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Authors: Marc Scott Zicree,Robert Charles Wilson

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Magic Time: Ghostlands

BOOK: Magic Time: Ghostlands
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MAGIC
TIME

GHOSTLANDS

MARC SCOTT ZICREE
&
ROBERT CHARLES WILSON

To Stuart Gordon Zicree and Christina Anne Zicree,
beloved father and sister, for all the inspiration.

And to the memory of SuAnne Big Crow,
who made magic in the real world.

 

If anything is taught here, it is simply the charting of the life of someone who started out to somewhere—and went.

—Ray Bradbury

We make our own ghosts, and then give them permission to haunt us.

—Magic Time: Angelfire

Contents

ONE

“All right, I admit it. Radio Goldman is stone-cold dead.”

TWO

Mama Diamond was alone in her house of rock and…

THREE

That night, she had the dream again. The one with…

FOUR

It took Cal and his companions nearly two hours to…

FIVE

“Man oh man, I’m tellin’ you, it was just like…

SIX

They stood waiting in the fresh snow outside the glass…

SEVEN

In the years to come, those who were there would…

EIGHT

Mama Diamond woke up in bed with her boots on.

NINE

A guy could get killed this way, Inigo thought, and…

TEN

The snow no longer falling, Cal sought out a spot…

ELEVEN

Familiar as these ancient hills were to Mama Diamond, even…

TWELVE

“This can’t be right,” Cal Griffin said. The stench wafting…

THIRTEEN

“These friends of yours?” Cal asked Inigo. The tweaked boy…

FOURTEEN

Mama Diamond was quiet for the next couple of days’…

FIFTEEN

Grunters, dragons, piles of plague victims that appeared and vanished,…

SIXTEEN

It made Inigo’s stomach hurt having to lie to Christina’s…

SEVENTEEN

Back in the good old twentieth century when Einstein was…

EIGHTEEN

Underground, in the dark, untenanted and unrecalled, the cavernous space…

NINETEEN

Arcott called the place a boulangerie, but Cal discovered in…

TWENTY

For hours, the windsong of the grasses was their sole…

TWENTY-ONE

When he’d been here long ago with his so-called biological…

TWENTY-TWO

“Little gray guys,” Inigo said. “A lot of them.” He…

TWENTY-THREE

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Colleen Brooks hissed…

TWENTY-FOUR

The horses were shrieking, to begin with. Mama Diamond spoke…

TWENTY-FIVE

The girl was asleep in the bed that looked like…

TWENTY-SIX

It took considerable coaxing and smoothing of feathers to convince…

TWENTY-SEVEN

Larry Shango stood atop Sheep Mountain Table in the Badlands…

TWENTY-EIGHT

The sign on the building said Married Student Housing. I’m…

TWENTY-NINE

“I want you to take a look at this,” Doc…

THIRTY

Rafe Dahlquist was having the dream about Neville Chamberlain and…

THIRTY-ONE

In the apartment Melissa Wade had assigned him in Married…

THIRTY-TWO

Okay, in the old days, the guy with the M-80…

THIRTY-THREE

Waiting had always been the worst part for her, even…

THIRTY-FOUR

“You’re gonna fucking ruin everything.” Theo Siegel had to admit…

THIRTY-FIVE

“Last stop on the way,” Goldie said to Cal. “Man,…

THIRTY-SIX

Sometimes, Larry Shango thought as he moved cautiously through the…

THIRTY-SEVEN

Normally, it’s considered sound advice, when intent on not drawing…

THIRTY-EIGHT

As any profound philosopher and serious scholar of the natural…

THIRTY-NINE

“Wake up, Viktor,” the sweet, soft voice said, and he…

FORTY

“Save your hate for the Source,” Magritte had told Herman…

FORTY-ONE

It’s like tearing through different flats on a theater stage,…

FORTY-TWO

The zone of Christina’s aura that enveloped them was so…

FORTY-THREE

“Them’s some powerful riffs you got there, Old Man.” The…

FORTY-FOUR

I’m a science geek, not an English major, Theo Siegel…

FORTY-FIVE

Well now, that’s a relief, Mama Diamond thought, even as…

FORTY-SIX

Since the time he was ten, Theo Siegel’s favorite book…

FORTY-SEVEN

Stumbling down the mountainside, bitter with the cost of their…

FORTY-EIGHT

It’s like descending into a grave, Cal thought, and knew…

FORTY-NINE

Now, this is really interesting, Herman Goldman thought. In the…

FIFTY

Soon you’ll be past the pain…where no one can…

FIFTY-ONE

Crouching like a gargoyle on the high ledge of the…

FIFTY-TWO

“Dig it,” Colleen Brooks said balefully, scowling at the Ghost…

FIFTY-THREE

To say that May Catches the Enemy had made a…

FIFTY-FOUR

Jeff Arcott felt limitless power surging within him, and it…

FIFTY-FIVE

I’ve fought them dead before, Cal Griffin thought, cursing. But…

FIFTY-SIX

Jeff Arcott was dead, to begin with. But Theo Siegel…

FIFTY-SEVEN

The holy ghost legion drove on, into the heart of…

FIFTY-EIGHT

People, they had once been people, maybe a dozen of…

FIFTY-NINE

In these recent days of miracles and wonders, Garrett Lambert…

SIXTY

Dawn came with tumbled clouds and spitting rain. Melissa Wade…

SIXTY-ONE

Life is loss, Cal Griffin had once told himself, amid…

L
ife is loss
, Cal Griffin thought, standing in the chill wind off Lake Michigan, the dawn light like a held breath. Magic hour.

Magritte’s flames were dying to embers now, the ashes whipping in the breeze to dust their hair and shoulders and eyelashes. Another friend gone: Magritte, the flare, who had found sanctuary of a sort with Enid Blindman, then a true home in Goldie. Magritte had known much of the streets and of loneliness, and little of trust.

She had trusted Cal.

Cal and Doc and Colleen had set the wood and primed it, and Goldie himself had laid the empty husk of the girl-sprite—still nearly weightless—onto the pyre. A new use for Grant Park, Cal reflected, as so many places and things had found new use. No more antiseptic Forest Lawn, where they carted the bodies off and sanitized them and put them on pristine display.
No, death is its true self here, and no one keeps clean hands.

The somber-sweet a cappella of Enid’s funeral song trailed away, his face turned to heaven, shining like cherrywood in the rose light. He moved off with Venus, who gulped back her tears, and Howard Russo, who bunched his shoulders and squinted his big grunter eyes against the pallid glare, despite his sunglasses.

A last stop for them as autumn waned, before they returned to the Preserve, to Mary McCrae and Kevin Elk Sings and the other strays and changelings. All the new combinations, the surrogate families, the desperate, brave attempts to find security and belonging in a world that had shattered to fragments.

Cal glanced at Doc and Colleen, grouped together in the unspoken way that declared a country with borders all its own. Cal felt a pang of loss, and yet was not surprised. They were right together, she so hard on the outside and sensitive within, he with his air of gentility and subtle inner strength.

They would need that in the days ahead. They would need each other.

As for Cal, whatever longings he felt or imagined futures he might once have entertained, he knew he needed to relinquish. He could little afford encumbrances now, attachments to slow him or bring hesitation or doubt.

He had an appointment in the West.

In the early days of last summer, a world away and a lifetime ago, a shock wave had spread out of the unknown heart of the country, a tremor that had stilled all machines permanently, had leeched away their energies to power other dread forces, and left its mark on every man, woman and child.

Most had stayed human—pitifully, inadequately human. A few discovered they had strange new powers to move objects at a distance, or cast fear, or otherwise alarm the populace.

And a minority—the outcasts, Cal recognized, the most fragile or emotionally distanced—found themselves changed physically in ways that reflected their inner natures. Some—like his own lost sister, Tina—metamorphosed into ethereal, radiant creatures that came to be known in some parts as flares or angelfire. Still others were compacted into grunters; loathsome, powerful homunculi that ran in packs and kept to the dark places of the earth. But even here there were eccentric loners, like Howard Russo, who eschewed the more repugnant pursuits of their fellows and who could be trusted—who could be
friends.

Then there were dragons.

Ely Stern, lawyer supreme and Cal’s former boss, had
transformed into one of those appalling rarities, back in Manhattan, where Cal’s long pilgrimage had begun. A brilliant man, Stern, and a monster, really, even before the Change laid its weighty hand on him.

Stern’s extreme makeover had unshackled him, freed him at last to do things he had previously only dreamt of. So he had tried to kill Cal on several occasions, perhaps out of some sick need for payback, some attempt to quash traits he sensed in Cal that he himself could never have.

Or it might not have been that at all. Cal realized he had never truly understood Stern, that the man—the dragon—had in the end been a total enigma to him.

At any rate, Stern had been the first to abduct Tina, when she was wracked by fever in the midst of her transformation, mistakenly believing that only the two of them were changing, that somehow she was fated to share his road. Stern had spirited her away to an aerie atop the dead office building where he and Cal once worked, had oddly been something of a midwife to Tina during the final stage of her rebirth. Incredibly, in his twisted, halting way, Stern had been
gentle
with her, even solicitous.

Stern, who, to Cal’s knowledge, had never spoken kindly of any woman—or man, for that matter. Who, as far as Cal had observed, had no kindness within him.

In the end, to get his sister back, Cal had been forced to put a sword through him, and Stern had fallen eighty stories and more onto a Manhattan sidewalk.

Cal stared up into the swirl of smoke from Magritte’s funeral pyre, imagined it had taken on a dragon shape. Dead now? You would think so after a fall like that. But it was a world of cruel miracles and surprises.

Cal had been able to keep Tina with him for a time, as they had cobbled together their own makeshift clan out of friends and strangers: Colleen Brooks, who had been a mechanic in Cal’s office building and a neighbor down the block (though Cal hadn’t known it); Doc Lysenko, sidewalk hot-dog vendor, former physician, and veteran of Chernobyl; and finally Herman Goldman, Goldie of the subway tunnels, odd foragings and unreliable wonders.

They had set off in search of the source of the Change, to see if they could somehow staunch it, unmake what it had made. In the woods of Albermarle County, they’d come upon Secret Service agent Larry Shango, on his own urgent mission, and he had gifted them with the forbidden knowledge he carried—that the disaster that had upended the world had possibly stemmed from a classified program known, ironically enough, as the Source Project, its precise composition and location unknown. After his many tribulations, Shango had emerged with nothing more than a partial list of names of the scientists manning the project, and the towns and cities they had made their homes before relocating to the Source.

In Boone’s Gap, West Virginia, Cal had ultimately met up with one of them, Dr. Fred Wishart, who was no longer human but something immeasurably more pitiless and powerful, single-mindedly bent on maintaining the life of his comatose twin brother, Bob, even if it meant draining the life force from all who lived within the town.

Cal and his friends had succeeded in saving Boone’s Gap, but at a terrible cost—both Wishart and Tina had been yanked back to whatever dwelled at the Source, the malignant Awareness that seized not only the two of them but seemingly all flares anywhere not protected by some countering force.

As for the other scientists at the Source Project—Dr. Marcus Sanrio, who spearheaded the effort, his immediate subordinate Agnes Wu, all the other diverse talents who had likely unleashed this maelstrom on the world—Cal didn’t know the least thing about them; whom they loved, who grieved for them, what had made them, in the end, living human beings.

Whoever or whatever they might be now.

After Tina had been seized from him, Cal had known only one goal, one drive—to find her, to safeguard her. Colleen and Doc and Goldie, bless them, had thrown in their lot with him, set off in search of Tina and the Source, carried where it beckoned, rootless as dandelions in the wind.

It had led them to the remarkable blues guitarist Enid
Blindman and his companion Magritte, by whose symbiotic relationship each kept the other safe. They protected numerous other flares, as well, shielding them with a bizarre mélange of music and magic while they led them to a place known only as the Preserve—a place that had its own arcane defenses against the Source.

But Enid’s gift brought with it a curse, and in trying to dislodge it, Cal and his friends, along with Enid and Magritte, and Enid’s former manager, Howard Russo, had journeyed to Chicago. And in that journey, Magritte and Goldie had forged a bond as strong as it was unlikely. Neither had dreamed it possible—the manic-depressive transient and the hooker turned angel.

Cal thought for a time that own his answer might lie here, that he would find his sister and the end of the road, whatever that end might be. But he had found only a bizarre and terrible puppet called Primal—a puppet whose strings were pulled by Clayton Devine, former Maintenance Crew Chief of the Source Project. Maintenance and security had been his specialties, and he had maintained and secured Chicago, held sway over it for himself and his followers for a time, until Cal and his friends brought it all tumbling down…and Magritte sacrificed her life to save Goldie—to save them all.

Another soul distorted by the dark energy of the Source, Devine had disguised himself in stolen power—insulation from the scrutiny and reach of the more powerful Entity at its heart. A futile attempt in the end, as futile as Fred Wishart’s last stand in Boone’s Gap, West Virginia.

And who knew how many other last stands across the country, around the world, how many lives stolen or smashed or snuffed out?

There’s a power in the West, calling to us,
Ely Stern had told Tina on the roof of the world, the skyscraper summit to which he had flown her on that lost summer night.

And Stern had said too,
Soon it’s gonna own the world.

So there was a clock ticking inside all of them. Tick. Tock. Find it. Stop it.

If they could.

The fire was all but dead now, and Cal shivered against the chill that had seeped into his bones, despite the Gore-Tex and layering.

Goldie stood nearest the pyre, seemingly untouched by the cold. Cal and the others had let him keep his distance, and his silence. His eyes met Cal’s, but what was behind them kept its own counsel. His jaw muscles were taut, his head cocked at an angle as if listening to a distant conversation. To the West.

Of all of them, Goldie was the least changed without, still had the hectic, beautiful black curls, the straw cowboy hat with the five aces in the brim—very much the worse for wear for having been lost, trampled and rained upon—the cacophonous ensemble of Hawaiian, plaid and paisley shirts. But he was the most changed within. The playfulness, the antic spirit that had greeted Cal at their first and subsequent meetings, was quelled now, seemingly extinguished, to be replaced by…what?

Grimness, and darkness, and a growing power.

How much Magritte—and her loss—had been a catalyst for this, Cal didn’t know. But he suspected it played a great part.

Love was both a shield and a sword; it could protect and it could wound. The same emotion that bled Goldie drove Cal to find Tina. And it would determine the choices Colleen and Doc made, or failed to make, when the fire rained down on them all.

The sun was higher now, cresting on the stark branches as the city shifted and stirred and discovered itself. The last remnants of blackened logs fell in on themselves, threw up a firefly swarm of sparks and became still.

“We need to get the horses saddled and packed,” Cal said.

They nodded, and turned from the lake to the road again.

BOOK: Magic Time: Ghostlands
11.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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