Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER FOURTEEN

She hung up the phone and sat down in a chair. Denny continued to cry from his playpen. Water ran into the kitchen sink. After a while she got up, went into the kitchen, and turned it off.



The man from Inside View showed up on October 16, not long after Johnny had walked up to get the mail.

His father's house was set well back from the road; their graveled driveway was nearly a quarter of a mile long, running through a heavy stand of second-growth spruce and pine. Johnny did the total round trip every day. At first he had returned to the porch trembling with exhaustion, his legs on fire, his limp so pronounced that he was really lurching along. But now, a month and a half after the first time (when the half a mile had taken him an hour to do), the walk had become one of his day's pleasures, something to look forward to. Not the mail, but the walk.

He had begun splitting wood for the coming winter, a chore Herb had been planning to hire out since he himself had landed a contract to do some inside work on a new housing project in Libertyville. “You know when old age has started lookin over your shoulder, John,” he had said with a smile. “It's when you start lookin for inside work as soon as fall rolls around.”

Johnny climbed the porch and sat down in the wicker chair beside the glider, uttering a small sound of relief. He propped his right foot on the porch railing, and with a grimace of pain, used his hands to lift his left leg over it. That done, he began to open his mail.

It had tapered off a lot just lately. During the first week he had been back here in Pownal, there had sometimes been as many as two dozen letters and eight or nine packages a day, most of them forwarded through the EMMC, a few of them sent to General Delivery, Pownal (and assorted variant spellings: Pownell, Poenul, and, in one memorable case, Poonuts).

Most of them were from dissociated people who seemed to be drifting through life in search of any rudder. There were children who wanted his autograph, women who wanted to sleep with him, both men and women seeking advice to the lovelorn. Some sent lucky charms. Some sent horoscopes. A great many of the letters were religious in nature, and in these badly spelled missives, usually written in a large and careful handwriting but one step removed from the scrawl of a bright first-grader, he seemed to feel the ghost of his mother.

He was a prophet, these letters assured him, come to lead the weary and disillusioned American people out of the wilderness. He was a sign that the Last Times were at hand. To this date, October 16, he had received eight copies of Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth -his mother surely would have approved of that one. He was urged to proclaim the divinity of Christ and put a stop to the loose morals of youth.

These letters were balanced off by the negative contingent, which was smaller but just as vocal-if usually anonymous. One correspondent, writing in grubby pencil on a sheet of yellow legal paper proclaimed him the Antichrist and urged him to commit suicide. Four or five of the letter writers had inquired about how it felt to murder your own mother. A great many wrote to accuse him of perpetrating a hoax. One wit wrote, “PRECOGNITION, TELEPATHY, BULLSHIT! EAT MY DONG, YOU EXTRASENSORY TURKEY!”

And they sent things. That was the worst of it.

Every day on his way home from work, Herb would stop at the Pownal post office and pick up the packages that were too big to fit in their mailbox. The notes accompanying the things were all essentially the same; a low-grade scream. Tell me, tell me, tell me.

This scarf belonged to my brother, who disappeared on a fishing trip in the Allagash in 1969. I feel very strongly that he is still alive. Tell me where he is.

This lipstick came from my wife's dressing table. I think she's having an affair, but I'm not sure. Tell me if she is.

This is my son's ID bracelet. He never comes home after school anymore, he stays out until all hours, I'm worried sick. Tell me what he's doing.

A woman in North Carolina-God knew how she had found out about him; the press conference in August had not made the national media-sent a charred piece of wood. Her house had burned down, her letter explained, and her husband and two of her five children had died in the blaze. The Charlotte fire department said it was faulty wiring, but she simply couldn't accept that. It had to be arson. She wanted Johnny to feel the enclosed blackened relic and tell her who had done it, so the monster would spend the rest of his life rotting in prison.

Johnny answered none of the letters and returned all the objects (even the charcoaled hunk of wood) at his cost and with no comment. He did touch some of them. Most, like the charred piece of wallboard from the grief-stricken woman in Charlotte, told him nothing at all. But when he touched a few of them, disquieting images came, like waking dreams. In most cases there was barely a trace; a picture would form and fade in seconds, leaving him with nothing concrete at all, only a feeling. But one of them…

It had been the woman who sent the scarf in hopes of finding out what had happened to her brother. It was a white knitted scarf, no different from a million others. But as he handled it, the reality of his father's house had suddenly been gone, and the sound of the television in the next room rose and flattened, rose and flattened, until it was the sound of drowsing summer insects and the far-away babble of water.

Woods smells in his nostrils. Green shafts of sunlight falling through great old trees. The ground had been soggy for the last three hours or so, squelchy, almost swamplike. He was scared, plenty scared, but he had kept his head. If you were lost in the big north country and panicked, they might as well carve your headstone. He had kept pushing south. It had been two days since he had gotten separated from Stiv and Rocky and Logan. They had been camping near

(but that wouldn't come, it was in the dead zone)

some stream, trout-fishing, and it had been his own damn fault; he had been pretty damn drunk.

Now he could see his pack leaning against the edge of an old and moss-grown blowdown, white deadwood poking through the green here and there like bones, he could see his pack, yes, but he couldn't reach it because he had walked a few yards away to take a leak and he had walked into a really squelchy place, mud almost to the tops of his L. L. Bean's boots, and he tried to back out, find a dryer place to do his business, but he couldn't get out. He couldn't get out because it wasn't mud at all. It was

something else.

He stood there, looking around fruitlessly for something to grab onto, almost laughing at the idiocy of having walked right into a patch of quicksand while looking for a place to take a piss.

He stood there, at first positive that it must be a shallow patch of quicksand, at the very worst over his boot-tops, another tale to tell when he was found.

He stood there, and real panic did not begin to set in until the quicksand oozed implacably over his knees. He began to struggle then, forgetting that if you got your stupid self into quicksand you were supposed to remain very still. In no time at all the quicksand was up to his waist and now it was chest-high, sucking at him like great brown lips, constricting his breathing; he began to scream and no one came, nothing came except for a fat brown squirrel that picked its way down the side of the mossy deadfall and perched on his pack and watched him with his bright, black eyes.

Now it was up to his neck, the rich, brown smell of it in his nose and his screams became thin and gasping as the quicksand implacably pressed the breath out of him. Birds flew swooping and cheeping and scolding, and green shafts of sunlight like tarnished copper fell through the trees, and the quicksand rose over his chin. Alone, he was going to die alone, and he opened his mouth to scream one last time and there was no scream because the quicksand flowed into his mouth, it flowed over his tongue, it flowed between his teeth in thin ribbons, he was swallowing quicksand and the scream was never uttered -Johnny had come out of that in a cold sweat, his flesh marbled into goosebumps, the scarf wrapped tightly between his hands, his breath coming in sh6rt, strangled gasps. He had thrown the scarf on the floor where it lay like a twisted white snake. He would not touch it again. His father had put it in a return envelope and sent it back.

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