Home > The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(14)

The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(14)
Justin Cronin

Lucius smiled. Whatever was eating the man, he wasn’t ready to talk about it. “I’ll give it some thought.”

“Consider it a standing invitation.” Michael got to his feet, one hand clutching the edge of the table for balance. “Well, I, for one, am completely hammered. If it’s all right with you, I think it’s time for me to go throw up and pass out in my truck.”

Lucius gestured toward his narrow cot. “The bed’s yours if you want it.”

“That’s sweet of you. Maybe when I get to know you better.”

He stumbled to the door, where he turned to cast his bleary gaze around the tiny room.

“You’re quite the artist, Major. Those are interesting pictures. You’ll have to tell me about them sometime.”

And that was all; when Lucius awoke in the morning, Michael was gone. He thought he might see the man again, but no more visits were forthcoming; he supposed Michael had gotten what he was looking for, or else he’d decided that Lucius didn’t have it. Do you really think they’re gone…? What would his friend have said if Lucius had actually answered his question?

Lucius put these disconcerting thoughts aside. Leaving the jug of boar’s blood in the shade of the hut, he walked down the hillside to the river. The water of the Guadalupe was always cold, but here it was colder; where the river made a bend there was a deep hole—twenty feet to the bottom—fed by a natural spring. Tall banks of white limestone encircled the edge. Lucius stripped off his boots and trousers, grabbed the rope he’d left in place, took a deep breath, and dove in a clean arc into the water. With every foot of his descent the temperature dropped. The satchel, made of heavy canvas, was secured beneath an overhang, protected from the current. Lucius tied the rope to the satchel’s handle, tugged it free of the overhang, blew the air from his lungs, and ascended.

He climbed out on the opposite shore, walked downstream to a shallow spot, crossed the river again, and followed a path to the top of the limestone wall. There he sat at the edge, took the rope in his hands, and hauled up the satchel.

He dressed again and carried the satchel back to the hut. There, at the table, he removed the contents: eight more jugs, for nine gallons total—the same amount of blood, more or less, that coursed through the circulatory systems of half a dozen human adults.

Once it was out of the river, his prize would quickly spoil. He strung the jugs together and gathered his supplies—three days’ worth of food and water, the rifle and ammo, a blade, a lantern, a length of sturdy rope—and carried them out to the paddock. Not even 0700, but already the sun was blazing. He saddled his horse, slid the rifle into its holder, and slung the rest over the horse’s withers. He never bothered with a bedroll; he’d be riding through the night, arriving in Houston on the morning of the sixtieth day.

With a tap of his heels to the horse’s flanks, he was off.

4

GULF OF MEXICO

Twenty-two Nautical Miles South-southeast of Galveston Island

0430: Michael Fisher awoke to the pattering of rain on his face.

He drew his back upright against the transom. No stars but, to the east, a narrow transect of ditchwater dawn light hovered between the horizon and the clouds. The air was dead calm, though this wouldn’t last; Michael knew a storm when he smelled one.

He unfastened his shorts, jutted his pelvis over the stern, and released a urine stream of satisfying volume and duration into the waters of the Gulf. He wasn’t especially hungry, hunger being something he’d taught his body to ignore, but he took a moment to go below and mix a batch of powdered protein and drink it down in six throat-pumping gulps. Unless he was mistaken, and he almost never was, the morning would bring its share of excitement; best to face it with a full belly.

He was back on deck when the first jag of lightning forked the horizon. Fifteen seconds later, the thunder arrived in a long, rolling peal, like a grumpy god clearing its throat. The air had picked up, too, in the disorganized manner of an approaching squall. Michael unhooked the self-steerer and took the tiller in his fist as the rain arrived in earnest: a hot, needling, tropical rain that soaked him in a second. About the weather, Michael lacked any strong opinion. Like everything else, it was what it was, and if this was to be the storm that finally sent him to the bottom, well, it wasn’t like he hadn’t asked for it.

Really? Alone? In that thing? Are you crazy? Sometimes the questions were kindly meant, an expression of genuine concern; even total strangers tried to talk him out of it. But more often than not, the speaker was already writing him off. If the sea didn’t kill him, the barrier would—that blockade of floating explosives said to encircle the continent. Who in his right mind would tempt fate like that? And especially now, when not a single viral had been seen for, what, going on thirty-six months? Wasn’t a whole continent sufficient space for a restless soul to roam around in?

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