12

While The Chef was observing the face of Christ in that evening’s infected sunset, Third Selectman Andrea Grinnell was sitting on her couch and trying to read. Her generator had quit—or had it ever run at all? She couldn’t remember. But she had a gadget called a Mighty Brite light that her sister Rose had tucked into her Christmas stocking last year. She’d never had occasion to use it until now, but it worked just fine. You clamped it to your book and turned it on. Easy-peasy. So light wasn’t a problem. The words, unfortunately, were. The words kept squirming around on the page, sometimes even changing places with each other, and Nora Roberts’s prose, ordinarily crystal clear, made absolutely no sense. Yet Andrea kept trying, because she could think of nothing else to do.

The house stank, even with the windows open. She was suffering diarrhea and the toilet would no longer flush. She was hungry but couldn’t eat. She had tried a sandwich around five PM—just an inoffensive cheese sandwich—and had thrown it up in the kitchen wastebasket minutes after it was down. A shame, because eating that sandwich had been hard work. She was sweating heavily—had already changed her clothes once, probably should change them again, if she could manage to do it—and her feet kept jittering and jerking.

They don’t call it kicking the habit for nothing, she thought. And I’ll never make the emergency meeting tonight, if Jim still means to have one.

Considering how her last conversation with Big Jim and Andy Sanders had gone, maybe that was good; if she showed up, they’d just bully her some more. Make her do things she didn’t want to do. Best she stay away until she was clear of this… this…

“This shit, ” she said, and brushed her damp hair out of her eyes. “This fucking shit in my system.”

Once she was herself again, she would stand up to Jim Rennie. It was long overdue. She would do it in spite of her poor aching back, which was such a misery without her OxyContin (but not the white-hot agony she had expected—that was a welcome surprise). Rusty wanted her to take methadone. Methadone, for God’s sake! Heroin under an alias!

If you’re thinking about going cold turkey, don’t, he had told her. You’re apt to have seizures.

But he’d said it could take ten days his way, and she didn’t think she could wait that long. Not with this awful Dome over the town. Best to get it over with. Having come to this conclusion, she had flushed all of her pills—not just the methadone but a few last Oxy-Contin pills she’d found in the back of her nightstand drawer—down the toilet. That had been just two flushes before the toilet gave up the ghost, and now she sat here shivering and trying to convince herself she’d done the right thing.

It was the only thing, she thought. That kind of takes the right and wrong out of it.

She tried to turn the page of her book and her stupid hand struck the Mighty Brite gadget. It went tumbling to the floor. The spot of brilliance it threw went up to the ceiling. Andrea looked at it and was suddenly rising out of herself. And fast. It was like riding an invisible express elevator. She had just a moment to look down and see her body still on the couch, twitching helplessly. Foamy drool was slipping down her chin from her mouth. She saw the wetness spreading around the crotch of her jeans and thought, Yep—I’ll have to change again, all right. If I live through this, that is.

Then she passed through the ceiling, through the bedroom above it, through the attic with its dark stacked boxes and retired lamps, and from there out into the night. The Milky Way sprawled above her, but it was wrong. The Milky Way had turned pink.

And then began to fall.

Somewhere—far, far below her—Andrea heard the body she had left behind. It was screaming.

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