Authors: Joseph Nassise
Still able to see, I climbed to my feet and turned to look toward the dunes. I saw Denise standing high atop one of them, watching my performance.
“Is that all you’ve got?” I shouted at her, grinning madly all the while.
Bring it on, sister
, I thought.
Denise raised her arms slowly over her head, and as she did the sound of the surf behind me suddenly faded. Instead of the crash of the waves against the shore, there was nothing but silence. At the same time, a dark shadow fell across the beach, blotting out the sun.
I turned to see a massive wave looming above me, a good fifteen feet in height. It hung there, trapped in that moment just before breaking, like a bull straining to break out of the rodeo gate.
The wave broke.
Knowing I was about to be pulverized by a half ton of water caused my concentration to slip. The connection allowing me to borrow the ghost’s sight shredded like a wet tissue, and I found myself surrounded by a fog of brilliant white. I had time to take two or three stumbling steps in the direction I thought the dunes lay, and then that massive wall of freezing water crashed down upon me. The force of the wave knocked me off my feet and carried me up the beach in a twisting, tumbling roll before depositing me at the foot of the dunes and receding back into the sea as if it had never existed.
Spitting out seawater and gasping for air, never mind trying to remember which way was up after being tossed around like a rag doll, I pulled myself into a seated position, my head hanging between my legs, both literally and figuratively.
A voice called down from the top of the dune above.
“Looks like you lost your concentration, Hunt.”
I spat up what felt like another lungful of seawater and answered with what was left of my dignity.
“Nag, nag, nag. You just wait. I’ll get you for that.”
Denise laughed, the first genuine laugh I’d heard from her in over a week. “Whatever you say, Grasshopper,” she said lightly. “I think that’s enough for today.”
I waited until I heard her footsteps moving away from me before I muttered beneath my breath.
“Watch it or I’ll sic a poltergeist on your ass.”
Her honey-and-steel voice came floating back across the dunes.
“I heard that…”
Maybe things were going to turn out okay after all
, I thought.
Unfortunately, the universe had other ideas.
We made good time that next day, driving west on I-78 across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. There we picked up I-81 South and passed through Maryland and West Virginia.
We stopped to get some dinner in a mom-and-pop place just north of the Virginia state line. After weeks of TV dinners and fast food joints, a sit-down meal done the old-fashioned way tasted like heaven. Still, we didn’t dare linger too long; you never knew who might be watching.
After eating, I convinced the others to give me a turn behind the wheel. Driving long distances has always been a monotonous chore for me, and being trapped in the car for so long with nothing to do but sit there and listen to the radio was driving me crazy. Besides, the two of them had both taken a turn at the wheel and needed the rest. Denise was reluctant at first, convinced that the lights of the oncoming cars would cause me problems, but I pulled out my trusty shades, slapped them on my face and told her I’d be just fine.
“Besides,” I said with a grin as I took the keys from her hands, “I’m the one who can see in the dark, remember?”
Dmitri didn’t care one way or the other, provided he got to stretch out in the backseat. Without his support, Denise’s objections soon crumbled. Muttering beneath her breath, she got into the passenger seat while I slid in behind the wheel. My eyesight turned the night’s darkness into broad daylight, and I had no problem seeing as I pulled back out onto the road. I turned the car’s headlights down as low as possible to minimize their impact. I considered turning them off entirely but decided that a black car racing through the night without headlights was a bit too much of an attention getter.
The Charger was the kind of car I’d have loved to have owned in the old days, all brute force and pent-up energy packed into a sleek design, the kind that was built to eat miles for breakfast and ask what was for lunch. It took me a little while to get used to the way it handled the road, but once I had, I just relaxed and enjoyed the passage of time as the white lines disappeared beneath the wheels.
We hit our first patch of trouble about fifty miles or so past the Tennessee state line, still headed south on Interstate 81. I had the cruise control set a couple of miles an hour over the speed limit and was humming along with the stereo, minding my own business, when I saw the patrol car sitting on the median between the north-and southbound lanes.
Most of the other drivers on the road with me probably never even saw it as they zoomed past; the cop was pulled up off the road, hiding in the darkness of the emergency lane that bisected the median. With my altered sight I could see him as plain as day from more than fifty yards out. By the time I went cruising past him, I had the accelerator pegged right at the speed limit and made sure not to do anything that would have made us look out of place.
Or so I thought.
I kept my eyes on him as I went passed and got a good look as he pulled onto the highway a minute later.
Beside me, slumped in the Charger’s passenger seat, Clearwater stirred at my outburst and in a tired voice asked, “What?”
As I watched, the cruiser moved out of the far left lane and slid in behind me as smoothly as a shark cuts through deep water. The darkened windshield and reinforced front end seemed to give it a certain sense of malevolent intent, though that might have simply been my paranoia talking.
I checked my speed, saw that it was a few miles beneath the limit now, and hoped the cops were just headed for the off-ramp coming up on my right.
They’d remained immediately behind me even when traffic had opened up enough to let them switch lanes. I started to get worried. I felt my heart accelerate and took a couple of deep breaths to try to calm myself. It wouldn’t do to go into this out of control.
I managed to get another couple of miles down the road before the cops hit their flashers, indicating that they wanted me to pull over.
The sleepiness was gone from Denise’s voice. That one word,
, brought her out of her quasi slumber to full wakefulness in a matter of seconds.
“Just one patrol car,” I told her.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see her sitting up straighter, though she didn’t look back at the cop car behind us.
“Not a lot of choice, is there?”
The red and blue flashers split the night, coating everything with their garish glow.
I sighed. “Nope.”
Looked like we were going to test just how good my new ID was sooner rather than later.
We’d talked before leaving New Jersey about how to handle certain situations and this was one of them. We’d agreed that it would be best to comply with any official request until it looked like we were going to be taken into custody. If that happened, all bets were off and we’d use whatever means necessary to get us out of there as quickly as possible.
My hands tightened on the wheel as the squad car followed me across two lanes and onto the shoulder. I’d been hoping they just wanted me to move out of the way and let them pass, but that clearly wasn’t the case. I put the car in park, rolled down my window, and turned off the engine.
Footsteps sounded outside the window and a shadow loomed.
“License and registration, please.”
“Of course,” I said, nodding. I reached into the center console where I knew Denise kept the documents, pulled them out and passed them through the open window. From my position I couldn’t see the cop’s face, but I did get a look at his name tag.
, it read.
As he was looking over the license and registration, I was struck by the sudden urge to say, “These are not the droids you are looking for,” in a deep commanding voice and had to clamp my jaw shut tight to avoid the nervous laugh that threatened to pop out as a result.
Now was definitely not the time to be looking like a psycho
, I told myself sternly.
The beam of a flashlight suddenly pierced the shadowed interior of the car.
“Mind taking off those sunglasses, sir?”
I did. I minded a lot, in fact.
I tried to talk my way out of it. “I’d rather not, Officer, if that’s okay. I have an unusual birth defect that renders my eyes susceptible to bright light. The sunglasses protect me from that.”
He chuckled. “Oh, that’s a new one, I’ll give you that.” He put one hand on the open window and the other on the butt of his gun. His expression got all serious. “Take off the sunglasses, sir.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake! I stomped on my irritation, knowing that getting mad wasn’t going to help the situation, and took off my sunglasses, bracing myself as I did so.
Good thing, too, for no sooner had I done so than the flashlight beam was in my face as the cop tried to check my eyes to see if I’d been drinking. The bright light stole all vision from me and I instinctively put my hand up to shield them.
“Holy shit!” Hendricks exclaimed, making no move to take the light out of my face. “You weren’t kidding, were you?”
I wanted to slug the asshole, but managed to restrain myself.
The light disappeared. “Where are you folks headed?” he asked.
“Denver,” I replied, before Denise could say anything. No way was I going to give our actual destination. “Is there a problem, Officer? I didn’t think I was speeding…”
I let my voice trail off, hoping he’d jump in, and he did so right on cue.
“Did I say you were speeding?”
He was back to being testy again.
“No, sir,” I said, hoping to stay on his good side.
Apparently I was too late for that.
“Your left taillight is out. That’s a hundred-dollar fine in this state. I’m going to have to write you a…”
He never got out the rest of his sentence. In the seat next to me, Denise started screaming.
Her scream ripped loose, filling the air in and out of the car with the sound of someone being tortured mercilessly. Just the sound of it sent a twisting cramp through my guts and made my skin crawl. All I wanted to do was get as far away from that sound as I possibly could. I would have done anything to make it stop.
Her screaming had the same effect on Hendricks as it did on me. He swore and fumbled for his gun, dropping my driver’s license and registration inside the car in the process.
One glance at Denise told me everything I needed to know. She was jerking and twitching in her seat like an epileptic in the midst of a seizure. Her hands were up in front of her face, as if she were trying to ward something off, and her eyes were open wide and staring at a scene only she could see. Clearly she was in the midst of one of her visions.
Unfortunately, there was no way for me to explain that to Hendricks. He was staring into the car at Denise, his eyes as wide as the headlights on his patrol car, his mouth open, and I could tell from his stance that if Denise didn’t stop screaming soon he might pull that pistol and start blazing away, just to make that horrible noise end.
I did the only thing I could think of.
My hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, pinning it against the windowsill. At the same time, I gathered my will and with a great mental shove pushed it in his direction.
The thunderclap of noise that filled my head was accompanied by a moment of pain so strong that I almost doubled over. I knew if I surrendered to it we were in deep trouble, so I fought against the blackness that threatened to drown me in its grip and hung on for the few seconds it took for it to pass.
When it had, I could see.
Not in that strange, new way I had since my encounter with the Preacher years before, but actual, honest-to-goodness sight. The colors I was seeing were muted, faded, as if they’d stood for too long under a hot desert sun, but I knew it was just one of the odd side effects of borrowing sight from the living and wasn’t concerned by it.
Officer Hendricks, on the other hand, wasn’t taking things so calmly.
“Aaagggh!” he screamed, adding his voice to Denise’s, his hands flying up to cover his face. “My eyes!” he screamed. “What happened to my eyes?!”
Denise had once told me that borrowing another’s sight was just like anything else: with a little practice, I’d get better at it. She’d been right, too. My training session yesterday had been proof enough. Months ago I needed to make physical contact in order to effect the link, just as I had done with Whisper in the days before we’d fled Boston. But now I’d gotten to the point where I could forge the connection I needed across a good-sized room without much effort and could even maintain it for an hour or more. It was harder with the living; I still had to be in physical contact to make that initial link, and if I lost contact the connection would fade within minutes, but it was better than it had been a few months ago.
Besides, minutes were all I needed right now.
We never get over being alone in the dark, not really. We just learn how to control and manage it instead. Lock a person alone in the dark for a few days and you’ll see how quickly even the toughest among us can be reduced to that whimpering child we used to be, staring at the closet door, terrified of what’s waiting in the darkness on the other side. Kidnappers don’t blindfold their victims to prevent them from seeing where they are going, but to create a sense of isolation and hopelessness. If we can’t see what’s coming, we naturally assume the worst. Fear like that can be crippling.
Hendricks was no different from the rest of us, law enforcement training or not. He stumbled away from the car, all thought of using his weapon forgotten as his fear over losing his sight overwhelmed him.