CHAPTER EIGHT

That same night, Eduardo removed the weapons from the cabinet in the study and reloaded them. He distributed them throughout the house, so one firearm or another would always be within reach.

The following morning, April fourth, he drove into Eagle’s Roost, but he didn’t go to the sheriff’s substation. He still had no evidence to back up his story.

He went, instead, to Custer’s Appliance. Custer’s was housed in a yellow-brick building dating from about 1920, and the glittering.high-tech merchandise in its display windows was as anachronistic as tennis shoes on a Neanderthal.

Eduardo purchased a videocassette recorder, a video camera, and half a dozen blank tapes.

The salesman was a long-haired young man who looked like Mozart, in boots, jeans, a decoratively stitched cowboy shirt, and a string tie with a turquoise clasp. He kept up a continuous chatter about the multitude of features the equipment offered, using so much jargon that he seemed to be speaking a foreign language.

Eduardo just wanted to record and play back. Nothing more. He didn’t care if he could watch one show while taping another, or whether the damned gadgets could cook his dinner, make his bed, and give him a pedicure.

The ranch already had a television capable of receiving a lot of channels, because shortly before his death, Mr. Quartermass had installed a satellite dish behind the stables. Eduardo seldom watched a program, maybe three or four times a year, but he knew the TV worked.

From the appliance store he went to the library. He checked out a stack of novels by Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, plus collections of stories by H. P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and M.

R. James.

He felt no less a fool than if he had selected lurid volumes of flapdoodle purporting to be nonfiction accounts of the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster, the Lost Continent of Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and the true story of Elvis Presley’s faked death and sex-change operation. He fully expected the librarian to sneer at him or at least favor him with a pitying and patronizing smile, but she processed the books as if she found nothing frivolous about his taste in fiction.

After stopping at the supermarket as well, he returned to the ranch and unpacked his purchases.

He needed two full days and more beers than he would ordinarily have allowed himself in order to get the hang of the video system. The damned equipment had more buttons and switches and readouts than the cockpit of an airliner, and at times it seemed the manufacturers had complicated their products for no good reason, out of a sheer love of complication. The instruction books read as if they’d been written by someone for whom English was a second language-which was very likely the case, as both the VCR and the camcorder were made by the Japanese.

“Either I’m getting feebleminded,” he groused aloud in one fit of frustration, “or the world’s going to hell in a hand-basket.”

Maybe both.

Warmer weather arrived sooner than usual. April was often a winter month at that latitude and altitude, but this year the daytime.temperatures rose into the forties. The season-long accumulation of snow melted, and gurgling freshets filled every gully and declivity.

The nights remained peaceful.

Eduardo read most of the books he’d borrowed from the library.

Blackwood and especially James wrote in a style that was far too mannered for his taste, heavy on atmosphere and light on substance.

They were purveyors of ghost stories, and he had trouble suspending disbelief long enough to become involved in their tales.

If hell existed, he supposed the unknown entity trying to open a door in the fabric of the night might have been a damned soul or a demon forcing its way out of that fiery realm. But that was the sticking point: he didn’t believe hell existed, at least not as the carnival gaudy kingdom of evil portrayed in cheap films and books.

To his surprise, he found Heinlein and Clarke to be entertaining and thought-provoking. He preferred the crustiness of the former to the sometimes naive humanism of the latter, but they both had value.

He wasn’t sure what he hoped to discover in their books that would help him to deal with the phenomenon in the woods. Had he harbored, in the back of his mind, the absurd expectation that one of these writers had produced a story about an old man who lived in an isolated place and who made contact with something not of this earth? If such was the case, then he was so far around the bend that he would meet himself coming the other way at any moment.

Nevertheless, it was more likely that the presence he sensed beyond the phantom fire and pulsating sound was extraterrestrial rather than hell-born.

The universe contained an infinite number of stars. An infinite number of planets, circling those stars, might have provided the right conditions for life to have arisen. That was scientific fact, not fantasy.

He might also have imagined the whole business. Hardening of the arteries that supplied blood to the brain. An Alzheimer-induced hallucination. He found it easier to believe in that explanation than in demons or aliens.

He had bought the video camera more to assuage self-doubt than to gather evidence for the authorities. If the phenomenon could be captured on tape, he wasn’t dotty, after all, and was competent to continue to live alone. Until he was killed by whatever finally opened that doorway in the night.

On the fifteenth of April, he drove into Eagle’s Roost to buy fresh milk and produce-and a Sony Discman with quality headphones.

Custer’s Appliance also had a selection of audiotapes and compact discs… Eduardo asked the Mozart lookalike for the loudest music to which teenagers were listening these days.

“Gift for your grand-kid?” the clerk asked.

It was easier to agree than to explain. “That’s right.”

“Heavy metal.”

Eduardo had no idea what the man was talking about.

“Here’s a new group that’s getting really hot,” the clerk said, selecting a disc from the display bins. “Call themselves Wormheart.”

Back at the ranch, after putting away the groceries, Eduardo sat at the kitchen table to listen to the disc. He installed batteries in the Discman, inserted the disc, put on the headphones, and pressed the Play button. The blast of sound nearly burst his eardrums, and he hastily lowered the volume.

He listened for a minute or so, half convinced he’d been sold a faulty disc.

But the clarity of the sound argued that he was hearing exactly what Wormheart had intended to record. He listened for another minute or two, waiting for the cacophony to become music, before realizing it apparently was music by the modern definition.

He felt old.

He remembered, as a young man, necking with Margaret to the music of Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Tommy Dorsey. Did young people still neck? Did they know what the word meant? Did they cuddle? Did they pet? Or did they just get naked and tear at each other straightaway?

It sure didn’t sound like music you’d play as background to lovemaking.

What it sounded like, to him anyway, was music you’d play as background to violent homicide, maybe to drown out the victim’s screams.

He felt ancient.

Aside from not being able to hear music in the music, he didn’t understand why any group would call itself Wormheart. Groups should have names like The Four Freshmen, The Andrews Sisters, The Mills Brothers. He could even handle The Four Tops or James Brown and the Famous Flames. Loved James Brown. But Wormheart? It brought disgusting images to mind.

Well, he wasn’t hip and didn’t try to be. They probably didn’t even use the word “hip” any more. In fact, he was sure they didn’t. He hadn’t a clue as to what word meant “hip” these days.

Older than the sands of Egypt… He listened to the music for another minute, then switched it off and removed the headphones.

Wormheart was exactly what he needed.

By the last day of April, the winter shroud had melted except for deeper drifts that enjoyed the protection of shadows during a large part of the day, although even they were dwindling steadily. The ground was damp but not muddy any longer. Dead brown grass, crushed and matted from the weight of the vanished snow, covered hills and fields, within a week, however, a carpet of tender green shoots would brighten every corner of the now dreary land.

Eduardo’s daily walk took him past the east end of the stables and across open fields to the south. At eleven in the morning, the day was sunny, the temperature near fifty, with a receding armada of high white clouds to the north. He wore khakis and a flannel shirt, and was so warmed by exertion that he rolled up his sleeves. On the return trip he visited the three graves that lay west of the stables.

Until recently, the State of Montana had been liberal about allowing the establishment of family cemeteries on private property. Soon after acquiring the ranch, Stanley Quartermass had decided he wanted to spend eternity there, and he had obtained a permit for as many as twelve burial plots.

The graveyard was on a small knoll near the higher woods. That hallowed ground was defined only by a foot-high fieldstone wall and by a pair of four-foot-high columns at the entrance. Quartermass had not wanted to obstruct the panoramic view of the valley and mountains-as if he thought his spirit would sit upon his grave and enjoy the scenery like a ghost in that old, lighthearted movie Topper.

Only three granite headstones occupied a space designed to accommodate twelve.

Quartermass. Tommy. Margaret. pecified by the producer’s will, the inscription on the first monument read: “Here lies Stanley Quartermass / dead before his time / because he had to work / with so damned many / actors and writers”-followed by the dates of his birth and death. He had been sixty-six when his plane crashed. However, if he’d been five hundred years old, he still would have felt that his span had been too short, for he had been a man who embraced life with great energy and passion.

Tommy’s and Margarite’s stones bore no humorous epitaphs-just “beloved son” and “beloved wife.” Eduardo missed them.

The hardest blow had been the death of his son, who had been killed in the line of duty only a little more than a year ago, at the age of thirty-two. At least Eduardo and Margaret had enjoyed a long life together.

It was a terrible thing for a man to outlive his own child.

He wished they were with him again. That was a wish frequently made,and the fact that it could never be fulfilled usually reduced him to a melancholy mood which he found difficult to shake. At best, longing to see his wife and son again, he drifted into nostalgic mists, reliving favorite days of years gone by.

This time, however, the familiar wish had no sooner — flickered through his mind than he was inexplicably overcome by dread. A chill wind seemed to whistle through his spine as if it were hollow end to end.

Turning, he wouldn’t have been surprised to find someone looming behind him.

He was alone.

The sky was entirely blue, the last of the clouds having slipped across the northern horizon, and the air was warmer than it had been at any time since last autumn. Nonetheless, the chill persisted. He rolled down his sleeves, buttoned the cuffs.

When he looked at the headstones again, Eduardo’s imagination was suddenly crowded with unwanted images of Tommy and Margaret, not as they had been in life but as they might be in their coffins: decaying, worm-riddled, eye sockets empty, lips shriveled back from yellow-toothed grins. Trembling uncontrollably, he was gripped by an absolute conviction that the earth in front of the granite markers was going to shift and cave inward, that the corrupted hands of their corpses were going to appear in the crumbling soil, digging fiercely and then their faces, their eyeless faces, as they pulled themselves out of the ground.

He backed away from the graves a few steps but refused to flee. He was too old to believe in the living dead or in ghosts.

The dead brown grass and spring-thawed earth did not move. After a while he stopped expecting it to move.

When he was in full control of himself again, he walked between the low stone columns and out of the graveyard. All the way to the house, he wanted to spin around and look back. He didn’t do it.

He entered the house through the back door and locked it behind him.

Ordinarily he never locked doors.

Though it was time for lunch, he had no appetite. Instead, he opened a bottle of Corona.

He was a three-beers-a-day man. That was his usual limit, not a minimum requirement. There were days when he didn’t drink at all.

Though not lately.

Recently, in spite of his limit, he had been downing more than three a day.

Some days, a lot more… Later that afternoon, sitting in a living-room armchair, trying to read Thomas Wolfe and sipping a third bottle of Corona, he became convinced, against his will, that the experience in the graveyard had been a vivid premonition. A warning. But a warning of what?

As April passed with no recurrence of the phenomenon in the lower woods, Eduardo had become more- not less-tense. Each of the previous events had transpired when the moon was in the same phase, a quarter full. That celestial condition seemed increasingly pertinent as the April moon waxed and waned without another disturbance. The lunar cycle might have nothing whatsoever to do with these peculiar events-yet still be a calendar by which to anticipate them.

Beginning the night of May first, which boasted a sliver of the new moon, he slept fully clothed. The.22 was in a soft leather holster on the nightstand.

Beside it was the Discman with headphones, Wormheart album inserted. A loaded Remington twelve-gauge shotgun lay under the bed, within easy reach. The video camera was equipped with fresh batteries and a blank cassette. He was prepared to move fast.

He slept only fitfully, but the night passed without incident.

He didn’t actually expect trouble until the early-morning hours of May fourth.

Of course, the strange spectacle might never be repeated. In fact, he hoped he wouldn’t have to witness it again. In his heart, however, he knew what his mind could not entirely admit: that events of significance had been set in motion, that they were gathering momentum, and that he could no more avoid playing a role in them than a condemned man, in shackles, could avoid the noose or guillotine.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait quite as long as he had expected.

Because he’d had little sleep the night before, he went to bed early on May second-and was awakened past midnight, in the first hour of May third, by those ominous and rhythmic pulsations.

The sound was no louder than it had been before, but the wave of pressure that accompanied each beat was half again as powerful as anything he had previously experienced. The house shook all the way into its foundations, the rocking chair in the corner arced back and forth as if a hyperactive ghost was working off a superhuman rage, and one of the paintings flew off the wall and crashed to the floor.

By the time he turned on the lamp, threw back the covers, and got out of bed, Eduardo felt himself being lulled into a trancelike state similar to the one that had gripped him a month earlier. If he fully succumbed, he might blink and discover he’d left the house without being aware of having taken a single step from the bed.

He snatched up the Discman, slipped the headphones over his ears, and hit the Play button. The music of Wormheart assaulted him… He suspected that the unearthly throbbing sound operated on a frequency with a natural hypnotic influence. If so, the trancelike effect might be countered by blocking the mesmeric sound with sufficient chaotic noise.

He raised the volume of Wormheart until he could hear neither the bass throbbing nor the underlying electronic oscillation. He was sure his eardrums were in danger of bursting, however, with the heavy-metal band in full shriek, he was able to shrug off the trance before he was entirely enthralled.

He could still feel the waves of pressure surging over him and see the effects on objects around him. As he had suspected, however, only the sound itself elicited a lemming-like response, by blocking it, he was safe.

After clipping the Discman to his belt, so he wouldn’t have to hold it, he strapped on the hip holster with the.22 pistol. He retrieved the shotgun from under the bed, slung it over his shoulder by its field strap, grabbed the camcorder, and rushed downstairs, outside.

The night was chilly.

The quarter moon gleamed like a silver scimitar.

The light emanating from the cluster of trees and the ground at the edge of the lower woods was already blood red, no amber in it whatsoever.

Standing on the front porch, Eduardo taped the eerie luminosity from a distance. He panned back and forth to get it in perspective to the landscape.

Then he plunged down the porch steps, hurried across the brown lawn, and raced into the field. He was afraid that the phenomenon was going to be of shorter duration than it had been a month before, just as that second occurrence had been noticeably shorter but more intense than the first.

He stopped twice in the meadow to tape for a few seconds from different distances. By the time he halted warily within ten yards of the uncanny radiance, he wondered if the camcorder was getting anything or was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of light.

The heatless fire was fiercely bright, shining through from some other place or time or dimension.

Pressure waves battered Eduardo. No longer like a crashing storm surf.

Hard, punishing. Rocking him so forcefully he had to concentrate on keeping his balance.

Again he was aware of something struggling to be free of constraint, break loose of confinement, and burst full-born into the world.

The apocalyptic roar of Wormheart was the ideal accompaniment to the.moment, brutal as a sledgehammer yet thrilling, atonal yet compelling, anthems to animal need, shattering the frustrations of human limitations, liberating. It was the darkly gleeful music of doomsday.

The throbbing and the electronic whine must have grown to match the brilliance of the light and the power of the escalating pressure waves.

He began to hear them again and was aware of being seduced.

He cranked up the volume on Wormheart.

The sugar and ponderosa pines, previously as still as trees on a painted stage backdrop, suddenly began to thrash, though no wind had risen. The air was filled with whirling needles.

The pressure waves grew so fierce that he was pushed backward, stumbled, fell on his ass. He stopped recording, dropped the video camera on the ground beside him.

The Discman, clipped to his belt, began to vibrate against his left hip. A wail of Wormheart guitars escalated into a shrill electronic shriek that replaced the music and was as painful as jamming nails into his ears might have been.

Screaming in agony, he stripped off the headphones. Against his hip, the vibrating Discman was smoking. He tore it loose, threw it to the ground, scorching his fingers on the hot metal case.

The metronomic throbbing surrounded him, as if he were adrift inside the beating heart of a leviathan.

Resisting the urge to walk into the light and become part of it forever, Eduardo struggled to his feet. Shrugged the shotgun off his shoulder, Blinding light forcing him to squint, serial shock waves knocking the breath out of him, evergreen boughs churning, a trembling in the earth, the electronic oscillation like the high-pitched squeal of a surgeon’s bone saw, and the whole night throbbing, the sky and the earth throbbing as something pushed repeatedly and relentlessly at the fabric of reality, throbbing, throbbing-Whoooosh.

The new sound was like-but enormously louder than-the gasp of a vacuum-packed can of coffee or peanuts being opened, air rushing to fill a void.

Immediately after that single brief whoooosh, a pall of silence fell across the night and the unearthly light vanished in an instant., Eduardo Fernandez stood in stunned disbelief under the crescent moon, staring at a perfect sphere of pure blackness that towered over him, like a gargantuan ball on a cosmic billiards table. It was so flawlessly black, it stood out against the ordinary darkness of the May night as prominently as the flare of a nuclear explosion would stand out against the backdrop of even the sunniest summer day. Huge.

Thirty feet in diameter. It filled the space once occupied by the.radiant pine trees and earth.

A ship.

For a moment he thought that he was gazing up at a ship with a windowless hull as smooth as pooled oil. He waited in paralytic terror for a seam of light to appear, a portal to crack open, a ramp to extrude.

In spite of the fear that clouded his thinking, Eduardo quickly realized he was not looking at a solid object. The moon-glow wasn’t reflected on its surface. Light just fell into it as it would fall into a well. Or tunnel.

Except that it revealed no curving walls within. Instinctively, without needing to touch that smooth inky surface, he knew the sphere had no weight, no mass at all, he had no primitive sense whatsoever that it was looming over him, as he should have had if it had been solid.

The object wasn’t an object, it was not a sphere but a circle. Not three dimensional but two.

A doorway.

Open.

The dark beyond the threshold was unrelieved by gleam, glint, or faintest glimmer. Such perfect blackness was neither natural nor within human experience, and staring at it made Eduardo’s eyes ache with the strain of seeking dimension and detail where none existed.

He wanted to run.

He approached the doorway instead.

His heart thudded, and his blood pressure no doubt pushed him toward a stroke. He clutched the shotgun with what he knew was pathetic faith in its efficacy, shoving it out in front of him as a primitive tribesman might brandish a talismanic staff carved with runes, inset with wild-animal teeth, lacquered with sacrificial blood, and crowned with a shock of a witch doctor’s hair.

However, his fear of the door-and of the unknown realms and entities beyond it-was not as debilitating as the fear of senility and the self-doubt with which he had been living lately. While the chance existed to gather proof of this experience, he intended to explore as far and as long as his nerves would hold out. He hoped never to wake another morning with the suspicion that his brain was addled and his perceptions were no longer trustworthy.

Moving cautiously across the dead and flattened meadow grass, feet sinking slightly into the spring-softened soil, he remained alert for any change within the circle of exceptional darkness: a lesser blackness, shadows within the gloom, a spark, a hint of movement, anything that might signal the approach of? a traveler. He stopped three feet from the brink of that eye-baffling tenebrity, leaning.forward slightly, as wonder-struck as a man in a fairy tale gazing into a magical mirror, the biggest damned magical mirror the Brothers Grimm ever imagined, one that offered no reflections-enchanted or otherwise-but that gave him a hair-raising glimpse of eternity.

Holding the shotgun in one hand, he reached down and picked up a stone as large as a lemon. He tossed it gently at the portal. He more than half expected the stone to bounce off the blackness with a hard metallic tonk, for it was still easier to believe he was looking at an object rather than peering into infinity. But it crossed the vertical plane of the doorway and vanished without a sound.

He edged closer.

Experimentally, he pushed the barrel of the Remington shotgun across the threshold. It didn’t fade into the gloom. Instead, the blackness so totally claimed the forward part of the weapon that it appeared as if someone had run a high-speed saw through the barrel and the forearm slide handle, neatly truncating them.

He pulled back on the Remington, and the forward part of the gun reappeared.

It seemed to be intact.

He touched the steel barrel and the checkered wood grip on the slide.

Everything felt as it should feel.

Taking a deep breath, not sure whether he was brave or insane, he raised one trembling hand, as if signaling “hello” to someone, and eased it forward, feeling for the transition point between this world and? whatever lay beyond the doorway. A tingle against his palm and the pads of his fingers. A coolness. It felt almost as if his hand rested on a pool of water but too lightly to break the surface tension.

He hesitated.

“You’re seventy years old,” he grumbled. “What’ve you got to lose?”

Swallowing hard, he pushed his hand through the portal, and it disappeared in the same manner as the shotgun. He encountered no resistance, and his wrist terminated in a neat stump.

“Jesus,” he said softly.

He made a fist, opened and closed it, but he couldn’t tell if his hand responded on the other side of the barrier. All feeling ended at the point at which that hellish blackness cut across his wrist.

When he withdrew his hand from the doorway, it was as unchanged as the shotgun had been. He opened his fist, closed it, opened it.

Everything worked as it should, and he had full feeling again.

Eduardo looked around at the deep and peaceful May night. The forest.flanking the impossible circle of darkness. Meadow sloping upward, palely frosted by the glow of the quarter moon. The house at the higher end of the meadow. Some windows dark and others filled with light. Mountain peaks in the west, caps of snow phosphorescent against the post-midnight sky.

The scene was too detailed to be a place in a dream or part of the hallucination-riddled world of senile dementia. He was not a demented old fool, after all. Old, yes. A fool, probably. But not demented.

He returned his attention to the doorway again-and suddenly wondered what it looked like from the side. He imagined a long tube of perfectly nonreflective ebony leading straight off into the night more or less like an oil pipeline stretching across Alaskan tundra, boring through mountains in some cases and suspended in thin air when it crossed less lofty territories, until it reached the curve of the earth, where it continued straight and true, unbending, off into space, a tunnel to the stars.

When he walked to one end of the thirty-foot-wide blot and looked at the side of it, he discovered something utterly different from-but quite as strange as- the pipeline image in his mind. The forest lay behind the enormous portal, unchanged as far as he could tell: the moon shone down, the trees rose as if responding to the caress of that silvery light, and an owl hooted far away. The doorway disappeared when viewed from the side. Its width, if it had any width at all, was as thin as a thread or as a well-stropped razor blade.

He walked all the way around to the back of it.

Viewed from a point a hundred and eighty degrees from his first position, the doorway was the same thirty-foot circle of featureless mystery. From that reverse perspective, it seemed to have swallowed not part of the forest but the meadow and the house at the top of the rise. It was like a great paper-thin black coin balanced on edge.

He moved to take another look at the side of it. From that angle, he couldn’t make out even the finest filament of supernatural blackness against the lesser darkness of the night. He felt for the edge with one hand, but he encountered only empty air.

From the side, the doorway simply didn’t exist- which was a concept that made him dizzy.

He faced the invisible edge of the damned thing, then leaned to his left, looking around at what he thought of as the “front” of the doorway. He shoved his left hand into it as deeply as before.

He was surprised at his boldness and knew he was being too quick to assume that the phenomenon was, after all, harmless. Curiosity, that old killer of cats-and not a few human beings-had him in its grip.

Without withdrawing his left hand, he leaned to the right and looked at the “back” of the doorway. His fingers had not poked through the far side.

He pushed his hand deeper into the front of the portal, but it still.did not appear out of the back. The doorway was as thin as a razor blade, yet he had fourteen to sixteen inches of hand and forearm thrust into it.

Where had his hand gone?

Shivering, he withdrew his hand from the enigma and returned to the meadow, once more facing the “front” of the portal.

He wondered what would happen to him if he stepped through the doorway, both feet, all the way, with no tether to the world he knew. What would he discover beyond? Would he be able to get back if he didn’t like what he found?

He didn’t have enough curiosity to take such a fateful step. He stood at the brink, wondering-and gradually he began to feel that something was coming.

Before he could decide what to do, that pure essence of darkness seemed to pour out of the doorway, an ocean of night that sucked him down into a dry but drowning sea.

When he regained consciousness, Eduardo was facedown in the dead and matted grass, head turned to his left, gazing up the long meadow toward the house.

Dawn had not yet come, but time had passed. The moon had set, and the night was dull and bleak without its silvery enhancement.

He was initially confused, but his mind cleared. He remembered the doorway.

He rolled onto his back, sat up, looked toward the woods. The razor-thin coin of blackness was gone. The forest stood where it had always stood, unchanged.

He crawled to where the doorway had been, stupidly wondering if it had fallen over and was now flat on the ground, transformed from a doorway into a bottomless well. But it was just gone.

Shaky and weak, wincing at a headache as intense as a hot wire through his brain, he got laboriously to his feet. He swayed like a drunkard sobering from a week-long binge.

He staggered to where he remembered putting down the video camera.

It wasn’t there.

He searched in circles, steadily widening the pattern from the point where the camcorder should have been, until he was certain that he was venturing into areas where he had not gone earlier. He couldn’t find the camera.

The shotgun was missing as well. And the discarded Discman with its headphones.

Reluctantly he returned to the house. He made a pot of strong.coffee.

Almost as bitter and black as espresso. With the first cup, he washed down two aspirin.

He usually made a weak brew and limited himself to two or three cups.

Too much caffeine could cause prostate problems. This morning he didn’t care if his prostate swelled as big as a basketball. He needed coffee.

He took off the holster, with the pistol still in it, and put it on the kitchen table. He pulled out a chair and sat within easy reach of the weapon.

He repeatedly examined his left hand, which he had thrust through the doorway, as if he thought it might abruptly turn to dust. And why not?

Was that any more fantastic than anything else that had happened?

At first light, he strapped on the holster and returned to the meadow at the perimeter of the lower woods, where he conducted another search for the camera, the shotgun, and the Discman.

Gone.

He could do without the shotgun. It wasn’t his only defense.

The Discman had served its purpose. He didn’t need it any more.

Besides, he remembered how smoke had seeped from its innards and how hot the casing had been when he’d unclipped it from his belt. It was probably ruined.

However, he badly wanted the camcorder, because without it, he had no proof of what he’d seen. Maybe that was why it had been taken.

In the house again, he made a fresh pot of coffee. What the hell did he need a prostate for, anyway?

From the desk in the study, he fetched a legal-size tablet of ruled yellow paper and a couple of ballpoint pens.

He sat at the kitchen table, working on the second pot of coffee and filling up tablet pages with his neat, strong handwriting. On the first page, he began with: My name is Eduardo Fernandez, and I have witnessed a series of strange and unsettling events. I am not much of a diarist.

Often, I’ve resolved to start a diary with the new year, but I have always lost interest before the end of January. However, I am sufficiently worried to put down here everything that I’ve seen and may yet see in the days to come, so there will be a record in the event that something happens to me.

He strove to recount his peculiar story in simple terms, with a minimum.of adjectives and no sensationalism. He even avoided speculating about the nature of the phenomenon or the power behind the creation of the doorway. In fact, he hesitated to call it a doorway, but he finally used that term because he knew, on a deep level beyond language and logic, that a doorway was precisely what it had been. If he died-face it, if he was killed-before he could obtain proof of these bizarre goings-on, he hoped that whoever read his account would be impressed by its cool, calm style and would not disregard it as the ravings of a demented old man. He became so involved in his writing that he worked through the lunch hour and well into the afternoon before pausing to prepare a bite to eat. Because he’d skipped breakfast too, he had quite an appetite. He sliced a cold chicken breast left over from dinner the previous night, and he built a couple of tall sandwiches with cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mustard.

Sandwiches and beer were the perfect meal because that was something he could eat while still composing in the yellow legal tablet.

By twilight, he had brought the story up to date. He finished with: I don’t expect to see the doorway again because I suspect it has already served its purpose. Something has come through it. I wish I knew what that something was.

Or perhaps I don’t.

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