Forced Perspectives – Snippet 21

CHAPTER FIVE: Regressively Indiv

By feel, for he had no visible body in this hallucination, Vickery pulled the .45 out from behind his belt with his left hand and flicked down the tight safety lever. He couldn’t see his arm or the gun, but the textured grip felt solid as he extended his invisible hand in the direction of the porch, between the woman and the two men, and the ridged trigger was pressed firmly against his finger as he squeezed it.

The grip punched back into his palm in recoil, but there was no sound, and the three people didn’t react.

The arm of the man with the revolver jerked upward, and Vickery did hear that shot — as a stuttering rumble — and the woman at the other end of the porch rocked her head back and then collapsed.

Castine’s hand twisted free of his own. He turned his head, but the scene didn’t shift from in front of his eyes — he was still helplessly staring at the house; peripheral vision showed him nothing but trees and the close hills in the sepia light.

The man in the leather jacket had lowered the gun, and now said something. The words were muffled — something like haddock tucker lud bishop — but in this dim interlude the gunshot had been no louder. The man laughed, which sounded like someone trying to start a car with a nearly dead battery, and turned away, toward the front door of the house.

And then the world went dark, with a flickering glare off to Vickery’s left. He swung his head that way, and now his view matched the way he was facing; he saw the freeway overpass, with a few flames still visible at the top of the slope underneath it. He looked in the other direction, out across the dark desert, and hoarsely called, “Castine!”

“Here,” came her voice from ahead of him. His night vision was not impaired by the just-closed hallucination, and he saw her silhouette standing among the weeds a a dozen yards off. She added, “Are you okay?”

Vickery took a deep breath and let it out, and spat to get rid of the imagined taste of ghost saliva. Two and two is four, he thought. “I guess so.”

“Where the hell’s your car?”

He gingerly tucked his hot gun back into his belt and trudged up to her and extended his hand.

She shied back and glanced toward the weakly underlit bridge. “I don’t think you should touch me skin-to-skin. Look what just happened.”

Vickery closed his hand. “You may be right.” He yawned widely enough to creak his jaw. “The car. Right, the car’s over here.”

He led the way across the weeds to his old white Saturn; the flames under the bridge had subsided, and the car was now the most visible thing in the nighted landscape. Castine hurried around to the passenger side, but stopped abruptly and drew her revolver, ducking below the rear fender.

Vickery had seen her and heard her cock the gun, and he drew his own gun again and crouched, looking around and groping in his pocket with his free hand for the flashlight. He was breathing deeply, forcing alertness.

He heard Castine’s harsh whisper: “Somebody’s shot out your rear side window!” After a moment she added, “Both of them, left and right!”

Vickery had got his flashlight out when he paused, and then relaxed.

“It’s okay,” he said, straightening up, “I think I did it myself.”

“No, they weren’t broken when we drove out here! Stay down!”

“Were you — in that vision, just now? The old house, the people on the porch?”

“Yes! That man shot that woman! Will you get down?”

“I pulled my gun and shot at the house door — as best I could — to get his attention — make him drop the revolver. But of course it had no effect there.”

“Oh!” She stood up from behind the car, lowering the gun. “I didn’t hear your shot…no, of course not. I did hear his.” She was facing him over the car’s roof. “Are you sure you’re okay? Some ghost switched places with you, for God’s sake!”

“Yes, I’m fine, or okay, at least. Thank you for the…visibly empirical math.”

“You’re welcome.” She opened the passenger side door, glancing back at the rear side window. “In one and out the other. Lucky you didn’t hit the gas tank.” She slid onto the seat and pulled the door closed. Vickery heard a rattle of glass falling out of the rear windows.

“Too bad I wasn’t able to save that woman,” he said as he climbed in on his side and started the engine.

“I think it was a long time ago,” Castine said as Vickery carefully backed the car around and then drove forward along the dirt track. “And the visions aren’t time travel, just — like you said, echoes.” She dropped the revolver onto the floor and wiped her hands on her new blouse. “I hate ghosts!”

Vickery’s hands were sweating too, and he knew they’d be trembling if they weren’t clamped on the steering wheel.

Castine was peering ahead. “Still no headlights?”

“Especially now, if somebody reports a fire under the bridge. I think at least one of the ghosts got excited to the point of ignition.”

Castine’s breathing gradually slowed. Finally she burst out, “Not substantial!”

“They weren’t like this before, not anything like this.” He gulped against a surge of nausea. “It’s as if they’ve found a fresh 120 volt socket to plug into.”

“Or a black hole. Did you hear what the leather jacket guy said, after he shot that woman?

“I couldn’t make it out.”

“He said, ‘Had to take her blood pressure.'”

Vickery was concentrating entirely on seeing the faint path. “Let’s talk when we’re back in the trailer.”

She nodded, staring ahead. “Where the fossil spirits dance on the roof. I want to go home.”

***

The trailer still smelled of fried bacon and onions, and Vickery decided the pan and the dishes could wait till morning. He saw Castine sniffing as she stepped into the living room and sat down on the couch, and he hoped she found the familiar domestic smells as reassuring as he did.

He dropped ice cubes into two fresh glasses and carried them and the bottle into the living room and set it all down on the coffee table. “Help yourself,” he said as he lowered himself stiffly into an easy chair.

Castine was frowning at him. “I don’t think you should go to your damn freeway nest anymore.”

“Two minds with but a single thought,” he said, leaning forward to pour bourbon into one of the glasses. “All we learned about the echo-vision house –”

“If we learned anything.”

Vickery bobbed his head in acknowledgment. “If anything,” he went on, “is that it was ‘fired’ once, whatever that might mean, and will be again. Right-twist rifling refers to the grooves –”

“In a gun barrel, I know.”

“Okay.” Vickery leaned back. “That was Yeats, sort of, what that first ghost was quoting.” He handed her the bottle.

She went on frowning at him for a moment, then relaxed. “I know that too. ‘Somewhere in sands of the desert’ — but it’s supposed to be ‘a shape with a lion body and the head of a man,’ not a hawk body — ‘is moving its slow thighs, while all about it reel the indignant shadows of the desert birds.’ And it’s supposed to be, ‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.'” She had poured a good two inches into her own glass, and drank a third of it in one swallow. “Whew! And — something about a crowd of people falling into a black hole.”