Read an Excerpt
Nicholas Quinn, Ph.D.
On May 17, the sun rose late.
Nick Quinn heard the first vague rumors of a delayed sunrise while filling his coffee mug from the urn in the lounge of Columbia University’s physics department. He didn’t pay them much mind. A screwed-up calculation, a missed observation, a malfunctioning clock. Human error. Had to be. Old Sol never missed appointments. It simply didn’t happen.
But the rumor continued to echo through the halls all morning, with no offsetting rumor of explanation. So at lunch break, when Nick had settled his usual roast beef on rye and large cola on his tray in the faculty cafeteria, the first thing he did was hunt up Harvey Sapir from astrophysics.
Nick looked for the hair. Harv’s hair was always perfect. It flowed back seamlessly from his forehead in a salt-and-pepper wave, so full and thick it looked like a toupee. Close up, if you looked carefully, you could catch a glimpse of pink scalp through the mane. A running joke around the physics department was guesstimating how much time and spray Harv invested in his hair each morning.
Nick spotted him at a corner table with Cynthia Hayes. She was from astrophysics too. The two of them were in deep conversation.
Harv’s hair was a mess.
Nick found that unsettling.
“Mind if I join you?” he said, hovering over the seat next to Cynthia.
Both glanced up and nodded absently, then immediately put their heads back together.
Beneath his uncombed hair, Harv’s face was haggard. He looked all of his fifty-five years and then some. Cynthia too looked disheveled. She was younger—mid thirties—with short chestnut hair and glorious skin. Nick liked her. A lot. She was the main reason he’d put aside his Coke-bottle lenses and got fitted for contacts. Years ago. Still hadn’t found the nerve to ask her out. With his pocked skin and weird-shaped head, he felt like a warty frog with no chance of ever changing into a prince, yet still he pined for this princess.
“What’s all this I hear about the sun being late?” he said after swallowing the first bite of his sandwich. “How’d a story like that get started?”
They both glanced at him again, then Cynthia leaned back and rubbed her eyes.
“Because it’s true.”
Nick stopped in mid bite and stared at them, looking for a smile, a twist of the lips, a hint of the put-on.
Nothing. Two deadpan faces.
Instantly he regretted it. He never used profanity in front of a woman, even though many of them had no reservations about swearing like sailors in front of him.
“Sunrise was scheduled at five twenty-one this morning,” Cynthia said. “It rose at five twenty-six. Five minutes and eight-point-two-two seconds late.”
Her husky voice never failed to give him a warm feeling.
Except today. Her words chilled him. She was saying the unthinkable.
“Come on, guys.” He forced a laugh. “We set our clocks by the sun, not vice versa. If the clock says the sun is late, then the clock needs to be reset.”
“Atomic clocks, Nick?”
That was different. Atomic clocks worked on nuclear decay. They were accurate to a millionth of a second. If they said the sun was late …
“Could be some sort of mechanical failure.”
Harv shook his head. “Greenwich reported a late rise too. Five minutes and a fraction late. They called us. I was here at four thirty A.M., waiting. As Cynthia told you, sunrise was late here by exactly the same interval.”
Nick felt a worm of uneasiness begin to work its way up his spine.
“What about Palo Alto?”
“The same,” Cynthia said.
“But do you know what you’re saying? Do you know what this means?”
“Of course I know what it means!” Harv said with ill-concealed annoyance. “This is my field, you know. It means the earth has either temporarily slowed its rate of spin during the night or tilted back on its axis.”
“But either would mean cataclysm! Why, the effect on tides alone would be—”
“But it didn’t slow. Not the slightest variation in axial rotation or axial tilt. Believe me, I’ve checked. The days are supposed to be getting progressively longer until the equinox in June, but today got shorter—or at least it started out that way.”
“Then the clocks are wrong!”
“Atomic clocks? All of them? All experiencing precisely the same level of change in nuclear decay at the same time? I doubt it. No, Nick. The sun rose late this morning.”
Nick’s field was lasers and particle physics. He was used to uncertainties at the subatomic level—Heisenberg had seen to that. But on the celestial plane, things were supposed to go like … clockwork.
“This is all impossible!”
Harv’s expression was desolate, Cynthia’s frightened.
“I know,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t I know.”
And then Nick remembered a conversation he’d had with a certain Jesuit a couple of months ago.
It will begin in the heavens …
After years of hiding in the South, Father Bill Ryan had returned to the city, but was still lying low. Only a handful of people knew he was back. After all, he was still wanted by the police.
Poor Father Bill. The years of seclusion had not been kind to him. He looked so much older, and he acted strange. Simultaneously jumpy, irritable, frightened, and angry. And he talked of strange things. No specifics, just cryptic warnings of some sort of approaching Armageddon. Nothing involving Islamic crazies. Something else …
One thing Father Bill had been fairly positive about was where it all would start.
It will begin in the heavens.
He’d told Nick to keep his ears open and to let him know if he heard of anything strange happening in the skies, no matter how insignificant.
Well, something more than strange had happened. Something far from insignificant. Something impossible.
It will begin in the heavens.
The unease in Nick’s spine stopped crawling and sprinted up to the back of his neck, spreading across his shoulders. He excused himself from the table and pulled out his cell phone as he headed for the hallway.
William Ryan, S.J.
“Ask him about tonight,” Glaeken said, close by Bill’s side. “Do they think the sun will set ahead of schedule tonight?”
Bill turned back to the phone and repeated the question. Nick’s reply was agitated. Bill detected a tremor weaving through the younger man’s voice.
“I don’t know, and I’m sure Harv and Cynthia don’t know, either. This is terra incognita, Bill. Nothing like this has ever happened before. All bets are off.”
“Okay, Nick. Thanks for calling. Keep me posted, will you? Let me know about sunset.”
“That’s it?” Nick said. “Keep you posted? What’s this all about? How did you know something was going to happen? What’s it all mean?”
Bill sensed the fear, the uncharacteristic uncertainty in Nick, and wished he could say something to comfort him. But Bill had nothing comforting to say.
“You’ll know as soon as I know. I promise you. Get back to me here tonight. I’ll be waiting for you. Good-bye.”
Bill hung up and turned to Glaeken, but the old man was over by the picture window, staring down at the park. He did that a lot.
Glaeken looked eighty-something, maybe ninety, with white hair and wrinkled olive skin; blue eyes shone above high cheekbones. Though slightly stooped, he was still a big man, and his frame blocked a good portion of the window. Bill had been living here in Glaeken’s apartment building for the past couple of months, helping him with his ailing wife, driving him around town while he did his “research,” but mostly waiting.
A huge apartment, occupying the entire top floor of the building, filled with strange curios and even stranger paintings. The wall to Bill’s left was mirrored and he started at the stranger facing him in the glass, then realized he was looking at himself. He’d shaved his beard and cut his hair. He missed his ponytail and still wasn’t used to seeing himself with bare cheeks. Or looking so old. The hair had been gray for years, but the beard had hidden all the lines in his face.
He moved up to the window and stood beside Glaeken.
The months of waiting since March were apparently over. In a way he was glad for that. But an icy tendril of dread slithered through his gut as he realized he had traded one uncertainty for another. The apprehension of wondering when it would start had been replaced now by a greater worry of what was starting.
“You didn’t seem too surprised,” Bill said.
“I sensed the difference this morning. Your friend confirmed it. The Change has begun its march.”
“You wouldn’t know it from the looks of things down there.”
Across the street and a dozen stories below, the high spring sun spread a palette of greens across Central Park as the various species of trees sprouted this year’s leaf crop.
“No. And you won’t for a while. But now we must lower our watch. The next manifestation will occur in the earth.”
“I don’t know. But if he follows his pattern, that is where he’ll make his next move. And when he has reached his full powers—”
“You mean he hasn’t?”
“He must go through a process before his power is complete. Plus, there’s a purpose to playing with the length of our days. It’s all part of his method.”
“Not at full power,” Bill said softly, his mind balking. “My God, if he’s able to alter the time the sun rises when he’s not up to speed, what’ll he be able to do when he is?”
Glaeken turned and pinned him with his deep blue gaze.
“Anything he wants, Bill. Anything.”
“Nick says it’s impossible for the sun to rise late.” Bill knew he was grasping at straws. “It breaks too many physical laws.”
“We’ll have to learn to forget about physical laws—or any laws, for that matter. The ‘laws’ we have created to explain our existence and make sense of the universe around us are about to be repealed. Physics, chemistry, gravity, time itself will be reduced to futile, meaningless formulae. The first laws were broken at sunrise. Many more will follow until they all lie scattered about in ruins. As of this morning, we begin a trek toward a world and a time without laws.”
An old woman’s voice quavered from the master bedroom.
“Glenn? Glenn, where are you?”
“Coming, Magda.” Glaeken gripped Bill’s upper arm and lowered his voice. “I don’t think we can stop him, but we may have a chance to impede him.”
Bill urged his spirits to respond, to lift, to cast off the pall of gloom that enveloped him. But his mood remained black.
“How? How can we hope to stand against a power that can alter the path of the sun?”
The old man’s expression turned stern. “We can’t. Not with that attitude. And that’s just the way he wants us to react—with despair and hopelessness. ‘He’s too powerful. Why even try to resist?’”
“No.” Glaeken tightened his grip. “Bad question. That way, he’s already won, without a fight. He may win. In fact, I’m pretty sure we haven’t got a chance. But I’ve fought him too long to sit around and simply wait for the end. I thought I could. I wanted to sit this out, sit everything out. That was why I took the name Veilleur. For once I’d be involved in nothing; I’d simply sit back and watch. And I have watched.”
He released Bill’s arm and turned back to the window.
“And all that time I’ve waited for someone to come along and be given the power to stand in Rasalom’s way. I found that someone, but he hasn’t the power. And he’ll not be endowed with that power because Rasalom has succeeded in convincing the Ally that this world is non-sentient—dead. And the Ally has no interest in dead worlds.” He looked at Bill again. “We’re on our own here.”
If he was trying to bolster Bill’s spirits, he’d failed.
“So we’re screwed.”
“So it would seem. But despite my vow, I find I can’t sit by and let everything fall into Rasalom’s lap. I want that bastard to have to work for it. If he wants this world, he’s going to have to earn it!”
Something in Glaeken’s words, his manner, his flashing eyes offered a hint of hope.
“I’m all for that, but can we do enough to let him know he’s even been in a fight?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll see to it.”
Magda’s voice intruded again, trailing in from the bedroom.
“Doesn’t anybody hear me? Isn’t anybody there? Have I been left here alone to die?”
“I’d better go to her,” Glaeken said.
“Can I help?”
“Thanks, no. She simply needs a little reassurance. But I’d appreciate it if you could be around tonight while I go out. I’ve got a little errand I must run.”
“If you need anything, I can—”
“No. I have to meet with Jack.”
Jack … they’d met a few times. Bill had even patched up a wound on the younger man. He and Glaeken had some sort of bond Bill couldn’t fathom. He called Jack his “heir,” but to what?
“Okay. I think I’ll stop in on Carol. To tell her it’s started.”
“Good. Do that. And keep emphasizing to her that none of what has happened or is about to happen is her fault.”
“Will do.” Bill started to turn away, then stopped. “Can we really give Rasalom a fight?”
“If I can gather together the proper elements, we may have ourselves a weapon.”
“Really?” Bill was almost afraid to yield to the hope growing within him. “When do we start this gathering?”
“Tomorrow. Will you drive me out to Long Island? And would you wear your cassock?”
What a strange request. Why did Glaeken want him to look like a priest?
“I don’t have one. I … I don’t believe in any of that anymore.”
“I know. But I must be at my most persuasive. And the presence of a Jesuit at my side might lend some weight to my arguments. We’ll fit you for a new cassock.”
Bill shrugged. “Anything for the cause. Where on Long Island?”
“The North Shore.”
A familiar pang stirred within Bill.
“I grew up in that area.”
“Yes. In the village of Monroe.”
“How did you know?”
Glaeken shrugged. “That is where we’re going.”
“Monroe? My hometown? Why?”
“Part of the weapon is there.”
Bill was baffled. In Monroe?
“It’s just a little harbor town. What kind of weapon can you hope to find out there?”
Glaeken turned and walked down the hall to attend to his wife. He cast the reply over his shoulder.
“A small boy.”
In the East Eighties, Bill knocked on an eighth-floor apartment door. It opened and a slender woman with ash blond hair, fine features, and a pert, upturned nose stared at him. Carol. Their decades apart had been kinder to her than to him. But now her face was tight, her eyes haunted, her usual high coloring blanched. She knew.
“It’s begun, hasn’t it?”
The afternoon sun filled the room behind her with golden light, lending her an almost ethereal quality. The sight of her disturbed once again the old feelings he tried to keep tucked away.
Bill stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him.
“How did you know?”
“I heard about the late sunrise on the radio.” Tears filled her eyes as her lips began to tremble. “I knew right away it was Jimmy’s doing.”
Bill reached out and folded her in an embrace. She trembled as she leaned against him. Her arms locked around his back and she clung as if he were a tree in a flood. Bill closed his eyes and let the good feelings wash through him. Good feelings were so hard to come by these days.
He’d been moving through a black fog since the deadly events in North Carolina.
Three times his world had been all but torn apart.
First, the violent death of his old friend and Carol’s first husband, Jim Stevens, followed by the bizarre murders in the Hanley mansion and Carol’s flight to parts unknown; he’d recovered from that.
Then, years later, his parents’ death in a fire, Danny Gordon’s mutilation and all the horrors that followed, capped by his own flight and years of hiding.
He’d dragged himself from that well of despair and was just settling into a different sort of life when he’d had to face Renny Augustino’s brutal murder, Lisl’s suicide, and the exhumation of Danny Gordon’s living corpse.
Bill wasn’t bouncing back this time. He wasn’t sure he had any bounce left. He’d dragged himself back to New York but it was no longer home. No place was home. In this entire teeming city, Nick Quinn and Carol Treece were the only people left alive from his past that he dared approach.
“You’ve got to call him Rasalom and stop calling him Jimmy. Got to stop thinking of him as your son. He’s not. There’s nothing of you and Jim in him. He’s someone else.”
“I know that,” she said, holding him tighter. “In my mind I know that. But in my heart is this feeling that if I’d loved him more, if I’d been a better mother, he’d have turned out differently. It’s crazy, but I can’t get away from it.”
“Nothing anyone could have done in his childhood would have made the slightest bit of difference. Except maybe strangling him as an infant.”
He felt Carol stiffen against him and was sorry he’d said it. But it was true.
“Okay. But stop calling him Jimmy. He’s not Jimmy. Never was. His name is Rasalom and he was already who he was long before he took over the baby in your womb. Long before you were born. He didn’t develop under your care. He was already there. You are not responsible.”
He stood there in the middle of her tiny living room, holding Carol’s thin body against him, breathing the scent of her hair, spying the streaks of gray nestling in the ash blond waves. Trickles of desire ran down his chest and over his abdomen. With a start, he felt himself hardening. He became aroused so easily these days. Sex had been no problem when he’d still considered himself a priest. But now that his lifelong beliefs had been reduced to ashes, buried with the charred remains of Danny Gordon, everything seemed to be slipping out of control. Here he was, his arms wrapped around Carol Treece, formerly Carol Stevens, née Carol Nevins. His high school sweetheart, his best friend’s widow, now another man’s wife. Priest or ex-priest, this wasn’t right.
Gently, Bill put some space between them. Room for the Holy Ghost, as the nuns used to say when he was a kid.
“Are we straight on that?” He gazed into her blue eyes. “You’re not responsible.”
She nodded. “Right. But how can I stop feeling like his mother, Bill? Tell me how I can do that?”
He saw the pain in her eyes and resisted the urge to pull her into his arms again.
“I don’t know, Carol. But you’ve got to learn. You’ll go crazy if you don’t.” They looked at each other for a moment, then Bill changed the subject. “How’s Nelson? Does he know yet?”
She shook her head and turned away.
“No. I haven’t been able to tell him.”
“Don’t you think—?”
“You’ve met Nels. You know what he’s like.”
Bill nodded silently. He’d met Nelson Treece a number of times—he’d even been invited over here for dinner twice—but always as a priest and an old friend of the family. Nelson was a straight arrow, a comptroller in a computer software firm. A man who dotted all his i’s, crossed all his t’s, and whose numbers always added up. A good man, a decent man, an organized man. The antithesis of spontaneity. Bill doubted whether Nelson had ever done anything on impulse in his entire life.
So unlike Jim, Carol’s first husband. Bill couldn’t see Nelson Treece and Carol as a loving couple, but maybe that was because he didn’t want to. Maybe Nelson was just what she needed. After the way chaos had intruded repeatedly on Carol’s life, maybe she needed the structure, stability, and predictability a man like Nelson offered. If he made her happy and secure, more power to him.
But that didn’t make Bill want Carol any less.
“How can I tell him what we know?” she said. “He’ll never accept it. He’ll think I’m crazy. He’ll have me going to psychiatrists. I wouldn’t blame him. I’d probably be doing the same if positions were reversed.”
“But now with the sun playing tricks, we’ve got an indisputable fact on our side. Carol, he’s got to know sooner or later. I mean, if you’re going to be involved—”
“Maybe if he met Glaeken. You know how persuasive he is. Maybe he could convince Nelson.”
“It’s worth a try. I’ll talk to him about it. Maybe tonight—”
“Maybe not tonight. He’s been away on a trip.”
“Since when does he travel?”
“Just the past month or so. The company’s been sending him. And when he comes back he crashes. I don’t think he’s built for travel. It … changes him.”
What was she saying? Or rather, what was she not saying?
“I’m not following.”
A shrug and a shy smile. “It’s nothing. Just stress.”
Bill glanced at his watch. “When’s he due in?”
“Any minute. His flight from Denver should have landed about an hour ago.”
“I’d better go.”
“No, Bill.” She took his hand and squeezed it. “Stay. Please.”
Her touch shot a bolus of tingling warmth up his arm.
“I can’t. I’ve got a bunch of errands to run for Glaeken. Now that Rasalom’s made his first move, the old guy’s looking for countermoves. He needs me to be his legs.”
Bill gave her a quick hug and fled the apartment.
He hated lying to Carol. But how could he tell her that it ripped his heart out to see Nelson Treece stroll in the door and give her his usual casual hello kiss? Didn’t Nelson realize what he had? Did he have any idea what Bill would give—do—to take his place?
He had another reason for wanting to leave. He was afraid to get too close to Carol, afraid to care too much. First and most obvious: She was married. But, more important, terrible things seemed to happen to people he cared about. All his emotional investments crashed.
Bill began looking for a place where he could have a quiet beer and sit alone in the dark.
Jack sat at his back-against-the-rear-wall table in Julio’s, apart from the evening regulars, nursing a Stella and fuming.
Some low-rent scumbag had tried to put the moves on Gia this morning while she was waiting with Vicky for the school bus. At seven in the morning. Right in front of Vicky.
He couldn’t get it out of his mind. Hoped the creep tried it again tomorrow. He planned to be across the street. Watching. Waiting.
Everything seemed to be going to hell. After a long period of relative peace, the city was becoming unmanageable again. Same all over the world. During the past year or so he’d witnessed a slow unraveling of the social fabric. He had a pretty good idea what was behind it. Or rather, who.
It had started last year with the advent of the Kickers, but had spread from there, going into overdrive since March. As if the worst sensed that something was coming and they’d better grab what they could while they still had time.
Too many people had begun acting as if nothing was beneath them. Rip off an old lady’s handbag or a toddler’s candy bar. No item too small, no deed too low. Everything up for grabs, anything okay if you got away with it—that was the operating ethic.
Mine was anything I could take and keep. If you put something down and left it unguarded, it became mine if I could snatch it and make off with it. Civilized folk were on the run. Those who could afford to were leaving, others were withdrawing, tightening their range of activities, limiting their hours in public. And those unfortunates who had to be out on the streets and down in the subways were fodder. And they knew it.
Like the city had gone back in time to the seventies and eighties.
On the way over tonight he’d passed car after car with “No Radio” signs in the windows. Every street was flanked with them. A symptom of the city-dwellers’ response to the predators. With failing faith in City Hall’s ability to make the streets safe, they retreated. When they parked their cars they removed their satellite units and took them into the steel-doored, barred-windowed fortresses they called home. One more piece of ground surrendered. They’d pulled all their belongings in from the street; after having shrubs and small trees repeatedly dug up and carted off from the fronts of their apartment houses, they’d stopped planting them, and they’d chained—chained—the trunks of the few larger ones that remained.
The Taint was taking over.
It all sickened Jack. He’d had it up to here with watching the good folks retreat. But maybe it served them right. They’d allowed themselves to be disarmed, surrendered all responsibility for their own safety until they’d been reduced to rabbits cowering in their burrows, praying the wolves wouldn’t find them.
Jack sighed and sipped.
“Is this seat taken?”
Startled, Jack looked up and saw Glaeken standing across the table, one big hand holding his cane, the other resting on the back of a chair.
“How do you do that?”
The man could slip through a room like a ghost.
“Years of practice.”
Years … right. More like millennia.
Julio ambled over, wiping his hands on a towel.
“Hey, G. The usual?”
“If you’d be so kind.”
“Comin’ up, meng.”
“Make that two,” Jack said.
Glaeken sniffed the air as he watched the muscular little man hustle back to the bar.
“I do believe he’s managed to find a cologne worse than the last.”
Jack nodded. “I think this one’s Eau du Wet Stray Dog.”
The old man looked older than ever as he dropped into the chair and stared at the tabletop.
Glaeken looked up. “Wrong? Of course there’s something wrong. Have you been in a cave all day?”
The snapping tone was uncharacteristic. Glaeken upset … not good. He never got upset.
“Let’s pretend that’s just where I’ve been. What’s up?”
“The sun rose five minutes late this morning and set ten minutes early tonight.”
The words hit him like a bucket of ice water.
It will begin in the heavens.
Rasalom’s warning back in March.
March … the horror of that night in Glaeken’s apartment. Weezy, Eddie, the Lady …
“Exactly: Hell. How could you not have heard?”
Jack had glanced through Abe’s newspapers at the shop this morning and spent the rest of the day setting up a fix over in Brooklyn.
“Guess it happened too late for the morning papers and I’m not much for radio and TV.”
“It’s all everybody’s talking about.”
Jack gestured to the crowd of Julio’s regulars, yakking and yukking it up like any other night.
“This place has its own consensual reality. It doesn’t count. But you know now, and I think you know what it means.”
Jack nodded, feeling a little sick. “He’s started his final moves, his end game.”
“Yes, the Change…”
Why now, damn it? This conflict had been running for ages. Why did the final showdown have to come at a time when Gia and Vicky would be caught in the fray?
Julio returned with two pints of John Courage. He’d put it on tap for Jack a few years ago. Jack had moved on to other brews but Courage Amber had become such a hit with the regulars that Julio kept it running with privately imported kegs.
Glaeken lifted the glass with a big, scarred hand, quaffed about a quarter of its contents in one gulp, then loosed an appreciative burp.
“Not as good as when they first made it back in oh-two, but still tasty.”
Jack knew he meant 1902. He leaned forward. “What are our options?”
Glaeken sighed. “I’d hoped not to live to see this day. But ever since … that night, I’ve been doing some research, trying to prepare.”
“And I’ve found some of what we’ll need, but not all.”
“What have you got?”
Glaeken leaned back in the chair.
“Nothing yet. One is a person—a boy. I could not very well go to his mother and tell her our story without something tangible—without evidence that I’m not simply a crazy old man. What is happening to the sun will lend credence to what I must tell her.”
Jack shook his head. “If she’s got even one skeptical neuron in her brain, some fluctuations in the sun’s timing aren’t going to be near enough. A cosmic shadow war … that’s going to be one hard sell.”
“Not as hard as the one I’m going to ask of you.”
Jack stiffened. “Don’t like the sound of that. I’m not exactly the salesman type. Who’s the projected sellee?”
“Someone you know: Kolabati Bahkti.”
Kolabati … as much as Jack was devoted to Gia—now more than ever—unbidden memories of Kolabati’s long, dark, slender body occasionally floated back to him.
Glaeken was eyeing him. “I’m trying to locate her.”
“Can’t help you there. Haven’t seen her in years.”
“Oh, I realize that. I’ll find her eventually. And when I do, that’s when I’ll need your help.”
“I need the necklaces.”
“You’re talking plural? As in both?” Jack shook his head. “You don’t know what you’re asking. Kolabati will never give them up. Not in a million years. I might talk her out of one, but never both.”
“I’ll need both. And soon.”
“Then forget it. The necklace keeps her alive, keeps her young. She’s on the downslope toward the end of her second century. But she looks only thirty or so. All because of the necklace. You think she’s going to give that up?”
“That’s why I’ve come to you. So you can convince her once I’ve located her.”
“She’ll die without it.”
“I have faith that you’ll return with both necklaces.”
Jack stared at him. “You asking me to kill her?”
“I hope it won’t come to that.”
“But if it does?”
Glaeken didn’t blink. “Then I’ll leave that decision to you.”
“News flash,” Jack said, feeling a burst of heat. “That’s the kind of decision that never was and never will be anybody else’s.”
“Of course. But will you go to her when I find her?”
“On where she is. If she’s still in New York, sure. I’ll do my best.”
The thought of facing Kolabati … they had a history, but he’d locked it away. He didn’t want her thinking he was back looking for a key.
“And if she’s not nearby?”
“Well, then … I don’t know.”
Glaeken spread his hands. “With the stakes what they are, how can you refuse?”
“Because of the stakes—because I have no idea what Rasalom’s got planned. If Bati’s back in India, I’ll have to leave Gia and Vicky here. What if the Change kicks in full speed while I’m away and I can’t make it back?” The thought of those two facing the apocalypse without him … He shook his head. “Can’t risk it.”
“They can stay with me.”
“Oh, swell. You’re right in Rasalom’s crosshairs—numero uno on his extermination list. That would really put my mind at ease.” He noted Glaeken’s steely gaze. “Don’t take that personally. It’s just that I don’t consider camping out on a firing range the best way to keep from getting shot.”
Glaeken sighed. “Point taken. But you can’t believe you’re the only one who can protect them.”
“That’s not the point. When they need me, I want to be there.”
“Short term, that makes sense, but in the long term Kolabati’s necklace might be a greater help to them.”
“Yes. Might be. I can offer a little hope, but sadly, no guarantee. You must—”
Jack raised a hand. “Let’s table this for some other time. If you find her and she’s living in Hoboken, then this is all wasted air: Of course I’ll go.”
“And if she’s in India?”
“Isn’t there another way? What about the Compendium?” Immediately Jack wished he hadn’t brought that up.
Glaeken lowered his gaze. “We lost our interpreter.”
The words were a gut punch, bringing back the aching sense of loss he’d managed to hide from … well, most of the time.
“I miss her, Glaeken.” His throat felt thick.
“So do I. The Lady too.”
“Yeah. The Lady too.”
He did miss the Lady, but nowhere near the way he missed Weezy. A hole in his life. Not the gaping chasm the loss of Gia and Vicky would leave, but a hole nonetheless.
“They made the ultimate sacrifice. So … if Kolabati’s back in India?”
Jack’s teeth clenched. “I told you—”
“Will you reconsider if Central Park shrinks?”
“Sure.” That seemed a safe bet. “If you find her in India or someplace else on the far side of the globe, I’ll go see her when Central Park shrinks.”
“Fine,” Glaeken said, nodding. “It’s a deal then.”
The old man finished off his Courage, rose, and dropped a Hamilton on the table.
“My treat. See you soon.”
As Jack watched Glaeken make his way to the door, he thought about Kolabati and wondered how she was. Where she was. And what she was up to these days.
The wind stopped.
Kolabati put down her book and rose from her chair. Not sure at first what had happened, she took her coffee cup and stepped out on the lanai where she stood for a moment, listening. Something was wrong. Too quiet. In her time on Maui she could not remember a truly silent moment. She had no neighbors to speak of, at least none within shouting or even bullhorn distance, but even when the birds and insects were silent, the Maui breeze whispered. Child of the tireless trade winds rolling from the northeast, its constant sussurrant undertone varied in pitch but never ceased—perpetual, interminable, timeless, relentless.
But it paused now. The ceramic wind chimes hung silent on the corners of the unscreened lanai. The air lay perfectly still, as if resting. Or holding its breath.
What was happening? First the news of the late sunrise this morning, and now this.
Kolabati looked down the slope of Haleakala past the rooftops of Kula to the valley spread out below in the late afternoon sun. A gently curved, almost flat span between the two volcanic masses that defined the island of Maui, the valley’s narrow waist was checkered with the pale green squares of sugar cane, the darker green of pineapple plants, the rich red-brown of newly tilled earth, and the near black of a recently burned cane field. She spent part of each day out here staring across the valley at the cloud-capped West Maui Mountains, waiting for her daily rainbow, or watching the cloud-shadows run across the valley floor thousands of feet below. But no shadows ran now. The streaming trade winds that propelled them had stalled. The clouds and their shadows waited.
Kolabati waited too. The air should have grown warmer in the wind’s absence, yet she felt a chill of foreboding. Something was wrong. The Maui breeze occasionally changed its pattern when the kona winds came, but the air always moved.
Krishna, Vishnu, she said, silently praying to the ancient gods of her youth, please don’t let anything spoil this. Not now. Not when I’ve finally found peace.
Peace. Kolabati had searched for it all her life, and it had been a long life. She looked thirty, perhaps a youngish thirty-five, yet she had been born in 1848. She had ceased counting her birthdays after the one hundred fiftieth.
A long time to be searching for contentment. She thought she’d found a chance for it a few years ago with a man named Jack but he had spurned her and the gift of longevity she’d offered him. She’d left him sitting in a pool of his own blood, dying. He was probably dead, and the thought saddened her. Such a vital man …
But I’m different now.
The new Kolabati would have stayed and helped Jack, or at least called a doctor for him despite the cruel things he had said to her.
Maui had worked a change in her. Maui and Moki. A place and a man. Together they had given her what little peace could be found in this world.
Here on Maui, clinging to the breast of the world’s largest dormant volcano, she had all the world within reach. If she tired of watching the valley below, cloud-dappled on sunny days, lashed by rain and speared by lightning when storms marched through, she could travel to the mountain’s windward east coast and visit the jungles above Hana; farther around on the south slope she could pretend she was in the savannas of Africa or the plains of North America, grazing cattle and all; or she could travel across the valley and wander among the rich Japanese and American vacationers in the resorts at Ka’anapali and Kapalua, or travel into the Iao Valley and beyond to the rain forests of the second wettest spot in the world, or return to Haleakala itself and walk the floor of its desolate crater, wandering among its thousand-foot cinder cones and imagining she was exploring the surface of Mars.
Wonders were close at hand too. Directly below the lanai her silversword garden grew. She had transplanted the seedlings culled during her explorations of Haleakala’s slopes and was perhaps unduly proud of her collection of the rare spiky clusters. Each would grow for twenty years before producing its one magnificent flower. Kolabati could wait. She had time.
She glanced down at the cup in her hands. Oh, yes. And coffee from the big island’s Kona Coast—the richest coffee in the world. She sipped.
No, she could not see herself tiring of living here, even if she didn’t have Moki. But Moki was here, and Moki gave meaning to it all.
She could hear him in the back now, working in his shop. Moki—her kane, her man. He carved driftwood. Together they would scour the beaches and the banks of Haleakala’s countless streams and waterfalls, searching for branches and small trunks, the long-dead pieces, bleached and hardened by time and the elements. They’d bring these gnarled, weathered remains back to the house and set them up around Moki’s workshop. There he would get to know them, live with them. And gradually he would spy things in them—the wrinkles around the eyes of an old woman’s face, the curve of a panther’s back, a lizard’s claws. When he’d spied the form hiding within, he would bring his small ax and array of chisels into play, working on the wood and with the wood to expose the hidden form to the light of day.
Moki was modest about his art, never taking credit and refusing blame for the nature of the works he produced. His stock phrase: “It was already there in the wood; I simply cleared away the excess and set it free.”
But he deserved far more credit. For Moki wasn’t content to leave his work as simple sculptures. They were Hawaiian wood carved by an almost full-blooded Hawaiian, but that wasn’t quite Hawaiian enough for Moki. When each was finished he shipped it to the big island and carried it to the fiery mouth of Kilauea, the active crater on the southeastern slope of Mauna Loa. There he trapped some of the living lava, poured it into a shape that complemented his sculpture, allowed the lava to cool to a point where it wouldn’t damage the wood, then set his sculpture into the gooey stone.
Kolabati had first seen Moki’s work with its intricate cuts and swirls and unique lava-rock bases in a Honolulu gallery. Fascinated, she had asked to meet the artist. She commissioned a piece and visited Moki many times during its fashioning. She found herself as taken by the man as by his work. His intensity, his passion for living, his love of his native islands. He was complete. In that sense he reminded her a little of her dead brother, Kusum.
Moki wanted her, but he didn’t need her, and that made him all the more attractive. Theirs was a relationship of passionate equals. She didn’t want to own Moki, didn’t demand all his passion. She knew some of that had to be funneled into his art and she encouraged it. To dominate him, to possess him would risk destroying a wild and wonderful talent. By demanding all of him, she would wind up with less than she had begun with.
Moki needed his art, needed to be Moki, and very much needed to be Hawaiian. He would have loved to have lived and worked on Niihau, the forbidden island, oldest of the Hawaiian chain, but had not been able to wrangle an invitation from the last of the purebred Hawaiians living there in the old, primitive ways. Like most Hawaiians, Moki was not purebred—traces of Portuguese and Filipino slunk through his bloodline.
But he remained pure Hawaiian in his heart, dressing the part around their hale or house, speaking the old language and teaching it to Kolabati.
His pieces, the graceful and the grotesque, were scattered about the islands, in galleries, museums, corporate offices, and on every available surface in their house. Kolabati loved the clutter, which was unusual for her. As a rule she preferred an ordered existence. But not in this case. The clutter was Moki. It put his stamp on their home, made it truly theirs. No other place on earth was quite like it.
Kolabati did not want that to change. For the first time in her many years the nattering inner voice of dissatisfaction had fallen silent. For the first time she no longer hungered for new people, new sensations, new feelings, the Next New Thing. Continuity counted most now.
“Bati! Hele mai!”
Moki’s voice, calling from his workshop, telling her to come to him. He sounded excited. She started toward the rear of the house but he was already coming her way.
The old Kolabati used to tire of a man after two weeks. They were all the same; so few had anything new to offer. But even after more than a year with Moki, the sight of him still excited her. His long, wild, red-brown hair—he was considered an ehu, a red-haired Hawaiian—his lean, light brown, muscled body, and his eyes as dark as her own. An artist, a sensitive man, as attuned to the mysteries of the wood he worked as to the mysteries within her own psyche. And yet he still retained an untamed quality, as witness the brief, loincloth-like malo he wore now. No two days were alike with Moki.
Which was why Kolabati called him her kane and allowed him to wear the other necklace.
And she loved his lilting accent.
He held out his left palm to her. A ragged red line ran across it.
“Oh, Moki! What happened?”
“I cut myself.”
“But you’re always cutting yourself.”
She looked at the cut. It was barely bleeding. He’d done worse to his hands before. What was so special about this?
“Yes, but this was a deep one. I slipped badly. I thought the chisel went halfway through my palm. Blood started spurting a foot into the air—and then it stopped. I squeezed it for a few minutes, and when I checked again, it was half healed. And in the time it took me to come in from the workshop, it’s healed even further. Look at it. You can almost see it closing before your eyes!”
He was right. Kolabati watched with uneasy fascination as the wound stopped oozing and became shallower.
“What’s going on?” he said.
“I don’t know.”
He touched the necklace around his throat—a heavy chain of sculpted iron, each crescent link embossed with pre-Vedic script; centered over the notch atop his breastbone lay a matched pair of bright yellow elliptical stones, like thumb-sized topazes, each with a black center. Moki’s necklace perfectly matched her own. They’d belonged to her family for generations … since before history.
“You said these things would help heal us, keep us young and healthy, but I never—”
Unease tugged at her. “They don’t work like this. They’ve never worked like this.”
The necklace could heal illnesses, prolong life, stave off death from all but the most catastrophic injuries. But it worked slowly, subtly. The healing of Moki’s hand was crude, garish, like a sideshow trick.
Something was wrong.
“But they work like this now,” Moki said, a wild light in his eyes. “Watch.”
That was when she saw the wood knife in his other hand. He jabbed it through the skin on the underside of his left forearm and into the tissues beneath.
“No! Moki, don’t!”
“It’s all right. Just wait a minute and I’ll show you what I mean.”
Wincing with the pain, he dragged the blade upward until a four-inch wound gaped open. He watched the blood spurt for an instant, then squeezed it shut. He smiled crazily at her for a moment or two as he pressed the skin edges together, then he released it.
The wound had stopped bleeding. The edges were adhering as if they’d been sutured. And the wild light in his eyes had brightened.
“See? The necklace has made me almost indestructible. Maybe immortal. I feel like a god—like Maui himself!”
Kolabati watched in horror as Moki cavorted about the great room. First the sun, then the wind, and now this. She could not fend off the feeling of impending doom. Something was happening, something had gone terribly awry, and the necklaces were responding. Their powers were increasing, as if in preparation for … what?
And then she heard it—the ceramic tinkling of the wind chimes on the lanai. She turned and hurried to the railing. Thank the gods! The wind! The wind was back!
But the wrong wind. This blew from the west. The trade winds came from the east, always from the east. Where did this wind come from? And where was it blowing?
At that moment Kolabati knew beyond a doubt that the world was beginning a change. But how? And why?
Then she felt rather than heard a deep seismic rumble. The lanai seemed to shudder beneath her feet.
Could the old volcano be coming to life?
Copyright © 2012 by F. Paul Wilson