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The midnight club, p.5
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       The Midnight Club, p.5

           Christopher Pike
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  THE MroNIGHT CLUB just playing with them. Either way, God had created the devil and Dana felt she was being manipulated. She decided to take matters into her own hands because she couldn't stand a year of being split in two. She would kill her double.

  "The instant she made her decision her double was aware of it, of course. You would expect that her double would simply flee. But that wouldn't work because Dana would know where Dana Two was going. The moment Dana decided the double had to go, Dana Two decided Dana had to go. They each blamed the other for their problems, even though intellectually they understood they were blaming themselves. But what use are intellectual thoughts when you feel miserable, huh? They wanted out of it. One of them had to go.

  "Dana's father had a shotgun for hunting. Dana swiped it and his car and drove south toward L.A. Dana Two could see her coming and figured she would wait for her to arrive. But I don't mean Dana Two waited idly. She got her own gun, a pistol, and tried to work out a strategy. But whatever she came up with, she saw Dana laughing at her. They both told the other, telepathically, 'The hell with it, let's see what happens when we meet.'

  "And meet they did, at the end of a crummy alleyway in one of the worst sections of L.A., late at night—at midnight, actually. Dana came up the alley with her shotgun leveled at Dana Two, who had her pistol aimed at Dana's head. The two of them moved closer and closer until it seemed one

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  of them had to shoot. But if one of them was hesitating, the other was as well. They got within ten feet of each other and still no shots were fired.

  "'Well,' Dana Two sneered. 'What's the matter? Are you afraid?'

  " 'If I'm afraid,' Dana said, 'you are, too.'

  "Dana Two nodded. That's true. But it was your idea to drive down to kill me.'

  " 'If it was my idea, you gave it to me.'

  "'Touche. So at least we recognize that we are blaming each other for our mutual problems. That's a start. How are we going to get to the end?'

  " 'One of us has to go,' Dana said. 'You know that as well as I do. And since I was here first, I should be the one who gets to stay.'

  " 'How do you know you're the one who was here first? How do you know where you were standing or sitting when the devil made me or you? He's a crafty devil, you know. Besides, what does it matter? I'm the same as you. I deserve to live as much as you.'

  " 'You deserve to die as much also,' Dana said, her finger on the trigger of her shotgun. They continued to point their weapons directly at each other. They were both sweating. They were both everything alike, except what they were looking at was not exactly the same, even though each was looking at the other. Their perspectives were just a tiny bit different, where they were standing, what they were wearing. It added spice to the drama.

  " 'Has it occurred to you,' Dana Two asked, 'that if you kill me you might be killing the fiin part of

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  what you are? That maybe the devil did split us slightly, and that if Vm gone all the fun will go out of your life?'

  " 'Has it occurred to you that if you kill me you might be killing all the good in your life?' Dana asked.

  " 'No,' Dana Two said. 'And it hasn't occurred to you either, because you don't feel anything good living at home with those two loons.'

  " 'That's true,' Dana admitted. She thought for a moment. 'So what are we going to do? We're not going to make it through a whole year the way things are going.'

  "'I agree.'

  " 'One of us should let the other shoot the other,' Dana said.

  " 'I agree. I'll shoot you.'

  " 'How about I shoot you?' Dana said.

  " 'How about we both shoot at the same time?' Dana Two said.

  " 'Then we both might die,' Dana said.

  " 'But we're going to do that anyway. Because the moment you shoot, I'll shoot. And vice versa.'

  " 'But maybe that's what the devil wanted,' Dana said. 'Maybe he foresaw all this. If we both die he will have won and we'll probably end up in hell together.'

  " 'That's a good point,' replied Dana Two. 'But we won't know until we try it.'

  " 'I have a shotgun,' Dana said. 'You only have a pistol. You will need a lucky shot to kill me.'

  "'My pistol's a forty-five,' Dana TWo said, 'I

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  don't have to be that lucky.' She paused. 'Come on, we're both going to shoot and we both know it. Let's do it. Let's shoot on the count of three. But let's not cheat because that's the least we can do for each other. Do you agree?'

  "'Yeah,' Dana said. 'One.'

  " 'Two,' Dana Two said.

  Anya stopped talking and took a sip of water. A long sip.

  "Well?" Spence said finally. "Don't tell us you don't know what happens next."

  "I do know," Anya said reluctantly, her face oddly serious.

  "Tell us, for God's sake," Ilonka said, totally enthralled.

  Anya allowed a faint smile. "Since this is a story about deals with the devil, Ilonka, I find your choice of words ironic. But let me tell you what happened. They both shot at the count of two. They both tried to get the drop on the other. One of them was killed, the other seriously wounded, crippled for the rest of her life. It's a sad story, I know. For the rest of her days one of the Danas was confined to a wheelchair. Then, toward the end of those days, the devil came to her again, still looking like James Dean. He had a fresh cigarette, though, and he asked if she would like to make another bargain with him. At first she said no because of what had happened the first time, but the devil persisted. He said, 'If you make this bargain with me you'll never experience hell.'

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB

  "That caught her attention. She asked what she had to do.

  " *Kill yourself,' the devil said. He gestured to her ruined body. 'Just kill yourself and this hell will end for you. You should have killed yourself a long time ago.'

  " 'But what about my soul?' she asked.

  "The devil shook his head. 'Only God knows about that.'

  " 'Is that true?' she asked.

  " 'Have I ever lied to you before?' the devil asked.

  "She thought a moment. 'I suppose not. But what you're saying is that you don't know.'

  " 'I don't know,' the devil agreed. 'To tell you an even bigger truth, I don't even know if there is a God. It's one of those mysteries that's hard to figure out.' He stopped. 'Which one are you, anyway, Dana Two or the original one?'

  "Dana shook her head. 'I can't remember anymore.'

  "The devil nodded. 'Good luck to you, Dana.'

  "Then he vanished."

  Anya stopped and had more water. She made them wait. Finally she looked around, apparently enjoying her brief moment of power over them, and laughed. "That's it, fellas, the story ends there."

  Spence protested. "You can't do that to us."

  "Honestly, I don't know what happens next."

  "Make something up," Spence said.

  Anya held his eye a long moment, her seriousness

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  returning. "I don't just make things up, Spence. You know that."

  Spence became quiet. "Well," he said. "It had a hell of a start."

  "It was a killer all the way through," Kevin said enthusiastically.

  "I liked it," Sandra said.

  "If it was a book Yd buy two copies," Ilonka said.

  "Hey, how come you didn't offer to buy my story?" Spence asked.

  "Yours was more the kind you check out of the library," Ilonka said.

  "Or else borrow from a friend," Kevin said, joining in the fun.

  "If you were real bored," Anya added. She paused and suddenly blushed. She spoke softly. "Thank you for listening to me and not interrupting. I really wanted you all to hear this story. It seemed to have a lot of things in it that I—I don't know."

  "What?" Ilonka asked.

  "It's nothing," Anya said, shifting in her wheelchair, probably the same kind of chair Dana ended up in at the end. "You're
up, Ilonka. What's the title of your story?"

  Ilonka had not considered that. "It doesn't have a title."

  "Make one up," Spence said.

  "I can't."

  "Why not?" Spence asked.

  Ilonka hesitated. "It's a story from one of my past lives."

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  The room became still and deathly quiet. Spence was smiling, as was Anya. Sandra looked confused. Only Kevin was watching her closely, studying her.

  "Do you remember past Hves?" Kevin asked.

  Ilonka had to take a breath. She realized she was trembling, probably from embarrassment. She hadn't meant to say the story was from her past. It just slipped out of her mouth.

  "I don't know," she said. "I think so."

  "Are any of us in this past life?" Kevin asked.

  Ilonka stared into his brown eyes, as warm and welcoming as a fire on a winter prairie, and she believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had seen them before two weeks earlier. Yet it was odd at that moment that she should lie to him.

  "No," she said. "There's just me."

  Kevin continued to study her, his cheek bones high, his skin as smooth and pale as a vampire's. "Interesting," he said. "Tell us your tale."

  "It was in Egypt twenty-thousand six-hundred and fifty years ago," Ilonka began. "I know that's about thirteen thousand years before we think ancient Egypt existed, but that's how it comes to me. At that time there were pyramids close to the Nile. But the Nile was not where it is now, but six miles to the east. Anyway, these details are not important, and if you don't believe them I don't mind.

  "My name was Delius. As the story starts I was about twenty-seven years old, tall and thin, very austere. I was not married, but there was a man in my life, a very great man. He was my Master. I

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE don't remember his name. I think that's because I always called him * Master.' He was like Jesus or Buddha or Krishna. He was filled with the divine. Near him, the feeling of love, of power, and most of all, of presence was profound. He had many supernatural gifts. He could heal, know what any person was thinking and be in more than one place at the same time. But these gifts were not what made him great. It was how he could change a man or a woman's heart that was the true miracle. Being around him, people became like him. They became divine. That's why he was on earth: to bring people back to God. I loved him a great deal and always felt like I would do anything for him.

  "I had a friend at the time, a very special friend named Shradha, who had a thirteen-year-old daughter I was close to. That was Mage, darling Mage. Shradha and I were so close I felt as if her daughter was mine. But even though Shradha loved me, she was jealous of my relationship with her daughter. Mage would listen to everything I said, and she looked up to me as if I were her teacher. But with her own mother. Mage was often stub-bom. You know how irritating our own moms can be. It was the same long ago.

  "Once I invited Mage to my house to spend a few days. Mage was delighted, but Shradha had doubts. She didn't like her daughter away from home because the times were dangerous. There had been a drought for many years, and food was scarce. People act crazy when they're hungry and do things

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB they would never ordinarily do. Shradha and I got into a fight over Mage coming to my house, and Mage saw and heard the whole thing. When I left, still thinking Mage would be visiting, Mage told her mom that she was going to a friend's house. Shradha tried to stop her, but Mage ran out the door and was gone.

  "Later—it was later that same afternoon, I believe—I returned to fetch Mage but found no one at home. I decided to pack Mage's things and carry them home so she wouldn't have the burden of carrying them. Years before I had made a bag for Mage out of coarse linen. On the outside of the bag I had stitched Mage's name. If I close my eyes, I can see the symbols now, like hieroglyphs, but simpler. I placed everything I thought Mage would need in the bag and hiked back to my house, which was four miles away.

  "But unknown to me, Mage was dead. While hiking to her friend's house the young girl had been ambushed by two starving men. This will be difl&-cult to hear—it's painful for me to even think about—but they killed Mage so that they could eat her. In the latter years of the drought cannibalism was common. Mage's remains were found by a local peasant and her identification was made possible by a scarf she wore. But there was not enough left to bury. Certainly not enough left to prepare in the ways the Egyptians at that time liked to prepare the bodies of their dearly departed. While I was at Shradha's house, Shradha was being

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE led by a peasant—a man who had worked for the family—to her daughter's bloody remains.

  "Shradha returned home totally devastated. But something she saw there lifted her spirits. Mage's personal items were gone. Shradha believed her daughter's spirit had come for the items before leaving for the next world. You see, they believed the spirit had a use for such things even dead. That's why personal items were buried with the dead. That was part of the religion of the time, but it was not one of the teachings of the Master. Very few followed the Master in those days because he had predicted that the drought would not last, but it went on for seven years. He had made a false prediction on purpose so that only his devoted followers would stay with him. Throughout eternity the Master would first appear as godlike, and then appear fallible. But he would always be the same eternal being inside.

  "Shradha's only comfort in the days immediately after her daughter's death was that the girl had come home to take her things. Eventually she had a chance to see the Master and told him what had happened to her daughter. And he said, *Yes, I know, I was with her when she died. You need not worry. She is fine—I took her into the light.'

  "At these words Shradha was happy, and she said, 'Yes. I know her spirit still lives. She came home for her things before she left.' But the Master told her the truth. 'No,' he said. 'That was Delius who took Mage's things.' When he saw Shradha's

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB shock, he added, 'But she did not do so to deceive you. At the time she did not know that Mage was dead.'

  "Now what happened next was as sad as Mage's death. Because even though the Master had assured Shradha that I had not meant to hurt her, Shradha could not help feeling devastated by the news. In the midst of her pain, the only thing she had had to cling to, that gave her hope her daughter was still alive somewhere, was the missing personal items. And now it turned out it was just a foolish act on my part. Also, at the back of her mind, Shradha felt that if I hadn't insisted Mage come to my home, they wouldn't have had the argument and Mage wouldn't have run out of the house.

  "I understood all these things, when I was told what had happened. I tried to assure Shradha that I had meant no harm, but our friendship was never the same after that, which was a great waste because we could have given each other great comfort. Before Mage's death, even though we occasionally argued, we were as close as two people could be. But when Mage died, the light in Shradha's life died and she could not be reasoned with.

  "There is a bittersweet ending to this tale. I did not live long after that. I died of heart failure when I was only thirty-nine. I was aware the end was near for the Master had told me how long I was to live. A week before I passed on I met with Shradha and told her again that I had meant no harm when I took Mage's things. And Shradha could see in my

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE eyes my sincerity, and she hugged me and promised that when we met again, we would never allow misunderstanding to come between us."

  Ilonka suddenly stopped talking and lowered her head. Her eyes were wet and she didn't want the others to see. She especially didn't want to look at Kevin—at Shradha—at that moment. If she turned her head in Kevin's direction Shradha was there. But it was Kevin who reached over and touched her arm.

  "Are you all right?" he asked.

  She sniffed and raised her head, forcing a smile. "I don't know—I feel stupid. It's just a story, you know. It doesn't mean anything."

  "It was a beautiful story," K
evin said. "Did you ever meet Shradha in this life?"

  Ilonka sighed, clasping her hands together. "If I did she was still mad at me."

  "I don't believe in past lives," Anya said. "But I loved your story."

  Sandra was sniffling, too. "It was so sweet," she whispered.

  "I think it could have used more description in the cannibalism scene," Spence said. "But otherwise it was nice. What did this Master teach, by the way?"

  Ilonka shook her head. "I can't explain now. So many things, yet only one thing. To be what we were, to be God. But in those days we used to say, 'I belong to you.' That's where I got the idea for it. The Master always stressed how we were all one."

  THE MTONIGHT CLUB

  "You feel you really knew him,*' Spence said.

  Ilonka shook her head slightly. "It could all just be imagination but I feel it was a past life. Thank you for your compliments—really—I was scared to tell the story. Only with you could I share it." She turned to Kevin. His hand was still on her arm, so tenderly. Wiping her face, she grinned at him. "So, am I a tough act to follow or what?"

  He let go of her. "Always," he said. He had a glass of water as well, and he took a drink before he began. Sometimes he had to stop a story in the middle because his throat would give out. He was so frail, her Kevin, and that was not her imagination.

  "My story is called The Magic Mirror.' It starts in the Louvre in Paris. For those of you who don't know the museum, it is probably the most famous in the world. The Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo are there, as well as many other great paintings and sculptures. To see everything inside would take several days.

  "As the story starts we meet a young woman about Ilonka's age named Teresa. She is from—I'm not sure where, not America, Europe, but not France. Since I mentioned Ilonka, let's say Teresa is Polish. Teresa is visiting Paris alone and like most visitors goes to the Louvre. Right away she notices the artists who work at the Louvre copying the paintings of great masters of the past. On any given day at the Louvre, there might be twenty or thirty artists at work copying. Some are students, many

 
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