Charles Grant - Night Songs
Jesus damn, Colin, Jesus damn.
Matthew, he thought, Matthew-God, I love you.
He lurched against the wall and staggered forward until he fell against the door frame.
The headboard of Gran's bed was shoved against the rear wall, blocked on three sides by candles of varying sizes almost burned down to the floor. At least a hundred, he estimated-white, red, black here and there, all of them glowing an unearthly shade of orange that made him think suddenly of a pumpkin glowing at Halloween. Near his feet on the floor were the littered bodies of at least two dozen gulls and squirrels, and the head of the Doberman with its fangs exposed and its eyes winking green.
None of the light reached the ceiling; all of it was directed at the bed, and Gran D'Grou-he sat with his back to the wall, his legs crossed, his hands folded in his lap. He was naked.
Colin, you be in a hurry to die?
He thought he heard footsteps behind him, heard a shotgun explode in the dark.
Gran was facing him, and Colin had no doubt at all that the old man was dead. His body was shriveled, and there was sand and seaweed clinging to his skin. His mouth was closed.
Jesus, Colin, you are stupid tonight. And his eyes were wide open. Look around, Colin, and see what my Lilla give me tonight.
He heard the steps clearly now, and despite a silent command he looked over his shoulder.
A small boy in the doorway, with a huge rock in his hand.
Peg shouting, Lee screaming. The boy. My favorite.
Colin felt it all leave-the hope, the rage, the compulsion to fight back. It slipped out of him and stained the floor; it burned his stomach and loosened his bowels; it made his fingers stiff, and he dropped the can at his feet.
The boy raised his arm.
I think, Colin, he wants you to stay here with me. I told you I had tricks. You never listen. Too bad.
"Matthew?" Colin whispered, unable to move. "Matt?"
The rock struck his shoulder and spun him around, spiraled him to the floor.
The boy lifted his other arm.
"Pal," Colin said.
Jesus damn, Colin. Jesus damn.
Peg called his name, and the wind fluttered the candles.
The boy aimed.
Colin blinked and the can came into focus.
And the rage returned; the artist, the teacher, the would-be father, the lover, gone. He grabbed the can and fumbled off the cap, whirled around and held it over his head.
The rock struck him sharply between the shoulders, he grunted, and tossed the can as he pitched forward. It arched over the bed and landed against the wall above Gran's head. It bounced into the dead man's lap, the kerosene spilled onto the nearest candle and flared. Before Colin was able to get back to his knees, the bed and the body and the room were a torch.
He screamed as the flames caught at his jeans; he whirled and ran, grabbing the boy by one arm and dragging him out of the shack as the walls caught, the roof caught, and there was light on the water rippling and rising; he ran, burning, screaming, toward the pines until he looked down at his burden and saw Tommy Fox.
He shoved the boy away, pushed Hugh aside when the doctor tried to stop him, and fell-stumbled-dove into the tide.
The second can exploded, and he saw Pegeen weeping.* * *
There were hands on his arms, dragging him out of the water, pulling off his pants. Hugh nodded when Peg asked if he would be all right. Lee stood over him, and when he grinned they hauled him to his feet so he could give Peg a hug, a quick kiss, and hold her hand. There was no celebration. The joy he felt was dashed when he saw Garve lying with his head in the shadows. When they finally began to stagger from the burning shack, the sprawled bodies of the rest of their friends lay on the sand, mangled, torn, faces up to the night sky, their eyes finally closed.
He had little sense of time left. They were on the flat, on the dune, then on the street and heading back for the cruiser. Someone, he thought it might be Hugh, was talking about salvaging one of the boats at the marina and using it to get back to the mainland. The sea was too high, Lee (he thought) argued, and Montgomery hushed her with an uncharacteristic curse.
Garve found a boat, he thought, but couldn't say it. Garve found a boat.
He was tired. He knew he shouldn't be leaning on Peg so heavily, but he was so God-almighty tired that if anything that looked like a bed came within a mile of him he was going to use it and sleep without dreams for the rest of his life.
The fire cast their shadows.
At the patrol car Peg balked at getting in.
Colin knew what she was thinking.
When none of the others moved to help, he took Hugh's long flashlight and walked with her around the deadfall, turning the beam on the path their car had taken into the yard. They spent an hour searching through the rubble, through the rooms, this time opening closets and poking under tables. They spent an hour, and they found nothing. And when they came outside again, Peg had lost the armor she'd forged from her revenge.
At the sidewalk she stopped.
"I… we can't go until we find him," she said.
"In the morning," he said. "We'll never find him tonight."
"I won't go."
"You don't have to."
"Hugh says a lot of things. And if he insists, well, there's more than one boat, you know." He put an arm around her waist, held her close. "We'll find him. I promise."
She seemed ready to agree, then shook herself and stared at him. "No. You go if you want. I can't. I just can't."
He touched a hand to her shoulder, nodded it's all right, and they walked toward the edge of the woods, toward the path to the cliffs. The trees still whipsawed in the dying storm, the flashlight's beam was coated with spray that had it glittering, fogging, picking out things moving where nothing moved at all.
They stopped at the edge of the path, and he licked at his lips. The way ahead was dark, filled with the growl of the sea climbing the rocks. Peg took his arm; they left the road behind.
"Peg," he whispered, wanting to tell her how fruitless this was. But she tightened her grip to silence him, and he stared ahead, trying to see beyond the reach of the light, swinging it side to side, hunting for a telltale break in the undergrowth.
Five minutes and he was freezing.
Five more and she stumbled, nearly knocking them both down.
He sensed her resolve weakening, yet she pulled him on gently until they reached a widening of the path and saw the body ahead.
"Oh my God," she murmured.
The flashlight poked closer, and the body elongated.
"It's El," he said flatly.
Peg looked away, a cheek against his shoulder, and he had a hand out when he felt her stiffen and clutch him fiercely. He turned quickly, and saw the figure in the middle of the road, the shadow waiting for them in the middle of the path.
It was then he realized he hadn't brought a weapon.
Like a man with a torch fending off a jungle beast, he thrust the flashlight ahead of him, jabbing at the figure as it staggered toward them. Peg whimpered, was ready to bolt and run, when suddenly the light caught the figure's face.
"Matthew!" Peg screamed, and ran to take him in her arms.
His hair was matted in cords over his face, his clothes torn and drenched, but as far as Colin could tell, the boy wasn't injured.
A brief pain in his chest then when Peg cradled and lifted Matt, rocking him while she held him and tried to clean him off at the same time; another draining when he realized.that finally it was over. He waited until the boy noticed him as well, and in a three-way joyous spate of talking, yelling, laughing, explaining, he heard something that made him hush them all with a sharp wave.
"What?" he said, taking the boy by the shoulder.
"I said," Matt told him as if he should have known, "I went to find Lilla and make her give you and Mom back. And she did! She really and truly did!"
"Lilla," Peg said dully.
Matt's eyes widened in excitement, in relief. "Yes, honest, Mom! She was in the cave. I went there and she was there. I was real scared at first because she was acting all funny, but then I told her what I wanted and she said okay, and then… then…" The boy's face darkened, and suddenly he was crying.
Peg carried him back to the car, Colin trailing and swinging the flashlight. As he watched them climb into the back seat, heard Peg's joyous laughter and Hugh's brisk professional manner, he shook his head and walked around to stand next to Lee.
"Lilla," he said.
"Should we look for her?"
"I'm tempted," he answered.
"Colin, no. I'll tell you the truth-I don't know what the hell it was we've just been through, and I don't think I want to know. Ever. Lilla, as far as I'm concerned, can rot alone in this hell."
He hated himself, but he nodded. "I only said I was tempted. I have no intention of finding her. I don't care what Matt says. She could have killed him out there, no matter what she was like after Gran was… taken care of."
"Good," she said. "Good."
He took the driver's seat, Lee beside him and holding his arm tightly. A false start and the engine caught, and he drove as fast as he could back toward the village.
As they passed the gas station, Hugh leaned over the back. "It's done, right?" ' "Damn right," Lee said. "You're sure?"
"Hugh," Colin said, "why don't you shut up?"
"I was referring to Lilla," Montgomery said before slipping back to his seat.
"Yes," he said, and turned to look out the window. "I know."
They passed Naughton's Market, the theater, the bank, the luncheonette.
"Hope you can run a boat," Lee said with a forced laugh as they drove toward the marina.
"I can," Matt volunteered. And when Peg hushed him with a mock scowl and Colin began to laugh, he crossed his arms over his chest and pushed himself into the corner. "Well, I can," he insisted grumpily. "Gee. Nuts. Goddamn."
The snow little more than flurries that looped and twirled over the bay's restless waters. A solitary gull coasted, wheeled away; the breeze faded with the light, gusted briefly and set the forest to trembling.
Colin stood behind the nail keg, a booted foot atop it, one gloved hand holding the binoculars while the other flattened the yellow wool cap closer around his ears. He imagined himself encased in a block of clear ice, a contemporary natural sculpture to be discovered by some astonished wanderer who would admire the realism and doubt the medium, and by the first light of Easter he would be a puddle on the landing.
He wanted to laugh, but the effort was too great.
A glance at his watch.
Three hours, not one minute of it passing quickly. It never had, not since he'd started. Every time he took position he remembered, and in remembering could not ignore a single moment. Three hours to relive a weekend no sane man should have survived.