Magic Timeby Marc Zicree, Barbara Hambly
For rising young lawyer Cal Griffin, it's just another day in the Big City -- until the lights go off ... for good. Suddenly packs of pale crouched figures are stalking the darkened subways, monsters prowl Times Square, and the people all around Cal are ... changing. Similar weirdness is happening everywhere, from the dank, cold heart of a West Virginia coal mine to a… See more details below
For rising young lawyer Cal Griffin, it's just another day in the Big City -- until the lights go off ... for good. Suddenly packs of pale crouched figures are stalking the darkened subways, monsters prowl Times Square, and the people all around Cal are ... changing. Similar weirdness is happening everywhere, from the dank, cold heart of a West Virginia coal mine to a remote lab in South Dakota -- where a team of government scientists has unwittingly invited something catastrophic into the world -- to the highest levels of power in Washington, D.C. And Cal Griffin is not the only one struggling to comprehend the surreal, devouring chaos surrounding him -- nor the only one who will be forced to accept a new role in this brave new world of nightmare and wonder. For the forces bled from the stilled machines are fueling a consciousness both newly born and ancient -- and more than one unlikely hero will be needed for the titanic battle between the darkness and the light.
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"Stay here," Cal insisted. "He's kinda paranoid.”
He knelt by the steam grate with Colleen and Doc. Although it was only late afternoon, Fifth was barely populated, the stores closed up tight. The smell was worse far worse than it had been yesterday. A few timid passersby glanced their way curiously, then hurried on at Colleen's challenging glare. The crossbow and quiver of arrows hung easily across her back. Cal noted she was taking the weapon everywhere now, its polished steel and wood a fierce kind of beauty. It suited her.
And she was far from the only person he saw armed.
Colleen's pry bar eased under the grate, and now the three of them put their shoulders to it, dislodging years of accumulated muck, forcing the barred covering up and off the square hole in the sidewalk. They dropped the grate clattering onto the pavement, then stood over the open, waiting maw. A black murmur like distant ocean reverberated out of it, accompanied by a wafting, stale stink.
"This doesn't impress me as the greatest idea," said Colleen.
"Yeah. sure wish I had a better one." There was no way to track his quarry with any certainty, to get a lead. But at least the many times Cal had seen Goldie, it had been around these few blocks, they seemed to be his stomping grounds. Just maybe, when he’d gone below each night, burrowed beneath the earth, he’d been inclined not to go far.
Or maybe not. But it was all Cal had, and it was a place to start.
He peered down into the darkness, tightened the straps of his backpack. "Wait forty-five minutes."
"Then?" Doc questioned.
"Then." Cal realized he didn't have a then. Saying no more, he slid into the opening.
It's like climbing into a grave. Cal pushed the thought away. He focused on the task at hand, gripping the metal rungs set in the concrete wall of the midline vent shaft, lowering himself how far? He couldn't see clearly below, couldn't gauge the depth. As far as it took. That was all the answer he had, for any of this.
The metal and concrete and air about him were sharp with chill, but he felt flushed nonetheless, the wound on his scalp screeching, his head an overinflated balloon. Everything had a slightly dreamy aspect to it, a muzzy edge of unreality. Glancing up, he saw the world above was now no more than a distant square of blue surrounded by blackness. Rung by rung, arms straining with effort, moving stiffly as though needing lubrication. Oil can, he thought sardonically. Oil can what?
He felt a subtle shift in the flow of air around him and abruptly his feet found support. He released the last rung and stood, gaining his balance. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and the light from above cast a pallid radiance he could barely discern as he glanced about.
He was in a subway tunnel, was standing, in fact, on the track itself, which snaked away into the darkness. Another time, this would have been cause for alarm, but there was no roar of an approaching train, nothing save the hushed ocean-like murmur that was a sound and not a sound. His fingertips brushed the cold wall and found no vibration in the stone, no rumble of distant engine and cars. A dead place. at least as far as the machines were concerned.
As all the world seemed to be dead.
He leaned against the wall and considered his options. Goldie had said, "I prefer the subterranean," but had he meant directly below them or some other hidey-hole? How many hundreds, thousands of miles of tunnel serpentined under the streets? I'm looking for a crazy man, Cal thought. Does that make me crazy?
Cal shrugged out of his backpack and unzipped it. His probing hand found the cool glass and metal of the Coleman lantern. He withdrew it, closed up the pack and replaced it, then dug in his jeans pocket for the lighter.
Suddenly, his ears pricked at a strange flitting sound, here and there about him, like an immense, unseen hummingbird. He spun, trying to detect the source.
And then he spied it, in an arched recess against the tunnel wall, twenty feet off. There, seeming to hover in the blackness, was the glowing face of a pale boy, eyes all liquid blue with slitted pupils, regarding him with wary surprise.
Cal saw him just for a twinkling, then the boy darted back into the darkness, face wild with fear.
"Wait!" Cal ran a few strides after him, lantern banging in his hand. The sound of his voice rebounded off the walls, frighteningly loud, his footfalls staccato accompaniment. But the boy, there was no sound of the boy running at all, just that odd thrumming tone, higher now, climbing in pitch then cutting out to silence.
Cal reached the archway, saw that it was an opening between inbound and outbound tunnels. He dropped onto the other side, eyes straining the darkness, alert for any sound. But there was nothing.
The boy or whatever it had been was gone.
Slowing, Cal lit the lantern, watched it flare, dingy light spreading slowly along the tracked. Ahead of him, vast and still, lay a subway train like a row of steel coffins. He moved cautiously along it, raising the lantern high to illumine the interior of the cars, the untenanted seats and straps, the ads for skin treatments and personal injury lawyers. “You may have been the victim of an injustice,” one proclaimed. “Have you suffered a recent calamity?”
In the darkness, a pebble thwanged off a metal rail, sending up an echoing reverberation. Cal snapped to wariness, ears keen. The boy? No. Something else. Listening intently, not breathing, he could make out a soft padding of many feet. Voices too, whispery, guttural. He had a sudden flash of the clump of shadowy figures he'd seen the other night on the street, moving in that queer, flowing rhythm. They had sounded like that. It had made his skin crawl, he'd felt an immediate, unaccountable revulsion.
The sound of their steps was growing louder, coming his way. And with their approach, their voices grew into a din of expectation, excitement. hunger.
Cal felt a stab of terror. They know I'm here.
He took to his heels, lantern grasped, knowing he should extinguish it, unable to bear being alone with these pursuers in the dark.
Hearing him take flight spurred them, and they broke into a clamorous run behind him, shouting with frenzy and cries of delight. Cal rounded a bend, could hear them closing. His free hand shot to his belt, to the buck knife in its sheath. He pulled it free in a wild arc, heart hammering, the blood loud in his ears.
And then his foot caught on something, a wire strung taut. Abruptly, he was flying, tumbling headlong. He landed hard, breath knocked out of him, lantern and knife skittering away. He floundered wildly, fighting to rise, and something heavy fell on him from above. A net, it was a weighted net. Snared, he cried out in fear and rage, tore at the ropes. It held fast.
His pursuers slowed, watching. The lantern lay on its side some yards off, miraculously unbroken, its sickly light rendering a grotesque tableau.
They were perhaps fifteen in number, grunting among themselves, chuckling malignly as they drew near. There was something loathsome, furtive in the way they moved. In their oversized, bunched clothing, they looked like some demented, stunted street gang, pale as grubs, eyes milky white with slitted pupils.
Cal's eyes darted to his knife, impossibly out of reach. A bare hairy foot came down on the handle. Cal lifted his gaze to the figure, took in the baggy jeans, scuffed bomber jacket, ragged "I Love NY" t-shirt. With a thrill of surprise, Cal realized he knew this one.
It was Rory.
“I seen you….” Rory’s lips curled nastily, revealing stained icepick teeth. "You were with my chick.”
Rory scooped up the knife. As he advanced on Cal, the others followed, pressing close. Cal struggled against the net. Futile. They reached toward him with hideous malformed fingers, as Rory swung the knife high and back….
Suddenly, from the far end of the tunnel came a flashing of lights and booming sounds, like myriad skyrockets going off. The creatures gaped, shielding their eyes. Astonished, Cal turned his head, craned his neck to see through the netting.
A figure was approaching, fireballs of light shooting out of his hands and bouncing off the walls.
"BEGONE!" The voice was huge and commanding, God on the mountaintop -- and a vengeful God, to boot. Terrified, blinded, the little brutes skittered down the tunnel into the darkness, their frantic screams floating in the air and then evaporating.
The fireballs ceased. The figure reached Cal, bent down to him.
"Well. Hello, Cal."
It was Goldie.
He looked the same as before, with his cascade of hair, electric clothing, cacophony of buttons pinned to his padded vest. Through his amazement, one of them caught Cal's eye REALITY'S A BITCH.
"How " Cal was gasping, breathless. "How did you ?"
Goldie wiggled his fingers. "That? Little something I just picked up. Doesn't do jack, but it scares the hell out of them."
Cal tried to speak, but he was overwhelmed.
"I can see you're a little freaked. Lemme help you." Rory had dropped Cal's knife in his flight, and now Goldie grabbed it up, started to cut away the net.
Cal felt sheepish, ashamed. "I walked right into their trap."
"Hm?" The netting fell away and Goldie helped Cal to his feet, made sure he was steady on his pins. "Oh no, this is mine." He grinned, and handed him back his knife. "I'm very particular who comes to my place."
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