By the Light of the Moon / Page 29

Page 29

As her anger settled and as relief brought with it a measure of calm and clarity, Jilly realized that Dylan was exhilarated. A little nervous, yes, and maybe a little fearful, too, but largely exhilarated, almost boyishly exuberant.

Dylan said, 'He folded reality maybe, space and time, one or both, I don't know, but he folded here to there. What did you fold, Shep? What exactly was it you folded?'

'Lowest point,' said Shep, 'Death Valley—'

'He'll probably be on this California thing for a while.'

'—two hundred eighty-two feet below sea level.'

'What did you fold, bro?'

'State capital – Sacramento.'

'Last night he folded stall one to stall four,' Dylan said, 'but I didn't realize it at the time.'

'Stall one to stall four?' Jilly frowned, working the pain out of the hand with which she'd punched him. 'Right now Shep's making more sense than you are.'

'State bird – California valley quail.'

'In the men's room. He folded toilet to toilet. He went in number one and came out number four. I didn't tell you about it, because I didn't realize what had happened.'

'State flower – golden poppy.'

Jilly wanted to be clear on this: 'He teleported from one toilet to another?'

'No, teleportation isn't involved. See – I came back with my own head, he came back with his own nose. No teleportation.'

'State tree – California redwood.'

'Show her your nose, Shep.'

Shepherd kept his head bowed. 'State motto – "Eureka," which means, "I have found it."'

'Believe me,' Dylan told Jilly, 'it's his own nose. This isn't a David Cronenberg film.'

She thought about that last statement for a moment while Dylan grinned at her and nodded, and then she said, 'I know I haven't even had breakfast yet, but I need a beer.'

Shepherd disapproved. 'Psychotropic intoxicant.'

'He's talking to me,' Jilly said.

'Yeah,' Dylan said.

'I mean not at me. Talking to me. Sort of.'

'Yeah, he's going through some changes.' Dylan lowered the lid on the toilet. 'Here, Shep, sit down here.'

'Time to shower,' Shep reminded them.

'All right, soon, but sit down here first.' Dylan maneuvered his brother to the closed toilet and persuaded him to sit.

'Shep is dirty. Time to shower.'

After kneeling in front of his brother, Dylan quickly examined his arms. 'I don't see anything.'

'Time to shower. Nine minutes.'

Dylan removed Shepherd's bedroom slippers, and set them aside. 'Want to bet which cartoon?'

Bewildered, Jilly wanted that beer more than ever. 'Cartoon?'

Head lowered, Shep watched his brother set aside the slippers. 'Nine minutes. One minute for each arm.'

'Bunny or puppy,' Dylan said.

Examining the adhesive bandage on her arm, Jilly saw that it was loose but that it still concealed the needle mark.

Dylan peeled the sock off Shepherd's right foot.

'One minute,' Shep said, 'for each leg—'

Moving closer, Jilly watched as Dylan examined his brother's bare foot. 'If he was injected,' she said, 'why not in the arm?'

'—and one minute for the head—'

'He was working a jigsaw puzzle at the time,' Dylan said.


'—and two full minutes to wash everything else—'

'You've never seen my brother work a puzzle. He's fast. His hands keep moving. And he's focused.'

'—two minutes to rinse,' Shep finished. Then he added, 'Cat.'

'He's so focused,' Dylan continued, 'you can't persuade him to stop until he's completed the puzzle. You can't force him to stop. He wouldn't care what you did with his feet because he doesn't work the puzzle with his feet. But you couldn't immobilize one of his arms.'

'Maybe he was chloroformed, like me.'

Having found no obvious puncture mark on Shepherd's right foot, Dylan said, 'No. When I went across the street to get takeout, he was doing jigsaw, and when I woke up taped to the chair, Shep was still flying through the puzzle.'

Inexplicably, Shep interjected, 'Cat.'

'If he'd been chloroformed, he wouldn't have gotten over the effects that quickly,' Jilly said, remembering the disorientation that had lingered after she'd awakened.


'Besides, having a chloroform-soaked rag clamped to his face would have been even more traumatic for Shep than it was for you. A lot more. He's fragile. After regaining consciousness, he'd have been either highly emotional or he'd have curled up in the fetal position and refused to move. He wouldn't have gone back to the puzzle as if nothing had happened.'

Dylan stripped the sock from Shepherd's left foot.

Shepherd's Band-Aid featured a cartoon cat.

'Cat,' said Shep. 'Shep bet cat.'

Carefully Dylan peeled off the tape.

'Shep wins,' said Shep.

More than half a day after the injection had been administered, the puncture remained inflamed and slightly swollen.

The sight of Shep's stigmata sent a shiver through Jilly that she could not entirely explain.

She removed her bunny-decorated bandage. The site of her injection looked identical to Shepherd's.

Dylan's cartoon puppy proved to conceal a needle puncture that matched his brother's and Jilly's wounds. 'He told me the stuff does something different to everyone.'

Glancing at the wall where the tunnel had been, Jilly said, 'In Shepherd's case, something way different.'

'"The effect is without exception interesting,"' Dylan quoted Frankenstein, as he had quoted him before, '"frequently astonishing, and sometimes positive."'

Jilly saw the wonder in Dylan's face, the shining hope in his eyes. 'You think this is positive for Shep?'

'I don't know about the talent to... to fold things. Whether that might be a blessing or a curse. Only time will tell. But he's talking more, too. And talking more directly to me. Now that I look back on it, he's been changing ever since this happened.'

She knew what Dylan was thinking and what he dared not say, for fear of tempting fate: that by virtue of the injection, with the aid of the mysterious psychotropic stuff, Shep might find his way out of the prison of his autism.

Negative Jackson might be a name she'd earned. Perhaps at her worst she was, as well, a vortex of pessimism, never regarding her own life and prospects, but often regarding the likelihood that most people and society in general would always find a hellbound hand-basket in which to be carried to destruction. But she didn't think she was being pessimistic – or even negative – when she looked upon this development with Shep and sensed more danger in it than hope, less potential for enlightenment than for horror.

Staring down at the tiny red point of inflammation on his foot, Shepherd whispered, 'By the light of the moon.'

In his heretofore innocent face, Jilly saw neither the vacant stare nor the benign expression, nor the wrenching anxiety, that had thus far pretty much defined his apparent emotional range. A hint of acrimony colored his voice, and his features tightened in a bitter expression that might have represented something more caustic than mere bitterness. Anger perhaps, rock-hard and long-nurtured anger.

'He said this before,' Dylan revealed, 'as I was trying to get him out of our motel room last night, just before we met you.'

'You do your work,' Shep whispered.

'This too,' Dylan said.

Shepherd's shoulders remained slumped, and his hands lay in his lap, palms up almost as if he were meditating, but his clouded face betrayed an inner storm.

'What's he talking about?' Jilly asked.

'I don't know.'

'Shep? Who're you talking to, sweetie?'

'You do your work by the light of the moon.'

'Whose work, Shep?'

A minute ago, Shepherd had been as connected to them and to the moment as she had ever seen him. Now he had gone away somewhere as surely as he had stepped through the wall to California.

She crouched beside Dylan and gently took one of Shep's limp hands in both her hands. He didn't respond to her touch. His hand remained as slack as that of a dead man.

His green eyes were alive, however, as he stared down at his foot, at the floor, perhaps seeing neither, seeming to gaze instead at someone or something that, in memory, profoundly troubled him.

'You do your work by the light of the moon,' he whispered once more. This time the suggestion of anger in his face was matched by an unmistakable raw edge to his voice.

No clairvoyant vision settled upon Jilly, no vivid premonition of terror to come, but ordinary intuition told her to be alert and to expect deadly surprises.


Shepherd returned from his private moonlit place to the realization that he still needed to shower.

Although Jilly retreated to the bedroom, Dylan remained in the bathroom with his brother. He didn't intend to leave Shepherd alone anytime soon, not with this latest herethere complication to worry about.

As Shep pulled off his T-shirt, Dylan said, 'Kiddo, I want you to promise me something.'

Shucking off his jeans, Shep made no reply.

'I want you to promise me that you won't fold here to there, won't go anywhere again like that, unless you clear it with me.'

Shep skinned out of his briefs. 'Nine minutes.'

'Can you make me that promise, Shep?'

Sliding the shower curtain aside, Shep said, 'Nine minutes.'

'This is serious, buddy. None of this folding until we have a better understanding of what's happening to us, to all of us.'

Shep turned on the shower, gingerly slipped one hand in the spray, adjusted the controls, and tested the temperature again.

Often people made the mistake of assuming that Shepherd must be severely retarded and that he required far more assistance to take care of himself than was in fact the case. He could groom himself, dress himself, and deal successfully with many simple tasks of daily life other than food preparation. You should never ask Shep to make a flaming dessert or even to toast a Pop-Tart. You didn't want to hand him the keys to your Porsche. But he was intelligent, and perhaps even smarter than Dylan.

Unfortunately, in his case intelligence remained isolated from performance. He had come into this world with some bad wiring. He was like a Mercedes sports car with a powerful engine that had not been connected to the drive train; you could race that engine all day, and it would sound as pretty as any engine ever built, but you wouldn't go anywhere.

'Nine minutes,' Shep said.

Dylan handed the Minute Minder to him: a mechanical timer made for use in the kitchen. The round white face featured sixty black checks, a number at every fifth check.

Shep brought the device close to his face, scrutinizing it as though he had never seen it before, and carefully set the dial at nine minutes. He picked up a bar of Neutrogena, the only soap he would use in the shower, and he stepped into the tub, holding the Minute Minder by the dial to prevent the timer from engaging.

To avoid an attack of claustrophobia, Shep always showered with the curtain open.

Once he was under the spray, he stood the Minute Minder on the edge of the tub, releasing the dial. The ticking proved audible above the hiss and splash of water.

The timer always got wet. In a couple months, rust would have made it useless. Dylan bought the gadgets by the dozen.

Immediately Shep began to soap his left arm, directly applying the Neutrogena. Although he wouldn't look at the Minute Minder again, he would allot precisely the desired amount of time to each area of his body. Two or three seconds before the timer went off, he would anticipate it by loudly announcing Ding! with a note of satisfaction.

Perhaps he kept track of the elapsing time by counting the ticks of the Minute Minder – one per second. Or maybe after all these years of precisely timed baths, Shep had developed a reliable inner clock.

For the past decade, Dylan had been chronically aware of his own clock relentlessly counting off his life, but he had refused to think too much about time, about where he would be either in nine minutes or in six months, a year, two years. He would be painting the world, of course, traveling to art festivals, making a circuit of galleries across the West. And looking after Shep.

Now his inner watchworks ticked not faster but more insistently, and he couldn't stop contemplating the suddenly fluid nature of his future. He no longer knew where he might be tomorrow or in what situation he would find himself by sunset this very day, let alone where twelve months might take him. To one who'd lived a singularly predictable life for ten years, these new circumstances should have been frightening, and they were, scary as hell, but they were also undeniably exciting, almost exhilarating.

He was surprised that the prospect of novelty had so much appeal for him. He had long conceived himself to be a man of constancy, who respected tradition, who loved what was immemorial and did not share the interest in newness for the sake of newness that had made this society so rootless and so in love with flash.

Guilt brought a blush to his face as he remembered his tirade on the hilltop, when he had railed at Shepherd about 'maddening routine' and 'stupid repetition,' as though the poor kid had any choice to be other than what he was.

Being exhilarated by the possibility of revolutionary change in his life, while having no clue whether the coming changes would be for good or ill, at first struck him as reckless. Then in light of the recognition that those changes held more peril for Shepherd than for anyone, this excitement had to be judged worse than recklessness: It seemed selfish, shallow.

Face to face with himself in the mirror, he argued silently that his rush to embrace change, any change, was nothing more and nothing worse than a reflection of his eternal optimism. Even if it had been made aloud, that argument would not have resonated with the ring of truth. Dismayed by the man he saw, he turned away from the mirror, but even though he counseled himself to face this newly fluid future with more caution, even with alarm, his excitement had not been in the least diminished.

* * *

No one would ever accuse Holbrook, Arizona, of being a noisy hub of commerce. Except perhaps during the Old West Celebration in June, the Gathering of Eagles show of Native American art in July, and the Navajo County Fair in September, an armadillo could cross any local street or highway at a pace of its own choosing with little risk of death by motor vehicle.

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