The Blind Mirror

The Blind Mirror

by Christopher Pike

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David, a twenty-eight-year-old artist, is recovering from a bad breakup with the mysterious and beautiful Sienna when he discovers a woman's dead body half-buried on the beach near Lompoc, California.

To his surprise, David is interviewed not just by the local sheriff, but by FBI agent Krane, who declares that the woman was killed in a ritualistic manner. Soon


David, a twenty-eight-year-old artist, is recovering from a bad breakup with the mysterious and beautiful Sienna when he discovers a woman's dead body half-buried on the beach near Lompoc, California.

To his surprise, David is interviewed not just by the local sheriff, but by FBI agent Krane, who declares that the woman was killed in a ritualistic manner. Soon the dead woman is identified as David's ex-girlfriend, and he becomes the prime suspect in her murder. But Sienna can't be dead; she keeps leaving messages on his answering machine. And no matter how badly their relationship ended, he couldn't have killed her. She was the love of his life.

In self-defense, David begins his own investigation, trying to find out who the dead woman really is and what's behind the satanic murder. He's both helped and hindered by his friends, especially Julie, whom he had a crush on in high school and who has suddenly reappeared in his life, and the Reverend Pomus, who tries to warn David of the reality of true evil.

David's search for Sienna and the truth about her disappearance take him from coastal California to New York City to Florida-and into the darkest night of his soul.

Editorial Reviews

The Knoxville News-Sentinel
"Compelling. An enthralling, page-turning read."
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
"Pike has a flair for this kind of thriller."

— Charles de Lint

Midwest Book Review
"A fine horror tale that hooks the reader. Pike keeps the chills at a high level with this exhilarating story."
Santa Barbara News-Press
"Pike builds good tension, layers the mystery, creates moods efficiently, include enough sex and violence to titillate and/or disgust us. He ties the whole novel together with a dark and startling finish. A gripping summer read."
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - Charles de Lint
"Pike has a flair for this kind of thriller."
Publishers Weekly
In this workmanlike foray into horror from bestseller Pike (The Season of Passage), commercial artist David Lennon returns home from two months in New York after breaking up with his girlfriend, Sienna Madden, to Lompoc, Calif., where he promptly discovers the decomposed body of a woman, later identified as Sienna, in their old trysting place on the beach. He insists Sienna's not dead because she's still phoning him. The police say otherwise. In the course of trying to defend himself from a murder charge, David delves deep into his past and that of his friends, as well as into the kinky vampire novel whose cover he's supposed to paint. His release for insufficient evidence sets off a second, more gruesome, and even more sex-laden journey, which involves cultists, bootlegged organ transplants and pseudo-immortality through drug-induced personality transference. Tight, clean writing and engaging secondary characters, like the doomed FBI agent Krane, somewhat make up for a plot built on the tired theme of the corrupt underside of small-town America. Best known for his YA fiction, Pike has produced an entertaining, if instantly forgettable, dark fantasy. (May 21) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Cover artist David Lennon returns from a trip to New York to his hometown to revisit his past and confront the issues surrounding his breakup with his lover, Sienna. When he discovers on the beach the decomposing body of a woman, later identified as Sienna, he becomes a murder suspect. As he attempts to prove his innocence, David uncovers a dark secret festering in his hometown, one that threatens to change all he knows about his past. Known for his successful YA and adult horror novels, Pike delivers a moody, grim horror mystery for adults that relies more on atmosphere than gore for its emotional impact. A good choice for large horror collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An artist is hired to design the cover of a horror novel--and finds himself inadvertently trafficking with the supernatural. Twentysomething David Lennon�s return to his hometown of Lompoc, California--a trip undertaken in hopes of forgetting the girlfriend who has just dumped him--leads him to a familiar beach, where he discovers a dead woman�s body. Evidence of a ritual killing, and David�s inability to disclose the whereabouts of the aforementioned girlfriend, Sienna Madden, result in his arrest and brief imprisonment on suspicion of murder. Pike (The Cold One, 1995, etc.) keeps the story moving, relying on lengthy exchanges of dialogue juxtaposed with deftly shaped scenes presented in increasingly suspenseful sequences. As David reacquaints himself with old friends and lovers, his experiences begin echoing details of that horror novel�s plot, involving a beautiful vampire named Cleo, and her lovers, both alive and undead. David can probably be forgiven for not making the connection sooner, since he�s baffled by continuing phone messages from the absent Sienna (who, local police and FBI insist, was the body on the beach), when not tumbling into bed with cheerleader-turned-hoyden Julie Stevens, evading the aggressive charms of nymphet Mary Pomus (with whom he has a history of sorts), and puzzling over a high-school buddy�s inexplicable suicide. If that sounds complicated, wait till you reach the bizarre d�nouement, in which the perception that "This town is not what it appears" is confirmed by the discovery of a medical experiment that has crossed "the line between consciousness and matter," the appearance of a bona fide demon, the explanation of who "Sienna" really was (is?), and alurid final scene that reveals the meaning of Pike�s clever title. Overstuffed and not above occasional silliness, but a rattling good read, almost as entertaining as Stephen King in medium-high gear.
From the Publisher
"Intended for fans of Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, and Stephen King. The action flows smoothly, and the ending is satisfyingly unpredictable. A good, chilling choice and a good supernatural mystery."-VOYA on The Cold One

"Pike is a master of emotional impact. One cares about what happens to his people."—Booklist

"The Season of Passage keeps you turning pages constantly until the last one and then wishing there were more. One of the most exciting books I have ever read."—The Chicago Herald-Bloomingdale

"Pike is a master of creeping dread, relentlessly disturbing the reader with what Poe described as 'terror of the soul.' The Cold One is that rarest of horror novels, one that is visceral and intellectually stimulating at the same time."—The Washington Post Book World

"[The Cold One is] a labyrinthine tale of betrayal, unearthly romance and demonic slaughter . . . . dramatic, intricate [and] hypnotic."—Publishers Weekly

"I couldn't put this book down. The best horror novel of the year."—Rocky Mountain News on The Season of Passage

"Pike's latest outing into Anne Rice territory. A compelling and intellectually satisfying read."—Rapport on The Cold One

"Pike's prose, haunting and ethereal, wriggles its way into the psyche. Worthy of Anne Rice . . . the writing is lyrical and voluptuous. This book is one of the best I've ever read."-VOYA on The Season of Passage

"The book you hate to put down, the book you really don't want to end—that's The Cold One. A fast-paced, wild ride of love and hate, life and death. Pike's talent is evident throughout this work."-Greeley Tribune, (Colorado)

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Time to land. For most, the sensations and sounds of a descending plane signal a fresh start or a familiar homecoming. Logic dictated as much. You were either coming or going. Yet when David Lennon tried to place himself into one of the categories, he failed. For some reason he felt lost between the cracks.

He opened his eyes; he did not remember closing them. He assumed that meant he had slept. A robotically smiling flight attendant patrolled the aisles. Buckle up, she said, landing at LAX in twenty minutes. Her blond hair was stiff as straw, her lipstick the color of orange soda. She probably liked her job as much as he had enjoyed the meal she had served at the start of the flight. He had wanted to throw up after eating it but there had been a line to the toilets.

Reaching for the seat belt, David heard a bone in his back pop. His spine was stiff, his thoughts as dull as the blood his brain soaked in. He felt like he had just awakened from a nap in a box.

"How was your sleep?" the man on his left asked.

David had the window, the guy the aisle. They had spent six hours together and had not exchanged a word. David had been engrossed in a novel he had to read for a cover he planned to paint over the next two weeks. The man had been studying what appeared to be textbooks, in between tapping on a silver laptop and talking into a cell phone the size of a pack of cigarettes.

"Good," David replied, lying. The man was fifty, tan and athletic, dressed in a gray suit, eyes to match—although they had an intensity David found disconcerting. He appeared professional, rich, confident of his place in the world.

"You were snoring," the man said, and offered his hand. "Dr. James Rean."

"David Lennon," he said, shaking his hand. "Really? I don't usually snore."

"How would you know?" Dr. Rean asked.

What a question. "What kind of doctor are you?"

"A medical doctor. A surgeon, actually." He added, "I specialize in transplants."

David was intrigued. Once upon a time he had dreamed of being a doctor. He was addicted to ER reruns, the dozen patients being wheeled in every week, their cries for help, the instant miracles—the power those people in white had, even if they were only high-priced actors. Of course he had no aptitude for science, could only paint and draw.

"Heart? Liver? Kidneys?" David asked.

"Livers, for the most part. But I have done a number of kidney transplants."

"I didn't think doctors did that—crossed over, I mean. You must have had a lot of training."

"Endless years. I work out of Miami."

"My parents live in Florida—in Setter. I have flown into Miami many times. What brought you to New York?" Their flight had originated out of Kennedy.

"Old friends. I'll be attending a medical conference in Los Angeles." Dr. Rean paused. "How about you?"

"I'm from California. Have you heard of Lompoc? It's a small town on the coast, about three hours north of L.A."

"Never heard of it."

"Don't feel bad. It's the sort of place—when you leave for any length of time, you try to forget it."

"But it's on the water. It must be nice."

"It's near the water. Between the city and the beach, you have six miles of flat farmland. They grow strawberries, grapes, watermelons. Plus you've got Vandenberg Air Force Base north and south of the town. They shoot off missiles there. The worst thing is the prison at the edge of town. The place has a white-collar penitentiary as well as jails for hard-core criminals." David added, "It's not really a tourist town."

"Did you grow up there?" Dr. Rean asked.

"Yes. I was born there."

"How long were you in New York?"

"Two months. It was largely a business trip. I'm an artist. I do book covers, when I can get them. The last eight weeks I've been trying to build up my contacts."

Dr. Rean raised an appreciative eyebrow, nodded to the bulky manuscript tucked in a pouch in front of David's seat. David had been reading Marcy Goldberg's Vampire of My Heart when he had dozed. Fortunately, he'd had the presence of mind to collect the four-hundred-plus Xeroxed pages and put them aside. Not that he remembered the actual act—the nap had completely thrown him off. Did he have a nightmare? He had a vague memory of something unpleasant.

"Is that an assignment? I saw you reading it earlier," Dr. Rean asked.

"Yes." David touched the manuscript. "It's a horror novel."

Dr. Rean brightened. "I love horror. Is that what you specialize in?"

Just like a doctor, David thought. Expected everyone to specialize.

"No. Never done horror before. Don't even read the stuff."

"What's it about?"

David hesitated. "It hasn't been published yet. I don't know if I should be talking about the plot."

"It's not a patient, is it?"

Was Dr. Rean mocking him? David was not sure. At the same time he did not like to be rude. "It's a long story, and we'll be landing soon," he said. "I don't think I could do the story justice in just a few minutes."

Dr. Rean smiled smoothly. "I'm impressed. You're what—twenty-five?—and you're doing book covers for big-time publishers."

"I'm twenty-eight, thanks. To tell you the truth, this book is a big break for me. For the last three years I've been stuck doing romance covers—the bronze guy holding the helpless woman, her breasts half hanging out of her dress. It's gotten so boring, the same theme over and over again. But the publisher says this novel could be a best-seller. They paid a lot for it."

"Do you already have a theme for your cover?"

"No. I haven't finished reading it. But I have to hurry. The publisher gave me a tight deadline."

"Any ideas?"

"No. The publisher didn't really give me any ideas either. That's unusual with a book they've paid a lot for. Usually they don't give you that much room to maneuver. But on this book I think they were all stumped. They want to see what I come up with."

"I'm sure you'll have to read the book a few times before it sinks in all the way," Dr. Rean said in a reassuring tone, perhaps the same one he saved for patients who had incurable diseases.

David felt himself withdraw. The man was friendly enough—he was going out of his way to make conversation—but David imagined a smirk behind his smile, a sparkle of condescension in his eyes. They were green as well as gray, moss growing on rocks, not warm at all.

"I plan on doing that." David shifted uncomfortably and glanced out the window. Five minutes from touchdown, L.A. raced by like a den of confused zoning commissions. The new skyscrapers made the old buildings look like bottom feeders. He hated big cities—he had hated New York, even more than Lompoc. Odd how he had run off to the Big Apple to heal from his relationship with Sienna Madden. He must have wanted to prolong the pain.

They dropped into overcast. A jar went through the length of the fuselage, and the view was wiped away, sparing him further opportunity to dwell on L.A.'s shortcomings. Dr. Rean continued to talk. He enjoyed an audience, even when it wasn't looking at him.

"The biggest problem we have in the transplant field is finding the organs in time," he was saying. "The national bank only supplies one heart for every four that is needed. With kidneys and livers the percentages are better; nevertheless, I have dozens of patients in the hospital where I work who just waste away in bed waiting for that magical call."

David felt obligated to turn and face the guy. After all, he was talking about a sensitive subject. Yet, once again, he felt Dr. Rean's concern was not genuine, that he was merely mouthing a spiel he had said many times before.

"Is there nothing to be done?" David asked.

"I suppose we could place people who come in for surgery into comas and harvest their organs when they're napping." Dr. Rean chuckled as David blinked in surprise. The doctor added, "You never saw the movie or read the book? Coma?"

"I'm afraid not."

"A great story, although ridiculous. It could never happen in reality." Dr. Rean glanced over at him and smiled. He had very white teeth, very small—dentures made for a child, perhaps, or maybe he simply had an odd collection of genes. He added, "You really should read it, after you're done with your vampire novel, that is."

"How did you know it was about vampires?" David asked.

"The title is printed on the top of every page."

"Oh." True, very true.

The conversation died right then. David returned to the dismal view and Dr. Rean laid his head back and closed his eyes. He passed out after a couple of deep breaths, and he snored as well.

The plane landed minutes later. The doctor roused quickly. Seated near the front, they were off in minutes. Dr. Rean handed him his card as they walked into the passenger lobby.

"If you're ever in Florida, give me a call," Dr. Rean said. "We can have dinner."

"Sure." David gave the card a glance—Miami address, some sort of life extension clinic—before slipping it in his back pocket. He knew the chances of his ever calling the good doctor were zero.

Outside the terminal he ran straight into mid August; hot and smoggy, New York City seen through a three-thousand-mile-long telescope. He was surprised to find himself looking forward to reaching Lompoc. At least there he knew half the people by their names. It was not a tourist town, but at least it was home.

His car was in lot C, long-term parking. Five bucks a day, times sixty, a nice wad of cash. He was having to count it these days. The four-walled box he had rented in New York had cost fifty a day, but it had been only a block from a Jewish deli that made turkey sandwiches so delicious it made him think every day was Thanksgiving.

Two months of dirt covered his windshield. Wiping it with a T-shirt yanked from his suitcase, he coughed on the dust. The girl at the exit smiled in sympathy when she asked for the three hundred dollars.

"Been gone a long time?" she asked.

"It feels like years," he said.

Ten in the morning—the freeways were kind. In half an hour he was out of Los Angeles and heading north toward Santa Barbara and Lompoc. Driving fast, the radio blasting, he thought of the former more than the latter. Sienna had lived in Santa Barbara, in the dry hills behind the city, in a small guest house on a wide ranch. But he would not stop there on the way up, he told himself. There was empty: here, there and everywhere—one big fucking galaxy minus the stars. Maybe it had been a mistake to come home. He missed her as much as the day he had left.

No, he missed her as much as the day she had left.

"Got to go, David. Don't ask why."

The Beatles, "Yesterday," came on. He turned to the news.

Santa Barbara appeared an hour and ten minutes later. David kept his foot on the gas, didn't even look at the exit that led to her place. She was not there, she had moved out. Gone home, wherever that was. He knew the city but not the address.

Driving north, Lompoc did not follow automatically. One had to turn west off the freeway, head through a hilly cow valley that should have led to the ocean in seconds but which seemingly went on forever. The California coast had a bump right there. Lompoc had been built on the tip. But not on the water, Dr. Rean. Why hadn't they built it on the water? No one knew, it was one of those mysteries no one could bother to solve. Leave the ocean views to the cabbages and the strawberries.

The valley ended abruptly and he was home sweet home. First came the old side of town, then the older end. The only relief from the forties and fifties was to head north toward the new mall and dust-free fast-food joints. His house was that way, a couple of miles. But he turned west and drove toward the beach instead. He wanted to see the water.

Lompoc was thirteen thousand strong. It took only three minutes of driving to leave it all behind. The cabbage and strawberry fields greeted him with flat indifference. The prison was to his north—too far away to see clearly. As he closed on the water, Vandenberg AFB grew on his right and left, encircling the coastal area like a real estate deal gone bad. He could see little of the base: a couple launch towers; a handful of coffin-shaped barracks; and steel-toothed fences. You had to have barbed wire to shoot super-secret military rockets into outer space.

In reality the base was not bad, not when you actually got onto it. David had taken a tour of it while growing up. The men and women in their neat uniforms always looked handsome, and there were few sights as far-out and patriotic as a good old red, white and blue missile lighting up the night sky before vanishing into the great unknown. Yet the sight had never inspired him to join up. He had an instinctive distrust of authority, or else he just didn't like being told what to do.

The main beach came up quickly. What a delight the town took in water sports. Here it was a hot August day and there were twelve people on the sand, less in the water. The reason was said to be the tides. Treacherous was too kind a word for them. When the surf was big you were pulled every which way but toward the shore. As a lifeguard, seven years ago, he had saved a girl from drowning. She had been eight then, Mary Pomus, a pretty little thing, with so much wet hair he had almost choked on it trying to get her to the beach. That had been his proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. The paper had put him on the front page: LOCAL HAS THE HEART OF A LION—never mind that lions were lousy swimmers. For a month he'd eaten free at McDonald's.

David parked and got out, wiping the sweat off his brow. The sky was a blazing blue, the sea a cauldron of foam and glare. Another big day and no surfers around to talk about it. The locals always went ten miles south to Jamala. There, the tides were almost as bad but the spot had spectacular cliffs and vast stretches of undisturbed sand. Hemmed in by the base, Lompoc's beach was claustrophobic. He saw two families with their kids, a bunch of teenagers playing Frisbee. The place bored him, he was not sure why he had come.

Ah, but there was mystery and magic only a mile north, if one had the guts to make the journey. It required a hard walk along a rocky railroad track, over a dizzy bridge and into dangerous base territory. Yet if a person kept his head down, and immediately veered into the sheltering sand dunes after the hop across the bridge, it was possible to elude the dreaded BP—Vandenberg's base police. David knew from experience how little senses of humor those guys had. He had told Sienna as much the last time they had come here.

That had been the last time he had seen her.

"Got to go, David. Let me go."

"So that is why I came here," he said to himself as he started walking north in the ankle-twisting gravel that shored up the rusty railroad track from the inevitable California earthquakes. Talking to myself a lot these days, he thought. Bad sign.

Five minutes later he ran into an old friend, Charles Beard.

What a history they had: Charlie, him, and Billy Baxter. They had met as kids, and in high school had run track together: Charlie in the mile, Billy in the two mile, and David in the half mile. Of course Billy could beat them at any distance. He had the devastating kick, won all the trophies—not the least of which was Rachel Bronson, the cutest girl in the school, sweet, blond Rachel. David had used to look at her sexy smile and think that Lompoc still had a few surprises left to show him.

Billy had lived for Rachel and the races. Up until Rachel seriously burned her face when her house caught fire. What a horror that had been. Three months later, after three failed surgeries to restore her looks, Rachel had committed suicide by opening her veins in her bathtub. Then Billy had settled into a depression so dark and deep that none of them had guessed the depth of it until the night they graduated from high school and Billy drove his car down to this very beach and drank a quart of Bacardi rum and wrote an incoherent note and put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Standing where he was, in the center of the railroad track, David could see Charlie on his left, thirty yards away in the direction of the water, and the secondary beach parking lot on his right where Billy had made his last toast. It was only then David realized he had dreamed about Billy on the plane.

Charlie stood and shouted. "Hey, David! You're home!"

David waved and stepped down the embankment toward Charlie. "What the hell are you doing wearing that red flag on your back?" he asked.

He loved Charlie—everyone did, including his wife of six years, Karen, who had left him six months ago with their two daughters, Maggie and Mona. Why did she leave? Because he's a fuck-up, Karen replied when asked.

Charlie had been an athlete in high school and also the campus stoner. While the rest of them liked to get high on weekends, Charlie loved to sneak off every day at lunch and smoke a joint the size of a cigar. Then he would wander over to McDonald's with a case of munchies so huge he would order enough fries to grease the engine of his thrice-rebuilt Chevy van, which he drove red-eyed and fearlessly all over town.

He got better in his twenties, especially after he and Karen got married. When he had his first daughter, Maggie, he told David he was giving up pot forever. Unfortunately, the night Mona was born, he was in jail on his third DUI, and David could see in Karen's eyes—when he was holding the infant in place of the father—exactly how it would end.

She left, no one could blame her, and Charlie had freaked. Word had it that he was still freaking. David had not spoken to him since leaving for New York. They were not the friends they once were. It had been Billy who had brought them together. High school memories could only function as so much glue.

But David hugged him when they got close; it was still great to see him. Charlie brought back plenty of memories, more good than bad.

"When did you get back?" Charlie asked. "Missed you, man."

"I just drove into town. Haven't even been home. I missed you too."

"So you came to see me right away?" he asked.


"Shit! You didn't even know I was out here."

David gestured to Charlie's plastic red jacket; it was more an abbreviated poncho, designed for visibility, not warmth. "So you guarding the beach or what?"

Charlie nodded. "It's a cool job. Almost nobody comes out here, and when they do I just have to tell them to go to the other lot. I can read and play my guitar all day."

"Since when did you start to read?"

"I knew you were going to say that. I read a lot these days."

Charlie did not add, because the apartment is empty. For all his wild ways, he had class, and seldom sought out sympathy.

"Why does the beach need guarding?" David asked.

"We've got an endangered bird living in the sand dunes. The government says it needs to be protected. They've cut the main beach down to half a mile. Right now, standing where you are, you could get hit with a ticket for a thousand bucks."

"I bet you pocket half of that."

Charlie laughed. "They don't even let me write the tickets. I have to call some teenage megabitch in town if someone won't listen to me. She races out here on her bike. Hey, tell me about New York! You split without giving me a call. I didn't know you'd left until Karen told me."

"Who told her?" David asked. At least Charlie must be talking to his ex. David worried about him being alone. Charlie was a people person, he needed company to stay sane. Whereas David could hole up in his house and paint for a month and talk to no one. He hadn't known anyone in New York.

"I don't know. Reverend Pomus, I think," Charlie said.

Reverend Pomus was the father of the girl he had saved from drowning. They'd had breakfast just before he'd left town. The minister had encouraged him to go; he had thought the trip would be healing.

"Sorry. I didn't know I was going until the last minute. I had fun, there's so much creative energy in that city, with all the artists and musicians and writers. Every morning I would ride the subway to Central Park or Greenwich Village and just walk around and look at all the people. It's a zoo there, but it was inspiring as well."

"So you goofed off the whole time?"

"No. I met with tons of art directors. Setting up appointments was easy, but getting jobs was next to impossible. There's so much competition. I literally had to make fifty copies of my portfolio. That set me back a thousand, but I had to leave it everywhere I went. I concentrated on book publishers, and guess what? I got the cover of a potential best-seller!"

Charlie was happy for him. "You're on your way, man. Remember what I used to say in high school? One day the whole world is going to see your paintings."

"Well, let's see. I still have to do the painting, and they still have to accept it."

"They'll love it, I have faith in you." Charlie patted his shoulder. "When you're rich and famous, will you still talk to me?"

"I don't talk to you enough now. So tell me what's happening with you? How are the girls?"

"The girls are great. Mona had her fifth birthday last week. She's so cute! She got up on her chair before we cut the cake and sang 'God Bless America'!" He shook his head in amazement. "She looks so much like her mom."

"Is Karen all right?"

Quick answer. "Sure. Sure."

"Are you two talking?"

"We talk plenty." Charlie backed off a step and glanced north, in the direction of the hills and the sand dunes. David followed his gaze. The only base building visible was the security building—the BP lighthouse—up on a dry grassy mound, about a mile away. Charlie added, "They've tightened security."

"You think I have to turn back? The BP don't care about jerks like us."

Charlie gave him a hard look. "That's what you think."

The seriousness of his expression surprised David, and he took a moment to study his friend more closely. Ordinarily Charlie was a scarecrow on speed, but he had lost another ten pounds since David had seen him last. The bones in his jaw were visible when he spoke. His dirty-blond hair was long and scraggly, seldom combed, and his blue eyes were tinged with red, although probably not from drugs this time—maybe from lost sleep, worrying about Karen and the kids.

David had to ask himself, though, why Charlie had been willing to accept a job that required him to sit a mere hundred yards from where Billy had committed suicide.

"Why are you making such a big deal out of it?" David asked.

Charlie held up his hands. "Just trying to save you the fine. The BP hassle everyone who crosses the bridge. But you do what you want to do."

There was an edge to the conversation, when it should have been casual—two high school buddies running into each other at the beach. He wondered if he was missing something. He looked around, uneasy, at the churning water, the parking lot where Billy had sprayed his brains onto the ceiling of his red Toyota. The sun was hot on the top of his head, he felt dizzy. He imagined he had lost weight as well, his appetite had shrunk since Sienna had left. It struck him right then, how all three of them, high school buddies, each in their own way, had had their lives ruined by women.

Yet that was not fair. Rachel had been a jewel, Karen was a great mom to the girls, and would probably take Charlie back if he could learn to act normal all week long. And Sienna had had her reasons for leaving.

The only problem was she hadn't shared them with him.

Had she met someone else? David had to force himself to consider the possibility, yet he didn't believe it. Maybe it was vanity but he felt he had what it took to hold a great woman. His talent was real, people gushed over his work, and he was beginning to make decent money. Lots of girls around town considered him a catch. He had wit, he was handsome, he knew how to dress and brush his teeth. Like Charlie, he was tall and thin, but had a lot more muscle on his shoulders and arms. He worked out regularly, did the treadmill and weights. His parents had both been attractive—he had lucked out with a blend of their best features. His wavy brown hair and starry eyes made him a sensitive soul, while his firm jaw supposedly showed his inner strength. Whatever, if a woman's standards weren't too high, he was considered babe material.

David squeezed his friend's hand. "I'll talk to you on the way back," he said.

Charlie nodded, accepting his decision to keep walking. "I haven't had lunch yet. Maybe I could sneak off for an hour. We could go to Baker's Square. They have the best burgers."

"You buying?"

"Sure. You just got that big cover, it can be a kind of celebration."

"That would be fun," David said honestly. It would be good to catch up.

They shook hands and he continued on his way.

The bridge stretched over an inlet that fanned into a lush marsh, with grass as tall as a man and a multitude of ponds that drew birds by the flock. The bridge was high, only solid in intervals—wherever there was a railroad tie. David knew from experience that it was best to keep his head up while crossing the bridge. Looking down between the oily boards made his head spin. Yet he had to glance down occasionally to keep from tripping.

The real scare was to have a train appear while walking across the bridge. That had happened once in high school, with him and Billy. Common sense said they should have heard it coming a mile away, but the blasted thing could have fallen out of the sky. One second they were talking about nothing and the next they were being chased by a dragon.

Of course Billy, with his great leg speed, tried to outrun the train and get off the bridge before it reached them. There was no discussion between them—he just bolted, leaving David in a quicksand of panic. Yet his lack of decisiveness made the decision for him. The bridge was enclosed on both sides with a rusty web of bars. There was no way he could jump into the water, which was too shallow anyway. As the train grew behind him, he was forced to hug the metal scaffolding and pray the monster did not have a stray bar sticking out. One whack in the guts, he knew, and the birds floating in the marshes would have had an early dinner.

Yet in retrospect, it was the intelligent thing to do. Trains passed over the bridge all the time and never sparked the railings. Nevertheless, as the train ripped by, inches from his back, he felt as if he had made the worst mistake of his life. He could only hang on and pray.

Out the corner of his eye, though, he saw Billy running. His friend was determined to beat the train, even if it cost him his life. Their races were often decided in fractions of a second and this one was no different. Only at the last instant did Billy reach the end of the penned-in metal tunnel and dive off the side and into the rocks and grass.

The feat impressed David, at the time. He complimented Billy on his boldness. But later he thought his friend had been foolhardy.

David reached the end of the bridge and stepped back onto the gravel. Shielding his eyes from the glaring sun, he glanced behind but could not find Charlie. The BP were more his concern now. Technically speaking, he had just stepped onto base property. The sooner he got away from the track, and lost in the sheltering dunes, the safer he would be.

The sandy slopes were taller here, more primitive, roped with water-fat ivy and dry, clawing bushes. It was one of the most isolated spots on the entire coast. Unless there was an intruder, the BP had no occasion to visit the beach. David knew for a fact that none of the regular Air Force personnel came here to sun themselves. Hiking to the beach in a straight line from the base was difficult—the area was strewn with a veritable forest of driftwood.

As David left the railroad track and labored through the sand toward the water, he half expected a dinosaur to lift its head over the dunes. He was one mile from his car and he could have been on another planet—Mars of a million years ago, maybe, when coppery seas filled the red valleys and wine-colored canals zigzagged across the lonely plains. He'd had a telescope as a child, and had always been fascinated by Mars.

He remembered Mars had been high in the sky when he had made love to Sienna, that last night, the two of them cold and naked beside a fire they were forced to keep tiny for fear of the base police. He had pointed out the red dot to her. Preoccupied, probably because she was about to dump him, she had not responded.

He continued north, trying to stay below the line of the dunes, not sure where he was going, or else knowing all too well. One sand dune looked pretty much like another, night or day, but he had an eerie confidence he would be able to spot the one where they had held each other. It would be wrapped in light and darkness, love and pain, and he would see it and his heart would stop and the pain of the last two months would finally cease.

Then, he did see it, the spot, and his heart almost stopped.

The decomposed body of a woman lay half buried in the sand.

Copyright © 2003 by Christopher Pike

Meet the Author

Christopher Pike, the bestselling author of the Remember Me and The Last Vampire series, has more than fifty novels to his credit. His previous adult novels include Sati, The Season of Passage, and The Cold One. Pike lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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