Home > The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(15)

The City of Mirrors (The Passage #3)(15)
Justin Cronin

Fair enough, but not every choice came down to logic; a lot came from the gut. What Michael’s gut was telling him was that the barrier didn’t exist, that it had never existed. He was raising his middle finger to history, a hundred years of humanity saying, Not me, no way, you go on ahead without me. That or playing Russian roulette. Which, given his family history, wasn’t necessarily out of the question.

His parents’ suicide wasn’t something he liked to think about, but of course he did. In some room in his brain, a movie of that morning’s events was constantly running. Their gray, empty faces, and the tautness of the ropes around their necks. The slight creaking sound they made. The elongated shapes of their bodies, the absolute, unoccupied looseness of them. The darkness of their toes, bloated with pooled blood. Michael’s initial reaction had been complete incomprehension: he’d stared at the bodies for a good thirty seconds, trying to parse the data, which came to him in a series of free-floating words he couldn’t stick together (Mom, Dad, hanging, rope, barn, dead), before an explosion of white-hot terror in his eleven-year-old brain sent him dashing forward to scoop their legs into his arms to push their bodies upward, all the while screaming Sara’s name so she could come and help him. They’d been dead for many hours; his efforts were pointless. Yet one had to try. A lot of life, Michael had learned, came down to trying to fix things that weren’t fixable.

So, the sea, and his solo wanderings upon it. It had become a home of a kind. His boat was the Nautilus. Michael had taken the name from a book he’d read years ago, when he was just a Little in the Sanctuary: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, an old yellowed paperback, pages popping loose, and on its cover the image of a curious, armor-plated vehicle that seemed like a cross between a boat and an undersea tank, entwined in the suctioning tentacles of a sea monster with one huge eye. Long after the details of the story had fallen away from his mind, the image had stayed with him, seared into his retinas; when it came time to christen his craft, after two years of planning and execution and plain old guesswork, Nautilus had seemed a natural. It was as if he’d been storing the name in his brain for later use.

Thirty-six feet from stern to bowsprit with a six-foot draft, one main and one headsail, masthead-rigged, with a small cabin (though he almost always slept on the deck). He’d found it in a boatyard near San Luis Pass, tucked away in a warehouse, still standing on blocks. The hull, made of polyester resin, was sound, but the rest was a mess—deck rotted, sails disintegrated, anything metal fatigued beyond use. It was, in other words, perfect for Michael Fisher, first engineer of Light and Power and oiler first class, and within a month he’d quit the refinery and cashed in five years of unspent paychecks to buy the tools he needed and hire a crew to bring them down to San Luis. Really? Alone? In that thing? Yes, Michael told them, unfolding his drawing on the table. Really.

How ironic that after all those years of blowing on the embers of the old world, trying to relight civilization with its leftover machines, in the end it should be the most ancient form of human propulsion that seized him. The wind blew, it back-eddied along the edge of the sail, it created a vacuum that the boat forever tried to fill. With every voyage he took, he went a little longer, a little farther, a little more crazily out there. He’d traced the coasts at the start, getting the feel of things. North and east along the coast to oil-mucked New Orleans and its depressing plume of gooey, river-borne, chemical stink. South to Padre Island, with its long, wild stretches of sand as white as talc. As his confidence grew, his trajectories expanded. From time to time he came across the anachronistic leavings of mankind—clumps of rusted wreckage piled along the shoals, ersatz atolls of bobbing plastic, derelict oil rigs bestriding massive slicks of pumped-out sludge—but soon he left all of these behind, driving his craft deeper into the heart of an oceanic wilderness. The water’s color darkened; it contained incredible depths. He shot the sun with his sextant, plotting his course with a stub of pencil. One day it occurred to him that beneath him lay nearly a mile of water.

The morning of the storm, Michael had been at sea for forty-two days. His plan was to make Freeport by noon, restock, rest for a week or so—he really needed to put on some weight—and set out again. Of course, there would be Lore to contend with, always an uncomfortable business. Would she even speak to him? Just glare at him from a distance? Grab him by the belt and drag him into the barracks for an hour of angry sex that, against his better judgment, he couldn’t make himself refuse? Michael never knew what it would be or which made him feel worse; he was either the asshole who had broken her heart or the hypocrite in her bed. Because the one thing he couldn’t find the words to explain was that she had nothing to do with any of it: not the Nautilus, or his need to be alone, or the fact that, although she was in every way deserving, he could not love her in return.

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