Read Odd Thomas: You Are Destined to Be Together Forever Online
Authors: Dean Koontz
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #One Hour (33-43 Pages), #Fiction
The two-lane blacktop was so narrow that if we met oncoming traffic, I would have to drive partly on the graveled shoulder of the road. Following the sprinting spirit in khakis and checkered shirt, we passed a few humble houses that featured cacti as lawn shrubs and pebbles instead of grass, in recognition of the desert that, in these outskirts of Pico Mundo, couldn’t be denied as easily as it could in the center of town.
“Call Chief Porter,” I said, “and give me the phone when you have him on the line.”
Stormy flipped open her cell phone and entered the number as I gave it to her.
The road sloped down for more than a mile, through an uninhabited area of mesquite and purple sage in full spring bloom, toward a hollow in which a grove of cottonwoods flourished because an aquifer lay within reach of their roots. At the trees, the paved road came to a dead end.
“There’s no cell service out here,” Stormy reported as she pocketed her phone. “No cell service, probably no cable TV, no public sewer hookup, most likely well water, no city water lines, but I bet they have plenty of chain saws.”
An oiled-dirt driveway curved among the trees. Through the screen of branches, I could see a two-story house. Gliding toward that residence, the spirit of the murdered man disappeared into the cottonwood shadows.
As I parked across the narrow dirt lane to prevent anyone from escaping the house in a vehicle, I said, “Better stay here while I have a look around.”
“I’m not a delicate flower,” Stormy declared. “As soon as I’m old enough to buy a pistol, I’m going to get a license to carry a concealed weapon.”
Because of the troubles in her childhood, she knew that true Evil walked the world.
“But you’re not old enough yet,” I said.
“Which is why I have this.”
From her purse, she produced a six-inch-long stainless-steel tube about two inches in diameter, with a crosshatched grip. At the top was a stainless-steel knob as shiny as a mirror. She pressed a button, and in an instant the tube telescoped to eighteen inches and locked at that length. Smiling at me, she lightly rapped the palm of her left hand with the knob of the baton.
“Ordered it through an ad in a martial-arts magazine,” she said. “It’ll fracture a knee or even a skull.”
Unconvinced, I said, “You should still stay here with the car.”
“Oh, my adorable fry cook, I am either coming with you or I’m going in there alone.”
“What does that mean? You’re going to test that thing on my head?”
to test it on your head,” she assured me. “But we’re either in this together or we’re not, and I’ve been operating on the assumption that we
in it together.”
She has these dark eyes as deep as galaxies. It’s easy to get lost in them.
I said, “Well…see…it’s just that…since caveman days it’s been the man’s job—”
“You’re not a caveman.”
“No. But traditionally—”
“I bet some of those cavewomen were totally tough mamas.” She opened the passenger door and got out of the car. “Is Elvis coming with us?”
Mr. Presley was no longer in the backseat. I don’t know where he goes when he’s not with me. Being a spirit, he can’t sing or play the guitar, and he can’t eat his favorite deep-fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich even if he could get somebody to make one for him.
“He split,” I said, “he’s off ghosting somewhere,” and I got out of the car.
As she joined me at the entrance to the driveway, Stormy said, “Why Elvis and not Buddy Holly?”
“I don’t know.”
“Buddy Holly was twenty-three when he died. So young. You’d think he’d be more reluctant than Elvis to cross over.”
I said, “Buddy Holly went down in a plane crash one winter night. On the other hand, Elvis was sitting on a toilet when he died, maybe of an overdose, and he collapsed into a puddle of his own vomit.”
“So you’re saying maybe he lingers here out of mortification?”
“Not just that. But it’s conceivably a factor.”
As we followed the driveway into the cottonwood grove, she said, “I doubt that anyone on the Other Side cares how we died, only how we lived. Tell him that. I mean, if he comes around again.”
“He’ll come around. Even if he didn’t want me to help him cross over, he’d come around to stare moon-eyed at you.”
She was surprised. “He stares moon-eyed at me?”
“He’s in love with you, I think.”
“That’s kind of weird.”
“Regardless of his other faults, he was always a gentleman in life. He wouldn’t materialize in your bathroom and watch you naked in the shower or anything. Anyway, I guess I’m glad he’s dead, so I don’t have to compete with him.”
“If he wasn’t dead, he’d be like sixty-five. You being a quarter his age, he wouldn’t be much competition.”
“I wish you’d said
She smiled and pinched my cheek. “Yes, my sweet griddle boy, I’m sure you do.”
We followed the oiled-dirt driveway only twenty feet or so into the woods before leaving it for the cover of the trees. I wanted to circle the house, staying in the woods, to reconnoiter it from every angle, before deciding on an approach.
This being the Mojave in spring, the day was warm, the air oven-dry and very still. Dead leaves crunched underfoot, and occasionally a bird took wing through the branches overhead, startled into flight.
I felt someone watching me, but that didn’t mean anything. Because of my paranormal abilities, because I had to make my way through the world of the living
the dead, I sometimes felt that I must be under observation by a hostile presence when in fact I wasn’t.
In a whisper, Stormy said, “I feel as if we’re being watched.”
To spare her the fear of being tracked by malevolent and unseen enemies, I said, “Watch out for rattlesnakes.”
The house didn’t look like the place where Norman Bates dressed in his mother’s clothes and sharpened the cutlery with which he would stab women to death in the family motel. Neither was it constructed of gingerbread and gumdrops to lure unsuspecting children into the home of the woodland witch, there to be roasted in an oven.
The simple two-story residence was freshly painted white with pale-yellow trim. A swing on the front porch; basket ferns hanging from brass chains. A pair of bentwood rocking chairs on the back porch. Furnishing the green lawn were a birdbath, four ceramic garden gnomes seated at a table that was a giant ceramic mushroom, a half-dozen cast-concrete pastel-blue rabbits four or five times life-size, and a powder-blue wheelbarrow used as a planter that overflowed with vine geraniums offering a wealth of scarlet flowers.
If this had been Thanksgiving Day, I would have expected a Norman Rockwell grandmother to be standing at the open front door, costumed in a long apron over a gingham dress, a smear of flour on one cheek, waving to the arriving grandkids.
Deep in cottonwood shadows, Stormy said, “Creepy.”
“Megacreepy,” I agreed.
“Blue rabbits? What’re they supposed to be—the product of nuclear waste?”
“Bunny Godzillas,” I said.
“Are the gnomes playing poker?”
“I think they’re having tea.”
Wary of snakes, we continued through the trees until we could see up the back porch steps to the open kitchen door.
Stormy said, “Something’s lying in the doorway.”
I squinted and said, “Maybe a dead guy.”
“What dead guy?”
“Probably the meat-cleaver-in-the-neck dead guy.”
She tried using her cell phone again, but as before there was no service in this area. “I’m having second thoughts. Blue rabbits and now a corpse. Let’s drive someplace the phone works and call Chief Porter from there.”
As a chill crawled up my spine and stiffened the hairs on the nape of my neck, I said, “Too late.”
“This isn’t a stupid horror movie, odd one. It’s never too late to do the intelligent thing.”
“Someone in there needs our help right now. There’s no time to waste.”
“How do you know?”
intuition says we should leave this very minute or get a meat cleaver in the neck.”
“When I say
” I reminded her, “I mean
My intuition isn’t like yours. No offense intended.”
“I fall for a fry cook,” she said, “and find myself with a clairvoyant.”
isn’t the right word.”
“Is there a right word for you?”
“Maybe not,” I admitted.
Draperies or curtains covered most of the windows, and the house stood in silence, as if abandoned.
“She’ll die if we don’t go in there right now,” I said.
“I don’t know who or how or why, but I know we don’t have much time to save her.”
Whether or not fortune favored the bold, we crossed the lawn without darting from one point of cover to another. The four gnomes around the ceramic toadstool were neither playing poker nor having tea. Each of them held a beer stein, and judging by the expressions on their faces, the sole reason for their gathering was to drink themselves into a stupor.
Lying across the threshold between the porch and the kitchen was in fact the fortyish guy with the shaved head and the wide blue eyes, the same man whose anguished spirit had led us to this place. The cleaver had cut through his carotid artery, and he had bled onto the porch floor so recently that the pooled blood had not yet developed a skin.
To avoid tracking blood into the house, Stormy and I had to step on the dead man’s back and then between his splayed legs. I’m not an admirer of bearskin rugs, but at least all the squishy-gooey parts of the bruin have been long removed before it is cast down to be trod upon. From the cadaver’s torn throat issued rude wet noises that, it seemed to me, we deserved.
In the kitchen, Stormy brandished her stainless-steel baton, looking for a skull to fracture, and I snatched up a rolling pin that lay on a disk of pie dough, on the pastry-friendly marble slab inlaid in the butcher’s-block island. We were ready for anything now, unless the anything had a gun.
“Pigurines,” Stormy whispered.
Someone collected cute ceramic and glass and carved-wood pigs, which were lined up atop the refrigerator, peeking between bottles on the spice shelves, displayed on the windowsills, clustered on the center of the work island and on the dinette table. There were pigs in frock coats and bib overalls and Santa Claus costumes, in tuxedos and party dresses. Here a pig stood in mid-pirouette, and there a pig played a banjo.
Where the walls weren’t hung with cabinets and appliances, they featured framed needlepoint samplers with decorative borders and clichés meant to comfort:
Home Is Where the Heart Is, Sunshine Always Follows the Rain….
Abruptly the framed samplers rattled against the walls, and the pigs clinked against one another, as if a mild earthquake shook Pico Mundo.
Unnerved, I turned, and Stormy turned, and behind us stood the spirit, which manifested with his neck intact.
“You see something?” she asked.
“What’s he doing?”
His blue eyes were gas-flame bright, his face tortured by conflicting emotions. As if demanding justice, he pointed at me. Baring his clenched teeth, he thrust the same finger toward the ceiling, and like Clark Kent in an emergency that allowed no time for changing into cape and tights, he shot out of the kitchen and through the plaster overhead, causing no damage in his sudden exit.
“What just happened?” Stormy whispered.
“Well, basically, pointing the way, he flew through the ceiling. The killer must be upstairs.”
“Let’s get him.”
“I can handle this myself.”
“Boyfriend, you’re not going up there alone.”
I raised the rolling pin. “This is all I need.”
Raising the steel baton, she said, “And this is all
“Sometimes you make me nuts.”
She smiled. “You wouldn’t love me if I didn’t.”
We went upstairs.
The stairs creaked. They always creaked when creaking could lead to your death, and they never creaked when creaking didn’t matter. The universe is anthropic, meaning that its design makes possible and sustains intelligent life, especially human beings. Nevertheless, I perceive some power, some presence, some adversary behind the scenes that by countless devices subtle or blunt seeks to destroy us. On the second floor, the master bedroom, a second bedroom, a bathroom, and a hall closet were deserted, but all the door hinges squeaked or rasped, or did both.
Two women were in the third bedroom, at the back of the house. They looked up, frightened, when I pushed open the door.
The youngest of the two was an attractive blonde in her late twenties. She was sitting on the edge of a bed, fully clothed but chained to a steel ring that had been welded to the bed frame.
The other woman fumbled with a collection of keys, trying to free the blonde from the manacle that connected her to the chain. She was gaunt, disheveled, her thin arms mottled with bruises, her right eye swollen shut. When she turned to me, terror and timidity were written large across her paper-pale face, but the tight corners of her mouth suggested determination, and in her green eyes I thought I read a wild scrawl of triumph.
In spite of the rolling pin that I carried and Stormy’s martial-arts baton, the older woman’s initial fright gave way to a kind of frantic but inconstant gladness. One moment, she seemed relieved and rejoicing, as if she had just disarmed a bomb, but an instant later, her face clouded and a frown briefly replaced her grin, as though she heard the bomb clock ticking again.
She scowled. “Who’re you? What’re you doin’ in my house?”
“There’s a dead man—” I began.
“Yeah, Kurt. He moved in on me, moved in smooth as butter. I didn’t see the snake he was till too late. Bastard Kurt, stone dead now, sick bastard, stone dead.” She grinned as though I had told her that she’d won the lottery. “I chopped on him real good, damn if I didn’t. Me, useless old Roberta, I finally done it.” She appeared to be amazed that she had been capable of killing Kurt. “I chopped him like he weren’t but a rack of ribs. Wish I’d chopped him a couple hundred times, chopped him up and down, ’fore I killed him. Wish I’d had the nerve
Apparently Stormy decided no threat existed here, or maybe she thought I looked ridiculous as I brandished the rolling pin, because she handed me the stainless-steel baton. The emotionally fragile Roberta, struggling with the manacle lock, had begun to cry. Stormy went to her, put a hand on her shoulder as though to console her, and relieved her of the keys.
Voice trembling more with anger than with fear, the blonde said, “I was on my way to work. It wasn’t even dawn yet. He came up behind me. It happened so fast.”
As Stormy examined the keys, Roberta explained herself through a veil of tears: “He brung this one other girl last year, just like he brung Kristen this mornin’. He beat me near to death ’cause I said just please let Hannah go. Hannah was her name. He kept her in this here same room. Treated her like she weren’t nothin’ but a
He broke that girl, just like he broke me, broke her bad.”
Stormy was having trouble finding the key to the manacle.
Trembling, alert for some sudden attack, Kristen said, “Where are the cops? Why didn’t you call the cops?”
“No cell-phone service out here,” I said.
“Use the house line.”
“There ain’t none,” Roberta declared, wiping away tears, still an unstable brew of emotions, phasing now from sorrow to anger in an instant. “The mean sonofabitch never let me have no phone. When he’d go out, he locked me down in the cellar, like you wouldn’t even lock up some dog.”
Stormy said, “Kurt had more keys than a prison warden, but none of them work.” She looked at me. “Why would he lead us here?”
“Vengeance, I guess. Even the wicked feel justified in wanting vengeance.”
I thought of the kitchen, the collection of “pigurines” and the needlework samplers that suggested a time before Kurt, when Roberta had evidently led a simple but happy life in this house. I recalled the moment when the framed samplers rattled against the walls and the pigs clinked against one another, as if in a mild earthquake—just as Kurt’s angry spirit had manifested.
Evidently my expression revealed my alarm, because Stormy said, “What’s wrong?”
Before I could reply, the spirit of Kurt rose into the room, as though for the past few minutes he’d been wandering and lost between the kitchen ceiling and the bedroom floor. Once more, he manifested with his mortal wounds, soaked in blood, a demonic figure around which the air was smoky, murky, as if he pulled with him some of the darkness from the realm of the dead where he belonged. Glaring at Roberta and then at me, he pointed repeatedly to the meat cleaver in his neck, as if I might have failed to notice it. Thrusting an accusatory finger at the woman who killed him, he looked equally furious and exasperated, having apparently reached the conclusion that I had the IQ of an amoeba.
“You’ve already gotten the justice you deserved,” I told him. “You don’t belong here anymore. Just move on.”
Roberta said, “Who’re you talkin’ to?”
Enraged by my failure to beat the woman to death with either the martial-arts baton or the rolling pin, Kurt pulled the cleaver from his neck and threw it at me. Because it wasn’t a real blade, only the idea of one, it passed harmlessly through me.
“You can’t do any more damage in this world,” I told him.
“Who’s he talkin’ to?” Roberta asked Stormy.
“Nobody,” Stormy said. “He’s just quirky. Are there other keys?”
“Quirky?” Kristen was alarmed by the possibility of an encounter with another homicidal lunatic. “What do you mean,
“Peculiar,” Stormy replied. “But in a good way. He’s quirky but adorable.” To Roberta, she said again, “Are there any other keys?”
His head now seated firmly on his neck, face contorted by fury, Kurt raised his hands, and from his palms issued concentric pulses of energy visible to me but to no one else.
I said, “Uh-oh.”
Spirits lingering in this world have only one way to harm the rest of us. If their lives were marbled with many evil acts, if they are spiritually malignant to a sufficient degree, they are able to convert their demonic rage into destructive energy and vent it upon the inanimate.
Kurt was going poltergeist.
“There’s no point in this,” I counseled him. “All you’re doing is delaying the inevitable and ensuring yourself greater suffering when you finally cross over.”
“He’s weird,” Kristen said, referring to me.
“Quirky,” Stormy insisted.
Not susceptible to my charms, Kristen said,
“Roberta! Are there other keys anywhere?”
Roberta felt her pockets, looked surprised, “Maybe these,” she said, producing a ring of ten or twelve keys.
The pulses of energy that Kurt emitted grew brighter, concentric ripples issuing from him faster, faster.
The bedroom door crashed shut before anyone could move toward it. Roberta dropped the new set of keys, hurried across the room, and wrenched the knob back and forth.
I scooped up the keys and tossed them to Stormy.
When the door wouldn’t relent, Roberta returned to us, shivering and shaking her right hand as if the doorknob had been freezing.
“There!” Stormy declared, having found the right key to unlock the manacle.
Freed, Kristen sprang at once off the bed, as though it were saturated with some pestilence infinitely more horrific than the black plague. Although Roberta had saved her life, she shied from the woman, too, as if not convinced that everything was as it seemed to be. Stormy and I excited her suspicion, as well. She ran to the door, but she had no more success with it than had Roberta.
Nightstand drawers opened of their own accord, slammed shut, slid open, shut, and now the dresser drawers, whispering on their slides, banging shut, banging, banging. A mahogany highboy spat out its drawers entirely, spilling their contents as they clattered to the floor.
Roberta’s stew of emotions—sorrow, anger, frantic gladness—had boiled down to a thick reduction of fear. She stood awestruck, turning this way and that, arguing against the clear evidence of her senses—“This ain’t happenin’, no way, no, no”—and raising her already bruised arms to ward off whatever missiles might come her way.
The six-foot length of chain fixed to the ringbolt on the bed frame rattled up from the mattress, weaving in the air as if it were a charmed serpent, the manacle like a cobra’s head poised to bite.
A ginger-jar nightstand lamp levitated, its cord taut. The plug pulled from the wall socket. The lamp flew past my head, shattering against a wall, showering Kristen with ceramic shards.
In spite of all their violent thrashing and vindictive wrath, poltergeists cannot control the malevolent energy that issues from them, cannot target anyone or aim with precision. They are able to harm us only by indirection, by ricochet, by the luckiest of lucky blows. If, however, a flung fireplace poker spears through your eye, through your brain, and out the back of your head, the fact that it found you by sheerest chance will not be much consolation.
Roberta began to scream and Kristen joined her, which seemed to inspire the late, unlamented Kurt to new heights of supernatural ire. The mattress flipped off the bed, and the coils of steel in the box springs sang as though something with a thousand claws plucked and strummed them. Emptied of all its drawers, the highboy lurched away from the wall, rocked to its left, rocked to its right, as if it were the Frankenstein’s monster of furniture, lumbering this way and that in search of a victim, before it suddenly rocketed to the ceiling with such force that it broke apart and brought down with it a hail of shattered plaster.
Over the cacophony, Stormy called to me: “Do something!”
“Do what?” I shouted.
“How would I know? I work in an ice-cream shop.”
“I’m just a fry cook,” I lied. “I don’t know what’s happening here.”
The twanging steel coils in the box springs began to break free from their ties, unwinding as they tore loose, ripping through the covering fabric like baby snakes emerging from a nest, greeted by the manacle-and-chain serpent that still undulated like a cobra in the thrall of flute music.