"I just heard. Saw you here and asked. What happened?"
"I've no idea-I was working late. The police came for me."
"You didn't find her?"
"Me, no, I was at work."
For the first time it occurred to him to wonder just how the police had managed to find his wife. At the moment, though, it wasn't important. Liz was important.
"Where are the girls? They should be here with you," Father Dunwoody said kindly.
"I was just trying to reach them. They don't know. Shanna didn't answer. She sleeps like the dead. Of course, it's what? Middle of the wee hours of the morning."
"I'll stay with you-" Dunwoody began, but he broke off. A doctor was coming out. He looked grim.
Peter felt as if his heart had leaped out of his throat and was beating and bleeding in his hands.
"She's pulling out of it. We've got the fever down, and we've pumped a hell of a lot of blood into her.
We're still pumping. She's asking for you."
"Sweet Jesus!" Peter exclaimed. He looked at Dunwoody. "Sorry, Father."
"It's all right, Peter." He winked. "I'll apologize to the Lord for you-and tell him you said thanks as well."
"Yes, thank God! Thank God!" He stared at the doctor, shaking. He almost fell. The doctor steadied him, as did the priest. "When you came out here," Peter tried to explain, "looking so very grim, I was afraid of the worst."
"Sorry. She's really doing well. It's just the second admission we've had like this today. Seems like there's some really awful disease going around, and we don't begin to know what it is."
"But she's all right?"
"She's holding her own nicely right now, I swear it."
"Thank God, thank God!"
"Amen," Father Dunwoody said. He watched as Peter followed the doctor in to see his wife.
A chill settled over him.
A strange disease ...
Father Dunwoody crossed himself before starting from the emergency room. At the door he paused again.
And crossed himself once more.
Come. Come to me.
She was deeply, deeply sleeping, but still Jade heard the voice.
Come. . . .
Don't be absurd, she thought. I'm sound asleep, in a thin cotton nightshirt.
I need you. . . .
The voice was plaintive, desperate. She knew that she was still sleeping, that she was dreaming.
She thought she heard crying. Her heart quickened. It was a little voice, lost and scared. One of the twins? Oh, baby, baby, it's okay, I'm coming. . . .
Absurd. She couldn't hear the twins from here. She was in her own bedroom, in her own room.
Dreaming. But if she was dreaming, it was okay. She could follow the voice.
It was a very strange dream. In her dream she knew there was a cop in her living room, and that he'd stop her from going. She left her bedroom by crawling out the window to the wraparound balcony.
She left the balcony by crawling over the bricks and precariously making her way down an old storm drain.
Then she was on the street, bare feet hitting the dusty pavement.
It had been a busy night on the streets of New Orleans. And the city never really slept, but this was probably the quietest time. She stepped over a few homeless, apologizing for wearing nothing but her nightgown, and for having no coins to give them.
"Lady, go home," one old down-and-outer with a crippled leg told her.
"I'm not really here. It's just a dream."
"My dream, or your dream? I mean, like, you're not an angel, running down the street in a trail of flowing white, are you?"
"No, this is my dream."
"Go home, lady. Dreams like this one are dangerous."
"It's all right."
"Wish I had some shoes to give you."
She smiled and kept going. The poor fellow on the street had been right. This was one dangerous dream. She'd lived in New Orleans all her life. She loved the city. She knew what streets to be on, and what streets to avoid. Her dream was downright crazy.
But the voice came to her again.
Please, yes, keep coming, come to me, help me. . . .
And then again she heard the cry. The baby's cry. Definitely one of the twins. She knew their little voices. She could usually even tell them apart. But right now ...
Duck down that side street. There's a cop coming; he'll stop you, and you must come, you must come, please. . . .
She slid into an alley and waited. Then she started down the street again. She was moving quickly now, almost running.
She'd come to a main road just outside the Vieux Carre. She knew then that she was trying to reach the cemetery. Odd- the cemeteries were locked up at night. They were very dangerous. People loved the cemeteries in New Orleans, loved the aboveground graves, the fantastic mausoleums, and even the ovens, boxes on top of boxes that housed the poor.
A car passed on the street Slowed down. "Hey, sugar, where you off to?" a man demanded.
"Leroy!" The woman next to him hit him on the shoulder. "You leave her be. You don't need no sugar but me!"
"Lola, poor thing looks crazy!"
"Then let the folks from the nuthouse come get her!"
Leroy and Lola drove on
Her feet hurt. She'd walked over dirt, filth, spilled drinks, twigs, rocks, and even broken glass. She was surely filthy. The hem of her white nightgown was tinged with the dirt from the city streets.
But here she was. And the great gates were yawning open for her.
She didn't fear cemeteries. She studied them. She loved old churches; she loved tombstones. She wasn't afraid....
She stepped in.
Instantly, it seemed, the ground was awhirl with a silver-gray fog. It drifted around her, arose like a sea of beautiful clouds.
The dirt of the city of the dead seemed cleaned away by that fog. Tombs arose from the fog as white as her gown. Giant edifices to different groups of dead rose like the great domed capitals of the living.
Angels seemed to fly.
"I'm here!" she called softly.
Come. Come closer. Come closer. . . please help. . . .
Come closer where? Had someone been locked into one of the tombs?
She started to hear the crying again.
"Jamie? Petey? It's all right, baby, Jade is here. I'm coining...." She stepped on a shard of stone and winced, pausing to grab her foot. It really hurt. She felt the dust and grime on her toes. It was very realistic for a dream.
It seemed that a winged cherub reached out from atop a tomb and pulled at her hair as she straightened.
"Let go," she muttered.
Jade, Jade, Jade . . .
She heard her name, and a terrible sobbing sound. She moved more deeply into the cemetery. The mist continued to swirl around her. It covered the exit. She turned forward again, seeing the rise of the tombs in the silver mist and the darker-than-death shadows. Fool! she accused herself, walking alone in a cemetery at night. Asking for trouble. Any idiot, even in a B horror movie, would know not to wander like this. . . .
But it was just a dream. ...
She felt her name. Felt it whispered at her back. And the feel, as it streaked down her spine, was pure evil.
Jade, come. . . .
No! She started to run.
Run and run ...
The gown was caught by the stillness and the breeze. It trailed behind her, along with the length of her hair. She ran in slow motion, propelled by terror, held back by the confines of the dream, by the force of the evil whispering her name....
The twins were not calling to her, she realized first.
She had been tricked.
Summoned here by the force of evil.
She had to keep running. In the dream she could feel her heartbeat, feel the pulse of her life, the desperate, mile-a-minute thud, thump, thud....
It was all so real. The earth beneath her feet, cruel, cutting, the snag of broken stones and overgrown weeds against her gown. She thought she knew the way from the graveyard. The fog swirled around her, far too gray and misty; she couldn't begin to find the exit. She knew that she was pursued; she could feel hot breath against her neck. Jade, Jade, Jade . . .
She was grasped by the elbow, swung around, thrown atop a tombstone. She felt the hard, cold stone slam against her. She screamed, shrieking as loud as she could, flailing wildly with her fists. There was someone above her in the fog, someone dark, decked in a cloak, someone, something, a terrible, terrible evil....
She screamed again, and wrenched hard away from the caped, mist-enshrouded figure bending over her. She staggered, nearly fell, clutched hard to a figure of the Virgin Mary, and made it to her feet. She started to run again. The winged angels seemed to move; a gargoyle sneered before her, seeming to leap into the path. A Grim Reaper, its head bowed, lifted from its pedestal and started walking by her, just behind a row of family mausoleums.
It suddenly strode out before her. It blocked her path. It waved its scythe toward her and started to lift its head.
The eyes were cavernous.
Worms crawled from them, over the skeletal face.
It lifted the scythe again with one arm and beckoned to her with the other. She turned, ready to catapult in the other direction.
She slammed hard against a wall.
She slammed her fists against it hysterically. "No, no, no!"
Something had her. Arms were fiercely upon her, holding her steady. She kept screaming. He shook her. Her eyes opened. She saw his face.
"It's all right, Jade, it's all right! You're safe."
He was wearing a black silk shirt, dark jeans. His dark hair was combed back, blue-black in the moonlight. His eyes were darker than the night, studying her.
"It's all right-of course it's all right. It's a dream, it's a dream...." It wasn't a dream. She was standing with him in the cemetery. Her gown was muddied and dirty. Her feet were bare and raw. She was cold and freezing, and suddenly acutely aware of every angel and cherub, every death's-head, the poor men's ovens, the rich men's ornate tombs. A huge, winged dog sat upon a nearby crypt. He growled in perpetual silence, guarding a long-dead owner.