Medusas web, p.32
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       Medusa's Web, p.32

           Tim Powers

  I know what that is, he thought; I’ve seen that before. Where?

  The rubber space aliens in the east garage.

  Claimayne and Ferdolisi hadn’t taken Ariel far at all.

  He tossed the rubber hand aside, pulled the spider from his pocket, and unfolded it and stared at it.

  FOR THE SECOND TIME the thing expanded to fill his vision, dividing and fissipating and spinning, and in this impossible-seeming perspective his consciousness had no place in which to exist, and so it did not.

  Eventually the view of the spider rotated ninety degrees, and Scott was again able to comprehend the spiders from their own perspective, horizontally, though his mind imposed an arbitrary verticality on their infinite flatness. They parted, and he moved forward between them—

  And he was in the reciprocal vision, experiencing his body nineteen minutes earlier. He was astride the idling motorcycle on the driveway outside the kitchen door, and he folded the freshly printed spider paper and shoved it into his pocket, then clicked the bike into first gear.

  Madeline was standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at him anxiously. He knew she hoped he would call out and let her know what he believed he had learned, but he didn’t want her to participate in whatever it was that had made him lose the gun and perhaps get someone else’s blood on his shirt.

  And so he just nodded quickly to his sister and then let out the bent clutch lever and twisted the throttle grip, and he gunned the bike out across the grass. Now he could see that there were more tire tracks flattening the grass than just those that had been left by Madeline’s Datsun.

  To his own surprise he felt optimistic and almost eager, and he realized that it was because his aches and nausea were gone, and his left hand was still strong and undamaged, and he could again feel the weight of Claimayne’s revolver in his right jacket pocket. It’s temporary well-being, he told himself as he steered the motorcycle through the gap where he and Ariel had rolled the bordering log aside this morning, but use it while you’ve got it. He inhaled the cold eucalyptus-scented air and raced up the driveway toward the ridge garages.

  Scott clicked the gearshift down into neutral when the road leveled out in front of the garages, and when he had sped past them, and past the easement down to Gower, the driveway curved to the right and began to descend toward the old east-end garage.

  The red Ford sedan was parked down there on the wider section of pavement. Scott reached under the gas tank and switched the engine off.

  As the motorcycle coasted down the curving driveway back toward the east end of the house, it was silent except for the faint whir of the chain; Louise’s question—Is Ariel dead?—echoed in his head, and he was not even tempted to let his right foot touch the rear brake pedal.

  Where the driveway broadened in front of the garage, Scott slanted the bike to the right and gripped the front brake lever; the front end nosed down sharply, and the bike came to a silent halt beside the big mesquite tree that shaded half the garage roof. He swung the kickstand down and got off the motorcycle, pulling Claimayne’s revolver from his jacket pocket. He knew he still had two unfired rounds in it, and he resisted the temptation to swing the cylinder out and check them. He was sweating and trembling, and as he stepped around the corner of the garage he reminded himself to breathe. With his left hand he dug the piece of broken wineglass out of his pocket, and he gritted his teeth and made himself squeeze it—the edge cut into the base of his thumb, and he gasped at the bright heat of the pain.

  The doorway of the garage was open, the door he had knocked out of its frame on Wednesday still lying on the asphalt in front of the red Ford. Scott sidled up to the door in time to hear Claimayne say, “Where the hell is your backup?”

  Ferdalisi’s Spanish-accented voice said, “The party isn’t to start until two; this preemptive capture was serendipitous. Now, girl, tell me where you put the—dartboard?—or I’ll cut out your eyes. A misfortune for a spider addict.”

  Scott whispered a brief prayer, then raised the gun and stepped through the doorway, swinging the barrel back and forth in the dimness.

  Claimayne was instantly visible, sitting down on the cement floor and massaging his left leg; he blinked in surprise at Scott’s sudden appearance. Ariel was sitting on the floor to the right, her head lowered and her arms awkwardly bent behind her, and beside her crouched Ferdalisi, who, Scott was now able to see, was holding a pistol, its barrel pressed against Ariel’s temple.

  “Drop it,” Ferdalisi said calmly. When Scott hesitated, he went on, “She had only moments to hide the dartboard after she saw us coming, and Louise has gone to look for it. She will almost certainly find it very quickly. I really don’t need this woman to tell me where it is.”

  “She’d only tell you someplace wrong anyway,” said Claimayne, straightening his leg and wincing. “She’s perverse.”

  When Scott still didn’t let go of the revolver, Ferdalisi shrugged and lifted the grip of his pistol so that the barrel was aimed more directly at Ariel’s temple, and Scott hastily opened his right hand. The revolver clanked on the cement floor.

  Ferdalisi let his arm relax, but he kept the muzzle pressed against Ariel’s hair, and it didn’t waver when running footsteps approached from outside. Scott looked to his left and saw Louise step into the doorway, panting and holding the dartboard in both hands.

  She gave him an incongruously apologetic grimace as she edged past him into the garage. “It was on top of a cabinet in the dining room,” she told Ferdalisi.

  “Step away from her,” Ferdalisi said sharply to Scott. And when Scott shuffled aside, furiously squeezing the broken glass in his left hand, Ferdalisi told Louise, “Open it. There must be a way to open it.”

  Louise sat down cross-legged on the cement near Claimayne and pried at the rim. “It shakes like there’s something in it,” she said helpfully. After a few more seconds, she said, “Aha.” Scott heard a click, and then she had lifted away the top surface of the dartboard. Inside the shallow round tray lay the film can Scott had last seen in William Desmond Taylor’s apartment in 1922.

  “The exorcism,” said Ferdalisi with evident satisfaction. “Now it will never be viewed.”

  “You’ll destroy it?” asked Claimayne.

  “After saving some frames of the Medusa.”

  Claimayne’s smooth face was twitching as he shifted on the floor and massaged his left arm now, but he looked up at Scott with a tight smile. “So near and yet so far, eh, old boy? You were the one watching when I killed Taylor and took it from him, weren’t you? And at Valentino’s house where the freeway runs now, and Speas’s hotel room on Bunker Hill. That was you, riding along on my spiders.” He nodded toward the film reel in Louise’s lap. “And now you lose it, and everything.”

  Ferdalisi pushed Ariel away and got to his feet. “Put the lid back on,” he told Louise, “and give it to me.”

  Louise bent over the dartboard to reattach the lid, and only Scott was facing the back end of the garage as she handed Ferdalisi the dartboard; the trapdoor in the roof was still open, and the shaft of drab daylight back there dimmed for several seconds and he thought he heard faint scuffling. Scott made himself squeeze the broken glass edge harder into the flesh of his palm; sweat broke out on his forehead and he breathed deeply to keep from fainting.

  Ferdalisi stepped back and waved the barrel of his pistol from Scott to Louise. “You two lie facedown now, with your hands behind you.”

  “Are you going to kill us?” gasped Louise.

  “Just bind you, for now. Lie down.”

  A wild yell and loud clattering suddenly erupted from the back of the garage, and even Scott gasped in astonishment at what came wobbling out of the shadows.

  One of the rubber space aliens had been propped up on a bicycle with training wheels and propelled toward the fan of daylight by the open doorway. Its knees pumped up and down and its long arms waved loosely over the handlebars and its big-eyed head wobbled in all directions.

Claimayne inhaled a scream and flopped onto his back, twitching and clutching at his chest.

  Ferdalisi had spun to face the oncoming thing, and now he fired two fast loud shots at it, to no evident effect.

  Scott dove for the dropped revolver.

  Ariel rolled over and kicked upward, driving her shoe into Ferdalisi’s groin. He hunched forward with a shrill grunt and spasmodically slammed the butt of his pistol against her head, and as she tumbled away from him he aimed the pistol at her.

  Crouched on the floor, Scott pointed the revolver up at the middle of him and pulled the trigger; the noise of the gunshot echoed in the garage. Ferdalisi lowered the pistol and slowly turned around to stare at Scott with wide eyes; Scott wasn’t sure where his shot had hit the man, if it had hit him at all, and he gritted his teeth and centered the muzzle on Ferdalisi’s chest—

  But at that moment Madeline came rushing out of the darkness at the back of the garage with a spray-paint can in each hand, and she sprayed bright neon-orange paint into Ferdalisi’s face and eyes; the man exhaled sharply and then fell to his knees, and the gun tumbled out of his hand.

  Louise had snatched up the dartboard, but she dropped it when Madeline swept the spray in a zigzag pattern across her face and chest.

  Ferdalisi pitched forward across Ariel’s legs.

  The floor of the garage shifted, and streaks of dust fell from the ceiling. The cobwebby flying saucers swung back and forth over the plywood Los Angeles skyline against the wall.

  Madeline threw the spray cans at Louise and kicked the dartboard aside, and then crouched to roll Ferdalisi off Ariel. Louise moaned and ran out empty-handed through the doorway.

  Scott glanced at Claimayne, but he was just gasping and pressing both hands to his chest, his eyes tightly shut. Scott hiked himself across the floor to where Ariel lay.

  Madeline had rolled Ferdalisi’s heavy body off Ariel’s legs—Scott looked away from the man’s slack orange face and open orange eyes—and Ariel had sat up, her arms still bent around behind her. Blood ran down from her scalp and streaked her face.

  “Gimme a lighter,” said Madeline. “They’ve got a cable tie around her wrists.”

  Scott dropped the revolver and dug a Bic lighter out of his pants pocket and handed it to Madeline; a moment later he smelled melting plastic, and then Ariel’s arms were free and she tilted forward. Scott caught her; her head was against his chest and he could feel her hot blood through his shirt.

  “Your hand,” she muttered. “All bloody.”

  Scott remembered to squeeze the wineglass fragment again, and now he let himself wince and let out a harsh “Ah!” at the pain. “I’ll live,” he gasped.

  “He’s in a spider vision,” said Madeline. Ferdalisi was lying on the floor with his bright orange face and beard tilted back, and she prodded him and then felt his throat. “I think my spray paint killed him!” she whispered. Her nose was bleeding again, and she absently swiped a hand across her red-streaked chin.

  “Scott shot him,” said Ariel. She lifted her head from Scott’s chest and peered around. “Claimayne.”

  A couple of yards away across the cement, Claimayne opened his eyes and looked across at her. His teeth were bared, and his face was sweaty and white as chalk. He waved one hand weakly.

  “Salomé,” he gasped, “hand me my gun, so that I may have shot our guest!”

  Ariel reached to the side and picked up the revolver Scott had dropped, and she walked on her knees to where Claimayne lay.

  “But he—” began Madeline.

  “My cousin,” said Ariel, “has no reason to hurt us now. We need him to fire it.”

  Madeline threw a wild glance at Scott, who shook his head helplessly and then nodded.

  Ariel took hold of Claimayne’s right hand, and she gently laid the grip of the gun in his palm and guided his forefinger into the trigger guard. She lifted the hand so that the barrel was pointed at the ceiling.

  “Thank you, Tetrarch,” she said softly and squeezed his hand. The gunshot seemed louder than the previous ones had been, and the gun had jerked out of Claimayne’s hand in recoil and now spun on the floor.

  “Nobody touch it now,” said Ariel. She stood up; both Scott and Madeline got to their feet to help her, but she waved them off. “I can walk,” she said. “Slowly.”

  “But I’m not sorry,” whispered Claimayne, lying on the floor behind her, “Ariel. For anything.” The exhalation that followed was shaky and seemed never to end. Ariel peered down at him, frowning.

  Scott tried to comprehend the evident fact that Claimayne was dead.

  And he glanced at Ferdalisi’s sprawled body and flexed his right hand; it wasn’t the hand that was bleeding, but he had actually killed that man with it.

  He forced the thought away, took a deep breath and let it out, and crossed to the space alien, which was now leaning backward on the still-upright bicycle. He took hold of one of its hands and twisted it; it resisted for a moment, and then a glued seam gave way and he was able to pull the hand off a rusty wire support. He tucked the thing inside his jacket and tugged the zipper up.

  Madeline had picked up the dartboard with one hand, pinching her nose with the other.

  “I—might still be able to stop Louise from stealing your car,” Scott said to her. “You two meet me in the apiary. I’ll surely be a while getting there, so wait for me.” He looked with concern at Ariel, who was now pressing one bloody hand to her scalp. “You two take Claimayne’s elevator rather than the stairs.” Madeline nodded. It’s Ariel and Madeline, Scott realized, who were using—will shortly be using, that is—the elevator; it wasn’t—won’t be—Claimayne after all.

  “What about Claimayne?” asked Madeline.

  “He’s dead too,” Ariel told her flatly. She looked at Scott. “See you in the apiary.”

  He nodded and opened his left hand, and then he had to shake his hand to dislodge the glass fragment. He hurried out of the garage and around the corner of the house and started across the grass. He was still several yards short of the Caveat front porch when he fell out of the spider vision.

  ALL SCOTT COULD SEE was a field of brown. He could feel that his right hand was holding a metal knob, and he sagged and gripped it tightly as the weight of having just done two spiders fell on him again. He was back in real time again.

  Where am I? he thought dizzily. Well, where was I in the last moments of the after vision? In it I found myself on the grass out in front of Caveat, and I dragged myself along the wall and the railing to the front porch, and I had just touched the doorknob when I fell out of that vision. So that’s where I am—I’m holding on to the doorknob and this brown expanse must be the front door.

  He looked away from it at a broad gray shape that mingled along one edge with mottled, shifting green, and he knew he must be seeing the gray sky and the jungly front slope.

  Scott looked back at the door, and it seemed to move away from in front of his face to a distance of about a foot. He looked down and saw his left hand on the knob, and he could see that his hand and the knob were not part of the plane of the door. His depth perception had returned.

  He glanced behind him at the bench where he had sat to catch his breath, only a minute ago in real time. Smears of blood streaked the marble seat where he had touched it with his left hand.

  Lowering his head, Scott allowed himself a brief smile. And when I was sitting there, he thought, I wondered where the gun had got to, and whether or not I had managed to find and save Ariel. I wondered if she were dead, or in an ambulance. Well, I did save her—with the help of Madeline and the rubber alien.

  He patted the front of his jacket and of course didn’t feel the rubber alien’s hand. He looked at his watch: 11:45. I walked out of the garage with the rubber hand in my jacket—leaving Claimayne and Ferdalisi dead on the floor nineteen minutes ago!

  He glanced to his left, toward the driveway, then shook his head wearily. Let Louise take Madeline’s car, he thought. She’s surel
y gone by now, and I’m in no shape to struggle with her if she’s not—and anyway, I’ve got to save Madeline now.

  Twisting the doorknob, Scott pushed the door open. He stepped wearily into the entry hall; for a moment he considered climbing the two flights of stairs, then shook his head and started for Claimayne’s elevator. He won’t mind now, he told himself.


  “WE’RE ALL A MESS, aren’t we?” said Ariel when Scott finally limped into the apiary. She was frowning critically, but there was relief in her voice.

  And it was certainly true. Madeline and Ariel had wiped most of the blood off their faces, but Madeline’s right eyelid was swollen and taking on a silvery blue color, and Ariel’s hair was darkly matted on top. Scott hadn’t yet washed his hand, and he could smell his own sweat.

  “Thank you,” Ariel said to him. “That was clever and brave.”

  Everything Scott could think of in reply sounded flippant or shallow, so he just nodded and waved it away.

  Madeline had the dartboard under her arm, and Ariel was unspooling the 220-volt extension cord as she walked toward the window. One of them had already wheeled out Aunt Amity’s tall old 35-millimeter projector and opened the round film magazine on top of it.

  A square metal can hung below the projection mechanism where the take-up reel would ordinarily be; Scott recalled that Aunt Amity had always called it the molasses can, and said that a take-up reel was the part of a projector that generally caused problems and interrupted the film, since it steadily got heavier and slower, whereas just letting the exiting film fall and coil loosely into the can avoided all such mechanical difficulties.

  I wonder if her damned old machine still works, Scott thought. Would I really be unhappy if it didn’t?

  “You’re going to have a real black eye there, Maddy,” he said.

  She shrugged and looked away. “You should see the other guy.”

  Scott suppressed a shudder as he recalled the revolver’s recoil in the palm of his hand, and his last view of Ferdalisi. Orange beard, dead orange eyes . . .

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