Dragon Tears / Page 34

Page 34



For one thing, if time had really stopped, why were they still conscious? How could they be aware of the phenomenon? Why weren't they frozen in that last moment of forwardmoving time just as the airborne litter was, as the moths were?


“No,” he said shakily, “it's not that simple. If time stopped, notbi would movewould it?-not even subatomic particles. And without subatomic movement ... molecules of air ... well, won't molecules of air be as solid as molecules of iron? How would we be able to breathe?”


Reacting to that thought, they both took deep and grateful breaths.


The air did have a faint chemical taste, as slightly odd in its way as the timbre of their voices, but it seemed capable of sustaining life.


“And light,” Harry said. “Light waves would stop moving. No waves to register with our eyes. So how could we see anything but darkness?”


In fact, the effect of time coming to a stop probably would be infinitely more catastrophic than the stillness and silence that had descended on the world that March night. It seemed to him that time and matter were inseparable parts of creation, and if the flow of time were cut off, matter would instantly cease to exist. The universe would implodewouldn't it? Crash back in on itself, into a real tiny ball of extremely dense. . well, whatever the hell dense stuff it was before it had exploded to create the universe.


Connie stood on her toes, reached up, and gently pinched the wing of one of the moths between thumb and forefinger. She settled back on her heels and brought the insect in front of her face for a closer inspection.


Harry had not been sure if she would be able to alter the bug's position or not. He wouldn't have been surprised if the moth had hung immovably on the deadcalm air, as fixed in place as a metal moth welded to a steel wall.


“Not as soft as a moth should be,” she said. “Feels like it's made out of taffeta... or starched fabric of some kind.”


When she opened her fingers, letting go of the wing, the moth hung in the air where she had released it.


Harry gently batted the bug with the back of his hand, and watched with fascination as it tumbled a few inches before coming to rest in the air again. It was as motionless as it had been before they had toyed with it, just in a new position.


The ways in which they affected things appeared to be pretty much normal. Their shadows moved when they did, though all other shadows were as unmoving as the objects that cast them. They could act upon the world and pass through it as usual but couldn't really interact with it. She had been able to move the moth, but touching it had not brought it into their reality, had not made it come alive again.


“Maybe time hasn't stopped,” she said. “Maybe it just slowed way, way down for everyone and everything else except us.”


“That's not it, either.”


“How can you be sure?”


“I can't. But I think . . if we're experiencing time at such a tremendously faster rate, enough faster to make the rest of the world appear to be standing still, then every move we make has incredible comparative velocity. Doesn't it?”


“So?”


"I mean, a lot more velocity than any bullet fired from any gun.


Velocity is destructive. If I took a bullet in my hand and threw it at you, it wouldn't do any damage. But at a few thousand feet per second, it'll punch a substantial hole in you."


She nodded, staring thoughtfully at the suspended moth. “So if it was just a case of us experiencing time a lot faster, the swat you gave that bug would've disintegrated it.”


“Yeah. I think so. I'd have probably done some damage to my hand, too.” He looked at his hand. It was unmarked. "And if it was just that light waves are traveling slower than usual ... then no lamps would be as bright as they are now. They'd be dimmer and.


reddish, I think, almost like infrared light. Maybe. And air molecules would be sluggish...."


“Like breathing water or syrup?”


He nodded. “I think so. I don't really know for sure. Hell's bells, I'm not sure even Albert Einstein would be able to figure this if he was standing right here with us.”


“The way this is going, he might show up any minute.”


No one had gotten out of either the tow truck or the Volvo, which indicated to Harry that the occupants were as trapped in the changed world as were the moths. He could see only the shadowy forms of two people in the front seat of the more distant Volvo, but he had a better view of the man behind the wheel of the tow truck, which was almost directly across the street from them.


Neither the shadows in the car nor the truck driver had moved a fraction of an inch since the stillness had fallen. Harry supposed that if they had not been on the same time track as their vehicles, they might have exploded through the windshields and tumbled along the highway the instant that the tires precipitously stopped rotating.


At the barroom windows of the Green House, six people continued to peer out in precisely the postures they had been in when the Pause had come.


(Harry thought of it as a Pause rather than a Stop because he assumed that sooner or later Ticktock would start things up again. Assuming it was Ticktock who had called the halt. If not him, who else? God?) Two of them were sitting at a window table; the other four were standing, two on each side of the table.


Harry crossed the sidewalk and stepped between the shrubs to examine the onlookers more closely. Connie accompanied him.


They stood directly in front of the glass and perhaps a foot below those inside the barroom.


In addition to the grayhaired couple at the table, there was a young blonde and her fiftyish companion, one of the couples who had been sitting near the bandstand, making too much noise and laughing too heartily. Now they were as quiet as the residents of any tomb. On the other side of the table stood the host and a waiter. All six were squinting through the window, leaning slightly forward toward the glass.


As Harry studied them, not one blinked an eye. No face muscles twitched. Not a single hair stirred. Their clothes draped them as if every garment had been carved from marble.


Their unchanging expressions ranged from amusement to amazement to curiosity to, in the case of the host, perturbation. But they were not reacting to the incredible stillness that had befallen the night. Of that, they were oblivious because they were a part of it.


Rather, they were staring over Harry's and Connie's heads, at the place on the sidewalk where the two of them had last been standing after Sammy and the dog had fled. Their facial expressions were in reaction to that interrupted bit of street theater.


Connie raised one hand above her head and waved it in front of the window, directly in the line of view of the onlookers. The six did not respond to it in any way whatsoever.


“They can't see us,” Connie said wonderingly.


“Maybe they see us standing out there on the sidewalk, in the instant that everything stopped. They could be frozen in that split second of perception and not have seen anything we've done since.”


Virtually in unison, he and Connie looked over their shoulders to study the deadstill street behind them, equally apprehensive of the unnatural quietude. With astonishing stealth, Ticktock had appeared behind them in James Ordegard's bedroom, and they had paid with pain for not anticipating him. Here, he was not yet in sight, although Harry was sure that he was coming.


Returning her attention to the gathering inside the bar, Connie rapped her knuckles against a pane of glass. The sound was slightly tinny, differing from the right sound of knuckles against glass to the same small but audible degree that their current voices differed from their real ones.


The onlookers did not react.


To Harry, they seemed to be more securely imprisoned than the most isolated man in the deepest cell in the world's worst police state.


Like flies in amber, they were trapped in one meaningless moment of their lives. There was something horribly vulnerable about their helpless suspension and their blissful ignorance of it.


Their plight, although they were almost certainly unaware of it, sent a chill along Harry's spine. He rubbed the back of his neck to warm It.


“If they still see us out on the sidewalk,” Connie said, “what happens if we go away from here, and then everything starts up again?”


“I suppose, to them, it'll appear as if we vanished into thin air, right before their eyes.”


“My God.”


“It'll give them a jolt, all right.”


She turned away from the window, faced him. Worry lines creased her brow. Her dark eyes were haunted, and her voice was somber to an extent not fully attributable to the change in its tone and pitch.


“Harry, this bastard isn't just some spoonbending, fortunetelling, sleightofhand, Vegas lounge ”We already knew he had real power."


“Power?”


“Yes.”


“Harry, this is more than power. The word just doesn't convey, you hear me?”


“I hear you,” he said placatingly.


“Just by willing it, he can stop time, stop the engine of the world, jam the gears, do whatever the f*ck it is he's done. That's more than power. That's ... being God. What chance do we have against someone like that?”


“We have a chance.”


“What chance? How?”


“We have a chance,” he insisted stubbornly.


“Yeah? Well, I think this guy can squash us like bugs any time he wants, and he's just been stalling because he enjoys watching bugs suffer.”


“You don't sound like the Connie Gulliver I know,” Harry said more sharply than he had intended.


“Well, maybe I'm not.” She put one thumb to her mouth and used her teeth to trim off a full crescent of the nail.


He had never seen her bite her nails before, and he was almost as astonished by that revelation of nervousness as he would have been if she had broken down and cried.


She said, “Maybe I tried to ride a wave too big for me, got dumped bad, lost my nerve.”


It was inconceivable to Harry that Connie Golliver could lose her nerve over anything at all, not even over something as strange and frightening as what was happening to them. How could she lose her nerve when she was all nerve, one hundred and fifteen pounds or so of solid nerve?


She turned away from him, swept the street with her gaze again, walked to some azalea bushes and parted them with one hand, revealing the hiding dog. "These don't feel quite like leaves. Stiffer.


More like thin cardboard."


He joined her, stooped, and petted the dog, which was as frozen by the Pause as were the bar patrons. “His fur feels like fine wire.”


“I think he was trying to 'tell us something.”


“So do I. Now.”


“Because he sure knew something was about to happen when he hid in these bushes.”


Harry remembered the thought he'd had in the men's room of The Green House: The only indication that I haven't become imprisoned in a fairy tale is the abscence of a talking animal.


Funny, how hard it was to break a man's grasp on his sanity. After a hundred years of Freudian analysis, people were conditioned to believe that sanity was a fragile possession, that everyone was a potential victim of neuroses or psychoses caused by abuse, neglect, or even by the ordinary stresses of daily life. If he had seen the events of the past thirteen hours as the plot of a movie, he'd have found it unbelievable, smugly certain that the male leadhimselfwould have cracked from the strain of so many supernatural events and encounters combined with so much physical abuse. Yet here he was, with aches in most of his muscles and pains in half his joints, but with his wits intact.


Then he realized that perhaps he could not assume his wits were intact.


Unlikely as it was, he might already be strapped down on a bed in a psychiatric ward, with a rubber wedge in his mouth to keep him from biting off his tongue in a mad frenzy. The silent and unmoving world might be only a delusion.


Sweet thought.


When Connie let go of the azalea branches that she had moved, they did not fall back into place. Harry had to press gently on them to force them to drape the dog once more.


They rose to their feet and scrutinized the visible length of Pacific Coast Highway the shouldertoshoulder businesses on both sides, the narrow dark gaps between buildings.


The world was a huge clockwork mechanism with a bent key broken springs, and rustlocked gears. Harry tried to tell himself that he was growing accustomed to this weird state of affairs, but he was not convincing. If he'd gotten so mellow about it, why was there a cold sweat on his brow under his arms, and down the small of his back? The totally becalmed night exerted no tranquilizing influence, for there was springtaut violence and sudden death under its peaceful facade; instead, it was deeply eerie and growing more so with the passage of each nonsecond.


“Enchantment,” Harry said.


“What?”


“Like in a fairy tale. The whole world has fallen under an evil enchantment, a spell.”


“So where the hell is the witch who did it? That's what I want to know.”


“Not witch,” Harry corrected. “That's female. A male witch is a warlock. Or sorcerer.”


She was fuming. “Whatever. Damn it, where is he, why is he toying with us like this, taking so long to show his face?”


Glancing at his wristwatch, Harry confirmed that the red second indicator had not resumed blinking and that the time on the readout was still 1:29. “Actually how much time he's taking depends on how you look at it. I guess you could say that he hasn't taken any time at all.”


She noted the 1:29 on her watch. “Come on, come on, let's get this over with. Or do you think he's waiting for us to go looking for him?”


Elsewhere in the night, there arose the first sound, since the Pause, that they had not made themselves. Laughter. The low, gravelly laughter of the golemvagrant who had burned like a tallow candle in Harry's condo and later reappeared to hammer on them in Ordegard's house.


Again, out of habit, they reached for their revolvers. Then both remembered the uselessness of guns against this adversary and left their weapons holstered.


South of them, at the uphill end of the block, on the other side of the street, Ticktock turned the corner, wearing his alltoofamiliar vagrant identity. If anything, the golem seemed bigger than before, well over seven feet tall instead of six and a half, with a greater tangle of hair and wildness of beard than when they'd last seen him.


Leonine head. Treetrunk neck. Massive shoulders. Impossibly broad chest. Hands as big as tennis rackets. His black raincoat was as voluminous as a tent.


“Why the hell was I so impatient for him?” Connie wondered, voicing Harry's identical thought.


Prev Next