Every dead thing, p.46
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       Every Dead Thing, p.46

           John Connolly
 

  Woolrich didn’t answer. Instead, he ran the blunt edge of the scalpel down Rachel’s arm. “Have you ever wondered how skin so thin…can hold so much blood in?” He turned the scalpel and ran the blade across her scapula, from the right shoulder to the space between her breasts. Rachel did not move. Her eyes remained open, but something glittered and a tear trickled from the corner of her left eye and lost itself in the roots of her hair. Blood flowed from the wound, running along the nape of her neck and pooling at her chin before it fell on her face, drawing red lines along her features.

  “Look, Bird,” he said. “I think the blood is going to her head.”

  His head tilted. “And then I drew you in. There’s a circularity to this which you should appreciate, Bird. After you die, everybody is going to know about me. Then I’ll be gone—they won’t find me, Bird, I know every trick in the book—and I’ll start again.”

  He smiled slightly.

  “You don’t look very appreciative,” he said. “After all, Bird, I gave you a gift when I killed your family. If they had lived, they’d have left you and you would have become just another drunk. In a sense, I kept the family together. I chose them because of you, Bird. You befriended me in New York, you paraded them in front of me, and I took them.”

  “Marsyas,” I said quietly.

  Woolrich glanced at Rachel. “She’s a smart lady, Bird. Just your type. Just like Susan. And soon she’ll be just another of your dead lovers, except this time you won’t have long to grieve over her.”

  His hand flicked the scalpel back and forth, tearing fine lines across Rachel’s arm. I don’t think he even realized what he was doing, or the manner in which he was anticipating the acts to come.

  “I don’t believe in the next world, Bird. It’s just a void. This is Hell, Bird, and we are in it. All the pain, all the hurt, all the misery you could ever imagine, you can find it here. It’s a culture of death, the only religion worth following. The world is my altar, Bird.

  “But I don’t think you’ll ever understand. In the end, the only time a man really understands the reality of death, of the final pain, is at the moment of his own. It’s the flaw in my work, but somehow, it makes it more human. Look upon it as my conceit.” He turned the scalpel in his hand, dying sunlight and blood mingling on the blade. “She was right all along, Bird. Now it’s time for you to learn. You’re about to receive, and become, a lesson in mortality.

  “I’m going to recreate the Pietà again, Bird, but this time with you and your lady friend. Can’t you see it? The most famous representation of grief and death in the history of the world, a potent symbol of self-sacrifice for the greater good of humanity, of hope, of resurrection, and you’re going to be a part of it. Except this is the anti-resurrection we’re creating, darkness made flesh.”

  He moved forward again, his eyes terrifyingly bright.

  “You’re not going to come back from the dead, Bird, and the only sins you’re dying for are your own.”

  I was already moving to the right when the gun fired. I felt a sharp, stinging pain in my left side as the aluminum-bodied syringe struck and I heard the sound of Woolrich’s footsteps approaching across the wooden floor. I lashed out at it with my left hand, dislodging the needle painfully from my flesh. It was a huge dose. I could already feel it taking effect as I reached for my gun. I gripped the butt hard and tried to draw a bead on Woolrich.

  He killed the lights. Caught in the center of the floor, away from Rachel’s body, he moved to the right. I found a shape moving past the window and I loosed off two shots. There was a grunt of pain and the sound of glass breaking. A finger of sunlight lanced into the room.

  I worked my way backward until I reached the second hallway. I tried to catch a glimpse of Woolrich but he seemed to have disappeared into the shadows. A second syringe whacked into the wall beside me and I was forced to dive to my left. My limbs were heavy now, my arms and legs propelling me with difficulty. I felt as if there was a pressure on my chest and I knew I would not be able to support my own weight if I tried to rise.

  I kept moving backward, every movement a huge effort, but I felt certain that if I stopped, I would never be able to move again. The creaking of boards came from the main room and I heard Woolrich breathing harshly. He barked out a short laugh and I could hear the pain in it.

  “Fuck you, Bird,” he said. “Shit, that hurts.” He laughed again. “I’m going to make you pay for that, Bird, you and the woman. I’m going to tear your fucking souls apart.”

  His voice came to me as if through a heavy fog that distorted the sound and made it difficult to tell distances or direction. The walls of the hallway rippled and fragmented, and black gore oozed from the cracks. A hand reached out to me, a slim, female hand with a narrow gold loop on its wedding finger. I saw myself reach out to touch it, although I could still feel my hands on the floor beneath me. A second female hand appeared, flailing blindly.

  bird

  I backed away, shaking my head to try to clear the vision. Then two smaller hands emerged from the darkness, delicate and childlike, and I closed my eyes tightly and gritted my teeth.

  daddy

  “No,” I hissed. I dug my nails into the floor until I heard one crack, and pain coursed through the index finger of my left hand. I needed the pain. I needed it to fight off the effects of the ketamine. I pressed down hard on the injured finger and the pain made me gasp. There were still shadows moving along the wall, but the figures of my wife and child had gone.

  I was conscious now of a reddish glow bathing the hallway. My back struck something cold and heavy, which moved slowly as I pressed against it. I was leaning against a half-open reinforced steel door, with three bolts on its left side. The central bolt was a monster, easily an inch in diameter with a huge open brass lock hanging from it. Red light seeped out from the crack in the door.

  “Birdman, it’s almost over now,” said Woolrich. His voice sounded very close now, although I still could not see him. I guessed he was standing at the very edge of the corner, waiting for me to finally stop moving. “The drug is going to stop you soon. Throw the gun away, Bird, and we can get started. The sooner we start, the sooner we finish.”

  I leaned back harder on the door and felt it give fully. I pushed back with my heels once, twice, a third time, until I came to rest against a set of shelving that reached from ceiling to floor. The room was lit by a single red bulb, which hung unshaded from the center of the ceiling. The windows had been bricked up, the brickwork left uncovered. There was no natural light to illuminate the contents of the room.

  Opposite me, to the left of the door, was a row of metal shelving, perforated bars holding the shelves in place with screws. On each shelf sat a number of glass jars, and in each jar, glowing in the dim red light, lay the remains of a human face. Most were beyond recognition. Lying in the formaldehyde, some had sunken in on themselves. Eyelashes were still visible on some, lips bleached almost white on others, the skin at their edges tattered and torn. On the lowest shelf, two dark faces lay almost upright against the glass, and even though they had been violated in this way, I recognized the faces of Tante Marie Aguillard and her son. I counted maybe fifteen bottles in front of me. Behind me, the shelving moved slightly and I heard the sound of glass knocking against glass and the slick movement of liquid.

  I raised my head. Row upon row of bottles reached up to the ceiling, each bearing its faint, white, human remains. Beside my left eye, a face leaned against the front of a jar, its empty eyes gaping, as if trying to peer into eternity.

  And I knew that somewhere among these faces, Susan lay preserved.

  “What do you think of my collection, Bird?” The dark bulk of Woolrich moved slowly down the hallway. In one hand, I could see the outline of the pistol. In the other, he rubbed his thumb along the clean line of the scalpel.

  “Wondering where your wife is? She’s on the middle shelf, third from the left. Shit, Bird, you’re probably sitting beside her right now.”
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  I didn’t move. I didn’t blink. My body lay slumped against the shelves, surrounded by the faces of the dead. My face would be there soon, I thought, my face and Rachel’s and Susan’s, side by side forever.

  Woolrich came forward until he stood in the doorway. He raised the air pistol.

  “Nobody ever lasted this long before, Bird. Even Tee Jean, and he was a strong kid.” His eyes glowed redly. “I gotta tell you, Bird: in the end, this is going to hurt.”

  He tightened his finger on the pistol and I heard the sharp crack as the hypo shot from the barrel. I was already raising my gun as the sharp pain struck my chest, my arm achingly heavy, my vision blurred by the shadows moving across my eyes. I tightened my finger on the trigger, willing it to increase the pressure. Woolrich sprang forward, alive to the danger, the scalpel raised to slash at my arm.

  The trigger moved back slowly, infinitesimally slowly, and the world slowed down with it. Woolrich seemed to hang in space, the blade curving down in his hand as if through water, his mouth wide and a sound like a wind howling in a tunnel coming from his throat. The trigger moved back another tiny measure and my finger froze as the gun boomed loudly in the enclosed space. Woolrich, barely three feet from me now, bucked as the first shot took him in the chest. The next eight shots seemed to come together, the sound of their firing joining together as the bullets tore into him, the 10 millimeter rounds ripping through cloth and flesh before the gun locked empty. Glass shattered as the bullets exited and the floor became awash with formaldehyde. Woolrich fell backward and lay on the floor, his body shaking and spasming. He rose once, his shoulders and head lifting from the ground, the light already dying in his eyes. Then he lay back and moved no more.

  My arm gave in under the weight of the gun and it fell to the floor. I could hear liquid dripping, could feel the presence of the dead as they crowded around me. From a distance, there came the sound of approaching sirens and I knew that, whatever happened to me, Rachel at least would be safe. Something brushed my cheek with a touch light as gossamer, like the last caress of a lover before the time to sleep, and a kind of peace came over me. With a final act of will, I closed my eyes and waited for the stillness to come.

  EPILOGUE

  I turn left at the Scarborough intersection, down the steep hill, past the Maximillian Kolbe Catholic church and the old cemetery, the fire department on my right, the late evening sun shining bleakly on the expanse of marshland to the east and west of the road. Soon it will be dark and lights will appear in the houses of the locals, but the summer houses on Prouts Neck Road will not be lit.

  The sea rolls in gently at Prouts Neck, washing slowly over sand and stone. The season is over now and behind me the bulk of the Black Point Inn looms darkly, its dining room deserted, its bar quiet, the screen doors of the staff dormitories locked down. In the summer, the old and wealthy from Boston and upstate New York will come to stay, eating buffet lunches by the pool and dressing for dinner, the candlelight reflecting on their heavy jewelry and dancing around the table like golden moths.

  Across the water, I can see the lights of Old Orchard Beach. A chill wind is coming in over the sea, tossing and buffeting the last of the gulls. I pull my coat tightly around me and stand on the sand, watching the grains swirl and twist before me. They make a sound like a mother hushing her child as the wind raises them from the dunes and lifts them like the shapes of old ghosts before laying them to rest again.

  I am standing near the spot where Clarence Johns stood all those years ago, as he watched Daddy Helms’s man pour dirt and ants over my body. It was a hard lesson to learn, harder still to learn it twice. I recall the look on his face as he stood shivering before me, the desolation, the realization of what he had done, of what he had lost.

  And I want to put my arm around the shoulders of Clarence Johns and tell him that it’s all right, that I understand, that I bear him no malice for what he did. I want to hear the soles of his cheap shoes slapping on the road. I want to watch him skim a stone over the water and know that he is still my friend. I want to walk the long walk home beside him and hear him whistling the only three bars he knows of some tune that he can’t get out of his head, a tune that returns again and again to haunt him as he makes his way along the road.

  But instead I will climb back in my car and return to Portland in the waning autumn light. I have a room at the Inn at St. John, with big bay windows and clean white sheets and a separate bathroom two doors down the hall. I will lie on my bed as the traffic passes beneath my window, as the Greyhound buses arrive and depart from the terminal across the street, as the street people push their shopping carts filled with bottles and cans down the sidewalk and the taxi drivers wait silently in their cabs.

  And in the gathering darkness I will call Rachel’s number in Manhattan. The phone will ring—once, twice—and then her machine will kick in: “Hi, no one can come to the phone right now, but…” I have heard the same message again and again since she left the hospital. Her receptionist says that she cannot tell me where Rachel is. She has canceled her college lectures. And from my hotel room, I will talk to the machine.

  I could find her, if I chose. I found the others, but they were dead when I found them. I do not want to chase her down.

  It is not supposed to end this way. She should be beside me now, her skin perfect and white, not scarred by Woolrich’s knife; her eyes bright and inviting, not wary and haunted by the visions that torment her in the night; her hands reaching for me in the darkness, not raised to ward me off, as if even my touch might cause her pain. We will both reach an accommodation with the past, with all that has taken place, but, for now, we will each do so alone.

  In the morning, Edgar will have the radio playing and there will be orange juice and coffee on the table in the lobby, and muffins wrapped in plastic. From there, I will drive out to my grandfather’s house and start working. A local man has agreed to help me fix my roof and mend my walls, so that the house can be made habitable for the winter.

  And I will sit on my porch as the wind takes the evergreens in hand, pressing and molding their branches into new shapes, creating a song from their leaves. And I will listen for the sound of a dog barking, its paws scraping on the worn boards, its tail moving lazily in the cool evening air; or the tap-tap-tap on the rail as my grandfather prepares to tamp the tobacco into his pipe, a glass of whiskey beside him warm and tender as a familiar kiss; or the rustle of my mother’s dress against the kitchen table as she lays out plates for the evening meal, blue on white, older than she is, old as the house.

  Or the sound of plastic-soled shoes fading into the distance, disappearing into the darkness, embracing the peace that comes at last to every dead thing.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  A number of books proved particularly valuable in the course of researching this novel. Chief among them was The Body Emblazoned (Routledge, 1995), Jonathan Sawday’s brilliant study of dissection and the human body in Renaissance culture. Other works to which I returned included F. Gonzalez-Crussi’s Suspended Animation (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1995); Denis C. Rousey’s Policing the Southern City (Louisiana State University Press, 1996); Luther Link’s The Devil (Reaktion Books, 1995); Lyall Watson’s Dark Nature (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995); and the Crime Classification Manual (Simon & Schuster, 1993) by Ressler, Douglas, Burgess, and Burgess.

  On a more personal note, I wish to thank my agent, Darley Anderson, without whom Every Dead Thing would not have seen the light of day. I also wish to acknowledge the faith, advice, and encouragement of my editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Sue Fletcher, and Bob Mecoy, my editor at Simon & Schuster in New York.

 


 

  John Connolly, Every Dead Thing

 


 

 
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