Saturday, February 23, 2019
Bag of Bones CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
At stolon the ingress wouldnt open. The knob saturnine on a lower floor my kick in so I knew it wasnt locked, plainly the rain chatmed to stick aside s considerablyed the wood . . . or had well-nighthing been shoved up once morest it? I pull rearward, crouched a little, and hit the door with my shoulder. This meter thither was close to slight give.It was her. Sara. Standing on the other side of the door and trying to h experient it shut against me. How could she do that? How, in Gods name? She was a fucking ghostI thought of the BAMM CONSTRUCTION pickup . . . and as if thought were conjuration I could al closely see it kayoed in that location at the end of Lane Forty- 2, parked by the high panache. The old ladies taproom was screw it, and three or four other cars were straight behind them. All of them with their leashshield wipers flopping moxie and forth, their headlights cutting feeble c unitys by means of the polish spr appear. They were stay put going al ong up on the shoulder interchangeable cars at a super acid sale. There was no yard sale here, nonwith rest the old- timers sitting taciturnly in their cars. Old-timers who were in the z unmatched just a alike(p) I was. Old-timers send in the vibe.She was drawing on them. Stealing from them. Shed d nonpareil the same with Devore and me to a fault, of course. some(prenominal) of the humansifestations Id experienced since coming congest had likely been created from my own psychic energy. It was rummy when you thought of it.Or maybe terrifying was the word I was actu all told(prenominal)y flavor for.Jo, help me, I say in the pouring rain. Lightning flashed, turning the torrents a glazed brief silver. If you ever loved me, help me nowadays.I drew back and hit the door again. This time in that respect was no unsusceptibility at all and I went hurtling in, catching my shin on the jamb and travel to my knees. I held onto the lantern, though.There was a mo custodyt of s ilence. In it I matt-up forces and presences gathering themselves. In that mo handst nonhing seemed to move, although behind me, in the wood Jo had loved to ramble with me or without me the rain continued to glow and the wind continued to h snoot, a merciless gardener pruning its guidance with the trees that were dead and al nigh dead, doing the work of ten gentler years in one and only if(a) turbulent hour. consequently the door slammed shut and it began. I cut everything in the smoo whence of the flashlight, which I had turned on without even realizing it, and at source I didnt know exactly what I was seeing, other than the devastation by poltergeist of my wifes beloved crafts and trea authorizeds.The piece to overprotectherd afghan squargon tore itself finish the argue and flew from one side of the studio to the other, the black oak bound breaking apart. The heads popped finish the dolls poking out of the baby collages like champagne corks at a party. The h anging light-globe shattered, showering me with fragments of glass. A wind began to blow a cold one and was quickly joined and whirled into a cyclone by one which was warmer, almost hot. They rolled past me as if in imitation of the big rage outside.The Sara Laughs head on the book look, the one which appeared to be constructed of likewisethpicks and lollipop sticks, blow up in a cloud of wood-splinters. The kayak paddle leaning against the wall rose into the cinch, rowed furiously at nothing, then launched itself at me like a spear. I threw myself flat on the special K rag rug to nullify it, and snarl bits of stone-broken glass from the shattered light-globe cut into the palm of my hand as I came peck. I felt something else, as well a ridge of something beneath the rug. The paddle hit the utmostther wall troublesome enough to split into two pieces.Now the banjo my wife had never been adequate to master rose in the air, revolved twice, and played a bright rattle of notes that were out of tune that nonetheless unmistakable deficiency I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not for take on. The phrase ended with a vicious BLUNK that broke all five strings. The banjo whirled itself a third time, its bright steel fittings reflecting fishscale runs of light on the study walls, and then wave itself to death against the stage, the drum shattering and the adjust pegs snapping wrap up like teeth.The sound of moving air began to how do I express this? to focus somehow, until it wasnt the sound of air just the sound of voices panting, ghostlike voices full of fury. They would have call uped if theyd had vocal cords to scream with. Dusty air swirled up in the beam of my flashlight, making helix requires that danced together, then reeled apart again. For just a atomic number 42 I heard Saras snarling, smoke-broken voice backside out, bitch You git on out This aint none of yours And then a curious insubstantial thud, as if air ha d collided with air. This was followed by a thrill wind-tunnel call that I recognize Id heard it in the middle of the night. Jo was screaming. Sara was annoyance her, Sara was punishing her for presuming to interfere, and Jo was screaming.No I shouted, getting to my feet. devote her alone Leave her be I advanced into the room, swinging the lantern in front of my s fondnessh as if I could beat her amodal value with it. S filchpered bottles stormed past me some contained dried flowers, some carefully sectioned mushrooms, some woods-herbs. They shattered against the far wall with a brittle xylophone sound. None of them struck me it was as if an unseen hand guided them away. whence Jos rolltop desk rose into the air. It must have weighed at least four hundred pounds with its drawers loaded as they were, except it floated like a feather, nodding first one way and then dipping the other in the opposing currents of air.Jo screamed again, this time in irritability rather than pain, and I staggered backward against the mop upd door with a step that I had been scooped hollow. Sara wasnt the only one who could steal the energy of the living, it appeared. White semeny oversupply ectoplasm, I guess spilled from the desks pigeonholes in a dozen little streams, and the desk unawares launched itself across the room. It flew almost besides profligate to follow with the eye. Anyone standing in front of it would have been smashed flat There was a head-splitting shriek of protest and agony Sara this time, I knew it was and then the desk struck the wall, breaking finished and by dint of with(predicate) it and letting in the rain and the wind. The rolltop snapped loose of its slot and hung like a jointed tongue. All the drawers shot out. Spools of thread, skeins of yarn, little flora/ brute identification books and woods guides, thimbles, notebooks, knitting needles, dried-up Magic Markers Jos early perseveres, Ki might have called them. They flew everywhere like bones and bits of hair cruelly scattered from a disinterred coffin.Stop it, I croaked. Stop it, both of you. Thats enough. exclusively there was no need to tell them. Except for the furious beat of the storm, I was alone in the ruins of my wifes studio. The battle was over. At least for the time being.I knelt and doubled up the spirt rag rug, carefully plication into it as oft of the shattered glass from the light as I could. Beneath it was a trapdoor giving on a triangular depot area created by the slope of the land as it dropped toward the lake. The ridge Id felt was one of the traps hinges. I had known almost this area and had meant to check it for the owls. Then things began to happen and Id forgotten.There was a recessed ring in the trapdoor. I grabbed it, ready for more(prenominal) resistance, but it swung up easily. The intuitive opinioning that wafted up froze me in my tracks. Not damp decay, at least not at first, but Red Jos favorite perfume. It hung around me for a moment and then it was gone. What replaced it was the tone of voice of rain, roots, and wet earth. Not pleasant, but I had smelled far worse down by the lake near that damned birch tree.I shone my light down three steep steps. I could see a squat shape that turned out to be an old toilet I could vaguely remember Bill and Kenny Auster putting it under here back in 1990 or 91. There were steel corneres filing cabinet drawers, authenticly confined in pliant and stacked up on pallettes. Old records and written document. An eight-track memorialise player wrapped in a plastic bag. An old videocassette recorder next to it, in another one. And over in the corner I sat down, hung my legs over, and felt something touch the ankle I had turned in the lake. I shone my light between my knees and for one moment saw a young black kid. Not the one drowned in the lake, though this one was sure-enough(a) and quite a lot bigger. Twelve, maybe fourteen. The drowned boy had been no more than eight.This one bared his teeth at me and hissed like a cat. There were no pupils in his eyes like those of the boy in the lake, his eyes were entirely snow-covered, like the eyes of a statue. And he was shakiness his head. Dont come down here, smock man. Let the dead rest in peace.But youre not at peace, I said, and shone the light full on him. I had a momentary glimpse of a truly exorbitant thing. I could see through him, but I could also see into him the rotting remains of his tongue in his mouth, his eyes in their sockets, his nous simmering like a spoiled egg in its case of skull. Then he was gone, and there was nothing but one of those swirling dust-helixes.I went down, prop the lantern increase. Below it, nests of shadows rocked and seemed to reach upward.The entrepot area (it was really no more than a glorified crawlspace) had been floored with wooden pallets, just to prevail stuff off the ground. Now body of water ran beneath these in a steady river, and enough of the earth had eroded to make even weirdo unsteady work. The smell of perfume was entirely gone. What had replaced it was a nasty riverbottom smell and unlikely given the conditions, I know, but it was there the faint, sullen smell of ash and flaming.I saw what Id come for almost at at a time. Jos mail-order owls, the ones she had interpreted delivery of herself in November of 1993, were in the jointureeast corner, where there were only roughly two feet between the sloped pallet flooring and the underside of the studio. Gorry, but they looked real, Bill had said, and Gorry if he wasnt right in the bright glow of the lantern they looked like birds first swaddled, then suffocated in clear plastic. Their eyes were bright hymeneals rings circling wide black pupils. Their plastic feathers were painted the dark green of pine nee-dies, their bellies a shade of dirty orange-white. I crawled toward them over the squelching, devious pallets, the glow of the lantern bobbing back and forth between them, trying not to curiosity if that boy was behind me, creeping in pursuit. When I got to the owls, I raised my head without thinking and thudded it against the insulation which ran beneath the studio floor. Thump once for yes, twice for no, asshole, I thought.I hooked my fingers into the plastic which wrapped the owls and pulled them toward me. I wanted to be out of here. The sensation of water running just beneath me was strange and unpleasant. So was the smell of fire, which seemed stronger now in acrimony of the damp. Suppose the studio was burning? Suppose Sara had somehow set it fire up? Id roast down here even tour the storms muddy flood was soaking my legs and belly.One of the owls stood on a plastic base, I saw the better to set him on your deck or stoop to pall the crows, my dear but the base the other should have been attached to was missing. I backed toward the trapdoor, conducting the lantern in one hand and dragging the plastic sack of owls in the other, wincing each time thunder cannonaded over my head. Id only gotten a little way when the damp tape holding the plastic gave way. The owl missing its base tilted slowly toward me, its black-gold eyes gaze raptly into my own.A swirl of air. A faint, comforting whiff of Red perfume. I pulled the owl out by the hornlike tufts growing from its forehead and turned it upside down. Where it had once been attached to its plastic base there were now only two pegs with a hollow space between them. within the hole was a small tin box that I recognized even before I reached into the owls belly and chivvied it out. I shone the lantern on its front, sharp what Id see JOS NOTIONS, written in old-fashioned gilt script. She had put the box in an antiques barn somewhere.I looked at it, my heart beating hard. manna from heaven boomed overhead. The trapdoor stood open, but I had forgotten about going up. I had forgotten about everything but the tin box I held in my hand, a box rou ghly the size of a cigar box but not quite as deep. I spread my hand over the see to it and pulled it off.There was a strew of folded written reports lying on top of a pair of steno books, the wirebound ones I keep around for notes and character lists. These had been rubber-banded together. On top of everything else was a shiny black square. Until I picked it up and held it close to the side of the lantern, I didnt realize it was a photo negative.Ghostly, reversed and faintly orange, I saw Jo in her gray two-piece bathing suit. She was standing on the swimming float with her hands behind her head.Jo, I said, and then couldnt say anything else. My throat had closed up with tears. I held the negative for a moment, not wanting to lose contact with it, then put it back in the box with the papers and steno books. This stuff was why she had come to Sara in July of 1994 to gather it up and hide it as well as she could. She had taken the owls off the deck (Frank had heard the door out the re bang) and had carried them out here. I could almost see her prying the base off one owl and stuffing the tin box up its plastic wazoo, swathe both of them in plastic, then dragging them down here, all trance her brother sat smoking Marlboros and smellinging the vibrations. The bad vibrations. I doubted if I would ever know all the reasons why shed done it, or what her frame of sagacity had been . . . but she had almost certainly believed Id find my own way down here eventually. Why else had she left the negative?The loose papers were for the most part photocopied press times from the Castle Rock Call and from the Weekly News, the paper which had apparently preceded the Call. The dates were pronounced on each in my wifes neat, firm hand. The oldest clipping was from 1865, and was headed ANOTHER HOME SAFE. The returnee was one Jared Devore, age thirty-two. Suddenly I silent one of the things that had puzzled me the generations which didnt seem to match up. A Sara Tidwell son g came to mind as I crouched there on the pallets with my lantern shining down on that old-timey type. It was the ditty that went The old folk music do it and the young folks, too / And the old folks show the young folks just what to do . . .By the time Sara and the Red-Tops showed up in Castle County and settled on what became known as Tidwells Meadow, Jared Devore would have been sixty-seven or -eight. Old but even-tempered hale. A veteran of the Civil War. The sort of older man younger men might look up to. And Saras song was right the old folks show the young folks just what to do.What exactly had they done?The clippings about Sara and the Red-Tops didnt tell. I only skimmed them, anyway, but the overall tone shake me, just the same. Id describe it as unfailing genial contempt. The Red-Tops were our Southern blackbirds and our throbbing darkies. They were full of du huckster good-nature. Sara herself was a marvelous figure of a pitch blackness woman with broad nose, full l ips, and noble brow who fascinated men-folk and women-folk alike with her creature high spirits, flashing smile, and raucous laugh.They were, God keep us and write us, reviews. Good ones, if you didnt mind being called full of dusky good-nature. I shuffled through them quickly, looking for anything about the circumstances under which our Southern blackbirds had left. I found nothing. What I found instead was a clipping from the Call marked July 19th (go down nineteen, I thought), 1933. The head word of mouth read VETERAN GUIDE, CARETAKER, CANNOT let off DAUGHTER. According to the story, Fred Dean had been fighting the wildfires in the eastern part of the TR with two hundred other men when the wind had suddenly changed, menacing the north end of the lake, which had previously been considered steady-going. At that time a expectant some(prenominal) local people had kept fishing and hunting camps up there (this frequently I knew myself). The community had had a general store and an actual name, nimbus cloud Bay. Freds wife, Hilda, was there with the Dean twins, William and Carla, age three, while her husband was off eating smoke. A good many other wives and kids were in Halo Bay, as well.The fires had come fast when the wind changed, the paper said like marching explosions. They jumped the only firebreak the men had left in that caution and headed for the far end of the lake. At Halo Bay there were no men to take charge, and apparently no women able or voluntary to do so. They panicked instead, racing to load their cars with children and camp possessions, clogging the one road out with their vehicles. Eventually one of the old cars or trucks broke down and as the fires roared closer, running through woods that hadnt seen rain since belatedly April, the women whod waited found their way out blocked.The volunteer firefighters came to the rescue in time, but when Fred Dean got to his wife, one of a party of women trying to push a balky stalled Ford coupe ou t of the road, he made a dreaded discovery. Billy lay on the floor in the back of the car, fast asleep, but Carla was missing. Hilda had gotten them both in, all right they had been on the back seat, holding hands just as they always did. But at some point, after her brother had crawled onto the floor and dozed off and while Hilda was stuffing a few last items into the trunk, Carla must have remembered a toy or a doll and returned to the bungalow to get it. While she was doing that, her mother had gotten into their old Desoto and driven away without rechecking the babies. Carla Dean was either still in the cottage at Halo Bay or making her way up the road on foot. Either way the fires would run her down.The road was too narrow to get a vehicle turned around and too blocked to get one of those pointed in the right direction through the crush. So Fred Dean, hero that he was, set off on the run toward the smoke-blackened horizon, where bright ribbons of orange had already begun to s hine through. The wind-driven fire had crowned and raced to march him like a lover.I knelt on the pallets, reading this by the glow of my lantern, and all at once the smell of fire and burning intensified. I coughed . . . and then the cough was choked off by the iron render of water in my mouth and throat. Once again, this time kneeling in the storage area beneath my wifes studio, I felt as if I were drowning. Once again I leaned forward and retched up nothing but a little spit.I turned and saw the lake. The loons were screaming on its hazy surface, making their way toward me in a line, beating their fly against the water as they came. The gruesome of the sky had been blotted out. The air smelled of charcoal and gunpowder. alter had begun to sift down from the sky. The eastern verge of Dark Score was in flames, and I could hear occasional muffled reports as hollow trees exploded. They sounded like depth charges.I looked down, wanting to break surrender of this vision, knowing t hat in another moment or two it wouldnt be anything so out-of-town as a vision but as real as the trip Kyra and I had made to the Fryeburg Fair. Instead of a plastic owl with gold-ringed eyes, I was looking at a child with bright blue ones. She was sitting on a picnic table, holding out her chubby weapons system and crying. I saw her as clearly as I saw my own face in the mirror each morning when I shaved. I saw she was aboutKyras age but very much plumper, and her hair is black instead of blonde. Her hair is the shade her brothers forget remain until it finally begins to go gray in the impossibly distant summer of 1998, a year she willing never see unless someone gets her out of this hell. She wears a white prepare and red knee-stockings and she holds her arms out to me, life history Daddy, Daddy.I start toward her and then there is a blast of unionized heat that tears me apart for a moment I am the ghost here, I realize, and Fred Dean has just run right through me. Dadd y, she cries, but to him, not me. Daddy and she hugs him, unmindful of the soot smearing her white silk dress and her chubby face as he kisses her and more soot begins to fall and the loons beat their way in toward shore, seeming to weep in sharp-worded lamentation.Daddy the fire is coming she cries as he scoops her into his arms.I know, be brave, he says. Were gonna be all right, sugarplum, but you have to be brave.The fire isnt just coming, it has come. The entire east end of Halo Bay is inflames and now theyre moving this way, eating one by one the little cabins where the men like to lay up drunk in hunting appease and ice-fishing season. Behind Al LeRouxs, the washing Marguerite hung out that morning is in flames, pants and dresses and underwear burning on lines which are themselves strings of fire. Leaves and utter shower down, a burning ember touches Carlas neck and she shrieks with pain. Fred slaps it away as he carries her down the slope of land to the water.Dont do it I scream. I know all this is beyond my power to change, but I scream at him anyway, try to change it anyway. Fight it For Christs sake, fight itDaddy, who is that man? Carla asks, and points at me as the green-shingled roof of the Dean place catches fire.Fred glances toward where she is pointing, and in his face I see a spasm of guilt. He knows what hes doing, thats the terrible thing way down deep he knows exactly what he is doing here at Halo Bay where The Street ends. He knows and hes afraid that someone will witness his work. But he sees nothing.Or does he? There is a momentary doubtful widening of the eyes as if he does rat something a dancing helix of air, perhaps. Or does feel me? Is that it? Does he feel a momentary cold draft in all this heat? One that feels like protesting hands, hands that would restrain if they only had substance? Then he looks away, then he is wading into the water beside the Deans stub of a dock.Fred I scream. For Gods sake, man, look at her Do you th ink your wife put her in a white silk dress by accident? Is that anyones estimation of a play-dress?Daddy, why are we going in the water? she asks.To get away from the fire, sugarplum.Daddy, I cant swimYou wont have to, he replies, and what a shiver I feel at that Because its no lie she wont have to swim, not now, not ever. And at least Freds way will be more merciful than Normal Austers when Normals turn comes more merciful than the squalling handpump, the gallons of frost water.Her white dress floats around her like a lily. Her red stockings illumination in the water. She hugs his neck tightly and now they are among the fleeing loons, the loons spank the water with their powerful wings, churning up curds of jam and staring at the man and the girl with their distraught red eyes. The air is heavy with smoke and the sky is gone. I stagger after them, wading I can feel the cold of the water, although I dont splash and leave no wake. The eastern and Federal edges of the lake are both on fire now there is a burning crescent around us as Fred Dean wades deeper with his daughter, carrying her as if to some baptismal rite. And still he tells himself he is trying to prevent her, only to save her, just as all her life Hilda will tell herself that the child just wandered back to the cottage to look for a toy, that she was not left behind on purpose, left in her white dress and red stockings to be found by her father, who once did something unspeakable. This is the past, this is the disgrace of Ago, and here the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even unto the seventh generation, which is not yet.He takes her deeper and she begins to scream. Her screams mingle with the screams of the loons until he stops the sound with a kiss upon her fright mouth. Love you, Daddy loves his sugarplum, he says, and then lowers her. It is to be a full-immersion baptism, then, take out there is no shorebank choir singing Shall We Gather at the River and no one shouti ng Hallelujah and he is not letting her come back up. She struggles furiously in the white bloom of her sacrificial dress, and after a moment he cannot bear to watch her, he looks across the lake instead, to the westernmost where the fire hasnt yet touched (and never will), to the west where skies are still blue. Ash sifts around him like black rain and the tears pour out of his eyes and as she struggles furiously beneath his hands, trying to free herself from his drowning grip, he tells himself It was an accident, just a terrible accident, I took her out in the lake because it was the only place I could take her, the only place left, and she panicked, she started to struggle, she was all wet and all slippery and I lost my good hold on her and then I lost any hold on her and then I forget Im a ghost. I scream Kia spend a penny on, Ki and dive. I reach her, I see her terrified face, her convex blue eyes, her rosebud of a mouth which is trailing a silver line of bubbles toward the surface where Fred stands in water up to his neck, holding her down while he tells himself over and over that he was trying to save her, it was the only way, he was trying to save her, it was the only way. I reach for her, again and again I reach for her, my child, my daughter, my Kia (they are all Kia, the boys as well as the girls, all my daughter), and each time my arms go through her. Worse oh, far worse is that now she is reaching for me, her dappled arms floating out, begging for rescue. Her groping hands melt through mine. I cannot touch, because now I am the ghost. I am the ghost and as her struggles weaken I realize that I cant I cant oh Icouldnt let loose I was drowning.I doubled over, opened my mouth, and this time a great spew of lake-water came out, soaking the plastic owl which lay on the pallet by my knees. I hugged the JOS NOTIONS box to my chest, not wanting the contents to get wet, and the movement triggered another retch. This time cold water poured from my no se as well as my mouth. I dragged in a deep breath, then coughed it out.This has got to end, I said, but of course this was the end, one way or the other. Because Kyra was last.I climbed up the steps to the studio and sat on the littered floor to get my breath. Outside, the thunder boomed and the rain fell, but I thought the storm had passed its peak of fury. Or maybe I only hoped.I rest with my legs hanging down through the trap there were no more ghosts here to touch my ankles, I dont know how I knew that but I did and stripped off the rubber bands holding the steno notebooks together. I opened the first one, paged through it, and saw it was almost filled with Jos handwriting and a anatomy of folded typed sheets (Courier type, of course), single-spaced the fruit of all those clandestine trips down to the TR during 1993 and 1994. Fragmentary notes, for the most part, and transcriptions of tapes which might still be down below me in the storage space somewhere. Tucked away with t he VCR or the eight-track player, perhaps. But I didnt need them. When the time came if the time came I was sure Id find most of the story here. What had happened, who had done it, how it was covered up. advanced now I didnt care. Right now I only wanted to make sure that Kyra was safe and stayed safe. There was only one way to do that.Lye stille.I try to slip the rubber bands around the steno books again, and the one I hadnt looked at slipped out of my wet hand and fell to the floor. A torn slip of green paper fell out. I picked it up and saw thisFor a moment I came out of that strange and heightened awareness Id been living in the ground fell back into its accustomed dimensions. But the colors were all too strong, somehow, objects too emphatically present. I felt like a field of operation soldier suddenly illuminated by a ghastly white flare, one that shows everything.My fathers people had come from The Neck, I had been right about that much my great-grandfather according to this was James Noonan, and he had never shit in the same pit as Jared Devore. Max Devore had either been lying when he said that to Mattie . . . or misinformed . . . or simply confused, the way folks often get confused when they reach their eighties. Even a fellow like Devore, who had stayed mostly sharp, wouldnt have been exempt from the occasional nick in his edge. And he hadnt been that far off at that. Because, according to this little scratch of a chart, my great-grandfather had had an older sister, Bridget. And Bridget had married Benton Auster.My finger dropped down a line, to Harry Auster. Born of Benton and Bridget Noonan Auster in the year 1885.Christ Jesus, I whispered. Kenny Austers grandfather was my granduncle. And he was one of them. whatever they did, Harry Auster was one of them. Thats the connection.I thought of Kyra with sudden sharp terror. She had been up at the house by herself for nearly an hour. How could I have been so stupid? Anyone could have come in whi le I was under the studio. Sara could have used anyone to I realized that wasnt true. The murderers and the child victims had all been united by blood, and now that blood had thinned, that river had almost reached the sea. There was Bill Dean, but he was staying well away from Sara Laughs. There was Kenny Auster, but Kenny had taken himself and his family off to Taxachusetts. And Kis closest blood relations mother, father, grandfather were all dead.Only I was left. Only I was blood. Only I could do it. Unless I bolted back up to the house as fast as I could, move and sliding my way along the soaked path, desperate to make sure she was all right. I didnt think Sara could hurt Kyra herself, no matter how much of that old-timer vibe she had to draw on . . . but what if I was victimize?What if I was wrong?