommy was simply—and always—a target. Consequently, deep and abiding uneasiness was Tommy Sutzmann's natural condition.

Every December this vacant lot was full of Christmas trees, and

during the summer, itinerant merchants used the space to exhibit DayGlo stuffed animals or paintings on velvet. As Halloween approached, the half-acre property, tucked between a supermarket and a bank on the outskirts of Santa Ana, was an orange montage of pumpkins: all sizes and shapes, lined in rows and stacked in neat low pyramids and tumbled in piles, maybe two thousand of them, three thousand, the raw material of pies and jack-o'-lanterns.

The carver was in a back corner of the lot, sitting on a tube-metal chair. The vinyl-upholstered pads on the back and seat of the chair were darkly mottled, webbed with cracks—not unlike the carver's face. He sat with a pumpkin on his lap, whittling with a sharp knife and other tools that lay on the dusty ground beside him.

Tommy Sutzmann did not remember crossing the field of pumpkins. He recalled getting out of the car as soon as his father had parked at the curb—and the next thing he knew, he was in the back of the lot just a few feet from the strange sculptor.

A score of finished jack-o'-lanterns were propped atop mounds of other pumpkins. This artist did not merely hack crude eye holes and mouths. He carefully cut the skin and the rind of the squash in layers, producing features with great definition and surprising subtlety. He also used paint to give each creation its own demonic personality: Four cans, each containing a brush, stood on the ground beside his chair—red, white, green, and black.

The jack-o'-lanterns grinned and frowned and scowled and leered. They seemed to be staring at Tommy. Every one of them.

Their mouths were agape, little pointy teeth bared. None had the blunt, goofy dental work of ordinary jack-o'-lanterns. Some were equipped with long fangs.

Staring, staring. And Tommy had the peculiar feeling that they could see him.

When he looked up from the pumpkins, he discovered that the old man was also watching him intently. Those amber eyes, full of smoky light, seemed to brighten as they held Tommy's own gaze.

"Would you like one of my pumpkins?" the carver asked. In his cold, dry voice, each word was as crisp as October leaves wind-blown along a stone walk.

Tommy could not speak. He tried to say, No, sir, thank you, no, but the words stuck in his throat as if he were trying to swallow the cloying pulp of a pumpkin.

"Pick a favorite," the carver said, gesturing with one withered hand toward his gallery of grotesques—but never taking his eyes off Tommy.

"No, uh ... no, thank you." Tommy was dismayed to hear that his voice had a tremor and a slightly shrill edge.

What's wrong with me? he wondered. Why am I hyping myself into a fit like this? He's just an old guy who carves pumpkins.

"Is it the price you're worried about?" the carver asked.


"Because you pay the man out front for the pumpkin, same price as any other on the lot, and you just give me whatever you feel my work is worth."

When he smiled, every aspect of his squash-shaped head changed. Not for the better.

The day was mild. Sunshine found its way through holes in the overcast, brightly illuminating some orange mounds of pumpkins while leaving others deep in cloud shadows. In spite of the warm weather, a chill gripped Tommy and would not release him.

Leaning forward with the half-sculpted pumpkin in his lap, the carver said, "You just give me whatever amount you wish ... although I'm duty-bound to say that you get what you give."

Another smile. Worse than the first one.

Tommy said, "Uh ..."

"You get what you give," the carver repeated.

"No shit?" brother Frank said, stepping up to the row of leering jack-o'-lanterns. Evidently he had overheard everything. He was two years older than Tommy, muscular where Tommy was slight, with a self-confidence that Tommy had never known. Frank hefted the most macabre of all the old guy's creations. "So how much is this one?"

The carver was reluctant to shift his gaze from Tommy to Frank, and Tommy was unable to break the contact first. In the man's eyes Tommy saw something he could not define or understand, something that filled his mind's eye with images of disfigured children, deformed creatures that he could not name, and dead things.

"How much is this one, gramps?" Frank repeated.

At last, the carver looked at Frank—and smiled. He lifted the half-carved pumpkin off his lap, put it on the ground, but did not get up. "As I said, you pay me what you wish, and you get what you give."

Frank had chosen the most disturbing jack-o'-lantern in the eerie collection. It was big, not pleasingly round but lumpy and misshapen, narrower at the top than at the bottom, with ugly crusted nodules like ligneous fungus on a diseased oak tree. The old man had compounded the unsettling effect of the pumpkin's natural deformities by giving it an immense mouth with three upper and three lower fangs. Its nose was an irregular hole that made Tommy think of campfire tales about lepers. The slanted eyes were as large as lemons but were not cut all the way through the rind except for a pupil—an evil elliptical slit—in the center of each. The stem in the head was dark and knotted as Tommy imagined a cancerous growth might be. The maker of jack-o'-lanterns had painted this one black, letting the natural orange color blaze through in only a few places to create character lines around the eyes and mouth as well as to add emphasis to the tumorous growths.