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Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER SEVEN

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“I'd about given up on you this morning,” Mr. Starret said, looking at his breakfast tray of orange juice, plain yoghurt, and wheat flakes with no great joy. What he really craved was two cholesterol-filled eggs, fried over easy and sweating butter, with five slices of bacon on the side, not too crisp. The sort of fare that had, in fact, landed him here in the first place. At least according to his doctor-the birdbrain.

“The going's bad outside,” Allison said shortly. Six patients had already told her they had about given up on her this morning, and the line was getting old. Allison was a pleasant girl, but this morning she was feeling harried.

“Oh, sorry,” Mr. Starret said humbly. “Pretty slippery on the roads, is it?”

“It sure is,” Allison said, thawing slightly. “If I didn't have my husband's four-wheel drive today, I never would have made it.”

Mr. Starret pushed the button that raised his bed so he could eat his breakfast comfortably. The electric motor that raised and lowered it was small but loud. The TV was still quite loud-Mr. Starret was a little deaf, and as he had told his wife, the guy in the other bed had never complained about a little extra volume. Never asked to see what was on the other channel either. He supposed a joke like that was in pretty poor taste, but when you'd had a heart attack and wound up in intensive care sharing a room with a human vegetable, you either learned a little black humor or you went crazy.

Allison raised her voice a little to be heard over the whining motor and the TV as she finished setting up Mr. Starret's tray. “There were cars off the road all up and down State Street hill.”

In the other bed Johnny Smith said softly, “The whole wad on nineteen. One way or the other. My girl's sick.”

“You know, this yogurt isn't half bad,” Mr. Starret said. He hated yogurt, but he didn't want to be left alone until absolutely necessary. When he was alone he kept taking his own pulse. “It tastes a little bit like wild hickory…

“Did you hear something?” Allison asked. She looked around doubtfully.

Mr. Starret let go of the control button on the side of the bed and the whine of the electric motor died. On the TV, Elmer Fudd took a potshot at Bugs Bunny and missed.

“Nothing but the TV,” Mr. Starret said. “What'd I miss?”

“Nothing, I guess. It must have been the wind around that window. “She could feel a stress headache coming on-too much to do and not enough people this morning to help her do it-and she rubbed at her temples, as if to drive the pain away before it could get properly seated.

On her way out she paused and looked down at the man in the other bed for a moment. Did he look different somehow? As if he had shifted position? Surely not.

Allison left the room and went on down the hall, pushing her breakfast cabinet ahead of her. It was as terrible a morning as she had feared it would be, everything out of kilter, and by noon her head was pounding. She had quite understandably forgotten all about anything she might have heard that morning in Room 619.

But in the days that followed she found herself looking more and more often at Smith, and by March Allison had become almost sure that he had straightened a bit-come out of what the doctors called his prefetal position a little. Not much just a little. She thought of mentioning it to someone, but in the end did not. After all, she was only an aide, little more than kitchen help.

It really wasn't her place.

It was a dream, he guessed.

He was in a dark, gloomy place-a hallway of some kind. The ceiling was too high to see. It was lost in the shadows. The walls were dark chromed steel. They opened out as they went upward. He was alone, but a voice floated up to where he stood, as if from a great distance. A voice he knew, words that had been spoken to him in another place, at another time. The voice frightened him. It was groaning and lost, echoing back and forth between that dark chromed steel like a trapped bird he remembered from his childhood. The bird had flown into his father's toolshed and hadn't the wit to get back out. It had panicked and had gone swooping back and forth, cheeping in desperate alarm, battering itself against the walls until it had battered itself to death. This voice had the same doomed quality as that long ago bird's cheeping. It was never going to escape this place.

“You plan all your life and you do what you can,” this spectral voice groaned. “You never want nothing but the best, and the kid comes home with hair down to his ass-hole and says the president of the United States is a pig. A pig! Sheeyit, I don't…

Look out, he wanted to say. He wanted to warn the voice, but he was mute. Look out for what? He didn't know. He didn't even know for sure who he was, although he had a suspicion that he had once been a teacher or a preacher.

“Jeeeesus!” The faraway voice screamed. Lost voice, doomed, drowned. “Jeeeee…

Silence then. Echoes dying. away. Then, in a little while, it would start again.

So after a while-he did not know how long, time seemed to have no meaning or relevance in this place-he began to grope his way down the hall, calling in return (or perhaps only calling in his mind), perhaps hoping that he and the owner of the voice could find their way out together, perhaps only hoping to give some comfort and receive some in return.

But the voice kept getting further and further away, dimmer and fainter

(far and wee)

until it was just an echo of an echo. And then it was gone. He was alone now, walking down this gloomy and deserted hall of shadows. And it began to seem to him that it wasn't an illusion or a mirage or a dream-at least not of the ordinary kind. It was as if he had entered limbo, a weird conduit between the land of the living and that of the dead. But toward which end was he moving?

Things began to come back. Disturbing things. They were like ghosts that joined him on his walk, fell in on either side of him, in front of him, behind him, until they circled him in an eldritch ring-weave a circle round him thrice and touch his eyes with holy dread, was that how it went? He could almost see them. All the whispering voices of purgatory. There was a Wheel turning and turning in the night, a Wheel of the Future, red and black, life and death, slowing. Where had he laid his bet? He couldn't remember and he should be able to, because the stakes were his existence. In and out? It had to be one or the other. His girl was sick. He had to get her home.

After a while, the hallway began to seem brighter. At first he thought it was imagination, a sort of dream within a dream if that were possible, but after an unknown length of time the brightness became too marked to be an illusion. The whole experience of the corridor seemed to become less dreamlike. The walls drew back until he could barely see them, and the dull dark color changed to a sad and misty gray, the color of twilight on a warm and overcast March afternoon. It began to seem that he was not in a hallway at all anymore, but in a room -almost in a room, separated from it by the thinnest of membranes, a sort of placental sac, like a baby waiting to be born. Now he heard other voices, not echoey but dull and thudding, like the voices of nameless gods speaking in forgotten tongues. Little by little these voices came clearer, until he could nearly make out what they were saying.

He began to open his eyes from time to time (or thought he did) and he could actually see the owners of those voices: bright, glowing, spectral shapes with no faces at first, sometimes moving about the room, sometimes bending over him. It didn't occur to him to try speaking to them, at least not at first. It came to him that this might be some sort of afterlife, and these bright shapes the shapes of angels.

The faces, like the voices, began to come clearer with time. He saw his mother once, leaning into his field of vision and slowly thundering something totally without meaning into his upturned face. His father was there another time. Dave Pelsen from school. A nurse he came to know; he believed her name was Mary or possibly Marie. Faces, voices, coming closer, jelling together.

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