Interesting Times (Interesting Times #1) (13 page)

BOOK: Interesting Times (Interesting Times #1)
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He held
up one hand. He was no longer on fire. That was a relief. 

The sun
was beginning to come up on the horizon. Oliver stared at it in wonder. It had
been dark out when he had woken up in Blackwell’s house, and it would have
stayed that way for hours yet.  But it was morning here. How much time had
passed? Was it even the same day?

For a
moment he wondered if he really had been turned into a vampire. Would the
sunlight kill him? But the sun’s rays felt good, warm on his skin. If sunlight
killed vampires, he could be fairly certain he was not one.

With
nothing better to do, Oliver began walking up the path. Before long it forked.
A broken old wooden sign stood there to give directions. He read it and at
first wasn’t sure what to make of it.  According to the sign, to the left was
the butterfly kingdom, and to the right were the chimpanzees and the lions. 

Oliver
suddenly knew exactly where he was. No time had passed at all, he realized. The
sun was coming up because he was on the other side of the country. He was in
Maine.

He
wondered if people ever fainted in real life, or if that was something that
only happened in the movies. Because this would have been a great time for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

Oliver
had to stop for a moment and shake off another bout of dizziness. Of all the
insane things that had happened to him in the last twenty-four hours, he almost
found this one the hardest to believe. Five minutes ago he had been in a
bedroom in California, surrounded by vampires. Then he’d walked through a door
that hadn’t been there only a moment before, and now he was at Binkle’s
Roadside Zoo and Amusements. In Maine. If he remembered correctly, it was about
an hour’s drive from Portland, not far from the coast. And the Atlantic Ocean,
not the Pacific he saw nearly every day.

Oliver
had been here once before, many years ago, when he was still a small child. His
parents had taken him to the Maine coast for a vacation. They’d stopped in
countless small towns for “antiquing,” which his mother had developed an
instant passion for. Oliver remembered that he had eaten lobster for the first
time on that trip. He’d been reluctant, believing that their large red bodies
looked suspiciously like giant cockroaches, but his father had insisted,
telling him that they were a delicacy, and one he had just spent a great deal
of money on at that. 

And on
one of their drives through the country his father had brought them to
Binkle’s, which boasted one of the tallest Ferris wheels in the state and a
small but diverse menagerie, which included lions. “Straight from the African
jungle!” Oliver’s father had told him. He’d read it on a billboard he’d spotted
on the freeway.

The zoo
did have two lions, but they had been rescued from a private collection in
Milwaukee and had never seen the jungle. They regarded the passing throng of
tourists with a certain degree of boredom, having learned some time ago that
they couldn’t scale the walls of their enclosure in order to snatch a quick
snack. Oliver had been terrified of them nonetheless, certain that the lions
would find a way to escape and eat him. His father had picked him up and held
him close, telling him in a soft voice that this was a safe place. There was no
danger here.

Oliver
laughed now. It made sense, in a perverse kind of way. He had felt safe here,
all those years ago, and safety had been the only thing on his mind back when
he’d wanted to escape from the vampires. He’d wanted to be safe somewhere far
away. Now he was clear on the other side of the country. Next time he’d have to
try to wish he could be safe somewhere closer to home.

That
answered the
why
, then, but not the
how
part of what he was doing
here. How had he done it?  Maybe Jeffrey had been right. Was he a sorcerer? For
that matter, was a sorcerer something that a person could be? Maybe there was a
book or something he could look at.

 Binkle’s
had been closed for years, Oliver knew. He’d seen a blurb on the news some time
ago. It had fallen on hard times and the animals had all been shipped off to
other zoos. He wasn’t sure what had happened to the lions. Would they be able
to speak to him now, if he wished for it hard enough? That would make as much
sense as anything else that was happening in his life.

He
should probably get out of here, he thought. He doubted there were any security
guards on the grounds, but an abandoned roadside zoo could not possibly be the
best place in the world for him.

Oliver
started walking along the path, looking around for an exit sign. After a moment
he spotted one and headed in that direction. As he had suspected would be the
case, no security guards came running to intercept him. He found the
dilapidated condition of the place more than a little depressing. This had been
a good memory. He hoped somebody would buy the place and fix it up. He wasn’t a
fan of roadside zoos, but it wouldn’t take much to turn it into a passable
amusement park. You could put in a few rides for the kids, sell popcorn and
candy. It would be nice.

Oliver
stopped suddenly and looked around. He was almost surprised that none of the
things he had just envisioned had magically appeared before his eyes. Lately it
seemed that anything he thought about wound up happening somehow.

Was
there any chance of that actually working? Oliver looked around to double-check
that nobody was nearby, and then he said aloud, “I want popcorn.”

No
popcorn appeared. Maybe he was doing it wrong?  “I wish for popcorn,” Oliver
said. Nothing. “Abracadabra. Hocus Pocus.” He wiggled his fingers in the air as
if he were casting a magic spell.

Still
nothing happened. Oliver sighed. He felt foolish, but he was actually a little
relieved. There was nothing wrong with him. There must be another explanation
for all of this, however bizarre it would turn out to be.

Maybe he
needed a physics textbook. Something very advanced, and probably theoretical.

After a
few minutes he came to the main gate and stepped through a rusty old turnstile,
exiting the park. The parking lot was devoid of cars, its pavement cracked and
strewn with litter.

Should
he call a cab? Oliver spotted a bank of three pay phones near the park’s ticket
booth. This place really had been closed a long time, he thought. He couldn’t
remember the last time he’d seen a pay phone. He’d have to remember to buy a
prepaid cell phone the next time he was at a 7-11. He felt naked without one.

Oliver
checked the pay phones but was not surprised to find that two of them had been
vandalized to the point of destruction, and the other had no dial tone. There
would be no cab for now, then. He’d have to walk.

Oliver
walked to the edge of the highway and looked to the left and the right. No cars
were coming from either direction. But it was still early, and who knew how
much traffic this road got, anyway? Oliver searched his memories. He was sure
that Portland was the nearest large city; he could recall eating dinner with
his parents on board an old ship that had been converted into a restaurant the
night before they’d been to the zoo. But which way was it? Was anything else
nearby, ideally much closer? As much as he tried, he couldn’t come up with
anything. He’d spent much of the driving portions of that trip absorbed in a
book about elves and dragons. If he were lucky, he would not run into either of
those things during his walk.

Oliver
looked back at the zoo. For a moment he entertained the thought of staying
there. He could go inside there and hide for days, maybe. It seemed like the
last place anybody would be looking for him. What were the odds that scheming
vampires and evil lizard people were going to track him down out here?

But food
and water would become a serious issue, he realized. He’d never eaten his lunch
and hadn’t kept his dinner down, and his stomach was already rumbling. It was
time to get going.

Which
way to go, though? It hardly seemed to matter. He thought about flipping a coin
but realized he didn’t have one, so after a moment’s hesitation he turned to
his left and began walking down the highway. The road seemed to angle downward
in that direction, which would make the walking easier. And Portland was at sea
level, he remembered. That couldn’t possibly be the closest he was to
some
kind of civilization, but if it was, he could at least hope he was going in the
right direction.

Oliver
walked. The sun was rising through the trees and he was beginning to feel warm.
That was something to be thankful for. He didn’t have a jacket. Maybe he could
pick one up when he found a cell phone. And if he was lucky, maybe he could buy
a gun. He had no idea what firearms laws were like in Maine but if he could get
a pistol, at least he’d feel a little safer.

As the
sun continued to rise Oliver began to hear birds chirping in the trees. It was
a good sound, he thought. At least that was a little bit of normalcy. Lately
there hadn’t been much of that to go around.

Still,
he did have to think he’d handled recent events fairly well. He had managed to
get through all of it without crying or wetting his pants. He could take some
small pride in that. Certainly some people would have ended up in the nuthouse
if they’d had a day like his.

Not for
the first time, Oliver paused long enough to wonder if that had already taken
place. What if he was strapped to a hospital bed somewhere and this had all
been a delusion? In a lot of ways that made more sense than what was happening
now.

He was
wondering if there was a way to test that theory when he heard a vehicle
approaching from behind him. He turned and saw a pickup truck heading in his
direction, slowing down as it came closer. Not sure of the protocol, Oliver put
his fist out and stuck his thumb in the air. That was how people hitchhiked,
wasn’t it? He’d only seen it before on television. Nobody hitchhiked in San
Francisco. You’d have to be suicidal to try it there.

 The
truck stopped and a jovial man shouted to him from the driver’s seat, “Where
you headed?”

“Portland,”
Oliver said.

“Portland?
Well, it’s gonna take a while. You’re going the wrong way.”

Oliver
sighed. Of course he was. “Well, what’s
this
way?” he asked.

“New
Hampshire,” the man said. He looked at Oliver suspiciously. “You been drinking
there?”

“I’m
thinking about it,” Oliver said truthfully.

“You
want a lift?”

“Where
are you going?”

“Boston.
I don’t mind the company, if you got some gas money. I can drop you off
somewhere along the way, if you want.”

Oliver
felt for his wallet. It was still tucked away in his back pocket. At least that
was one thing he wouldn’t have to replace. “Sure. Why not?”

The man
leaned over to unlock the passenger door and Oliver climbed in. He had never
hitchhiked in his life and would never have considered doing so before now, but
what was the worst that could happen? The man could turn out to be a murderer
or some kind of sex pervert, but those things seemed fairly mundane now,
compared to what he’d been dealing with lately. He might even find them boring,
he realized. 

“Name’s
Smith,” the man said, extending a hand.

Oliver
shook it. “I’m Sam,” he lied. On any other day he would have felt awkward about
the lie, but now he found it no longer bothered him. He might even be doing the
guy a favor, if anyone questioned him about it later.

“Good to
know you, Sam. All right, let’s go.” Smith put the car in gear and they started
off down the road. Oliver was grateful for the ride. Once they got to a city
he’d be back in his element. He’d be back in the world of taxis and hotels. And
airports. Airports were good. He could buy a ticket to somewhere far away from
here. Magic doors were overrated.

Smith
had been listening to an oldies station on the radio. He turned it down. “So
where you from, Sam?”

“Washington
state,” Oliver said. That was true. “Little town near Spokane you never heard
of.”

“You
miss it?”

Oliver
sighed. “Today I really do.”

After a
while the two-lane highway they’d been driving on widened and became a
four-lane freeway.  Smith looked askance at Oliver. “You look like a man with a
lot on his mind,” he said.

“It’s
been a crazy couple of days,” Oliver admitted.

“Woman
trouble?”

Oliver
laughed. “You could say that. A woman bit me right here,” he said, pointing to
his neck where Chantal had drawn his blood.

Smith
peered at it. “Looks okay to me.”

Oliver
flipped the passenger visor down and looked in the mirror that was mounted
there. His neck was untouched. There wasn’t even so much as a bruise. “Huh,” he
said. Even his shirt was clean; there was no trace of blood anywhere. For a
moment he was baffled, then he realized it must have burned off and left his
clothes untouched. That was a neat trick.

“You
sure you ain’t been drinking?”

“No, I’m
fine,” Oliver said. “You ever have one of those days where…I don’t know…it’s
like you shut your eyes and when you open them again, the world is different?”

“How’s
that?”

“I mean,
it’s like the whole world has fundamentally changed when you weren’t looking,”
Oliver said. “I’m not sure how to explain it.”

Smith
thought about it. “Like when your kids grow up?”

“No.
Like one minute everything is normal, and the next you’ve got a cat talking to
you. And for some reason, that’s not even weird. You don’t freak out. It makes
sense that the cat can talk. It’s like the cat could always talk, and you just
now noticed.”

BOOK: Interesting Times (Interesting Times #1)
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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