Dragon Tears / Page 35

Page 35



His trollmean laughter fading, Ticktock stepped off the far curb and started to cross the street diagonally coming straight toward them.


“What's the plan?” Connie asked.


“What plan?”


“There's always a plan, damn it.”


Indeed, Harry was surprised to realize they had stood waiting for the golem without giving a thought to a course of action. They had been cops for so many years, and had worked as partners long enough, that they knew how best to respond in every situation, to virtually any threat. Usually they didn't actually have to put their heads together on strategy; they just acted instinctively, each of them confident that the other would make all the right moves as well. On the rare occasions when they needed to talk out a plan of action, a few oneword sentences sufficed, the shortspeak of partners in sync. However, confronted by a nearly invulnerable adversary made of bloodless mud and stones and worms and Godknew whatelse, by a fierce and relentless fighter who was but one of an endless army that their real enemy could create, they seemed bereft of both instinct and brains, able only to stand paralyzed and watch him approach.


Run, Harry thought, and was about to take his own advice when the towering golem stopped in the middle of the street, about fifty feet away.


The golem's eyes were different from anything Harry had seen before.


Not just luminous but blazing. Blue. The hot blue of gas flames.


Dancing brightly in his sockets. His eyes cast images of flickering blue fire on his cheekbones and made the frizzy ends of his beard look like thin filaments of blue neon.


Ticktock spread his arms and raised his enormous hands above his head in the manner of an Old Testament prophet standing on a mountain and addressing his followers below, relaying messages from beyond. Tablets of stone containing a hunoied commandments could have been concealed within his generous raincoat.


“In one hour of real time the world starts up again,” Ticktock said.


“I'll count to fifty A head start. Survive one hour, and I'll let you live, never torment you again.”


“Dear sweet Jesus,” Connie whispered, "he really is a child playing nasty games That made him at least as dangerous as any other sociopath.


More so.


Some young children, in their innocence of empathy had the capacity to be extremely cruel.


Ticktock said, “I'll hunt you fair and square, use none of my tricks, just my eyes,” and he pointed to his blazing blue sockets, “my ears,” and he pointed to one of those, “and my wits.” He tapped the side of his skull with one thick forefinger. "No tricks. No special powers.


More fun that way. One... two ... better run, don't you think?


Three... four... five..."


“This can't be happening,” Connie said, but she turned and ran anyway Harry followed her. They sprinted to the alley and around the side of The Green House, almost colliding with the bony hobo who had called himself Sammy and who was now frozen precariously on one foot in midstride. Their feet made curious, hollow slapping sounds on the blacktop as they exploded past Sammy and raced deeper into the dark backstreet, almost the sound of running footsteps but not quite. The echoes, too, were not precisely like echoes in the real world, less reverberant and too shortlived.


As he ran, wincing at a hundred separate pains that flared with each footfall, Harry struggled to devise some strategy by which they might survive the hour. But, like Alice, they had crossed through the looking glass, into the kingdom of the Red Queen, and no plans or logic would work in that land of the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat, where reason was despised and chaos embraced.


“Eleven... twelve... you're dead if I find you... thirteen...”


Bryan was having so much fun.


He sprawled na*ed on the black silk sheets, busily creating and gloriously Becoming, while the votive eyes adored him from their glass reliquaries.


Yet a part of him was in the golem, which was also exhilarating.


He had constructed the creature bigger this time, made it a fierce and unstoppable killing machine, the better to terrorize the bigshot hero and his bitch. Its immense shoulders were his shoulders, too, and its powerful arms were his to use. Curling those arms, feeling the inhuman muscles flex and contract and flex, was so thrilling that he could barely contain his excitement over the hunt before him.


......... seventeen... eighteen..."


He had made this giant from dirt and clay and sand, given its body the appearance of flesh, and animated itjust as the first god had created Adam from lifeless mud. Although his destiny was to be a more merciless divinity than any who had come before him, he still could create as well as destroy; no one could say that he was less a god than others who had ruled, no one. No one.


Standing in the middle of Pacific Coast Highway, towering there, he gazed out upon the still and silent world, and was pleased with what he had wrought. This was his Greatest and Most Secret Power the ability to stop everything as easily as a watchmaker could stop a ticking timepiece merely by opening the casing and applying the proper tool to the key point in the mechanism.


twentyfour... twentyfive..."


This power had arisen within him during one of his psychic growth surges when he was sixteen, though he had been eighteen before he had learned to use it well. That was to be expected. Jesus, too, had needed time to learn how to turn water into wine, how to multiply a few loaves and fishes to feed multitudes.


Will. The power of the will. That was the proper tool with which to remake reality. Before the beginning of time and the birth of this universe, there had been one will that had brought it all into existence, a consciousness that people called God, though God was no doubt utterly different from all the ways that humankind had pictured Him perhaps only a child at play who, as a game, created galaxies like grains of sand. If the universe was a perpetualmotion machine created as an act of will, it also could be altered by sheer will, remade or destroyed. All that was needed to manipulate and edit the first god's creation was power and understanding; both had been given to Bryan.


The power of the atom was a dim light when compared to the blindingly brilliant power of the mind. By applying his will, by intently focusing thought and desire, he found that he could make fundamental changes in the very foundations of existence.


. thirtyone... thirtytwo... thirtythree..."


Because he was still earnestly Becoming and was not yet the new god, Bryan was able to sustain these changes only for short periods, usually no more than one hour of real time. Occasionally he grew impatient with his limits, but he was certain the day would arrive when he could alter current reality in ways that would be permanent if he so wished.


In the meantime, as he continued to Become, he satisfied himself with amusing alterations that temporarily negated all the laws of physics and, at least for a short while, tailored reality to his desire.


Although it would appear to Lyon and Gulliver that time had ground to a halt, the truth was more complicated than that. By the application of his extraordinary will, almost like wishing before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, he had reconceived the nature of time. If it had been an everflowing river of dependable effect, he transformed it into a series of streams, large placid lakes, and geysers with a uariery of effects. This world now lay in one of the lakes where time advanced at such an excruciatingly slow rate that it appeared to have stopped flowingyet, also at his wish, he and the two cops interacted with this new reality much as they had with the old, experiencing only minor changes in most of the laws of matter, energy, motion, and force.


... forty... fortyone...


As if making a birthday wish, as if wishing on a star, as if wishing to a fairy godmother, wishing, wishing, wishing with all his considerable might, he had created the perfect playground for a spirited game of hideandseek. And so what if he had bent the universe to make a toy of it?


He was aware that he was two people of widely disparate natures.


On the one hand he was a god Becoming, exalted, with incalculable authority and responsibility On the other hand, he was a reckless and selfish child, cruel and prideful.


In that respect he fancied that he was like humankind itself only more so.


... fortyfive...


In fact, he believed he had been anointed precisely because of the kind of child he had been. Selfishness and pride were merely reflections of ego, and without a strong ego, no man could have the confidence to create. A certain amount of recklessness was required if one hoped to explore the limits of one's creative powers; taking chances, without regard for consequences, could be liberating and a virtue. And, as he was to be the god who would chasten humankind for its pollution of the earth, cruelty was a requirement of Becoming. His ability to remain a child, to avoid spending his creative energy in the senseless breeding of more animals for the herd, made him the perfect candidate for divinity.


fortynine... fifty!"


For a while he would keep his promise to hunt them down only with the aid of ordinary human senses. It would be fun. Challenging. And it would be good to experience the severe limitations of their existence, not in order to develop compassion for themthey did not deserve compassionbut to enjoy more fully, by comparison, his own extraordinary powers.


In the body of the hulking vagrant, Bryan moved from the street into the fabulous amusement park that was the deadstill, whisperless town.


“Here I come,” he shouted, “ready or not.”


A dangling pinecone, like a Christmas ornament suspended by a thread from the bough above, had been arrested in middrop by the Pause. An orangeandwhite cat had been stilled while leaping from a tree branch to the top of a stucco wall, airborne, forepaws reaching, back legs sprung out behind. A rigid, unchanging filigree of smoke curled from a fireplace chimney.


As she and Harry ran farther into the strange, unbeating heart of the paralyzed town, Connie did not believe that they would escape with their lives; nonetheless she frantically conceived and discarded numerous strategies to elude Ticktock for one hour. Under the hard shell of cynicism that she had nurtured so lovingly for so long, like every poor fool in the world, she evidently treasured the hope that she was different and would live forever.


She should have been embarrassed to find within herself such a stupid, animal faith in her own immortality. Instead, she embraced it. Hope could be a treacherous kind of confidence, but she couldn't see how their predicament could be made worse by a little positive thinking.


In one night she had learned so many new things about herself. It would be a pity not to live long enough to build a better life on those discoveries.


For all of her fevered thinking, only pathetic strategies occurred to her. Without slowing, between increasingly ragged gasps for breath, she suggested they change streets often, turning this way and that, in the feeble hope that a twisting trail would somehow be harder to follow than one that was arrowstraight. And she guided them along a downhill route where possible because they could cover more ground in less time if they weren't fighting a rising grade.


Around them, the inert residents of Laguna Beach were oblivious to the fact that they were running for their lives. And if she and Harry were caught, no screams would wake these enchanted sleepers or bring help.


She knew why Ricky Estephen's neighbors had not heard the golem exploding up through his hallway floor and beating him to death.


Ticktock had stopped time in every corner of the world except inside that bungalow. Ricky's torture and murder had been conducted with sadistic leisurewhile no time at all was passing for the rest of humanity. Likewise, when Ticktock had accosted them in Ordegard's house and had thrown Connie through the glass sliding door onto the masterbedroom balcony, neighbors had not responded to the crash or to the gunshots that had preceded it because the entire confrontation had taken place in nontime, in a dimension one step removed from reality.


As she ran at her top speed, she counted to herself, trying to maintain the slow rhythm in which Ticktock had been counting.


She reached fifty much too soon, and doubted they had put half enough ground between them and him to be safe.


If she had continued counting, she might have reached a hundred before, finally, they had to stop. They leaned against a brick wall to catch their breath.


Her chest was tight, and her heart seemed to have swelled to the point of bursting. Each breath felt searingly hot, as if she were a fire eater in a circus, exhaling ignited gasoline fumes. Her throat was raw. Calf and thigh muscles ached, and the increased circulation renewed the pain in all of the bumps and bruises she'd gotten during the night.


Harry looked worse than she felt. Of course, he had received more blows in more encounters with Ticktock than she had sustained, and had been on the run longer.


When she could speak, she said, “Now what?”


At first each word puffed from him explosively. "What. About.


Using. Grenades?"


“Grenades?”


“Like Ordegard.”


“Yeah, yeah, I remember.”


“Bullets don't work on a golem She said, ”I noticed."


“-but if we blew the damn thing to pieces-” “Where we going to find grenades? Huh? You know a friendly neighborhood explosives shop around here?”


“Maybe a National Guard armory someplace like that.”


“Get real, Harry.”


“Why? The rest of the world isn't.”


“We blow one of these damn things to smithereens, he just scoops up some mud and makes another.”


“But it'll slow him down.”


“Maybe two minutes.”


“Every minute counts,” he said. “We've just got to get through one hour.”


She looked at him with disbelief. “Are you saying you think he'll keep his promise?”


With his coat sleeve, Harry wiped sweat off his face. “Well, he might.”


“Like hell.”


“He might,” Harry insisted.


She was ashamed of herself for wanting to believe.


She listened to the night. Nothing. That didn't mean Ticktock wasn't nearby “We've got to get going,” she said.


“Where?”


No longer needing to lean against the wall for support, Connie looked around and discovered they were in the parking lot beside a bank.


Eighty feet away, a car was stopped near the twentyfourhour automatic teller. Two men stood at the machine in the bluish glow from an overhead security lamp.


Something about the postures of the two was wrong. Not just that they were as still as statues. Something else.


Connie started across the parking lot toward the odd tableau.


“Where you going?” Harry asked.


“Check this out.”


Her instinct proved reliable. The Pause had hit in the middle of a robbery.


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